Interview: Nick Hamm, Director of ‘The Journey’

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The Journey is a fictional account of the extraordinary story of two implacable enemies in Northern Ireland – firebrand Democratic Unionist Party leader Paisley and Sinn Féin politician Martin McGuinness – who are forced to take a short journey together in which they will take the biggest leap of faith and change the course of history.

Shane Hennessy caught up with director Nick Hamm to explore the journey behind the film.

 

What was it about this event that made you want to make a film about it?

What was attractive to us was making a film about two politicians who initially hated each other and then came to like and respect each other and together achieved peace because of that relationship, we thought about how we could dramatize that. And we found that there was a particular journey that occurred at St Andrews where McGuinness and Paisley shared a plane, and during that journey they began communicating and eventually achieved friendship. That’s the reason we did it.

 

Did you get a chance to meet McGuiness or Paisley in preparing for the film?

Colm Meaney had supported McGuinness in his 2011 Presidential campaign and a good relationship with him, I had met him (McGuinness) before production as well. He didn’t ask to read the script, neither did Paisley’s people. They were both very respectful of the process and we were very respectful towards them in return.

 

The film is a drama/comedy, did you feel it was risky approaching such a delicate subject comedically?

Well comedy is a staple of Irish culture, North and South. If you don’t address that, and allow it be part of the storytelling, then you’re wasting your time. You can’t do something this serious and not allow the audience to laugh. And also, these two characters were just very funny together. They had a strange relationship and enjoyed each others humor.

 

Timothy Spall’s performance as Ian Paisley is outstanding, but considering he was playing one of the biggest and most caricatured figures in Irish culture, did you need him to tone it down at times?

Paisley’s a tricky part to play, not many people could do it correctly. Tim and I worked on it a lot before even filming.  But Tim’s one of those actors who genuinely becomes the characters he’s playing – it’s wonderful to see. This wirey Englishman who becomes this bombastic 6ft 6 Irishman. He was always my first choice.

 

Halfway during the film the car crashes and the two characters are walking around the forest, key scenes take place in a torn-down church and a cemetery. At what point did you decide that the entire film would not take place in the car?

What we wanted to do was set everything up in the car, the confined space makes them deal with each other and forces a relationship. After you’ve had that moment you can take them out of the car and they’ll still be together. The movie is about stripping away all of the artifice of democracy, all paraphernalia and political discourse and you just have two people dealing with each other, and in that environment you often share more than you don’t share. That’s what we wanted to show – that if these two people can find peace, then anyone can.

Can you talk about the role of the driver, what role you wanted him to play both narratively and thematically? From the outset he comes across as a sort of everyman moderator between the two.

That’s a good way describing it, actually. He’s part of a younger generation, that does’t know anything about these two guys. So by him not knowing, he shows us the way they behave is fascinating and idiosyncratic. He had to be a figure who is completely benign and without any agenda.

 

You obviously weren’t to know that Martin McGuinness would pass away so closely to the film’s release. Has the film’s reception been affected by this?

Well, we screened the film in parliament the other day, which was a fascinating experience. I think the film now becomes about redemption and remembrance. 30 years ago McGuinness was a hated figure in English culture, so in that sense the re-analysis of what he became is what the movie is studying. Is this man a terrorist or a freedom fighter? And this is true about Paisley too, he was every bit as loathed throughout Ireland for his actions in the same way McGuinness was. So the message is to look at history, with all the terrorism that is happening everywhere now, and to use history as a means of correctly judging the present.

 

On that point, is it more accurate to look at this film as a homage to peace, or as a warning of just how tenuous peace is?

This film is a celebration of concession, of people sitting down and talking things over rather than fighting. It’s also a tribute to two politicians who changed the course of history, and should be recognized for doing this.

What were the biggest challenges with directing?

The challenge was keeping the story moving and opening it up enough so that the audience didn’t feel too confined, that was the real test.

I thought the sound editing was masterful…

I’m absolutely thrilled you said that, make sure you print that loud and clear so that they get some love.

 

In terms of the interchanges between the two characters, McGuinness is the more open and humorous initially, Paisley at one point admits he doesn’t accept that change is possible either in himself or in other people. Was he always meant to be the more belligerent one?

Paisley didn’t like McGuinness at all, so the first twenty minutes is just McGuinness doing most of the talking because Paisley thinks the journey will be over in 30 or so minutes so he can get on the plane and go home. It is a fictional account, but it’s sort of how this exchange might have played out based on historical facts.

 

Is this sort of subject matter something you’d like to revisit again?

No, I’ve done enough on peace. I need to do something on war.

 

Ian Paisley asks are we Martyrs or Men Of Faith. Themes like this would appeal to the wider world in its current predicament; are you happy with the general reception it’s been getting?

I think the press we get in the UK will be a lot different from everywhere else for somewhat obvious reasons. But I’m okay with that.

