Son of Babylon - a devastating, breathtaking masterpiece: Ed Film Fest review


Back in March during the battle between The Hurt Locker and Avatar at the Oscars, much-loved political theorist Zizek waded in with a comparative review of the politics of the two films. His conclusion was that James Cameron's film had been the best attack on the military-industrial complex and US corporate hegemony. Kathryn Bigelow, on the other hand, he argued, legitimised the Iraqi invasion and the actions of American soldiers by normalising them and their life - the Hurt Locker is not a pro-war film, but in making the protagonist soldiers sympathetic it inadvertently supported the politics behind them being there.

To continue this argument thru then, to follow everyday Iraqis in the aftermath of the invasion on film, as Iraqi-born Mohammed Al Daradji does in Son of Babylon, is to support the wider views of the Iraqi people and those one would expect to be hostile to an invasion. Here, then, is the first big revelation of the film. While the American soldiers are called pigs by one character and loom in the background, hovering overhead, the villain threading through this tale is the ghost of Saddam and his Ba'athist party. Indeed, in one of the many lighter moments in the film, it's revealed that 'talking to Saddam' is a way of saying you're going to the toilet. And as the film unfolds and we move from wrecked cities to a giant prison complex to the first of many mass graves, we begin to understand why. As we are told at the end of the film, some one million Iraqis have gone missing in the last 40 years, with between 150,000 and 250,000 dead uncovered so far in mass graves.

Son_of_Babylon_Poster-225x300In short, the film is a devastating, breathtaking masterpiece. With such heavy subjects at its core this would always be a powerful film. But Al Daradji and his team weaves a work of great drama built upon faultless performances and world class cinematography.

We start on an empty road in the middle of the desert. A young boy and his weathered and wise grandma wait in the midst of nothingness. It's a brilliant start which pulls us into the narrative with the deft hand of a skilled storyteller. What unfolds is a road movie, and - like the Illusionist - a child / senior relationship - things that we have seen often before on screen. But they travel across a landscape that we have not seen. Perhaps at the edges of some of war films, but unlike most of these, and almost all films on Iraq to date - this film does not involve the military; there is barely one line of dialogue from a soldier. Instead this is a film about searching, not only for a missing son and father, but for answers, for an explanation and for forgiveness. It's also, somewhat, a search for meaning about death amidst God's seeming indifference.



Sylvain Chomet's The Illusionist, opening Edinburgh Film Fest 64


Under director Hannah McGill, Edinburgh International Film Festival has been steadily building its reputation as a platform for great animation - showing the UK premieres of Ratatouille, Wall*E, Up - and this year Toy Story 3 - in a bumper year which includes the world premiere of the hotly tipped 'British Team America': Jackboots on Whitehall. But few films could be better suited to open the festival than Sylvain Chomet's follow-up to the Triplets of Belleville, which seduced audiences the world - the Illusionist, from a Jacques Tati script. For not only does this film deal with the art of illusion and make believe, through a vaudevillian magic act - much like the Presto short which front-ended Ratatouille - but it's a hymn to Scotland and a love song at that.


When James MacGregor wrote on Netribution many years ago that Chomet was set to make a film in his adopted homeland of Scotland, I was a little suspicious that he would take the task seriously. Perhaps like his segment of Paris Je T'aime, it would be a short look at some of the delights of Edinburgh's winding streets and windswept corners. What comes out instead is an unrestrained love letter, capturing the city we've all seen and loved, but going further, flying above the rooftops to give it a twist of magic and delight I've never seen.

The film couldn't be better suited to the festival, indeed in one scene the magician Tatischeff hides in the Cameo cinema - one of the festival venues - and watches a little slice of Tati's Mon Oncle, a knowing wink to the film's origins. In some ways you could see the film as a sister film to Up - perhaps 'Down' would best name it - an old man, close to his end, goes on a journey, accompanied with the optimism of a child. Indeed the theme tune is almost the same and there's an animal side kick to boot.

illusionist2It is perhaps unfortunate that a dispute regarding the Tati estate should emerge ahead of the film's release, but the information released by the Richard McDonald, the grandson of Tati certainly increases understanding of the film. To realise that the giant of French cinema had himself come from the Parisian music hall, and left a young woman there with his child; that the age of his never-met daughter would have been the same age as Alice in this story when he was writing it - it becomes not just a touching tale of patricarchal care, but a poem from an old man to a young girl as she crosses the threshold to womanhood.

