Laura Livingstone on the red carpet

Iron Man 2

When Laura Livingstone left Ireland in 2006, she couldn’t have imagined that a few years later she’d be part of the team behind blockbuster hit Iron Man 2 (box office $250,000,000 and counting):

‘I grew up in Armagh itself and moved to the country when I was 16, to Ballymacnab, but I was only there for two years before I went to Dublin for college. My trip here was supposed to be for 18 months, and I’m still here! ‘

She initially moved to Los Angeles when her best friend Claire and her sister got jobs in Orange County, and suggested that she try her luck as well. Her ability to speak Spanish and knowledge of European movie co-production from her time at the Northern Ireland Film Commission won her a job at a film production company setting up their next movie.

When the actor and writers strike bought Hollywood to a halt, she moved to San Francisco and worked on non-profit documentaries and took a digital film course before landing a contract gig at legendary Industrial Light & Music (ILM) in the Presidio, where she worked in the office of the Visual Effects team on the hit movie:

‘I worked as a Production Assistant. Myself and my colleague were responsible for keeping the office ticking and assisting the producer, the production manager and the production coordinators in any way we could. I was also a point of contact and support for the artists and animators working on the movie.‘

She recently returned to Armagh, where there was a surprise waiting. One of her old friends is manager of the local cinema, and she arranged a special screening for nearly 50 people who all walked the red carpet to the city’s arts center for a post-screening party:

‘My sisters and brothers all came home for the screening and my sister’s boyfriend from Liverpool said over a few drinks the night before that someone should dress up as Iron Man. I think he regretted it, as he was handed a costume the next day before the screening! It was funny when the local kids were chatting to him and he was answering questions about Iron Man in a very strong Liverpudlian accent. It was cool when they all saw my name in the credits and everyone cheered!‘

Laura lives right beside Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, and her lifestyle reminds her of home:

‘We barbeque in the park at weekends from spring to autumn, and it’s great living beside the beach. In Ireland I was never far from a beach and they all have something in common; the water is freezing and you don’t go in, but it’s nice for a walk!’

She loved the beaches in L.A. too:

‘When I first landed with my friends we stayed in a hostel on Venice Beach Such an amusing place to live! We met some characters, that’s for sure. Since the girls lived in OC I got to see lots of different places; we went to San Diego for Comic Con, and went clubbing Downtown and in Hollywood. An actor friend of ours got us into loads of clubs and we were a bit of a novelty (three Irish girls!).’

Her favorite place is Santa Monica, where she used to live just off Main Street:

‘I knew all the shops, bars and restaurants there. I would bump into people and it reminded me a little bit of walking down the street in Armagh as it had a community-like feel to it.‘

She goes home to Ireland twice a year and misses department stores Penny’s (in the South) and Primark (in the North), but as for the future she wants to stay in visual effects:

‘I’ll find out soon what I’ll be working on next. In the past I have worked on smaller productions, this is my first experience working on a blockbuster and I loved the excitement of it.’

James Bartlett

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Interview with 'Colony' co-director Ross McDonnell

colonyThis Film Ireland podcast recorded after the screening of  ‘Colony’ in the IFI on Friday July 23rd 2010 was chaired by the IFI’s Sunniva O’Flynn with ‘Colony’ co-director Ross McDonnell and former Green Party leader and former Minister for Food and Horticulture Trevor Sargent on the panel.  ‘Colony’ highlights the important role bees play in agriculture and agribusiness worldwide and the problems faced due to Colony Collapse Disorder.

In part 1 Ross reveals more about the filmmaking process including the support he got from the Irish Film Board, how he and co-director Carter Gunn got access to their subjects and his future projects.

In part 2 the panelists along with Phillip McCabe, best known for his contributions on RTÉ Radio One’s ‘Mooney Goes Wild’ and Michael Gleeson, Secretary of the Federation of Irish Beekeepers, address the ecological issues raised in the film.

Both parts of the podcast are approximately 17 minutes duration.

Colony was released in the IFI on Friday July 23rd 2010.

www.irishbeekeeping.ie

www.ifi.ie

www.irishfilmboard.ie

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Not Just Another Bee Movie

Colony

With Colony being released exclusively at the IFI, Ross Whitaker puts the spotlight on this bee-on-the-wall documentary with his interview with co-director Ross McDonnell.

Ross McDonnell – co-director of Colony – meets me in Dublin fresh from the Toronto International Film Festival, where the buzz around his debut feature was great.

