Posts Tagged ‘Q&A’

 
“War is partly madness, mostly insanity, and the rest of it is schizophrenia.”
– Don McCullin
 
McCullin
                                         Don McCullin, Grieving woman with young boy, Cyprus 1964
 

There were a variety of reasons to attend this week’s screening of McCullin at the Institute of Contemporary Arts. The ICA’s  preeminent reputation consistently draws in distinguished panels, in this case McCullin director Jacqui Smith and world-renowned photographer Rankin.

The film’s protagonist, Don McCullin, is hailed as one of the greatest war photographers of all time and the first photojournalist to ever be awarded a CBE – yet the subject’s credentials are only of secondary importance to the subject matter of this (undoubtedly soon to be award-winning) documentary.

For all the discomfort triggered by these photographs and their brutally vivid portrayal of humanity, the narrated montage delivers on the promise made by the beautiful and haunting opening credits: this is a film that will stay with you for a long time.

From his first time as war correspondent in 1964 Cyprus through to ravaged Vietnam and the Congo, via the Troubles and the fall of the Berlin Wall, McCullin has captured many moments that were to become seminal emblems of their time.

The exceptional editing skills of Andy McGraw and David Fairhead manage to tie together the abrupt rhythm of depicted events in a mellifluous fashion, and take us through history via McCullin’s own extraordinary history of being in the right place at the right time – an esoteric trick of the trade intrinsic to good photojournalism.

McCullin however never abuses this power: a video clip of his work in deprived areas of Britain (he himself was born in Finsbury Park in 1935) shows him tip-toeing around a man, making sure he’s not “bullying” him in any way before he snaps his photograph.

Throughout his career McCullin has shown the same sensitivity to the plight of the inner-city poor as to the victims of conflict and the soldiers ordered to carry it out. Representing atrocity is clearly as difficult a calling to him as it is one of tremendous importance.

His own on-camera musings, alongside an interview with Harold Evans (editor of the Sunday Times while McCullin worked for the broadsheet’s magazine), bear witness to this internal struggle and offer a first-hand account of war reporting amongst differently-minded peers and a changing landscape in journalism.

McCullin doesn’t come across as a comment on journalistic ethics, but if it were, McCullin’s own conclusion is that it is better to choose to be “on the side of humanity”.

The passion of the protagonist is reflected in the passion of the filmmakers. The incredible archive research – which took an entire year for only three days of shooting – results in a treasure trove of difficult-to-find photographs all available in the same place (for those photographs that didn’t make the final cut, they will be available on DVD upon its release in February 2013).

Such commitment may rightly be the product of McCullin’s own incredible dedication (which apparently outstripped his technical skills: he “couldn’t light his way out of a paper bag” according to Jacqui Smith) and his quest to “delegitimise war”, as described by Harold Evans.

Whatever the motivation the end result is the same: Rankin thinks McCullin is “the most anti-war film ever made” and his claim certainly holds weight. “I think we’re drawn to war as artists or communicators”, he says. “People forget that about photography: you need that element of humanity and empathy.”

It is perhaps lucky that the film was ever made at all, both on account of McCullin’s self-effaced privacy and his recent coming out of retirement to cover the conflict in Syria. All the more reason to watch it in cinemas while you can.
 

For news about ICA screenings and events visit their website. You can also follow @McCullin_Film on Twitter. 

Advertisements

This week’s highlights:

  • 10th December @ Goldsmiths: The Masterclass of Editor Nicolas Chaudeurge

Following last week’s “Producing in 50 Questions” with Fish Tank producer Kees Kasander, Fish Tank editor Nicolas Chaudeurge will be delivering a masterclass in editing at Goldsmiths University. This promises to be a rare treat from the man who worked alongside director Andrea Arnold on all of her Oscar- and BAFTA-winning films. Free registration.

  • 11th December @ Oval Space: The House I Live In + Panel Discussion

Eugene Jarecki’s 2012 film (Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at Sundance) offers a hard-hitting look at the effects and effectiveness of the war on drugs in America. A panel of experts from the Drug Policy Reform movement in the UK will take part in a debate following the screening at the Oval Space in Bethnal Green. Tickets are £7 or £5 concessions.

