On Sunday Night, with a joyous Awards Ceremony celebrating the best films of the past four days, Manchester Film Festival came to an end. Between Thursday 1st March and Sunday 4th, MANIFF (as the Festival is known) was home to over 100 films, including UK and World Premieres. There was also room for some live musical entertainment and VR across the weekend.

One of the early highlights came on Friday when Shia LaBeouf, Nastja Rönkkö and Luke Turner appeared at the Festival for a very special Filmmaker’s Studio prior to the screening of their short documentary #TakeMeAnywhere. The audience poured into the cinema with anticipation for both the workshop and the film later on in the evening. #TakeMeAnywhere was one short included in the Documentary Shorts 1 line-up, and certainly lived up to the hype. LaBeouf, Rönkkö and Turner chronicled their journey as they traveled across America for a month. They posted their coordinates online each morning and whoever picked them up could take the trio wherever they pleased.

This was the first time the filmmakers had seen their film on the big screen and it became obvious in the post-film Q&A that it had been a great experience for them, and one they were grateful to share with the Manchester audience. The film can be seen at this link: https://vimeo.com/257008225
The shorts that followed were equally as impressive. Filmmakers Federico Telerman and Nicolas Uboldi showed their film A Land which investigated the lesser-known land struggle in Paraguay between the Mennonites and the indigenous people. Their post-screening Q&A was a fascinating and eye-opening one, as many at the festival were.

Also screened was Exodus: The Sounds of A Great Migration which was a little gem hidden in the program, whilst My Riders, My Writers, in which an Uber driver asked his customers to sign a notebook with a mantra or thought, was positively life-affirming. Elsewhere on Friday, charismatic and trailblazing indie figurehead Dan Mirvish, screened his new movie Bernard and Huey, which ended the weekend by taking home the Best Screenplay award.

Saturday was perhaps the strongest day of the Festival with a wonderful mix of impressive fiction tales and powerful documentaries. Buckout Road and The Isle gave the Festival a refreshing horror tinge, but it was Can’t Say Goodbye and Damascus Cover that stood out among the rest. Can’t Say Goodbye, which focuses on the relationship of a dying father and his daughter, won much acclaim, taking home two major prizes in Sunday Night’s Awards. As well as Best Foreign Language Feature, the movie also went home with Film of the Festival. In order to grab that gong, Can’t Say Goodbye had to fight off tough competition from Damascus Cover, a spy thriller, and a fitting send-off for the late John Hurt. Star Jonathan Rhys-Meyers attended the Festival, taking home the Best Actor award for his troubles. That was one of four awards won by Damascus Cover on the night, including Best English Language Feature.

In terms of documentaries, Another News Story was a standout. It was an unflinching look at the refugee crisis of recent years. Orban Wallace documented the journeys of migrants from their arrival in Greece as they strove to reach Germany. The movie focused not just on the migrants but the journalists covering the story too, giving a fascinating and at times unsettling peek behind the curtain. Truly powerful documentary filmmaking. Other feature docs included Poisoning Paradise, a harrowing look at the destruction of Hawaii by chemical companies, and Mad Hannans, which chronicled the highs and lows of brothers Jerry and Sean Hannan and took home the Best Feature Documentary award.

As with every Festival it’s impossible to get to every screening, but MANIFF 2018 had such quality in every slot that you were never far from a great movie. It was the fourth year for MANIFF and it continues to forge a great reputation in impressive style.