Irish Film Review: The Breadwinner

Anthony Kirby was at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival to see the Angelina Jolie executive produced Irish animated film The Breadwinner, which is being tipped for Oscar success and was recently awarded Best Animated Feature by the LA Film Critics Association.

 

Set in Kabul at the height of the Taliban regime, The Breadwinner is a vivid adaptation of Deborah Ellis’ children’s novel about a twelve-year-old girl forced to disguise herself in order to provide for her mother, sister and toddler brother.

Parvana, voiced by Canadian Saara Chaudry, is tolerated by authorities as an aid to her father, a former teacher and poet. In one vivid 20-second scene at the commencement of the film he reminds his daughter of the great culture they’re part of and that Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, The Portuguese and the British were unable to conquer them. Parvana replies that “she’s too old for stories.” Later, however, she concocts a mythical story about a killer elephant hiding in the mountains terrorizing people in the plains, to entertain her young brother. This fantasy parallels the realistic story and is beautifully illustrated and narrated.

A young zealot forces Parvana’s father to rise from his street stall and when the invalid man is slow to obey, because of a limb lost in conflict, the zealot has him imprisoned. Parvana is now the sole support for her family. She displays a maturity well beyond her years; knowing that, as a young woman, she simply can’t work; she cuts her hair, dresses as a youth and occupies her father’s work area. She’s aided by Shauzia (Soma Chhaya), a school friend. Parvana also reads and writes. These skills help her gain the friendship of an older man with prison connections. The change in Parvana’s fortunes is mirrored in the animation, which now is more vibrant and colourful. Parvana’s obsession to rescue her crippled father from incarceration is mirrored in the episodic mythical story she concocts for her toddler brother of Sulieman, a brave young boy who travels to the mountains to battle the Elephant King and free an oppressed people.

The allegorical story, threat of imminent war, further bloody conflict and a family fleeing terror build to a shattering crescendo as fighter jets soar overhead, bombs begin to fall, and bedlam reigns in the prison where Parvana’s father is held. A later injection of poignancy, relating to the death of Parvana’s older brother years previously, gives even greater emotional impact to a film that is beautifully constructed, elegantly visualized and an object lesson in love conquering hate.

Irish director Norah Twomey and her team have enhanced a classic children’s epic and made it available to a wider audience. Because of its violence the feature might be too strong for children younger than six, however, the story and its feminist hero will definitely appeal to older viewers and possibly teenagers.

A major achievement for  Twomey and her Kilkenny collaborators at Cartoon Saloon, The Breadwinner is worthy of a wide viewing audience.

The Breadwinner will have its Irish premiere at the Audi Dublin International Film Festival on 22nd February 2018.

 

 

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Report: Animaze Festival

Anthony Kirby reports from the fourth Montreal International Animation FestivalAnimaze, which ran from 17 – 20 August in Montreal, Canada.    

“There’s a buzz about this festival,” said festival director Laurie Gordon when opening the festival on Thursday, 17th August, “each year we attract larger audiences, especially among youth”.

The well attended festival featured seminars on international co-production, techniques used in presenting proposed projects, narrative forms from cinema to mapping, and Virtual Reality Techniques regarding entertainment, education and medicine.

At the closing ceremony, Laurie Gordon announced a new award for a film promoting peace. “We want to honour the film Dr Junod and its message of tolerance and peace. Our screening is the North American premiere of this remarkable film.” Dr Junod showcases the life of Dr Marcel Junod (1904-1961), a groundbreaking and courageous humanitarian.

Combating tears, producer/screenwriter Shinichiro Kimura gave details of her journey to bring this project to the screen. “I’m a doctor with a PhD in pharmaceutical medicine. I worked with the Red Cross following the Iran/Iraq war. Following the end of hostilities, I invited a delegation of ten to Hiroshima. There they experience a great feeling of peace and are now active peacemakers. I’d heard of Dr. Marcel Junod from my father in law. Then I discovered his diary in the Headquarters of the Red Cross in Geneva.  I completed the screenplay in 2010. The film is financed by the Japanese Red Cross.” The target audience of this film is children of five to sixteen years of age. A group of twelve-year-old students visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial and see a plaque to Dr. Junod giving brief details of his work following the nuclear explosion on 6th August 1945. They’re fascinated; then using a tinker-bell Disney technique, they’re transported back to France in 1935. Raised with strong ethical values, Dr. Marcel Junod first encountered the ravages of modern warfare in the Italian-Ethiopian Conflict in 1935. Later he was involved in the aftermath of the war in Europe. Then in summer 1945 he was appointed the Red Cross Commissioner to Japan, He made a presentation to General McArthur. Following this, the U.S released 245 tons of anti-burn and other medicines to Japan. “My message is one of special hope. This award means I can make more films of this type. Now after seventy-two years, Hiroshima is again a beautiful city. We share Dr. Junod’s message of love”.

Following Dr. Kimura’s passionate speech Laurie Gordon announced the rest of the prize winners:

Best International Short Film 

Ex aequo award to Meeting MacGuffin by Catya Plate (US) and Drifting Away by Cyprien Clement Delmas (Spain)

Best Canadian Short Film 

Cigare by Tom Tassel (Canada)

Best Short Film: Student Film Contest 

Nana by Alexandra Kellner (Canada)

With a special mention to In a Heartbeat by Beth Davis and Esteban Bravo (US)

Best Feature Film 

Abina and the important men by Soumyaa Behrens (US)

Best Experimental Film 

Nutag – Homeland by Alisi Telengut (Canada)

Animation for Peace Award  

Junod by Shizuko Tsuya (Japan)

Best VR project 

Fortress Europe by Neil Bell & Simon Hultgren

Simon Hultgren, Neil Bell, Martin Petrov, Alice Chen, Tsuya Shizuko, Laurie Gordon, Rei, Soumyaa Behrens, Catypa Plate

Drifting Away is the poignant story of a pre-teen son and his father. They have a damaged yacht that they begin to restore. Then, because of a bad diagnosis, the father loses interest in the project. Following a row with the boy’s mother the father further angers his son. The son uses his anger positively and, overtime, restores the yacht. As a family they drive to a sheltered beach where father and son sit together and look at the yacht. The son wants them both to sail together. However, God, or whatever greater power there is, hasn’t ordered things this way. The final scene shows just one set of footsteps in the sand. Then a shadowy hand raises the sail and the yacht departs. This coming-of-age film has beautiful animation and well deserves its accolade.

