Grassroots and No are both political films based on real events that concentrate on the competition: to win a local election in the former film, and to win a regime-changing plebiscite in the latter. The fact that No succeeds as an engaging film to such a greater extent than Grassroots shows that political races on film need to be contested by sharply-outlined protagonists. Furthermore, while there can be laughs, playing the whole contest for laughs kills the anticipation.
The 56th BFI London Film Festival will open tonight with Frankenweenie, a stop-motion take on the Frankenstein story, directed by Tim Burton. It will close on 21st October with Great Expectations, starring Burton's partner, Helena Bonham Carter.
The Festival has a new director, Clare Stewart, who's shaken things up a bit. Here's what she has to say about the next 11 days:
Dead pan and wry are often traits associated with the national character of Edinburgh International Film Festival’s own natives, the Scots. So it’s intriguing to witness Argentinian and Greek directors – Ana Katz and Filippos Tsitos respectively - tackling family drama or existential inevitability in a dry-as-a-bone manner. Whether Argentinians or Greeks are noted for irony is moot, but considering the economic histories of both, it’s probably fair to assume it takes more than mere irony to weather the social meltdown both are so brutally familiar with.
So any curiosity as to whether financial allegory might play a part in the stories of Tsitos’s Unfair World or Katz’s Los Marziano gave way as tales of moral mores and sibling rivalry unfolded in their unique ways. Both possess humour at their accomplished cores, yet stand as sinewy, absorbing fables in their own right.
Los Marziano takes the trope of falling down unexplained holes to set up the absurdity of fraternal tension. Appearing in a golf course on the edge of oldest brother Luis’s country house garden, they establish the emotional topography of an estrangement with his younger brother Juan which has played out over a period of time never explicitly quantified - but it’s probably decades. Here are two men, who entering the third stage in their lives, are dealing with the legacy of well-worn family dynamics – the responsible, successful elder brother at odds with the hapless, genial younger who has remained financially in debt to him. Their sister brokers the physical and emotional gap between them and inevitably takes the brunt of both brothers’ inappropriate treatment. It’s a universal tale of the resentments and communication issues that beset any family and it’s a beautifully scripted and shot take on a theme that often prefers high drama and histrionics. This is a film that takes its time to tell the story by letting the men’s foibles and increasingly extreme ‘accidents’ develop the narrative. Katz’s film is smart, affectionate and funny, but wears its layers lightly whilst revealing the psychological cul-de-sacs of sibling rivalry.
Power, Corruption and Laughs. This was Danish director/protagonist Mads Brugger’s route through the failed state chaos that reigns in the Central African Republic in his documentary satire The Ambassador, premiering in the UK at Edinburgh International Film Festival this week. Tackling deadly serious subjects that involve diplomatic immunity, old colonial interference and blood diamonds dredges up images of dry investigative journalism. Brugger, instead, enters terrain that feels like the hard-boiled world of a noirish thriller but does so with arch irony as the means of keeping his audience on board his extreme and potentially calamitous journey into central Africa’s shady ‘business’ domain.
"less the territory of doc and more that of a Michael Mann thriller where an opaque network of men and meetings dance delicately and smilingly around ‘envelopes of happiness’"
Brugger adopts and acts the persona of international businessman, Mr. Cortzen, buying a Liberian diplomatic passport and throwing money before him as the means to grease his way to contacts, meetings and opportunities that are closed to him without his ‘diplomatic’ status. (Where did he get all that money to so convincingly play his part?) And this status can lead him to the ultimate prize – the ability to take diamonds illegally out of CAR. This netherworld of fraudulent old-world diplomacy and glad-handing African ministers does what a good doc should: it allows us to understand the culture of a place, a situation - especially those only ever news worthy through atrocity or disaster. It is illuminating in shining a light on the twilight dealings only ever reaching our ears in the form of failed coups and imprisoned mercenaries. It is a world of characters and situations so extreme, it almost seems beyond parody.
