LFF 2012

LOVE, MARILYN – Interview with LIZ GARBUS

blonde-diva-love-marilyn-monroe-simle-Favim.com-302754 IF…If somebody asked you what Marilyn Monroe was really like, how would you answer them? And if you’re lost for words and can’t imagine what her inner world looked like, this film will help with shedding some light on that.

One of my favourite documentaries at London Film Festival 2012, LOVE, MARILYN is showing in UK cinemas until Wednesday 27 November, only one week left so don’t miss out…

Based on a bunch of recently-discovered personal documents that Marilyn left behind and drawing on a wealth of well-chosen film clips, archive footage and recent interviews with people who knew or worked with Marilyn, this is a truly mesmerising film in which the voices of a stellar cast – Glenn Close, Lindsay Lohan, Uma Thurman, Marisa Tomei, Viola Davis – mix to recreate one of cinema’s most fascinating movie stars.

Below is an interview with  LIZ GARBUS, the Oscar-nominated documentarist who put the many pieces of the mysterious puzzle together.

Dana: Where did this project start for you and what did you think of those documents when you saw and read them for the fist time?

Liz: The project started for me with the documents that were found. I made a film called Bobby Fisher Against the World and the producer of that film was an advisor to the Monroe estate which was entrusted to the Strasberg family. And much of it had been catalogued and archived and filmed but there were two boxes that were discovered in a storage closet, letters, notes, poems, and finally they decided that they should bring them out to the world. And my producer was helping them figure out what to do with them. And so when I heard about them I said: “Oh, I’d be interested in making a film”. And I wasn’t someone who was so interested in Marilyn Monroe but I wanted, you know, you hear about these documents and they started telling me about them and the kinds of things she was saying, and I found them irresistible, I found them really interesting.

Dana: How do you explain the phenomenon that was Marilyn Monroe?

The filmmaker Liz Garbus

Liz: I explain it in terms of female sexuality and femininity at a time in the US of the great repression, it was the gray flannel suit of the1950s, when sexuality was bursting, it was trying to come out, and what happened is that it came out in the form of Marilyn Monroe. If you look at Marilyn next to Jane Russell, her co-star in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, at Grauman’s Chinese theatre when they are doing their entrance, Jane is wearing this big 1950 poodle skirt, with a big collar and Marilyn, every contour in her body is showing, which I think is a metaphor for the generational shift that was happening at the time, but I think it’s naive or overly simplistic to say Marilyn was an early feminist. But what she did do was discuss sexuality…you know there were these nude photos that emerge of her, we are all familiar with nude photos today, then it was less frequent, but instead of doing what the studios wanted her to do and deny them and say it was somebody else, she decided to go out there and give an entry and say “Yeah it was me, and I did it because I needed the money”. She dealt with sexuality in a very frank way, that I think had an indelible mark on the culture and I think dying young and beautiful and that mythology around that tragic life story, the little girl who achieves everything and then at the height of it all dies, I think that is our modern myth, that’s our Cinderella story that has endured in our culture. And because she created it at this very particular moment, it was incredibly powerful.

love_marilyn_filmposterDana: As you say, she’s got a very iconic image and we’ve all got a perception of her, how does this film go about changing that perception?     

Liz: The perception I had of Marilyn before making this film was not incredibly deep, she was an image, a subject of still photography, I didn’t even think of her as an actress in her movie roles, I think I thought of the types of roles she played, the dumb blonde who was maybe a little wise but I didn’t think of her necessarily as a human being or as an actress, I thought of her as more of a model and an image, and with this film, in using the documentary letters that she left behind, provides the flesh of that person, and the viewers will judge for themselves whether it’s something new and different. For me it was, for me looking at her as a working woman who was having trouble balancing the demands of family and work, that’s a struggle that is relatable to modern women. That was the way I related to her that I didn’t expect to. So I think that there are things that are in the documents that I found that were different than what I expected, maybe it will be for viewers as well.

Dana: There seems to be a great focus on Marilyn this year. How would you say your film compares to or complements My Week with Marilyn in terms of the portrayal that they put forward?

Liz: Well, it’s very different, that film is based on a week, one moment in her life whereas this film deals with a much longer span of time, not her whole life but really the period that the documents come from, which is her adult life, pretty much, and they talk a lot about acting and her fears, they talk a lot about love and her struggles to balance that, include men in the life she had that was so complex and busy and public, […] and of course they are overlapping because they are about the same person. But I think one thing that happens when an actress plays Marilyn, even as superbly as Michelle Williams has done, you are always comparing her to the real person, so you’re watching Michelle in which ways she is and isn’t Marilyn. And whilst she is superb, she is not Marilyn, nobody is 100% somebody else. So the approach I took in the film is, we had a cast of actresses but none of them were playing Marilyn, what they were doing was using their own experiences as actresses working today to bring to life Marilyn’s experiences. They had insights into them that even I would rather document twenty times, they would understand that this was a note about an acting technique that to me it seemed like maybe it could have been from a dream or nightmare but it was about technique, they could understand these notes in a way that was unique and profound, so I think in the reading of them you do feel something more of Marilyn’s experience. And because they are not playing her, you’re not looking at them and saying “Oh, how was Uma Thurman like Marilyn, how was she not like Marilyn”, you’re just listening to the words and maybe feeling them more because you’re not constantly comparing.

Dana: Why do you think contemporary actresses relate so much to her, for instance Lindsey Lohan among others, is it to do with putting on the sexual character aspects of it?

Liz:  Yes I think it has to do with who Marilyn was sexually in our culture and that she was vulnerable yet powerful at the same time, things that are an incredibly powerful cocktail, that combination, and I think people like Lindsey have embraced that. And Marilyn died young and beautiful and she is the subject of much gossip and social speculation that never goes away, and the fact that people think there’s no definitive answer there which I don’t think is as as mysterious as everybody does, but it keeps the myth going. And she really is about the myth of celebrity, she really is about that eternal feminine vision and people wanted to buy into that.

Dana: What do you think of the way the industry relegated her to the category of “sex pot”/“dumb blonde” during her acting career?

