Thursday, 28 May 2015

The Good Lie: A Story of Loss and Hope

Originally published on Close-Up Film.

The Good Lie, through fictionalised characters, tells a story detailing how the mid 1980s civil war in Sudan left millions of displaced refugees without home or country, among them, thousands of orphan boys and girls who had escaped the massacres.These children, mainly boys away from their villages tending cattle when Northern militia killed their tribes became known as “The Lost Boys of Sudan,.” The children travelled in droves over a thousand miles on foot through sub-Saharan Africa only to linger for decades in the Kakuma refugee camp at the Kenyan border which stands to this day. In the largest resettlement program in US history 3600 of these orphans finally emmigrated to America to build new lives and to begin to navigate the extreme culture change required to understand and to be understood within their new society while holding onto the values and culture of Sudan that had aided their survival.

The film centres around three boys, Mamere, Paul and Jeremiah, Mamere’s older brother Theo and younger sister Abidal, as children and then 13 years later as young adults remaking their lives in a country with bewildering ways. Says director, Philippe Falardeau, “They come from a place with no electricity, running water or modern technology, so they need to quickly acquire basic life skills before understanding how this society works and being a part of it. They are helped, at first reluctantly, by Carrie Davis, whose job it is to find them employment, and an unlikely friendship emerges from that. She will be as impacted by them as much as they are impacted by her.”.

Reese Witherspoon, who plays Carrie notes, “I was immediately pulled in by the story of the Lost Boys, just seeing their struggle and how they fought to survive…and then getting the opportunity to start over again in America and what inherent challenges that presented to them. The script really offered a perspective of these two worlds meeting.”.

British actor Arnold Oceng, who was cast as Mamere, adds “Just imagine suddenly being given these three scared refugees to look after. It’s probably not going to fit into your life plan. But you have to give Carrie credit—she takes them on, and they somehow manage to touch her heart.”.

To create a film with heart, humanity and humour without trivialising brutal events or making them difficult to watch was the challenge faced by the filmmakers. Screenwriter Margaret Nagle invested through her writing to ‘bring light to the dark places’ travelled to meet around a thousand of these orphans to obtain first hand accounts of their experience which led her to come up with a composite story representing at least some of what the Lost Boy’s had gone through.The project producers, keen to retain authenticity, put together a cast & crew with deep ties to the material. Director Philippe Falardeau had been present documenting the war in Southern Sudan at the time and had to be evacuated by the UN, with no choice but to leave people behind some of whom he knew would surely die. “I felt guilty that I was able to go and not them. Of course I knew it was not my fault, but as I was lifting off, I had this feeling that I had abandoned them, and that feeling stayed with me until I read Margaret Nagle’s script. It was calling me to go back there to tell their story. I called my agent and said ‘You have to understand, it’s not only that I want to do this, it’s that I must do this.”.

In casting too, it was important to Philippe to cast Sudanese actors to give their own voice to their story. Over a six month worldwide casting call working with Sudanese communities, the team found the best actors and actresses possible who had a genuine connection to the events, some already established performers but for some this was their screen debut. Of the main cast, Ger Duany (Jeremiah) and Emmanuel Jal (Paul) were both former Lost Boys forced to become child soldiers brutally treated before escaping to safety, Arnold Oceng, (Mamere) fled the war zone with his Ugandan mother at age two after his Sudanese father was killed. Kuoth Wiel (Abital) was born in an Ethiopian refugee camp and lost her father, a doctor, to the war in Sudan when she was five. Her brother, one of the Lost Boys, walked an arduous journey from Sudan to Ethiopia then Kenya before eventually emigrating to the US..

For the younger cast born outside Africa who played the many child characters, most were re-enacting their parent’s story, parents who became willing participants in the film, consulting with the filmmakers on how things happened for them despite locations briging back traumatic memories of their own youthful flight.The older actors, too held memories that permeated their experience of filming. Dunay recalls “With this movie, it’s like I’m reliving my past. Sometimes we must go through this and that and then we grow out of it and see the light. I would say I had come to see the light, but with this movie I had to go back again…I had to face my own journey.”.

Director Falardeau states, “We had a truly fantastic cast, who were all so invested in this film. For our Sudanese cast, it was personal, but it became almost as personal for our American actors as well. They all took great joy in bringing this important story to light,” adding “I think this is close to what these young people lived, with both the tremendous drama at the beginning and the humour and moving moments throughout… the Lost Boys’ story is important to tell not only because it’s become part of the American landscape, but to show that these things happened and still continue to happen in Africa. Even in Sudan right now, there is much tension and nothing is really settled..