 

The Journey is in cinemas from 5th May 2017

 

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Interview: Niall McCann director of ‘Lost in France’

Niall

Photo: Greg Dunn

 

Shane Hennessy goes in search of director, Niall McCann who’s Lost in France.

There’s a lot more to Lost in France, Niall McCann’s latest documentary about the Chemikal Underground record label, than the music and the people involved in it. The stark contrast of the music industry and city of Glasgow, the two scenes in which the label rose to prominence, between then and now is almost as compelling as the stories told throughout. Neither the industry nor the city in its modern form can allow for a similar venture like Chemical Underground to thrive.

Social welfare is a recurring theme in the film for instance. “Nowadays”, McCann laments, ’the biggest enemy in society seems to be someone on the dole’. McCann is open and very much thankful for his own usage of social welfare in order to follow through on his personal ambitions.

“I was on the dole for a long period while I was making this, enrolling in a few courses. The demonization of people on welfare is interesting these days, because the dole is integral to the arts. The continued dismantling of public and political life where now it seems less about helping people and more about punishing them – for something that has nothing to do with them.”

It’s in this sense that Lost in France becomes about more than its subjects, or the music deriving from them, it’s about art and expression in all its forms. A passion project five years in the making, one gets the feeling from speaking with McCann that his affinity with this subject runs far deeper than his love for the music it spawned.

“At some point we need to have a discussion about whether we care about the arts, people aren’t given any time anymore. For a project like Lost in France, as soon as you see money for it you just owe it all to people. And don’t get me wrong, I’m lucky to have a career doing what I’m doing, but I’m still hoping that I’m not doing 9-5 for a while.”

Unlike most other music documentaries of the retrospective variety, we’re not fawning over global icons reminiscing about the good old days they’ve since been saved from.

“Some of these guys are struggling, Hubby (RM Hubbard) recently had to post on his Facebook that he was in a bad place financially and asked people to buy his new EP, he got a good response but it’s not easy for people to do that. Stewart Henderson still runs Chemikal Records, but he’s recently finished his training to become a fireman so he can keep the label going. These are the sacrifices people are willing to make. These guys can’t get by on their music alone.”

Which would make one think that the opportunity to have a documentary made about the folks involved at the label would represent some much needed exposure and income, but McCann said that wasn’t quite the case.

“When I first approached them there wasn’t a whole lot of willingness to make the film, Chemikal was on its knees and with the state of the music industry currently, the guys there were more interested in keeping it afloat than celebrating its legacy. The fact that I’m not from Glasgow probably worked in my favor, I think, because I was new and a bit different.”

With the catalogue available with which to score the film, one can only imagine the turmoil that came with choosing what songs to leave out rather than which ones to put in. But certain scenes, such as RM Hubbard’s sombre instrumentals in one of the film’s more reflective segments, makes it impossible to think of anything more fitting. But were director and musicians always in agreement with how, or how often, their music was used?

“Hubby is incredibly talented, I couldn’t possibly leave his music out, but it is an ensemble piece so you can’t please everyone all the time. Getting the balance between telling the different stories and moving on was difficult.

In many ways the songs picked themselves, We had no idea the Maurons were going to play ‘Jacqueline’ for instance. But I asked Hubby to play ‘False Bride’, so I had an idea of what I wanted but it was dictated by the people we brought. And obviously in the story of the label, the Bis single being on top of the pops was a very important moment so that had to feature.”

The characters themselves that appear in the film are portrayed as just that – themselves. Their mature and measured outlook, along with their jaded expressions as they ponder what could have been is often sobering. But one could be critical of the film for suppressing tension with nostalgia, whether it’s recanting old tales from the back of the bus or going through old photos over pints. But there are some moments shared between them that border on outright resentment. Paul Savage and his wife Emma Pollock share a playful but sincere joke and their own expense about getting married. “They’re still a couple,” Niall points out. “But to be honest, when people look at a married couple after so many years of marriage and say “why don’t they just say they love each other?”…To me that says more about them than the people they’re talking about.”

For all the talk in the movie about market forces precipitating the band’s decline, how much was in-fighting responsible for things going awry?

“When money’s tight it affects relationships, so in that sense I think market forces was undoubtedly the biggest effect. It’s difficult to separate the person from the professional when you’re this immersed in what you do. I sensed a lot of regret with regards to The Delgado’s breaking up. It was much more difficult for Emma (Pollock) to make it as a solo singer than as lead singer of The Delgados. They’re open enough with each other to share these moments on camera, but ultimately what’s kept the whole thing together is that they love each other, all of them. And they all believe in making art.”

McCann is strident with his views towards the funding of artistic ventures in Ireland and Glasgow as well.

“The music industry, for now, certainly on the level of Chemical Records – it’s fucked.”