Liz: I think that’s very unfair, you don’t create a figure that is so enduring if you’re stupid, she was very carefully crafted, there’s a biographer who talked about how she read the Times magazine, like she knew that in Italy there was this kind of busty, sexual female figure that was being embraced. So she adapted things from other cultures and she very deliberately created a new type of American figure. And that was quite brilliant. Maybe that’s giving her more credit, maybe some of it was quite instinctive but you don’t create that by accident, something very new and very different…And in the film we include a lot of her press conferences, and you see the way she talks to the press, she’s so clever, she handles the press so well, they are all trying to ask her these little zingers  and she deflects them very gracefully like a great politician. Her public persona was incredibly well calibrated and she was a master at it.

Marilyn with bookDana: I read somewhere that she really liked to be photographed around books, is it true?

Liz: Well, I think that’s a bit of a cliché around actresses, they all like to be photographed with books but she was quite a reader, I mean everybody says she was, and I think that was part of the image she wanted to project.

Dana: What were some of the challenges involved in the making of this film?

Liz: Stylistically it’s very different than anything I’ve made before, and I haven’t seen a film like it, which is fine, we’re all filmmakers and are creating films, I was doing something that was risky, I had a whole bunch of different actors reading fragments, thoughts and ideas, and you had to edit them to become cohesive, yet still relish their fragmentary nature. I mean they are not meant to be a narrative, they are meant to illuminate moments in time and brief thoughts, some of them pleading, so the goal was to respect that as well as providing the viewer with a cohesive narrative, that’s a balancing act.

Dana: As far as editing is concerned, you’re pulling so many different cuts for this film, the letters, the performances, home videos, how difficult an editing process was it?

Liz: It was difficult, there’s always a time in editing, especially with a documentary because you don’t have a script, where you’re like deep in the woods and it’s very dark and you don’t know how you’ll find your way out, and because I’ve made some films, I’ve now come to embrace that period of like “okay, this is when it’s all happening, I know this feels like I’ll never find a way out but this is what has to happen” so I was there and I knew I would get through it and you have to constantly tell yourself that, sometimes all of a sudden there is a break and you find that things that won’t work, they work.

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Romanian filmmaker RADU JUDE about EVERYBODY IN OUR FAMILY, Descartes’ Error and how filmmaking is like “going blindly in the dark”

Ro Film FestFor those who don’t know yet, the ROMANIAN FILM FESTIVAL IN LONDON is fast approaching. Already in its 10th year, this is an unmissable event for everyone familiar with the unparalleled series of critically successful, award-winning, iconoclastic and socially-conscious films coming out of Romania for the last 10 years or so.

Intriguingly called Turning the Page, the festival is sure to delight audiences with the UK premiere of many daring films starring some of the most popular and beloved figures of Romanian cinema:  actor Victor Rebengiuc (Japanese Dog), actor and director Horatiu Malaele (Happy Funerals), actor Bogdan Dumitrache (When Evening Falls On Bucharest Or Metabolism), actors Dragos BucurAlexandru Papadopol and Dorian Boguta (Love Building).

Exciting new films by directors Stere Gulea (I Am An Old Communist Hag) and Adrian Sitaru (Domestic) will also screen in the UK for the first time. Be quick and book your ticket here.

And in anticipation of this year’s Romanian Film Festival in London, I dug up an older interview with Romanian filmmaker RADU JUDE taken at London Film Festival 2012.

In the manner of most Romanian films that rarely follow a formula and are bound to surprise you in one way or another, sometimes going off at a tangent to explore unexpected themes and previously uncharted territory, so did this interview veer a bit off course but I find it even more insightful  for it.

As I hadn’t yet seen Radu’s new film Everybody in Our Family when taking this interview, I had to keep the discussion to a generic line and improvise my way through it. And with my delightful interlocutor finding some of my questions “a real pain”, this is the amusing digression that ensued:

Dana: What attracted you to this particular story, what provided the inspiration for this film?

Radu-Jude

Romanian filmmaker RADU JUDE

Radu: It’s a mixture of many things and I don’t think I can explain in one single way, it’s a mixture of things coming from my life, from the lives of people around me, from stories I encountered while researching the film, from the imagination of me and Corina Sabau, the co-writer, so it’s a mix of all these things, and on the other hand I think this question is really really a pain, because nobody asks you “why did you choose me to make an interview?”…

Dana: But I know, I know why I chose to do this interview (laughter)…

Radu: (laughing) No but…why…who cares?

Dana: As a filmmaker I imagine you have a wealth of ideas to choose from…

Radu:Well yes, and at some point one idea is more appealing than the other, for many reasons, maybe you think that you can maybe become rich after making a film like that, at the end of the day I don’t think it matters, what triggers the film … But I hope I wasn’t offensive, I was just making an observation, because everybody wants to know what is the origin of a project. But who cares?

Dana: I’m very interested in the creative process and the choices involved in it…

Radu: Because you’re writing a screenplay…

EverybodyinOurFamilyPoster2

Everybody in Our Family

Dana: Maybe, yes. And the process itself: how do we choose an idea, how do we choose anything in life, a career…

Radu: …a wife, a husband…

Dana: Exactly…

Radu: Well, can you explain how you choose a husband?

Dana: Are you implying it’s something a bit random?!?

Radu: Yeah, I think it’s always random…But just to finish, regarding this film, there is a book I read by Antonio Damasio, he’s a neurologist, the book is called  Decartes’ Error and in it he demonstrates that any decision that a person makes is a mixture of what we call the rational mind and of the emotional side.

Dana: I thought you were going to say it’s entirely emotional, it’s not rational at all, which would be a compelling argument to put forward, that we’re actually using reason to justify decisions that have an entirely emotional basis.

Radu: No, of course, the two are connected, you cannot be emotional at all without being rational, and the other way around, it’s about stability.

Dana: Going back to the film, tell me about the filmmaking process, how long did it take?

Radu: It was 22 days of filming, then 2 months of editing, then one month of sound mixing and another month of… so 6 months in total.

Dana: What were the challenges you encountered?

Radu: Well, the most important and terrible challenge is my lack of talent and my lack of abilities…

Dana: (!!) Which doesn’t show…

Radu: Well it shows, it shows for everybody…

Dana: What do you mean? I only heard good things about your film…

Radu: Yes but the film would have been better if I were more talented and more intelligent and full of qualities…

happiest-girl-posterDana: And I really liked your previous film as well, The Happiest Girl in the World.

