Tuesday, 22 December 2009
Tuesday, 15 December 2009
Like many filmmakers, Haneke's best work succeeds because it plays on several levels, composed as it is not only of surface narrative but also of deeper themes and ideas which force us to confront our preconceptions and attitudes. In short, the thing that makes Haneke's films what they are is their complicated, multifaceted nature.
It therefore came as no real surprise when Haneke spoke out about the ridiculousness of the 'pitching' stage of filmmaking, and specifically the idea that filmmakers should be able to convey their entire idea in a single sentence. Obviously this isn't a problem for high concept work ('It's Jaws in Space'), but for anyone working in the 'arthouse' sphere it certainly raises some issues. Trying to encapsulate the films of filmmakers working on the level of Haneke in such a brief way – even once it's completed – seems a rather pointless (not to say futile) exercise. This is perhaps even more the case with a filmmaker like Béla Tarr, whose work deals as much with the ineffable as it does with more tangible concerns.
So, I guess the questions then are: why has this 'culture' of the one-liner (the logline) emerged, and who is it ultimately benefitting? The writer? The audience? Or, for want of a better word, the executive?
Clearly it's the latter.
But let's not be flippant about this. Even at my stage of career, my time has become a premium. As a writer I find loglines infuriating to create, but as a director looking over prospective projects they're a great timesaver – if I like the sound of the project I'll read on, if I don't then I won't. So it's clear that these loglines, as inappropriate as they often are, do serve some kind of purpose. But I do wonder (and worry) about the future of an industry in which projects can be passed over (or commissioned) on the strength or weakness of a single sentence – a space which is completely adequate to encapsulate the entirety of a project (unless it's high concept or, God help us, hollow).
I'm not sure that, as yet, I can think of a solution to this problem. People are busy and there needs to be a way to sort through the mountains of projects in a quick and timely fashion. But I also think that there needs to be a more widespread recognition of just how absurd the whole idea of the logline really is. I've heard of writers working backwards, creating a great logline and then trying to construct a script around it. Effective high-end material aside, I fail to see how this can really create great, complex cinema and it suggests that we could reach a time where projects are dumbed-down to the point that (mainstream) cinema excludes anything which takes more than a few seconds to summarise. Some would no doubt argue that all films, no matter how complicated, can be effectively summarised in a few words, and perhaps there is some truth in that. But we have to remain open to those projects that can't be, and not be so rigid in our acceptance of the ludicrous logline that we overlook filmmakers attempting to make complex work that will challenge us. Otherwise there'll be no new filmmakers able to continue the spirit of people like Haneke. And, let's face it, the world would be a far more boring place without them.
Thursday, 3 December 2009
Sunday, 22 November 2009
Tuesday, 17 November 2009
As regular readers of this blog might remember, around this time last I year I wrote about my first trip to Filmstock International Film Festival, which I attended as a screening filmmaker with my short film Canbury. I wrote about the 'friendly, passionate and supportive ethos with which the festival was run' before talking about some of the great films that I'd seen while there. Well, this year I was fortunate enough to have two of my shorts selected: Hungerford: Symphony of a London Bridge and Paintbrush (which, I'm thrilled to say, also picked up the audience award for its session). Getting into any festival is always a good feeling, but I was especially excited about being invited back to Filmstock. After my experience there last year I'd have attended the festival even if they'd have kicked my films back, but I have to admit that the fact they selected them added to my enjoyment and gave the trip more of a purpose (other than just that of having fun!). However, as pleased as I was to be returning to the festival, I also knew that the trip would be tinged with sadness: shortly before the festival began it was announced that this would be the last ever edition of Filmstock.
Tuesday, 10 November 2009
Alexander the Last
Although Alexander the Last might be produced by Noah Baumbach and be director Joe Swanberg's first film starring professional actors, it's still every bit as fiercely independent as one would expect a film from Swanberg to be. Dealing with an actress' struggle to keep her feelings for her onstage lover in check and her offstage marriage intact, it's hard not to read the film as a personal reaction to the making of Swanberg's previous film, in which he starred as a man in an intense long-distance relationship. Once again working with improvisation to create his material, Swanberg has managed to make an intelligent film which deals honestly with the emotional struggles faced by those attempting to be truthful and committed in both art and life.
The Time That Remains
Tuesday, 3 November 2009
Saturday, 31 October 2009
So why exactly has this charming, tender film proved so controversial? Well, it's a good question – I was initially surprised to find that anyone had found such a seemingly innocuous film offensive in any way. However, after a little thought it wasn't so hard to see what people disliked about it: it's quiet, it's unfussy, it's slow, it's subtle – all attributes which many people dislike in films, even though they might claim otherwise. To compound matters further, it's also incredibly simple – a fact that even admirers such as myself have to concede. As beautiful and as likeable as the film is, there's no denying that there's not a huge amount of depth to it, playing as it does as an extended will-they-won't-they scenario. In short, it's a one note film. For its detractors, it didn't matter how well acted it was or how striking the cinematography looked – it just wasn't interesting enough to sustain its slender 79 minute run time. For the people who champion the film (amongst whom I class myself), it was one note played so well that the lack of variation to its melody wasn't a problem.
