Just off the back of its theatrical release in the United Arab Emirates (via MAD Solutions) and one of the most intriguing entries at the 2016 Dubai International Film Festival – and recipient of the festival’s Muhr Emirati award – is the stylish, taboo courting, arthouse melodrama Only Men Go To The Grave.

The debut feature of 30 year old Emirati director Abdulla Al Kaabi, who previously made a name for himself in 2010 with The Philosopher starring Jean Reno, Only Men Go To The Grave tells the story of a group of women trying to deal with the loss of their blind mother and a secret she kept from them. Set following the Iran-Iraq war, the film introduces us to an ensemble of bold, complex women; it is a film that recalls the radical cinema of Fassbinder & Almodovar and hints at great things to come from the director.

Independently produced over a 5 year span and shot in Iran, with a cast made up of Iranian and Iraqi actors, Only Men Go To The Grave is a film made of many bold decisions. As director Al Kaabi explained, the challenge of making his first feature pushed him to tackle themes that he initially felt uncomfortable exploring, as well as to shoot in a neighbouring country he thought he might never visit.

We spoke to Al Kaabi about making bold Arab films and finding peace through cinema.

There is something of Pedro Almodovar in the perspective of this film. How did you develop the story and what inspired the central character of a blind woman?

I came to learn later on that Pedro Almodovar draws inspiration from Douglas Sirk, who is a fantastic ‘mood film’ director. I love his movies very much. During the period when I came up with this story I was watching a lot of his movies, I got the DVD collection. I got really obsessed by him and that’s how my movie came together. I was just looking for that story: where would I find this story that would be very much inspired by his movies? I was on a flight coming back from Spain to Dubai and next to me was a blind lady and I could have sworn that that lady could see, because half way through the flight she woke up, grabbed the menu and looked at it and put it back and then when the flight landed she was blind again. So she stayed with me that woman and I started to think: why would she do that? And then slowly, slowly, I found myself having a story that I could work on and that’s how the idea of Only Men Go To The Grave came about. I knew I wanted to shoot it in Arabic. I just wanted to show powerful women and I love how Pedro Almodovar portrays his women; they are extremely powerful. Arab women, in my opinion and the way I see them, from my perspective, are powerful individuals too. That’s why we came to do that.

As an ensemble the characters are really strong. How did you go about casting them? I know you had Iranian and Iraqi actresses…

If you would have told me 5 years ago that I would be talking to you right now about a movie I shot in Iran – a feature film, my first and all of that – I would say you’re out of your mind. I didn’t think that would ever happen, let alone for me just to visit. But it came about because I thought I had the opportunity to do whatever I can with this movie. We can talk about financing later. This movie was self-financed, so I had the freedom to do whatever I want and I wanted to explore the Arabs over there in Iran. I have a lot of Iranian friends who are fantastic individuals, I love Iranian cinema very, very much; one of my greatest filmmakers and mentors that I was fortunate to meet was Abbas Kiarostami. So that’s how it came about. It’s a country that’s just an hour away, films are there to bring people together and despite of all the disagreements and all of the problems that we might have with the Persians, I believe my film echoes a beautiful message to the world which is that cinema only understands one language: it’s peace. It is bringing people together despite everything. Not only that we also had Iraqi actresses coming into Iran and shooting this film, so there was a lot of firsts in this movie I believe and I think that’s why it’s so talked about in the festival this year, in addition to the themes that we’re exploring.

The film looks at certain taboo issues and i’d be surprised to see issues such as transgender in many films. What was it like dealing with those themes? Did you have any limitations or were you completely open?

You know when I first started off I didn’t have much courage to explore these themes. They were there but they weren’t so bold and over the years, as it started to get harder for me to finance the movie and to get it on it’s feet I started to push the boundaries even more and more and more. By the time I was ready to shoot and had got the project green lit I had reached the point of no return, so I was sure I wanted to shoot these themes. I wanted to explore transgenderism, I wanted to explore gender identity in the Arab world and I wanted to explore alternative love in the Arab world. I wanted to expose these themes through the storytelling of an Arab filmmaker. So because today that’s the only thing that people want to watch: they want to watch something original. Nobody wants to watch a replica of a Hollywood movie, because they’re doing a great job themselves, why should we copy? So I think that’s the only thing that sells today. If you have an original, unique perspective I think this career is great for you and it’s my first feature you see and I wanted to create my own mood and universe and introduce myself to the film industry, that this is my style.

And in terms of the practicalities of doing that, this took 5 years, which is not a strange amount of time for a first feature, but it’s a long time. I’m wondering how that was broken down, so what kind of period did you shoot in? Or was it a long protracted shoot?

Well the script took almost two years and that I think – and i’m so glad I took two years to work on the script because it’s the foundation of my story – so that took a long time, I didn’t think it would take such a long time. And then after that I started to shop around the script and it was really hard for me. I think it was too daring and, not only with the themes it has, but also too daring with the plot. I had a protagonist who was dead and yet alone she was the hero of the film, so a lot of people didn’t get that and I thought why couldn’t we get that? In the end we screened it last night and I heard that most of the audience were completely gripped by the story until the end of the movie, so that’s a good sign. We were able to do that with such a bold, unique plot. So then I went into a period, honestly I can say I was very discouraged, depressed, so I completely gave up on the film for a period and shelved it and I was quite sad for a while until I met a producer, actually an art patron, who was very much in the art world, who had the means. He loved the script, he’s in the contemporary arts scene, his name is Farshad Mahoutforoush, he’s in the credits in the movie as a producer and he said “lets shoot it.” He had no experience in film and I think the universe gave me that.

How long was the actual shooting period?

We took a long time preparing for it, because as I shot it in Iran most of my actresses haven’t spoken Arabic. They were Arabs, but they haven’t spoken Arabic for a very long time, so we had to train them for a while to bring back their language. A lot of people yesterday were actually shocked that my actress didn’t speak Arabic because she speaks Arabic so well in the movie. Well you know I’m a perfectionist, I had to take twenty takes [laughs.]

Did you have to go phonetically?

No, no, she worked on her Arabic. She was actually speaking Arabic. I haven’t seen her for a year since we wrapped up and I think during this year she might have forgotten a bit [laughs.]

What are your plans for your next project after this?

Well my plans right now, i’m really focused and invested in this one. I need to get it distributed, it needs to be screened across the Middle East. In Europe I think it’s going to do big. I’ve also got the festivals going on. Probably I am going to be travelling a lot for another year. Hopefully during these travels I will pick up inspiration for a new script, but for the time being i’m really invested in this one.

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During the 13th edition of the Dubai Film Festival – in the majestic Jumeirah Mina A’Salam hotel, overlooking the sea and the Burj Al Arab – I sat down with pioneering Emirati director Ali F. Mostafa (director of City of Life, the first Emirati feature to be distributed throughout the MENA region and screen around the world) and producer Rami Yasin (Rattle the Cage, Sea Shadow), to learn about genre filmmaking in the Arabic language and making the United Arab Emirates’ first survivalist horror film The Worthy (released this week in UAE cinemas).