Radu: Maybe that one was better…

Dana: What is making a film in Romania like?Was it difficult to get funding for this film?

Radu: Well, I think it is difficult to get funding everywhere for an arthouse film, and I think this shows really that cinema is…maybe not dying but is somehow in an artificial life, because you cannot keep it alive with only public funding and European Union money or extremely low budget private funding. But the real challenges of the system of public funding in Romania, the system is not working as well as it could and with this new government things are going to be worse and worse and worse, I’m sure about that…

Dana: So are you a bit pessimistic about the future of Romanian cinema?

Radu: Well, I’m not sure I am pessimistic, I think some people will get a chance to make good films but regarding the institutional side of things I am pessimistic, yes.

Dana: Do you have a next project lined up?

Radu: I have a next project, I have five more projects…

Dana: But no money, you’re waiting for the funding to come in…

Radu: Yes I applied to the National Film Centre although the procedure is for them to organise a contest for finance in the new year. But they haven’t organised anything yet, so it’s like…you cannot be sure of anything.

Dana: As far as directing is concerned, David Mamet says it’s all about where to put the camera and what to tell the actors. What do you think of that, and do you have a specific method?

Radu: I think Mamet meant that it is important to know when to cut a picture and I totally agree with him but it’s like telling you that writing is just taking a pen and putting words on paper. And regarding a method, come on, do I look like someone with a method, I don’t have a method, I would die to have a method, I would like to have a method, or an idea about it but filming for me is like going blindly in the dark…

Dana: That’s reassuring in a way because I think a lot of filmmakers experience that feeling…

Radu: I don’t think so, I think other filmmakers are much smarter… I have a method anyway when facing a difficult decision, both in life and in filmmaking: sometimes when you remember that you’re going to die kind of soon, it becomes easier.

Dana: So the secret is… don’t stress too much, is that the method?

Radu: Yes, don’t stress too much.

Dana: Or maybe it’s not even a good idea to have a method…

Radu: But I want a method, then I would make only successful films every year, and become rich and famous and successful myself.

cropped-movie-ticket.jpgDespite Radu’s modesty (and please don’t think it was false modesty, I could tell that he really meant what he said), when I finally saw the film I was totally captivated by it, as was the audience, which resulted in a very animated Q & A with the first question being: “What was the inspiration for this film?”!Oh no, poor Radu!

I think the reason for the fascination that Romanian films hold upon their viewers (probably more abroad than at home) is their authenticity. A Romanian film is “genuine”, it wears its heart on its sleeve and it will tell you the truth, the filmmaker will speak his/her mind through it. And this is very daring as it takes guts to tell things as they are, with the risk of coming across a bit blunt or even vulgar. I could speculate and say that this is probably due to the experience of communism that most filmmakers of the Romanian New Wave endured in their youth: after being subjected to silence and compliance with a hypocritical regime for so long, the freedom gained after the Revolution enabled them to speak out, and speak out they did. For me it is always very refreshing to see a Romanian film, the experience gives me goosebumps, and this is because the filmmakers really have something to say, they are not making a film out of ego or to show off their talents, although the thought of becoming rich or famous is alluring to everyone, as Radu ironically confesses! Filmmaking is very much a necessity in Romania, it is like therapy. Exasperated with the reality around you, you either make a film, speak out and exorcise those demons or…what is the alternative: not make a film, shut up, repress it all and… become a neurotic? Since most psychologists seem to concur that the line between artist and neurotic is a fine one…

The little girl Sofia, played marvelously by Sofia Nicolaescu

Everybody in Our Family deals with a broken marriage and a father’s efforts to bond with his five-year-old daughter in the new situation. If only he were allowed to! Because hazard (the little girl had just developed a fever) and the extreme cautiousness, when it comes to matters of health, of his ex-mother-in-law, ex-wife and the ex-wife’s current boyfriend get in the way, preventing him from doing what he set out to do. And what appears at first to be genuine and justified care on the part of his “opponents” develops and escalates into a fight of huge and hilarious proportions, in which the little girl becomes a mere tool in the parents’, and the extended family’s, game of power and manipulation.

In a very slow and minutely-observed build-up of tensions, the film traces the protagonist’s descent into temporary madness as he confronts everyone with painful truths about their existence. At the climax of the film, the tragedy turns into comedy, a sign that it reached its paroxysm and has nowhere else to go. Brilliantly scripted, filmed and acted, this movie blurts out some painful truths. But you won’t need painkillers to get through it, the film’s humour provides the buffer needed to balance out the bitterness and make it all a bit more palatable. A masterful black comedy, and it’s not just me saying it (read the Indiewire review here).

But if you, alas, missed this film when it screened at London Film Festival 2012, make sure you don’t miss other Romanian films screening at the Romanian Film Festival in London. From 28 NOVEMBER to 2 DECEMBER ONLY, hurry!

DIRECTOR CRAIG ZOBEL ON THE CONTROVERSY CAUSED BY HIS SECOND FILM, COMPLIANCE

Compliance poster

If you’re in the mood for a truly challenging emotional and intelectual experience this weekend, go and see Compliance, a film that plays in several cinemas across London including Curzon Soho, Barbican Centre, Hackney Picturehouse and Ritzy Cinema. But be warned, this film is not for the easily-offended and overly-judgemental so if you have a past history of walking out of controversial screenings, you are strongly advised to think twice about booking your ticket (there is always a Hollywood blockbuster at a different venue to delight and entertain you!).

The controversy surrounding the film is due to its honest and unapologetic depiction of the depth of human naiveté (to use an euphemism) in people susceptible of unquestioningly obeying figures of authority under duress, very much similar to what happened during the Holocaust. The writer-director Craig Zobel did not however “invent” the scenario for the film, this is a thoroughly researched movie based on true events that took place 70 times in USA during a period of 10 years.

At its LFF screening in London on 19t October 2012, about fifty people walked out of the screening, encouraging other people to do the same. This reaction was definitely not  due to boredom. Compliance is a taut, gripping and disturbing film that is indeed difficult to watch but out of respect for the filmmaker, take a moment to reflect on what he, and the film, has to say before you condemn it.

Below is an INTERVIEW WITH THE FILMMAKER CRAIG ZOBEL taken at the LONDON FILM FESTIVAL on 18 October 2012.

