There have been a few goes at this in past years. All have floundered on the jagged coastline of disinterest, underfunding, crap location, terrible films or bad timing. So it was with interest that I went along to the press launch of the Manchester Film Festival 2015 (MANIFF15 henceforth) a few months ago.

Interest seemed in short supply as only myself, my Northern Soul colleague Kevin Bourke and a very nice lady from ITV bothered to turn up. As ‘excited and intrigued’ as we were, according to MANIFF15’s website, it did not bode well. Was this to be another festival wreck washed up on the shores of ambition and vanity?

Not My DayWe luxuriated in a plush screening room on the 7th floor of The Landing building worthy of Hollywood itself. I was impressed by the two types of water served but missed the bevy of cocaine and lines of hookers I had expected at these sorts of do’s. The launch was introduced by MANIFF15’s directors, Neil Jeram-Croft and Al Bailey, who gave us a potted history, rationale and intentions behind the festival and a foretaste of the 21 films that would make up its content. I was struck by the quality of the trailers of the films sent in open submission and the desire of Jeram-Croft and Bailey to make the festival work. Both thought and the necessary backing had obviously gone into MANIFF15.

Fast forward a few months and I’m at the opening night to watch a German comedy, Not My Daydirected by Peter Thorworth (2014). Notwithstanding the recent tabloid cinematic comic outing of our own young princess, her mum, the naughty uncle and their hilarious satire on the rise of fascism, I was intrigued see what a German comedy looked like. While I have always eschewed the cultural stereotype that the Germans aren’t funny, I had never seen an actual example.

It was a buddy, buddy, heist gone wrong road movie replete with Serbian bad guys, bad heavy metal music, mullets and a Mustang. I suspect that some of the jokes were culturally specific but it was fun, if not always funny.

Padrone e SottoSome of the atmosphere of the film festival was swallowed up in the axe-wielding giddiness of this year’s Manchester International Festival, but by the second day it had picked up and gathered some of its own steam. I certainly enjoyed the two screenings I went to that evening.

First off was a great Italian documentary, Padrone e Sotto, directed by Michele Cirigliano (2014). Set in a shabby working class bar in a poor region of Southern Italy, it sets out to explore the arcane card/drinking game of the title but actually looks at how the game enables post-industrial Italian manhood to socialise with itself. It’s also a timely reminder to all our Peroni Azzurro swilling sophisticates that Peroni Red is the true beer of Italy.

Next I was moved by a powerful Thai biopic, The Last Executioner, directed by Tom Waller (2014) which told the life story of Chavoret Jaruboon, Thailand’s last prison executioner, played with consummate skill by Vithaya Pansringarm. It was an enlightening, engaging and entertaining view into the world of the infamous ‘Bangkok Hilton’ prison and the Thai death penalty. Jaruboon carried out 55 executions by shooting before the introduction of the lethal injection. The film is a balanced examination of his life through his career and the moral dilemmas he and his family faced. Waller was present for an informative Q&A after the film which added to my understanding and enjoyment.

In fact, it was a testimony of the drawing power of the festival that Waller and his producer were both there for the screening. A further ‘in fact’ that talent from not only Thailand but also Australia, USA, Sweden, Italy, Spain, China, Romania, Belgium, Germany, Canada, Peru, Brazil, France and Mexico attended – most impressive for a first outing.

In addition, MANIFF15 hosted its inaugural awards ceremony (the ‘Bees’) at Manchester235 (you can view a full list of winners at I, for one, would like to congratulate Jeram-Croft and Bailey and everyone involved for a hugely successful first Manchester Film Festival, and I’m already looking forward to next year. As they said: “We have already attracted the attention of many industry professionals who have expressed an interest in coming to our second event in 2016.”

By Robert Hamilton