Your three films have all occupied different genres,  multi-narrative drama (City of Life), road movie (From A to B) and now horror with The Worthy. Was this a conscious choice?

Absolutely. It was a complete conscious choice. The choice was to try and tap into as many genres as possible and make the Arab versions of them. And also selfishly, as well, is to try and better myself as a filmmaker. The more genres you tap into, the more versatile you can try and make yourself, I think the more you can grow as a filmmaker.

And what was it about this moment in time that horror seemed like the right choice, rather than a western for example?

Right, well it was one of those things. I was in the middle of editing and I got given the script by Image Nation, so it was something that was handed to me. I was very much interested in doing a horror, although this I could consider more action / thriller, with horror elements, but I was interested very much in doing a horror, mainly because I wasn’t necessarily a horror fan. I appreciated and respected horror films, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to watch one.

Was there any particular horrors you did like and had as references?

Oh well, obviously we have all seen The Exorcist, but there is also stuff that even – not necessarily horrors – but the way Hitchcock makes his films definitely has that element. But also when I knew I was getting into this film and having Peter Safran & Steven Schneider attached to it, I would have felt silly had I not seen The Conjuring for example, so I went out of my way to watch The Conjuring – it took me actually two and a half days to watch that film – it was really frightening and because of how well made it was. These guys are at the top of their game so we really have to be at the top of our game when making this film.

In terms of bringing this kind of film to the audience here, were there any responsibilities you felt you had, or any things you wanted to achieve?

It’s the first of its kind I guess, in terms of post-apocalyptic kind of film, but in terms of responsibility is to try and do the best film I can make with the means. Knowing that the audience here are very much fans of Hollywood films – I mean those are the films that really do well in the cinemas here – you have to try and make the film with that sensibility. You have to give them that style, in terms of how the film is produced.

So you’re trying to tap into the appetite?

Yes! 100% Without a doubt. But in Arabic. [laughs]

That leads us onto the development of the script. In terms of creating a film of this nature in Arabic, how did you work through that process?

Rami can help with that, Rami is a producer on the film. The script was handed to us… it was an American script initially, so we were playing around with the script a lot and Rami had a huge input.

Rami Yasin – The first question we asked ourselves was: “if this was in our world and our region, what kind of world would we be living in and where would our world be in 10 years time?” We banked on the stuff we know now of what’s going on around the world and our region; as a region that suffers from water shortage, so that was a great thing to have in there to start with and from there we worked backwards with the characters. Who would these characters be? We actually changed a lot of the characters and their backgrounds, built them up from scratch, changed a lot of the relationships between them. For example, one is the father and his son and daughter: what kind of tension would be between the daughter and her father and the son and his father? The other thing that we wanted to do, both of us, is that we wanted to present very strong female characters in this world, because we said in the future our world is not the same, women are on par with men and they are very strong. In fact we heard a lot of comments yesterday [at the world premiere at Dubai Film Festival] from audiences who said: “we loved the fact that the women were so equal to men in this film…” so that’s an achievement that we felt was great.

After this project what’s your next step?

Ali F. Mostafa – Well Rami and I are currently producing Mohammed Saeed Harib’s first feature film, first live-action film. That’s what’s happening currently. And then next, i’m not too sure. I would like to try and do something – even though our films aren’t considered very ‘high budget’ – I would like to try and do something as more of an experiment to me, with a much lower budget, to see if we could still make a good film.

The European movie scene is unique and marvellous. Look beyond the top 10’s and you will find movies that bombard your senses and leave you deep in thought.

Movies with subtitles is something that surprisingly few in the UK seem to enjoy. We’re not quite sure why? To shake things up a bit, here’s a list of European movies that will make you laugh, weep, shiver and think.

Armour (Love) – dir. Michael Haneke / Austria | France | Germany

After Anne (the late Emmanuelle Riva) suffers a stroke, Georges’ and Anne’s life together hit a point of no return. The two retired pianists suddenly face the perhaps toughest challenge of the lifelong love: old age and the deterioration of mind and body.

Brutally honest, Armour portrays aging love and the helplessness that follows when a loved one slowly succumbs to the ravages of old age.

We follow Georges’ struggle to accept the inevitable, as Anne suffers from early dementia and a series of strokes, reducing her to little more than a helpless child.

“In the course of two hours, Haneke suggests that the ultimate test of a lifelong passion may come not in its first flourish, but in the compassion of its very last days, and that while love cannot conquer death, it can give life’s bleakest moments a run for their money” David Hughes

Jagten (The Hunt) – dir. Thomas Vinterberg / Denmark | Sweden

In this critically acclaimed Danish thriller, Thomas Vinterberg shows how a close- knit small community can crumble in no time when rumours are on the run.

Lucas, a small town nursery teacher, is falsely accused of sexually abusing his best friends daughter.

As we follow the slightly awkward but charming divorcé being torn apart and shunned by the local community, we are reminded of how relentlessly a smaller group can turn on you when you need it most.

“Vinterberg sets our suspicions twitching from the off, which makes us wonder later, with no small measure of guilt, which side of the mob we would have been on.” Robbie Collin

La Tête en friche (My Afternoons with Marguerite) – dir. Jean Becker / France

La Tête en friche is a heartwarming atypical love story. Germain is a very self- conscious, bloated man-baby in dungarees. Marguerite an articulate, fraile, and intelligent 95-year-old.

In a public square in a small French village, Marguerite and Germain form a close friendship over literature. Marguerite’s subtle love for words and Germain’s quirky wonder over them brings them closer day by day.

“Germain suffers through flashbacks to his unhappy childhood, but seems on the whole serene. He loves Annette but he declares himself “in love” with Margueritte.

So are we, a little. She is bright-eyed and high-spirited, and never overplays the heart-tugging” Roger Ebert

Les Émotifs anonymes (Romantics anonymous) – dir. Jean-Pierre Améris / France | Belgium

With both main characters suffering from awkward bashfulness, emotif, this french comedy is a quirky but adorable story of how two very shy chocolatiers, Angélique and Jean-René, fall in love.

As the chocolate enterprise takes its worst toll, Angélique, originally hired for sales, anonymously develops a new line of special chocolates. Through their passion for chocolate, the two chocolatiers finally find a way to communicate.

“The tale of two pathologically shy chocolate makers who are meant for each other but are too afraid to connect is a mug of warm cocoa with marshmallow topping that produces a comfy feel-good glow” Stephen Holden

Bal (Honey) – dir. Semih Kaplanoğlu / Turkey | Germany | France

This award winning film is set in the densely forested region of north-eastern Turkey. Yakup and his family lives in an isolated mountain area, and he makes a living by climbing trees to harvest wild honey.

Yusef, Yakup’s son, struggles in school. He is lonely, has a stammer and is desperate for attention.

One day Yakup doesn’t come home.