Dana: “What attracted you to this project, the idea of making a movie based on Stanley Milgram’s “Shock” experiment?”

Craig: “I am very interested in social psychology and when I read about the Stanley Milgram experiment I was very fascinated by its findings. This is part of a set of behavioural psychology experiments. In this case the whole experiment is about this doctor at Yale University studying people’s natural inclination to obey authority, even if they disagree personally with what the authority is saying. It’s really interesting how he did these tests, people thought they were electrocuting someone in the other room and they would say “I don’t really want to do this, this guy is screaming”. The “victim” was obviously an actor, it wasn’t really happening but they thought he was really electrocuted. And they would say “I really don’t feel comfortable doing this thing anymore” and then an authority figure would say “But you have to continue, you have serious responsibility to do so” and 65% of people would go along with this to the point that they would think they were giving lethal amounts of electric shock. So two thirds of people would do this. This experiment took place in the 60s but they redid it in 2007 and the results were similar.”

Dana:”The film is also inspired from a set of true events that took place in the USA quite recently, will you tell us more about that and how that influenced the premise of the film?”

Craig: “The true events are about a series of prank phone calls, these are not a real phone calls and the guy behind them ended up being caught but he was not convicted in the end due to lack of circumstantial evidence. So these crazy prank phone calls would lead to horrible things, consistently, and this because the people who received the call thought he was a real police officer. So the premise of my film concerns a woman who works at a fast-food restaurant as a manager, 45 years old, and she gets a phone call from the police on a Friday night when it is really busy in the restaurant and the guy on the phone says: “One of your employees stole money from a customer and I need you to question them”. And she says “Who?” and they say “It’s a young girl, she works at the front…”, “Becky?”, “Yes, Becky”. So she starts questioning Becky and Becky says “I didn’t do it”. And the policeman says “Why don’t you search her pockets? We could come there but if you could help with our investigation, it would be a really great help.” And then he asks “Why don’t you strip-search her?”. And this turns into an unbelievably crazy story as this woman strip-searched the young girl and kept her in the back room for four hours. And  similar events happened seventy times in America over a ten-year period. The most famous occurrence was in 2006 and this is when I heard about the story. And there is a case that is very similar to the one in the film although I took inspiration from other cases also”.

Dana: “The film created quite a stir at Sundance where it premiered earlier this year. Did you expect such a strong reaction?”

Craig: “Well, the interesting thing is that most people who hear about these case studies that are basically about the same phenomenon as the Milgram’s experiement,  or some of the people who watched the film , they immediately say: “But I would never do that…Not me…”. They would immediately cast themselves in the person who would not do such a thing but the fact is that two thirds of us would do it”. So for me the question was “Can I write something like this?” and yes, I can see how that would happen and still make it a film and make it interesting to watch, and follow all the other rules”.

Dana: “What were the challenges you encountered when making this film?”

Craig Zobel photo

Craig Zobel

Craig: “This is a film that I made because of the challenges involved, instead of in spite of its challenges. The film is about a pretty unbelievable subject, and you may see the film and say “yeah, you didn’t succeed at that”. And indeed it requires a pretty good performance to make that credible, because this is a kind of story that you hear and you go “How could you believe this?” So that was a challenge, making this credible”.

Dana: “Was the casting difficult?”

Craig: “Yes, partly because of the material. These roles were not everybody’s cup of tea, not everybody wants to play that. So it was a challenge to find the right people. And then the main thing was how to get the actors to have the same curiosity I had about these stories, because I think that really affected the performance. And they were pretty challenging and difficult roles because the film is dark. But for me it is about having a crew and cast that invests in the project”.

Dana: “How many shorts did you make before venturing into features?If any?”

Craig: “Not very many, I made shorts in film school and then I worked on a bunch of other people’s films. And my first film came out in 2007 and then I made this film”.

Dana: “How did you find the transition from shorts to features?”

Craig: “Well to be honest it was a bit difficult. For making this film, I got sucked into a “Hollywood development deal”- sort of situation, where you sit around talking about making a movie for a really long time and you never actually shoot one and it was very frustrating for me and made me feel like “Why am I letting people tell me how to do this?”

Dana: “Which is very similar to the actual issue of the film…”

Craig (laughing):”Exactly . So that was another challenge that I had to overcome in order to make the film. And I thought that indeed the film might be too dark and creepy and weird, or just boring and flat and not work, and it could hurt my career in some way, so I had to overcome those fears as well”.

ABOUT THE FILMMAKER

Craig was awarded the Breakthrough Director Award at the 2008 Gotham Awards for Great World of Sound, his debut feature as a writer-director which premiered at Sundance in 2007. The film was selected  as one of the Top Ten Independent films of the year by The National Board of Review, and was nominated for Best First Film and Best Supporting Actor in the 2008 Independent Spirit Awards. His new film Compliance played at Sundance and SXSW in early 2012. Craig was also co-producer of David Gordon Green’s seminal indie hit of 2000, George Washington.

THOMAS VINTERBERG ABOUT THE HUNT AT 2012 LFF

Thomas made his first short film at the age of 16 and was admitted three years later to the National Film School of Denmark, thus becoming their youngest student ever. He graduated in 1993 with his short Last Round garnering a nomination for a Student Academy Award. He was catapulted to international fame in 1998 when his second feature, Festen, received the Jury Prize in Cannes, as the first film completed under the terms of the Dogme 95 Manifesto, of which he had been co-author alongside Lars von Trier.

In an interview taken on October 14 at Filmmakers Afternoon Tea, Mayfair Hotel, London, as part of the 2012 LONDON FILM FESTIVAL, Thomas reminisces about the “innocent days” of his first shorts:

Dana:”What is your relationship with the short form and how did you find the transition from making shorts to making features?”

Thomas: “I made three shorts before starting making features and I find that form very powerful. Unfortunately the weak point is the distribution, nobody sees them, which is why it is dying somehow, or at least it dies in the career, it doesn’t die in the world…But I find it as difficult and as powerful as a feature, maybe they’ll come back, I don’t know, it seems that things are getting longer, it’s the TV series now, which I also find very interesting. But I miss the days of the short film.