Meeting McGuffin is part of a trilogy which began with Hanging by a Thread. Made with great humour, the film is set in a post-nuclear  age. People live deep underground and lack vital organs – these are supplied by their leader. They then begin to have quality of life and journey to a promised area… which sounds a lot like Las Vegas. Ms. Plate is presently working on the third part of her trilogy.

Cigare is a visual tone poem. A drop of water meets a drop of oil and they start dancing. They shape into morphing characters and build a dance sequence alternately elegant and grotesque.

Abina and the Important Men is based on a graphic novel by Trevor R. Getz.  The novel dramatized court transcripts from the 1870s.  Abina, a married woman, moves from her tribal home to the British Colony. Of East Africa. There she is virtually sold into servitude. She knows that under British Law this is unjust. Through the friendship of a court translator she takes her case to court. Britain had abolished slavery in the late 1830s. As colonialists they’re in something of a bind. Yet they want to establish British Justice. Yet must respect local customs. Mr. Getz adopted his novel to the screen. The animation by Daewon Kim beautifully captures the colonial era. Producer/director Soumyaa Behrens, who teaches documentary film at San Francisco State University, involved her students in the project and used university editing facilities. The overall cost of the film was $30,000 U.S. This feminist film about human rights resonates with the 21st century values. Ms. Behrens well deserves her award. Hopefully the film will be widely seen.

Nana tells the true story of the deportation of 1200 Jewish Hungarian Women in the last year and a half of WW2. “We lived in a house known as yellow star house,” says the narrator. “We went first to Austria then to Germany. We were abandoned. We were over 1200. Only 300 returned. The Russians freed us. I was reunited with my mother and my brother. ” Produced by the National Film Board. This film tells a story very succinctly. Ms. Kellner has a bright future ahead of her.

Nutag – Homeland is a moving visual poem and requiem for the Kalmyk people, who were deported from the USSR from 1943 to 57 and half of them died before they were allowed to return home. The film consists of surrealist frame by frame of hand-painted imagery. The director, Ms. Telengut, is presently living in Montreal. Her films have won prizes at 24th Stockholm World Film Festival and at the 36th and 38th Montreal World Film Festivals.

Migrant’s Journey uses Virtual Reality techniques to enhance the documentary form. Filmmaker Neil Bell says, “Virtual Reality is a departure from normal storytelling. When wearing the V.R. mask the viewer is at the very center of what he’s viewing. The experience is often intense. As filmmakers and as human beings we were moved by the plight of new immigrants. We wanted to follow a migrant from Mali in East Africa to safe harbour in Europe. We travelled to Mali. We developed an interactive narrative and stop motion techniques. Our V.R. cameras follow migrants travelling from Turkey through Greece and then in a closed lorry without toilet facilities from Serbia through to Austria and eventually Germany. The lorry is stopped for many hours at the Hungarian border. The viewer experiences the claustrophobia and fear of these displaced people fleeing hunger and often civil war in their native countries. As filmmakers we felt a little guilty about making profit from the plight of these migrants. We also developed a board game and all the profits from this go to Medicines sans Frontiers.” Virtual Reality is still being developed. The undersigned followed the section of the documentary from Serbia through the Hungarian Border. The V.R experience was all encompassing and superior to viewing events on screen.

Migrant’s Journey deserves its honour. Hopefully it will reach a wide viewership.

The final event of the festival was a re-screening of first-time animator Ruth Coggins’ poignant tribute to her great-grandfather, a soldier of the Great War. “I discovered this film while trolling the net in February. Ruth was putting the final touches to it. I asked her to submit the completed work,” said festival director Laurie Gordon.

Coggins’ film, A War to end all Wars, has already gone viral on the internet. “I made all the clay models and sets and shot every scene,” said Ms. Coggins in a BBC interview. “The overall cost of the film was 500 pounds.”  The film follows the story of Tommy Atkins over the months of his service in the trenches and under fire. Ms. Coggins uses music and a poignant poem by a Yorkshire poet to great effect. The film will be released commercially in the coming months.

Anthony Kirby.  August 24, 2017    

 

 

 

 

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The 4th Animaze Festival

Anthony Kirby introduces Animaze, an international film festival and conference exploring the world of animation in all its diversity.  This year’s festival runs August 17- 20.

Laurie Gordon president and co-ordinator of the Animaze Festival announced this year’s programme at a press conference on 26th July. “ Thank you all for coming. I’m happy to announce that sixty five countries are being represented at this year’s festival.

“Ireland and its animation industry will be represented by four short subjects at this years festival,” said Laurie Gordon .” However, this year the festival will focus not only on animation but on humanitarian issues,” added  Ms Gordon. “ My associate Ken Fernandez has relationships with consulates and politicians at the local, provincial and federal level. Ms Jose Payant of La Croix Rouge will present a film on the life of Dr. Juneau a Canadian Humanitarian who’s spent the greatest part of his life working with survivors and descendents of victims of Hiroshima &and Nagasaki. Dr. Juneau changed lives in Japan,” said Ms Payant.