Colony may be one of the most aesthetically beautiful documentaries of the season, as well as one of the more urgent and intelligent,’ wrote Variety.

‘The movie constitutes a satisfying addition to the blooming, buzzing field of social issue documentary,’ wrote The New York Times.

In addition to the compliments of the newspapers at Toronto, McDonnell has recently heard that his debut film will also play at IDFA, one of the world’s most important documentary festivals. But, despite these successes, his biggest concern at present is that he is smashed broke – welcome to the world of documentary filmmaking.

One hopes, though, that the financial challenges of making documentaries won’t discourage McDonnell and his co-director, Carter Gunn, from pursuing future projects in the medium. This is a mature, intelligent, informed piece of work from two young filmmakers who clearly have more to give.

Bee Gone
Colony is one of a number of bee movies that are emerging at present. These documentaries are prompted by the clear and present danger facing bees as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) leaves landscapes of empty beehives across America and beyond.

Now, those of you who spent your primary school education getting stung by bees and falling asleep in biology class might be surprised to hear that honeybees are actually quite important. Because they pollinate our plant-life, these noble, industrious creatures are central to our own survival on Earth. Einstein reputedly said that if the honeybee became extinct then man would only have four years left to live.

‘It was actually falsely attributed to him,’ McDonnell tells me. ‘It turns out that a bunch of disgruntled French beekeepers made it up and credited to him. Anyway, I read that and it’s a pretty powerful statement and I read all the statistics about the American beekeepers who ship bees back and forward across the US to pollinate every third bite you eat and I thought it was interesting material for a film.’

Bee keepers

While the film interviews numerous beekeepers, it concentrates mostly on veteran beekeeper, David Mendes, and Lance and Victor Seppi, two young brothers starting out as beekeepers in tough economic times. As Mendes campaigns on behalf of all beekeepers, the Seppi’s try to keep their own business afloat.

The Seppi family is very much the emotional epicentre of this film. The observational footage of the family’s struggles is enthralling and one of the strongest aspects of the documentary. The story of their collapsing business, affected both by the struggles of the bees and the world economy allows the filmmakers to subtly get across the message that perhaps we have more in common with bees than we realise.

‘When we met the Seppis they had seven children, they’re a home-school family and they’re actually really natural environmentalists – they live in the middle of the country, they grow their own food and they eat an almost entirely raw vegan diet. We started to think that they were a colony in their own right. We went with the thought that they were a colony, the United States was a colony and that the bees were a colony and we then looked at ways of interweaving these stories.’

Bee killers?

One of the strengths of the film is its openness to all sides of the story. While CCD could have catastrophic effects on nature and society, nobody is fully sure what has caused the problem. Rather than standing back and pointing the finger at pesticide manufacturers, the filmmakers patiently pursued access to the corporation and let them put forward their side of the story. It turns out they might not be to blame.

Perhaps we are all to blame. One is left with the feeling that bees are more important than we realise, that our cavalier attitude towards them might lead to their demise and that our tendency to undervalue their importance might lead to a reduction in the beekeepers that look after them.

Colony is a tribute to what can be done with time, talent and a little money. Gunn and McDonnell spent the guts of two years immersed in the project, with McDonnell on camera and Gunn taking care of the edit. The film is stunningly shot and the two-man team clearly made the effort to develop the relationships and access necessary to tell the story well.

‘If I can draw a parallel with feature filmmaking, what we wanted was to see the change come from within our characters. We were very lucky that we were given the time and the support to be able to see the change over time in our subjects and in the story. We were fortunate that the Irish Film Board and our producers at Fastnet Films gave us the support to do that. They never said, “where are you going with this?” They were with us the whole way along.’

They all should be proud of this clever, powerful film.

Colony is being exclusively released at the IFI from the 23–29 July 2010, visit www.ifi.ie for details.

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Chris Rocks! Q & A with 'Good Hair' presenter

Chris Rock

South Carolina-born African American comedian Chris Rock grew up in Brooklyn, his first break arriving after Eddie Murphy cast him in his Beverly Hills Cop II (1987). He went on to work on Saturday Night Live, from 1990-93. His HBO comedy special Bring the Pain (1996) made him a household name in the US as well as earning him two Emmy awards. TV series The Chris Rock Show followed, which ran from 1997-2000, as did roles in Dogma, Beverly Hills Ninja, Lethal Weapon 4, Nurse Betty, The Longest Yard, Bad Company, Bee Movie and Madagascar, along with a starring role in Down to Earth. Rock has also worked behind the camera, both as a writer and director of Head of State (2003) and I Think I Love My Wife (2007). In 2005, he launched TV series Everybody Hates Chris, which ran for four seasons, winning several Emmys. He recently produced and starred in Death at a Funeral. Following the release of his first documentary, Good Hair, Rock is currently working on a documentary about debt called Credit is the Devil.