Dana: “Well, you never know, you might make another short one day…”

Thomas: “Yes definitely, and I’m also thinking maybe the best film I’ve done so far is a short…”

Dana: “Which one is this?”

Thomas: “My graduate film, The Last Round.

Last round (Sidste omgang) from bonana on Vimeo.

Thomas: Then I did another one produced by Nimbus and called The Boy Who Walked Backwards. To make good short film you have to be incredibly smart, as it is much more difficult to achieve the same dramatic effect in a much shorter span of time. Also there is an innocence, a purity about my short films which I lost since I started making features, and I’m attracted to purity. The short film can be so powerful, it’s a sort of no-nonsense form of the feature, so I like it…

Dana: “Any tips for filmmakers who make the transition from short to feature?”

Thomas: “Well, I’ve made so many mistakes, so how could I do tips? But what I think is interesting for me is, don’t follow the ideas that seem rational and right, the idea where you say to your friends “This is crazy” and your friends say “Ah, we can’t do that”, this is the one you should do (laughter).

Thomas Vinterberg introducing his new film The Hunt at 2012 LONDON FILM FESTIVAL

Thomas: “The Hunt is about a small innocent society/village somewhere in the forest, with good-hearted people, lots of togetherness rituals, a hunting society and this man, male character who works in a kindergarten. One of the girls in the kindergarten is a very close friend’s daughter and slightly falls in love with him, in a non-sexual kind of way, of course, and he’s rejecting her a little bit, she gets angry and lies about it. It’s a sexual lie and a witch hunt begins. And he is ostracised from this society and hell breaks loose, orange turns blue and black. And I made a film years ago called Festen, this is sort of the anti-thesis to that movie, a mirror. So that is the movie. For me it is primarily a film about friendship, love, forgiveness, and primarily maybe loss of innocence. There’s all sorts of naked jumping into the river at the beginning, and there’s also fearful, hostile people”.

Dana: “It is a very challenging topic, and you are known for choosing very difficult, very controversial topics, what is your method of dealing with a subject like that, how do you handle it?”

Thomas: “It is also very dramatic, and it is true to say it was very difficult but also very fruitful as a writer to sit with, because there is a conflict and you can bring people and you can undress the characters through conflict. As a filmmaker, and I have made 20 films in my life.. I wanted to make it about something of importance, not morally speaking, not as a priest, but it has to be something…and I really felt that there was something in this, which made it a very uplifting process, a very joyful ride…”

Dana: “What is it like working with Mads Mikkelsen?”

Thomas:”Well, the first thing that hits you is that he is so strikingly beautiful, so that hurts a little, I wanted to dress his down and destroy his good looks, but then you learn that he’s such a friendly, giving, heroic team-player, he’s a huge enthusiast and very good, extremely good…I changed the character for him because he was more of a hero, strong man, man of few words, Robert de Niro kind of character in the script…and you notice when you see the film that we made him softer, we made him a school teacher, very humble, wearing glasses, and weak somehow, almost Christian, very forgiving, very patient…”

Dana: “Did he want that?”

Thomas: “No, I wanted that, and he agreed on that as we were both inspired by that idea…I initially wrote it for Robert de Niro then Mads came on board and then I rewrote it for him. I always write for specific actors, also if they’re dead or something, there has to be someone…and Mads does not attach to any project without a script, so I couldn’t write for him, until he was attached…it was very complicated”.

Dana: “And what is it about him that made you think he would be particularly great for this role?”

Thomas: “Well, actually, there’s something very truthful in his acting, he’s very very realistic…besides from all the clichés that the camera really wants to look at him, he’s got a huge commercial potential and there’s also something very real about him. And I was curious to work with him, we’d worked in the same community for so many years without working together. And truthfulness is important in a film about lies, I guess basically the film’s theme is about how lies can spread, therefore everything was about making it as “naked” and as truthful as possible, and Mads completely fits into that, he’s born out of the 70’s attempt to make films in the street, American, Scorsese movies from the seventies when realism was reborn.

Dana: “And the little girl, it’s her big screen debut, how did you find shooting the more difficult scenes with her given her age?”

Thomas: “She was wonderful, there’s this child and…normally we say that working with animals and children is something you should avoid. In this case it was the other way around: the dog and the girl were just spot-on…And she was just incredibly good…And Mads and the other actors were, of course with a smile on their face, were almost intimidated by her…’cause she was just wiping the floor with them, every time, it’s incredible. We had a discussion whether to tell her about these matters or not, and of course she doesn’t understand sexuality, and should not, but we told her everything else. ‘Cause listen, we spit in her face and she was thrown around, she needs to know why…And this film is also a revolt against the over-protection and victimisation of children, so we thought, let’s talk to her like to an adult. And of course we agreed with the parents first, and it worked, she didn’t care, she was like, “ok fine, let’s shoot”, and then she did her ping-pong!

Dana: “A very precocious girl”.

Thomas: “A very healthy girl. She was very good but she’s not going to do it again.”

Dana: “About the directing process, David Mamet says that it’s all about where to put the camera and what to tell the actors, would you agree? And do you have a certain method?”

Thomas: “I think that would be pushing it. I have a method, yes. If this is my movie, and this is where the actors have some dialogue, together with the actors, and the writer, I’m creating a big movie around them all. We talk a lot about the past, and not only about the immediate past, like what are you coming with, in the room,  did you just come from a fight, or from having sex, or…But what do they have together, rituals, what do they hide from each other, what are their dreams for the future, their plans. So what I always do is to work very hard and thoroughly with the actors, dialogue and rehearsals, and with the writer before we start shooting. And then we let go, to all the irrationalities, then we’re being charlatans. Because, hopefully by that time, we have solid ground to be standing on….if you can call that a method, that’s my method…and my actors seem to turn the way they want to, which is different from David Mamet. His method works very well though…”

Dana: “There’s an interrogation scene in the movie, with the little girl, where they quite literally put the words in her mouth, and I’ve read somewhere that this was based on a real transcript, can you tell me a bit about that?