“I think it’s also important to show that it’s not just about what we can bring to them, but what they bring to us—not as immigrants but as individuals,” he emphasizes. “There are many ways to view and experience the world and ours is not the only way, and ‘The Good Lie’ is very much about that, too. The common theme to all my films is the idea of ‘the other.’ We know who we are, or think we do, but do we know the others that surround us? Letting people into our lives is a gamble, but it’s a gamble worth taking.”.

The Good Lie opens in UK cinemas from 24th April..

Wednesday, 22 April 2015


P L A N E T A R Y - Trailer from Planetary Collective on Vimeo.

Due for a worldwide joint theatrical and Vimeo VOD release to celebrate Earth Day 2015, Planetary is a truly global documentary looking at life on Earth or more essentially the life ‘of’ Earth through the eyes of experts who experience it a bit differently to the average Joe. Astronauts, anthropologists, philosophers, tribal leaders, spiritual masters, explorers and environmentalists, all join to narrate for us their experience of a world that modern life has disconnected us from, and re-establish within us the idea that we on Earth are still a very interconnected part of one whole single living interdependent organism.

In this day and age, we perhaps take for granted our ability to watch footage featuring stunning views of the universe and our landscape and this documentary offers us nothing we haven’t seen before, except, even dulled by familiarity there’s a sumptuous feeling to appreciating so many treasures of our world in succession. The imagery of the film is given meaning with voiceover and statistics that we might understand better what it is we are seeing.

Planetary tells us that in the sixty five million years of our Earth’s existence, this moment, our moment, is the most destructive time ever. In the space of the last 300 years we have impacted our planet beyond recognition. An important part of this film is it acknowledges that despite the fact that we’re facing crisis and mass extinction, there is no going back to the place we were at before today’s society evolved.

So far, this seems a story of potential doom that we’ve all heard documented before, that we maybe worry about sometimes but don’t know how to change on a global scale. Except for the fact that Planetary digs deeper, beyond merely documenting our dilemma to lead us into understanding why it has come about and what we as individuals can do now.

The score and narration, which until this point have been a slow steady meditation to, now offers us thoughtful examination of what comes next, sometimes a bit out there with the ideology expressed by individuals but with some very hopeful realistic messages of the way forward for mankind and how each individual can impact society. And surprisingly the message isn’t one of day to day recycling or how to clean up the coastlines or prevent global warming, it’s a message that empowers us to change our story, and thus change the world. And indeed, after watching I felt less helpless and less useless to alter the course of humankind than I have in a long while.

The film structure works like an odyssey, beginning out there in the universe, traversing the lengths and breadths of our planet beneath the atmosphere, coming down to the cities the landscapes, the mountains, forests, lakes and seas, deeper in to the people everywhere and how we all live and interact, then finally leading us back out to where we began, to rejoin the universe as a permanent part of it, looking down with new eyes on our planet, which, if we can change the way we see ourselves within it, may just get to enjoy for several million years to come.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Kidnapping Freddy Heineken.

Originally published on Close-Up Film.

An excellent cast headed up by Anthony Hopkins is the draw to this crime thriller based on the true life abduction of Dutch billionaire Alfred Henry “Freddy” Heineken in 1983. The story is an intriguing one, the crime itself was highly publicised and the ransom is still the highest ever paid for an individual. The criminals were childhood friends who were not hardened criminals yet each step toward setting themselves straight led them deeper into criminal enterprise and two of the perpetrators later evolved to become crime lords of the Netherlands. After receiving the ransom the five close friends were never in a room together again.

William Brookfield’s screenplay (adapted from a book by crime journalist Peter R de Vries) is an accurate but functional telling of the story. We’re succinctly introduced to the characters and why they choose to perpetrate this particular crime before getting straight into the action as they carry out their dubious activity. The downside to this efficient entry is we get very little time to attach to the characters or their relationship to each other making our investment in them succeeding minimal at best.

Everything is from the gang’s point of view with no perspective on how the police pursuit unfolds making the tension rather one-sided. The film seems to want to be based around the friendship of the men, coupled with some high octane action, but with underdeveloped relationships, too much screen time given to irrelevant tangents, and not a big enough budget for true spectacle things end up feeling bland and tensionless.