How was your presentation of Good Hair in Brixton a couple of weeks ago?

Great. It is that kind of movie. It just gets people talking. Some movies, after the movie is over you go and eat and you talk about the food, but you see a good movie, you are talking about the movie. This movie, you talk about it at the restaurant and when you drive home and talk about it at work the next day.

Do you think people are surprised that the film isn’t stuffed with comedy?

Hey, it’s funny. People who hear that I am doing a documentary A) they don’t believe me or think B) has he gone serious? Comedians go serious? Hell, no. And C) then there are some people who think I am just making fun of black women and their hair styles. No. It is a serious doc and is actually pretty funny in the way that a Michael Moore documentary is. It is quite informative. Black or white, you could enjoy it. You are going to learn a lot and see a lot. It is a large-scope documentary. It is travelling all over the United States and all over the world, to places like India.

Where did the seed idea come from, the Hair Show?

That’s right, the seed idea was actually The Hair Show. I had stumbled on to The Hair Show twenty years ago and I thought, ‘The Hair Show should have been a movie twenty years ago’. But twenty years ago they were not making these kinds of documentaries. I had this weird idea and I didn’t have a world in which to make it. Like the guy who wanted to go to the moon. Loopy. ‘What is he talking about, the moon?’ Cut to two years later. My daughters have a little hair issue and it kind of sparked this kernel of an idea up. Like ‘Oh, Man, I forgot all about that’ and so it made me go, ‘Okay, I think I am going to do that.’ The Hair Show is twice a year too so I knew I had to do it.

You could have done a good fictional movie on that hair show…

Actually, I never thought of making it fictional. I always thought what you see right here on the screen is what I always thought. I knew there was going to be funny documentaries before there were any. It is weird. I have actually got offers to make these kinds of films now. As far as fiction goes you could easily do the Jason Gregory story. You could do the white guy that comes from a small town and dreams of cutting black hair! That might be kind of funny. Owen Wilson could also do that. He could actually play Jason; he’s got the hair!

You mentioned your daughters having hair issues as a catalyst for the movie…

Yeah. She was just really enjoying her girlfriend’s hair. She was like, ‘But this is such good hair.

She used those words?

Yes. And I was like, ‘Baby your hair is beautiful. I like your hair much better than hers.’ Positive reinforcement. So that was what got me thinking about it. More so than anything it was my daughters. Otherwise I would have taken it for granted like everybody else.

You were quite careful to be objective in the film, and not to criticise people openly, like the woman who gives her three-year-old a perm…

The woman is wrong for putting the thing on the girl’s hair but does she think she is wrong? That is the thing. You can’t arrest somebody for speeding if there are no signs up, you know what I mean? She doesn’t know what’s wrong. She has probably got her own hair permed at a young age. I don’t want to make people feel bad and judgemental. I played it down the middle and I am really interested. It feels as though people want me to be mad at certain people in the movie. But has journalism and everything become so judgemental that we are not even used to seeing anything down the middle any more? We are coming up in an era where people don’t even know what objectivity is. You don’t really get in news any more. You get what is the right wing news or what is the left wing news. It’s weird. The news in the middle nobody watches. There are parts of the news are very objective but that bores the hell out of people.

Does the fact that so many black women want hair that belongs to non-black women upset you at all?

It makes you sad at the end of the film when these people live in such poverty, and make no money on selling their hair. Black women and their hair, it doesn’t make you sad. Kids, that makes me sad. Kids getting perms and kids learning these habits at a young age… I have daughters six and eight, and there’s no flaw on my daughters. That freaks me out, if someone would think that there is anything wrong with their kids. That stuff freaks me out. But otherwise it is, ‘Just let people do what they want to do.’