The festival will also focus on virtual reality technology both as an entertainment element but also as a valuable medical tool. Dr. Samir Segrani of McGill University explained how this technology is currently being used in the remedial treatment of stroke victims: “Using this technology, stroke survivors see objectively how following the infraction they favour their unaffected leg with regards to the number of steps they take. The objective is to reduce the number of steps to a ration of 50/50. This is, of course, in relationship with physio and other therapies,

Hanna Cohen, a therapist at Osmos Academy for handicapped children, described the effects of virtual reality on children. “The children are continually smiling as they put on the headsets, They want nothing more than to get out and explore the world.”

The complete programme of seminars and festival screenings will be announced in the next two weeks.

Anthony  Kirby, July 2017

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Jodie Foster Interview from Tribeca Film Festival

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 20: (L-R) Director Julie Taymor and actress Jodie Foster talk during the Tribeca Daring Women Summit during the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival at Spring Studios on April 19, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival)
Director Julie Taymor and actress Jodie Foster talk during the Tribeca Daring Women Summit during the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival at Spring Studios on April 19, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival)

 

Anthony Kirby reports from the Tribeca Film Festival where Jodie Foster talked to filmmaker Julie Taymor about how she has forged a position as an esteemed filmmaker in both film and television.  

Looking relaxed and at ease, director/ actor Jodie Foster and former theatre director Julie Taymor spoke to a capacity audience at the recently concluded Tribeca Film Festival.

“I first appeared in front of a camera at the age of three,” said Foster in reply to a question from a member of the audience. “So it’s over fifty years at this point. A big change came when Martin Scorsese hired me to work on Taxi Driver. I was just twelve at the time –  actually my older sister doubled for me in several of the sex scenes. Part way into the film Robert De Niro took me aside and said, ‘Jodie, you’re a gifted actress. You can have a great fulfilling career. However, you’re not giving enough. Just embrace this part and become it.’ I took Bob’s advice to heart. Taxi Driver was a high point of my early career.

“I always wanted to be a director. Working as an actor I learned what actors need in a director. I finally got to direct at age 27. The film Little Man Tate (1991) comprised some aspects of my own childhood. Of the three films I had previously directed, two, Tate and Home for the Holidays, deal with family dynamics; and the other, The Beaver, deals with depression, disenchantment and ultimately courage.” Talking about her latest film, Money Monster, Foster tells the audience that it “is about people without conscience. The character played by Jack O Connell shows the human aspects of the recent financial crisis.”

“I still have so much I want to express both as a director and actor. While my screenwriting is good, it’s not great. I’d rather leave that aspect to others.”

Referring to perhaps her most famous role, Foster said, “My favorite female director is Jonathan Demme. He was the one guy who really understood Silence of the Lambs and said, ‘this is a movie about a woman (Clarice) who’s our hero, and the film is informed by that.”

To the question of woman directors in Hollywood, Foster said, “I don’t think it’s a plot to keep women down; it’s neglect. It’s a bunch of people who weren’t thinking about it, including a lot of female executives who’d risen to the top and not really made a dent in bringing many women into the mainstream world. We don’t want to ignore it, it’s real. The more financial risk, the less risky the studios can be – people see women as a risk.”

Foster’s last role as an actor was in Elysium (2012).” I like fairly long breaks between projects as a way of absorbing more inspiration versus exhausting myself by moving from one project to another”.

Asked if she might consider starring in a sequel to Taxi Driver, Foster replied, “New York has changed a lot in those forty years since we lensed it… Uber Driver: The Sequel – I’m going to have to ask Columbia if that’s a good idea,” she laughed.

 

The 15th annual Tribeca Film Festival was held in New York City from 13 – 24 April 2016.

Money Monster, starring Julia Roberts, George Clooney and Jack O’Connell, will have its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival.

 

 

 

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Another Look at ‘Room’

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Anthony Kirby was at the 40th Toronto International Film Festival and saw Lenny Abrahamson’s Room

 

Emma Donoghue’s multi-award-winning novel is a masterpiece of interior monologue. Without the use of multiple voiceovers this technique is difficult to transfer to screen. As such, it is a great blessing that Emma Donohue acted as screenwriter in the film adaption of her novel, who better to keep the essentials of her novel in its dramatic transfer? While certain characters and scenes were cut for reasons of screen time and budget the film version of Room is a small masterpiece.

“ Today I’m five. I was four last night going to sleep in Wardrobe, but when I wake up in Bed in the dark I’m changed to five, abracadabra. Before that I was three, then two, then one, then zero. Was I minus numbers?” asks Jack (Jason Tremblay).

“Hmm?” Ma (Bri Larson) does a big stretch.

So begins both novel and film.

Jack’s world is a cramped, sealed garden shed lit by a single skylight, and an electric lamp. Cinematographer Danny Cohen quickly establishes the claustrophobic nature of this shed. He employs muted colours and tight screen close-ups that frustrate the viewer’s sense of space. The camera places the viewer in very close quarters to Jack and his Ma. This room has a galvanized door with a combination lock. This lock can only be opened from outside. Neither Ma or Jack know the combination. Ma and the precocious Jack are totally dependent on Old Nick (Sean Bridgers) for food and medicine. They have staples but lack vegetables and take multivitamins.

Nonetheless Ma scrapes together enough eggs flour and margarine to make Jack a small birthday cake. They eat the cake complete with icing but have no candles or sparklers.

Ma has established a routine for Jack, on rising he has a breakfast of fruit loops and milk. He eats it with Meltedy Spoon, so called  because  it touched  a pan of boiling pasta. As they eat, both hum popular tunes. Then wash the dishes and water a plant.

At 08:30 Ma allows Jack to surf their three channel t.v. his favourite show is Dora the Explorer . Ma has already explained to Jack that certain things like mountains, rivers, etc. exist in the real world. But that other things are fantasy. For Jack, however, Dora is real. He tells her of his superpowers now that he’s five.