Coming up:

  • 18th December @ Phoenix Artists Club: London Screenwriters’ Festival Christmas Party

The London Screenwriters’ Festival are holding their annual networking Christmas party at the famed Phoenix Artists Club in Charing Cross Road. An excellent opportunity to meet like-minded people from the film industry in a festive atmosphere! Entry fee £3.

  • 10th-27th January @ Future Cinema: The Shawshank Redemption

Tickets for Future Cinema’s next live cinema experience are available now! Early booking is recommended for this highly popular cinematic event with a twist.

 

 

“All my life I have been fighting to get films on screen and now it’s more and more complicated.”
Kees Kasander on why it’s important to keep makeup artists happy and your location manager drunk.
 

Make no mistake: film production may involve numbers and budgeting but Kees Kasander is just as passionate about his vocation as the next art director. His Netherlands-based production house, Kasander Film, has released nearly 80 titles since 1981. Andrea Arnold’s 2009 Fish Tank won the Jury Prize in Cannes the same year and the 2010 BAFTA for Best British Film.

Speaking at a Goldsmiths University event “Producing in 50 Questions” in London on Wednesday, he delivered a string of no-bullshit sound bites and pearls of personal wisdom that provided a delighted audience with an insight into the idiosyncrasies of both master and craft.

Kees Kasander likes diligence. He likes music, editing, and working with the same team. He doesn’t like the sound guys. (“Maybe it’s because they think with their ears.”) He avoids spending time on set. The cutting room, on the other hand, he spends as much time in as possible: “I like to sit and see if it comes together, and maybe I can be useful. Every film is too long, that’s the first problem. Every director wants to put more into a film than the audience wants.”

So he enjoys problem solving? “No, it’s part of the job. It’s a stupid job, to be honest, film producer. If the film is good it’s because of the director, if it’s bad it’s my fault.” When asked how he likes to spend time off from this stupid job, he prompts a question of his own: “What is time off? Why should I take time off from something I enjoy?”

FilmsThree decades of allegedly continuous work notwithstanding, experience is not what Kasander values most: he even calls it “a dodgy business”. He has fired people when they insisted they had done things differently on a previous set. In Kasander’s eyes neither film school nor a five year stint as assistant are a guarantee of success; after all 99% of scripts never make it onto the screen.

As if to dispel any feelings of gloom or outrage his abrupt honesty might have caused, he meekly offers: “We made some films that were not very good, but interesting. You have to pick the right one, the one to your taste.” Kasander’s personal taste (and against a certain consensus in the business) favours writer-directors: “It seems it works better because it’s so personal.”

From a producer’s point of view, however, there is much more excitement to be found in the non-fiction arena of documentaries. Kasander draws no division between documentary and film, contending all a film needs to qualify as such is an interesting director and an interesting idea. In fact with documentaries “you are making a film while you are making a film. You have to use your brain: [fiction] film is more like bookkeeping.”

His passion for this particular art form is clear: “Documentaries are like one big contingency. You have so much money left, how are you going to use it? You start it and you don’t know how it’s going to end.”

One might surmise his partiality lies in a certain artistic licence that, ironically, is harder to exercise in the production of fiction. With the wild variety of constraints imposed by individual countries, one simply cannot make a film to be distributed around the world. In India, kissing is forbidden on screen. In Japan it’s pubic hair. “Silly idea, not even Japanese, it’s American. I can’t be bothered with that sort of nonsense.”

As an example of the challenges that can arise from cultural differences and filming abroad, he quotes a film crew that shortened a 10-week stay in Japan by a whole nine weeks because “they just didn’t know how things worked”. Hence the necessity of skillful management when it comes to leading crew members: “You don’t have a location contract, you have a location manager, so if he goes missing you suddenly have no location. You have to keep giving him alcohol.”

The location manager is not the only person Kasander covertly collaborates with. When something is wrong “the first person an actor will complain to is the makeup person, they never come to me, so I have to have a good relationship with everyone. It’s almost like football in a way. You have 11 people on the pitch. If they all do their job, it’s a dream job. If not it’s a nightmare.”