Indeed Tatischeff behaves impeccably, sometimes to the point of silliness - sleeping on the sofa in his age, and creeping off in the middle of the night to take on an extra job so he can buy Alice the pair of shoes, or dress or jacket that she desires. There's certainly no comment on materialism here - his function his largely to conjure, from thin air, the possessions she demands, while she seems solely motivated by getting such things. Still it's the one way they can communicate - with her Gallic and his French - neither subtitled, and leaving the audience with the sense of watching a silent film.


Encounters International Film Festival call for entries - two weeks left

Encounters International Film Festival - 2 WEEKS TO GO

Here’s a gentle reminder that Encounters International Film Festival’s call for entries closes in 2 weeks, and we have some great multiple entry deals.



Special Edition # 40

Who would believe it but its mid-life crisis time as its Special Edition #40. But, before it grows its hair long, buys a motorcycle and searches for a girlfriend of an inappropriate age, it will find enough time to go through some of the latest and most exciting DVDs available. Laurence Boyce picks some new releases (including a ton of brand new animation), TV shows and classic film that will hopefully hold your attention. Hey, both ‘Lost’ and ‘Ashes to Ashes’ have finished. What else are you going to do?

As adaptations go it’s surprising that it’s taken so long for Astroboy (E1 Entertainment) to make it to the big screen. Seen as one of the greatest works of Manga in the history of the genre (it was originally published in 1952) it’s had TV adaptations in its native Japan and the US but – aside from a compilation made of some episodes from the 60s Japanese live action TV show – it’s never been given the cinema treatment. Given that Hollywood is now looking at adapting, well, everything (coming soon: Michael Bay’s Laundry List IN 3D!) it’s been given the computer animation treatment. The film follows the origins of the titular character who is born in the futuristic Metro City after Dr Tenma (Nicolas Cage, who seems to be have embracing his inner geek as of late with this and Kick Ass) builds a robot boy to replace his lost son. But when the mechanical boy can’t live up to the expectations of his father, he runs away and finds himself finding that the future world is not as equal as it should be. And soon a threat to the world sees Astro Boy stand up for him and his friends. This is basically ‘Pinocchio’ with robots and guns and it certainly tries to have an emotional heart that seems at odds with the colourful and shiny animation. It’s often a little too uneven and sometimes feels forced and contrived (well, as contrived as any films about a robot boy in the future can be) but there’s a strong voice cast (Bill Nighy, Donald Sutherland and the aforementioned Cage) and should prove most entertaining for Manga fans and older kids. Also includes two new animated sequences and a look into the making of the film.


Salon des Refusés: only screens films that have been rejected by other festivals

Salon des Refusés is a new opportunity for filmmakers frustrated by rejection from festivals.

Taking place for the first time at Cinephelia West in London this September, Salon des Refusés has a simple philosophy: we only screens films that have been rejected by other festivals. Why? Less than 10% of the programme at most major film festivals is generated from submissions, leaving emerging talent overlooked in favour of established names and bankable titles.

The 90% of short films that are rejected are not necessarily bad films. In fact, in many cases, these ‘Refusés ’ fall outside the remit of the festival programme for arbitrary reasons: perhaps they are the wrong length, the wrong genre or the wrong nationality; perhaps they’re too similar to, or different from, the rest of the programme.


Nozstock Festival's Cinetent Final Call for Entries closes soon

Nozstock's call for submissions


Deadline: 11 June 2010

Nozstock’s resident cinetent showcases a collection of eclectic short films varying  through documentaries, live-action narrative tales, music videos, animations and experimental works. This year the homegrown programme will screen alongside work from BBC Film Network, onedotzero, locals Rural Media among others. Contributors to Nozstock’s homegrown programme range from professional filmmakers to first attempt amateurs, the only specific criteria for qualification being that films are based around a strong original concept. The cinetent offers opportunity for up and coming filmmakers to be screened alongside established auteurs and programmes by ground-breaking visual distributors.