Ma has developed a series of exercises to maintain Jack’s fitness. She moves their white table onto their bed and has Jack run round Room in a kind of C format many times. Jack’s reading and mathematical skills are beyond his years. Ma also encourages him to draw.

In late afternoon as shadows begin to lengthen Ma cooks Jack a light supper, then allows him to watch one more programme on tv. She then lies on Bed with Jack in her lap and reads to him from one of his five picture books. For his birthday it’s Dylan the Digger. 

Here’s Dylan, the sturdy digger! ” reads Ma.

“The loads he shovels get bigger and bigger. Watch his right arm delve into the earth. No excavator loves so much dirt.”

Then Ma reads to Jack from another book The Runaway Bunny. Jack knows the ending to this tale but loves it anyway. Then Jack wiggles round in her lap, sees a picture of Baby Jesus with his best friend and big cousin John The Baptist. Ma switches Lamp off now and they lie down and say the  shepherd prayer about green pastures. Jack is ready for bed. Ma has devised a further routine for Jack as he about to go to bed. She points to Watch-  it’s 08.57, that’s three minutes before nine thinks Jack. So he runs into Wardrobe and lies down on his pillow under a drawing Ma has done of him and wraps up in his grey fleecy blanket. Ma puts her head in.

“Three kisses.”

“No five.”

She gives him five then squeaks the doors shut.

From the light through the slats Jack can see Ma getting into her sleep T–shirt. He falls into a light sleep. Beep beep. That’s Door. Ma jumps up and shuts Wardrobe tight. The cold winter air wakes Jack but he remains quiet. He looks through the slats but can only see Dresser and the curve of Table.

“ Look’s tasty ” Old Nick’s voice is deep.

“Oh! that’s the last of his birthday cake.”

“What’s he now… four?”

“ Five,” says Jack in a loud whisper.

Jack,” says Ma angrily.

The bed begins to creak rhythmically. Jack counts fives on his fingers and reaches 217 creaks. Curiosity gets the better of Jack. He sneaks out of Wardrobe. In the half-light he almost falls over Old Nick’s gigantic shoes. This very large man is dead asleep beside Ma, fascinated Jack reaches and almost touches Old Nick’s face. Old Nick’s eyes flash all white. He grins. He says, “Hay Sonny”. Jack’s never heard this expression. He bolts for Wardrobe. Ma keeps screeching. “Get away from him,” then Jack listening hard hears Old Nick getting into his clothes. Jack waits an eternity but Ma doesn’t fetch him from Wardrobe.

Next day Room is dark longer than usual. Ma pours a glass of milk for herself but not for Jack, the light in Refrigerator doesn’t come on, that’s weird. Ma is clicking Lamp but he won’t wake up either. She shivers and checks the thermostat.

“Power cut”

It’s below freezing. For Jack it’s a strange kind of day.

The following day they still lack power. They put on all their clothes and lie in bed just to keep warm.

“What if Room get’s colder and colder?” asks Jack.

“Oh! it won’t it’s April in three days” she says kissing him.

“It can’t be that cold outside.”

What’s outside?” wonders Jack.

Ma decides to tell Jack the truth about Old Nick. The film tightens its narrative force as Ma devises an escape plan. They rehearse this many times. The plan involves Jack feigning a high fever and lioness Ma impressing on Old Nick that he must be brought to hospital. Jack follows the plan to the letter, jumping from Old Nicks pickup.

Running lamely on the street Jack is rescued by a neighbour with a friendly dog and given over to sympathetic police. Acting on Jack’s responses to their quiet questions they arrest Old Nick find Room and reunite mother and child.

At every step in the second half of the film Donohue and Abrahamson invite an intimate level of audience participation as they give weight to their characters’ post-traumatic stress disorder.

Somehow the press have heard of their escape and mother and child have their privacy invaded. Then they’re taken to an over-lit very white room at the local hospital. Dr. Mittal (Iranian-Canadian Cas Anvar) says that Jack “is at a plasticity stage of development (at age five) and may well get over the trauma he’s suffered.” Though she puts a brave front Ma’s wounds are deeper.

Though Room  may have lost some of its intensity in its transition from page to screen it gains tremendously in the luminosity  and truthfulness of its performances. Joan Allen is unsurprisingly excellent as Ma’s deeply relieved but still emotionally shattered mother, while William H. Macy brings intensity to the role of Jack’s Grandad, who can’t quite cope with the return of a daughter he’d given up for dead. Young Vancouver native Jacob Trembley is so unaffected as Jack that he virtually steals every scene that he’s in. He perfectly portrays Jack’s wonder and confusion in coping with a totally new environment.

Though all the performances are strong Jacob Tremblay as Jack and Bri Larson as Ma own this film. Well received at the Telluride Film Festival Room won the Grolsch People’s Choice Award at the recent 40th Toronto International Film Festival. It’s a beautiful film which should be widely seen.

 

 

Anthony Kirby October 29, 2015

 

 

 

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Lord David Puttnam

DP at Montreal 1

In September, David Puttnam received a special honour at the Montreal World Film Festival after having treated festival goers with a film masterclass on 31st August. Anthony Kirby was there and sent Film Ireland this piece on the celebrated British producer.

 

Partly in fulfillment of a promise he made to festival founder Serge Losique some twenty years ago, Lord David Puttnam returned to Montreal’s World Film Festival this autumn. He mesmerised both film professionals and the general public by giving a free workshop on creativity and film production.

“Creativity isn’t a mystery,“ he said showing an illustration of the five aspects of the process. “What I’ve shown here are the aspects of the process. However, more important than all of them is persistence.”

