The Iron Giant @ LeedsYoungFilm Festival

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This week has seen the Leeds Young Film Festival in full swing and it has been fantastic.  As well as a great programme of films and events the cost is phenomenally good value.  I bought a family ‘Golden Ticket’ which covered 2 adults and up to 4 kids for any film or event, and there were plenty every day, for …… £40.  Yes that’s right £40 so basically that’s covered me for a week of the Easter holidays and hats off to the organisers for having such an illuminating approach to ticket pricing as it enabled us to get the programme and have a look and plan a great week of film and activities without having to be selective due to cost.  Highlights have included My Neighbour Totoro, The Sparticle Mystery Event and The Odd Life of Timothy Green which I think is one of the most intelligent and emotional children’s films I’ve seen in years and in CJ Adams, the boy who plays Timothy, a real star has been found I think.

However despite all of the great films there was only one that I wanted to make sure I did not miss and that was the Iron Giant, a film I have seen scores of times but never on the big screen.  I wrote a preview for the film over on Culture Vultures and reprise much of that here as it is one of my favourite films and one you really should hunt down if you have not seen it.  The film is brilliantly by Brad Bird (of The Incredibles, Ratatouille and The Simpsons fame) from the Ted Hughes novel (The Iron Man).  Whenever I mention, ok rave, about this film I’m always amazed at the amount of people who have never seen it and indeed on release in 1999 it did not fare well at the box office but it is now rightly regarded as an animation classic and has garnered bucket loads of awards including BAFTA, Hugo Award, Nubela award nomination, 9 Annie Awards and was rated in a poll in 2010 as the 5th greatest animated film of all time.  So why haven’t people seen it?  At the time of it’s ‘failure’ on release Brad Bird criticised Warner Brothers for simply not understanding what they had on their hands, a genuinely intelligent animated film and failing to sell it to audiences.   If you love great cinema, brilliant storytelling, fantastic animation, multi layered intelligent children’s films then you simply must get track down this film and it was, I have to admit, sumptuous to watch it on the big screen for the first time.

Without giving too much away to those who have not seen it, the film tells the story of the friendship between a lonely 11 year old boy (Hogarth) and a giant metal robot that lands on earth.  Whilst there are a number of other themes in the film the key to it is the development of the friendship between Hogarth and the Giant. Who after all did not want a giant robot as a friend when they were a kid?  The giant has a childlike quality to him as he attempts to understand the world that he has landed on and the complexities of human relationships – why would other people be scared of him? – and Hogarth tries to explain the world around him.  Why do we have guns and what do we need them for?  Why do we die? What happens to us when we die? What choices do we make? – Big themes for anyone to get to grips with and one of the most beautiful themes of the film is that last one of choices – You are who you choose to be – as behind the childlike qualities of the giant there also might lurk danger, is he all that he appears to be or could he be dangerous? Are people right to be scared of him? There are elements here for those who know the story of Frankenstein, a creation to be feared or someone misunderstood?

Hogarth gets help to hide the Giant from the Town’s ‘alternative type’ Dean who runs the local scrap yard and is also a sculptor turning the scrap metal into art, something that quite clearly marks him out as an oddball in small town America in the 50’s, as well as his love of jazz and no doubt beatnik authors. Dean, Hogarth and the Giant make a great alliance.  The fact that Brad Bird chose to set the film in 1957 was a masterstroke as it enables the film to reflect on the paranoia at the time, Sputnik had been launched, kids were learning to hide under tables incase of nuclear attack, there was the fear of the Red Menace and this is brought out cleverly in the film.  I can’t help but think Brad is asking the question of America – have we moved on at all ? A government agent is sent out to investigate the reported sightings of the Giant and is determined to make his mark so that he can go back to Washington a hero with a promotion to something bigger.  As a result he has an agenda which will not let him see the Giant for anything else other than a threat and hypes up the possible danger in every report back to headquarters.  How prescient was this as a couple of years after the release real life government agents were exaggerating the threat posed by non existent weapons in the middle east which fed paranoia similar to the Cold War and also triggered an armed reaction.

Mansley (the government agent) tricks the army to attack the Giant – how will he react?  This again loops back to the choices we make – You are who you choose to be – and this triggers a part in the film that never ceases to bring a tear to my eye.  Tim McCanlies (script writer) said that “At a certain point, there are deciding moments when we pick who we want to be and that plays out for the rest of your life” he said that films can provide viewers with a sense of right and wrong and expressed a wish that the film would “make us feel like we’re all part of humanity which is something we need to feel” and that is exactly how this brilliant film makes me feel.

This for me then was a highlight among a week of highlights and thanks must go out to all involved for putting on such a great festival.  For those who have not been to the festival before, make a note in your diary now and get yourself along next year it’s a great way to spend time with your family over the Easter hols.




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