Projections de films expérimentaux de Vicky Langan et Maximilian Le Cain

 

Séamas McSwiney reports from the Centre Culturel Irlandais in Paris where experimental filmmakers Vicky Langan and Maximilian Le Cain ended their residency with a screening of some of their films.

Experimental filmmakers Vicky Langan and Maximilian Le Cain rounded off a brim-full month as artists in residence at the Irish Cultural Centre in Paris with a screening of three of their short films followed by a Q&A. Langan mentioned that she was particularly pleased to see the diversity of the Paris turnout in the capacity audience. This audience ranged from insiders who know the codes for this (anti)discipline to adventurous neophytes up for new sensations. The Centre’s director, Nora Hickey M’Sichili, was also delighted to see the perimeter of her audience profile being pushed out in synch with the cutting edge of the filmmaking. 


Langan and Le Cain’s collaboration, according to their bio, is “built on the fitting match between Langan’s magnetic, troublingly intense presence as a performer and Le Cain’s distinctively jarring, disruptive visual rhythms. In 2017, they received an Arts Council of Ireland award to make Inside, their first feature film, soon to be premiered. Le Cain makes experimental films that explore a personal relationship with cinema as a site of haunting. Langan’s practice operates across several overlapping fields, chiefly performance, sound and film. Her vulnerable, emotionally charged work envelops audiences in an aura of dark intimacy.”

Of the thirteen films the Cork-based duo have made since their collaboration began in 2009, they screened three films in the one-hour programme along with a brief sampling of shots made during their Paris sojourn.

Le Cain adds: “What we shot in Paris is going towards two things: a short tribute film to Dutch experimental filmmaker Frans Zwartjes – a strong influence on us – to be screened at a tribute event for him on Oct 26 in the Guesthouse in Cork; and other images to be used as part of a live performance Vicky and I are developing for the Lausanne Underground Film & Music Festival, also in October, where we will also have a programme of our films screened as part of an Experimental Film Society programme”.

This hive of activity for such an esoteric filmmaking genre and this new international reach is largely due to the supportive environment of the Experimental Film Society (EFS) in Dublin and in particular its head, Rouzbeh Rashidi, who has engineered multiple Irish participations in this year’s Lausanne event.

Closer to home, in Dublin at Filmbase on Friday, Sept 1st and Saturday, 2nd, the duo will participate in a special event where they and two other filmmakers, Rouzbeh Rashidi and Atoosa Pour Hosseini, will take part in Wilderness Notes featuring premieres of three new films by EFS filmmakers, created in tandem with new compositions by young Irish composers Barry O’Halpin, Seán Ó Dálaigh, and Robert Coleman of the Kirkos Ensemble, which will be performed live. 

Here’s how the Experimental Film Society describes this collaborative event:

“The three films that comprise Wilderness Notes all explore psychic, territorial and technological margins. Isolated characters, all somehow locked into masks or fixed personae, navigate desolate zones between dimensions where a sense of being physically adrift and at risk is mapped onto a corresponding inner state. But they are not only adrift in space, they are equally adrift in time. Making experimental use of several outdated moving image formats, notably Super-8 and VHS,Wilderness Notes summons up ghosts from an abandoned future, taking its cues from the western, the nightmare of nuclear holocaust and the masks of ancient theatre.”


An unmissable opportunity for adventurous audiences in Dublin this weekend.

 

Séamas McSwiney is an Irish writer-producer based in Paris

 

Kirkos Ensemble + Experimental Film Society present

Wilderness Notes

19.30, Fri-Sat 01-02.09.2017 :: Filmbase, 2 Curved Street, Temple Bar, Dublin 2

Kirkos Ensemble + Experimental Film Society present Wilderness Notes

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In the Cannes

Ruben Ostlund squares up

Séamas McSwiney wraps up his reports from Cannes 2017.

There was a refreshing touch of Cannes self-mockery in this year’s Palme d’Or, or at least it would be nice to think awarding top nod to a poke at art elitism was deliberate. Swedish director Ruben Ostlund’s sweetly satirical The Square took gold and most would not argue the choice, for The Square delivered laughs, discomfort and insight, in equal measure.

Claes Bang plays Christian, the amiably debonair curator of a modern art museum in Stockholm. He’s a young Pierce Brosnan with a whiff of Cary Grant about him, as he shows an endearing capacity to bumble while wearing his elitist privilege casually. The two starting points to the intrigue are an in-house debate around a new art installation, a luminous square, in search of a media gimmick to augment the museum’s inclusive profile (and please donors) and a more personal one that involves a street scam, which sees Christian’s wallet and phone… plus his heirloom cufflinks, stolen through an impressively contrived drama that could even be considered street art for its ingenious execution. His strategy to recover his essential personal pieces interweaves with the preparation for the keynote art installation and his public duties in promoting it, leading to an almost sitcom spiral that finds him stumbling to ruination as the YouTube teaser goes viral for all the wrong reasons.

An Artistic Pluralist Hat (The Square)

In retrospect, the story itself has a well-constructed narrative direction, but at first reading it seems a mere sequence of anecdotes and unexpected episodes specifically designed to prick and prod at pretentiousness in the art world, delivering well-nuanced boho barbs as it saunters through the storyline.

Adding cosmopolitan flair to the setting, the cast also includes Elisabeth Moss and Dominic West; she a journalist who awkwardly beds the classy Christian, only to unleash a neo-feminist inquisition the following day when he appears to have forgotten her name; and West, an esoteric artist whose sympathetic personality masks a deep conviction of self-importance that unravels in the film’s over-the-top ‘performance art’ set piece, involving a human anthropoid, programmed to conclude an important black tie donors’ dinner, a set-up where Marx brothers jiggery-pokery meets the cruelty of Lars von Trier.

Though the inclusive sociology of Scandinavia brings modernity to a classic theme combining art, elitism and money, it carries extra critical voltage when contrasted to the same industrial scale, real-life phenomenon of hype, fawning enthusiasm and dubious bling that plays out annually, and personifies Cannes itself. Despite first appearances, The Square’s episodic narrative is more than the sum of its parts and a worthy winner in what was widely held to be a weak field.

The two other unexpected political guests at Le Festival this year were the Netflix debate and the extra, if not excessive, levels of security that was necessary to show that everything was being done to protect guests and stars alike. For attendees, with its ubiquitous metal detectors and electronic frisks, it was akin to boarding ten flights a day; still, remarkably, only a few screenings were delayed at the beginning of the festival and only one unattended bag panic incident shut down the Palais for an hour midway through.

The Netflix dilemma veered from implacable industry logic to an existential appeal for the soul of cinema. Jury President Pedro Almodóvar and member Will Smith locked horns at the opening jury press conference on the subject, after Cannes had already announced that no future internet media produced movies would be programmed in the future unless also assured of a French theatrical release. Other prestigious festivals rowed in with contrasting declarations and the debate is now fully on. Meanwhile, luckily Netflix competition entries Okja andThe Meyerowitz Stories didn’t really merit a prize, giving Pedro the arguments he needed.

Time to act (120 Beats Per Minute)

The Grand Prix or second prize went to Robin Campillo’s 120 Beats Per Minute, the biopic of an organisation, the French Act Up association that fought, sometimes controversially, for a massive increase in research and investment to resolve the HIV-Aids crisis as it emerged in the 1980s. It captures well the urgency of the cause, giving detailed scientific debate and does not shy from evoking the internal debates that took place within Act Up regarding its methods and aims. Nor does it exclude the individual suffering of some, and bareback casualness of others, in pursuing their desires and romantic passions, thus offering a metaphor for the emphatic embrace of a cause that still stokes controversy. Just as Act Up in its time divided even those that shared its aims, the film also appears to have divided the jury. President Almodóvar did not deny that this film was his choice for the Palme. So democracy prevailed.

Irlandais (The Beguiled)

Speaking of democracy, on the gender politics scale, the now predicable comments were frequent throughout the festival regarding the low level of representation of women in the festival and in the industry at large. This can unfortunately create the critical collateral damage of anything by a woman being heaped with exaggerated praise to appease the legitimate protest. Thus, perhaps, Sofia Coppola won the best director for The Beguiled, a pale copy of the Don Siegel movie of the same name, with the claim that this imitation is from a feminist perspective. Gelded of the Siegel-Clint Eastwood raw predatory sexuality, even Colin Farrell is not half the bad man he could be. On the bright side, this can provide gender-in-film academics an opportunity to comment whether or not the Siegel’s macho character indictment and comeuppance from 1971 is not ultimately more feminist in its offerings and outcomes.

Nishelism (Jeune femme (Montparnasse Bienvenüe)

On the optimistic side, a higher proportion of young women filmmakers were in contention for the Camera d’Or, which rewards the best first film. Contenders here often find their way to the Competiion as their career rolls out. This year Jeune femme (Montparnassev Bienvenüe) by French director Léonor Serraille, won the Camera d’Or for a fractured parable of a 30-something woman on the verge of self-annihilation. It is a careening Parisian odyssey into the destitution of a young woman who shows herself to be unlikeable in the extreme, before impressing with the depth of her desire to be unshackled by an unloving mother, unsuitable lover and society at large.

Bloody kids (The Beguiled)

Nicole Kidman picked up a special 70th anniversary prize for the fact that she appeared in 4 red carpet offerings this year, two in competition (both alongside Colin Farrell), The Beguiled and Yorgos Lanthimos, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, and John Cameron Mitchell’s special screening punk sci-fi flick How to Talk to Girls at Parties. She also featured in Jane Campion’s Top of the Lake TV series, which premiered in Cannes, sharing TV honours with David Lynch’s much admired new season of Twin Peaks.

Really hair (You Were Never Really Here)

Lanthimos’s Sacred Deer shared a screenwriting award with Lynne Ramsey’s You Were Never Really Here, which also garnered Joaquin Phoenix the Best Actor Award. Diane Kruger got Best Actress for Fatih Akin’s In The Fade, her first role in her native German, where, in a workaday film, she controversially learns bomb-making skills.

MBV (Loveless)

Loveless, a Russian broken-family fable by Andrey Zvyagintsev, was a favourite with many from its first day outing, managed to only pick up the Jury Prize, a story that both indicts selfishness in today’s materialistic Russia while exemplifying a sense of community in the quest for a lost boy. If we were playing an art publicist in The Square, we might say that the lost boy is Russia, but we are not, so he probably isn’t.

As the intense schedule of screenings drifts into the past, the individual films glow greener like receding hills, just as next year’s already approaching —hopefully richer — menu does.

 

Séamas McSwiney is an Irish writer-producer based in Paris  

 
This year’s Cannes Festival takes place 17 – 28 May 2017
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Cannes 2017: Quinzaine – Directors Fortnight

 

Danielle Macdonald appears in Patti Cake$, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.
                                 Patti_Cake$

Séamas McSwiney previews the 49th annual edition of the Cannes Film Festival’s Directors’ Fortnight section

“You’d have to be a complete idiot to go to Cannes this year, with everything that’s going on right now!” said a May ’68 demonstrator to Jean-Luc Godard as they marched. And there are echoes with the current political revolution happening in Paris, albeit a centrist one. The sequence appears in a teaser from Michel Hazanvicius’ competition entry, Le Redoutable, which tells the tale of Jean-Luc Godard’s love affair with Anne Wiazemsky. What happens next in the real life political story is that a group of young firebrand directors, including Truffaut, Godard, Polanski and Milos Forman, simply brought the revolution south to Cannes and shut down the Le Festival already into its second week. Spanish director Carlos Saura went as far as hanging on to the stage curtains to stop his own film Peppermint Frappé from screening. Cinema and politics coming to grips in a very hands-on way!