In an astonishing scenery, we watch Yusef slip into silence as his mother Zehra’s heart breaks.

“It is a film whose unhurried pace must be allowed to grow on you, but once it has, there is something engrossing about the tragedy unfurling slowly and indirectly before our eyes” Peter Bradshaw

Kon-Tiki – dir. Petter Skavlan / UK | Norway | Denmark | Germany | Sweden

This spectacle of a film is based on the true story of the Norwegian ethnographer Thor Heyerdahl, who set out to prove that people from South America could have settled in Polynesia in pre- Columbian times.

We follow Thor (a pompous Norwegian man who cannot swim) in his adventure to raise money, build a balsa- wood raft, and draft from South America to Polynesia (4,300 miles). With a crew of several Norwegian men trapped on an ocean raft, arguments unfold and their craft of a raft, ‘Kon-Tiki’ is put to the test.

“What the film doesn’t skimp on is spectacle. Brilliantly shot in a rugged National Geographic-like way by the cinematographer Geir Hartly Andreassen, it captures the sailors’ feelings of both awe and terror about their self-inflicted predicament” Geoffrey Mcnab

About the author

At Global Language Services Ltd we’re passionate about languages and language nuances. We’re a language service agency based in Scotland, supplying interpretation and translation services locally, nationally and internationally.

The technology of the 21st century is remarkable, but however good the translation technology is, it cannot yet pick up the subtleties of a language, the culture that underpins it, or even the humour that oils many of our conversations.

When Alexa and Siri say nae we say yae!

zz64c5954e1It’s difficult to avoid the influence of superheroes at the cinema today. The blockbuster comic book movies have become staples of not only the American box office, but international theatres as well. Despite the overwhelming visibility of comic book titans like Marvel and DC, many countries have put their own spin on the superhero movie. These are a few of the heroes that have had a lasting impact on the genre or are about to make their own splash.

Guardians

Russia is not one to be slept on when it comes to film. When they finally decided to try their hand at superheroes, the results did not disappoint. Guardians features a gigantic, musclebound, shirtless man with the head of a bear that fires a gatling gun—and makes American superhero films look positively tame by comparison. The movie focuses on a team of Soviet superheroes made during the Cold War who represent the different nationalities of the former USSR. And it manages to tap into the rich culture of the nation while besting the Americans at their own game for superhero spectacle. A recent trailer has the movie looking better than ever and it’s hard not to be excited for this level of cinematic extravagance. It’s officially being released on February 23, 2017 and promises to become an immediate cult hit, proving there’s more to superheroes than The Avengers.

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3 Dev Adam

Spider-Man

Spider-Man might be an American hero by origin but his popularity has spawned more than a few imitators throughout the world. Notable among these is the 1973 Turkish action movie, 3 Dev Adam, where Spider-Man is actually the bad guy and fights against Captain America and legendary Mexican luchador, El Santo. Other notable foreign takes on the beloved wall-crawler include the Japanese Spider-Man show where the hero is given his own giant robot and would go on to influence the show that would eventually become Power Rangers. The heroes from Marvel comics are famous worldwide and have long been ripe for licensing through various media, as evidenced through the varying Marvel titles detailed online that are available at popular casino sites. Comic book heroes are frequently used in games like this throughout the world, which only speaks to their incredible appeal. The fan-favourite continues to delight fans
in international markets and his upcoming film, Spider-Man: Homecoming, is sure to be another success.

Krrish

Of course Bollywood was eventually going to offer its own take on the superhero genre with its trademark flair—but it’s also amazing. The franchise has become the second-highest grossing film series in Bollywood (no small feat) with a fourth film set to come out in 2018. The series began with Koi…Mil Gaya in 2003 before going on to become the incredible franchise it is today. 2013’s Krrish 3 was praised for its spectacular visual effects and broke many box office records upon its release. Those records will likely be shattered upon the release of Krrish 4 as the series manages to combine the song and dance staples of Bollywood with the visual explosiveness of American superhero movies.

These are only a few of the heroes that have helped to showcase the international influence of superhero cinema, but there are many other countries that have offered their own unique spin on the genre. There’s far more to the genre than just what hits the American box office, and the trend of more films like this sprouting up around the world is likely to continue.

2016 has been a strange year of film viewing for me (partly on account of getting married, which it turns out takes up a lot of time and energy.) I’m yet to watch a number of essentials (Toni Erdmann, PatersonSieranevada, I Am Not Your Negro, Elle), but I’ve also been plesantly suprised by films I might otherwise have missed. Here are the films that left an impression on me in this craziest of years.

1) ONE MORE TIME WITH FEELING (DIR. ANDREW DOMINIK, UK/FRANCE)

Of all the films I saw in 2016, none was more mesmerising than Andrew Dominik’s documentary following the recording process of Nick Cave’s excellent album Skeleton Tree. The film captures a terribly troubling time for the Cave family, following the loss of 15 year old Arthur Cave and this runs through the film making it feel like a painfully private affair. It is a testament to Dominik’s handling of the situation that the Cave family were willing to release the film and it is also the director’s best film next to sprawling epic The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

2) THE QUEEN OF KATWE (DIR. MIRA NAIR, USA)
Mira Nair’s The Queen of Katwe is a film that sneaks up on you with an emotional undercurrent that pays off extraordinary well by the final sequence. Telling the story of Ugandan chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi, Mira Nair casts newcomer Madina Nalwanga in the central role and surrounds her with established talent David Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong’o, as well as numerous child actors. A potentially challenging production from Disney – shot on location with many non-actors – it succeeds thanks to the director’s talent for straddling different worlds of production. A big hearted film for all audiences.

3) INTO THE INFERNO (DIR. WERNER HERZOG, UK/GERMANY/CANADA)
Of the two documentaries released by Werner Herzog in 2016 (the other being internet doc Lo and Behold), Into The Inferno was the most cinematic and most truly Herzogian. In Inferno Herzog tackles volcanoes, not a new subject for him (see 1977’s La Soufrière), but here he expands the subject to explore North Korea, Ethiopia, Indonesia and Iceland. Along the way Herzog discovers some amazing civilisations and wonderfully eccentric characters, particularly the larger than life Paleoanthropologist Tim D. White. Herzog’s recent drone footage, as well as the archive of volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft make for majestic, frightening scenes.

4) CHI-RAQ (DIR. SPIKE LEE, USA)
One hell of a Spike Lee joint! Chi-Raq is an adaptation co-written by Lee and Kevin Willmott, based on Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, a Classical Greek play in which women withhold sex from their husbands as punishment for fighting. While the film was criticised by some (including Samuel L. Jackson at the Dubai Film Festival) for not dealing with America’s gun violence in a direct fashion, it is none-the-less one that frequently represents Lee at the height of his polemical powers. Teyonah Parris is a forceful presence as Lysistrata and appearances from Sam Jackson & Wesley Snipes are welcome, alongside John Cusack as a fiery white pastor.