Brugger’s odyssey is less the territory of doc and more that of a Michael Mann thriller where an opaque network of men and meetings dance delicately and smilingly around ‘envelopes of happiness’ and crazy contractual clauses. These are the paths trodden of Mark Thatcher and Simon Mann, or ex-French Legionnaires and ex-security men who will broker you diplomatic status and ergo the capacity to get over borders with bags full of unchecked diamonds. Brugger paddles through some pretty hot water and his cojones can only be admired when one considers that the wrong step in the merry dance could, as he is warned, have him found dead in a ditch.
Brugger succeeds for the most part in maintaining the wry tone that exposes the bungs, ad hoc legalities and trenchant opportunism that are the day-to-day realities of this African country. However, it oversteps satire in fusing his character’s neo-colonialism/racism and the discrimination of fellow Africans in relation to CAR’s Pygmy tribespeople. Brugger’s impostor-diplomat may be in character dancing piss-takingly with drunk Pygmies - and who knows if this is the behaviour these diplomat-businessmen generally display - but without first hand contribution from these peoples who take the brunt of this disastrous world and are the butt of Brugger’s scams, it makes for queasy viewing, adding another layer of exploitation to what they have already sustained in this violent land.
Brugger’s film isn’t flawless and his mission doesn’t get him the grand coup de commerce he may have been after, but it gets the viewer an extraordinary and satisfying insight into a world that few of us would dare go near. This is no fantasy of dodgy geezers and lurking murder. This is the real deal. Or at least the real deal achieved via documentary deception and con.
With a new chair this year in the shape of Scotsman, Alex Graham, presiding over a delegate list now 2,500 in number and Aussie Heather Croall still proving to be an assured hand in the Director’s role, Sheffield Doc/Fest 2012 is still on a steady and upward trajectory. Funding and making docs is tough territory but in these financial anni horribili the festival itself succeeded in not only keeping funders on board but even bringing ITV back into the supportive fold.
Flavours and impressions from Sheffield run aneclectic gamut, from moshing to a Finnish punk band whose members have learning disabilities (main players from The Punk Syndrome; directors, Jukka Kärkkäien and JP Passi) to a standing ovation for the buzz film of the week, 5 Broken Cameras (directed by Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi). Sheffield takes your head and heart through dizzying territory, reminding you that documentary can confound as well as meet expectations given the right circumstances, people and ethos.
Sheffield had two openers this year, neither piggy-backing on already established popularity as arguably the Joan Rivers and Morgan Spurlock choices over the last two years might attest to. The first, Inspiration Award recipient Penny Woolcock’s From the Sea to the Land Beyond, is a piece made specifically for Sheffield and partnered with the BBC, Arts Council England and the BFI. The result was a lovely 71-minute montage of archive footage, some of it a hundred years old, backed by live music from British Sea Power. Part of the BBC/Arts Council of England’s The Space project (thespace.org/items/e00009su), it was streamed live and is now viewable on line. It was a moving and revealing portrait of British life chronologically arranged from Edwardian blokes swimming in the sea with top hats on, to hardy holidaymakers facing storm force winds and crashing rain screeching, ‘I HATE Blackpool’.
The musical theme continued with the opening film, Searching for Sugar Man, one of those docs with an extraordinary personal story that appears to be the niche speciality of independent productions, and director Malik Bendjelloul’s first feature. Detailed description risks a massive spoiler, but in the vein of all good character-led work, it also gives us insight into political and social situations remaining under the radar in sweeping histories or current affairs. In this case, a perspective was given on the white community in South Africa in the early 70s who latched onto the music of Sixto Rodriguez – the protagonist in our film – as a conduit for forming their hopes for change in a society where media restriction was total and protest crackdown was fierce under PW Botha’s apartheid regime; no matter what the colour of your skin.