But that’s not to say that he’s pessimistic about its future. Glasgow was the epicenter of the UK’s music scene, the rise and fall of Chemical Underground was inextricably tied to the city’s cultural heyday, with more music halls than in any other city in Europe. But McCann insists the interest is still alive and well, if a little more understated.

“Any time you go into a pub in Glasgow the people that work there are in bands. The lead singer of Twilight Sad (who is featured in the movie) was working for Rock Action, Mogwai’s record label.
So now it’s shifted to becoming more a part-time thing or a hobby, which is fine – people can still make an album – but they mightn’t make it to their third or fourth even they make something spectacular.”

That all bodes relatively well for the art scene over there, but what about closer to home? McCann, by now an established filmmaker promoting his third feature film, still struggles to get his projects off the ground.

“I see myself as a filmmaker, everything I do outside of that is to get enough money so I can make my next film. Constantly dwindling budgets aren’t good for anyone, including the audiences. I just think, without being too puritanical, that if you do a good job in making something that’s well received, you should be given the chance to work with a budget.”

While citing Keith Potter as one of the main driving forces behind the recent success of Irish films (“…he transformed the board as far as I’m concerned” ), he doesn’t afford as much clemency to people who have shown slightly less gratitude to the IFB.

“I don’t think the Film Board should ever fund John Michael McDonagh again after what he said about Irish films; he’s obviously an ego-maniac. I thought Calvary was fucking awful and The Guard was a load of shit too, not to mention offensive. I don’t like misanthropy and he and his brother (Martin McDonagh, In Bruges, 7 Psychopaths) write movies without a single likable character in them. As an Irish filmmaker myself I think it’s offensive what he said, and it’s amazing that he’d say it after being funded by the Irish Film Board. It troubles me that if he was someone whose films weren’t as financially rewarding that it would finish him, but that’s the problem with living in a market economy.”

This is a theme inflected throughout Lost in Paris as well, the market mechanics that allowed for the space in which bands like the Delgado’s and Mogwai to flourish are diminishing as genres more conducive to the ever increasing pace of the music industry grow in popularity.

“With more music out there more than ever, it’s more white noise than music now. But it helps some genres of music more than others, electronic and dance is much more accessible to produce but if you’re in a band that needs to get into a studio to make something then it’s not that much easier than before.”

McCann’s next project is a collaboration with Adrian Crowley with the working title Long Distance Swimmer, which is currently in the writing phase.

“We want to explore creativity and what an artist really is, but also trying to demythologize it, to show people the more difficult, the more human aspect of it. It’s going to be someway subjective.”

For now the focus is on Lost in France. “It’s not just for the fans of the music,” McCann insists, “I think everybody will appreciate it on some level, it’s the people that go to see the movie that make movies like this happen.”

It’s out today. Get along and watch it.

Screenings and Q&As with Niall McCann, Emma Pollock and RM Hubbert:

6.15pm – 03/03 – IFI Dublin – Tickets

6.30pm – 04/03 – The Gate Cork – Tickets

6.30pm – 05/03 – EYE Galway – Tickets

There are a series of gigs around Ireland that will accompany the film’s release including Emma Pollock & RM Hubbert LIVE:

Friday March 3rd – The Workman’s Club, Dublin

Saturday March 4th – Connolly’s of Leap, Cork

Sunday March 5th – Roisin Dubh, Galway

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Review: Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation

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DIR/WRI: Christopher McQuarrie  • PRO: J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk, Tom Cruise, David Ellison • DOP: Robert Elswit • ED: Eddie Hamilton • MUS: Joe Kraemer • DES: James D. Bissell • CAST: Reese Witherspoon, Sofia Vergara, Matthew Del Negro, Michael Mosley

 

Christopher McQuarrie directs the latest Mission:Impossible installment, Rogue Nation. Despite boasting a number of films that sees it saunter dangerously into Police Academy territory, the M:I franchise has done the decidedly improbable and kept the quality at a genuinely high standard. The trick is continued here with a typically convoluted but altogether engaging plot, competent direction and a few well honed performances. Tom Cruise is in it also.

The Impossible Mission Force (referred to in the movie as the IMF, Greece should know), is being shut down by the CIA for acting the rogue on one too many occasions, making Ethan Hunt (Cruise) an international fugitive and sending him on the run. Meanwhile, a nefarious organisation, The Syndicate, is revealed to be the catalyst for the IMF’s dissolution, laying the groundwork for the mutual pursuit between Hunt and Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), leader of the Syndicate and long term Hunt-agonist.

Despite the tired old cliche of this one being their ‘last mission’ (a sequel is well into production), McQuarrie manages to wrangle some genuine tension throughout in this installment. The prolonged set-pieces, or missions within the mission, are delivered with style and wit, though admittedly not as well as the last two movies. The first ‘nail-biter’ is set in the middle of the Vienna Opera – a slightly worn juxtaposition between peril and pantomime – but the skill to both introduce and involve key characters with such little dialogue without compromising the intensity cannot be overlooked. The second hour for the most part is breathtaking, an oxygen-sapping diving sequence is followed by an at times hilarious car chase – and that’s just the beginning.