Whatever race or creed people are, they just want to look different…

Women get bored very easily. Do you know why some white women dye their hair blonde? Yet what’s the point? You are beautiful. It’s your own hair. But they go blonde. Millions and millions of them. Of all the white men I have met I would say ten per cent are blond at the very most. But most white women are blonde, so like eighty per cent of white women dye their hair blonde? It is crazy. I am going to assume that the same percentage of white men are blonde as women. There are not a lot of blonde guys. There are just not. It is rare. It actually sticks out, a blond guy. Unless you go to Norway or something, you don’t see it.

The TV series you produced, Everybody Hates Chris, what aspects were drawn from your own life, the hard working, strict father?

That was real. The mother was real and I am the oldest of seven, while we only had three of us on the show. But my brothers were always cooler than me, more athletic than me and I was the oldest so it was kind of weird. The younger ones are definitely cut a lot more slack. As the older one, you are an explorer. You are knocking down walls and they walk through them.

Did the comedy come from the fact that you were picked on at school for being a minority or did come from being at home with the family and being happy?

I don’t know. Maybe both. I was small too. Half of whatever happened to me happened because I was just a skinny kid. A skinny kid is going to get their ass beat anyway so I if I was a skinny white kid I probably would have the shit kicked out of me too.

When you were at school, apart from wanting to leave, what did you want to do?

I wanted to be a comedy writer even back then. There were black comedy writers but the only black people I ever saw in comedy were comedians. Writer? That seemed so foreign. Writer? I don’t know any writers. I had never seen a black writer; it was like being an Eskimo or something.

And now, you still consider yourself a comedian first and foremost?

Yes. I am a comedian. fever. No matter what.

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)

Good Hair was released on 16th July 2010 –  Read Film Ireland’s Review here

Good Hair – Official Website

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Interview with writer/director Neasa Hardiman

neasa_hardimanIn this ‘Film Ireland’ podcast Charlene Lydon talks to writer/director Neasa Hardiman about her work on ‘The Tracey Beaker’ series, her recent project ‘This is going to take more than one night’ and her experiences of working across film, TV and theatre.

This is an audio podcast of approximately 20 minutes duration.

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Tim Smythe talks about 'City of Life'

City of LifeCity of Life is currently finishing its run in cinemas in the United Arab Emirates. Over 80,000 people have already gone to see the movie in its native country, four times what the makers had projected. In its opening weeks City of Life was only outdone at the box office by two giant Hollywood Summer blockbusters – Clash of the Titans and Iron Man 2. Not bad for a low-budget home-grown film. City Of Life is a phenomenal success story not just for Emirati filmmaking but filmmaking in the Middle East in general.

In a style similar to Paul Haggis’ Crash, the film follows three very different characters whose lives intersect at the end of the film with a very realistic and impressive car crash. It tries to capture the essence of Dubai, which as a city is a melting pot of polarised cultures and values. Using characters from very different backgrounds, we get a very broad and accurate depiction of Dubai. We follow the lives of a privileged, young local man, an Indian taxi driver who dreams of being a star and we are shown the champagne lifestyle of glamorous high flyers through the eyes of a European airhostess.

Like Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Babel, which producer Tim Smythe cited as another influence on the film, City of Life is broken down in to three separate stories save for some minor crossover scenes. I asked Smythe, if this was like shooting three separate movies, and whether this made it easier or harder from a production point of view. ‘What made it difficult was that it is a big film with a small budget. We had 80 actors and 46 locations. We didn’t have a budget that we could keep all the actors at the same time. We had to schedule the European (story) day scenes, European night scenes, going in to the Indian crossover scenes and day scenes and on like this in to the Arab story scenes. It was not the best way to schedule a film, very complex but it was the only way we could do it with the budget.’

So if you’re reading this thinking ‘hey I’ll just head out to Dubai and make some films bankrolled by a rich Sheikh’, think again! Smythe tells me that before he had come on board, Ali F. Mostafa the director had spent two years raising the money for the film. Mostafa raised 30% of the budget by finding sponsors for the film and by approaching prominent companies in Dubai like Dubai Taxi Company, Dubai Airport, Dubai Duty free etc… These companies would put up some of the money in return for product placement in the film. Some independent film purists may find this method of financing ethically challenging. Does this compromise the integrity of a film? For example, the Dubai Shopping Festival is worked in to the plot of City Of Life, and watching the film you would you would be forgiven for thinking that there is only one taxi service in town, which is certainly not the case. For me this is a very minor criticism, it was a means to an end for the makers, and is done as naturally and tastefully as possible.