He acknowledges that very often “different people are shooting different films” and mostly with the best of intentions: “Everyone wants to make the best possible film. You just have to make sure they’re fighting for the right reason.”

It naturally follows that he should favour small teams. “I had 10 people once and I was working for those 10 people. Instead of making the best possible film I was working for an office.” An independent-minded man, Kasander professes that “the first thing I’ve learned is to control my own budget and control my own schedule.”

Controlling one’s budget seems the crucial element here: “You have to make sure there are many partners, otherwise they control your film and before you know it you are working for them. It’s the hardest thing, staying independent. Even if you are 32 years in the business they can still tell you what to do. And you need to be 100% financed before you get any money [to start shooting].”

In CannesSo when does the budgeting start? “When you read a script, you start financing a film I believe. I need to know by the end of it how I’m going to do it. Sometimes you read a script and you think it’s fantastic but I don’t know where to get the money.”

Other than issues related to budgeting, which nominally are the core aspect of a producer’s calling, in this day and age distribution presents a much bigger challenge. “The most problematic part of filmmaking is getting it out to the audience.” Festivals might remain the best remedy to anonymity but even in Cannes “you get a lot of attention but not a lot of sales. Everyone wants to talk to you, it’s nice.”

If such a remark is anything to go by, Kasander places a bigger stake in the audience’s verdict than his peers’. This is where the World Wide Web steps in. “How will you find out if a film is good? On the internet, I think. I don’t think it’s from Time Out anymore. There’s a different relationship now with audiences.”

Internet distribution may still be in its early days “but in five years’ time all my films will end up being distributed on the internet rather than in a cinema – we are thinking of putting our films for free on the internet because then at least people can see them – unless I’m making Batman 5 because that will always be released in the cinema.”

Does he bear a grudge against houses that favour blockbusters over independent productions? “If I were a cinema owner I would play Skyfall because there’s money in it, so I understand.” And there is an upside to the public taking distribution into its own hands: “I’m very famous in China because of The Pillow Book. They sold more than a million copies. Illegal copies.”

On the equivalent success of Fish Tank in Britain, he muses: “You never know who your audience is before you start. Was it the right film at the right time? Nobody knows.”

Kasander’s appraisal of his favoured directors – along with the Goldsmiths audience appraisal of Kasander – seem to suggest that the answer is to be found, quite simply, in talent, perseverance, and a flair for damn good filmmaking.
 

To attend the Masterclass of Editor Nicolas Chauderge, editor of Fish Tank, on Monday 10 December reserve your free ticket here. For information about more weekly events at Goldsmiths visit the university’s website.

This week’s highlights:

  • 12th – 15th April @ Prince Charles Cinema: Terracotta Far East Film Festival

The Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square is playing host to Terracotta’s third annual film festival. Lovers of extreme cinema and aesthetic perfection, check out this year’s full listing.

  • 12th – 15th April @ East London: Fringe!

Fringe! returns to various venues across East London for a second year running. The Gay Film Fest 2012 offers a more alternative selection than its BFI counterpart with innovative, outrageous and talented filmmakers showcasing films you’ll be sure to remember! Check out the full listing.

  • 12th April @ ICA: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised + Q&A

10 years after the coup which removed Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez from office, executive producer Rod Stoneman joins the ICA to discuss Kim Bartley and Donnacha O’Briain’s 2003 celebrated documentary in the present political context. Tickets available here.

  • 12th April @ Curzon Soho: This Is Not A Film + Panel Discussion

In what is surely one of the most important films of the year in the ongoing struggle of filmmakers’ right to freedom and freedom of expression in certain parts of the world, Jafar Panahi turns the camera on himself while under house arrest in Tehran in 2011. Get your tickets here. This is unmissable.

  • 14th April @ Rich Mix Shoreditch: Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years

Screened as part of Fringe! this exceptional documentary about an exceptional woman, poet, activist, addresses issues of racism and sexuality – but most importantly celebrates life and its diversity. Tickets available here.

For full programmes and details:
Fringe Film Fest 2012
Terracotta Far East Film Festival

Coming up:

  • 19th April @ Hackney Picturehouse: Empire of Dust (Bram Van Paesschen, 2011)
  • 2nd-6th May @ Rich Mix Shoreditch: Best of British

 

… or to be more accurate, Not A Review.

