Caught by the River


Luke Turner | 12th October 2009

Luke Turner, associate editor of rock music and pop culture website, The Quietus, with a round up of the recent Branchage Festival (aka The Jersey International Film Festival):

Yes amiina
(Amiina, soundtracking the films of Lotte Reiniger)

Jersey is all of England and yet another place entirely – the air smells foreign, of warmth and lavender in one nostril, rotting seaweed and wet, exposed rocks in the other. An Arsenal flag flies from the window of a 50s suburban house, 100 yards further on a figurehead sprouts from the pebbledash of another. It’s a small island, which means a peculiar mixture of the agrarian and aquatic; at one point I crawl along winding lanes behind a livestock transporter with a canoe sticking out of the back. On the St Helier seafront, bunkers hulk next to the seaside staple of the esplanade road train and kiosks selling rich ice cream. Jersey is littered with fortifications, which often appeared to be piled up like a militaristic club sandwich – medieval ramparts as foundations, Elizabethan walls and Napoleonic embrasures for filling, German flak positions perched on the top. There are no restaurants on Jersey, only bistros that are stuck in a gastronomic timewarp, chalkboards offering duck and orange sauce, sirloin steak served on a hot rock, and miniature bottles of Matteus Rose in the fridge behind the bar.

Perhaps these signifiers of conservatism suggest that Jersey is a strange place to find a film festival as open-minded and lovingly-curated as Branchage. But there’s a nod to that in the festival’s name – Branchage is a peculiar mix of ritual and regulation where suited men wander the Jersey lanes fussing over the hedge trimming prowess of the residents. A few weeks after starring in the Festival trailer, one of these officials prosecuted the organiser’s family for the unkempt state of their roadside foliage.

But perhaps this island setting and this close sense of community are what make Branchage work. Only the most passionate will attempt the Channel crossing, while the fact that Jersey’s only cinema is a Cineworld monstrosity on reclaimed land on the edge of St Helier’s new marina (full of white plastic boats with names like ‘Liquidity’) means there’s a palpable enthusiasm among the audiences, and a family feel to the way the whole event is put together. On the last night, 40 people end up in the beautiful house in which Branchage founder Xanthe Hamilton grew up, being fed chicken stew and wine by her mum, the family cat sat on the table. There was talk of a fishing trip over rocks that looked like a Butlins for bass in her uncle’s boat, but the changing weather and tide precluded it. Similarly, the Festival had hoped to host British Sea Power playing their Man of Aran soundtrack on a rock out to sea, but the danger of getting cut off meant health and safety tutted a “no”. They played at the more lubberly opulence Jersey Opera House instead.

Writing a couple of days after leaving, the memories of Branchage feel like a wonderful kind of blur, a succession of events unselfconsciously born but perfectly executed. The Festival makes Jersey work for them, revealing and exploring its history and landscape through screenings in venues that are somewhat out of the ordinary. So there’s a light installation at Gorey Castle that made it appear as if the ancient walls were collapsing into the sea…

Sleep Furiously is screened in an old herd barn, dogs running around the feet of the audience… Amiina play a bewitching soundtrack to the animation of Lotte Reiniger… Isolation, a moving and inspiring film about the courage of wounded veterans from our current wars, is shown in a defunct German military tunnel to live post rock accompaniment… If…. in a private school, complete with mortarboarded master shouting threats and brandishing a cane… A live performance of Jeremy Deller’s Acid Brass in a Spiegeltent, with old ladies going wild to 808 State, tuba style… British Sea Power playing a superlative rendition of their Man Of Aran soundtrack with an introduction by yours truly. According to a local baggage handler at Jersey airport the next day, their performance had moved many of his friends to tears, and people could be seen wandering the quiet, wet Sunday streets in a daze as they made their way home. As British Sea Power play, over on the other side of the Island near to where the band spent the night in a fort (they chose the Napoleonic tower over a hotel) 7,000 locals linked arms to protest against redevelopment of the Jersey coastline.

With a final screening of Big River Man in Jersey’s Royal Opera House, and a late night showing of Duncan Jones’ Moon, Branchage is done, aside for generous libations in honour of a weekend well spent. It’s hard to believe that such a completely-realised festival is only in its second year, such is the attention to detail, love for the power and potential of cinema and music. It’s a world removed from the hustle and bustle and suits of more mainstream, industry events, or the pretension of the self-aware big city cinema hipsters I’ll encounter back in London, where, under grey skies and back behind the desk, it’s hard to shake this very special island mentality.