5) ALI, THE GOAT AND IBRAHIM (DIR. SHERIF EL BENDARY, EGYPT/FRANCE)
One of the most refreshing films I saw this year was this tragicomic feature debut from emerging Egyptian director Sherif El Bendary. Set in contemporary Egypt and telling the story of two friends with different afflictions (one loves a goat, the other hears excruciating noises), Ali, The Goat and Ibrahim takes us across Egypt to its major water bodies as the characters attempt to remedy their problems. What exactly the film says about life in contemporary Egypt is hard to define, but its mischievous absurdity is pitch perfect for this most unusual of years.

6) NOCTURNAL ANIMALS (DIR. TOM FORD, USA)
For those in doubt of Tom Ford’s credentials as a film director, Nocturnal Animals goes some way towards quelling those feelings. This is a meta thriller, which makes fantastic use of Jake Gyllenhaal, Amy Adams and Michael Shannon, to explore a failed relationship (the main thread) through a violent fictional narrative written by Adams’ character. I am rarely a fan of duel narratives such as these – as often the intended effect simply falls flat – but in this case Ford creates a compelling, disturbing tapestry which is thoroughly gripping and emotionally complete.

7) A UNITED KINGDOM (DIR. AMMA ASANTE, USA/UK/CZECH REPUBLIC)
Amma Asante’s follow up to 2013’s excellent Belle is a very moving rendering of the true story of Sir Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) – the first president of Botswana – and his English wife Ruth Williams Khama (Rosamund Pike), as they struggled with family, apartheid and the British empire to assume power after Botswana’s independence. Although the supporting characters are more swiftly sketched in, the film finds power in two highly impressive, emotionally engaging central performances by Oyelowo and Pike. With carefully crafted period visuals – contrasting a moody noir-esque London with the sun-kissed plains of Botswana – the film is a pleasure to watch, making Asante’s next film Where Hands Touch highly anticipated viewing.

8) HIGH-RISE (DIR. BEN WHEATLEY,  UK/BELGIUM)
Ben Wheatley’s most ambitious film so far is one that – once again – harks back to the psychedelic British cinema of Nicolas Roeg and Donald Cammell, perhaps more overtly than any other he has made. Taking JG Ballard’s original text and adapting it into a relatively plotless, decadent extravaganza, Wheatley gives us a film of surreal delights in which Tom James Bond Hiddlestone glides through sequences that would look at home in the films of Russell and Fellini. Wheatley’s body of work is one that feels organic, developing, never perfect, but always alive; more please.

9) THE HATEFUL EIGHT (DIR. QUENTIN TARANTINO, USA)
A troubling film. When I emerged from watching The Hateful Eight at the start of 2016, I didn’t know what to think, but I certainly felt pretty dirty. A parlour game in which nefarious characters engage with one another in the most base of terms; the film is an old style exploitation flick and Sergio Corbucci would surely be proud. Each scene plays out at a snails pace, the drama brimming with racism and women hating. It is the most disturbing film of Tarantino’s career. Now at the end of 2016 – having witnessing the politics of the last 12 months – I think I understand The Hateful Eight a bit more and I still feel dirty.

10) ONLY MEN GO TO THE GRAVE (DIR. ABDULLA AL KAABI, UAE/IRAN)
An intriguing discovery from the 2016 Dubai Film Festival: Abdulla Al Kaabi’s arthouse melodrama Only Men Go To The Grave is a film that evokes the genre works of Almodovar, Fassbinder and Douglas Sirk (a big influence on the Emirati director.) Telling the story of a group of women, struggling to deal with an undisclosed secret of their late mother, Al Kaabi uses the film as a vehicle to deal with taboos present in his culture and unite unlikely artistic collaborators from Iran, Iraq & the UAE. The film’s constantly inventive shooting style and compelling acting signpost Al Kaabi as a talent to watch in 2017.

A ‘Pitch-Dark’ Diorama is an original and stylish new indie film from Bangalore based filmmaker Santosh MP, currently screening online for free (available as a full length torrent and a 5 part web series.) We spoke to Santosh about taking risks as an independent filmmaker and finding your audience through hybrid distribution methods. For more details about the film, to download as a feature, and for ways to support it, you can visit vespertilio.in

Synopsis: Indranil Deashi is scouring for the right twist to complete his slasher thriller, ‘Pitch-Dark’.  In a parallel universe, the fictional characters inside of ‘Pitch-Dark’ are, meanwhile, constantly hurtling through an exaggeratedly possessive director’s many mood swings and idiosyncrasies.  When Indranil has just about nailed a fitting conclusion, an unexpected visitor turns up. Personal demons catch up with Indranil, leaving him shattered.  And dead.  Rajiv Dey, writer of schlock thrillers, attempts to recapture his glory days by accepting to finish ‘Pitch-Dark’. He’s promoting the novel to a deceptively thorny critic.  A hard-boiled, lecherous detective encounters a protagonist from the novel.  Brutally slashed.  And the hunt for the perpetrator begins.

What inspired you to make the film and what fresh approach to genre did you want to bring to Indian audiences?

I didn’t consciously set about to take on a fresh approach to a genre. The film itself has two main genres, surreal thriller and drama, with slasher horror thrown in between.

The treatment happened organically. I’d a thought experiment as a feature idea and my influences just happened to be directors and writers who dealt with the ‘puzzle story’. As a result, I’d to learn the machinations and write accordingly. The genre isn’t very well known here but it was a risk I knew right at the outset. The only solution was to produce it independently to retain the creative freedom and continue to make the film challenging right till the final sound mix. I’d to live with the film for three years, so the emotional investment had to be worth it. My father invested a huge chunk of his retirement funds and generous amounts came in from close friends and relatives to make this film possible.

The ramification is that finding an audience becomes more difficult and I have to find innovative ways to take the film to its audience and continue to create more films. The best way to promote work is to make more work. I can’t help but remain optimistic about it.

What informed your choices in terms of shooting style and what format did you shoot on?

I started off as a storyboard artist for animated films and my initial influences were Michael Mann and Christopher Nolan. So I’d a very hollywood coverage in mind when I set about writing the script.

But the cinematographer, Karthik Muthukumar, was hesitant to take that route because it has become standard practice. He wanted to try out long takes that went on for minutes together. He also didn’t want ‘Over the Shoulder’ shots. So we ditched that straight away.

I was lucky that my actors were from a theatre background and were no strangers to performing uninterrupted for a long time. Furthermore, I had 5 timelines in the film. So each timeline required a distinctive style. Thus, we made strict rules for each timeline.

Timeline 1: Static camera

Timeline 2: Static camera but each new shot will be a new camera setup and no angles will be repeated.

Timeline 3: A mix of static and handheld. Black and white film stock only.

Timeline 4: Handheld. Mid-shots.

Timeline 5: Handheld. Mostly close-ups dictated by staging. The longest shot in the film runs for around 5 minutes.