There are plenty of excellent reviews out there penned by people with a deeper understanding of Russian history, economics and politics than I can claim to harbour. This is to say, I know about as much about the subject as I do about analytical chemistry (though I am, somehow, familiar with the concept of mass spectronomy and the workings of Orbitrap technology).

What I can offer is a unique vantage point over a slightly disquieting (embarrassingly frightening, to be frank) experience of a Q&A session that left me wondering whether I’d stepped through a looking glass (the glass cage “protecting” Khodorkovsky during his trial, maybe?) and emerged into a thriller of my own.

Enter the protagonists: the audience. Oh, the audience! Due to my late arrival in an already-dark screening room I hadn’t taken in the assortment of spectacular fur-clad women whom I immediately decide are rich Russian exiles. Their striking profiles, an impossible combination of staid and fierce, mark them out against what must be the Lawyers and the Economists, their faces attentive and grave and their apparel very much fur-free.

Then: Cyril Tuschi, director. Upon introduction he smiles a withdrawn, maybe timid sort of greeting. His brief, unassuming way of first addressing the audience shows a preference to answer specific questions: we’ve just seen his work; he doesn’t need to promote or explain it.

The first question comes from a sharp, bald man in a black suit so remarkably lacking in features as to be incongruous. Tuschi has walked the length of the audience on the front row and handed him a microphone.

“Why do you think they haven’t killed him?”

A very good question, in point of fact, as to Khodorkovsky’s wellbein– well, being alive.

As Mr Tuschi works his way towards a hypothetical conclusion, Mr Suit works his way along the wall and towards the front of the audience, stopping a few feet short of Tuschi, his gaze locked on the director since… well, since we saw him picking up the microphone, at the very least. I’m doing some hypothesising of my own as to the nature of this gazing, when its nature becomes suddenly clear: a black object unmistakably identifiable as a gun has sleekly materialised in the Suit’s right hand; it’s pointing at Tuschi, and Tuschi is… walking towards it?

Why yes, he would, as he’s the one who handed it to him. The microphone, that is.

The fool’s shame I feel overrides any sense of relief, and if anything makes me more alert to my neighbours and my surroundings – a state of awareness probably aided by the fact that my heart rate has just enjoyed an impromptu pickup.

But of subtlety, there is very little to follow: a cordially opinionated lady hoards the microphone for a good while, as much for enquiry as personal comment, and proceeds to punctuate any further questions and answers (it’s necessary at this point to remember this is a Q&A) with exclamations that could be mirth and acquiescence as much as fury and disapproval. She’s doing remarkably well without the microphone.

Mr Tuschi, who is also doing remarkably well at being heard with the microphone, has just launched into a captivating and disturbing account of the film’s disappearance in Berlin. Speculation seems unanimous amongst the audience as to the culprits.

Completely unexpectedly yet somehow right on cue, a heavily-accented Russian voice at the very back of the audience, all the more authoritative for its low key and high volume, commands everyone in the room to “stay in your seats, you’re all under arrest!”

The joke won’t be on me, this time, and I patiently wait for something to break the palpable silence. The first uncomfortable chuckles come, I suspect, from the English amongst the crowd, who have rather mastered the art of Pretending Nothing Is Happening. It is soon overtaken by raucous and heartfelt laughter that reaches every corner of the room in different ways: for my share, this will always be the day I realised I don’t quite get Russian humour.

I don’t remember why Tuschi thinks his subject was never killed. I have the vague recollection that he might have admitted having no idea himself. Nor do I recall the exact circumstances of the film’s vanishment in Berlin. But the myriad intrigues depicted, surrounding a black-and-white animation of a character whose only appearance in the flesh fatefully happens in the last few minutes of the film, will leave me with the kind of sensations a film junkie lives to experience.

Perhaps one of the merits of Tuschi’s film is that the above divagations of my galvanised imagination made it possible to write this outlandish review at all: I never realised how drawn into this historical, political, and human work I was until I found myself incessantly pondering the fate of Khodorkovsky, or I felt a sudden and urgent need to devour every Russian history book available, or I mistook a microphone for a gun.