What I find so interesting, therefore, about the whole debate that blew up about this film is a) that out of all the films this was the one which split people so passionately, and b) that there seems to be a certain level of agreement between the people on each side of the argument. So, regardless of whether what I've said here makes the film appeal to you, I'd urge you to see it when you get a chance, so that at the least you'll know which side of the fence you fall on....
Tuesday, 27 October 2009
The film also reminded me of a short story that I wrote a few years ago for a competition (after I'd discovered Borges but before I'd read August 25, 1983, I hasten to add). Although reading it again now makes me realise it's a bit of a mess, I thought it was still worth posting on here. As I remember it, there were two main things I was trying to achieve with it. The first was thematic, to do with identity and specifically how one deals with one's past and future selves. The second idea was concerned with form and style. As it was a story about time travel, and therefore about the non-linear unfolding of time, I wanted to attempt to create a similar effect through 'time travelling' parts of the story in and out of sequence. I'm not fully convinced that it worked, but please judge for yourself...
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
From the journal of C– B–, 25th June, 2006:
Somewhere in there, there was a story. Perhaps. But I’d started at the end, so it was impossible to tell exactly what, or where, it was. I was writing my journal – this journal – when it began. Or at least as much as something like this can be said to begin…what happens to narrative chronology when the very fabric of time itself is folded and delineated? I suspect, like time itself, it becomes a mess, embedded through and through with inconsistencies and paradoxes.
He I We He Me I How to refer to my future-self? Surely the personal pronoun of ‘I’ still suffices, for although when in a face-to-face meeting such as this I am two separate entities, present and future, my future self still remains myself, nevertheless? It was over and I stepped out of the light, and the shadows reclaimed me, never to be seen again (back to my own time, I suspect). Having now left myself alone with myself, it seemed that I also wanted to return to my own time, and so I too stepped back into the shadows to be reclaimed by my past. Yet still my present memory remained unchanged by this meeting. The pen scratched over the browning paper in my crowded study. Ink flowed onto the pages as I sat writing down my thoughts of the day into my journal. The room was dark, illuminated only by my desk lamp. Around me shadows abounded – the very shadows from which they I came. ‘Yes, you will remember this day, and what is said here. I remember this day’ I said to myself. ‘Indeed, it was fundamental to my – our – discovery, to us solving our lifelong dilemma’. I interrupted myself: ‘well at least in your branch. In mine it was our next meeting which solved our problems’. I sat, dumbfounded, unsure of what I – either I – was saying. Although my ink had been flowing before my arrival, my mind was dry. I had got no nearer to finishing my life’s work: how to manipulate the flow of time in order to travel along it at a disproportionate speed, or even, perhaps, to turn it back on itself. In short I was alone in my study hoping to crack the secret of time travel. If I knew then what I know now, perhaps I would have ended my quest long ago…I was staring at myself dumbfounded when the second I arrived (that is, the second I that wasn’t the I that is here now). I was as dumbfounded as I, evidently not expecting myself to arrive for a third time. I explained it to my two other selves: ‘I know neither of you remember me at this meeting, but afterwards I decide that even this present time is too long after the start of my search , and head back even further to reveal the secrets’. ‘Huh’, I said, obviously grasping this better than I had. I continued: ‘but then how come I do not remember being here twice before? And I was only present twice at the previous meeting…and surely even the I younger than me but older than you would remember this, remember being here before?’. ‘Ah, of course’ I responded to myself ‘in this branch of the future I know less than I do in my own past…how silly of me to forget…I will be informed at this meeting by my past self – I – that each journey through the time stream results in a new branch – an alternate time, an alternate reality being formed. Of course, I also tell this to myself when I return to the past and share the very secret of time travel’. I nodded. I too was beginning to grasp the ludicrous situation before me: ‘So I have come here to tell my past self the secret of time travel?’. I – both Is – nodded to myself. My nib was running dry. I was about to refill the cartridge when I first stepped from the shadows. ‘Do not be alarmed’ I told myself. But I was nevertheless…I was being faced with my own shadow, no, my own reflection, no, my own self! ‘I have come from your future to put an end to this quest of yours – of ours…’ My voice halted as another set of footsteps soaked up from the flower-patterned carpet. I turned and I turned also, only to see myself step forth from the shadows…oh, to be young again!…The wrinkles on my forehead were nowhere to be found on this earlier version of myself. ‘And so’ I concluded to myself ‘there you have the answers that you seek. Like I have said, where they came from I do not know, but now at least you know them too’. I nodded to myself. ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘and now you know also that you must go further back, and continue the cycle’. I nodded, and so did I. I continued: ‘and don’t forget to explain to yourself that when you travel you only travel into a possible past…a new branch. A new possibility’. I nodded again. It was over. I wished myself luck and stepped backwards, away, going. Gone. ‘Ah,’ I said in response to myself. ‘But if I inform myself of this branching, then again the paradox ensues…this paradox is destroying me, you know? It’s the one thing I haven’t answered. Perhaps, youngest self, you can answer it…you seem to know more than me…if these ideas are being passed from my older self to my younger self, where do they come from to begin with?’