Because it was an independent production, we couldn’t afford sets or production designers. So the cinematographer also insisted on a 1.85:1 aspect ratio to not let the budget limitation show through.

The film was shot on Super 16. I was hell bent on shooting on film and found a valuable ally in Karthik. An independent film shot on celluloid with sync sound was going to be hard and needed tremendous discipline. Luckily, our crew rose to the occasion. The resultant visual quality was worth the effort.

How can the audience watch the film – could you tell me about the mini-series and full feature version. Are there any differences in the versions and what made you decide on this distribution strategy?

With 2 genres, 5 timelines, and 4 languages, I think it was natural that I’d to hunt for my audience. The only way I could do it is to make it accessible for everyone to watch it at their convenience. The film is available on Vimeo and Youtube as a mini- series, and the feature version as a BitTorrent bundle.

It was a personal observation that it is easier to commit to a shorter duration while streaming a film. While the film was originally made as a feature, I did end up having 20 odd minute chunks of it while sending it to the sound department. Purely out of personal interest, I ended each reel at a cliffhanger. It didn’t feel like a bad strategy to release it as a mini-series, especially in today’s binge watching environment. So I took it as a form of an experiment.

There is no difference between the mini-series and the feature version on BitTorrent but there might and probably will be a difference in the viewing experience. The latter will be relentless for 2 straight hours while the former will hope to tease the viewer into the next episode deftly and recalibrate storyline expectations.

The impact of the animated intro will be more pronounced, however, in the mini- series as it sets an ominous tone for each episode and the repetition becomes a character in itself.

This distribution strategy was devised to find my film an audience. Expecting a conventional theatrical release for a raw indie like this might have been unrealistic and it proved to be so. The only way out was self-distribution. The hitch is that the internet is such a huge place that small films are swamped to the point of being utterly insignificant.

Filmmaker Graham Jones’ Nuascannan movement inspired me tremendously to put the film out without any payment or time bound barriers and make it accessible to everyone. Nina Paley’s Sita Sings The Blues was a case study too. It is a huge risk but the only thing worse than a film to not make money is for a film to not be seen and not make money. I have an ongoing crowdfunding campaign for donations as well as a Paypal checkout on the site so that people can watch the film and if they enjoy it and would like to donate, they have a convenient method to do so.

Can you tell me about your next project?

I have a few projects lined up. I’d like to do a series of essays on the benefits of reading and the importance of bookstores. I’ve two feature ideas that have been outlined. The first one’s a thriller drama about the power play in an illicit relationship and the second is a semi autobiographical drama about high school boys on the lines of Mario Llosa Vargas’ “The Time of the Hero”. But the timeline for these films will depend on the donations that will come in for “A ‘Pitch-Dark’ Diorama”. I’m keeping my hopes up though.

It’s been 15 years since the cult classic Donnie Darko was first released and the world has witnessed some seismic events in between; a litany of wars and conflicts, the financial crash and, of course, the emergence of Kim Kardashian’s derriere. Director Richard Kelly has unleashed two sci fi oddities in that time, but it’s the tale of a troubled teen and a 6ft bunny rabbit that really captured the hearts and minds of a generation (including the editors of this website.) Reflections sat down with Kelly to learn about the new restoration, the perils of Hollywood and the lyricism of Tears for Fears…

What’s it been like revisiting the film after 15 years?

It’s been great. Arrow Films contacted me and they said they wanted to do a 4K restoration. That was music to my ears because the film has never been properly maintained. I was never happy with the transfer, the Blu-ray or any of it. It just never looked right. So they gave us this great resource to go back to the original negative and use all of today’s technology to present the film in a whole new way. It was a lot of work and I had a window of time available with Steven Poster (Donnie Darko’s DoP) to go and do it. It’s great.

When the film first came out it took a little while to take flight. Do you think it caught on in the zeitgeist?

I think it really caught on here (in the UK) for whatever reason. It caught on in the US but not as quickly. When it came over in 2002, I was blown away by the response. I was overwhelmed, it gave me a second wind, you know. I can’t say why it was here. I think maybe it might have something to do with the music being all UK based pop songs. It’s an American story, but it’s universal and it translates into many languages and crosses many cultures. There is something universal about being a teenager and confronting big metaphysical ideas.

You use a lot of musical scenes, was there a big inspiration behind that?

I love incorporating music into my films, and it’s always by design. It’s often planned ahead of time, written into the script, choreographed into the script. The lyrical moments for me are the most cinematic. I always want to protect the lyricism. It’s sometimes a challenge to do because, like that Tears for Fears sequence in the movie, that’s at least two minutes long and no one is speaking dialogue. There’s a lot of story, there’s a lot of narrative in that sequence and it’s completely essential to the film. But when you’re dealing with financiers and with the studio and people want the running time shorter, they’re looking at that and thinking it’s superfluous, self indulgent lyricism and I’m like, ‘That’s why I’m doing this!’ For the lyricism, right? It becomes a real fight to protect this stuff.

How did you know that sequence was particularly precious to you?

From the very beginning. It was written in the script that when they jump out of the bus and Jake’s feet hit the pavement that the piano note begins. I was like, I saw it. That was it. It had to be this way. Like in Southland Tales with Justin Timberlake lip synching to The Killers, and there are all these dancers and he’s got a Budweiser. That guy (Timberlake) saw it. Then you’ve got to convince the producers to let you take a day of filming, when you don’t have the rights to the song and the producers were like, “We don’t have the song, we don’t even know if we can get the song, the song might cost up to $200,000 and this is crazy”. You’ve got to pick your battles, and those are some that I picked.

In all of your films you really portray the dark side of humanity. What draws you to these kinds of films?

I think the first three films that I have made are obviously dealing with some big apocalyptic themes. Literally apocalyptic themes. There is definitely a disturbing confrontation with a lot of dark stuff. For these three films they almost seem like a part of a bigger story. All my films are connected in ways that people don’t completely realise yet. I think they are more compelling stories. I don’t want to only make films that are dark, so to speak. I would love to make films that are more optimistic, that have a happy ending. I am capable of doing that! (laughs). I don’t always plan on killing everyone or blowing up the world. I’m not looking to continue being ‘apocalypse boy’.

How do you feel about the theatrical cut at the moment. Is it important to you that everyone understood how the parallel universe plot worked?

I don’t favour one cut over the other. The Director’s Cut is much more novelistic, sprawling and it’s got a lot more science fiction logic to it. I think both cuts have their virtues and I’m not really satisfied with either of them completely but they are what they are. With this restoration I was really grateful that we were able to go in and make the image look better. There is a lot of people who have never seen this movie on the big screen. It’s a significant improvement.

Re-watching the film I was really intrigued by the Patrick Swayze character. In light of some of the recent high profile sex scandals I wondered if you had any thoughts about his role in the film?