One week left to submit a proposal for the Open Video Conference 2010

openvideoconference-lt-lgArriving at last year's Open Video Conference, after a decade of writing mostly outside of the tech sector about how the web is shaping film, was like walking into a bar after walking across a desert with little water. The excitement of meeting so many similar (and more talented and inspiring) people lasted long into the year.

The inaugural OVC in New York was the first attempt to bring together web pioneers, indie film and videomakers and Open Source and free speech activists. It was a chance to listen to and meet the people who make Wikipedia, Firefox, VLC, Miro and Creative Commons, along with the likes of Xeni Jardin, Ted Hope, Jonathan Zittrain and Nina Paley.

The second coming will run October 1-2 and one of the organisers tells me they are aiming to get 1400 delegates this time round. If you have something to present or discuss, there's seven days to get a proposal submitted to the conference organisers - if accepted they may be able to assist with travel expenses.

More information about the conference here, and the submission details here.


Call for entries - Lancaster Children's Film Festival 2010

Lancaster Children’s Film Festival (LancsCFF) is issuing a call for entries for the upcoming 2010 festival, to take place from October 23rd-October 30th.  Screenings will take place in Lancaster’s Dukes Cinema.  For entry form and requirements go to:



Encounters International Film Festival & Depict - submission deadline

This is just a gentle reminder that Encounters International Film Festival’s Early bird submission prices end on Monday 31st May.  After this date the cost of DVD entries will rise from £20 to £25.

However, we are still offering filmmakers the opportunity to submit their films digitally to us for the reduced price of £15.  So far almost 70% of you are choosing to submit your films this way which not only reduces the costs for you the filmmaker but is also better for the environment.

We are also still offering reduced fees for multiple film entries with at least a 25% reduction for those submitting 2 films or more. Visit for further information and submissions criteria or contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for further details.

Depict! – Can you do it in 90 seconds?

Free submission, upload at Deadline 6 Sept 2010. A Watershed project.


Multi-platform business training - August 2010

Multi Platform Business School is a five-day workshop for producers of audiovisual media to enhance their skills in building business models for the development of 360º - content, the financing and marketing of linear and interactive formats and the distribution in more than one market.


Indie Filmmaker Danny Lacey embarks on Live Broadcast to raise £2,000 in 24 hrs for New Movie

dannylaceyOn Thursday 20th May 2010 Leeds filmmaker and former radio presenter Danny Lacey will broadcast live and uninterrupted on the internet for a full 24 hours in a bid to secure £2,000 worth of funding towards his next short film project, LOVE LIKE HERS.

Danny has been planning his new short film for the last six months and charting his filmmaking adventure in intricate detail through his film blog, on twitter and in 1 hour live broadcasts online every fortnight. The budding writer/producer/director aims to rally support from viewers with his open and honest account of the filmmaking process and has set himself the ultimate goal of achieving Academy Award success in the short film category within the next three years.


The Digital Creative Economy - five suggestions for Vince Cable & Jeremy Hunt

While there is some hint that the new British coalition government will follow through on the Lib Dem policy of rescinding the rushed and hated Digital Economy Bill to let it get full and appropriate scrutiny, I would imagine that many new cabinet members are grateful to Ben Bradshaw and Lord Mandelson for pushing through an unpopular piece of legislation as a parting gift and saving them from having to implement it themselves.

However the expected consequences of the Act on the healthy and profitable parts of the digital economy (from coffee shops with wifi to iPhone developers), essential for any kind of economic recovery or new growth, means the new government should at the very least reconsider the last government's approach to the problems of piracy and the promise of the digital economy. It may be that the OFCOM guidelines currently being discussed can exempt public wifi, scrap website blocking and push the three strikes option further into the future. But it may end up being smoother to introduce a new Act in 'DEAct's place, closer to Lord Carter's original recommendations before Mandy yachted with David Geffen and amended the public consultation. For what it's worth, I outline below five points that I think should be held in mind when shaping policy or campaigning in this area.

1. The Sky is not Falling

DVD and Music revenues are currently rising (DVD up 31% Q1, UK music sales up in 09,  digital royalties rise outstrips CD fall). Indeed, file-sharers using the Pirate Bay apparently spend 75% more each year on music and film than non-filesharers (£77 as opposed to £44 pa). 