. I sighed. ‘I may have solved the mystery of the branching, of unremembered past activities, but this even I have not solved. Perhaps by the time the I of my branch reaches the same age as the I of your branch, I will know. But where do any ideas come from?’. ‘It’s true,’ I responded ‘that ideas are usually generated by oneself…given to oneself, but this seems different. I am here to tell my younger self the secrets he is looking for, and in years to come he will repeat the cycle, and the idea will go around continually, never ending, but seemingly never starting either’. I nodded – the I that is the I that writes this I – adding ‘perhaps it is not for us to understand the nature of the divine’. I nodded in unison to myself. There was nothing left to do but conclude. Indeed, there is nothing left to do but conclude, and it would seem I must get going. I have a date with myself, and secrets to share…
Tuesday, 20 October 2009
Tuesday, 13 October 2009
Sunday, 11 October 2009
Tuesday, 6 October 2009
Sunday, 4 October 2009
Sunday, 27 September 2009
So, what else there to be excited about? Well (in a facetious way) how about the new monthly networking and screening night that I'm running? No? Okay, well, on a more serious note, how about a Barbican 'Directorspective' on Wojciech Has? In my opinion, Has is one of the most cruelly overlooked directors of all time. In recent years, his work seems to have been undergoing something of a 'rediscovery' thanks to Martin Scorsese's and Francis Ford Coppola's restoration of The Saragossa Manuscript which was first released in 2001, and which enjoyed an extended run at the BFI at the end of 2007, swiftly followed by Mr Bongo's DVD release. Featured in none of the many film books in my collection, it seems like Has has been largely and unfairly sidelined in the history of cinema when, based on the four films I've seen by him, he really deserves to be right up there in the 'canon' of master filmmakers. Split between psychological realism and more surrealist work, his oeuvre seems to be crying out for a true reappraisal and adoption into the ranks of the 'canon'. Hopefully this retrospective (which is also touring to other cities the UK) will help others to discover the work of a filmmaker who has provided acknowledged inspiration for directors like Luis Buñuel, David Lynch, Lars von Trier and Martin Scorsese (all of whom have, at times, described The Saragossa Manuscript as their favorite film). A work of poetic beauty and magical realism, I'd easily also recommend it to fans of writers such as Italo Calvino and Jorge Luis Borges.
The events that I'm mentioning here are, of course, not the only things happening in London film-wise, but with all this going on how can anyone have time to do anything else? Before finishing I'll return (briefly) to where I came in...
The LFF line-up does seem very strong this year. I've managed to get a press pass for the festival and intend to write about everything I see in one way or another, so I'll be posting articles, capsule reviews or links up here as and when I can/want to. A few of the films I'm especially excited about and therefore very much hoping to see are (in no particular order): The Portuguese Nun (because of Kieron Corless' comments in the latest Sight & Sound), Father of My Children (because it's based loosely on the life of producer Humbert Balsan), Alexander the Last and Beeswax (because I like these kinds of films), Laila (because it's directed by George Schnéevoigt, who shot four of Dreyer's silent films), The Informant! (okay, so the trailer is terrible, but Soderbergh is still yet to make a bad film, so I have faith...), The Men Who Stare at Goats (because Grant Heslov did great work on Good Night, and Good Luck and Unscripted), The Road (because The Proposition was a masterpiece), and The Touch (because it's Bergman).
Friday, 25 September 2009
Thursday, 17 September 2009
Tuesday, 8 September 2009
I was listening to the radio yesterday when 'I Predict a Riot' by the Kaiser Chiefs came on. Now, the funny thing about 'I Predict a Riot' is that I first became aware of the song when it was played in clubs while I was a student and, not knowing anything about it (not even the name of the song or who it was by), I was utterly convinced that the lyrics to the chorus were, in fact, 'I'm Fully Tourettes, I'm Fully Tourettes'.
Well, what can I say? We've all done it at some point or other.
For the longest time not only myself but also all of my friends held a steadfast belief that the chorus to 'Got It On Tuesday' by The Wildhearts was not 'I got it on Tuesday, just like a cheque in the mail' but was, instead, 'I got it on Tuesday, just like a kick in the nads'. Finally, in a similar vein (somewhat literally), and perhaps most amusingly of all, for some reason I originally thought that the lines 'You got me lying with ease / I'm only keeping the peace' in their song 'Whoa Shit, You Got Through' were 'You got me lying in lenis / I want a kick in the penis'. Which makes no sense whatsoever. So there you have it.
Normal service to resume shortly, you'll be pleased to hear...
Sunday, 6 September 2009
Sunday, 9 August 2009
A Response to the Kid In The Front Row: What impact can we have as filmmakers? And with impact, do we have responsibility?
What is the maximum impact we can have as filmmakers? Can films really change lives? Can they make us act for social change? Can they change us for the better?As the post has been written to encourage debate, I thought that I would write a post detailing some of my own thoughts in reply to these questions, as well as commenting briefly on The Kid's own post.