At the time we were trying to satirise the self help (gurus). When we made the film in 2000 there was never really any big high profile sex scandal involving big celebrity or whatever. I think we were just thinking, ‘OK we’re going to deconstruct this self help guy who sort of shows up in the town and is sort of a snake oil salesman’. He’s clearly full of shit and we kind of thought, ‘what could be the worst possible secret or sinister back story for this character?’. OK, well if he’s a child pornographer, let’s go with that. Then it really became just a twist in the movie and he became one of the multiple villains.

In regards to Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance, what were you looking for in Donnie?

I think that you know that a film is connecting if you can’t imagine anyone else in the lead role. It had to be Jake. We both spent a lot of time with the script going through every scene and he would ask me to make adjustments to the dialogue. It was a really delicate, emotional balancing act trying to modulate Donnie’s arc. So yesterday Donnie yelled at his gym teacher, tomorrow he’s going to be burning down a house. We had to map out the timeline to figure out where he was emotionally on every day of shooting and where he would be in the calendar of 28 days. So it was a big undertaking. We had to be very meticulous with mapping it all out.

If you had control over the timeline of your film career would you have liked the success of Donnie Darko to have come a few films later?

Hindsight is always 20/20, you know? I think the order was what it was meant to be. It was not a success until it came to the UK. It was actually a disaster at Sundance, it was a flop in the US. So all the movies take time. You can’t really control the wind. A movie, when it gets released, the wind is either blowing at your front or it’s blowing at your back. You can’t control the wind. I just try to follow my instincts. On the next film we’ve been really careful to make sure all the elements are going to be in place. I hope the wind will be at our back.

Are you going to change to another genre in future?

Yeah. I’m working on a lot of new stuff and I’m going to be moving in a lot of new directions. I don’t ever just want to be repeating myself. I don’t ever want to get complacent or surrender to the marketplace or become cynical. I just want to keep moving forward and exploring new kinds of stories and new ideas. You’re going to see me move in a lot of new directions.

DONNIE DARKO 15th Anniversary 4K Restoration will screen at the BFI from 17th December and in cinemas nationwide from 23rd December. BFI Tickets are on sale now: http://bit.ly/2eww8r3

This December I attended the Dubai International Film Festival for the first time. Among the highlights of the festival (and there were many) was getting to meet the critics behind the excellent podcast Tea With Culture, Hind Mezaina (who also runs The Culturist) and Wael Hattar. I joined them to discuss day 4 of the festival, looking at vibrant Indian doc The Cinema Travellers, the cinema of the United Arab Emirates (with emphasis on the feature directors Ali F. Mostafa, Nujoom Alghanem and Abdulla Al Kaabi) and Al Kaabi’s intriguing Muhr Emirati award winning art house feature Only Men Go To The Grave.

More coverage coming soon from this great festival. I found it to be a slick, well organised affair, with lots of keen discussion & debate and a very eager filmgoing public. I particualrly enjoyed spending time with long-term festival goers (some of whom have returned each year since 2004) and meeting energised filmmakers having their world and regional premieres.

Highlights for me were Ali, the Goat and Ibrahim (Muhr Feature Award for Best Actor), Gaza Surf Club and Mawlana (The Preacher) – alongside those films mentioned above – while the chance to see Samuel L. Jackson discuss his career was something not worth missing.

The Dubai Internatonal Film Festival begins on the 7th of December, running through to the 14th. This year features a lineup of 155 films (features and shorts), and the programme includes a VR selection, beach screenings and an extensive Cinema of the World category hosting a wide range of international hits from the year’s festival circuit. There is much to be excited about this year, particularly the World Premieres featured in the Muhr Feature and Muhr Emirati categories, as well as intriguing titles having their regional premiers such as unique Afghan film Wolf & Sheep in Cinema of the World, urgent Iraqi drama Reseba (The Dark Wind) in Muhr Feature and intimate Syrian documentary The War Show in Arabian Nights. Read on for the films we’re most excited about.

Click the photos for trailers and clips:

ONLY MEN GO TO THE GRAVE (DIR. ABDULLA AL KAABI, UAE)
Muhr Emirati, World Premiere
Genre: Drama
After the Iraq-Iran war ended in 1988, a blind mother welcomes her estranged daughters to tell them a secret. Unfortunately, she accidentally dies while sharing it. During the funeral, the daughters try to deal with their mother’s sudden death and also work together to unveil her secret by looking for clues from visitors. Throughout the funeral, their own lives continue to unravel, giving room for buried family tensions to gradually surface, while struggling to deal with their own secrets and deep-rooted guilt. The daughters start to question everything about their mother’s life after a peculiar encounter…

MAWLANA / THE PREACHER (DIR. MAGDY AHMED ALI, EGYPT)
Muhr Feature, World Premire
Genre: Drama
Sheikh Hatem (Amr Saad) stands out in a society influenced by fundamentalist views. From leading the prayers at a government mosque to becoming a popular TV celebrity issuing fatwas that deviate from the traditional religious rhetoric, he has amassed millions of fans. His responses on TV reveal a witty and eloquent person against a backdrop of darkness, where power struggles rage. Hatem finds himself caught within a complex web of conflict – his personal life unravels and he tries to stay above the politics of institutions. When he is entangled in a delicate matter, he has to find a way to make a dent in the climate of hypocrisy and fear.

HONEY, RAIN & DUST (DIR. NUJOOM ALGHANEM, UAE)
Muhr Emirati, World Premiere
Genre: Documentary
Aisha, Fatima and Ghareeb are amongst the best known honey specialists in the northern parts of the UAE. Ghareeb is also considered a beekeeper because he established a sanctuary at the top of the mountains, where he can be in control of the surrounding environment and protect his honeybees. Fatima and Aisha prefer to roam the mountains freely to find the highest natural honey. Meanwhile, the bees are coping with climate change, survival challenges and the production of honey. Involuntarily, the bees have become integral to the lives of Aisha, Fatima and Ghareeb. But, for how long and to what extent can the bees keep providing?

WOLF & SHEEP (DIR. SHAHRBANOO SADAT, AFGHANISTAN)
Cinema of the World, Middle East Premiere
Genre: Drama
Writer/director Shahrbanoo Sadat’s acclaimed film, which won a prize at the Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes, shrewdly strikes a tonal balance between documentary and drama as it dwells on life in a small Afghan village, where little has changed over the years. Sadat’s camera and story focuses largely on the children of the village, weaving together a story that subtly tackles the importance of tradition and rituals in a community, where life is tough but also supportive, and where storytelling takes its place alongside life’s lessons. It may be simple in structure and tone, but its insight and sincerity shine through.

THE WORTHY (DIR. ALI F. MOSTAFA, UAE)
Muhr Emirati, MENA Premiere
Genre: Thriller
In a dystopian future, when the water supply has been poisoned, a group of unlikely survivors has taken refuge in an abandoned hangar. They struggle to stay alive and protect one of the last remaining sources of uncontaminated water. After a near-deadly altercation with bandits, who want to seize the water, two strangers appear to help fight off the bandits. The survivors’ leader agrees to host the strangers, as long as they conform to the camp’s rules. When one of the strangers betrays the group, the compound descends into madness, leaving only one question: who is worthy to live and to lead?

