The rebirth of the Hottentot Venus

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL DIARY

Most male directors jump at the chance to film their female stars in the buff. Jean-Luc Godard, for example, would take off his clothes as well, just to show willing. But Zola Maseko, director of an engrossing documentary, The Life and Times of Sara Baartman, is not one of those men. Sara Baartman was a member of the Khoi people, who live in what is now South Africa. Brought to London in 1810, she was exhibited as "the Hottentot Venus".

Maseko went to Paris to inspect a plaster cast of Baartman's body held by the Musee de l'Homme. As this moulage was packed naked in the crate, Maseko was concerned that filming it would only replicate the objectification to which Baartman was subjected in the 1810s. "I was looking around desperately for a curtain or something to drape over her, and then I noticed that one of the women who worked in the museum, an African woman, was wearing something suitable. I pleaded with her to let us borrow it, and fortunately she agreed." So, 190 years later, a little bit of Sara Baartman's dignity has been restored.

Shane Meadows began writing, directing and producing video shorts six years ago, using borrowed equipment and videotape bought with the remains of his income support. A Room for Romeo Brass is the latest and most eloquent example of this brilliant twist on Welfare to Work. It's his second feature (his first, TwentyFourSeven, made little impact at the box office) and it finds him concentrating on clear, simple storytelling. Andrew Shim plays Romeo, a boy who finds his friendship with his best mate Gavin (Ben Marshall) soured by the influence of a twitchy loner named Morell (Paddy Considine). Meadows's film has tenderness, belly-laughs and surges of intense savagery, the power of which more than makes up for the odd lapse of directorial judgement. Give him five years, and he'll be as much a British institution as Mike Leigh. Only more plausible.

Bob Hoskins, who starred in TwentyFourSeven and has a cameo in Romeo Brass, is one of the directors of the British portmanteau movie Tube Tales, which premieres at the festival on Tuesday (before being screened on Sky Movies on Friday night). Armando Iannucci, Kelly MacDonald, Jude Law, Ewan McGregor, and Denise Van Outen, are also involved, but I shall be watching to see the redoubtable Edna Dore in action. Dore, 77 - best known for her roles in EastEnders and Nil by Mouth - plays a bag lady with ideas above her station. "I know Bob from our days at the National," she told me, on location for her latest film, Diamond Lill (the shooting of which concludes today in Bethnal Green). "And the thought of having him, Ray Winstone and a tube train to play with for an afternoon, was too interesting to resist."

The London Film Festival Surprise Film - the cinephile's equivalent to a bran tub - screens at 9pm tonight. Here are my three guesses: Kevin Smith's Dogma, Martin Scorsese's Bringing out the Dead or David Russell's Three Kings. A sighting of Leonardo Di Caprio in town has led to chatter at the NFT that Danny Boyle's The Beach will get its first public screening at the Festival this evening.

MATTHEW SWEET

The LFF (0171 928 3232; www. lff.org.uk) continues to 18 Nov

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