Despite the slightly grating super-human competence embodied by Cruises character that verges on deux-et-machina levels on multiple occasions, if anything, the film is overly tight. The big bum-note is a curiously stodgy screenplay, penned by director McQuarrie, who is also credited with writing one of the finest thriller films ever made with The Usual Suspects. Like ever other movie in the M:I series, the story demands your unedified attention at every beat, and one can’t help but feel that some of the countless twists are frivolous considering the basic framework of the narrative.

The supporting performances are all good. Simon Pegg is given more responsibility than before in the franchise and carries it well. Jeremy Renner is as excellent as ever, and the obligatory femme fatale role is played with conflicted elegance by Rebecca Ferguson.

Though the convoluted plot is bundled into an over-wrought running length, the film stumbles but never falls. And despite Mr Cruise’s continued existence as a morally corrupt exploitative cult-monger, he gives his most famed role just the right amount of ham once again.

Paced well if prohibitively confusing for a general audience, Mission Impossible accomplishes its objectives for a fifth time. The achievement of this franchise’s longevity should not be underestimated, either. By keeping the films inextricably linked through its core cast (Cruise, Rhames), while preserving its currency with self-contained plots and a constantly changing vision through the varying styles of its directors, the M:I gravy train remains unfettered 20 years after first exploding inside a tunnel.

Shane Hennessy

 

12A (See IFCO for details)
135 minutes

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation is released 31st July 2015

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation – Official Website

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Review: Ted 2

Ted-2-Ted

DIR: Seth MacFarlane • WRI: Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin, Wellesley Wild  • PRO: Jason Clark, John Jacobs, Seth MacFarlane, Scott Stuber • DOP: Michael Barrett • ED: Jeff Freeman • MUS: Walter Murphy • CAST: Seth MacFarlane, Liam Neeson, Mark Wahlberg, Amanda Seyfried

 

Every comedy needs a sequel. This much is true. Regardless of how one-note the comedic premise of a movie is, a joke is a joke, and should rightly have every last granule of life strained from it to take the maximum amount of profit from those only too content to spend money on seeing it.
 

Ted is no different. Ted is a cute teddy bear that sounds like Peter Griffin who constantly has filth seeping from his furry mouth. In and of itself alone, that is the alpha and omega of Comedy, the abso-laugh. It is hilarity defined. And, surely enough, Seth McFarlane’s comedic conveyer belt of a mind doesn’t fail to let us down here as the film opens. We find our cute cuddly curmudgeon being married to the tickelingly trashy Tammy-Lynn from the first movie. Does he take the bride? ‘You betchya f**kin’ ass I do’ says Ted. He’s in a church saying that! Outrageous. He’s a teddy bear.
 
As we cut to the opening titles, we are treated to Ted in an elaborate ballroom dancing number with a flurry of human dancers. There’s no jokes or comedic mis-steps involved here, per se. Indeed, there’s barely any discernible skill on show, it’s just a standard ballroom dancing scene. But as an idea, it is show-stoppingly hilarious. Close your eyes and imagine a teddy bear ballroom dancing. If you’re not smiling, you’re an idiot.

 

Some of the comedy in this movie is so cerebral I couldn’t quite figure out when I was meant to laugh. Like in the scene where Liam Neeson makes his cameo. He’s buying cereal at the store, and is dubious about purchasing it because it’s generally considered to be made for kids. There was a joke in there somewhere (and I fully intend on paying to see the movie again so I can understand it), but I laughed anyway because I saw Liam Neeson.

 

The best running joke from the movie is a testament to McFarlane’s forensic comedic eye as he notices that a certain appendage enjoys quite a prevalence on the internet. So, any time a Google search is invoked into the narrative, the characters are invariably directed to a particular website. When you see the film you’ll understand. And, of course, nothing makes anything funnier than some casual racial stereotyping.

 

It was also refreshing to see another comedy where all the best gags were included in the trailer. The only reason I went to see this movie was so I could witness Marky Mark being saturated in bodily fluid on the big screen. He is absolutely drenched in the stuff. Thank heavens that was in the trailer.  Name one Charlie Chaplin movie that has a main character drowned in bodily fluid. You can’t. Because even Chaplin could never think to do something that funny.

 

Scenes involving weed and people being high are also inherently funny. Ted 2 is full of them and is much the better for it. Amanda Seyfried smokes bongs (that way, we know we’re meant to like her), they smoke bongs in the library, in the park. If you see a bong in movie you actually have a civic duty to laugh. At one point, the characters are forced to spend the night in a field full of pot plants –  and then they actually get stoned on the pot plants. Who does that?! However, it isn’t until Amanda Seyfreid takes out a bong that is shaped like a certain piece of male genitalia that this movie comes into its own. It simply transcends wit.