Essentially, The Kid's answers to these questions (as I understand them) focus on how films can change people in the sense of our political and social ideas, or, in other words, the way that film can affect us (or indeed manipulate us) to change our views in a somewhat 'practical' sense. To put it another way, The Kid is, whether intentionally or not, discussing the role of film as propaganda. Personally, I do not believe that audiences are necessarily susceptible to indoctrination (for want of a better word) through cinema, but I do believe that 'campaign' films can be dangerous if they go unchecked, especially when they offer very biased views. To take a recent example, there was a Channel Four documentary which put forth the idea that climate change doesn't exist, a view which was readily adopted verbatim by several people I know. So here is a practical example of a film (or, in this case, a television documentary) having a direct impact on people and explicitly influencing their views in life, and therefore their behaviour. As I said before, however, I don't necessary believe that films themselves have the power to change people outright, and I would suggest that the people I know who are now so rigid in stating their denial of climate change probably had this belief before seeing the programme. (If they didn't, surely the most the programme would have done would have been to spur them into conducting further research? Though perhaps I am overestimating the strength of the human spirit in my belief that people cannot be so easily influenced!).
For my own answers to these questions, I would take a slightly different approach, and I hope it's not an approach which is at odds with the original questions. To me, film can have a huge impact on our lives in a way which, perhaps, can be referred to as spiritual. I'm not sure that spiritual is a great term for it, just as practical probably isn't the right term to discuss the effects that I've spoken about above but hopefully these terms, at the least, make sense in the context of this post. So, what do I mean by spiritual? Well, I'm thinking of the way that certain films – such as, say, those by Bergman, Tarkovsky, or Haneke – make us think about the world around us, and our approach towards it (for instance, by exploring responses to violence, religion or grief). By making us think about a diverse range of philosophical and ethical concerns, these filmmakers provoke responses which change us as people, and they do so not by propaganda, but by provoking reactions and making us look inside ourselves in order to find new facets of understanding about our existence and our approach towards the world in which we live. In this way, I would argue, filmmakers can have a huge impact on their viewers, and can indeed change them 'for the better'.
So the difference between what I see as essentially propaganda, and what I see as films which can provoke change within us, is that the former promotes a message and tries to persuade us that this message is right, whereas the latter ask us questions which open us up to our own responses and allow us to find our own 'meaning', our own 'message'. As both a filmmaker and a film fan, I would suggest that the latter is a far better – and more morally responsible – way to elicit change within the viewer.
Before finishing, I'm aware that many would argue that a filmmaker such as Haneke should fall into the former category and not the latter, but I would respond that although his films often have a very clear authorial 'message' to them, they convey this message in such a way as to provoke the viewer into her or his own response to the message, rather than simply expecting the viewer to soak it up wholeheartedly and unquestioningly.
Wednesday, 5 August 2009
Tuesday, 28 July 2009
‘But what I admired most, as realising most nearly my ideal heroine, was her perfect assumption of the high spirits, and readiness to enjoy everything, of a child out for a holiday. I doubt if any grown actress, however experienced, could have worn this air so perfectly; we look before and after, and sigh for what is not; a child never does this: and it is only a child that can utter from her heart the words poor Margaret Fuller Ossoli so longed to make her own, “I am all happy now!”
I found it a rather poignant sentiment: that we, as adults, look and judge in ‘negative’, defining things by what they are not and by what they exclude; because we have a higher level of knowledge and higher standards than children we are more aware of the concept of ‘imperfection’, resulting in a striving for ‘what is not’ which prevents us from simply enjoying ‘what is’. Perhaps if we learnt to look and judge in ‘positive’ we could start enjoying things for what they are, rather than criticising them for what they are not; perhaps what we all need is a little more child-like wonder in our lives...
Saturday, 18 July 2009
But, of course, that level of excitement is a dangerous thing. Can a kids’ cartoon from the early nineties really be all that good? And let’s face it, my taste in television programmes hasn’t exactly stayed the same over the years. So I was very worried about being disappointed. When the disc arrived, I placed it into my player with extreme excitement, but also trepidation that I was about to crumble my childhood memories to dust (I used to love this show so much that I literarily had dreams about it)...
But I needn’t have worried. The show is amazing, and every bit as good as I remember it. And it’s not just me saying it. Look at any of the fan reviews for the disc, and everyone’s saying the same thing: that it’s just as good as, if not even better, than they remember it. So, what is it that makes the show so great? Quite simply, it’s the writing. Forget about Heroes or Lost or any of the other supposedly great shows – Exosquad genuinely delivers what those shows promised and failed to do: it gave us characters to care about, action sequences to get excited about, and ideas to actually think about. Undoubtedly one of a kind, it’s certainly one of the best TV shows that I’ve seen, and I urge you all to go out a buy the Season 1 DVD. I don’t say this only to help you discover what you’ve been missing, but also for the selfish reason that I
Unfortunately I couldn’t find a version of the opening introduction which I could embed, but you can watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=52WvNMUt7Pk
Friday, 10 July 2009
‘But in Hiberno-English Scullion-speak, the particle ‘so’ came naturally to the rescue, because in that idiom ‘so’ operates as an expression that obliterates all previous discourse and narrative, and at the same time functions as an exclamation calling for immediate attention’ (from page xxvii).
Ever since reading this I’ve never been able to write the word ‘so’ at the beginning of a sentence without thinking about it. Like many other words, ‘so’ is a simple, common word that we use on a daily basis and because of this we use it automatically, without even really thinking about what it means or the power that it contains. What’s great about the quote from Heaney is that it takes us back to the word itself and makes us consider language in a (perhaps) new way. Although I wouldn’t say that I hold any particularly special interest in linguistics or semantics, as a writer I like to feel that connection with language and I love the way that Heaney expresses the outright power which can be conveyed by the conjunction of two simple letters.