2. Hollywood is stalling on providing legal alternatives

There are very few legitimate, comprehensive and competitive film streaming or download services: iTunes has less films than Tescos and getting your film on there is very hard (plus it costs more than my video shop, which makes little sense). Penalising consumers before the content industry has offered proper download solutions de-incentivises the studios to collaborate on these solutions - indeed shortly after the Bill went through, dropped plans to launch in the UK. Currently there is a lot of delay from the studios over technology as all of them want to control it. Piracy may be the most effective motivator to get them to release a legitimate alternative - ie. without filesharing we probably would never have had music industry agreement on Spotify.

3. The Digital Economy is not the Information Economy

Facebook, Google, Flickr, Twitter, etc (ie the centre of the Digital Economy) build their businesses around the intellectual property of their users; they depend on people sharing their own IP, without limit or compensation, to sell adverts against. They see little or no difference between a content producer who tweets, blogs, shares a link, mashups, photoshops, comments or makes an album or feature film as they're all advert opportunities, and there's nothing to presume that the quality of the content equates to the demographic value of the viewer to advertisers. Few professional web-native content creators - if any - would risk the backlash from trying to sue one of their fans (just as Oasis wouldn't sue someone who jumped the fence at Glastonbury for lost ticket sales).

4. Legitimate free content is just as much a threat to producers

Content creators distributing online must compete with a near-infinite amount of free and legitimate video, growing at an exponential rate. While Hollywood has committed itself to prosecuting and criminalising its potential audience, the British film and video industry may not have the luxury of being able to alienate potential cinema-goers and DVD-buyers. It is unlikely that the competition for attention online will be won by those companies that display the most bullying and aggressive behaviour (unless they have the new Batman or James Cameron film) and the British industry would be sage to study how the Pay-What-You-Want experiments of Radiohead (3 million sales of In Rainbows, avg £4 price) and the Humble Indie Game Bundle (which has just taken over $1m in one week) have done so well from of the 'Buskers Hat' model. 

5. Even if piracy stopped, lots of people will lose their jobs (and need to retrain)

Part of the root of Hollywood's panic is the threat - not from pirates or even free legit content - but of technology replacing the bulk of their jobs. Social media makes marketing departments redundant, getting a trailer cut is less of a priority when dozens of YouTube fans will make one themselves, digital distribution replaces not only buyers and planners, but video rental shops and DVD designers. Filmmaking still needs a large team, but sales, marketing and distribution needs a smaller, more savvy breed of wired, serial networkers fluent in all digital media forms. Avoiding job losses is as unlikely as YouTube videomakers paying union rates. Much of the attitude from legacy Hollywood and the unions is that 'if we get governments to legislate hard enough, the realities of doing business on the Internet in the 21st Century will go away'. While ridiculous, this is an opportunity for British companies to make a head-start in building the future infrastructure and services that support the Digital world we're approaching. One where attention is such a scarcity that few, if any, artists would add barriers such as payment or court summons to stop people 'spending' their time on their work, and instead will build their business models around the slipstream of such activity, once the user is engaged.

I hold little hope that our new government will listen to this and similar arguments from those across Britain's digital economy; personal contact with my local MP, the House of Lords enquiry, lobbyists, a union head and Digital Minister Stephen Timms amounted to nothing during the last parliament. That said, the Liberal Democrats did vote against the Bill, while Tory MPs such as Bill Cash and John Redward were highly critical of it (and surprisingly well informed). If we simply implement it as it is, the new global digital economy will continue to be driven by Sweden and California, unlikely to get similar legislation soon, with the UK - behind only two of the 250 most popular websites in the world - becoming a 'quaint' and frustrated digital backwater.


Music Video Briefs With Budgets - RadarMusicVideos comes out of development

RadarMusicVideos is a fast growing network which introduces directors worldwide to music video commissioners and promoters. The site has just come out of development, with a new look and already over 4,000 members worldwide.

Major labels, independent labels and management companies use the site to post briefs and scout for directors. Recent commissions include Fatboy Slim and Dan le Sac vs Scroobius Pip.
Most briefs commission a director from the network, to date over 200 briefs have been posted and over 100 commissions have been made using the site. All briefs have budgets, which range from around £100/$160 to £5000/$8000.


