Now in its sixth year, Filmstock has become one of the most important British festivals for independent film. Most events lace their selections with a few previews of forthcoming features, just to ensure a healthy turnover. But Filmstock is wholly devoted to showcasing work that would not otherwise reach UK audiences. Consequently, everything is exclusive and the unexpected comes as standard. Based at the Hat Factory in Luton (1st-15th June), this is the only place to go to see and discuss cinema on the edge.
The opening presentation, Undertow, is the latest from David Gordon Green, who established himself as one of America's most intriguing directors with George Washington and All the Real Girls. Billy Elliott's Jamie Bell headlines this disturbing domestic drama, in which a jailbird's return to his isolated Georgia farm leads to murder. A prodigal is also at the heart of Mark Lewis's Ill Fated, in which a teenager's bid to quit his small Canadian town is jeopardised by both his dead-end pals and the father who abandoned him as a child. There's another unwelcome visitor in Laura Collela's Stay Until Tomorrow, which boasts a splendid performance from Eleanor Hutchins, as the onetime soap star who descends on her librarian buddy and proceeds to dismantle his ordered existence.
Echoes of Frank Perry's underrated 1968 drama, The Swimmer, reverberate around Maya Churi's Forest Grove. Once again a series of neighbourhood swimming pools offers an insight into the mindset of the nation, as a 14 year-old follows in the slipstream of Burt Lancaster to discover that all is not as well with suburbia as outward appearance would suggest. The eponymous 11 year-old hero of Mimon also finds growing up is not all it's cracked up to be. It's bad enough living in the middle of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, but he also faces the humiliating prospect of having to repeat a year at school.
Other features on offer include R. Parthepan's Kudaikkul Mazhai, Myung-Hoon Oh's Sund@y Seoul, Eli Steele's What's Bugging Seth? and Lise Swenson's Mission Movie.
The documentary strand is also impressively strong. The onetime Squeeze frontman reveals how he avoided being a cool cat up the junction in Amy Pickard's Glenn Tilbrook: One for the Road, while Joe Pachero explores the band One Ring Zero's relationship with authors like Paul Auster and Maya Goldberg in As Smart As They Are: The Author Project. There are also portraits of peace campaigner Helen Caldicott (Helen's War), Tibetan lama and film-maker Khyentse Norbu (Words Of My Perfect Teacher) and Hong Kong's remarkable movie stuntmen (Red Trousers). But the most touching picture is AG Vermouth's Balloonhat, in which an artist who brings joy by creating balloon hats for people from all races and backgrounds discovers the harsh realities of modern America when he tries to publish a book about his travels.
Filmstock has become a Mecca for short film-makers. This year, there are 120+ films from around the world showing in 14 value-for-money sessions. Titles to look out for include Michele Rho's Post-It, Simon Hook's 6.6.04, Mona Nahm's Be Very Quiet and Maia Gur's Meanwhile. But the standout is Mischa Livingstone's Barbara Jean, in which a repressed woman's hopes of romance with a free-spirited musician are threatened by both her aggressive father and his manipulative mother. Sara Rue impresses in the title role, with Tom Bower providing menacing support.