The cast work well with what they have and manage to be engaging and sometimes funny. Anthony Hopkins portrayal of Heineken is uncannily like the man himself, Sam Worthington, Jim Sturgess and Ryan Kwanten stand out and bring empathy to their roles but Mark van Eeuwen and David Dencik sadly don’t get the opportunity to evolve the psychological nature of their particular characters and the women are mostly ill utilised props.

The Amsterdam setting is used well (filming also took place in Brussels, Antwerp and New Orleans to recreate the run down Amsterdam of the1980s that has since been gentrified) and the period look of the film displays some very nice touches from the art department. Detail is present, particularly in illustrating the mechanics of holding captives to so long without detection, but the film’s budget means function rather than flair is the rule of thumb and cinematography, sound and score are limited to only what’s practical for the plot.

That said, the film works, has decent production standards and certainly tells the tale albeit without great depth. Worth watching if you like the actors or you’ve never heard the Heineken kidnapping story before and I defy you not to want to ride around in one of those cool eighties boxy cop cars.

The film’s primary redeeming quality though, is perhaps that it will make you go away and think about what the most important in your life are and the sacrifices you would make to have freedom to enjoy them.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Mark Rylance: From The Globe To The Gunman

Originally published by Show Film First

Most recently seen on the small screen portraying a serious (and seriously wonderful) Thomas Cromwell in BBC TV’s period drama ‘Wolf Hall’, actor Mark Rylance is perhaps best known for his more classical stage career and decade long tenure as Artistic Director of London’s Globe Theatre.

One might easily pidgeonhole such a man in the more historical realms of performance rather than envision him as a baddie in American action thrillers with the likes of Sean Penn, Idris Elba and Javier Bardem but, with the upcoming release of The Gunman, film audiences will be getting just that and for anyone who doesn’t yet know Mark Rylance’s work it’s a chance to open your eyes to an actor whose skill lies not only in theatrical prowess, but in a deep knowledge of performance that can be turned to any medium.

There’s certainly a curiosity to this man’s acting; a presence, a kabukimono spirit that permeates his work. Raised in Wisconsin from age two to 18 – with annual trips back to England where his parents returned to teach summer classes – Mark is no stranger to American culture and his independent nature perhaps owes much to that upbringing. Little known in the US he has nevertheless worked with a surprising number of Hollywood names and scooped up numerous awards (four Olivier awards, four Tony’s and a BAFTA) that are testament to his compelling work. Moguls of the screen such as Steven Spielberg and Sean Penn have on many an occasion been found sat among his appreciative theatre audiences.

In fact, it was some 30 years ago that Spielberg first came backstage after a performance of ‘Twelfth Night’, to meet and subsequently offer Rylance first a small, then a larger role in Empire of the Sun. The offer at the time clashed with an equally appealing opportunity for a season at the National Theatre and with a little help from the I Ching, Mark chose the footlights of stage over the limelight of screen, at least for a time. As the years progressed a preference for a theatrical community and direct communion with an audience became his primary emotional home with only occasional forays into TV and Film.

Fast forward to recent years where, free from the commitment of running London’s Globe, and having left a lasting legacy there, Rylance’s career choices now have space to diversify. The classic and historical work is still around ( ‘Wolf Hall’ we hope may return for a second series once Hilary Mantel’s books are complete), and the stage work continues with the Globe production of ‘Farinelli and the King’ transferring to The Duke of York’s, London, this September, but with a slew of big screen and big budget movies on his slate and a move into more child friendly projects we can certainly look to expand our view of this actor’s range.

Shot in 2013 this month brings the long awaited release of The Gunman, starring Sean Penn. It was Penn’s involvement, Mark says, that was his main attraction to taking the role, playing a former associate turned nemesis to Penn’s kickass protagonist. The film, led by Taken director, Pierre Morel, is a fast paced action piece which while not necessarily stretching Rylance’s talents certainly gives us a different angle on him. Rylance followed up shooting on The Gunman with a lighter role in Days and Nights, a comedy drama inspired by Chekov’s ‘The Seagull’, written and directed by veteran screen actor Christian Camargo and starring Katie Holmes and Ben Wishaw.

Rylance then joined another thriller, this time playing Cold War spy Rudolf Abel and finally getting to work with Steven Spielberg. Bridge of Spies, with a Coen brother’s screenplay which Spielberg directs and with Tom Hanks in the lead, is currently in post production and due for release later this year. With stellar team attached and Rylance’s portrayal of ‘the spy who never broke’ likely to make it a real cinematic treat.