One of the upshots of this revolutionary verve was the creation in June ‘68 of the French Directors Guild (Le SRF), designed to protect the artistic and economic interests of film directors. In 1969 they launched La Quinzaine des Réalisateurs (Director’s Fortnight) as an alternative to establishment Cannes. It has since been the launch-pad of luminaries such as George Lucas, Ken Loach, Michael Haneke, Spike Lee, the Dardenne brothers, and many others…

True to its original spirit of discovery, there are five first films in this year’s Quinzaine and seven directed by women.

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I Am Not a Witch

Among them, we meet Shula, a 9-year-old girl convicted of sorcery and exiled from her Zambian village to a witch camp in the desert. Once there she discovers the strange protocols of the place and manages to derange the other inmates… Thus begins the tale of I Am Not a Witch, a present-day African satire about beliefs in witchcraft. This Zambian tale is director Rungano Nyoni’s first feature, but it won’t be her first trip to Le Festival. Born in Lusaka, she grew up in Wales and studied drama in London. Her first film, The List, won a BAFTA Cymru and, more recently, a Danish-Finnish short co-directed with Iranian-Finnish director Hamy Ramezan, Listen, was programmed in Directors Fortnight in 2014 and nominated for an EFA Award.

I am Not a Witch is a Franco-British-German co-production with an impressive array of institutions behind it. Nurtured by a series of development residencies, including Cannes’ own Cinéfondation and other European funding initiatives like Berlinale’s World Cinema Fund and the Hubert Bals Fund in Holland, it also has some choice UK investors in Channel 4 and BFI. Her British producer Emily Morgan of Soda Pictures says, “It’s been exciting seeing Rungano deliver on her truly original script with such emotive visual flair and her unique blend of fantasy and realism, amidst a variety of captivating Zambian landscapes.” Will the benevolently byzantine alchemy of European film funding be an inspiring bedfellow for sub-Saharan cinematic sorcery? We’ll soon see. One certainty is the media magic of nine-year-old Shula (Maggie Mulubwa) graces the Croisette with her presence.

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Un Beau Soleil d’Interieur

Among the 19 features, there will be five films from France and five from the USA, with three from Italy. Claire Denis’s Un beau soleil intérieur will open. In a departure for her, it is a comedy starring an array of top French thespians including Juliette Binoche in the lead as a divorced woman’s philosophical quest for true love and a cameo from Gerard Depardieu as a fortune teller. The closing film will be Patti Cake$ by Geremy Jasper, a film that started a bidding war in Sundance this year. “You’ve never met a rapper like Patricia Dombrowski. Her best friend calls her Killa-P, while the haters call her Dumbo, but to us, she will always be “Patti Cake$,” an overweight white hip-hop artist who announces her force-of-nature personality from her very first song” said Variety.

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Bushwick

Bushwick, by Cary Murnion & Jonathan Milott, tells a near-future dystopia set in the neighbourhood of the same name. It seems there is to be a new war of secession as bodies litter the streets of Brooklyn. Who is behind this new American civil war? Have the masked marauders mad dog Texans come to fix the Yankees? Is it a metaphor for what’s happening under the surface to today’s morally battered USA? Is it a B-movie masquerading as agitprop? You’ll get no spoilers here.

 

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Nothingwood

Imagine a jolly film from today’s Afghanistan that gives us more insight than 24 years of 24-hour news reports. That’s what we have with Nothingwood. Salim Shaheen is a filmmaker, he’s directed 110 films, ranging from Bruce Lee style actioners to Bollywood inspired rom-coms, complete with song and dance numbers and low-budget special effects. All were shot during the past forty years, a period when Afghanistan has been in a state of almost perpetual war, beginning with the Russian occupation and up to the current Kabul government-Western coalition war with the Taliban. He acts in his own films, so he is probably one of the most popular people in the country bringing a particularly Afghan blend of escapism to the fraught lives of the people.

Nothingwood is a documentary by French-Swedish director Sonia Kronland, a journalist who has been a regular visitor to Afghanistan for fifteen years. Despite her seeming reticence, the film becomes a kind of double act between her and Salim, filmmaker to filmmaker, as they and his band of Merry Men take a small UN jet to a mountainous region to shoot what appears to be his own fictionalised bio-pic. He’s a gregarious make-it-up-as-you-go-along kind of director and helpfully chooses interesting locations for Sonia’s film as they work through his own shooting schedule, stealing images and improvising scenes here and there.

As well as being the story of an extraordinarily resourceful man, somewhat imbued with himself, the film, while telling his story, is a litany of revealing socio-cultural surprises: a masked Taliban who talks about his love for Salim’s films, though forbidden by his beliefs; Salim, himself an observant Muslim, brings us to his home where we meet his many sons, all of whom have acted in his films, but we will not meet his two wives or his many daughters. “I know them but filming them was out of the question”, says Kronland. Then there is the slow reveal of his favourite actor, Qurban Ali, a man who likes to dress up as women, who ostensibly demonstrates a queenly demeanour, whether in drag or not. We meet his wife and children in wry interview and realise that “as long as he does not come out as a homosexual, his taste for gender role switching and cross-dressing is tolerated and even appreciated in Afghan society” says Kronland. Asked how she was accepted as a woman, Kronland says, “It was easy, because to them, … I am a foreigner, I am not a Muslim and, above all, I am a director; So I cannot really be a woman!” 

As this caravanserai of a film unspools, Nothingwood becomes an accommodating tango between two filmmakers, dancing to different tunes in refreshing harmony, as it reveals a mostly fun loving, sunny-side of the Afghan disposition. Thus it is also a two-tier tribute to cinema as a balm to appease the worst of human behaviour.

 

Séamas McSwiney is an Irish writer-producer based in Paris  

 
This year’s Cannes Festival takes place 17 – 28 May 2017

 

Cannes Opener 2017

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Cannes Opener 2017

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Séamas McSwiney previews the delights on offer at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

If Art is a noble quest and Entertainment a cut-throat commercial competition, Le Festival de Cannes is one of the more attractive venues for these natural forces to meet, mate and procreate. For better and for worse, innovation ensues. Both ends of the film equation need each other and each innovation alters the balance of this duality. In former days, the tug-of-war arrangement was between the artists and the studios. Nowadays, with technological innovation, new heavy-hitting players, like Netflix and Amazon, enter the lucrative cinema game and the classic model of production-distribution-exhibition is again tested and changed and we can ask the existential question: does a film have to also be available in theatres to be Cinema?

Ever since the Lumière brothers sold the first ever cinema ticket in Paris in 1895, France’s film industry model has been savvily perfected to protect both art and commerce, to enhance creativity and optimise profit, but this also means the French resistance to modify the status quo and change the windows of exploitation is greatest. Cannes, the true crossroads of international cinema, is the ideal place for this discussion.

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Okja

The eighteen films selected to compete for the Palme d’Or this year — from 1,930 hopefuls — as usual will raise questions, ranging from artistic merit to nepotism and politics, before and after their premieres, as to why they were chosen. The two Netflix films selected are Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories and Korean Bong Joon-ho’s Okja. The former tells a tale of a family reunion to celebrate the artistic work of the father. It stars Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Emma Thompson, Dustin Hoffman and Candice Bergen, while Okja tells a tale of a young Korean girl’s struggle to stop a powerful, multi-national company from kidnapping her best friend — a massive animal named Okja. Apart from its Korean cast, it stars Tilda Swinton, Jake Gylenhall, Paul Dano and others. In short, both casts seem algorithmically designed for google-search optimisation. In the end, the most important thing is that the films themselves amount to more than the sum of their strategic packaging parts.

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The Beguiled

Irish presence in the competition is again assured by Ed Guiney’s Element pictures and reinforced by the charm of Colin Farrell. As with the Cannes prize-winner, The Lobster (2015), also starring Colin Farrell, Element are the lead producer of Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Killing of a Sacred Deer, a European coproduction set in Cincinnati, Ohio. It is a psychological thriller involving a troubled teenager’s manipulation of a brilliant surgeon. Farrell appears alongside Nicole Kidman in a film that promises to be anything but predictable. He also appears alongside Kidman in another competition film that promises to be entirely predictable. This is The Beguiled, directed by Sofia Coppola, an American Civil War drama, involving a fleeing Union soldier who finds haven in a prim girls’ boarding school, adapted from the novel of the same name by Thomas Cullinan, but more famously known as a troublingly brilliant film from 1971 by Don Siegel, starring Clint Eastwood and Geraldine Page. Coppola has set the comparison bar high for herself, and discussion will surely also focus on the claim that it is not a remake but a new adaptation. Will the female cinematic gaze onto this sexually perverse tale justify the re-adaptation? If not, why is it in Cannes? Watch this space. It also stars Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning.

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Rodin

Other observations include the fact that of the four French films in competition, two are biopics, Jacques Doillon’s Rodin stars Vincent Lindon as the celebrated father of modern sculpture, which suggests a classic treatment for the story. An odder prospect is Michel Hazanavicius’ Le Redoutable about Jean-Luc Godard’s love affair with 17-year old actress Anne Wiazemsky on the set of La Chinoise (1967) and their subsequent marriage. Louis Garrel stars in the mimicry,and the early trailers seem to support Godard’s reaction to it all as being a “very, very, stupid idea.” After Hazanavicius’ clunky dud, The Search, in Cannes 2013, it’s hard to think of a director so opposite to Godard in artistic terms. But then irreverence is a mainstay of everything to do with JLG. So, let’s just wait and see, with managed pessimism.

Another famous French artist biopic opens the Un Certain Regard Official selection. It is Mathieu Amalric’s Barbara about one of France’s most loved singers, known simply by her first name. She is played by Jeanne Balibar, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Barbara, both in appearance and in her otherworldly mannerisms and style.

After many years of abandoned American projects, Scottish director Lynne Ramsey comes with You Were Never Really Here, a tale promising to revisit Ramsey’s dark edginess, in which Joaquin Phoenix plays a war veteran who gets involved in saving a young girl from a sex-trafficking ring and where things get radically out of hand.

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Hikari

The third woman director in competition is Naomi Kawase, with Hikari. The Japanese director seems to have a lifetime subscription to Cannes for her trademark themes of ponderous intimacy wrapped in melancholy musings. Stimulatingly soothing for some, tediously boring for others.

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Aus Dem Nichts

The German-Turkish director Fatih Akin will bring Aus Dem Nichts (In The Fade) a Hamburg-located revenge thriller, starring Diane Kruger in her first German-language role. Shot in Hamburg’s red-light district and based on a bombing incident, it promises a broad menu of pyrotechnics and action.

Returning regulars include Todd Haynes with Wonderstruck, telling two connected stories of children, one of a Midwestern boy and another of a little girl in New York from fifty years previously, allowing Haynes to further explore his penchant for preciously enhanced period detail.

Austrian director Michel Haneke will be hoping for a third Palme d’Or with his new French film Happy End. Set in Calais, it stars Isabelle Huppert and Jean-Louis Trintignant and juxtaposes a bourgeois family’s life against the contemporary plight of refugees. Knowing the skill of Haneke’s scalpel, is there hope in the title or bitter irony?