The Special Jury Award winner this year was Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present. Director Michael Akers is a graduate in sculpture who was extremely sceptical about performance art, which may be a contributory factor to the success of his film. Abramovic, now 63, was, and still is, a performance artist who does not compromise, and her earlier work was often harrowing as she subjected her body to brutal intervention; cutting, flagellating, drugging - all in the name of art. Akers' film leads up to another physical and psychological tour de force: sitting for 7 hours a day in New York's Museum of Modern Art for 3 months in 2010 undertaking an interaction of the gaze with individual visitors. The emotional impact of Abramovic's presence is extraordinary to watch, and was an entirely unexpected outcome for the film: there is a shamanic quality to her, and Akers - through specific camera decisions - succeeded in illustrating the charisma and force of her personality. His decision to do more than 'document' an artwork, which would have been the traditional art world approach, arguably broadened and deepened Abramovic's work: the film itself a part of The Artist is Present exhibition and performance at MoMA.
5 Broken Cameras took us explicitly into troubled contemporary territory where brutal oppression still reigns. A collaboration between a Palestinian and an Israeli may suggest an idealistic reaching across the divides, but as co-directors Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi explained, the decision was based on mutual creative instincts. The strategy to interweave Bil’in villager Burnat’s family situation into a broader political tale of Israeli militarization and settlement impact was an attempt to create identification rather than provocation for Israel’s mainstream population - and it’s a powerful device for a deeply emotional experience for the viewer. Davidi, an Israeli Tel Aviv citizen, cited the denial of his fellow nationals in relation to the Palestinian situation. Neither director had grand hopes about the task ahead of them, but Burnat’s compulsive filming was his means of protecting his community during confrontations and healing the scabrous wounds both physical and psychological inflicted by land-grabbing and murderous occupation. He said there is no healing if situations are forgotten.
The Media Business School (MBS) is delighted to announce the launch of calls for applications to participate in the 2013 edition of MPBS – Multiplatform Business School.
Geared to content producers and creators, MPBS is a project based course designed with the in-put of leading industry professionals from across all sectors to offer participants ways of maximising their projects’ intellectual property (IP) value. The course is led by Michel reilhac, former Head of Acquisitions at Arte France and former Executive Director of Arte France Cinema.
The rEsidential training will take place in Ronda (Spain) from 5th to 9th August 2013, and will be followed by 6 months of online consulting. MPBS will focus on the business aspects of creating multi-platform content, with an emphasis on how to appeal to and engage audiences and maximise the commercial value of the project.
GET ‘ANIMATED’ BY ADDING FINISHING TOUCHES TO NEW MOVIE BY THE CO-OPERATIVE BRITISH YOUTH FILM ACADEMY
A new movie by The Co-operative British Youth Film Academy is drawing on community creativity to add the finishing touches to its first ever animated feature.
“Richard II” was shot during last year’s school summer holidays with The Co-operative British Youth Film Academy’s (BYFA) creative mix of students and professionals from the world of film and education.
Now in post-production, the movie is undergoing BYFA’s new special visual affects treatment which converts live-action into realistic animation.
Develop smart, inspiring and innovative marketing and distribution strategies for feature films.
The Media Business School (MBS) is delighted to announce the launch of calls for applications to participate in the 2012 edition of MD – Marketing & Distribution. Geared to experienced film industry professionals, MD is an intensive, project based programme focusing on the marketing and distribution of feature films, with digital media embedded as a cross-cutting theme throughout the course.
The five-day course will take place in Ronda (Spain) from 10th to 14th July 2012 and it is designed and delivered by leading European and US marketing and distribution professionals, from both the independent and studio distribution sector.
A record number of films are getting release in British cinemas without any cuts being needed to get approval. Figures released by the British Board of Film Classification show that during the past decade less than three percent of the 4,951 films released into cinemas had to have cuts in order to achieve the classification they wanted.
Bader Ben Hirsi could make quite a screenplay out of his experience directing the first feature film ever made in Yemen, the ancient land at the tip of the Arabian Peninsula. His results though, have impressed the Arab world, who are bound to be his sternest critics. Ben Hirsi's film has just scooped the Grand Prize at the Cairo Film Festival. James MacGregor, who has spent many years in the Middle East has been following Bader Ben Hirsi's story and the making of A New Day in Old Sana'a.