Having waited thirty years to get Rylance aboard one of his projects Spielberg isn’t letting him escape at just one movie and has also tempted him aboard his adaptation of Roald Dahl’s BFG to play the titular character. Beginning production this month in Canada, with scenes due to film later this year in England and Scotland, Rylance will apparently be donning motion capture gear, a new foray for him but certainly not first his time working with animation children’s drama as he currently voices Flop in the Cbeebies animated series Bing Bunny. The film also brings Spielberg back together with ET screenwriter Melissa Mathison and with more talent being attached imminently will no doubt be a spectacular endeavour indeed.

How well Mark Rylance will transform from villain to spy and on into ‘the only nice and jumbly Giant in Giant Country’ remains to be seen but given the level of empathy and nuance with which he endows all the characters he plays this gentle giant of the acting world is someone who’s greatness is hard to ignore and who’s range as a screen performer we haven’t even begun to size up yet.

The Gunman is in UK cinemas from 20th March, 2015.

Monday, 2 March 2015

No Manifesto: A Film about Manic Street Preachers

No Manifesto: A Film about Manic Street Preachers (15)
Dir: Elizabeth Marcus, USA, 2015, 96 mins.
Review by Leilani Holmes

Twelve years in the making and featuring unparalleled access to band members homes, private recording sessions, archive footage, and fan culture, No Manifesto offers a broad view of a band over time. The story of the Manic Street Preachers and the men behind it is told from the points of view of the media, the band themselves, and perhaps most importantly, the views of the fans. Director Elizabeth Marcus, making her feature documentary debut brings her own fandom and deliberate bias to this exploration of the Manics with good effect.

Following only a loose timeline the documentary dips in and out of a hodge podge of thoughts and images from various stages of the Manics work forming a collage of pieces into an overall impression of who they are today. It's a technique Marcus used to echo the collaged lyric and music sheets, cards and notes band have quite touchingly made for each other since they were kids. These guys are not just one thing to each other, they're something that's been built in a myriad of ways into a band, a group of friends and a social voice. Interviews spattered throughout the film are as frank and varied as the men, their assortment of followers and the albums they've created.

Featuring unpolished archive footage alongside that of more recent tours and intimate studio time, the best part of this film is the music itself. The evolution of the band, the difficult moments where their path went awry at times is all fascinating stuff, as is the Manics ongoing struggle to make peace with the loss of band member and friend Richey Edwards while still allowing his ideals a place among their new work. It's a look at a band reaching their forties, how they have attempted to grow from teen ideals to maintain musical relevance as middle aged men today. Perhaps some of the most engaging moments of the film being the men at rest in their homes, gardening, making breakfast, collecting guns, very different souls converging a collective friendship and conjoined sound.

The fan perspective works well for a positive but not too prejudiced spin on why this band are a household name even to those of us not so familiar with their music. Introduced to the Manics by an internet friend director Elizabeth Marcus, found her way to a fan forum where she swiftly engaged. To make the leap from there to make a film about them Marcus followed what the band themselves did to kickstart their career and began letter writing and badgering management until the band finally agreed to allow unfettered access to a novice director.

The guys, she says, allowed her to make her own work about them without any influence or power of veto over how they were shown and is in Sean Moore's words the most complete documentary that will ever be done on the band and they won't participate in such a work again. "Things like that, I think should only be done once, and that's it. The more you go over the same ground the less significant it seems to be, and that's with everything, even with music."

It's apparent from this film that the Manic Street Preachers will continue to strive to be the unique band they've always been, and this documentary goes a long way to reveal how very close, unique and still relevant they actually are, far at this point from the musical beginnings of their career, and miles away from the end of it.

No Manfiesto is available to watch on DVD, Blu-Ray and VOD, and there are countrywide cinema screenings.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Very Good Girls

Dir. Naomi Foner, USA, 2013, 91 mins
Cast: Dakota Fanning, Elizabeth Olsen, Boyd Holbrook, Ellen Barkin, Richard Dreyfuss, Demi Moore, Clark Gregg
Review by Leilani Holmes published on Close-Up Film

Very Good Girls is a good title, capturing the essence of this film about two privileged teens growing up close in an idyllic corner of Brooklyn: virgins, best friends, living in and out of each other’s homes and experiences as they prepare for life after high school, growing from the security of shared everythings into the privacy necessary to become truly emancipated young women.