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Sea Sorrow

In the Special Screenings section there is a documentary by Vanessa Redgrave, whose title Sea Sorrow suggests it probably goes directly to the bone on the subject.

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Twin Peaks

Because Cannes 2017 is also the 70th, there are a number of anniversary events. Two of them involve TV series, justified by both the need to be modern and the fact that they are made by true-blue Cannes-tested cineastes. Jane Campion brings Top of the Lake, season 2, which gives Nicole Kidman yet another good reason to grace the red carpet and enhance its value. Expect fanfares for David Lynch, who will be in town with the very long awaited and wildly anticipated follow up to Twin Peaks.

In the same 70th anniversary bonus category Kristen Steward arrives with Come Swim, her 17-minute short film that evokes, in various guises, her exes and surely encapsulates whatever word currently means what zeitgeist used to mean.

A most poignant piece of programming will be the late Abbas Kiarostami’s 24 Frames, an experimental film completed before his death in July 2016 and based on his photography. “It began with musings on epochal paintings and evolved with the photographs I had taken over the years,” said Kiarostami, “Each of these frames is in essence 4 minutes and 30 seconds of what I imagine to have transpired before and after a single image”. Often present in the official selection in Cannes, Kiarostami won the Palme d’Or for Taste of Cherry in 1997. A rounded artist, he was celebrated by many, and disputed by a few, for his modernity and lack of inhibition in embracing digital technology in his filmmaking and in his quest for innovation in expressing ideas and perception.

Séamas McSwiney is an Irish writer-producer based in Paris  

This year’s Cannes Festival takes place 17-28 May 2017
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Seville European Film Festival: European Cinema – Big Films, Small Films

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Actors Vincent Lindon and Pilar Lopez de Ayala announcing the EFA nominations

 

Séamas McSwiney takes in the wealth of European films at the Seville European Film Festival.

Among the many festivals of European Cinema that now take place across the continent each year, the Seville European Film Festival (SEFF) can annually claim to be the temporary capital of European cinema for 9 days in November: apart from its programming about 150 mostly new European films, the European Film Academy has chosen this venue to announce its key nominations in advance the EFA Awards. Berlin is the home of the European Film Academy and it is there every two years that the annual awards take place in early December; on alternate years they happen in another European city. This year’s 29th EFA Awards take place in Wroclaw in Poland on Dec 10th and in 2018, it has just been announced, they will take place in Seville, upping their EU film credentials another notch.

The EFA Awards have yet to achieve anything resembling the notoriety of the Oscars and are principally know to industry insiders and specialised film enthusiasts. In its earlier years they had a friendlier name —they were called the Felix Awards— and mostly focused on more obscure art-house titles. Nowadays, while they’ve dropped the catchy name in favour of the more generic euro moniker —the European Film Awards— the nomination list has become rather more eye-catching than in days of yore. Just like the Oscars, it is now a well-honed list finessed over the six months since Cannes.

Four of the five best film nominations this year go to films that had their first international outing at Le Festival in May: Paul Verhoeven’s Elle, Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake, Almodovar’s Julieta and Marne Ade’s Toni Erdmann, while Irish director Lenny Abrahamson’s Room was first presented in Telluride and then Toronto in 2015. Except for Abrahamson, all of the same are nominated also for best director, with Christian Mungiu for Graduation getting the fifth slot in the category. Though it’s hard to see who else should have fallen off the list to make room for the talented Romanian, it’s a shame to see Abrahamson not also get a directorial nod for the conceptual originality and directorial finesse achieved with Room. This is somewhat compensated for by Emma Donoghue’s inclusion in the list of five screenwriting nominations. See the full list of European Film Awards nominations here: http://www.europeanfilmawards.eu/en_EN/nomination-current

Seville shows an interesting mix of new European films including many that would not have achieved the notoriety that the serious EFA Award contenders have. There are thirteen competition sections and five Seasons & Retrospectives, all of which this year reflect women in film. One of these was a retrospective of Vivienne Dick, the Irish feminist experimental and documentary filmmaker presenting a total of twelve short and medium length films in three programmes from a 40-year career. The films ranged from her 1978 opus Staten Island up to the more recent The Irreducible Difference of the Other.

The other Irish inclusion was Blinder Films/Whit Stillman’s Love & Friendship in the Official Selection.

There was also a section dedicated to the ‘long list’ of EFA nominations that was offered up for an audience prize, taken by Maren Ade’s Cannes-neglected Toni Erdmann, also a favourite to pick up most prizes at the December Awards.

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Siobhan and Terry in Europe, She Loves, (Jan Gassman)

Among the other less-known films in this section was Europe, She Loves, by Jan Gassman from Switzerland: a compelling trans-continental montage of four interweaving observational dramas whose press-kit logline reads: “Europe on the verge of social and economic change. A close up into the shaken vision of four couples, daily struggles, fights, kids, sex and passion. A movie about the politics of love.”

The film in fact portrays the day-to-day lives of four couples living on the perimeters of Europe, flitting to and fro from Thessaloniki to Seville to Tallinn to Dublin, capturing intimate moments and longings of four young couples. Their issues are different but similar, and Gassman’s directorial eye captures and imprisons them in the obsessive bubble that is their couple. Other characters come and go and complement aspects of their mostly banal lives, but it is almost as if these mostly off-camera characters were incidental props. The film is a tender portrait of frustration in today’s Europe, imaginatively shot and deftly edited in telling fragments. Sex and drugs are a constant. In the Seville and Thessaloniki narratives it is the young woman who hankers for something better, to leave and see what life might be like elsewhere, while in Talinn a youthful recomposed family is asked, and asks, many questions about modern parenthood. The Dublin couple, Siobhan and Terry, (pictured above) have different dilemmas and gradually show themselves to have a much greater potential to live and love than the earlier sequences of druggy destitution suggest —shades of Adam & Paul but completely different. The overall composite theme or set of issues in Europe, She Loves are commonplace but the film itself is particularly uncommon: it is clearly acted and directed, yet was first presented at the Berlinale as a documentary and any (cursory) search for the names of the actors yields… nothing but first names. Mixed critical reactions makes this film a must-see from amongst the more than a thousand European fiction films made each year.

For these European films, and all other films released in Europe, almost one billion tickets are sold in cinemas each year. On average about 30% of these tickets are for the thousand plus EU28 films, and a steady annual 7% of this goes to non-national EU films, thanks mainly to the Creative Europe efforts to ensure European films cross borders. The EFA awards also seek to contribute to augmenting this level of cross border dialogue through cinema.

Another interesting statistic is that France and Ireland, as well as having the highest birth rates in the EU, have the highest per capita levels of cinema attendance. But nobody comes near the French in terms of the 300 films produced annually and the actual 200m tickets sold there.

The French leadership in European cinema was also reflected in the awards in Seville this year, pretty much all of the prizes were awarded to French or French co-produced films. Yet another reason to encourage more film cooperation between France and Ireland (despite the fact that Ireland is the only EU28 country that does not have a bi-lateral coproduction agreement with France).

 

LIST OF WINNERS at the SEVILLA EUROPEAN FILM FESTIVAL 2016

 

 

 

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Report: Irish Animation @ Cartoon Forum

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Séamas McSwiney was at this year’s Cartoon Forum, which put the spotlight on Ireland paying tribute to the Irish animation industry

“Money well spent!” is how Paul Young, President of Animation Ireland, puts it. He’s talking about the multiplier effect of a collective push that ensured a very successful Irish presence at last week’s Toulouse Cartoon Forum. Ireland was selected to be the first Spotlight country in a renewed bid for the EU-funded Cartoon Forum to ensure diversity.

Founded in 1990, the annual Forum was, at first, in a different city every year, before settling in Toulouse. It could thus concentrate on perfecting its very efficient model, rather than having to reinvent itself each year to fit a new location. Given the strength of French industry and the location, there is, however, the danger of it losing its diversity. So, the new Spotlight idea was introduced this year and Ireland, with its strong animation sector, was a perfect match. In fact, Irish animation is probably more successful than the French industry if the economic performance and audience statistics were converted to a per capita basis.

Paul Young’s company, Kilkenny-based Cartoon Saloon, is no stranger to success either, having been on the Oscar trail with both Song of the Sea and The Secret of Kells. In Toulouse, he and Animation Ireland —an association of 22 Irish animation studios— were in the shepherd role, paving the way for the Irish Spotlight presence. Upstream, they’d co-ordinated funding from RTE, the Irish Film Board, Animation Skillnet, the IDA and Enterprise Ireland and, essentially, they formed a team of companies —new kids on the block and old hands— to step up to the pitching mound.

There was also a significant student presence with four students from Dun Laoghaire IADT and four from Ballyfermot Irish School of Animation, a wonderful opportunity for emerging talents to observe at close hand the cosmopolitan co-production crossroads of the very lucrative European animation sector.

They also got a chance to meet the Irish Ambassador, Geraldine Byrne Nason, down from Paris with her team for the opening of the Forum. A dab hand at representing the creative industries abroad, in French and in English, she underlined Ireland’s reputation for storytelling.

And the teams of producers and creators justified Ambassador Byrne Nason’s boast; from a field of eighty projects selected overall (28 French, 9 UK, 8 Irish,…), Irish pitches figured prominently among the most appreciated presentations, notably top player Jam Media’s Snoozeville, exploring the dream world of an eight year old and Giant Animation’s Creepers, whose trio of contrasting heroes, Gwen, Harry and Coop mirror in a cutely autobiographical way the adventures of Giant Animation trio, Alex Sherwood, Ben Harper and Jonathan Clarke.

At the Cartoon Forum, like any animation production, everything is efficiently scheduled and synchronised. At breakfast (aka Croissant Show), in the vast luxury canteen downstairs, intros are made and trailers played for the pitches you can see that morning, three of which will play at any given moment, in the Pink, Purple or Blue rooms upstairs. So, for breakfast, in fact you get a morning ‘toon pitching menu and likewise for lunch, along with company and broadcaster presentations, you get the afternoon pitching sessions trailered.

Other Irish companies’ pitches included Kavaleer’s Alva & the Trolls, Igloo Films Peek Zoo, Keg Kartoonz Zombabies, Salty Dog Pictures’ The Mooneys and Treehouse Republic’s I’ve Got a Time Travelling Monkey on My Back, whose title doubles as a short pitch in itself. Newbies Pink Kong’s Niamh Herrity, Aoife Doyle and Leo Crowley rounded off the proceedings and earned whoops and cheers for their pitch of Urban Tails. It’s a 52 x 2’ series urban wildlife, each in a different city. The pilot is a music video rap song by two inner city foxes, rhyming, moonwalking and oozing attitude, as they scavenge their way round Dublin. You could watch it over and over. Toons with tunes. Others planned include boars in Berlin, swans in Paris and rats in New Yawk City, all smartly educational and sublimely entertaining, aimed at 6-8 year olds of all ages.

 

Séamas McSwiney is an Irish writer-producer based in Paris

Cartoon Forum 2016 took place 13 – 16 Sep 2016 in Toulouse

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Citizen Ken Conquers Cannes

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I, Ken Loach

Séamas McSwiney looks back over this year’s Cannes Film Festival and finds gold in them thar hills.

