BIFF 2013 - I Have Always Been A Dreamer - Cinema Review

'The people interviewed feel like they should have something interesting to tell but their stories tend towards the meaninglessly anecdotal.'

Sabine Gruffat's I Have Always Been A Dreamer has the look of a film produced by a film-maker who will go on to do great things. Gruffat's documentary, which loosely ties together the fates of Detroit and Dubai, has some interesting photography, a pleasant inclination not to overburden the viewer with heavy narrative explanation and, most importantly of all, Gruffat herself, who proves an engaging and intelligent presence whenever she speaks or appears on screen.

Somewhere though I Have Always Been A Dreamer fails to engage. At seventy-eight minutes it's actually short, yet it feels like it's twice that. The central conceit should make for a potent opinionated piece, yet it never really convinces enough to engage. The people interviewed feel like they should have something interesting to tell but their stories tend towards the meaninglessly anecdotal.

It's an odd mix, occasionally made odder by Gruffat's predilection for presenting onerous shots of passing buildings, apparently filmed from a car window. Whilst the images provide the visual parallel between the two cities - each, Gruffat argues, at differing stages of the same arc of decline - they don't really offer much by way of excitement or engagement. They rather appear like a curiously boring tourist video, ignoring the hotspots and focusing on blank facades. Perhaps that's part of the point but, either way, it's not great to look at.

Then there are the interviews. Each subject is forced to stand in front of the camera as Gruffat takes their portrait. For some reason, she keeps each one there for just long enough that they start to feel awkward. It's a weird conceit, not linked at all to the message in her film. The detached narratives they provide whilst this happens are dreamlike and occasionally pleasantly lilting but too often, they offer little.

That also goes for Gruffat's argument which, though a nice and probably at least partially accurate idea, never receives the backing of concrete data or extended focused argument. The owner of a barbershop-cum-museum in Detroit no doubt has some unique memories, but does he contribute much to our understanding of how his city parallels Dubai? Not really.

Promising and occasionally intriguing but also far too dull. It would be fantastic to look back on this after Gruffat's next film and point out all of the good elements she took on to become great things.

The 19th Bradford International Film Festival ran from 11th to 21st April 2013 at the National Media Museum and other venues near to the city.

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