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Park Chan Wook : Cyborg Therapist

cyborg-1.jpgKorean director of classics Oldboy and Sympathy for Lady Vengence, returns in fantastic and upbeat style with I'm A Cyborg, and That's OK. The film was - for me and friends I saw it with - the highlight of the 2007 Edinburgh Film Festival, a One Flew over The Cuckoos Nest in Teletubbie Land. There are far too few films looking at the effects and treatment of mental illness with anything other than despair, save (off the top of my head) the excellent Icelandic Fridrik Thór Fridriksson’s Angels of the Universe, and the 1990 Dudley Moore starer, Crazy People.

cyborg1.jpgChan Wook ventures into deep and difficult waters, armed with only hallucinogenic metaphors, candy floss visuals, and a deep, resounding sense that being different and unusual is not just OK, but rather fun. From fingertips that become machine guns to socks that make you fly, it's the imaginative explosion that Ken 'Cuckoo's Nest' Kesey would have created had he been able to join the dots between the US mental health system, where he worked, and his life as a Merry Prankster touring America with the electric kool-aid acid test. If you've ever walked a little on the wild side, or want to - go see this film, out in the UK from April 4th.



Vicki Psarias: "As a director, you're a mum, you're a dad, you're everything."

27-year-old director, writer and magazine editor Vicki Psarias has been making films since she was 11 years old. With her TV-experienced dad, George Psarias , on hand as cameraman, she directed a film about litter on the streets of Leeds, where she grew up. As she says, "I was actually directing, which is quite freaky, because I was 10, 11, and I was saying to my dad, get a shot of that over there, quick! Look at this!" 

Vicki studied film at Goldsmiths, University of London, and her graduation film, 'Rifts', about two warring kebab shop owners, won a number of awards at film festivals, including Best Screenplay at the Portobello Film Festival. Her second short, Broken, was based on the story of her mother and grandmother, who are of Greek Cypriot background, and their experiences of moving to the UK in the 1960s. Vicki is also the editor of Film & Festivals Magazine .

Fresh from winning a 4Talent award for Best Filmmaker in late 2007, Vicki directed and shot trailer footage for the English National Opera . She is currently working on two scripts and a project for the Sci-Fi London 48-Hour Film Challenge. She found some time in her packed schedule to grab some caffeine at the ICA bar with Suchandrika Chakrabarti. 


LARS VON TRIER - Revitalised

Interview by Geoffrey McNab. Illustration by Eric Dubois 

lars von trier cartoonYou issued a “Statement Of Revitality” earlier this year in which you said you planned to reschedule your professional activities in order to rediscover your original enthusiasm for film. Having made The Boss Of It All, are you now revitalised?

Von Trier: I just turned 50, you know. At that age you think of the things you dislike about your situation and you try to do something about it. I had this idea that I would have a longer time to prepare and to shoot my films. The idea was that I wouldn’t be forced to produce all the time, just because the company (Zentropa) needs the production, but in the end, The Boss Of It All was shot in five weeks. So you can scream  all you want and it won’t really help. But, you know, I like problems.  Rules are challenging. They are there to create problems for you. . I just read “The Statement Of Revitality” again and it seems it will be very difficult to change anything.

You say in your narration at the beginning of The Boss Of It All that this is a harmless comedy. Can a Lars Von Trier film ever be harmless?

Well, I felt like saying that. I had been criticised for being too political and maybe I criticized myself for that...for being too politicaly correct, actually. This is a film that was made very fast. This film is not political and I had fun doing it, but of course the good comedies are not harmless.