Alchemy is — dictionary.com tells us— “a form of chemistry and speculative philosophy practiced in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance and concerned principally with discovering methods for transmuting baser metals into gold and with finding a universal solvent and an elixir of life.” This becomes a facetiously accurate allegory when attempting to fathom the mysteries of cinema in general and Cannes and its jury in particular. One wonders why such a flamboyant discipline as alchemy ever became so discredited. Perhaps it was simply reborn and renamed: the pictures.

As the eternal Cannes triangulation of films selected for competition, out of the 1800 candidates, why this 20?; the Jury of 9 eminent talents, led by George Miller this year, where the promising whole became less than the sum of the parts; and, thirdly, the 4000 press and critics on the ground, who have seen the former two get it all wrong before. This scalene standoff will never be entirely resolved and this year it carried extra layers of plot points.

Amongst the razzle and dazzle, the caviar and champagne, Citizen Ken conquered the Croisette with a condemnation of working class woes in neo-Thatcherite England. A delightfully incongruous sight to see: between the militant fist raised, the snappy tux and the sparkling Palme d’Or he had just been awarded, he launched into what amounted to a social politics stump speech. Pure Ken Loach, for his cinema always has a political purpose. His new film, I, Daniel Blake was a surprise winner for many, though accepted by most.

It tells the troubling tale of a prickly 59-year old carpenter in Newcastle having difficulty juggling between doctor’s orders on one hand, having had a minor heart attack, and dealing with the programmed heartlessness of social services underlings on the other. They are clearly instructed to obstruct applicants for benefits so as to curb unemployment statistics. Dan Blake finds common cause with Katie, a single mother with two kids transposed from London and all at sea among the Geordies. It’s a strong, necessary and deserving film of the need to resist being ground down. It’s a film about the ills of austerity and about its victims. In his speech Citizen Ken spoke of a better world possible, one that is better than the food-bank shopping that is pitifully becoming more and more necessary for too many.

Throughout the 12 days of Cannes, early screener I, Daniel Blake wasn’t high on critics’ lists to take a top prize and, though most appreciate the work, some also feel that Loach promotes a singular perspective rather than a nuanced cinema, that he puts his politics before his art. In any case, for a man who said he made his last film two years ago, it was a spectacular return from retirement for the 79-year old auteur.

Neither alchemy nor cinema is an exact discipline. Erratic or random would seem the more appropriate description when we get to this year’s second prize, or the Grand Prix du Jury, which went to the youngest candidate, 27-year old Quebecois, Xavier Dolan (pictured below), with a French opus adapted from a theatre piece called It’s Only the End of the World.  It’s a frantic family reunion around a returned young son who has come home announcing his imminent death.

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It’s Only the Grand Prix du Jury

Hitting the second lowest score on Screen’s prestigious critics grid, it was derided by many since its screening early in the week. Even some usual Dolan fans felt it was too shouty and hysterical. However, it did garner some of the unconditional love Xavier craves. And this in the most important place possible – among a Jury that looks like an ideal dinner party, Mad Max’s Dad, George Miller, French cutting-edge auteur, Arnaud Desplechin, sassy Kirsten Dunst and alluring actress-helmer Valeria Golino, handsome cannibal Mads Mikkelsen, Hungary’s youthful father of Son of Saul, László Nemes, French actor-singer and proud Mum in Cannes, Vanessa Paradis, elegantly veiled Iranian producer Katayoon Shahabi, and the grumpily avuncular grandee, Donald Sutherland.

In Cannes, all of the major US and European trades publish daily news magazines, and some create their own juries tracking favourites for the completion as the festival rolls on at the rate of two competition films a day. This is Screen International’s closing Jury Grid, with comments that largely reflects the evolving vox pop exchanged in the Croisette trenches:

http://www.screendaily.com/festivals/cannes/cannes-toni-erdmann-tops-final-screen-jury-grid/5104255.article?blocktitle=LATEST-FILM-NEWS&contentID=40562

As other weaker films picked up prizes, notably Olivier Assayas’ Personal Shopper and Andrea Arnold’s American Honey, many were struck, if not shocked, by the hot tips that were forgotten, notably Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann, Kleber Mendonça Filho’s Aquarius, Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson and even the last day’s black-comedy crime cum social satire, Elle, by Paul Verhoeven, which turned into a perfectly boisterous way to conclude a selection that, inevitably, contained principally grim fare.

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Double Your Sales

Asghar Farhadi (pictured above) returned and picked up two prizes, best actor and best screenplay, for a not-quite-up-to-his best Forushande/The Salesman, a post-earthquake tale whose tremors reverberate and imbalance an artsy couple playing in a Persian version of Arthur Miller’s play.

Also, just a tad less inspired than with previous Cannes favourites, Cristian Mungiu, who shared the Director’s prize with Assayas, returned with Bacalaureat, a father-daughter story, he a doctor and she on the cusp of a scholarship to Oxford. Unexpected events deftly reveal endemic day-to-day corruption in a provincial city in Romania.

France Cannes Awards Photo Call
                  The brillante Jaclyn Jose

Another fascinating analysis, this time of street level corruption, is demonstrated in Brillante Mendoza’s Ma’ Rosa. Jaclyn Jose picked up best actress for playing the mother of four grown kids running a small store in a poor area of Manila and dealing a little meth on the side. A betrayal leads to a shakedown and rival cops seek to line their pockets by threatening the family with a long stretch inside. Just another day and night cataloguing the inevitability of this vice. And, this time, Mendoza’s ramshackle style captured perfectly his subject and story. And, while Jose gave a great performance as the acerbic matriarch, many would have preferred Sonia Braga in Aquarius, Sandra Huller in Toni Erdmann or, indeed, a special turn by Isabelle Huppert in Elle, where she takes her deadpan style Isabelle-ness, to a whole new level.

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Michèle et un chat

Paul Verhoeven’s Elle (pictured above) will unfortunately be misunderstood, starting as it does with Michèle’s (Huppert) politically inappropriate response to a brutal rape she endures in the first minute of the film. She’s an extremely hard-nosed entrepreneur running a successful video games company. Her favourite register is sarcasm. She’s also a divorced mother with a sweet but inept son, a struggling ex-husband and a lubricious mother. There is also a very sinister childhood past with a dying dad in jail. But the whole thing is a hilarious social satire adapted from Philippe Djian’s novel Oh. It’s an absurdist self-parodying film about the French, adapted by an American, directed by a Dutchman, produced by a Tunisian (who also did Aquarius), that is almost Wildean in its caricatures, possibly inventing some brand new French clichés along the way. It’s not meant to be taken seriously; in fact, spontaneous (i.e. non-ironic) laughter peppered the entire early morning press screening. See it first, for if we are to get stuck on a one-note issue, we miss the almost masculine female phantasmagoria of this flick. Michèle is in control and she has no desire for things to be otherwise. One of the many interesting things that cropped up in the Elle press conference was when Verhoeven railed against the Hollywood scenaristic diktat that a character must change. Nonsense, he said, people stay the same (press conference and all Cannes videos at : http://www.festival-cannes.com/en/video).

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Where is my prize?

In a strange way, as there was such consensus around Toni Erdmann (pictured above), it’s possibly better that it did not get some minor consolation prize like a shared director’s award. Sure-handed director Maren Ade, also the film’s producer and writer, takes her time (2h42) in telling a shaggy-dog father-daughter tale of multiple misunderstandings that starts in Germany and then mostly takes place in Bucharest, making it a de facto third Romanian film in competition. There, Ines is a somewhat ruthless management consultant downsizing a struggling oil company for her German bosses.

The result is often bittersweet, often hilarious, as jokester, music teacher Dad ambles into town, dons fake chops and wig, and poses as a life-style coach re-monikered as Toni Erdmann. Not unlike Ade’s own vater, she says. He wants to save his only child from her seriousness and, with his muddling efforts, he (and Ines) also provided the Cannes audiences with some of the biggest and most unexpected laughs in the festival.

So, for once the top gong could easily have gone to a woman and no tokenism would have been suspected. Maybe “the film that should have won the Palme”  will give it even more momentum.

Print the legend. Alchemy producing marketing gold.

In any case, long live a cinema that provokes debate and controversy, for whatever reason, long live cultural diversity and —therefore— long live Cannes!

Séamas McSwiney is an Irish writer-producer based in Paris

The 2016  Cannes Film Festival took place 11 – 22 May

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Sisters Act at Cannes 2016

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Ahead of the Palme d’Or award on Sunday, Séamas McSwiney checks out the goods (and bads) on offer at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

As the Cannes aristocrats, the Dardennes, Almodóvar and Loach, slip into ‘apparatchikery’ and variously deliver short on their promise and plans of quality, the newer competition blood come to the rescue with some unlikely and pleasant surprises. Toni Erdmann, the least likely of the three femmes cineastes in competition, is the early favourite (along with Jarmusch) among the audiences at the Grand Theatre Lumiere. She takes her time (2h 42min) in telling a shaggy-dog father-daughter tale of multiple misunderstandings that starts in Germany and mostly takes place in Bucharest, making it a de facto third Romanian film in competition. There, Ines is a somewhat ruthless management consultant downsizing a struggling oil company. The result is often bittersweet, often hilarious, as jokester Dad ambles into town, dons fake chops and wig, and poses as a corporate coach re-monikered as Toni Erdmann. He wants to save his only child from her seriousness and, with his muddling efforts, he saves the Cannes audiences from complete disappointment. Disappointments that included Andrea Arnold’s road-movie American Honey , normally a rigorous cineaste but, here, seemingly all at sea and wide-eyed like a teenager. Then from Olivier Assayas, with Personal Shopper, committing the error of thinking that filming his ambiguous muse, Kristen Stewart, is enough for an insightful art film involving Chanel product placement and upmarket mumblecoring. And from Jeff Nichols going all didactic and pulling punches in a ’50s America racial drama, Loving, a sensitive and challenging subject of miscegenation that called for much stronger treatment.

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Personal Shopper

Along with Toni Erdmann, another unexpected pleasure was Aquarius, by Kleber Mendonça Filho from Brazil. Sonia Braga quickly became a hot tip for best actress —unless Aquarius gets a better prize, as there can only one gong per film. She is Clara, an elegant, feisty and beautiful 65 year-old, and she carries the film throughout. Former music critic and now a lone upper-middle-class widow who is being pressured to sell her character apartment in a classic Recife beachfront building, named Aquarius. Developers want to replace it with a luxury holiday apartment tower. Between family debates and underhand pressures on this last tenant to hold out, the film ends by becoming a metaphor for Brazil today. Though written and shot before the current crisis and the recent putsch-like ousting of Dilma, the film aptly describes and captures the parasites/oligarchs in the building/Brazil. Thus, unintentionally, Aquarius became a protest film, a weapon even, for saving Brazilian democracy on the red carpet in Cannes, an art film that duly became front-page news back home in the land of the telenovella.

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Aquarius

Another sweet surprise was La Danseuse/The Dancer, a bio-pic by Stephanie Di Giusto, with strong Camera d’Or (for first films) potential. It takes liberties telling the heroic story of Loïe Fuller, a late 19th century Franco-American godmother of modern dance, taking us from the rustic rodeos in the mid west to the stage of the Paris Opera of the Belle Epoque. Who better to play her than actress-indie singer Soko, whose own determination-driven trajectory is not so far from Loïe’s. In Paris, Loïe mentors, to her cost in the end, a budding Isadora Duncan, played by none other than lovely Lily-Rose Depp, who does her mother, Vanessa Paradis, proud. Not to mention her dog-loving dad. It played in the Un Certain Regard, so no direct conflict of interest for Paradis, who is on the competition jury. In the same section, Soko reappears in a lead role in French military drama Voir du pays (The Stopover), made by sisters Delphine and Muriel Colin from Lorient in Brittany, an army town. The Stopover tells of a planeload of French soldiers, men and women, returning from a tour of duty in Afghanistan. They have three days in Cyprus on the return for debriefing and decompression after having harrowing battle experiences. Childhood friends from Lorient, Marine (Soko) and Aurore (Ariane Labed) deal with their and their fellow combatants varying levels of PTSD, but also with the hair-trigger machismo of their fellow, principally, male soldiers and the attentions of some local Cypriots. Hard questions are asked and give suitably open answers.