Wednesday, 1 July 2009
Day 4: Tuesday 23rd June
Started at 09:00 at Cinemaworld for the industry screening of Masquerades. The film took me a while to warm to, but by the end I really enjoyed it. It’s not so much funny as humorous, but somehow it’s a very human and feel-good film, and possibly one of my festival highlights. I’d certainly recommend it strongly.
After the screening I actually had a few hours with nothing scheduled, so I decided to head into the videotheque to check out A Light in the Fog. For those that don’t know, A Light in the Fog is a new Iranian film which had two public screenings and one press screening scheduled at EIFF, and which was actually the film I was most excited about seeing (I had a ticket for the first public screening). Unfortunately, however, the political situation in Iran meant that the print of the film the festival was going to screen couldn’t get out of the country. I checked the EIFF website on a daily basis in the hope that the print would arrive in time for me to see it, but as it wasn’t looking likely I decided to settle for seeing the film in the videotheque. I later found out that the second public screening of the film did go ahead, which was rather frustrating. I heard a lot of great things about the videotheque but I have to say I didn’t enjoy my experience. Quite rightly, press and distributors get priority, but that means that as a filmmaker it took me a long time to get a machine, and when I did it was only under the proviso that I could get kicked off at any time to make way for press or distributors. For an action film that extra sense of anxiety might have been a bonus, but for a film like A Light in the Fog, it was a bit of a killer. To make things worse, the film was low quality, had a logo in one corner, and writing across the screening saying ‘for screening purposes only’. Based on what I saw on the monitors around me, this quality wasn’t typical, but it was annoying. So, obviously these viewing conditions were not ideal for watching a slow art film. But the film’s power was clear all the same. Compared by EIFF to Sokurov, the film called to my mind the works of Tarkovsky and Angelopoulos, not only because of the long takes, but also because of the texture of the images and especially the mist. It had an almost magical quality, and was a breathtaking piece even in the compromised circumstance under which I saw it. The ending was fantastic too, and I would love to see it again in better circumstances. But film distribution being what is I doubt I ever will...
Next up, at 15:00, was the public screening of Black Box Shorts 1. As it happens, the one-to-one that I was able to get after the Film Funding in the UK ended up being slap-bang in the middle of the screening (although it was originally supposed to be between 12:30-13:30!). So after seeing the introduction and the first couple of films (including my own), I rushed out to have my one-to-one meeting. The meeting was with Katherine Butler from Film4, and we discussed my feature project, Life Just Is). Although the project is too microbudget for Film4 to consider (they don’t get involved with anything under £400,000) it was a very worthwhile meeting, and I found Katherine to be a very friendly person. As soon as I was finished with her, I had to rush straight back to the Filmhouse to do the audience Q/A. Having done a few of these things now, I’m starting to get a little more confident, even though I’m generally a little uncomfortable in the spotlight, so to speak. But I think it went well overall and I managed to answer people’s questions in a reasonably successful manner.
After the Humpday screening, I headed back to the delegate centre for the Short Filmmakers Party, which was actually a bit of a letdown in that it wasn’t particularly well attended and it ended rather early. Still, I met some great people, and that’s what it’s all about.
Day 5: Wednesday 24th June
09:00 and time for the first industry screening of the day: Pontypool, which was a lot of fun, and which offered an interesting spin on the zombie genre along with the best one-liners of the festival (‘We’re going to need a flamethrower!’). In all, it was a bit ridiculous and I’m not sure if it all made logical sense, but it was funny and had a few genuine scares which more than made up for all that. One piece of advice for anyone viewing it – make sure you stay till after the end credits!
11:00 bought the second industry screening of the day: 35 Shots of Rum. For me, there was a lot interesting stuff going on in this film, but it didn’t quite work – I wasn’t fully engaged, and I felt like it suffered from multiple-ending syndrome. There was one scene in the film though – when the characters go to a cafe after their car breaks down in torrential rain – which really was quite extraordinary. Later in the day I caught up with some friends whose opinions I trust, and they really liked the film and made some very interesting points about it, so I think in all I’d like to reserve proper judgement until I see it again.
Next up was the 13:00 public screening of The Wild Angels. It was a solid, well made film with some great moments, but which, for me personally, was actually a bit too nasty to be enjoyable or to recommend; personally I don’t enjoy films which show morally reprehensible behaviour in this sort of casual way and I’m aware it’s a subjective criticism and not an objective comment about the film.
I was due to go and see Gulabi Talkies at 16:00, but I found out at the last minute that I had been given a slot for the ‘Meet The Experts’ event, which involved having a private session with a panel of industry experts to talk about my feature. Although it was a shame to miss the film, the session was worthwhile and I was pleased to have the opportunity.