Glad to be an advisor in the department of Media and Communications Arts at University College Cork, Puttnam has taken part in promotional videos for both the Bachelors and Masters programmes. He has a small studio at the rear of his home in West Cork where he formats lectures for UCC and two other universities.

As a child growing up in North London Puttnam was obsessed by comic books, especially by the Alf Tupper comic strip. Tupper was a scrawny child fascinated with long-distance running, (the Tupper addiction was to pay off in later life).

Puttnam and best friend, Alan Parker, “lived in the cinemas of North London… Like everyone of our generation, Alan and I were also obsessed by James Dean, especially his work in East of Eden and Giant. Once we began to make our own films we stole from Elia Kazan and others.” He showed the shooting arcade scene from East of Eden and the exact same sequence from one of his first films at this point.

Puttnam left school at sixteen and found a job as a messenger boy in central London. “I went to night school but also spent a lot of time at the British Film Institute where I discovered Fellini and Visconti.”

About this time he was engaged by the Collette, Dickerson, Pearse & Partners Advertising Agency. His immediate superior was Colin Millwood. “After a few weeks Millwood called me into his office. I thought I was going to be fired,” he recalled, “instead Sir Colin said, ‘You’re not here simply to work, Mr. Puttnam, you’re here to amaze me. Now amaze me.’ Youth are desperate to be challenged,” Puttnam says. “I’m mindful of this in my teaching and seminars.”

Putting copy writers and graphic designers together as a team Millwood revolutionized advertising, making the C.D.P Agency the top advertising agency in Britain. His best friend, Alan Parker, also worked C.D.P.as did Ridley Scott, John Hagerty and Charles Saatchi. All have remained close friends.

“In advertising as in art you start with something quite good and finesse and finesse it through dialogue with the other members of the creative team. In both industries you keep the creative relationships and build on them.”

It was the early ‘60s , the time of “swinging London”. Not only were Puttnam and Parker fascinated by film, they also loved popular music. Puttman was especially fascinated by the Harry Neilson song and album ‘That’ll be the Day’. He envisaged a film featuring this and other songs. How to do it? “My friend Ray Connolly was also captivated by pop music. We decided to go for it. Ray worked on the film script at night. I met him in the morning and reviewed his work. Somehow we cobbled together enough money to get the film made.”

Directed by Waris Hussein, with music by The Bee Gees, Melody (1971) is an adolescent view of swinging London. The appealing leads, played by Mark Lester (Oliver) and Tracy Hyde, rebel against the establishment, especially when they decide to get married. Melody did well at the box office and both Connolly’s and Puttnam’s careers were launched.

“We followed with Stardust (1975), directed by Michael Apted. It starred Adam Faith, Keith Moon and David Essex  as believable rock musicians.”

“At its heart, film is about identity” Puttnam said. “Alan Parker was extremely interested in the Chicago of the late ‘20s and the music created. He hit on the idea of an homage of sorts with all the leads played by twelve year olds. Jodie Foster committed. Instead of bullets the machine guns sprayed whipped cream. Paul William’s score was in the tradition of the era and worked. The movie Bugsy Malone (1976) was a runaway critical and commercial success. Alan won a BAFTA for Best Screenplay and Jodi Foster won two BAFTAs as Best Supporting Actress and Best Newcomer. Because of changes in law a film like this couldn’t be made today.”

With the late Francoise Truffaut, Lord Puttnam believes that “the truth the filmmaker feels inside himself is the only truth. I’m desperate to get what I believe are truths across in cinema. God knows the medium is powerful enough to do it . You make a passionate committed film, the audience will always turn up. I’ve never had an audience let me down. You make a film like The Killing Fields and the audience will come and see it.”

Puttnam’s childhood obsession with Alf Tupper comics and a bout of ‘flu in 1979 led him to research the life of Eric Liddle a devout Scottish Christian who struck Olympic Gold in the Paris Games of 1924. Liddle was in fact the model for the comic strip. “I looked at actual film of Liddle running from the Games and elsewhere. The film was jumpy. Then I returned to the drawings from the comics. I commissioned Colin Welland to write the screenplay and the result was Chariots of Fire. It won an Oscar. It was Hugh Hudson’s first film as director. He won a BAFTA and later an Oscar. Ichikawa had made a 1965 film Tokyo Olympiad which greatly influenced our cinematographer David Watkin.”

“I’d like to take moment here to acknowledge the part of music in great movies. I’ve seen both Chariots of Fire and The Mission many times without music in the editing process. Vangilis’ music for Chariots and Enno Morricone’s music for The Mission greatly enhanced both films.”

“Cal (1984) was a chance to work with the great Helen Mirren. I was attracted to the project because of the Dostoevsky-like aspect of Bernard MacLaverty’s novel. The budget was always adequate and we had a terrific Anglo-Irish cast and crew. I think Mark Knopfler’s score for Cal is wonderful and underestimated.”

Puttnam refers to Local Hero as his first environmental film. He’s about to produce another film on this subject. Ironically part of the financing for this project comes from Saudi Arabia. “If you’re not part of the solution you become part of the problem,” he said, quoting Eldridge Cleaver. He can usually tell if a script is of interest after reading about fifteen pages.

“On balance, I think it’s easier to get a reasonably priced picture made today than it’s ever been – this is evidenced by the number of movies being distributed by independent distributors. Although there has been a slight decline in the number of small-budget pictures produced by major studios as they increasingly focus on large productions.”

Lord Puttnam ended his lecture by paying tribute to fellow Cork resident Jeremy Irons. “Jeremy is a committed human being who’s an actor but much, much more.”

The same might be said of producer, and humanist, David Puttnam.