Lilly (Fanning) is leaving soon for Yale, attempting to boost her college fund with a job as boat trip tour announcer. Mild sexual harassment from her ardent boss and the infidelity of her father make her last summer far from perfect other than the time she spends with her best friend. Gerri (Olsen) comes from a bohemian paradise where no subject is off topic at the family dinner table, but as she groans at freedoms taken for granted, she is insecure about what the future might hold or how she will define herself when Lilly leaves her behind. Both girls are forming their ideas of what sex and relationships might mean to them, through the adults around them and as they leave behind their 'good girl' identities to embrace a more daring adventure of adulthood and all it brings.

One of the things it brings is David (Holbrook), a surly ice-cream vendor the girls encounter after a particularly boisterous day skinny-dipping on a crowded beach. Emboldened by their outing Gerri attempts to flirt and win over the handsome young enigma, while Lilly, though equally enamoured, returns his rude flippancy in equal measure, telling him exactly what she thinks of him. David, as it turns out, has more than ice-cream to his sweetness. A burgeoning photographer and artist he is intrigued by Lilly enough to snap her retreating form and poster the image in the area she frequents in order to draw her back into his radar. Lilly falls under his spell before she discovers that Gerri has tracked down David in order to win him for herself; in an effort to preserve her friendship while protecting her new experience she keeps her relationship with David a secret.

What's intriguing about the film are the things that are so firmly unsaid. Little is made of the girls’ background or privilege, the innocence of their issues in comparison to David's necessity for self-reliant independence or the devastations happening in the lives of the parents, or the sadness of the sleazy boss who becomes the poster boy for what you can turn into if you refuse to grow up.

Subtly scripted and beautifully acted by an accomplished cast, the undercurrents tow us more surely than the narrative through this story. It's well put together with a wistful innocence to the cinematography and a rich atmosphere to the sound design that anchors us in the locations these girls have grown up in. Though the soundtrack is somewhat youthful and cloying it fits its target teen audience. The film is simple but charming, sometimes annoying but thoughtfully directed by Foner (mother of Maggie and Jake Gyllenhaal) making a late but adept transition from screenwriting to direction with this debut.

Though the film is aimed at a younger audience, the lessons for life contained within it are there for everyone to see and we learn that being very good girls is not so much a state of being for everyone else to appreciate as it is a way of being true to yourself. Something to remember in adulthood as much as it is to explore in youth.

Very Good Girls is released on DVD on 19 January. Buy from Amazon

1915: The Battle For The Alps

Dir: Ernst Gossner, Austria, 98 mins, dubbed into English
Cast: William Moseley, Eugenia Constantini
Review by Leilani Holmes originaly published on Close-Up Film

At an idyllic family owned alpine hotel where Andreas' Austrian sister is marrying her Italian engineer love, prejudice between the two nations permeates what should be a happy and uniting event. Andreas for one shares his teacher’s contempt and suspicion for Italians until he is captivated by sight of Francesca, a beautiful young guest from the Italian side of the gathering, and makes an effort to know her.

However this is May 23rd and when Italy declares war on Austria-Hungary mid celebrations the two halves of this newly minted family must hastily separate to their own sides of the mountainous border to ensure survival. Bride and groom part after a hasty consummation but in the confusion, and despite Andreas' need to report for defence duty up in the mountains, he hides Francesca in a basement storeroom where the pair do some consummating of their own before he leaves her with instructions to signal him with a firework if she gets into trouble and needs him to return. The story has all the makings of an epic war romance set on a front where the great enemy is nature as much as it is foreign neighbours. The screenplay attempts to deal with the many dramatic threads of war; but in the enormity of possibilities writer Clemens Aufderklamm, (who usually writes for TV) fails to bring sufficient focus to a 98 minute film. With similarly jumbled direction by Ernst Gossner, the plot ends up being confused and diluted by a surfeit of peripheral happenings.

That said, the film has it's interesting villains and heroes and explores a high altitude front of WWI that has been little explored in other WWI movies. There's no singular element that isn't interesting, but without sufficient time to expand all of them the film would have benefitted greatly for cutting some in favour of telling a more concise, fully realised story.

The cast, led by a compelling William Mosely (of Chronicles of Narnia fame) do ample work humanising some pretty naive characters but a lot of the colloquial charm is lost through some mediocre dubbing into English. This is inevitable with all dubbing but is here not aided by the addition of multiple accents which prove quite confusing in the beginning of the film, when ethnic origin is important. Still the characters all have engaging qualities, not least the two villains, comprised of a narcissistic blackmailing teacher sent home from the front for being mostly annoying and a lunatic Italian commander who decides he's going to bring down an entire mountain with a tunnel and a shed load of explosives right on top of the hotel where the wife of the engineer he's employed to this task lives with their newborn. Meanwhile leads Andreas and a re-discovered Francesca are played with just enough empathy to hold a somewhat confused plot together and to keep us rooting for them.