Next up I got to see the legend that is Roger Corman live in conversation. Unfortunately, the event wasn’t as interesting as it could have been. The talk was conducted by Kim Newman and, although I have a huge amount of admiration and respect for Newman, I don’t think hosting interviews is his strong point. Corman himself was graceful and fascinating but the event contained too many clips which went on for far too long, and overall it didn’t have the appeal that it could have had with a stronger interviewer. Still, Corman did reveal some interesting facts, such as that the reason why he worked so hard and made so many films was simply because he loved it, and how he typically plans 80-90% of his films in advance in order to be able to shoot them so quickly (most were shot in just ten days). He talked about never wasting time on set, even when they’d finished shooting everything they had planned (it was in a spare half hour at the end of the day that he shot the murals in the pit in The Pit and Pendulum). He also revealed that he shot The Masque of the Red Death in England with flats left over from Becket, and talked about how he tries to put a theme or a comment in every film that he does.
After the Corman talk I actually had a bit of spare time, and didn’t know what to do with it – it seems that only having twenty minutes between screenings is vastly preferable to having an hour and a half! Still the film that was after the break was Steven Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience, so it was certainly worth the wait. I thought it was a really interesting, powerful film about human interaction and dependency, but I’m not sure that it was quite the masterpiece I was expecting. I’ve seen it said that Soderbergh wanted to continue in the vein that he started with The Limey, and although the structure of The Girlfriend Experience raises a number of interesting reactions, I think that, as a whole, The Limey works better as a way of using cinematic language to reflect the contours of the human mind. As ever with Soderbergh, the filmmaking itself is impeccable and I look forward to peeling back further layers of the film in subsequent viewings.
The Girlfriend Experience was followed by the DigiCult Party, which was a little too noisy and sweaty for me and the people I was with, so after a while we defected to the Filmhouse. It was a good way to spend my final evening in Edinburgh.
Day 6: Thursday 25th June
I had been hoping to make the 09:00 screening of Black Box Shorts 3, but as it was my final morning I needed to start getting ready to check out and ended up just heading to the Filmhouse for the 10:45 screening of West Point, which was also screening as part of the Black Box strand. The film was a sensual and impressionistic account of two siblings looking back over their lives and the effect of their mother’s murder while they were children. It took an interesting approach to the narrative and I’m sure it’s a film which would be rewarding in subsequent viewings. For some reason it reminded me of Chris Marker’s work, but I’m not sure why. The film played with two shorts and, although one didn’t do much for me, the other – Horse Camp – was the surprise of the festival and, if I dare say it, the film which I liked the most...So, in all, a great end to a great trip!
Day 3: Monday 22nd June
Back at Filmhouse for 08:30, and this morning was the only time there was actually a big queue in front of me – it seems like people were really excited about the prospect of seeing Darren Aronofsky in conversation...
First up was the industry screening of Süt at 09:30. The film started with a fantastic opening scene which ranks along my personal festival highlights. Unfortunately, the rest of the film didn’t continue in such a strong manner: the final scene felt especially weak, and I have to admit that I got lost amongst the symbolism along the way. I felt like the film definitely had something, but if I’m honest I’m not sure what...
11:30 bought along the first proper industry event that I attended: Compromise or Commerce? Packaging and Selling Your Project for International Markets. The panel was moderated by Ali Jaafar, and featured Peter Trinh (ICM), Jeremy Barber (United Talent), Samantha Horley (Salt) and Tanya Seghatchian (UKFC). I thought that the session was very interesting, and appreciated the candid honesty of what the panellists had to say. A few key points from the discussion were as follows:
• There are now more films being made than can be distributed, which means that people are paying less for the films that they are buying.
• There is a worldwide market for action movies and thrillers, but dramas are a tough sell and need big names to work. When writing a drama it is important to think about the essentials which make it universal.
• Getting a theatrical release in the US will help the film’s performance in foreign markets.
• Blockbusters are actually doing very badly in US right now, but are doing very well in export. They are not being solely funded by the studios. Private investors have less investment options with their money than they used to, so they are now willing to put cash into films.
• There are going to be fewer buyers in the independent sector and there will be a lot less private money for arthouse films and ‘brave’ work.
• Right now, the European market is strong enough to be able to make a film financially viable without having to target it at the US market. Some films are being made only for the UK market.
• New media and multiplatforming has paralysed the industry as people aren’t yet sure how to make money from it, but it’s clear that the traditional theatrical model will not stay.
Straight from this I rushed to the delegate centre for another industry event: Film Funding in the UK. This event was split into three different panels: ‘National Organisations Funding Film’, ‘Funding from the UK’s Nations’ and ‘Regions and How to Cast Public Funding in your Film’. The first detailed the facts and figures behind what Film4, the UKFC and BBC Films can offer, and also what kind of work they’re looking for (essentially the same for all: director lead projects which stem from a unique vision and contain an individual voice). The second panel did the same, but focusing on each of the regional agencies (best tip: find someone Welsh to work with). The panel also discussed how we need to start thinking regionally with our projects and conceive projects which embody the culture of a specific town or region, so that we can get local funding in exchange for promoting the local culture. There was also talk of the changing distribution models and the need for the industry to adapt to the potentials of new media. As Suzanne Alizart of EM Media rightly stated, we need to see the rules for ‘premieres’ change, because we no longer live in that kind of linear world. In the third discussion, the panellists talked about the ways in which people can use public money in their films. By the time it started the audience had thinned, and it felt like it was the least successful of the three panels, despite the interesting panellists. At the end of the session it was possible to book a one-two-one session with one of the panellists. I gave in my CV and project pitch and found out the following day that I was lucky enough to get one....