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La Danseuse/The Dancer

There were also the usual and necessary stream of conferences and debates about the state of cinema, mostly the mysterious and conflicting economics provoked by digital distribution, though also now an annual series of panels about women in film, notably the key conference organised by the Swedish Film Institute, entitled 50:50 by 2020, based on the Swedish policy that by 2020, half of all public funding for film should go to women. Swedish Culture Minister, Alice Bah Kuhnke, invited French Culture Minister, Audrey Azoulay, to give the opening speech. Among others, the Irish are considering this affirmative action policy seriously. It’s unlikely that this will become a workable solution for cinema’s woes in particular (most films are not good, European cinema underperforms, etc.) or even for women’s causes in general. But, so far, some excellent female acting and some insightful storytelling has eased the dipping quality barometer in Cannes this year.

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Swedish Culture Minister, Alice Bah Kuhnke, and French Culture Minister, Audrey Azoulay

Séamas McSwiney is an Irish writer-producer based in Paris

 

 

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Cannes 69

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Séamas McSwiney previews this year’s Cannes Film Festival, which runs from 11 – 22 May 2016.

Cannes 69 shimmers on the horizon and the last of the calculated surprises are added to the red-carpet menu and the various juries are composed and named.

The first striking element this year was the poster. Rather than the usual elegant black and white photo of a screen icon from some golden age, Cannes 2016 celebrates cinema itself with a golden shot of a man ascending the staircase-wall of Casa Malaparte on the Isle of Capri, thus providing a film geek’s field day of interpretation and reference. Casa Malaparte is an Italian architectural icon though most famously it is a location, almost a character, for Jean-Luc Godard’s mesmerising Le mepris (Contempt), a lusciously shot-in-cinemascope celluloid tale of love and loathing in the merciless world of ’60s filmmaking.

This glowing image also provides some sort of compensation as, for once, there are no Italian films in any of the other official selections, though the parallel section Director’s Fortnight does have three.

There is, however, for the first time in many years, a German film in competition called Toni Erdmann, written, directed and produced by Maren Ade. In it, a father, without warning, comes to visit his daughter abroad, for he believes that she has lost her sense of humour and he would seek to remedy this.

The 20th and final film added to this year’s competition line-up was The Salesman, by Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, still in the final stages of post-production at the time of selection. Farhadi has already struck gold and silver at the Berlinale, with A Separation and About Elly, both relationship dramas in Farsi, as is his Cannes entry. So, one to watch.

Other art-house aristocrats, such as Ken Loach, Pedro Almodovar and the Dardenne brothers, will also be vying for the Palme d’Or along with a sprinkle of green shoots to rejuvenate the equation of usual suspects. After saying Jimmy’s Hall was his last film, Loach is back on familiar ground with I, Daniel Blake, a working class tale confronting the bureaucratic iniquities of unemployment and public housing. Grim narrative prospects but we can count on Loach and his screenwriting partner Paul Laverty to wring wry humour from such social strife.

Almodovar’s offer is Julieta, based on three Alice Munro short stories and spanning three decades of his protagonist’s life. One of the rare films to break Cannes protocol of screening only premieres, Julieta has already been released in Spain and respectfully reviewed, though not in ways that promise Pedro the Palme d’Or that has thus far eluded him.

Belgian brothers, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne on the other hand, twice previous Palme winners with Rosetta and The Child, are going for a hat trick with La Fille inconnue (The Unknown Girl). Adèle Haenel plays a young doctor, troubled by guilt after the death of a young woman she turned away. She sets about finding out who the anonymous woman was and finds her conscience has led her into a suspense drama.

Both Almodovar and the Dardennes more often than not have female protagonists, though their preoccupations can seem to be quite different, the former mining the breathier metaphysics of being female with the latter focusing on solid socio-political dilemmas from a woman’s perspective.

While these stalwarts regularly do often pass their Bechdel Test with honours, thankfully, there are, along with Maren Ade’s inclusion, two other ‘femme cinéastes’ in competition, who will bring bona fide female voices to the 2,500-seat Theatre Lumiere; and both bring with them a reputation for bringing heft and uncompromomising originality to their art. Andrea Arnold will walk up the red-carpeted staircase to present her latest opus American Honey. Shia LaBeouf, hooks up with a tearaway teen, played by Sasha Lane, in a mid-western road movie of salesmanship and hard partying. Given Arnold’s previous form, we know this transatlantic venture will not be ordinary. The other woman filmmaker is France’s Nicole Garcia with Mal de Pierres, in which Marion Cotillard, a badly married middle-class wife and Louis Garel, a wounded veteran, are illegitimate lovers in rural post-war France. As with Almodovar and the Dardennes, Garcia has always shown a deft hand in subtly plumbing the depths of the opposite sex’s psyche.

So far so appetising as Cannes menus go though, as usual, on the day, there are more disappointments than pleasant surprises. While nationality is now attributed by the director’s origins, Dutchman Paul Verhoeven will be there with Elle, a French film starring Isabelle Huppert. She plays a business woman who is ruthless in work and in love. She is raped by a masked intruder but her resulting transformation is (controversially?) not what a classic tale of violation might normally predict. Advance word is very promising for the 77-year old Verhoeven, who previously shocked and awed Cannes with Basic Instinct in 1992.

A duo of Romanians proves their new era of cinema is not a mere flash in the pan; they include Bacalaureat, by Cristian Mungiu, who has a habit of getting things right in unlikely circumstances. And also, a first competition slot for Cristi Puiu who comes with Sieranevada.  There is also Xavier Dolan, the Quebecois wunderkind, with Juste la fin du monde, a star-studded French flick that includes Marion Cotillard and Lea Seydoux in its cast. An American trio of films includes Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson about a bus driver called Paterson, played by Adam Driver, in Paterson, New Jersey. “Very Jarmuschian” was the only insight offered at the press conference by Cannes artistic director, Thierry Fremaux. Jarmusch also presents a midnight screening of Gimme Danger, his Iggy Pop bio doc. Jeff Nichols’ 1950s interracial marriage drama, Loving, stars Ireland’s own Ruth Negga, and Sean Penn arrives with The Last Face, a love story, starring Charlize Theron and Javier Bardem set in a Liberian humanitarian aid context. Given Penn’s real life political proclivities and his busted romantic affair with Theron, the film will surely carry personal influences… just like Godard’s Mepris.

Which of these will hit and which will miss is mere conjecture and sometimes hearsay or disputed opinion…

Meanwhile here is a compilation of trailers courtesy of Screen International.

 

Séamas McSwiney is an Irish writer-producer based in Paris

 

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Made in France

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Séamas McSwiney on Made in France, a film that has had two release dates postponed due to real-life tragedies.

One of the more telling casualties of the 13th November  attacks in Paris was an all too premonitory film: Made in France, directed by Nicolas Boukhrief, due for release on 18th November, was promptly withdrawn following the atrocities. The provocative film poster, showing a Kalashnikov superimposed over the Eiffel Tower was hastily stripped from the metro walls.

Made in France poster

Beyond the generalised trauma of the 13th November mass killings, the distributors, Pretty Pictures, were immediately struck by the coincidences between the film’s story and even more specifically with their poster graphics.

Made in France tells the story of Sam, a freelance journalist who is also a Muslim, half French and half Arab. He has a deep desire to understand the difficulties between his two cultures. He infiltrates fundamentalist circles to investigate the growing phenomenon of disaffected youth joining extremist groups. He befriends a group of four youngsters and learns they have been given orders to form a jihadi cell and wreak havoc in the heart of Paris. Apart from Sam, the four others tick the appropriate archetypal boxes: the leader, Hassan, a psycho convert with a grievance; Driss, the nice guy who wants to please, Christophe, the privileged bourgeois convert who wants to hit back at his parents values; and Sidi, the African ex con who has nothing to lose….

“We had to make a responsible decision”, declared distributor James Velaise, adding that the decision was made with the producers and the director. Co-producer Clement Miserez stressed, “no pressure was put on them to cancel”.

Shot and completed in 2014, Made in France was first set for release in early 2015, but, because of Charlie Hebdo and Kosher supermarket atrocities in January, this was postponed and the film was abandoned by its then distributor SND Films. Subsequently, it was picked up by Velaise’s Pretty Pictures.

“The movie was filmed before the January attacks in Paris,” explained Velaise. “Boukhrief did not surf the web for these events.”

In the making of his film, Boukhrief, a seasoned producer and filmmaker, says that he had concocted “an antidote” to Islamist indoctrination.

He tells how he has been interested in grappling with this subject since the spate of attacks in in Paris in 1995 and hunting down and killing of Khaled Kelkal. This shoot-out had practically happened live on TV. “Having been born to an Algerian father and a French mother myself, I wondered how a failure to integrate could reach such proportions”. But in 1995 he wasn’t ready or didn’t know how to broach such an important subject. Then successive attacks, notably the killing spree of Mohammad Merah in 2012 and his subsequent killing at the hands of the law, prompted him to overcome the difficulties.

Despite his sincere intentions and the urgency of the subject, along with Boukrief’s strong connections with the French film industry, funding was difficult. From the earliest application phases, “funders kicked for touch”, he says, they considered “the subject too trivial or of only marginal interest”.

Now the film’s difficulties continue; after two release delays because of corresponding all-too-real life tragedies, it’s not certain if or when the film will reach the screens.

Velaise says, “While it is still too early to give a date, the film will eventually be released. We will not bow to a band of fanatics. Made in France has a real role to play with youth who are at risk of going down the path of radicalisation, because the moral of the film is clear: if you get mixed up in this, one way or another you will lose.”

 

Séamas McSwiney is an Irish writer-producer based in Paris

 

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San Sebastian Film Festival: Masterclass with Charlie Kaufman & Duke Johnson

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Séamas McSwiney reports from the recent Masterclass with Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson at the San Sebastian Film Festival, which ran 18 – 26 September.

 

A highlight for many at this year’s San Sebastian-Donostia film festival was the presence of screenwriting ace Charlie Kaufman, who notably wrote such idiosyncratic gems as Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. More recently, he’s forayed into direction and carried his originality a stage further. Synecdoche, New York, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, was his first directorial outing, which garnered more respect than acclaim. He then went on to write an experimental theatre piece called Anomalisa, now turned into feature film that, after its Venice and Telluride screenings last month, has thus far maintained a 100% critical rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Anomalisa is an odd, dark, dredging of the human soul. That it should do this with such probingly uncomfortable insight —and be made in stop-motion animation— is testimony to Kaufman and to animation specialist, Duke Johnson, who co-directed.

In the San Sebastian catalogue, Anomalisa is simply described in one sentence (in Basque, Spanish and English): “A man struggles with his inability to connect with others”. This belies the fact that our hero is a British inspirational speaker on in Cincinnati to give a talk to about his book to adoring fans.