Shooting a feature in Iraq against all odds, Al Daradji on Ahlaam

Leeds filmmaker faced kidnap, torture and attacks to shoot debut feature in Iraq - now on cinema release in the UK 

crew-and-street-childrenThere are tales of filmmakers acting like war heroes, battling against the odds to complete their film true to their vision. There's Francis Ford Copolla in Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmakers Apocalypse clinging onto a helicopter as it took off to go fight in Cambodia, the whole journey of production on that film a kind of brute heroism. Tales of crew dying on Werner Herzog's Fitzcaraldo suggest that powerful cinema was a battle against the forces of nature, while Kubricks long time obsession with Napoleon, seem to be a reflection of the film director as war general, invading one reality, and imposing another on top.In the beginning they were calling me 'Mohammed the crazy' because if you want to make a film in the war zone it is not acceptable. People are scared, they want to protect themselves, how can you go in the middle of the street, making films?


crew-in-street-with-childreBut none of these people come close, in terms of gung ho guerilla filmmaking guts, to Mohammed Al Daradji, whos Ahlaam is currently on release in the UK. Not content to shoot a film about Iraq while the war still waged, Al Daradji returned to the country to shoot it there. He dressed extras up as Saddam's Bathist thugs and rehung photos of Saddam to create flashback scenes. He recreated battles on the streets of Iraq with soldiers and burning cars (see right), while real battles raged streets away. And in doing so he shot the country's first feature in over a decade, using a largely untrained local cast and crew, some of whom had been imprisoned under the Saddam regime. The team were shot at and threatened so many times that Daradji took to holding a machine gun in one arm and his camera in the other. His sound recordist was shot in both legs, and he and the crew were kidnapped first by the insurgents, accusing them of making a pro-USA film, and then the Americans, accusing them of making a pro-Al Qaeda film.

I've heard many stories of filmmaking against the odds - but none like this, while there are arguably few films right now as important as this one: a tale of Iraq during the conflict, shot during the conflict, with local actors and crew, filmed by a national, against all the odds. It doesn't take sides or try to prove a point. It just presents the human side of the story.

It's like the girl in the red dress in Schindlers List: in the midst of the death tolls, chaos and photos of sandy devastation, it reminds us that the people at the centre of this mess are really just like us; with broken hearts, hopes for the future and unwanted hair loss. Do anything you can to see this film, and show it to as many people as possible. For me it is the reason why cinema is great - in a heart of darkness it shows the light of the human.



For me it was like 'to be or not to be'. During the two or three years of making Ahlaam, it was like for myself, what are you doing, who you are, what can you do?"The idea came from the BBC on the 10 O'Clock news. It was the beginnning of May, a couple of weeks after the fall of the Sadham regime. It was a reportage about a mental institution. And I saw Ahlaam, the main character, she was wearing a white dress, and she was speaking a nonsense language, and this image of the lady speaking a nonsense language wearing a white dress in an empty room, this stayed in my mind. And when I went to bed, I dreamt about Ahlaam. She was on the streets of Baghdad in the scene that you see at the end of the film. That's what I saw in my dream in 2003.

"I woke up and wrote down the idea, and then two weeks later when I finished my degree I went back to Iraq and I was looking for mental institutions. I visited an institution by accident becuse I told my friend I would help some of the mentally ill people who were on the street. It was chaos, there was no government or anything. When I helped one of them back to the instituion, I asked what had happened to them and he told me their story. And so I based the foundation of the story, 50% on what had happened with these people. And so 50% is a true story, 50% fiction. "

Full in-depth interview follows...


London Film Festival: Paul Greengrass receives Variety award

 Last night saw director Paul Greengrass receive The Variety UK Achievement in Film Award at an event held in conjunction with the London Film Festival. He was then interviewed by Variety magazine's Europe and Middle East correspondent, Ali Jaafar. The discussion ranged from Greengrass's interest in Northern Ireland to the process of making The Murder of Stephen Lawrence. Suchandrika Chakrabarti reports 


Edinburgh 07 - Extraordinary Rendition - interview with director, actor & producer

Omar Berdouni as 'Zaafir' in street protest scene. Photo credit Joe Turp Extraordinary Rendition, which gets its British Gala showing at the Edinburgh film festival tonight (21st August) tells the story of one innocent man who is caught up in the Orwellian nightmare of being 'rendered'. He is abducted and detained, then subjected to constant questioning. After that comes the torture. No reasons are given, nor the right to answer any charges. The film was shot for £20,000 and stars Andy 'Gollum / Kong' Serkis.