The makers used their small budget very well and wisely they invested particularly well in their casting. They only had a budget for eight international actors, and they chose them very carefully. For the European storylines they enlisted some very talented and prolific actors. Most notable was the casting of Jason Flemyng, who many people will recognise from his parts in Guy Richie’s movies, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and probably his biggest role to date as Brad Pitt’s father in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. The film also features performances from two up and coming European stars. Natalie Dormer would be best known for her part in The Tudors and Alexandra Maria Lara has popped up in some high profile features including The Baader Meinhof Complex and Coppola’s Youth Without Youth. These are definitely two names to watch out for.

The casting of Arab parts was another big challenge for the production team. There is not a very big pool of actors in the region. With the exception of the Arab lead, the makers had to look outside of the UAE and import Arab actors from Canada, Britain and Germany, a lot were first time actors. Smythe laughs ‘There was a lot of coaching going on.’ Again wisely they invested in a renowned acting coach whom they brought out from France and ‘it shows on screen, they did a wonderful job.’

Director, Ali F. Mostafa has had a lot of success with his short films and had directed many commercials. However this was his first time directing a feature film. I asked Smythe if directing a film on such scale, ever became overwhelming for him? ‘Well, yeah I had to hold his hand to an extent but he’s a very confident young man, and he was focused on the mission and what he wanted.’ Smythe believes the reason they were so successful was the fact that they prepared for every detail in pre-production. ‘We did script read-throughs with all the lead cast, there was a lot of people working together on it. Ali had a very strong and powerful crew and it shows. That’s why we stayed on schedule and that’s why we achieved everything we wanted.’

What surprised me most about the film was how realistic it is. Living in this region, you are aware that criticism of the country in the media is not very common. However, the film is a warts and all portrayal of Dubai. It tackles very controversial issues especially for a Muslim country, including adultery, sex outside of marriage, racism and alcohol. The film lifts the lid on the glitz and the glamour and flashy exterior of Dubai. I asked Smythe if they felt censored at all while making the film. ‘I’ve been a filmmaker here for quite a bit of time, I know how far you can push things. We would have liked to have pushed it further in some areas, but we had to be respectful and remember we wanted to make a film we were going to release. So it’s not that the film was censored but to a level we had to censor ourselves. We also wanted to be responsible to future filmmakers in the region. We pushed the barrier quite far, so filmmakers can look at our film and say, ‘Well they did it in City Of Life’ and will push it further again.’

When asked what was the most exciting element of the production, Smythe talks proudly of the film’s finale, the car accident scene. ‘I love what we achieved with that. When we tested it in London, some people compared it to some of the James Bond crash scenes, some people even said they thought we did a better job.’ Apart from this Smythe seems to be very excited and surprised by the reaction the film has already received.

So what is in the immediate future for City of Life? ‘Well now it will go to other Middle Eastern countries. We’ve signed an international sales agent – Shoreline, who will be responsible for international distribution. Ali is currently developing two projects. We may be in a very rich part of the world but finding money for any film project is still a very difficult process.’

And what does the future hold for filmmaking in the UAE? It is an exciting time for the arts in general in UAE, and film is no exception The Abu Dhabi Film Fund have recently announced a slate of films to be produced under their Image-nation initiative. Smythe has worked as associated producer on Hollywood films that have been shot here, like The Kingdom with Jamie Foxx and Syriana with George Clooney and speaks hopefully of potential of more films like this shooting here in the near future. If Hollywood producers do get to see City Of Life, they will be looking at an excellent showcase of Dubai for locations and talent.

Paul Webster is an Irish filmmaker and co-founder of fakedogfilms.com

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Cinemagic's Young Film Critic Competition

cinemagic

Congratulations to the three winners of the Cinemagic Dublin Young Film Critic of the Year competition, who were selected by Film Ireland’s editor Niamh Creely.

Lucy Richards-Smyrk won in the 10–12-year-old category, Adam Lawler in the 13–15-year-old category and Cian Tracey in the 15–18-year-old category. Each reviewer will recieve a pair of cinema tickets from Cineworld and a prize-pack from ‘Film Ireland’, including a one-year subscription to the magazine.

Read the reviews:

Lucy Richards-Smyrk reviews Tooth Fairy
Adam Lawler reviews From Time to Time
Cian Tracey reviews Fantastic Mr. Fox

Thanks to everyone who entered the competition – we had a tough time deciding because they was such a high standard of writing!

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