 

I have untold affection for this film. I haven’t even got the time to go into the complex plot (Ted has to prove he’s human), because the amount of sheer comic gold that’s littered throughout. Ted 2 has reinvented the comedy genre for the better.

 

And if you haven’t realized I’m being sarcastic, then you would genuinely love Ted 2.
 

Shane Hennessy

16 (See IFCO for details)
115 minutes
 
Ted 2 is released 10th July 2015
 
Ted 2 – Official Website

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Review: Tomorrowland: A World Beyond

Tomorrowland

 

DIR: Brad Bird • WRI: Brad Bird, Damon Lindelof • PRO: Brad Bird, Jeffrey Chernov, Damon Lindelof • DOP: Claudio Miranda • ED: Walter Murch, Craig Wood • DES: Scott Chambliss • MUS: Michael Giacchino • CAST: George Clooney, Britt Robertson, Hugh Laurie

 

I was excited when I saw the trailer for Tomorrowland: A World Beyond. It was a short teaser showing the lead character, Casey (Britt Robertson) picking up a strange totem and being transported to this mysterious utopia, with George Clooney laying down the voice-over.

 

Brad Bird, fresh from his successful first foray into live-action film making with Ghost Protocol, as the director, and a perfectly weighted teaser along with some great casting, this was something to get excited about.

 

And after the big wait it turned out to be disappointment, as things like this often do in the current age.

 

The story follows the main character, a NASA engineer’s daughter, coming across the badge she doesn’t recognize, which introduces her to the titular Tomorrowland. A future-scopic metropolis where the inhabitants are hand-picked based on their longing for progression rather than power. Innovation and invention are the sole tools of society but, like every modern vision of the future, those ideals are eroded through the inert nature of the present.

 

It’s a kids’ movie. It might be that Brad Bird’s inherently colorful sensibility just makes the hifalutin ideas put forward in Tomorrowland a bit difficult to take in. Damon Lindelof is the writer (Star Trek), and his script – which was reworked by Bird – presents some really interesting concepts but might not be palatable for its target audience. That’s not to imply that kids are thick or anything, but for once, Brad Bird – the outstanding family movie director of today – seems all too unaware of that fact himself.

 

The writing is sketchy, platitudes and bon mot’s are interwoven with light-hearted quips that just don’t land often enough. Themes like perseverance are dealt with using ham-fisted and clunky dialogue with a rousing sound track. Don’t get me wrong, I ate that stuff up when I was younger but I have accomplished nothing on the back of it. So what purpose does it serve?

 

As for the actual narrative itself, well, like some of Lindelof’s most prominent past credits – namely Lost and Prometheus, Tomorrowland starts out promisingly before getting tangled in its own ideas towards the end.

 

This movie should be amazing. And I do hope its target audience thinks that it is. But a director with such broad blockbuster appeal, and a cast with George Clooney in it – who is utterly forgettable in this – should give me something more. Perhaps I’m just bitter that I’m not of the age to enjoy this idyllic froth when I’m too worried about whether I’m registered to vote. Maybe I’m just too old to care, like George Clooney in this very movie.

Shane Hennessy


12A (See IFCO for details)

129 minutes
Tomorrowland: A World Beyond is released 22nd May 2015

Tomorrowland: A World Beyond – Official Website

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Interview: Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy, writer/director of ‘The Tribe’

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Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s multi award-winning debut film The Tribe is set in the insular world of a Ukrainian high school for the deaf. When a newcomer arrives he finds that, in order to survive, he must become part of a wild organization – the tribe

Shane Hennessy sat down with writer/director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy to discuss his original and intense feature debut.

 

The Tribe, above all else, is a very unique film. What inspired you tell this story, and particularly in the way that you did?

 

When I was a young boy, I studied at the same school where I would shoot the The Tribe later. It was very funny when I came to the school to shoot the film. Some of the teachers were still alive, they were very surprised as they never thought I would be successful! But across the road from my school there was the school for the deaf. From an early age I saw how deaf people communicate with each other and I think it looks very interesting. Amazing.

Because I couldn’t understand sign language, I saw people communicating on a level higher than what I was capable of. They can exchange feelings and emotion more directly. I really wanted to share this, as I think it’s a miracle. Then, when I studied in film school, I thought it would be a great idea. I saw a number of silent movies, Charlie Chaplin, Battleship Potemkin and I saw that actors in these movies were so close to that style of communication. I was really impressed and I thought it would be a great idea to make a modern silent movie. Then after 20 years I had the money to shoot it!

 

This is your writing/directing debut. What was your writing process knowing that this was the way you were going to shoot the film?