Owen Thomas the producer (and now distributor) of the UK's first DV feature, the acclaimed One Life Stand, directed by May Miles Thomas, offers advice from his foray into DVD distribution on How To Sell Your Film (Not Your Soul)
Before editing software was developed and even before there were any edit suite controllers, video tape was edited by manually slicing it by people using very sharp razor blades.
This was a process known as Kamikaze editing. Early editors also used a microscope, a cutting block, magnetic developing fluid and degauzed (demagnetised) razor blades. For a clean edit, the tape had to be sliced at the video vertical interval between frames. This was found by painting the surface with a special developing fluid, which Ampex called Edivue. This dyed the tape, exposing the magnetic scan lines to the the naked eye.
In Britain we like our television scriptwriters to be lovably eccentric - think the anarchic Paul Abbott, the flamboyant Russell T Davies or the wonderfully indiscreet Andrew Davies.
In the US, TV dramatists are a more serious breed altogether.
Jon Williams and his creative team spent in excess of two years crafting their underground comedy Diary of a Bad Lad and a further year taking it through post, producing a film that many film luminaries have acknowledged to be fresh, original and different.
After getting endorsement for their product from people like Chris Bernard, Alex Cox and Nik Powell, you would think that getting it "out there" might not be too difficult. Think again. Jon Williams certainly did and when Netribution asked him, wrote this account of driving his film to market.
Jon's article makes it clear how just a few people hold a pernicious grip on UK film distribution and what an impenetrable cartel it has become. Diary of A Bad Lad is being distributed by WYSIWYG Films and is finally being released this autumn on the Digital Screen Network.
It’s not often that you hear a director
ask an actor, “Can we get a few grunts from you? Can you just get
that grunting? Okay, now how about some heavy breathing? And where’s
Zombie Number Two? We need you!” So begins a hectic day of filming
a five-minute thriller for the Sci-Fi-London 48-hour Film Challenge.
Director Vicki Psarias , who won last year’s 4Talent Best Filmmaker award, is asking actor Chris Rogers – playing “a strange man” – to re-record some sound. The planes flying overhead, the dismal weather and the lack of a sound monitor have made things a little more difficult than usual. The team only have a few more hours to shoot out in the forest by Barnes station in south-west London, as the next day will be devoted to editing.
Tom Swanston Reports from the NORDIC CO-PRODUCTION FORUM
Haugesund, Norway 21-23 August 2006
This year the beautiful coastal town of Haugesund, Norway was host to the first ever Nordic Co-Production Forum, held from 21st to 23rd August. The town is situated on a long sea inlet in the South West of the country, a 45-minute flight from Oslo.
It was an inspired idea – creating a feature around the ultimate fantasy of a girl from village India dreaming of Bollywood stardom and to fulfill it, running away with The Truck of Dreams, the mobile cinema that rumbles around the dirt roads that pass for off-the-beaten-track in rural India. It was a dream also for London-based director Arun Kumar, a first feature with global themes, financed and shot in India, combining his western expertise with his mother culture. In fact, it was the dream that often appeared to be turning into the ultimate nightmare, as everything began to go wrong. But this is India, where everything is possible – eventually.
Arun Kumar takes us on the road with his Truck of Dreams.
It's 3 AM in central London - dark and quiet except for the odd car and the hum of generators huddled round the outside of Westminster Cathedral. But here, inside, light is flooding in through the windows as though it was midday. And in the minds of the 150 or so people here it is midday and this isn't London, it's the Escorial Palace in Spain in the year 1588. King Philip II of Spain, the most powerful man in the world, is about to tell his ministers that he now has the right to invade England - the Spanish Armada is about to be launched.
Uncover Favourite UK Film and TV Locations
When I lived in Oxford a decade or three ago, it would have amazed me to imagine that my modest street in the working-class neighbourhood of Jericho would one day witness scores of escorted tour parties earnestly retracing the murder investigations of Inspector Morse. But at last this sign of the times has gained a name. Set-jetting is defined as a passion to visit places you read about in books or see portrayed in films and television. Estimates vary on how widespread the fad is, but it's a fair guess that well over a quarter of us are influenced to some extent in our choice of holiday destinations by novels or screen presentations.