The Montreal World Film Festival took place 27th August – 7th September 2015 

 

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Another Look at ‘Steve Jobs’

 

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Anthony Kirby finds a lot to like in Steve Jobs

 

Steve Jobs was something of an enigma. He easily packed five lifetimes into his fifty six years. Perhaps because of early rejection as a child, or a chemical brain imbalance, he lacked social graces and was inordinately cruel to immediately family and many of his closest associates. He had a genius comprehension of mathematical concepts and computer logic, spoke at sixty words to the dozen and had no interest in money or worldly possessions. At one point in the film John Scully (Jeff Daniels) C.E.O. of Apple Corporation visits Job’s home and complains that the company founder, then worth $44 Million, has only a king-sized bed and no other furniture.

In an aside about half way through the drama, Jobs, the son of an Iranian father and German/American Catholic mother, confesses that his first adoptive parents returned him when he was just a few months old. “They wanted a girl,” he said. “My mother wanted my adoptive parents to be university graduates. My adoptive father was a military and later civilian auto mechanic.” However, Jobs bonded with his adoptive father and loved building fences, etc. with him. His parents were Calvinists, which probably explains his work ethic and intransigence.

The film is more a pastiche of Job’s life than a biopic. A full accounting of Jobs would require twice the screen-time. The film does not cover Jobs’ period as Primary Investor and C.E.O. of Pixar Inc. or his interest in the Disney Corporation. The picture covers three pivotal points in the genius’ life. The launch of the original Macintosh in 1984. The NEXT Computer developed during Jobs’ period away from Apple and unveiled in 1988, and the original iMac of 1998. Each scene ends with Jobs at centre stage.

As a college student Jobs encountered Steve Wozniak and Chris-Ann Brennan. Jobs and Wozniak developed the Apple Computer in his garage. Chris-Ann who was briefly Jobs’ mistress had a daughter Lisa whom she claimed was his. Even following D.N.A. testing Jobs disputed this. In the film’s first  scene, shot in 16mm, Jobs is visited by fragile Chris-Ann (Katherine Waterston). She and Lisa, not able to live on the court mandated $385.00, are about to go on welfare. Jobs, preoccupied with the product launch, shouts at Chris-Ann and only backs down when his personal assistant Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) quietly impresses on him that regardless of his animosity to her mother  there’s a five-year-old child who believes you’re her father and loves you.” Listening to this plea Jobs backs down, ups Chris-Ann’s monthly stipend to $500.00 and lodges enough money in her account to buy a modest house. However, he’s still angry and when little Lisa asks him “ Daddy did you call the Lisa computer after me? “ he replies “ No sweetheart, L.I.S.A. stands for Local Integrated Software Architecture” This to a sensitive five year old! Then when Lisa does an abstract drawing on the computer he says, “Picasso did similar drawings with paper and Indian ink.” Even allowing for the pressure Jobs was under this interchange showed how ill-equipped he was as a parent.

Jobs expected to be Time’s Man of the Year for 1984, however, on learning of Jobs’ dispute with Ms. Brennan, Time changed the story to a feature on Apple Corporation. Screen-writer Sorkin discussed his screenplay with Lisa, now 37, “she’s the hero of the film,” he says.

Act two of the film deals with the launch of the NEXT Computer. Lisa is again backstage. She points out that the NEXT Computer frame isn’t a perfect cube. She’s actually measured it with a ruler. Jobs takes time to tell her that “a perfect cube doesn’t photograph well with regards to television, honey.” Their relationship appears to have improved, however, when Lisa hugging him around his waist asks if she can live with him, he doesn’t respond.

Sadly the NEXT Computer isn’t a financial success selling only to universities. Jobs has other irons in the fire, which leads us into Act III.

Close to bankruptcy, Apple Corporation’s Board invite Jobs back as C.E.O. in 1997. He develops the first iMac, and begins the launch in the spring of 1998. Confident as everm he predicts sales of half a million units in the first month and 20,000 a month thereafter. An associate comes back stage armed with a top secret file not to be shown to Jobs: it’s from a business prediction agency. Jobs persuades the associate to show him the file. The business forecast agency predictions are the same as Jobs’.

Joanna Hoofman (Winslet), who is the only confidant who can consistently get through to him, intimates that if he doesn’t somehow make peace with Lisa she’ll leave him and hide somewhere never to be found. “I mean this, Steve, if you don’t make peace with Lisa, I’m history. This has gone on far too long.”

Steve Jobs does eventually make peace with Lisa who watches the launch of the iMac backstage. Later as Lisa goes to pick up her Volkswagen Beatle Jobs notes that she’s wearing a cumbersome Walkman. “Why are you still listening to music on that device, Lisa? I’ll make a listening device that can access 500 pieces of music.”

Arron Sorkin (The West Wing) is a master dramatist, however, this Hollywood style ending is the only scene in the film that doesn’t ring true to this reviewer but that doesn’t take away from a wonderful script that is directed to perfection and filled with great performances.

Fassbender himself forgoes a makeup makeover and doesn’t look like the real Steve Jobs. However, he brilliantly captures his genius and conflicted personality and gives a brilliant, nuanced performance.

 

Anthony Kirby

 

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Report: The 39th Montreal International Film Festival

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Anthony Kirby reports from the 39th Montreal International Film Festival, which took place from 27th August to 7th September 1915.

 

“I’m so honoured to receive this prize and thankful to Michel Mark Bouchard for his wonderful screenplay and to Mirka Kurismaki for his sensitive direction,” said thirty-year-old actress Milan Buska on receiving Le Grand Prix d’ Americque for her performance of Queen Kristina of Sweden in The Girl King, a film in epic mode. The joint Finnish/Canadian/German/Swedish co-production, lensed in Finland and Germany with financing from Sweden and Canada, was shot in thirty five days just weeks before the festival and screened in Official Competition.