Kaufman and Johnson were also in San Sebastian to give a masterclass to the International Film Student Meeting that takes place over four days every year at the festival. Happily, Kaufman’s shyness and penchant for self-deprecation did not get in the way of his excellent ability to communicate with others. Polite, insightful, frank and sincere, he recounted his career, from the desert years after film school, including the nagging desire to abandon it all, on to the lucky breaks writing for television, and answering questions from a rapt audience of film students from all over Europe and farther. He talks as good a show as he writes. He is inspirational.

He and Johnson also got into the nitty-gritty of producing Anomalisa, starting with a crowd-funding campaign before persuading private capital to invest, thus escaping the interference of studio and industry funding.

The 14th International Film Students Meeting ran over 4 days at the Tabakalera-International Centre for Contemporary Culture and of course it also included a film competition. A jury consisting of students from centres in Argentina, Belgium, Cuba, Germany, Israel, Mexico, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland, The Netherlands and United Kingdom; chaired by the Benedikt Erlingsson gave the first prize, the Panavision award to: Nueva Vida, by Kiro Russo from Universidad del Cine (Argentina).

Other prizes were awarded to student films from Cuba, Germany and the Netherlands, but the real prizes went to the diverse attendees who got to meet kindred spirits from around the world.

This year the International Film Students Meeting received a total of 193 applications, short films from 89 schools in 35 countries: Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Denmark, Ecuador, France, Georgia, Germany, Netherlands, Hungary, India, Iran, Israel, Lithuania, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Qatar, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Uruguay, USA and Venezuela. From which 12 were selected for screening and discussion.

No Irish films were selected, possibly because none applied.

 

Séamas McSwiney is an Irish writer-producer based in Paris

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Report: San Sebastian Film Festival

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Séamas McSwiney reports from the recent San Sebastian Film Festival, which ran 18 – 26 September.

 

The San Sebastian Film Festival may not be as high on the A-list of film festivals as Cannes, but its vast city centre beaches beat Cannes into a cocked hat. It’s only normal then that their prizes are called shells as in seashells, or Concha, which is shades of gold for best film and three silvers for the runner-up categories.

This year’s gold, the Concha de Oro, went to Sparrows, written and directed by Rúnar Rúnarsson. Sparrows is an intricate coming-of-age story that takes place in rural Iceland. 16-year old Ari is shunted to remote Westfjords from Reykjavik by his mother and he now has to contend with his dead-beat dad, country life and sexual awakenings in a place where there’s not much to do. So far, so thematically predictable, but, by all accounts, the quality of the filmmaking and its narrative finesse turned it to gold in Donostia (the Basque name for the town). It’s worth observing for a country as small as Iceland that this is the second rural drama with a zoological title to get a major award this year. Rams took the top prize in the Un Certain Regard section of Cannes 2015.

 

 

The Silver Shell for best Director went to Belgian Joachim Lafosse for Les chevaliers blancs (The White Knights). This Franco-Belgian co-production is loosely based on the real renegade humanitarian operation called Zoe’s Ark that hit the news in 2007. In the film, a group of medical, teaching and other volunteers go to Chad to bring to France 300 orphans for adoption. The impulsive leader of the group is played by Cannes 2015 best actor winner Vincent Lindon. They find themselves breaking all the rules be they moral, legal or simply of good sense, venturing into battle zones and fudging the fact that some of the kids are not actually orphans. By the end, it is hard to have sympathy with any of these well-intentioned idiots. Still, the tale is compelling and worth telling, echoing as it does, in some small way, our current difficulty in comprehending the current refugee crisis.

Though the official programme is genuinely eclectic, San Sebastian’s niche specialty is of course Hispanic cinema, an opportunity for Latin America to bring its movies to Europe via the Spanish mother ship. Co-production meetings and pitches are organised by Creative Europe, and works in progress are screened for professionals, and prizes for the best and most promising projects in both categories are handed out at a special ceremony.

Two diametrically opposed Spanish films captured attention, both of them ideal festival fare for quite different reasons. In competition, Imanol Uribe’s Lejos del Mar (Far from the Sea) is a darkly philosophical drama involving Santi, a Basque separatist, who is released from prison after serving a lengthy sentence for the murder of a police officer. He moves to Valencia in the south to hook up with a younger prison colleague who is dying of a lingering disease. As chance would have it, he meets Marina, his friend’s doctor who, it turns out, was the eight-year-old daughter that witnessed the murder of her police office father, an event which has, like for Santi, defined her life ever since. She gets a gun…

 

 

Very worthy and quite grim, like many, if not most, films found on the festival circuit.

So it is often with relief that we get a film like Fernando Colomo’s Isla Bonita, a cinematic sit-com that starts off in a light-hearted Rohmer-ish way, where conversations take the place of concise dialogue and characters intellectualise about such heady subjects as whether commercials can also be art. We arrive on the sunny island of Menorca with our bespectacled Woody Allen-like hero, Fer, a burnt-out commercials director who is turning his hand to documentary film. He’s come to shoot interview footage and visit his old ad industry buddy, Miguel Angel, who introduces him to an odd mix of ordinary people, all with their own issues. Between shopping, sculpture and Spanish cuisine, people fall in and out of love in this microcosm of savoury seaside banality. The loose script tightens like a feisty operetta as the Woody Allen style (“the funny ones”) confirms itself while tossing in a delicious twist of Almodovarian gender politics towards the end. Great art? Probably not. Good fun. Ciertamente.

Séamas McSwiney is an Irish writer-producer based in Paris

 

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Série Series 2015

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Séamas McSwiney reports from the 4th Série Series (1 – 3 July 2015) in Fontainebleau, an event devoted exclusively to European television series by and for those who make them.

As sure as Orange is the New Black, TV drama is the new cinema and aspiring authors can dream of a brilliant career in the shoes of the fabled Show Runner. Where art house and indie cinema celebrate directors, high-end TV drama empowers the writer. In this new era of quality TV the new MO is no longer conformity but transgression. Not unlike how the Nouvelle Vague was given creative wings with lighter cameras, technology also drives this new era in TV drama. The omniscience of digital allows every variation of ‘audience experience’ from tablet-snacking your favourite series on the daily commute to binge-watching over the entire weekend. As this plethora of streaming and file options grows it also transforms the business model in significant ways and impacts the writing possibilities – thus creative minds no longer need to navigate their plot lines and narrative twists around the once dominant punctuation of the commercial break.

But a word to the wise, the high end is the tip of the iceberg and most writers struggle for years, and even entire careers, with the low-end of TV mediocrity, where most show runners started out, before getting even a glimmer of the summits. The odds against making a breakthrough are even greater than for the movies – there are far fewer new series commissioned than movies made each year. And the most common refrain of those who try their best shot and actually get meetings, is one of disappointment at the enduring lack of imagination of TV execs whose priority is to play it safe, fearing failure more than thirsting for success.

Still, in this new era of audacity in TV drama, it’s only normal then that industry professionals should create new meeting places and festivals to celebrate, analyse and optimise these bold new possibilities. In Europe, we have a special need to do this to find our own ways to emulate and partner with the HBOs and Netflixes of this wave. Despite the surprising successes — though in reality modest in terms of absolute audience numbers and revenue— of these local, glocal and universal themes and stories crossing borders and finding audience favour across the EU, through Scandi Noir and such, the need to consolidate this unexpected enthusiasm through more predictable and larger scale success is immediately apparent to the TV industries. For them, the bottom line and audience share matter most and they quickly see that one of the keys to survival and success is cross-border collaboration. Thus, planned pan-European successes are emerging in concerted ways that the more parochial nature of cinema never really got to grips with.

Thus, a few years back, a group of French TV screenwriters, and also directors and producers began Série Series in historical Fontainebleau on the outskirts of Paris:

“The first event devoted exclusively to European television series by and for those who make them.

“Série Series is 100% devoted to European TV series. Over the 3 days, around 15 series, both unreleased and known to the public, are showcased and presented by their entire creative teams (screenwriters, directors, composers, actors, producers and broadcasters) who explain the development process in detail.

“Série Series is a real think tank, helping to create a TV series network of professionals across Europe. Professionals come from the four corners of Europe – Great Britain, Ireland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Germany, Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, France, Italy ….” [http://www.serieseries.fr/en/]

There are exposés of national drama policies in individual countries and outlines of the desiderata for specific channels. This year, for example, there is the session Creating series in Spain (DAMA): Ramón Campos and Teresa Fernández-Valdés’ masterclass: Two Spanish showrunners involved in this country’s latest successes, who are overcoming the economic crisis by co-producing series with real international ambition. Their latest creation, Refugees, filmed in English, will be presented in Fontainebleau.”[http://www.serieseries.fr/en/]

On day two, as well as the onscreen drama, there is a densely packed programme of debates, mostly involving issues relating to policy in France, for example, a session entitled “Social Apartheid on TV: is television reflecting all French diversities? Do series, documentaries, fiction films… represent all the social, cultural, ethnic and religious diversities in France?
[http://www.serieseries.fr/en/] For a country with the highest Jewish, Arab and African populations in Europe and now facing even greater challenges, this is a timely interrogation. This day is also an exemplar of the importance of industry lobbying in France and why the creative industries hold more sway than elsewhere.

On a more European level regarding policy and best practice, there is the European Broadcasters Union (EBU, they also organise the Eurovision!) broadcasters’ conclaves, where around 20 public broadcasters, through their heads of drama, meet to informally discuss key issues in their sector with a view to having a mutually beneficial approach, regarding, for example, optimising co-production opportunities and confronting the challenges and opportunities associated with new players such as Netflix.

Apart from the full episode screenings/case studies, one particularly stimulating section that illustrates emerging trends is the Ca tourne/In the Pipeline presentations. Each session involves a brief presentation of works in progress that amounts to a screening of a montage of extracts followed by a discussion with the creative team.

Last year’s sessions included a presentation of Charlie by RTÉ’s Jane Gogan as well as the pan European WWII epic, The Heavy Water War – pitch: “Hitler could have won the war, if he had had a nuclear weapon. For this, he needed heavy water, which was then only produced in Norway. Set during the Second World War, the protagonists engage in a frantic race to acquire it.” One year later the series has been completed under its new title The Saboteurs and has already played with great success across Europe. For series trivia geeks, we make the acquaintance of the real Heisenberg, whose moniker was borrowed by Walter White in Breaking Bad. He was in fact the real life Nobel Prize-winning German physicist and the Nazi atom bomb is his story.

One of this year’s highlights from In the Pipeline is The Last Panthers, a Franco-British six-parter made for Sky and Canal+: A jewellery heist in Marseille puts the Pink Panthers, the infamous gang of thieves from the Balkans, back on the map. An expert working for a British insurer, an ex-soldier from the Balkans and a French-Algerian police officer, all on the hunt for the stolen diamonds, embark on a merciless war, bringing to light the dark heart of Europe’s criminal underworld. Between London and Belgrade, the gangsters and the banksters join forces, heads roll and violence ensues.” It stars Samantha Morton, Tahar Rahim, John Hurt and Goran Bogdan. “The Last Panthers originated as an idea from celebrated French journalist Jerome Pierrat and the screenplay is from award winning writer and co-creator Jack Thorne. The series has been directed by Johan Renck and filmed in London, Marseille, Belgrade and Montenegro.”[http://www.sky.com/tv/show/the-last-panthers/article/announcement]

Between talk sessions, teasers and episodes, if this all sounds like a too crammed menu, it’s because it is. There isn’t enough time to attend all of the events though opinions can be shared of events missed while candlelight wining, dining and networking in the Chateau in the evening. The hallowed halls of the Chateau are also a classy compensation for the attendance price tag.