The cinematography succeeds well in setting these mere mortals against the implacable Dolomite mountains. The landscapes and action are coupled with great sets and costume and helped along with some decent VFX to embellish the godlike elements the soldiers are pitted against. The soundscape too works well, most notably when its absence, like a stopped pulse, creates high drama. The score, however is mostly overbearing and might have been better left out. Overall, the production standards are good and this despite considerable problems filming in unforgiving terrain where the production ran into severe weather difficulties. Crew needed rescue at one point and a location destroyed by flooding meant that a key battlefield scene had to be dropped altogether. It's certainly testament to a pretty determined set of individuals that this film was finalised and put forward among Austria's Oscar considerations this year. This is testament perhaps to the importance of this aspect of European history and the imposing Austrian/Italian alpine landscape, for which it is worth taking a look at this film. That and the small, well realised moments that illustrate how prejudices are nurtured or dissipated by the people we draw near to us.

1915: The Battle for the Alps goes on home entertainment release from 19 January. Buy from Amazon.

Monday, 23 February 2015


Hinterland (15)
Dir: Harry Macqueen, UK, 2015, 78 mins
Cast: Harry Macqueen, Lori Campbell
Review by Leilani Holmes

Soft, muted, rather lovely cinematography leads us into a story that is not a story in Hinterland, the much praised debut feature of actor/writer/director Harry Macqueen who also produced and financed this odyssey. It's an experiential character study set around two childhood pals of the opposite sex who meet after some time apart to return to old locations and memories and renew trusted bonds of friendship.

The screenplay is beautifully written with a subtle build of opposing forces growing tension through the casual narrative. Harvey, disillusioned by work and relationships looking for direction in life, has heard Lola is back after a time abroad and is taking his old friend on a weekend trip to their seaside roots so she can remember his importance to her and find him again. Lola, disillusioned by relationships and home because of a parental break up is looking to rejoice in childhood Harvey and less inclined to see the man who's been carrying an idealistic torch for her in her absence. The way this unfolds through the dialogue (and lack of dialogue) is poignant and touching. Ben Hecking's understated photography exudes indie heart and Graham Hadfield's easy original score alongside it create a strong frame of place, time and emotion for the characters to find each other inside

While the narrative is alluring, the delivery at times is a little awkward with the innocence of the characters childhood friendship sometimes as awkwardly portrayed as the new ground they find themselves skirting against, and some of the dialogue feels 'speechy' and a little deadpan. Campbell and Macqueen make less effort to connect with each other than they do with the landscape and the fact that we like them anyway is testament to the feeling expressed by the words than by their delivery.

Overall Hinterland is easy to watch, with  moments if not mountains of authenticity and as a first feature by someone who's taken on the mammoth task of writing, directing, producing and acting while not letting too much of anything slip, it's a strong statement for a first project that feels almost like it was made for an audience of one and the rest of us are voyeurs on something deeper than we realise, but in an expressed longing that we can all understand and relate to.

Interview with Hinterland Director, Harry Macqueen

Nominated Best UK Feature at the 2014 Raindance Film Festival, actor Harry Macqueen's first feature film, Hinterland debuted last year to wide praise from festivals and press for it's subtle sensibility. Set over one February weekend. Hinterland is the story of two old friends who escape the city for a trip full of nostalgia, love and new beginnings.

Made for a budget of £10,000 inherited in a will, and picked up for distribution by Soda Pictures Hinterland has become an independent film success story, not only for the picture but for director Harry Macqueen who also wrote, acted, produced and financed the project as a labour of love. Close-Up Film asked Harry how his project came to be, how it was made and what happens next when your first film is a success.

Said Harry, "The road trip, as a genre, had appealed to me for some time as an aesthetic that has, at its core, intrinsically cinematic qualities (in terms of framing and movement) with the potential ability to shoot reasonably inexpensively. Being a lover of works such as Chris Petit’s Radio On and Kelly Reichardt’s Old Joy as well as aspects from films of directors such as Wim Wenders, Ingmar Bergman and Richard Linklater (with whom I had worked as an actor in 2009) I wanted to make a very British road trip film with an underlying but tangible sense of a contemporary socio-political context to it.... At every stage of the process we worked hard to make Hinterland have a timeless quality to it and the look and feel of a classic European film."