Special Edition # 39

laurencecartoonAfter a few columns in which Hollywood has been heavily featured, Special Edition # 39 focuses upon some great cinema from across the world (though with one or two releases from the US studios). Laurence Boyce will check out new releases and classics from Mexico, Czechoslovakia, Russia and Sweden whilst also dwelling upon remakes of classic TV shows and the usual mention of Doctor Who.

For those who grew up with Maurice Sendak’s classic book for children, the thought of the film version of Where The Wild Things Are (Warner Home Video) filled many with trepidation.  Just how could you transfer the simple tale it to the big screen and do it justice - even when directed by someone as talented as Spike Jonze? The answer is with some great CGI, a respectful but not slavish adherence to the source material, an assured central performance from youngster Max Records and a fine soundtrack from Karen O. Young Max lives the life of a typical 9-year-old, with an older sister who seems more interested in boys and a mother who just doesn’t understand the importance of letting him play. After a fraught night in which he argues with his mother, Max runs away to find a mysterious island full of monsters who let him be their king. But is a life free of responsibility really what Max wants? This is an emotionally resonant film that is unafraid to be talky and literate. Jonze really captures the spirit of Sendak’s book with both a sense of anarchy and a melancholic edge that laments the end of childhood. Records is excellent in the lead role whilst the likes of James Gandolfini and Forest Whitaker provide fine voice support as the titular wild things (who are brilliantly realised thanks to the CGI).  A clever and intelligent film for all ages.


Review: Four Lions


Four Lions Bombers


You've heard about it, Chris Morris' jihad comedy, making terrorism funny and all that. How does he do it? Well the Dad's Army influence is certainly there: the comedy is in the power play and false grandeur of some deluded blokes who want to show the world what for.

Four young men with very similar accents to those of the lead characters here managed just that back in 2005 on 7/7. Four Lions uses comedy to try and uncover the men behind the grainy CCTV footage and martyrdom videos left behind, as well as point out the fallibility of the police in terrorist incidents.


Help save an important part of cinema history!

Whilst the recent history of modern cinema and filmmaking has been dominated by new technologies and innovative ways of production and distribution, filmmakers are still making productive use of more archaic modes of technology. Filmmaking collectives such as EXP24 celebrate the sheer physicality of actual celluloid whilst the artistic aesthetics of such people as the artist / filmmaker Ben Rivers have are in a large part supported by the medium on which the film is made.

Unfortunately Eastman Kodak have decided to discontinue 7265 Black & White Reversal and 7231 Black & White Negative camera stocks. As a petition to save the stock states:

"7265 and 7231 are valuable tools used by the independent filmmaking community and educators across the United States, Canada, and Europe. Shooting on 7265 and 7231 offers students and independent filmmakers the aesthetic beauty of a low speed black & white camera stock at a lower cost compared to color. When pull processed, 7231 has a wider dynamic range and finer grain, making it a remarkably versatile stock for outdoor shooting in high contrast situations."

So, if you want to keep diversity if filmmaking, go to the petition below and show your support:

And please pass on the plea to anyone else you know!


Cambridge international super 8 film festival continues this week

After a successful first week, the festival goes on for a second week. Directors came from France and the US; prizes went to Colombia and Japan; and appreciative audiences enjoyed four competition programmes, a panorama showing and an eye-bending retrospective from Ian Helliwell with plenty of questions to answer. Traditional film projectors were also in evidence, to show the distinctive collage achieved by the workshop participants (another cutting-edge success) and in Mat Fleming’s brief but thrilling Super 8 Hypnosis Experiment that rounded off Saturday night.

A full list of prizewinners is already on this site, and we’ll have a further gallery of pics in due course. Much social chat has thrown up much to develop in future showings and festivals, particularly in the direction of performance and music collaborations. Showings resume on Wednesday at Anglia Ruskin University and will end on Saturday evening back at Buckingham house with a feature-length showing and a compilation from all previous festivals so far. for more information


Crossing the Pond: Ten Tips for Making it in LA

sunsetEver considered trying to launch your film career from LA? Concerned about the outcome of the next British election and considering your options? Alan Denman was a pivotal part of the London indie film community, notably as Chair of the Screenwriter's Workshop and Head of Development for Euroscript until he left to the US in 2004. Tom Fogg interviewed him here, long ago, and indeed when I started working for Shooting People he offered me free desk space. Now, with his wife Ayesha Walker (pictured below), he runs Stinging Bull Films from Hollywood and has already made his first feature.