 

Of course I created the script and the film without subtitles, dubbing, voiceover. This was never an option. So when I worked on the script, I tried to build the story visually. This isn’t easy for writing, but I tried to build the situation and storyline an audience could understand without verbal dialogue. But then all the dialogue is real dialogue. But, in my opinion it is not really important. I’m not trying to compare myself to the greatest. When I was writing the dialogue I was inspired by the movies of Harold Pinter, whose characters would talk about things that aren’t very important for long periods of time, at least in those few plays of his that I read!

 

Almost every scene in the film is a long take. Did you find this easier as a director without speech, or was there more emphasis on making sure their actions were perfect every time?

 

I don’t know whether it was easier or more difficult. I just felt it was more appropriate for this storyline. If I think for the next film that quicker editing is more suitable I will certainly use it. But to film such long shots we had to have a lot of rehearsals. All of the pieces in the movie are mathematically calculated. They are filmed in a special way which needed to be rehearsed for a week before being filmed.

 

So time constraints must have been an issue. Were there other major obstacles to overcome during production?

 

I’ve been asked this question before. And to be honest I try to remember something. Production difficulties were so minor there’s little point in talking about them. If I was I would talk about the snow which was needed for the shoot and there was none – it’s a miracle that I needed snow for my movie and it was a snowless winter in Kiev! I could also say that there was a revolution happening parallel to us filming. But everything else was okay. There was one problem. Our main actress, Yana (Novikova), had a boyfriend who was objecting to her participation in the sex scenes. I had to explain to her that this was the art. Myself and my wife had communicated to her a lot. I showed her some films, including 9 Songs by Michael Winterbottom. But when I showed her Blue Is The Warmest Colour, she fell in love with the actress that played Adele (Adèle Exarchopoulos). She left her boyfriend and did the film. After the film was screened all over the world, it received the main prize in Belarus where Yana is from. She watched the film with her boyfriend and family after this and they are now back together and everyone is proud of her. She is now the only lady from Belarus who is a member of the European Film Academy.

 

The acting in the film is sensational. Was this film the first big role for most of the cast?

Yes, all of them. They all had different professions and backgrounds previous to this.

 

The camera work in the film I found was at times similar to Lumet or Dreyer. Who were your big influences in terms directing?

This is always a difficult question for me. As when I was making short films, I always try to answer one question in my brain. ‘This film will be this or that’. When I was working on The Tribe, I had no answer for this question. When I was taking part in the American Film Institute Film Festival in LA, they had a number of questions I had to fill out. One was about what directors inspired me. I put Austrian director Ulrich Seidl, because his set designs were a huge influence. But in terms of sequences I’m really not too sure.

 

In terms of the way you told the story, I found that colours played a massive role. Was this intentional and what other techniques did you incorporate knowing that the majority of audience members would not understand the language being used?

I would like to say yes but I haven’t done it intentionally even though I did control the colour scheme of the movie. I tried to find the right colours but why I thought these were the right colours I’m not sure. Now that you have asked I’ll try to think about it further!

 

Samuel Beckett spoke of the universal language of anxiety. I thought it applied well to this film. Was it something you were aware of when writing it?

Beckett was a genius. I would say that in the advertisement for this film we say “Love and Hate do not need a translation”. The fact that there is no dialogue in the film I would say actually makes it even more universal, that we are all the same. We all experience fear in a similar way, love in a similar way, hate in a similar way and we make love in a similar way.

 

What projects do you have coming up that we can look forward to?

I’m preparing my next film called Luxembourg. It is a neo-noir and will be set in Chernobyl’s exclusion zone. I’m developing the script and my producer is working on the fundraising. I’ll keep my fingers crossed and hopefully we can begin the shoot in December.

 

The Tribe opens in cinemas from 15th May 2015

 

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Interview: Ivan Kavanagh, wri/dir of ‘The Canal’

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The Canal introduces us to cinema archivist David and his family who move into a period house by a canal. Despite dismissing rumours that the house is being haunted, David starts having nightmarish visions when he suspects his wife is cheating.

Shane Hennessy caught up with writer/director Ivan Kavanagh to find out more about his latest horror film.

 

Where did the idea for the story in The Canal come from?

Well, I suppose I thought that a cinema archivist would make a great protagonist for a film, as he investigates for a living. Also I’m really into early cinema as well so I really wanted to recreate those old films, for years I’ve been trying to get the look of those films right. We tried a range of different film formats. We finally found that using a camera from 1915 with 35mm film running through it worked great. It came out with the exact look that I wanted. Also, a cinema archivist has probably seen every horror film ever made, so all his nightmares and dreams would be coloured by other films. I felt it could be very expressionistic and allow me to take the medium as far as I wanted to go.

Sounds plays a crucial role in The Canal. It’s very authentic. The music has a Carpenter-like texture to it. Did you have much input with the score?