STILL BURNING (DIR. GEORGES HACHEM, LEBANON & UAE)
Muhr Feature, World Premiere
Genre: Drama
André, a Lebanese filmmaker, living and working in France unexpectedly meets Walid, a dear friend from his youth. During the Civil War, when they were in Beirut together, André and Walid were both driven by the same artistic vocation: cinema, and also by the same woman, Amira. Will their reunion – an all-nighter – revive repressed demons from their past?

76 MINUTES AND 15 SECONDS WITH ABBAS KIAROSTAMI (DIR. SEIFOLLAH SAMADIAN, IRAN)
Cinema of the World, MENA Premiere
Genre: Documentary
Photographer Seifollah Samadian (also a friend and collaborator of Abbas Kiarostami) put together this affectionate and insightful documentary after the death in Paris of the influential Iranian director and artist, utilising footage that takes in many phases of his busy artistic career. There are no interviews, which allows the footage to reflect Kiarostami’s own simplicity as a technical filmmaker and shows his sense of playfulness and embrace for the world around him, while the title reflects not only the running time but also that he died aged 76 and 15 days old.

ALI, THE GOAT, AND IBRAHIM (DIR. SHERIF EL BENDARY, EGYPT)
Muhr Feature, World Premiere
Genre: Drama
Ali falls in love with a goat, whom he names Nada. Ibrahim works at a recording studio and starts to hear voices that frighten him. Ali yields to his mother’s wish that he visit a healer, even though he doesn’t believe he is psychologically unstable. At the healer’s clinic, Ali meets Ibrahim. The healer diagnoses Ali and Ibrahim as “cursed” and prescribes a solution to break the spell; they must throw three “magic” stones in Egypt’s three water bodies. Ali, Ibrahim and Nada set off on an adventure that takes them to the Mediterranean, the Red Sea and the Nile in this touching tale of friendship, reconciliation, self-discovery and self-acceptance.

WÙLU (DIR. DAOUDA COULIBALY, FRANCE & SENEGAL)
Cinema of the World, Middle East Premiere
Genre: Drama / Thriller
A slick West African crime drama that follows Ladji (the impressive Ibrahim Koma), an ambitious 20-year-old bus driver in Mali, struggling to make the money he needs to prevent his older sister (singer Inna Modja) from prostituting herself. He decides to switch careers and becomes a drug runner and impresses the operation’s boss (Olivier Rabourdin) with his ingenuity. The film marks the feature debut of French-Malian director Daouda Coulibaly, who hits the right genre notes as Ladji’s life of crime heads into increasingly dark territory. The story is set alongside the run-up to the 2012 Mali Civil War, adding an extra intriguing political dimension.

THE WAR SHOW (DIR. OBAIDAH ZYTOON, ANDREAS DALSGAARD, SYRIA)
Arabian Nights, MENA Premiere
Genre: Documentary
In March 2011, radio host Obaidah Zytoon and her friends joined the street protests against the oppressive regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Knowing the Arab Spring would forever change their country, they began filming their lives and the events around them. However, as the regime’s violent response drove the country into a bloody civil war, their hopes for a better future are tested by violence, imprisonment and death. Obaidah leaves Damascus and journeys around the country. An intensely personal journey, THE WAR SHOW captures recent events in Syria through the intimate lens of a small group of friends.

RESEBA / THE DARK WIND (DIR. HUSSEIN HASSAN, IRAQ, GERMANY & QATAR)
Muhr Feature, MENA Premiere
Genre: Drama
Reko (33) and Pero (23) are a Yazidi couple preparing for their wedding, when ISIS fighters attack their village. Young Yazidi girls, including Pero, are sold as slaves and are tortured and raped. Reko, who escapes the attack as he was at work as a security guard at an American oil firm, is devastated by the attack. While searching for his family and Pero, he witnesses the tragic consequences of the attacks on the Yazidis. Eventually, he finds his family and Pero, who has been liberated and in a refugee camp. A sweeping narrative of love and courage against the backdrop of one of the most horrific war crimes of our time.

KHAREJ AL-ITAR AW THAWRA HATA EL NASSER / OFF FRAME AKA REVOLUTION UNTIL VICTORY (DIR. MOHANAD YAQUBI, FRANCE, PALESTINE, LEBANON & QATAR)
Muhr Feature, MENA Premiere
Genre: Documentary
OFF FRAME AKA REVOLUTION UNTIL VICTORY deals with the history and development of militant cinema in the Middle East. The film researches the motives and circumstances behind this genre and questions its dramatic end in 1982. In resurrecting a forgotten memory of struggle, OFF FRAME reanimates what is within the frame, but also weaves a critical reflection by looking for what is outside of it.

LAYLA M. (DIR. MIJKE DE JONG, NETHERLANDS, BELGIUM, GERMANY and JORDAN)
Arabian Nights, Middle East Premiere
Genre: Drama
Eighteen-year-old Layla, who was born and raised in Amsterdam, is smart, stubborn and of Moroccan origin. As she struggles with the increasing suspicion towards girls with headscarves and boys with beards, her faith intensifies. She joins a group of extremists who fight for their practice of Islam. She opts to marry a fellow extremist, Abdel, and together they travel and raise money for their causes. When they are involved in a shootout, they are forced to flee to the Middle East, where Layla encounters a world that initially nurtures her ideas, but finally confronts her with an impossible choice.

THE EAGLE HUNTRESS (DIR. OTTO BELL, USA)
Cinema of the World, UAE Premiere
Genre: Documentary
A young Mongolian girl fights against tradition in this delightful and absorbing documentary (narrated by Daisy Ridley) that delves into the rarely filmed nomad Mongolian Kazakh community and in particular their tradition of building a working relationship with golden eagles. The elders insist it is a male domain (apparently ‘women get cold’), but 13-year-old Aisholpan is the daughter of an eagle hunter and is determined to follow in her father’s footsteps. The film makes the most of spectacular backdrops, as she trains her eagle, eventually entering the community’s annual Golden Eagle competition.

GAZA SURF CLUB (DIR. PHILIP GNADT, MICKEY YAMINE, GERMANY)
Arabian Nights, MENA Premiere
Genre: Documentary
Gaza – a strip of land with 1.7 million citizens – has 26 miles of coastline, with a harbour that no longer services ships. Wedged between Israel and Egypt and isolated from the rest of the world, very little enters Gaza and even less leaves it. Trapped in “the world’s largest open-air prison” and ruled by war, a new generation is drawn to the beaches. Sick of occupation and political gridlock, they find their own personal freedom in the waves of the Mediterranean – they are the surfers of Gaza.

In 2009 documentary filmmaker James Page travelled to North Korea on a tourist visa, carrying with him a set of different cameras. Fascinated by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea since a young age, James’ intention was not to come back with a story designed around a pre-conceived narrative, but to grasp the opportunity and connect with the real people he met. 7 years on James’ film, From North to South Korea, has its world premiere on Tuesday 18th October at the New Orleans Film Festival. We spoke to James to learn about his journey to North Korea and the one he has been on since, to finally release the film.