What, as an actor, prompted you to begin writing. Was it for something to act in, or was there a deeper motivation to write?
I’ve always written as an outlet for being creative alongside being an actor. I think it’s important to keep the momentum going as acting is, inherently, quite an unstable profession. I definitely didn’t write Hinterland with myself in mind no - it was just something that ended up happening. The motivation was to make an original and intimate little contemporary love story and the rest just fell into place after that.

You improvised a lot during scripting, did you improvise on set or was it all tightly scripted before then?
I’m a big fan of improvisation if it’s used in the correct way. It’s an infinitely exciting process as an actor and can generate a very natural performative style which was something I knew was essential to the feel of the film. I wrote a script of about 45 pages, which we work-shopped, played around with and learned over the course of about two months. On the day we used the words on the page as a template – sometimes verbatim but often what you hear floats somewhere between the written word and what felt natural in the moment.

As an actor, you worked with or knew some good directors including Linklater, how much did they influence the way you told your story?
A lot of influence seeps in naturally if you are on set enough I think. I’ve been lucky to have worked with some great people which helps. Linklater is probably a huge inspiration to anyone making independent films. His philosophy is very freeing and working with him was a lot of fun, which is really important. That said I was inspired by lots of people with whom I hadn’t met or worked with. Peter Strickland made his first movie on his own and with virtually no money (inherited in a will) for example – so there are obvious parallels there.

You had no technical filmmaking experience, how did you go about finding the right crew and at what point during the filmmaking process did each head of department get involved?
I was very lucky to make the film with such talented people. We had a cast and crew of just six and everyone had their say. All the best projects I have ever worked on have been hugely collaborative and I was keen to make this as much ‘our’ film as it was mine. What was wonderful was that we all worked so hard because we believed in the project, the story we were telling and the characters at its heart. You can’t ask for more then that really.

Did you gain more insights as an actor by getting behind the lens?
Difficult to say actually. I think I would have done had I not been in the film too as I would have been afforded a much more objective stand-point. The post-production was interesting though because you learn a lot about the little nuances you didn’t necessarily notice at the time. It also reminds you how important performance continuity is!

How easy was it to direct while you were also in front of camera, did you come up with a plan for that beforehand or learn as you went along?
It’s essentially pretty impossible I think. Being the lead in a film as well as directing is actually a pretty selfish thing to do! It means that everyone else onset has to go way over what they are paid to and take on a lot more responsibility. I relied a lot on the people around me but it was also an exercise in being in the moment when being ‘Harvey’ and then forgetting it when I had my directing hat on. Spinning plates basically!

Was there one image in your head that summed up your vision for how the film would look?
I suppose the image of England in winter - the muted pastel tones of the countryside and the haze of sea-spray when you are by the coast.

What one piece of advice would you give to someone setting out to make their first feature? Make sure you create a film that you are proud of is, I think, the single most important thing.

The locations are almost a character in this film, how important was that visual narrative and how much of it was planned versus opportunistic?
Hugely important. We really strove to make a film that was hopefully as visually arresting as it is emotionally. I knew where I wanted to shoot and that if we were intelligent about how we went about it we could capture some incredible images. Luckily Ben Hecking the DP is a bit of a genius so the film manages to look like one made for much much more money. But we worked very freely on set, some shots/scenes were heavily planned and others were caught on the fly. You have to be flexible when you’re working under those conditions though I think.

How was the post production process?
Really interesting. It was nice to be able to have some time away from the footage and re-focus on it with fresh eyes.

The completed film was sought after by festivals. Was that the hope or did it come as a surprise?
Having never made a film before from this side of the camera I didn’t know what to expect really. I felt that we had made a really beautiful, natural film and I just hoped others would think so too.

What was it like seeing the film played for an audience the first time?
Really nerve-wracking! The whole thing was a blur in the end (the experience I mean!) but a fun one. It’s an exposing moment but that’s what you sign up for.

You're back to acting next but with Hinterland's success are you now itching to tell more of your own stories?
Yes I think so – I’d certainly like to. I feel like I’ve got a lot I want to say so with a bit of luck I’ll be in a position to be able to do that again at some point.