Yeah, I wanted a very particular sound. I’m big into 20th century classical music and I wanted something that was very contemporary. What I liked about Ceiri Torjussen (the film’s composer) was that he did a lot of classical concert music and I knew that if could incorporate that into my film that it’d be perfect. Also I told him I wanted music that didn’t sound like music as such, so that it would blend with the sound design. Him and the sound designers worked hand in hand and we actually spent more time with the sound design and score than we did with the visual editing of the film. For me, sound is equally as important as the visuals in a film. The guys at Egg Post Production Dublin were fantastic collaborators, they worked for months on the sound and it’s an experience to hear it in the cinema.

The horror genre has a modern perception of being somewhat formulaic, is there an obligation to address those conventions by subverting them or do you prefer starting from a completely blank slate?

With David being a cinema archivist, it makes sense that it would begin with the most overused horror trope there is – he moves into a house where a murder took place in the past. And it seems to me that I could go from there and play with the genre. Maybe it happened in his head but maybe it’s real, but because of his obsession with cinema his mind is filled with these horror conventions.

The main character is haunted by obsession more so than anything else. It’s as though grief is presented as this force in his life rather than something otherworldly. Was it difficult to harness that ambiguity?

Well, any good horror movies are rarely about what they seem to be about. There’s always subtext. It was really hard to get that into the script, that balance between what’s real and what he’s imagining. Then when we got to the editing we got reinvent it again, in the shooting as well. Me and Rupert (Evans, playing the main character) had to take a stance on what was happening, but I wanted to leave it to the audience. My favorite films allow the viewer to take away a different interpretation to someone else. I’ve heard so many different opinions of what happened in the film, which means the balance worked. We tested the film with random people, we knew from getting different reactions. I myself have my own idea of what is happening, but anyone who’s seen it has an equally valid opinion.

What areas of the story did you carry out the most research on?

I’ve always been a cinema obsessive. So my research is instinct, mostly. I talked to a couple of psychologists about symptoms of psychosis and someone who is going into a psychogenic fugue, where they re-imagine their whole reality. What I really honed in on was the old films. Particularly Feeding the Baby from Lumiere. The background from that film is beautiful. It’s just trees growing in the wind with Lumiere feeding his baby. It’s the way the celluloid reacts to what’s happening within it, it’s so unique and you can’t capture it with modern stocks. So when we got the prints back from the 1915 camera, it was almost identical. As far as research goes, I like to look at paintings that help me to get into the state of mind. I don’t like to re-watch films. But if you’ve seen as many films as I have, it’s hard not to be influenced by them. In a way, the film is a love letter to all those films I loved growing up, films that scared me over the years as a kid – the ones I shouldn’t have been watching!

It’s fascinating that the old celluloid couldn’t be replicated on digital media. Is it something you fear for with the way cinema is going?Well, we tried digital, tried all sort of film stocks. Some came close, but people could easily tell them apart. I love shooting with film, if I could shoot everything that way I would. With digital you really have to work for the look of the film, the grade and all the rest of it. With film, as soon as it comes back from the lab, it’s interesting. Even the mistakes are beautiful. It’s the mistakes that you’re after! It’s the edge fogging, it’s the grain. I did a test years ago for a short film I was making, I didn’t rack the film properly and it was flickering as it went through the shutter. When it came back it had this ghostly effect. Pure mistake, but it was beautiful. I really miss that about film and nothing about digital allows that to happen.

Who would you say were your main contemporary influences?

Well, look-wise we looked at Don’t Look Now, and also Eyes Wide Shut. I love the way Kubrick uses expressionistic colours in that movie. That moonlighting scene (in Eyes Wide Shut) is just unrealistic, it’s a dream film. The moon in unnatural blue, the Christmas lights are fluorescent. As The Canal continues it becomes more unrealistic, we planned the colour palette of the film as it went along. So as we reach the end we used harsher reds. We didn’t have any natural light for many of the final scenes so it just came out of the blue. The Canal is a film of the mind, so it seemed completely right. Also, we looked at Susperia (1977), and some other Argento films. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger‘s Black Narcissus (1947) also, especially the flashes to red, green and yellow. I wanted to use colours expressionistically and unnaturally. It suited the character.

A word on the cast. The detective character (Steve Oram as Det McNamara) is the perfect asshole. Did you have a difficult time assembling such a good blend of people to play the roles?

