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The Vacuum - Issue 17 - Fashion spacer The Vacuum - Issue 17 - Fashion
Freeze Frame
by Robert Simpson
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Prior to release this was known as Straight to Video, and it's surprising that the film made any kind of cinematic impact at all. The attention paid to the film by Robert De Niro's Tribeca Film Festival has obviously deluded the distributors that a UK/Ireland cinema release was a good idea.
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Lee Evans wanders through, for once abandoning his trademark Norman Wisdom buffoonery, with body hair shaven like Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth - he wants to be conspicuous as he films himself 24 hours a day - ever since he was framed for a murder he did not commit. Now he finds himself having to defend himself, after being once again framed for murder - with several of his precious Sony camcorder tapes going missing. The brash Detective Inspector McGinley is convinced of his guilt, and is prepared to manipulate and corrupt all the evidence to convict the innocent.
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In the meantime a feisty reporter attempts to befriend the accused, and to deliver his side of events. Throw in a criminal profiler called Serger (played by Ian McNeice, and looking something of a cross between Robbie Coltrane and Orson Welles) and a conspiratorial web of smoking guns and red herrings, and a particularly nasty female rape scene and the melange is complete. The Inspector is guilty only of prejudice, Evans' character Sean is innocent, Serger has known all along who the murderer was, and merely kept shtum in order to make his career as a writer of crime fact books. As for the reporter - her father was the killer, and then she accidentally murdered a girl visitor to Sean's house, and framed him for the second killing, before turning on everyone else, raping Sean, killing Serger and then McGinley. Got that?
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Its a rather hum drum film that has little to say, insipid aside from some slight visual titilation. We are made to feel uncomfortable throughout, with the ever-looming presence of the CCTV cameras, echoing the feeling of dread as we walk through many cities today. As the hairless protagonist runs through the subways (by the Albert Clock), he is constantly watched. The voyeuristic viewpoints offer a potentially a more sinister and frightening extension of The Truman Show or Big Brother.
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Opting for this obsession with reality tv that permeates the media today, it seems that no-one is prepared to spend the money on making film in Ireland anymore, resorting instead to cheap digital productions.
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The film at least manages to exploit the darkness of the Crumlin Road prison location the latest in a line of arts projects including plays and photographic projects, to utilise the space. By turning it into a studio-cum-location, the prison receives a worthy use at last. Freeze Frame also hints at the potentials of the Northern Irish capital as an alternative for filmmakers to work in, offering the darkened streets of Belfast as an under-used resource. A resource untapped since James Mason wandered them in Odd Man Out.
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The NI Film Commission website devotes a rather stale section to stereotyped idyllic landscapes as an international prospectus. You want beautiful fields and the Foyle Bridge well, come here.
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The Irish Film Board and the NIFTC are together responsible for most of the funding. Increasingly British films are looking elsewhere for funding, as more of the capital available has been sucked up by international blockbusters like Cold Mountain. The bitty nature of film funding means that national identity is easily lost, as no film can be said to be strictly one thing or another. Freeze Frame takes money from the UK, USA and Ireland in order to fund the production. The NIFTC have made funds easier to access through a number of initiatives, and this is one of the latest sub-par projects to benefit.
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Despite being an Irish made film - shot in Belfast and funded by the film councils on both sides of the border - and using technical and acting talent from this island, its Irish identity is shrouded. The cast speak with English accents, the leads are English, and the film appears to be set in London.
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Its hard to fathom the reasoning behind selecting the Irish locations and funding, only to deny the identity of the originating country in the production. The film would at least be a diverting project from the usual Catholic/Protestant/troubles drivel that the NIFTC is usually involved in. What's wrong with Belfast being Belfast for a change? Why couldn't this have been about a Northern Irish man wrongly convicted - after hundreds of films about IRA/UVF terrorists, is that scenario too close to the truth?
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Several themes of recent years are brought together - allusions to the Jill Dando murder, with a female CrimeWatch style reporter, caught up in a murder investigation; reality tv (on several levels); and then there is the police corruption. The allusions though are very relevant to recent press coverage in the north of Ireland - a political commentary on RUC collusion. Tales of the RUC convicting innocent men of murder and terrorism, manipulating evidence; the murders and investigations of Pat Finnuchain and Rosemary Nelson.
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The decision to make the film so English/British is presumably a marketing one. Irish films do not travel well - and tend to be self-absorbed. Or at least, this is the presumption made by the Film Commission. Keen to claim the nationality of films like Puckoon, The Quiet Man and this effort, when we look beyond at the sources of the money, and the talent involved, it becomes clear that the hybrid nature produces a mongrel offspring.
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Just why won't the Commission take the step of making a real Northern Irish film, and unleashing it upon the world. We have yet to see the Belfast equivalent of a film like Trainspotting - proud in its local appeal, and allowing a lack of pretence to engage audiences, permitting a strong local accent drive the film. Bloody Sunday and James Nesbitt have at least showed us that punters will put up with our tones on the big and small screens.
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Cinematic adaptations of Roddy Doyle's The Commitments and The Van may give a proud stylised vision of Dublin life. Why wouldn't similar ventures in a Belfast or Derry setting not work? At some stage the NIFTC is going to have to face up to its responsibilities. It is perhaps crazy that this tiny population of some 1.5 million people, demand a film industry. And yet, are we so lacking in talent, that for our films we must call in actors and technicians from England and farther? We are but a small community, not nearly enough for an industry, and then we insist on making films which deny the very signature of our community. We are increasingly nomadic, happy only with cliché or disguise. Its surely about time we stuck to our convictions and declarations, and put our full weight behind a Northern Irish film, using talent exclusively from here, and not belying our identity. To make a film we can call our own, and at least by wearing that identity on our sleeves, be proud of it.
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