BIFF 2013 - Master Plan - Cinema Review

'suggests potentially enlightening answers to questions most people haven't even thought to ask'

On scratchy sixteen-millimetre, with accompanying echoing sound, Robert Todd's pared-down, occasionally surrealist-looking Master Plan does not have the look of a film about to make some very potent observations. Opening with dialogue-less images of a variety of buildings - and screened here with Todd's Habitat, which is entirely comprised of dialogue-less images of a variety of buildings - Master Plan actually has the appearance of a film about to send you, very potently, to sleep.

Billed as the first of a trilogy of films looking at the buildings and locales groups of humans choose to live in, Master Plan will not win awards for presentation and Todd's adherence to sixteen-millimetre feels like an unnecessary, compromising choice. Festival programmer Tom Vincent has written very recently about the importance of BIFF remaining a film festival; that is, a festival willing to show productions from film stock. This is hard to argue with and, indeed, a necessary function of a festival centred around a media museum. But, for works such as Todd's, which could just as easily have been filmed on digital, it is even harder to argue that his choice of an old medium benefits his production. Show a digital film alongside Master Plan - where the dialogue is actually inaudible at times - to a room of one hundred people and I suspect their choice of preference will be clear. In the end, digital exists and is thriving because the image and sound it produces are better.

Content and argument though are where Todd succeeds here, producing in just sixty-two minutes a coherent entry point into what constitutes a successful housing community. Beginning in a large lot in Yale, where a detached white-wood clad house has a garden, occupied by a woman doing pruning and a homely dog, Todd works from this 'ideal' to several other American homesteads. Another house in New England with a large collection of bric-a-brac. A slightly bizarre close-knit community housing project, with common rooms and gardens. A theme park-like desert community, with water parks, bars and restaurants, all modelled on Mexican tropes.

Finally he reaches a destination that, if you think about it was kind of inevitable. From here, it's a jaunt backwards to re-examine our pre-judged notions of ideals, luxury and worth. Is a detached house, several acres from anyone, lacking contact, humanity, really what we should hold up as a place for everyone to want to attain? What does it offer back to its 'community'? What input do the residents have to society? How directly can you trace its economic worth, how it betters people, how they better it?

Todd's arguments did not quite win me over and the structure he seems to hold as his 'ideal' clearly faces some incomprehensible challenges, but Master Plan did succeed in suggesting potentially enlightening answers to questions most people haven't even thought to ask. It's execution may be flawed, grainy, but its arguments seek a new intriguing clarity.

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

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