What can we hope for from you after this? Have opportunities been opening for you to do more filmmaking or finance more of your own projects?
I’ve had some great meetings recently and I’ve got more to come when things calm down a bit so we’ll have to wait and see. It’s been pretty overwhelming tobe honest. I think I need a bit of time to think about what the next step will be but if I can collaborate with even a fraction of the people who have been in touch at some point in the future I’ll be over the moon.

Hinterland will be released in the UK by Curzon Cinemas and Curzon Home Cinemas on 27th February.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

National Gallery

Dir: Frederick Wiseman, 181 minutes, English
UK Release Jan 2015
Review by Leilani Holmes

The National Gallery fully frames one side of London's living room (Trafalgar Square) and it's physical position there as much as it's position as one of the foremost art collections in the world is how we enter this extraordinary film where American director Frederick Wiseman takes us for a long walk around every aspect of a public institution. His film works, often considered observational cinema or cinéma vérité (a term he himself dismisses as meaningless) are in fact deeply examinatory and without title cards, introductions to the people on screen, their position within the organisation or any direct interviews or commentary to influence us we are subtly allowed to see and hear the gallery's day to day happenings so that we may ask and answer for ourselves the questions of it's function and relevance to our society. Those questions of how it's funded, how and who it reaches and what hundreds of years old paintings do for us today are all put in front of us to make what we will of the responses we have, not of course unlike the way we might stand in front of the great masterpieces within the walls and allow them to tell us as much or as little as we wish to understand, to view them as a whole or to focus on a piece and see it right down to the cracks.

It's worth examining more deeply the reasons for this particular style of documentary filmmaking. Frederick Wiseman's works join other post-war documentary filmmakers who's response to the propaganda films of that war time era formed a trend of allowing audiences to fashion their own thoughts about a subject without undue influence or 'pointing' to 'facts'. Wiseman's film contributions to these more open styles of documentary are an intrinsic sharing of his own experience as he leads us through specific parts of day to day life he found relevant and this path he treads us through helps us ask and answer what a place is, what it does, who it does it for and how well it achieves it's aims. Attempting to give his films a dramatic structure within each scene they are not entirely random 'fly on the wall' or wholeley unbiased observation they're more specific, and perhaps because of that personal exploration that the filmmaker shares with us, Frederick Wiseman's films have come to have tremendous value within this genre. The camera style for National Gallery is still and it's gaze reveals the paintings not as objects but as characters in the film with subtle revelations of bits and pieces of their nature exposed throughout an ongoing narrative. Sound too has a personality that reveals something about the inner workings of the place and the immense undertakings of craft and technology that are so integral to the conservation and exhibition of art today and the myriad of ways in which we can explore it. That a five hundred year old painting can still have secrets we can learn is a delight to discover. We look at these masterpieces and learn the stories within their canvases, and the stories about their artists and the times they lived in, the stories of history and the myths of the world and the methods and processes they were created through, the architecture of the buildings they were made to be displayed in and the stories of how styles and great artists connect and develop over centuries informing each other and how they continue to inform the art and artists, the very societies of today. It's interesting that a few moments of this film allowed me to learn more about Turner than another, perhaps more popular film this year dramatizing the painter's life ever could have.

At three hours the film is an epic length and while every part of it is valid and holds an interesting, new and vital perspective for understanding the establishment, portions can also be quite tedious to sit through. Part of the problem is that we are dealing with academics in their own universe who gesticulate through ideas and descriptions of issues extensively. When they speak in this fashion about the paintings this is riveting stuff but during segments where they gesticulate through the practicalities and politics of board meetings and financial discussions, the failure to be concise swiftly becomes tedious. This of course is the downside to allowing an audience to find their own perspective, you have to allow them enough time and material to do so and many people just won't want to invest in the unstimulating sections. In a way the film is, sadly, likely to be seen only by people who already have an interest in 'high brow' art and the very people who perhaps would benefit from seeing that these paintings and the conservation, education and appreciation undertaken through the mammoth work of the gallery is stuff that is far from 'high brow' but a real effort to keep the narrative of these treasures as relevant today as they were when they were painted.

Three hours invested though quickly becomes a lifetime of knowledge absorbed so perhaps if I tell you that this film contains full frontal nudity from both sexes and that not all of comes from the canvases and will give you interesting conversations to have with your friends forever about the things you'll learn, perhaps that will entice any of you on the fence to take a look at a film that is more than you will ever expect it to be about a National Gallery that does more with it's art than you probably ever imagined. Go and give this film a try, I defy you not to want to step up those inviting steps alongside London's living room to explore those engaging masterpieces further once you have. - Film News