And for those who couldn’t make it, there is an extensive video library, often in English, of previous events at http://serieseries.fr/galeries-videos.php?p=1

Séamas McSwiney is an Irish writer-producer based in Paris.

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Shorts-Sighted in Cannes: From the Basement of the Palais to the Top of the Red Carpet

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Irish film Bonsoir Luna, which showed at the Short Film Corner at Cannes

 

Séamas McSwiney looks at how to sell yourself (and your) short in Cannes and how Irish shorts fared this year.

 

Cannes is the biggest and most diverse festival in the world… it is also a prime meeting place for small films, that is to say, shorts. The Official Selection and the parallel sections (Directors Fortnight, Critics Week, ACID…) all have at least one shorts section, usually with competitions, prizes, networking and career kick-start opportunities.

The Official Cannes selection, of course, has its shorts competition with an award given at the closing gala. This year, of the 4550 films applying, nine films were selected for competition. The award went to Waves ’98 a Lebanese film by Ely Dagher. Principally an animation film with occasional real-life images reminiscent in location, style and maybe even politics, of Ari Folman’s feature Waltz with Bashir. The Jury president for the Shorts Competition and for Cinéfondation was Abderrahmane Sissako, director of the much acclaimed Timbuktu, which to the mystification of many, left Cannes without an award last year.

Official Cannes also has a section for film-school films called Cinéfondation. Here selected student and other emerging filmmakers are also treated to a full programme of encounters and meeting opportunities. Apart from the pitching possibilities, this year saw an intimate encounter with European Commissioner Gunther H. Oettinger. He was in town to meet and discuss major changes in the Digital Economy with other head honchos and also took the time to meet with about ten young Cinéfondation filmmakers in a calm environment upstairs at the Palais, where they could air their preoccupations for a better EU film future. He listened carefully and responded like a human.

Also worth exploring for the emerging filmmaker are Cinéfondation residences in Paris, which has proved fruitful for many filmmakers, such as Hungarian film director and screenwriter, László Nemes. “Beginning in September 2011, he (Nemes) spent five months in Paris as part of a scholarship program arranged by the Cinéfondation, where he, in collaboration with Clara Royer, developed the script for Son of Saul.” (wikipedia)

This participation (along with the quality of the film) cannot have been entirely foreign to his selection with a first film in the prestigious competition where he went on to win the Grand Prix this year.

Not many Irish filmmakers apply and avail of the opportunities offered by Cinéfondation, though in 2008 Rebecca Daly did. Three years later her second film The Other Side of Sleep was selected for Directors Fortnight.

Shorts lead to longs and, if Cannes is in your sights, the Palais basement Short Film Corner is a good place to start your long-term strategy for a Palme d’Or.

(All you need to see about the Short Film Corner: https://vimeo.com/120693945 and all you need to know: http://www.cannescourtmetrage.com/en/)

It’s a mini Cannes within Cannes, ten days of creative business opportunities for shorts-sighted, hungry hearts. More than two thousand short films avail of registration with the Corner and many other emerging filmmakers also attend to participate in the conferences and watch films.

This year there were 2420 films (501 more than 2014) from 105 countries (7 more than 2014) and 38% of films applying were refused for lack of technical proficiency (bad sound, unintentional amateurism, etc…)

Among the Irish contingent this year was actor Hilary Bowen-Walsh. She plays a lead in Donncha Gilmore’s Irish language musical short Bonsoir Luna shot in George’s Street Arcade in Dublin. Hilary returned to Ireland brimming with enthusiasm for her Cannes experience:

“It’s been wonderful to participate in this most prestigious film festival. It was especially significant for us to have shown Bonsoir Luna in France given its direct homage to the great French musical cinema of Jacques Demy. The film is an effervescent celebration of colour and song while being the first ever Irish-language musical. At the Short Film Corner. I got to meet a vast range of international and national filmmakers who were screening their films, and the atmosphere is very encouraging. Having seen all of the Irish shorts sent to Cannes this year I would dare say we are well up there with our international counterparts.

“Amongst the other Irish-language shorts represented alongside Bonsoir Luna was An Crann featuring the highly talented Bairbre Ní Caoimh in an insidious dispute over a neighbouring tree. Plus the documentary Charlie Lennon- Ceol ón gCroí,  produced by Ciarán Durkin of the Galway Film Fleadh, which had a similar musical streak throughout. The Irish filmmaker Don Duncan also had a great French-language short Un Signe, Un geste, which was represented by Belgium.

“The international village was a perfect spot to engage with the film industry from all different countries. The Irish Film Board had a great base in the Irish Pavilion which facilitated meetings with a wide range of people, sending a clear message that Irish cinema is awash with the best of the best.

“Cannes can be a little overwhelming as there are so many people to meet and films to see, but it is a great opportunity to come away both bedraggled but also enriched. Bring on next year!”

Other Irish shorts that featured at the Short Film Corner were Bertie Brosnan’s Sineater, Michela Orlandi’s The Silencer, Helen Rollins’ Jamaica, Stephen O’Connor’s The Crossing, Erin Mullally’s The Struggle of Libations, Natasha Waugh’s Food Fight, Hannah Quinn’s My Bonnie, Craig Moore’s Any Last Words, Richard Scobie’s Arabella,  Eoghan O’Brien & Gary Sheridan’s In Pitch Dark, Colin Murnane’s Pedestrian Crossing, Luke Morgan’s Pocket, and Yvonne McDevitt’s Time.

In a nice twist of synchronicity, this year also saw Agnès Varda awarded the Palme d’Honneur (previously awarded only to Woody Allen, Clint Eastwood and Bernardo Bertolucci. (http://www.festival-cannes.fr/en/readArticlePressRelease/61348.html). In an excellent acceptance speech Varda elegantly recounted her struggles as a very determined and independent-minded filmmaker. The 87-year young cineaste also emotionally referred to the fact that she would put the award beside the 1964 Palme d’Or won by her late husband Jacques Demy for the French musical Les Parapluies de Cherbourg/The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.

One wonders if she knew that down in the basement a homage to her beloved husband was digitally spinning out as Gaeilge.  Donncha, I guess you know where to send the DVD for her birthday.

 

 

Séamas McSwiney is an Irish writer-producer based in Paris.

The 68th Cannes Festival runs 13 – 24 May 2015

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In the Cannes

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Jaques Audiard’s Dheepan, winner of  the Palme d’Or

 

Séamas McSwiney wraps up his coverage of this year’s Cannes Festival.

The perfect sun shines down on Cannes, as the packed wagons get in line to trek out of town after the 68th Cannes, a revolutionary number that did not really live up to its significance. The 1968 festival was abandoned mid-stream through protest by enraged French cineastes such as Godard, Truffaut et al, and though the last two years brought tempests, the high winds and rain also brought with them some great films.

Alas, this year’s balmy weather brought cinematic doldrums and few reel pleasures in the form of artistic turbulance. In the end, even the prestigious jury presidency of Joel and Ethan Coen did little to enhance the spotty selection by coming up with a puzzling palmarès. Cannes is bubble with its own tastes that are revised in real cinemas as the films are released (or not) throughout the year and the jury process is a bubble within the bubble. In years like this one there is even more talk of the politics of the prizes and the unwarranted democracy of each film getting only one prize. Thus, once the red carpet walk begins the be-gowned and be-tuxed filmmakers called back for the ceremony are spotted and a new short list is hastily jotted down. But who will win what? remains the question.

Those of us who left town early did manage to miss three of the laureates, notably Dheepan, Jaques Audiard’s mostly Paris-based Tamil immigrant drama. Though quite well appreciated by most of the press and punters, many were surprised that it took the top gong, the Palme d’Or. It tells the socio-political tale of a Tamil Tiger who seeks to flee Sri Lanka and to qualify for asylum cobbled together a with a young woman he’s just met who in turn recruits an orphan girl to complete the ideal application. They wind up in an immigrant Paris housing project and Dheepan’s paramilitary skills wind up becoming necessary again in this haven because of local drug gang wars.

One of the interesting things about the film is that Jesuthasan Anthonythasan, who plays Dheepan, was himself a teenage Tamil Tiger before finding his way via Thailand to Paris, where be became a foreign-based activist for the Tamil cause and later a writer. In many ways his own story mirrors that of Dheepan.

Dheepan was one of five French films in Competition (six if you count the opening out-of-competition La Tete Haute/Head Held High). Most had their narrative roots in social issues and two of them managed to pluck the actors awards. Vincent Lindon, an actor of great merit, bagged the male award for his emotionally constrained turn as newly unemployed factory worker in La Loi du Marché/The Measure of a Man by Stephane Brizé. Jumping through the hoops of the French social system and retraining programmes, he finally finds a job as a security officer in a large provincial supermarket. Here, he is regularly confronted with dilemmas as he is obliged to play a role in sackings for minor transgressions, which are often opportunistic as they are cheaper than redundancy packages. It all rolls out in a series of canvas scenes in a French Ken Loach environment (though without the jokes!) and its denouement somewhat saves it from tedium.

The actress award was shared by Rooney Mara in Todd Haynes’ Carol and Emmanuelle Bercot in Mon Roi by Maïwenn. While most found Carol quite sublime, many (including most French critics) were seriously irritated by Mon Roi, an hysterical tale of an ill-advised marriage. Emmanuelle Bercot plays a lawyer who marries the wrong guy (Vincent Cassel) and takes many years to find out what a mono-maniac he really is. Meanwhile, we have to sit though two hours of frantic marriage counselling when we could see from the get-go this was not on. Think Cassavetes, stripped of the poetry and humanity. Bercot is a good actress (she also directed opener La Tete Haute), but here she is badly written into a performance which has far more troughs than summits than Vincent Lindon’s performance but much less meaning. Her co-Laureate, Rooney Mara, also plays more reserved and nuanced, though it is odd that Cate Blanchett, the leader of the amorous duet, should be notably excluded. All in all, Carol was sold short and Mon Roi was overrated.

Jorgos Lanthimos’ Irish co-production The Lobster, filmed in County Kerry, picked up the bronze, so to speak, in the form of the Jury Prize. Colin Farrell and his fellow cast were in fine fettle (especially Olivia Coleman) in this dystopian drama where singletons are prohibited. Farrell also became a ‘dad-bod’ icon in the new trend for dumpy middle-aged men in the semi-raw in this film. His fan base will be relieved to learn the Dubliner was back to his dapper athletic best for the Cannes’ experience.

The Assassin, by Hsiao-Hsien Hou, got best director. Set in 9th century China, it recounts the odyssey of 10-year-old general’s daughter abducted by a nun who initiates her into the martial arts, transforming her into an exceptional assassin charged with eliminating cruel and corrupt local governors….

A bright spot among the prizes was the silver or Grand Prix going to Saul Fia (Son of Saul), the Hungarian holocaust epic directed by first-time director Laszlo Nemes. The fact that he made his film from shooting right through to the projection in 35mm film only added to the satisfaction of discovering a truly artistic and singular if harrowing cinematic experience of feeling the spiritual necessity of pointless resistance against relentless tyranny.