Alan has written for Netribution a fascinating and in-depth account of his experience as a Brit in LA, learning to speak 'American', getting a Visa, writing a sellable script, as well as ten tips for making it in a very different film environment. It's 4,000 words of insider gold-dust, and worth bookmarking and reading fully when you have the time.

Six thousand feet up in the San Bernadino Mountains of Southern California. Day One of Principal Photography: a long shot of our young lead actress walking along a deserted forest road. She goes ahead on her own – and suddenly screams. That wasn’t in the script, I think to myself. I look past her to observe a large brown bear crossing the set. Principal photography is suspended as she runs back to join the main party. Fortunately she hasn’t been mauled or eaten. Indeed, the bear seems not even to have noticed her. Nervously we all creep forward to watch the creature happily snuffling around in a neighbour’s garden before moving off. Such are the dangers, thrills and indelible memories of filmmaking. 

I was there in California, a British director, shooting my first feature, which I had also written. The crew worked like Trojans, and the young American cast had so much energy it was impossible to persuade them to get to bed at night. Then in the morning they’d be up early to go through their lines with me and help rewrite my very British dialogue.

This was my first experience of how different filmmaking in America is.  Though obvious to me now, coming then from the only culture I knew – Britain – it was a big surprise to realize how differently people spoke on the other side of the Pond. You think Americans speak English? Think again – they speak American, and I needed to learn their language. The first read-through of the script was a comedy of confusion. We might as well have been speaking French and Greek, for all we understood each other. In a combination of wisdom and desperation I gave them free rein to improvise. It worked. What resulted was dialogue that was vibrant and fascinating, something I could never have dreamed up in my drafty North London flat. It was, to quote my American cast, “awesome”.

alan_ayeshaI had been writing screenplays and making short films for ten years and had reached a sort of glass ceiling: I could have gone on making shorts in Britain, but what I really wanted to do was shoot a feature. So I wrote a micro budget, small-scale sci-fi thriller, a sort of “UFO Blair Witch” about young people in a remote place looking for aliens and disappearing one by one. My original plan – a very rough one – was to take a bunch of young actors to Cheshunt Marshes, a strange area outside North London with murky lakes and towering pylons, and, hoping for the best, shoot a semi-improvised script. Not a great plan, maybe. But then I sent the script to a good friend of mine who was studying screenwriting at UCLA, one of the big universities, in Los Angeles. There he passed on the script to a producer, who loved it and was himself looking for a project of that scale and budget to produce. The timing was perfect. Serendipity. Click.

And so, four months later, in the summer of 2003 I flew to LA and then drove out in convoy with the producer, cast and crew to the San Bernadino Mountains to direct my feature film, which, after much discussion and development, was now called Alien Game. The shoot was immensely hard work and at the same time hugely rewarding, a practical degree course in filmmaking compressed into four weeks. The skies were high, blue and empty, and the mountains epically spectacular. I loved being there. Thus in innocence and hope began my journey cross the Pond.

With growing self-belief and a magnetic curiosity towards Los Angeles, the heart of the global film industry, and the vast opportunities available it offers, my wife and I relocated there in the summer of 2004 and have been living there ever since....


Leigh, Kitano and Innaritu in competition as Cannes 2010 unveiled

New films from Woody Allen, Mike Leigh, Stephen Frears, Jean-Luc Goddard and Oliver Stone will premiere at the 63rd Festival de Cannes, while Ridley Scott's Robin Hood is the opening night film.

Running from May 12 to May 23, the event also sees the debut of Enda 'Hunger' Walsh's tantalising collaboration with Hideo 'The Ring' Nakata, Chatroom, Woody Allen's London shot You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, Sophie Fiennes’s Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow and Frears modern-day retelling of Far from The Madding Crowd, Tamara Drew. Full line-up after the jump.


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Netribution ran through two periods — a static site & weekly magazine/newsletter from the end of 1999 to early 2002; and as a user-generated, open cms-built site running between January 8th 2006 and 27 May, 2014 when the last user-submitted article was received. After this it became a more-traditional occasional blog. It is maintained here for archive purposes.