On the death of her father in battle in 1632 Kristina Vasa became the first native, female sovereign of Sweden. Raised as a boy, she learned horsemanship, hunting, and war strategy from childhood. She also had a thorough grounding in the humanities and spoke fluent German and French, in addition to Swedish. Formally crowned in 1644 at age eighteen, she announced that she wished to end the Thirty Years’ War between Catholics and Protestants. She also announced that she wished to help her subjects and make Stockholm “the Athens of the North”. To this end, she imported thousands of books on all subjects, including sorcery, and started a personal correspondence with Rene Descartes (played by French actor Patrick Bauchau), the foremost Christian Philosopher of the age. Through the French Ambassador at court Pierre Chanot she persuaded Descartes to travel to Stockholm.

Disenchanted with certain aspects of the Lutheran Religion, especially the doctrine of God’s Will, she became more and more convinced that Roman Catholicism with its long history, doctrine of grace and free will was the religion of Jesus Christ. As monarch, Kristina was expected to marry and carry on the bloodline. Chancellor von Oxenstierna (Michael Nyqvist, star of Mission Impossible 4) was hopeful Kristina might choose Johan his son as consort. Kristina resisted this, as she did many other suitors. Having been raised as a boy, she was sexually confused and frequently quizzed Descartes on sexual passion and the different kinds of love. Then Kristina confounded all her advisors by having a lady-in-waiting, the beautiful Countess Ebba Sparre (Canadian Sara Gadon star of A Dangerous Method), anointed as the Queen’s Bed Companion, a position held by those designated to warm the sheets of their ruler. Kristina and Ebba became extremely close, both emotionally and physically. The love scenes between them are lensed discreetly. “I trusted Mika completely, and lived in the moment,” said Malin Buska at a crowded press conference.

Kristina is forced to choose between the heritage of her father, her country, her people and her religion or living as “who she wants to be.” She chooses the latter.

Because of the screenplay,the brilliant cinematography and a strong cast at the top of their game and our tolerant age, this epic film should reach a large audience. It was released in New York in late October and in Scandinavia and other markets in November.

Irish character actor Liam Cunningham and veteran British actor Malcolm McDowell bring their unique talents to Dusha Shipona – The Soul of a Spy. A John le Carré-like drama set in modern-day Moscow, London, Cairo, and Switzerland. Based on a roman a clef by retired KGB colonel Michael Lyubimov, the film, directed by Russian Vladimir Bortko, is a gripping suspenseful rollercoaster. “What do we have to protect us as spies?” asks a minor character early in the narrative, “only our wits, our cool heads, our training ,and at times our arms.” How true of all undercover agents!

A Russian intelligence operative, Alexander Federov (Danil Spivakovsky), known in the U.K. as Alex Wilkie, asks for political asylum. He’s interviewed by a British agent with a drinking problem (Malcolm Mc Dowell) who passes him on to the London Head of the C.I.A. (Liam Cunningham).

The two western agencies think they’ve found a double agent. Have they really? Federov has a wife in Cairo, and is about to marry a beautiful upper-class English girl considerably his junior. He confesses his love for this ingénue but can’t be completely honest with her. Gradually, this double life begins to take a toll both emotionally and physically. Federov wants to be repatriated and live a normal life.

At a press conference, director Vladimir Bortk said, “It was a pleasure to work with a group of talented actors. Sandrine Bonnair, Malcolm McDowell and Liam Cunningham were professionals of the highest quality. An actor is like a musical instrument: his voice and technique are his instruments. When you buy a Stradivarius violin you know it’s a Strad. My actors were of that classic mode.” Shown in Official Competition, the film sadly won no prize. It was appreciated by the general public and has been picked up for distribution in Europe and North America.

Fou d’Amour (Mad Love), directed/written and shot by Philippe Ramos of France, is based on cause célèbre in the France of 1959. A man is accused of two murders, found guilty he’s condemned and guillotined. A former priest, he loved life, women, and God. He preached every Sunday. He was, however, a priest with a fatal flaw. Beautifully lensed and acted, with a luminous performance by young Diane Rouxel as a blind girl, Fou d’amour garnered The Grand Prix D’ Ameriques, the festival’s highest award.

The festival awarded a Special Grand Jury Award to Misafir (The Visitor). Directed by Mehmet Eryilmaz of Turkey, this drama was also given special mention by the FIPRESCI JURY (The International Federation of Film Critics). Accompanied by her six-year-old daughter, Nur,a woman in early middle age, returns to her family home because of her ailing mother. Her retired father is cold to her. Her younger brother is welcoming but has been out of work for almost a year. Everyone is besotted by Nur’s daughter. A middle-aged lady cares for Nur’s mother without any payment. Before the tragic illness she was Nur’s mother’s closest friend. Nur’s father doesn’t handle money well and is deeply in debt. A bailiff seizes most of his furniture. Then the inevitable happens –  Nur’s mother dies. Nur sobs because of events in the past.

“I wanted to focus on women’s issues,” said Mr. Eryilmaz at a general press conference. There are grave women’s problems in Turkey. As a director I don’t discriminate between women. The problems of women are a good way to talk about human nature. I didn’t want to tell a story that was one-dimensional, I wanted to tell a story that was multi-dimensional. Hopefully, I’ll reach a relatively large audience.” He can be assured of this as the film has garnered two awards. “This is both a happy and sad occasion for me,” said Mr. Eryilmaz as he accepted his awards. “Happy because of the recognition of my work. Sad because of the black clouds passing over my country in recent months.”