Thomas: “Yes, it’s a police transcript, I’m not going to say which nationality because I don’t want to point fingers, I didn’t even want to point fingers at the police, but it’s from the 90’s, late 90s and they have improved, or at least they tried to improve…so I changed the scene to be some kind of interrogator, and I also took out a lot of very very ugly stuff, it was much much worse, and in all the cases it was much worse. You wouldn’t believe how much people put in children’s minds, how leaning the questions are…because they anticipate that the child…who wants to escape from it, because it is very unpleasant, therefore they sort of insist on this, and through that they implant false memories and they’ve done that in many many many cases. And I think that police is not doing a lot of that but the parents and a lot of kindergarten workers, they don’t know shit about this, they don’t know what to do, so they ask the same question to this poor child, and it becomes part of this child’s fantasy, and to satisfy the grownups they start inventing stuff…and again they end up as the victims, ‘cause they grow up to believe it, they grow up with the memory of having been assaulted without having been assaulted…so they grow up with a similar problem, similar needs, and they are violated by the overprotection, the fearfulness of our society…but in my film she appears to be a she-devil in people’s minds, which is not intended, because she was so nice, and she’s in love with him, so it’s an innocent love..and who wouldn’t be in love with Mads Mikkelsen?”

For an in-depth analysis of Thomas Vinterberg’s work, cinematic realism and Dogme 95, we recommend an article from the Film Journal. Click here to read it.

A LOVE STORY LIKE NO OTHER FROM KIWI FILMMAKER FLORIAN HABICHT

In case you didn’t know what it means when a woman is holding a piece of cake, LOVE STORY will give you the answer! A truly original self-referential documentary/
romantic comedy based on a collaboration with complete strangers on the streets of New York, the film has been a hit with audiences and critics alike around the world. More than a love story, the film is a joyous ode to the Big Apple and its vividly engaging and delightfully eccentric inhabitants.

Inciting factor: In late 2009, Auckland Arts Foundation offers Berlin-born Kiwi filmmaker Florian Habicht the Harriet Friedlander New York Residency Award worth $80,000. Florian is already an established filmmaker at home, being responsible for some of this decade’s most original New Zealand films. His début feature Woodenhead (2003), a Grimm inspired musical fairytale, quickly became a cult hit being renowned for the innovation of recording the entire soundtrack before shooting the visuals. This was followed by the iconic documentary Kaikohe Demolition (2004) which won best digital feature at the New Zealand Screen Awards; Rubbings From a Live Man (2008), a hybrid documentary  performed by and based on the life of performance artist Warwick Broadhead;Land of the Long White Cloud (2009), a documentary about a five-day fishing competition held on 90 Mile Beach in the North of New Zealand…Once in New York, Florian is under no obligation to do a lot of work but for him, making a film is a total adventure and great fun so why not…

Main Ingredients:a double dose of contagious feel-good factor mixed with despair that money is running out and the NYC residency is coming to an end; a psychic reading that tells you NOT to go in front of a camera overridden by the compulsion to do the opposite; feeling inspired by a mysterious girl carrying cake met on the subway;seemingly absurd idea to shoot a film without a narrative, without actors,without casting anyone, without the slightest idea of what might happen next; seemingly crazy idea to track the girl down and persuade her to play in your film; but what film??!; start asking for love advice from complete strangers you meet on the street, and also from your dad via Skype, then act it out with Masha, the lovely cake-carrying girl; surrender directorial control to your audience and rely on them to drive the plot forward; inject humour, a lot of humour and blur all boundaries, between fact and fiction, between art and real life, between being and acting, between love and the illusion of love; add jazzy and clichéd  romantic score from Nino Rota and Ennio Morricone that mocks traditional romantic film conventions to perfect the confusion. End result: a truly original and beautiful love story, but no story as you know it!

Watch the trailer here:

Love Story screened at the 2012 LONDON FILM FESTIVAL on the 11, 12 and 14 October. The following interview with Florian was taken at Filmmakers Afternoon Tea, Mayfair Hotel, London, 12 October 2012

Dana:”Please tell me a little bit about the creative process that went into making a film like this”.

Florian: “I decided to shoot a film before I went to NY, and I arranged to shoot with my DOP Maria Ines Manchego and my editor PeterO’ Donoghue from Sidney who were going to fly to NY. And I told them it would be an improvised feature film and that in three weeks time I’d tell them what the story is. And three weeks later, I still didn’t know…and I sort of felt like a version of Marcello Mastroianni, like having to pretend that he knows what he’s doing when really he doesn’t have a clue. And that’s when I started asking random people I’d met in New York  on the street and told them my problem, my dilemma, that I’ve organised this shoot and that I really don’t know what to do. And they started helping me, giving me ideas. And at that point I always had a camera in my bag…and when I watched the footage I really fell in love with it, I thought wow, I can really make a film out of this”.

Dana: “So how much did they contribute to the film, the people you met?In terms of directing the narrative, ideas etc”
Florian: “I’d say half. And also my dad via Skype, he was very excited I was shooting a film in NY, he was always in New Zealand checking the weather forecast in NY and if it was supposed to rain he’d skype me and give me his ideas, his film ideas…He’s an amazing photographer, he documented London in the 60s, he’s got a few beautiful books out, on London. He actually wanted to be a filmmaker but he wasn’t allowed to by his parents…”.

Dana: “So you made his dream come true…”
Florian: “Yes…He’d give me his ideas and I was like yeah…”
Dana: “Did you give him a credit on the film?”
Florian: “Well, this is the terrible thing, I didn’t give him a writing credit, I totally forgot…”
Dana: “That IS terrible…”
Florian (laughing): “yes, very…I totally forgot…but when I’m with the film and presenting a Q&A I make sure I mention that…”

Frank Habicht began his career as a photographer in 1960 and soon published a book, “Young London, Permissive Paradise”, a social document on London’s youth. He also worked as a stills photographer for film directors Bryan Forbes, Jules Dassin and Roman Polanski.

Dana: “Who is the girl in the film? How did you meet her?Was she a friend?”