Despite all of this, it was again a good Cannes worthy of itself. The films are only part of the circus. After the revolutionary #68 that fizzled looking forward to the erotic #69 that rises to the hype…

 

Séamas McSwiney is an Irish writer-producer based in Paris.

The 68th Cannes Festival runs 13 – 24 May 2015

 

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Cannes. Up to Scratch?

thumbRed carpet © FDC / Quitot

 

Séamas McSwiney continues his thoughts on this year’s Cannes Festival.

 

The sun shines down on the boulevards and beaches of Cannes, though inside in the sumptuous cinemas nothing is really catching fire yet.

Heading into the home stretch, the general feeling among the critics is that this is not a classic vintage. The promises haven’t been kept. At best they deliver in a minor key, like Moretti’s Mia Madre, while his compatriots Matteo Garrone’s Tale of Tales and Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth both really miss the mark, leaving a whiff of overblown self-indulgence. Both seem to fall foul of the luscious Anglo-saxon casting the producing gods offered them, maybe taking the edge off their usual artistry and originality.

In Youth we visit a luxurious hotel in Switzerland where the rich and famous go to reminisce in the spa and recover from their successful artistic careers.  It opens on Michael Caine, who plays Fred, a composer who wants to compose no more and refuses a request to conduct his work for a royal gala. He prefers to reminisce in a sometimes insightful, sometimes cod-philosophical way with his old friend, Mick Boyle, a filmmaker played by Harvey Keitel. Their days are numbered and they know it. While Fred has quit all ambition, Mick wants to do another film, one that leaves a mark. He’s at the hotel-spa with his youthful screenwriting team finishing off the script he wants to shoot with a famous actress Brenda, who turns out to be Jane Fonda. Ironic insights and inside jokes abound, though the only true piece of artistry is shown by an anonymous whale of a man we discover in the pool with a Karl Marx tattoo across his back on the point of having a heart attack. Oxygen saves the day and his life and we quickly realise that this Fellini-esque character is none other than (an uncredited) Diego Maradona, who later treats us to a wonderful session of sky-high keepy-uppy with a yellow tennis ball.

Todd Haynes’ Carol is the critics’ favourite so far. As often with him, it is an elegant pitch-perfect study in emotional restraint, wonderfully executed by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. A lesbian love story set in the repressive early ’50s between a socialite and a sales girl –  it exudes quality, has all the right ingredients but it also fails to hit a real summit. Would two lesbian love story Palme d’Ors in the space of two years be enough start a mainstream trend?

Likewise with quality director Denis Villeneuve; he arrives with a bang in Sicario. A major door-smashing FBI assault on a Mexican cartel house reveals a tough field agent played by Emily Blunt. She’s soon recruited as liaison officer for a higher order mission by a hard-nosed CIA operative (Josh Brolin) accompanied by a mysterious Latino (Benicio Del Toro), both of whom seem to have a hidden agendas as they break all the rules crossing into Mexico and turn a blind eye to torture. Villeneuve makes a film of rare impact and technical prowess reinforced by a hell of a lot of military equipment. But the script has character coherence gaps in its triangulation of moral perspectives and dilemmas. And, while efficient and gripping, it does lack Villeneuve’s usual auteurial undertow. Maybe it’s his ‘one for the studio’ and his own voice will return for the next one.

One film that is well reviewed and that definitely does not fall short in auteur panache is Son of Saul, the only debut film in the competition. From Hungarian Laszlo Nemes, it is a harrowingly subjective view from the perspective of concentration camp workers who are destined to become victims of extermination themselves. Somewhat manic following shots succeed and blend into each other with atrocities happening in the blurred background on an industrial scale, as Saul tries his all to block out the experience. All the while he’s on a manic mission to find a rabbi so as to decently bury a boy he takes for his son. It is a study of determination in a field of futile resistance.

At this stage of the Cannes Competition it is also common to look at the personality of the jury and jury members and try and figure out what they would like. Everyone has respect for co-presidents Joel and Ethan Coen, and most also know that they are not the kind to impose their opinions. Some surmise that they will like the quirkiness of the absurdist drama The Lobster, others suggest they would lean towards the tasteful artistry of Carol. But, then again, nobody could have guessed ahead of time President Steven Spielberg’s unabashed enthusiasm for Blue is the Warmest Colour, two years ago, or the Jane Campion jury’s regrettable neglect of Timbuktu, last year.

How will the democratic process work this time? See on Sunday.

Meanwhile, for tell-tale signs, watch the Coen Brothers’ short (below), set in a remote US art house cinema (starring Josh Brolin), which was screened to knowing chuckles at the programme launch conference last month.

 

Séamas McSwiney is an Irish writer-producer based in Paris.

The 68th Cannes Festival runs 13 – 24 May 2015

 

 

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The Business of Film at Cannes

Lescure P1230261(1)    Pierre Lescure, president of the Cannes Festival

 

Séamas McSwiney sidesteps the glamour and takes a look at the business of film at Cannes.

 

Does CinEsperanto rule multicultural Cannes?

Let’s face it, to paraphrase Cannes programmer Thierry Frémaux at this year’s Cannes press launch, English has become the Esperanto that idealists dreamed of when inventing a unique universal language.

He went on to say that more films are proposed to Cannes each year in English but most are excluded as they portray stories taking place in cultural communities for which English is not the natural language.

He was responding to a question from an Italian journalist who observed that two of the three Italian films in Competition were in English, Paolo Sorrentino (whose The Great Beauty recently took best foreign language Oscar) is there with Youth, starring Harvey Keitel and Michael Caine, and Matteo Garrone (director of previous Cannes prize-winner Gomorrah) brings an adaptation of fantastic Neapolitan classics in Tale of Tales.

However, added new Cannes president Pierre Lescure, it is the coherence of the artistic project that matters, not the economic considerations.

Nevertheless, though only three of this year’s directors are native English speakers, more than half of the 19 films in competition are in English.

 

Buying or Selling?: The Business of Culture.

But the shimmering gala screenings of the competition is only the most visible tip of the Cannes iceberg. Beneath the surface, Cannes is very much an industry event. Most of the screenings for the vast bulk of the films are for sales purposes. In 2014, “For the first time in history, attendance at the Marché du Film reached 11,806 registered participants, including 1 927 buyers, for 5,036 companies.” (See overall stats at http://www.marchedufilm.com/en/chiffres).

The International Village hosts pavilions and stands from more than a hundred national industries, many of them also programming industry events and receptions for international networking and promotional purposes.

On the economic front you also have events organised by the EU’s Creative Europe and the Council of Europe’s European Audiovisual Observatory distribute its most recent statistics relating the health of European Cinema.

This year’s stats look good with European market share rising to a record high 33.6%. In Ireland too the trend is very much on the up with local box office share exceeding 7% after a disappointing 1% in 2013. Frank and Calvary have a lot to do with this development. A Fistful of Euros: The Future of Film Financing in Europe is the theme of this year’s Observatory workshop in Cannes.

Cannes new president Pierre Lescure is no stranger to the business of film. Though now credited as being a journalist and businessman he was a founder and for almost 20 years head of Canal Plus, the French TV channel that has, because of its charter obligations, invested in most French French films made since 1984. At about 200 French films a year  that is a lot of cinema funding these days and they do it profitably.

France is also the biggest co-producer in Europe and has the greatest local market share at around 40%. Many films in Cannes also have strong French business connections either through funding or sales and distribution. Most national industries prize and profit from their co-production agreements with France. They are often ceremoniously signed in Cannes, the last one being Croatia, which signed one soon after becoming the 28th country to join the EU in 2014.

In 2015 along the Croisette it will again be sun, champagne and… business as usual.

Séamas McSwiney is an Irish writer-producer based in Paris.

The 68th Cannes Festival runs 13 – 24 May 2015

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Preview of Cannes 2015

The-Lobster-Cannes-Image

Séamas McSwiney previews the 68th Cannes Festival (13 – 24 May 2015) and picks out his ones to watch.

 

Cannes is a leveller where new talent often gets an upgrade to first class. The stardust sprinkles down and less known filmmakers share the flashlights of the enormous media presence that has mostly come to cover the celebrity glam. At the Oscars, the surprises, if any, are planned, predicted and marketed. In Cannes the surprises are real and its savvy juxtaposition of styles, themes and exoticism make the seaside town the capital of World Cinema in all its cultural diversity  for 12 days in May.

Of the thousand or so films screening in Cannes, about 100 are selected and invited and, of these, about 20 are in competition.

Irish eyes will be on two competition films with County Kerry connections. Killarneyman, Michael Fassbender stars in a new film of Macbeth, alongside French actress Marion Cotillard, who plays his dark lady wife, and directed by Australian Justin Kurzel. (Interestingly the same trio are the prime players of another 2015 movie called Assassins Creed, a title that echoes Macbeth.)

The other Kerry film is The Lobster (pictured), a Greek-Irish-UK-French-Dutch co-production shot in wonderful Parknasila and produced by Ed Guiney at Element Pictures. A geekily ordinary Colin Farrell plays alongside a large eye-watering cast that includes Rachel Weisz, Ben Whishaw, Léa Seydoux, Olivia Colman, John C Reilly. Yorgos Lanthimos is the Greek director of this absurdist dystopian drama portraying a world where being single is not allowed. If a mate cannot be found in 45 days, one is transformed into an animal of their choosing or released into the woods. All very tantalisingly Grimm.

On the production end, The Lobster is yet another nod to the enterprise of Ed Guiney and Andrew Lowe at Element Pictures. This is the third time their work has figured in Cannes Competition, the previous two being Ken Loach’s 2006 Palme d’Or winner, The Wind That Shakes the Barley, and last year’s Jimmy’s Hall. So it’s no mystery why Ed Guiney was given the European Co-production Award – Prix Eurimages at last December’s European Film Awards. If there’s a stable fit to breed the next Sheridan or Jordan, the smart money is surely on Element.

The opening film, Standing Tall, by French cinéaste Emmanuelle Bercot is a social tale of a boy’s troubled childhood and the endeavours of a concerned judge, played by la grande dame of French cinema, Catherine Deneuve, to save him. Bercot is also an actor and plays a woman recovering from a passionate love affair s in Mon Roi, by previous prize-winner Maiwenn.

Favourites returning to Le Festival this year include Todd Haynes with Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara in Carol, a lesbian intrigue set in 1950s New York.

The semi autobiographical tragi-comic My Mother by Nanni Moretti is one of three Italian films in contention this year. The other two are also by previous prize-winners, The Tale of Tales, by Matteo Garrone and Youth, by Paolo Sorrentino, both in English.

The only first film in competition this year is Son of Saul by Laszlo Nemes from Hungary. It has the particularity of bucking digital trends by being made entirely on 35mm film from shooting through editing. It is the story of a prisoner’s attempt to save a boy through adoption in Auschwitz in 1944.

The Sea of Trees, by Gus Van Sant, stars Matthew McConaughey and Ken Watanabe along with the always sharp and insightful Canadian Denis Villeneuve with Sicario set amid Mexican drug trade with Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin and Norwegian newcomer Joachim Trier brings Louder Than Bombs featuring Isabelle Huppert, Jesse Eisenberg and Gabriel Byrne.

At first glance the menu is appetising. Cannes is a firmament of promises. Which will shine and deliver this year? Which will fizzle and fade? Watch the space…

 

Séamas McSwiney is an Irish writer-producer based in Paris.

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