Following this event, I spent some time catching up with an Edinburgh-based friend, before heading off to the Cineworld to see Darren Aronofsky In Converstaion at 18:30. At the risk of seeming blasphemous, I want to be upfront about the fact that I have only seen two of his four films (π and Requiem for a Dream) and that I don’t hold either in particularly high regard (so I was very amused when he was introduced as ‘one of the best directors in the world’). Still, I have to admit that the talk was very interesting, and I’ve since purchased a copy of The Fountain to see if I can get into his more recent work. When they showed a clip from π during the talk he said ‘I haven’t seen it for a long time. It’s pretty humiliating’ as soon as it had finished, and then spoke about how he saw Requiem again recently and didn’t recognise the director that he was when he made it. This self-deprecating vein came across as very genuine, and when the interview started he seemed very shy and quiet, though he did warm up as the talk went on. Overall, I thought he was a very unassuming presence, and in fact I heard several stories about people not recognising him during parties and screenings.
One thing he said that struck a chord with me was that ‘If you do your job and you make a good film, there is an audience for it’. As well as talking more specifically about each of his first three films (they didn’t have time to discuss The Wrestler!), he also spoke more generally about certain things; for instance, how he tries to express emotion with the camera, and how every setup has to say something about the story. In short, he sees himself as an impressionist rather than a realist. He believes in the power of collaboration and he is loyal to his collaborators. Everyone involved in π – from the director to the actors to the grips – was on the same percentage, having worked for a stake in the film rather than money. Now that they are in profit everyone gets cheques; something like $1,200 every six months.
He spoke about his opinions on 3D, which I found particularly interesting. Like me, he finds wearing glasses on top of glasses a terrible idea, stating that it ‘sucked’. Overall, he finds the whole thing very annoying, and stated that he thinks it’s a gimmick which doesn’t actually represent the world any better than 35mm. His main reason for this was that both foreground and background elements are sharp, which isn’t like life. He said that he would love to see someone like John Waters do something with it as it has that sort of kitsch value! On a more serious note, he does think that James Cameron will do something amazing with it.
He also spoke a little bit about his time on Batman, stating that he wasn’t that interested in doing it, but worked on it in the hope that it would help him get funding for The Fountain. He was only going to write it and wasn’t going to direct it. Apparently, the version he was working on was even more realistic than what Nolan did with it and it would have featured a ‘duck tape’ Batmobile. Finally, he refused to discuss what he was going to do next, and when someone asked him about Robocop, he claimed not to know what they were talking about...
Next up, at 20:30, was a public screening of Spread, which I thought was perfectly well made, but just not very interesting. It had a strong ending, but up to that point was fairly predictable and uninspiring, while never being less than serviceable.
Finally, the day was rounded off by the Trailerblazers Party. Although I met some great people and had some good conversations, it was essentially a loud, crowded bar, which isn’t really my idea of fun (or Aronofsky’s apparently: he headed off early!).
Click here to read Part III of this three part post.
Please note that due to length I’ve split this over three posts. Part II is here, and Part III is here.
Day 1: Saturday 20th June
After arriving in Edinburgh and checking into my hostel, I headed straight to the delegate centre, where I was given my pass and several booklets containing various pieces of information. It was all a bit overwhelming in some senses, but these booklets (especially the Who’s Who guide) were well worth taking the time to look through and familiarise myself with – without them it would have been impossible to make the most of the festival. As it happens, though, I didn’t have time to read them all before my first industry event started: the daily Hair of the Dog Networking event in the Delegate centre bar. We all know what networking events are like, so I’ll skip the details, but this first night was especially busy, and I met some great people even then.
Next up, after grabbing a quick pizza, was my first screening: the international premiere of Moon. Now, I have to admit I was a bit clueless about a couple of things when I went to see this film: 1) I didn’t realise that it was a British film, and 2) I didn’t know that Duncan Jones was David Bowie’s son. I’m not outlining these facts because I think they’re necessarily important for enjoyment of the film, but they somehow seem like things one needs to know when talking about it. I must say that it’s good to see a small British film of this type; it’s atypical of the type of films usually made over here, and it’s atypical in a good way. Made on a modest budget of 2.5 million, it also proves that even engaging sci-fi doesn’t require the bloated budgets that Hollywood seems intent on pushing into films which ultimately fail on both a financial and an artistic level. I think that a lot of mainstream filmmakers could learn a thing or two from Jones and his crew.
In the Q/A that followed the screening, Jones talked about his desire to create a piece of intelligent sci-fi, stating that he wanted to do this for the simple reason that it’s the type of film that he would be interested in seeing. The film was also an attempt to emulate the ‘golden era’ of 70s sci-fi. For the most part, I think the film works well. It’s engaging and interesting, and offers an intelligent approach to themes of loneliness, isolation and long distance relationships. Personally, I think that the film could have been a little slower burning in getting going, but that says more about my personal tastes than the film itself. The film reminded me in places of Solaris, and I have to admit that, for me, this is where the film falls down slightly: it’s a very intelligent, very well made film, but what it’s not is a profound existential meditation to rival the likes of either of the film versions of Stanislaw Lem’s novel. I should probably add that the film won the Michael Powell Award for Best New British Feature Film, and also say that Jones is planning to make another film set in the same universe. On the strength of Moon, it will certainly be a film worth seeing.