Suchandrika Chakrabarti speaks with writer/director Jim Threapleton, lead actor Omar Berdouni and producer Andy Noble on the film's inspiration, their on-set experiences and how they hope to add to the current debate on anti-terrorist strategies.


Susan Buice and Arin Crumley - web film pioneers become YouTube's first feature filmmakers

fem8There are few poster-stars of the web-led film evolution quite like Susan Buice and Arin Crumley. The NY duo - who James MacGregor sourced for a Shooting People interview, and then for an interview for the new funding book (republished here) - have just seen their credit-card funded Four Eyed Monsters became the first feature film to be made available on YouTube (films are normally capped at 10 mins). 

There's lots of things you can say about Arin and Susan - how the couple met online and agreed to communicate initialy without speaking, and then went on to turn their art into an expose of their relationship as feature film, how they built up a huge online audience with an ongoing series of video podcasts, and self-distributed their feature film in US cinemas (with DRM-free distribution on the small-screen), who use the latest software, tech, social networks and web services as ways to talk about their feelings. At times I wonder if they were dreamt up by a marketing executive at Apploogletubesoftabox, so brilliantly do they use potentially soulless tools to create something something at once both very personal and universal.

It's this, perhaps, that's their greatest achievement - they've laid their life and love bare, shaping it into a form a world of reality-tv-junkies can gorge on, but in a form altogether more tender, honest, delicate and just plain nakedly human than anything a big media machine could ever create.

The first time I watched the Four Eyed Monsters video-casts I collapsed on my bedroom floor in tears. I have not cried like that in a long time. In fact I wasn't sure I could get up, the films had managed to kick me right back to the most terrifying moments of a broken heart, and the (handwritten) creative explosions around that. It was only a bird, peering in at my window and chirping which made me get up and go for a recovering walk by the river. But it was the honesty of the video-casts which sent me there, and judging by their huge and growing fanbase - I"m not alone.


MATT HANSON: From onedotzero to Open Source filmmaking in A Swarm of Angels

matthansonWe were moaning about bank bureaucracy in the flat the other night when I started to fantasise about an Open Source bank. As Open Source software - which supposedly backbones some 80% of all websites - goes from strength to strength, more people are looking at how to apply the methodology - whereby people are united to create the best product, as opposed to growing rich - to the real world. 

"The way print was reinvented with desktop design packages like Quark, film was ripe for the same thing to happen."

One person exploring this area in relation to film is Matt Hanson, famous for founding the trailblazing onedotzero festival, and who ever since has been exploring cinema's post-web where-next with works such as The End of Celluloid.

"The Internet allows you to create a large enough group of people who share niche tastes, to create media specifically suited to them and you. Paradoxically by including similar-minded people in his/her creative process the filmmaker can have more control and authorship over their vision."

Like Elephants Dream, A Swarm of Angels is an attempt to bridge the top down auteur-driven world of cinema with the bottom-up networked world of open source and the Internet, creating a fully financed feature film to be released under a Creative Commons non-commercial license. But if the finished film can be distributed freely upon release - why will anyone bother paying to see the end result? Well instead, people pay to be part of the process of creation. £25 gets you membership of the Swarm, and you can start voting on scripts, posters and production, while discussing decisions and direction directly with Matt himself. It's no small task, and Hanson seeks 50,000 angels / £1m to make the project, which he will write and direct, a reality, with just under 1000 signed up to date. That said, given the high production values shooters can produce on no budget when working together, open source stylee, one cam imagine something substantial being created with a tenth that many people. 

Anyway, when Matt got in touch following the Torrents and Piracy article, I had to find out more...