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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