After leaving the Moon screening, it was back to more networking, this time at the Filmhouse. When I got there it was completely packed, and assuming that it would be like this every night I left early in order to finish looking through all the information that I had been given when I arrived. As it happens, it was the busiest night of the festival and, rumour has it, the busiest night at the Filmhouse bar in seven years...moral of the story: never leave a networking event early – it might be the best chance you get to meet interesting people!
Day 2: Sunday 21st June
Up bright and early in order to get to the Filmhouse for 08:30. The way the industry pass works is that you get into all of the industry screenings for free just with the pass, but if you want to get into the public screenings you need to pick up tickets from the Filmhouse ticket office. It’s worth stating that the festival only allocates a limited number of tickets to selected public screenings/events for delegates. This was something of a bone of contention for some of the delegates that I spoke to – it seems that people are loath to pay for tickets once they’ve paid for a pass. In some ways I guess they’re quite right, but as my pass was free, I didn’t feel like complaining much...
Having secured my public tickets for the day, I went into the 09:00 industry screening of International Animation 2. As always with programmes of shorts, the quality was mixed. There was certainly some interesting work in there. From the first couple of films (The Man and the Woman and Nicola & Guillemette) I was worried that sentimentality was going to be the running theme, though the dark finale to La Nostalgia del Sr. Alambre proved that this was far from the case. For me, the real standout film was the Swedish animation Lögner. Described as ‘Three perfectly true stories about lying’, the film was a powerful and engrossing animated documentary.
Straight after this (11.15) was the industry screening of Black Box Shorts 1, which contained my own film, Hungerford: Symphony of a London Bridge. Like all but one of the industry screenings I attended, the screening wasn’t particularly well attended, which I found a little disappointing. The films were centred on the theme of ‘Space and Place’, but the programme contained an impressive and eclectic mix of films. For me, and I believe for the person I attended the screening with, the stand out film was Dropping Furniture, though I wonder if that’s because it was also the most accessible and in some ways ‘traditional’ of the films. For me the film was about the futility and devastation of war, but my friend had his own opinion. It’s certainly a film to inspire debate and, in its own way, it was also rather captivating.
At 13:00 I jumped into the public screening of The Raven. The film was utterly ridiculous, but very fun. I hadn’t realised it was going to be a comedy, but with a cast that includes Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff and a young Jack Nicholson it was never going to be anything less than a riot to watch.
Next up (15:00) was the one full industry screening I attended: Shane Meadows’ mockumentary Le Donk & Scor-zay-zee. It’s a very funny film, but also very light and disposable.
After that I finally had some time to grab some food before heading back to the delegate centre for more Hair of the Dog Networking, before then going back to the FIlmhouse for the UK Premiere of Denis Côté’s All That She Wants. All That She Wants is a very hard film to write about, because in some ways it’s a challenging film, though perhaps not for the right reasons. I liked the film a lot and it’s certainly (from a photographic point of view) one of the most beautiful films I saw at the festival. But it wasn’t what I was expecting: it was somehow much simpler, and somehow much more narrative based than both the festival brochure and Côté himself would have one believe. In the Q/A that followed the screening Côté talked about how he was deliberately offering challenges to the audience by placing ellipses in the narrative. He explained how he set the film entirely in the present time: ‘the day after the storm’. Something has happened in the backstory of the characters, but we’re never told what. Côté joked that he made the film in black and white because the ‘people don’t deserve to be in colour’, before explaining that he felt that the black and white helped convey the film’s sense of ‘no man’s land’ territory. For him, the film was a play on genre, especially on the Western, and he cast the film based solely on the faces of the actors and their ‘Western’ looks. When talking about the pacing of the film, Côté stated that ‘I wanted something very paralysed’, a ‘hypnotic bubble’. The film contains many long and stunning takes and there is no music until a song at the very end. The song was included as, for Côté, the ‘ending is super melodrama, it’s grotesque’. He therefore used the ‘super cheesy’ music to play up these aspects.
While all of this makes the film sound challenging in an exciting way, what actually makes the film challenging is far less interesting: it’s not the ellipses in the narrative, the slow pace, the black and white photography or the lack of music, but instead the fact that, for all of these factors, it’s such an easy film. As a spectator I didn’t feel like I was being pushed, but more that I was watching a rather simple narrative wrapped up in a beautiful, arthouse style. So the challenge, for me at least, was trying to work out where this leaves the film. Style over substance perhaps? Or perhaps even style as substance? Some I spoke to felt that it made the film pretentious. I don’t think I would agree with that, though I can certainly understand it. It was disappointing in some respects that the film failed to offer a real, genuinely philosophical challenge to its viewers, but I don’t want to come across as too negative about the film. Though it might be little more than a simple story told in a beautiful way, it was one of the most memorable and enjoyable films that I saw at the festival, and I would strongly recommend it. I look forward to seeing it again to see if it contains any further layers that I missed on the initial viewing, but even if it doesn’t it still remains a powerful and engrossing film.
The screening was, of course, followed by more networking into the early hours...