What is the most fascinating thing to you about North Korea?
For me, the most interesting thing about North Korea is the lack of information there is about the inner workings of the country and the lives of the people there.  Likewise the perceptions the outside world has because of this.

Could you tell me about the origins of the project?
From North to South Korea initially started as a desire to see the last country divided by the Cold War and see what 65+ years of division by politics looks like.  I visited both North and South Korea in 2009 armed with a polaroid camera, DV camera, Super 8 camera and a digital camera.  I thought that capturing a country unlike any other in different formats would be an interesting way to try to make some sort of sense of the things I would see and experience.  It was not until I came back from North Korea having made a friendship with my North Korean guides (Mr. Pak and Mr. Kim), and visited a South Korean friend (Geon-hee) that I realised I had formed friendships on both sides of the border and that despite both sets of people being Koreans, they had no realistic chance of meeting due to the division of their nation.  It was this realisation which made me pursue, what essentially was a personal study of a place, into a short documentary.

Why has it taken a number of years for you to be able to release the film?
2009 seems like such a long time ago to have shot a documentary which I am now releasing. Initially my biggest issue was moral and legal.  When I went to The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea’s official name) I went under a tourist visa and not as a journalist.  When I came home I realised the content I had shot for my own use, told a story that I wanted to share with others, and as such anything I created and showed publicly would be considered a misuse of my tourist visa by the North Korean Government and Koryo Tours, the sanctioned tour company I utilised to visit the country. Violating a tourist visa in this way could result in both my guides loosing their jobs, the tour company having its license revoked, myself being barred from visiting North Korea again, and the potential of legal action.

Several TV and online documentaries about North Korea have chosen this route, believing that once they have their story they will have no need to go back to North Korea or worry about the people they came into contact with.  In order to make sure my guides would not be compromised by an unauthorised release of a film using ‘tourist footage’ I had to gain approval of the film by the North Korean government. If I could not get this authorisation, then I would not show the film.  Fortunately the owner of the tour company, Nick Bonner, has also produced 3 of the most respected, legally shot, documentaries about North Korea.  With his help and mentorship I was able to edit my original cut of the film in a way which maintained the same level of engagement with the  subject of North Korea, while using language that was non confrontational to the North Korean government.

After three years of various cuts, and a number of run arounds with Embassy Staff at the North Korean Embassy in London, I was finally given approval to show the film, and a confirmation that their would be no issues for my guides, the tour company, or any issues for me going back to North Korea in the future.  In that same time period I signed with a production company who was very eager to market the film, but once I finally got permission the documentary side of things had shifted, which then left my film stuck in a contract I could not leave for another year and a half.  Finally with my film free from government, moral and contractual issues, I was able to start post-production, which thanks to some amazing favours and talent, I was able to finally ‘finish’ in early 2016.  Its been a long journey and one I thought about leaving behind, but for better or for worse the situation on the Korean Peninsula has hardly changed, and the story I tell has stood the test of the past 7 years, due to the lack of change between the North and South.

What surprised you most about visiting North Korea?

It sounds very simple, but what surprised me most about North Korea was seeing people living their lives.  North Korea is probably one of the most politicised and dehumanised nations on earth, and the idea of what it must be like to live your day to day life there is on the bottom of many people’s question lists when trying to engage with the topic of North Korea.

What was the experience like from an emotional perspective? Was it moving, nerve wracking, surprising?
Initially visiting North Korea was intimidating.  Despite my attempts to study North Korea, its history, etc, it’s hard for all the terrifying things we hear about the country to not influence one’s experience.  Would people try to brainwash me?  Were there microphones in my hotel room? Would I be used as propaganda? These gut reactions quickly left, and I tried to engage with my guides as people and not as government minders.  However after leaving North Korea, visiting South Korea and seeing the border from both North and South and knowing people who I cared for on each side, the emotion that stays with me to this day is a great sadness for this division and the suffering this division has caused.

What did making this film teach you about your own experience, growing up in the USA & UK?
Having Grown up partially in the US you are taught at an early age that communism (or countries that call themselves communist) are the epitome of evil, before you have any idea of what communism or socialism are, so the idea of being in this ‘other’ place still carried a certain sense of unease despite however aware I thought I was about my own education. Trying to be aware of how my own unconscious prejudices influenced my experience of North Korea was a journey in itself.  Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, is often labeled as a show capital, and indeed it is, but what nation’s capital is not a show capital?  We see North Korean’s as brainwashed into believing in a system and a certain way of life, but how have our own governments conditioned us to think and operate in a certain way?  Turning those statements about North Korea into questions about how our own countries operate and being aware of those same parallels in my life and our society was probably the biggest lesson I took in regards to my own upbringing in the UK and USA.

Is there anything that you would like the audience at the New Orleans Film Fest to take away from the film in particular?
I would like for people attending the New Orleans Film Festival to leave the film thinking about the people who live in North Korea and the division of Korea as a whole, the next time they see an article about the ongoing nuclear and human rights issues on the Korean Peninsula.

What kind of relationships did you develop around making the film? Who are you still in touch with?
The biggest relationships I have made from this film were my friendships with my North Korean guides Mr Kim and Mr Pak, and the continuing friendship with my South Korean friend Geon-hee. Keeping in contact with Mr. Kim, Mr. Pak and Geonhee has been two different experiences.  With Geonhee, despite that we now do not live in the same city, we keep in contact via the usual means of Facebook, Skype, whatsapp, etc.  We chat regularly, and its really an afterthought about our access to communicate with one another.  My communications with Mr. Kim and Mr. Pak couldn’t be more different.  The vast majority of North Koreans do not have any access to the world wide web, emails, or the ability to make calls or send letters to people outside of their borders.  I took the only avenue of communication with my guides that I was presented with; writing a letter to them, which was sent to the Korean tour company who would then review the letter and decide whether to pass it on to Mr. Kim and Mr. Pak.  Unfortunately I never got a response and have no idea if they received my letter or if they did try to respond.  One day I hope to go back and see them, show them the film, and see how they are.

What documentaries inspire you?
Nick Bonner’s film A State of Mind inspired me to make documentaries and try to approach subjects such as North Korea through people and not just politics.  More broadly such greats as Werner Herzog, Chris Marker, and Errol Morris are a constant source of inspiration.  Joshua Oppenheimer’s films have been a more recent inspiration as well.

What can you tell me about your upcoming filmmaking projects?
Currently I have a feature in development which is a sequel to my short.  From South To North Korea will attempt to make the impossible happen and allow for Geonhee to travel to North Korea legally and meet Mr Kim and Mr Pak.  The Film will examine the process of just how difficult it is for North and South Koreans to try to meet and the history and politics of why Koreans of both North and South have been kept from interacting with one another.

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