Well the child (Calum Heath, playing Billy) was really difficult to cast. I didn’t want a “child” actor, I wanted a kid who could act. The casting director went to schools around Ireland and we auditioned about 200 kids and did improvisation and line readings. Eventually we found Calum, to play Billy. He was only 5 during production but seemed to have more natural acting ability then most actors I can remember working with. It was just astounding. Rupert (Evans, playing the main character) was the most difficult to cast as he needed to be handsome and attractive personality-wise, but also very vulnerable.  I saw him in Agora (2009), there’s a moment where he gives a line-reading that was completely unique. I thought that if he could give me a lot of those moments here, he’d be perfect. Then, once I spoke to him, he had the vulnerability that was needed for us to be with the character throughout the film. As far as the detective is concerned, because the main character is so influenced by movies, I think he needed to be the movie-est detective I could find! Steve (Oram) is like something out of The Sweeney. It may be a interpretation of what David thinks is happening as the story is told through his point of view. I’d seen him in Sightseers, he’s a master of improvisation. Rupert would always stick to his lines in their scenes together, but Steve would improvise around them. I wanted an international cast as I didn’t want the film to be grounded in any one country to keep the dream construct attached. If it’s set in Ireland it’s not an Ireland people would be accustomed to, it could be in London. So the casting took a long time.

What projects do you have coming up?

I’m working on a TV series with a US network. It’s a supernatural series and we’ve just finished writing the first episode. I can’t say too much more about it but it’s being announced to the press very soon. I’m also writing another psychological horror movie and there’s a few offers from America with regards to directing, so I’m just weighing everything up for now. The film was a success in America, critically and audiences seemed to really respond to it.

The Canal is in cinemas from 8th May 2015.

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Cobain: Montage of Heck

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DIR/WRI: Brett Morgen •  PRO: Brett Morgen, Danielle Renfrew • DOP: Jim Whitaker, Nicole Hirsch Whitaker • ED: Joe Beshenkovsky, Brett Morgen • MUS: Jeff Danna • CAST: Kurt Cobain, Dave Grohl, Courtney Love

 

There’s this peculiar thing that happens when generations begin to pile on one another. The terms ‘legacy’ and ‘notoriety’ become confused and interchangeable.

Montage of Heck is an attempt to clear up the mystique surrounding one of contemporary musics great enigmas – for better or worse. The narrative is compiled with home-movie footage, interviews with his family and friends and scribblings from Cobain’s notebooks that are effectively rendered into animation.

The Nirvana craze was still there in my teenage years, peetering slightly, but there nonetheless. The shockwaves of Kurt Cobain’s untimely death was still ringing true in the vacant abyss of teenage angst, with Nirvana continuing to provide a soundtrack to fill the void with moshpits and mayhem. Only in the last decade has it succumbed to the moniker of ‘retro’, if still a rousing and identifying musical summation of the ’90s. Now it seems to stand as a sidebar of the vaunted ’27 Club’; a rock star who shot his head off, with the sketchy girlfriend acting as the anchoring footnote. It’s almost a cliche. But, of course, every cliche’s origin lies in truth.

Cobain’s younger years in Montage of Heck paint a picture that even the more hardened of his fans may not be accustomed to. Here, the lack of documentation for his teenage years is dramatized with interpolated rotoscope animation (a la Scanner Darkly) that’s very well executed. We learn about a suicidal frisson he had with a Down Syndrome girl in his teens, he wanted to see what sex feels like before a failed attempt at his own life. The guilt and humiliation after this event is just one of the factors that contributed to the inner rage that characterized his legacy. As written by Cobain himself in one of his jarringly scattered and dense notebooks, ‘Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not after you”.

This film will inevitably compared to Nick Broomfields “Kurt and Cortney”, which obviously focused more on Cobain’s dysfunctional relationship with Love (pun not intended). That documentary seems like leery, tabloid guff compared to this iteration which, despite offering a more measured insight into the making of the artist, the most compelling aspect of Cobain’s life remains his relationship with Courtney Love, and (by association) his eventual demise. Montage of Heck is notable if only for Love offering a rare first hand account of their relationship, interviewed by the filmmaker, Brett Morgan. She appears about an hour in – chain-smoking, defiant and, as ever, wholly unsympathetic.

Other accounts from Cobain’s pre-Nirvana years tell about the chronic stomach pains he had to endure from the beginning of his heroin use. Tellingly, he refused to do anything about the bouts of pain for fear that they were the catalyst for his creativity.

A scene towards the end shows Cobain and Love giving their baby (now 22, her participation in the film conspicuously absent) her first hair cut. A pair of scissors circulates the toddlers head as her parents’ consciousness fluctuates in a heroine-inflicted haze. Singing unintelligibly whilst remaining in constant, adamant denial that they’re totally out of it. It’s a difficult scene to watch and one that drains a lot of the sympathy from Cobain’s predicament.

It doesn’t hold back, this documentary. It refuses to act as a shrine to a fallen icon, more a latent parable of the vicious upshots of success and the illusions that fame continues to perpetuate.

I can’t say I particularly enjoyed it – but I certainly would’ve watched another hour. Which is probably how Cobain would have wanted it.

Shane Hennessy

16(See IFCO for details)
132 minutes

Cobain: Montage of Heck is released 10th April 2015

Cobain: Montage of Heck – Official Website

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_IBWbpJdRMQ

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