Florian: “Her name is Masha Yakovenko and it was a chance meeting encounter…”

Dana: “So that bit is true.”
Florian: “Yeah, I met her for like five minutes maybe…And because I didn’t have a budget for this film, it meant I was the boss, I could do anything…And I was a bit taken by her and I said ‘Would you like to be in the film?’ and we arranged to meet so that I could tell her about it…so she said let’s meet up”
Dana: “Were you casting at that moment?”
Florian: “My whole year in New York, at the back of my mind I was casting, and I had a few different film ideas too but I didn’t really find the right person until I met her and I immediately was like yeah…and we arranged to meet so I could tell her more about it. A few days before meeting at Mars Bar, which is the bar in the film, which is an awesome NY historical place, I emailed her and I said ‘I’ve got this idea, do you mind if we film our meeting and if you decide you want to do this film we could use it as part of the film’…And she was pretty into taking risks so she agreed to that…”
Dana: “But she’s not an actress, is she?”
Florian: “Well I don’t know but she was studying acting and she was really up for the challenge and she didn’t want to watch any of the rushes of herself…”
Dana: “She totally trusted you…”
Florian: “Yes she did, she didn’t even want to watch my early films…I gave her a whole lot of dvds, and yeah she didn’t watch them. Which is kind of strange but yeah…so she didn’t see anything until right at the end.

Masha is studying acting in New York and she currently involved in a project with theatre company Waxfactory.

Dana: “So you say you were stuck in that Mastroianni moment, feeling a bit lost in your project, but once you started making it, did you encounter any difficulties after that?”

Florian: “After that things went really smoothly, it was amazing…There were a few days when I was in a bad mood, or a little sick or grumpy, and on those days I could spend the whole day walking around with my camera and I wouldn’t take one interview or footage…like there were no sparks or anything…But in terms of the process, everything flowed. Getting funding for post-production was a bit of a struggle but enough people came on board to support the film, the New Zealand Film Festival, the New Zealand Film Commission, and getting the music right, to that amazing Italian soundtrack, that was for me like a miracle”
Dana: “How long did the filming take?”
Florian: “It was spread over four months and we had a long break in the middle.”
Dana: “And how many people did you interview in total?”
Florian: “Twice as many as in the film.”
Dana: “You were very lucky, they were very friendly and willing to talk to you.”
Florian: “Incredible, yes”.
Dana: “You couldn’t have made the same film in London, I don’t think so.”
Florian: “I agree, New York is really special like that…I was wearing these pants (points to his pink hipster trousers)…
Dana: “Yeah I remember…”
Florian: “and if people smiled at me, I would pull out my camera…so half the people in the film cast themselves, like they made the first eye contact…”
Dana: “Except the woman in the cab…”
Florian (laughing); “Yeah yeah…”
Dana: “She was a bit aggressive…I hope you didn’t get beaten up by anyone…any other aggressive encounters?”
Florian: “Only one, I knew that you aren’t allowed to film children without the parents’ permission and once a group of children ran towards me and I was just excited and I started asking them questions about love and then the father came, then I got in trouble with the father being caught filming young kids and it was totally my fault…so that was the only time…otherwise yeah it was amazing, and I didn’t ask people, I was just there with my camera, recording, it was like being at a doctor’s being given an injection, if you don’t see the injection coming, it’s a lot less painful, whereas if you see the doctor preparing it, and you’re watching it, it really hurts…and I found that with filming,  people were just natural and it wasn’t a problem, whereas if I explained to them what I was doing, they might not have been as good…”.
Dana: “Overall, your film reminded me of Catfish, only that Catfish is more like an “investigation” whereas yours is more of an “experiment”.
Florian: “That’s amazing because I went to a screening of that and that was my main inspiration for making a film like this…the way it was made in the now and didn’t know where it was going to go…”
Dana: “Have you made any shorts previously in your career? What is your relationship with the short form?”
Florian: “Yes but I moved on to features really fast, I made a lot of low-budget experimental features, always mixing documentary and fiction, all my films do that…I find a short film hard because when I love a short film, I’m sad that it’s over so fast…”

And so was our interview over too fast but if you want to indulge your curiosity about Florian and his LOVE STORY, click here for more information.

KAIKOHE DEMOLITION, one of Florian’s previous films and an equally unique and striking works of idiomatic cinema, is available to watch online here.

To make sure you didn’t miss anything, meet Florian as the artist introduces himself.

THOUGHTS ON SHORTS: PATRICK MYLES ON SANTA’S BLOTTO

Santa's Blotto posterIf you’re a filmmaker trying to get his first short film off the ground, this inspiring article is for you…

Patrick Myles  is an actor, writer, director and producer. He was raised in Ireland and Cyprus and trained at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. His stage work includes: Love’s a Luxury, A Chorus of Disapproval (written and directed by Alan Ayckbourn), Icons and Everafter, Tartuffe, Pera Palas, The Freedom of the City, The Lady’s not for Burning, The Revenger’s Tragedy, Romeo and Juliet, Othello, Harold Pinter’s Victoria Station.His film and TV credits include: PlanespottingThe Bill, Secret Smile and Red Thursday. For his acting work, he was nominated for the Laurence Olivier Bursary and Best Supporting Actor Award at Thessaloniki Film Festival.

His first short film as writer/director was Anthropopopometry, with Peter McDonald and Lloyd Hutchinson. He also co-wrote Will: The Lost Years, which won the Channel Four/Stellar Network Pitch Up 2009.Santa’s Blotto is his second film and he is currently developing an action/horror feature and several sitcom ideas.

Santa’s Blotto is Patrick’s second short starring Brian Blessed, a film that won international distribution and can also be found on iTunes.

In an interview taken on 18 October 2012  at Filmmakers Afternoon Teas, Mayfair Hotel, London as part of LFF 2012, Patrick vehemently declares: “I hate seeing bad acting in short films.” Could this be his motivation for turning to directing himself? Join the debate and find the answer below.

Dana: “What is your relationship with the short form?”

Patrick Myles photoPatrick: “My relationship with the short form is a relatively new relationship. My background is in acting, I’m an actor and I started writing/directing in the last two to three years. And I wrote a couple of shorts that weren’t bad but they weren’t very filmable, as in you needed a big budget, a big cast, that kind of thing. So I wanted to write something that I knew I could make. So my first short was quite a surreal piece inspired by Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, about two inanimate objects that have a life and can chat, that kind of thing, so it was very easy to shoot. Whereas my second one is all self-contained, which is Santa’s Blotto and I managed to get Film London funding for it, which made the whole process a lot easier. I guess my relationship with the short form is getting experience as a filmmaker and obviously a stepping stone to features, a calling card. And I think both my films give a sense of my sense of humour, the way I look at the world which is quite dark and left-field, therefore they are a good advertisement for my voice as a filmmaker.