“The only things we have in life are the moments we share together,” said actor/writer/director Guillermo Ivan as he accepted the Best Innovation Award for Un Instante en la Habana (A Havana Moment). A Cuban/Mexican/U.S./Columbian co-production, the film also won a special mention from the Ecumenical Jury. Two brothers separated for twenty three years are reunited in Havana because of the degenerative illness of the older sibling. Rather like events in the Eastern Mediterranean today, their mother has fled Cuba with the younger brother. On a rickety boat she’s caught by a rogue wave and drowns. Orphaned, her younger son Carlos has to adapt very quickly, attends U.S. schools and universities and looses his identity. Phone connections to Cuba are poor and fax and internet virtually non-existent. Meanwhile, his older brother Marcello is burdened with the duty of caring for their grandfather who’s in poor health. The one bright spot in Marcello’s life is his relationship with Lina, a Columbian lady doctor specializing in brain illnesses. She met Marcello through her work. Marcello is in the early stages of A.L.S. If he’s to continue to live independently he’ll need constant care. For this reason Lina has contacted Carlos. Initially, Marcello is extremely hostile to Carlos He’s also a tad jealous, as Carlos, based in New York is living the American Dream. Gradually, however, Carlos overcomes this hostility, assumes some of Marcello’s duties and re-establishes their bond. A moving film made on a very small budget.

In 2012, Austrian filmmakers Sabine Hiebler and Gerhard Ertl garnered several honours for their production Anfang 80, a haunting film about love in old age. This year, their new production, Chucks, won Le Prix du Public for most popular film. Based on a novel by Cornelia Travniek and starring Anna Posch, Markus Subrananiam and Thomas Schubert, Chucks shows the underside of life in present-day Vienna. Mae a punk rocker, roams the streets of the capital. She wears shoes left her by her recently deceased brother, lives in a condemned building, and spray paints protest logos late at night. Arrested for petty crime, she’s given a last chance: she must work as a nurse’s aid in a clinic for people infected with the AIDS virus. There she meets Peter, who’s a volunteer. Over several months they become closer. Peter is very honest and confesses that he’s more than a volunteer he has the virus. Mae lives in the now. Through her relationship with Peter she resolves several past issues in her life, re-establishes her relationship with her mother and finds her life’s work. The acting of Anna Posch as Mae and of Markus Subrananiam as Peter is superb. The film’s message of love and tolerance compliments that of Hiebler and Ertl’s earlier film.

Two films tied for best direction honours at the festival: Two Nights till Morning. A Finnish/Lithuania co-production directed by Mikko Kuparinen, and The Petrov File. A Bulgaria/German co-production directed by Georgi Balabanov. Caroline (Marie-Jose Croze), a French architect, is delayed by a volcanic sandstorm and has to spend an extra night in Vilnius, Lithuania. There she meets a Jaakko (Mikko Nousiainen), a pop musician in Vilnius for an engagement. Caroline speaks little or no English and Jaakko doesn’t speak French. An enjoyable evening ends in mutual pleasure. In the morning, everything changes when Jaakko realizes that Caroline speaks fluent English. Jaakko, somewhat confused, remains calm. Caroline in turn is embarrassed and relieved that she’s travelling to Paris that day. However, the volcanic cloud hasn’t dispersed, her plans are again thwarted. She finds space in the same hotel reconnects with Jaakko who suggests they get to know each other. Even though Caroline is in a same-sex relationship in France she’s taken by Jaakko and decides to give love a chance.

A very well-made film with sensitive nuanced performances by Croze and Nousiainen, The Petrov File is the story of an actor who, during the communist era in Bulgaria, is banned from working. On the change of regime, he discovers that he was denounced by a person he really admired. Then, Markov a well connected acquaintance, offers to help. Markov, former director of the secret service is now a businessman. The virtually free country is wrecked by speculative capitalism, violence, and gang wars. Markov wants Petrov to head a new political party pledging honesty and good government. Can this work or is the price Petrov must pay too high? Is Markov an honest man or a charlatan? Petrov must decide if he’ll take the role of his life. A high-stakes political thriller raising moral questions.

In contrast to last year the festival featured two Irish films and a German Irish co-production. Sadly none were in official competition. “What a lovely film with realistic performances,” said Montreal Gazette journalist Liz Smith of You’re Ugly Too. Directed and written by Mark Noonan with magical performances by child actress Lauren Kinsell and veteran Aidan Gillen, this dark comedy struck a cord with Montreal audiences. Will, a handyman is given compassionate release from prison because of the sudden death of his sister. Stacy, his precocious niece has been briefly with a foster family. Now Will, her only blood relative, has been given full care. A bachelor with a prison record, he’s never had family responsibilities before. As a parolee he must check in with the  prison office by five each day and find gainful employment as quickly as possible. He also has some personal problems. Can he surmount these and do right by Stacy? A very well made first feature.

“Magical,” said C.B.C. Morning Host and Montreal Gazette journalist Brendan Kelly of An Ode to Love, an eight-minute cartoon by New Zealand-born Irish animator Matthew Darragh. A lonely man on a desert island explores the highs and lows of romantic love when a mysterious companion is washed ashore.

Happy Hour, directed and written by Franz Muller. Starring Simon Licht, Medi Nebbu, Alexnder Horbe and Susan Swanton was lensed in Germany, Co.Kerry, and Skibbereen, in the autumn of 2013 and is essentially a film about male bonding made for a German audience. Hans C.’s wife has left him. He’s in depression. His friends of twenty years Wolfgang and Nic decide that he must develop some back bone and that he needs a break. Wolfgang has a cottage in West Cork. Some time there may provide an answer. Ireland will allow them to recapture their youth. Who knows, they may even have some romantic interludes. Made with the help of the local authority the film has a deeply felt performance by actor Susan Swanton as Kat, a divorced woman in search of love. The final scene where Wolfgang decides to delay his departure and the use of Brian Wilson’s ‘“God Only Knows’ is hopeful. The feature will do well in Germany and may help Irish tourism.

Anthony Kirby, September 2015

 

 

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