Dana: “You said you got funding…”

Patrick: “Yes, from Film London…”

Dana: “Was it difficult, how does one go about getting funding?”

Patrick: “That was a long process, a process that lasted two or three months, whereby you send in your script, you send in your vision for it, how you want to shoot it, your ideas for casting, location, mood boards. This was the first round. Then you undergo a period of development where you’re appointed a BFI development executive to help develop the script into a shooting script, into a new draft, and you have to go in to explain how you are going to shoot it…”

Dana: “So even for a short film the process is very convoluted”

Patrick: “Oh yes, because there is so little funding available, even for features, let alone for shorts. And they have to be utterly confident that everyone that they are giving money to is going to use it properly and will produce something of a certain quality. So the whole process was very rigorous and it culminated in a final interview whereby I had to go in front of a panel and they fire questions at you, and you say I’m going to do this, I’m going to shoot this, all that kind of thing. So I was delighted to get the funding for it because it means so much, it’s a stamp of approval from a recognised body, it means you’re in a cycle of young filmmakers, it means getting funding for the next one will be easier if someone has already trusted you with funding, and you delivered something. And Santa’s Blotto has gone down quite well, Film London were delighted with it, I secured a distribution deal with Shorts International, so it’s going to be on iTunes, it’s going to be sold around the world through the Short Film Channel…”

Dana: “So you can make money with a short…”

Patrick (laughing): “Well yeah, apparently so, I didn’t expect it either but apparently yes because the distribution deal with Shorts International is that we the filmmakers have a slice of anything that they sell the film for. Which is great, so we essentially got someone selling it and they are going to give us some money back. And also crucially, very crucially, it’s going to go on iTunes…so iTunes as you know, you download the film for £1.50 and out of that I believe, Apple takes one third, the distributor takes one third and we take one third. So depending on how many downloads, I mean, you know, no one is going to get rich out of it but at least…”

Dana: “That’s encouraging for those making short films…”

Brian Blessed

Patrick: “Exactly, very encouraging to know that’s going to come out. And because we have Brian Blessed in it playing Santa Clause, he has quite a large following of people who love him, I think he’s a living legend and hopefully that will help drive sales and crucially get people to watch the film. That’s what we want as filmmakers, there’s no point in making a film for yourself, you have to make a film for people to watch and be affected by, whether that’s laughing or crying, whatever it is, you want to create an effect in the audience, and I hope Santa’s Blotto will do that. ‘Cause we all have Christmas memories from when we were kids, and also in the run-up to Christmas I think it will do well…”

Dana: “Indeed, commercially the strategy is very well thought out. Are you going to make other shorts?”

Patrick: “I have an idea for one more short and then the rest of my ideas are features. I’m already developing one, because I know how long it takes to get a feature off the ground. But in terms of my features, I’ve got three ideas, one is quite a sprawling fantasy/adventure set in Ireland, because I’m originally Irish, another is a horror film which always go down very well and the other is a comedy, again, quite a bizarre comedy about a pair of New York mobsters who lie low in a small English village and get involved in a local amateur dramatic society. But I have another short film that I’m writing at the moment, that I intend to shoot in summer of next year. Again it’s very shootable. It’s quite an out-there idea again, but it’s not one that will be very expensive. I need, it’s true because I come from an acting background, I know how effective good actors are in your short films and I hate seeing bad acting in short films. And I think, like with all films but especially shorts, it’s all about the script and get some good actors, if you’ve got a cracking script and you’ve got good actors, they make your film look better…”

Dana: “So you’re not one for sophisticated camera movements…”

Patrick: “No, I’m not that kind of director, I’m not a technical wizard, I like telling stories and I like having good actors telling that story. That’s my belief. But perhaps I think that way because my journey to directing didn’t come through film school, I don’t have a technical background, it’s very…because I’ve been an actor and I produce as well so I know it’s all about, as I said, telling a story in the simplest, most effective way, rather than going “look what a great director I am”!You know what I mean? I think that’s really important, it should be all about the story, that is after all what we’re doing…”

Dana: “Do you intend to act in your own films?”

Patrick: “No.”

Dana: “Why not?”

Patrick: “Because I want to keep them separate. I mean, perhaps, some people do it very well, Kenneth Branagh does it very well…”

Dana: “Woody Allen…”

Patrick: “Woody Allen yes, and in fact I’ve just come from a screening of Argo, it’s very good, and Ben Affleck directed it and he starred in it, and he did it brilliantly, but I think at this stage in my career, I don’t want it to be about me, it’s about the story, and it also depends on the script that I write…For example the script that I wrote for Santa’s Blotto was about a child and Santa Clause, so even if I wanted to be in it, there was no part for me. So it can’t be an exercise in vanity, it’s got to be a story being told, that’s the priority. So I have no intention to…But who knows…”

Dana: “What are your thoughts about directing? Have you developed a method yet?”

Patrick: “Well, do you mean in terms of directing the actors or the kind of visual style?”

Dana: “Both. For instance David Mamet says that directing is all about where to put the camera and what to tell the actors”

the boy in Santa's BlottoPatrick: “Yeah, I’ve read David Mamet’s A Whore’s Profession and many other books on acting and filming and I do like that philosophy of work. But he again is very much of a school of “it’s about the script and about the acting”. And I would agree with him on most things. His essays On Directing Film are brilliant. Also Alexander Mackendrick’s book On Filmmaking and Sidney Lumet’s Making Movies are two other fantastic books. And these are all very practical filmmakers who get the right actors with the right script. And because I am an actor I can talk to them, I think my greatest strength is being able to direct them knowing how they tick. I mean I know first hand, and it’s a common actors’ complaint that a lot of filmmakers, because of their technical background or whatever, they don’t know how to talk to actors, they don’t know how to get what they want, and I think that’s extremely important, because it makes the actor feel comfortable, and it’s only when they’re in their comfort zone that they can really perform to their best ability, especially when you’re working with kids. My actor was 10 years old, so I had to make sure that everything I was telling him was appropriate for a child but also guiding him. He was very smart, whip-smart so ironically I didn’t have to talk to him like he was a child…So I would say that yes I enjoy what Mamet has written about filmmaking and I think that is my approach also: practical, get a good script, good actors and just shoot it!”

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