Archive for the ‘USA’ Category

Berlin, February, 2016: French film editor Patricia Rommel sat down to talk craft and career with Berlin based fashion designer Paula Immich.

Patricia Rommel has editied the films of established, as well as of independent directors and her work has taken her to Mexico, India and Los Angeles. Among the many films Patricia has edited are two Oscar winners: Nirgendwo in Afrika by Caroline Link and Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others) by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. Currently she is editing a new film directed by Angelina Jolie.

Speaking in the terms of film language, I would describe Patricia Rommel as a jumpcut: she is full of energy, in a constant change of movement it seems like a new thought or impulse comes to her mind every minute.

Her mercurialness is in sharp contrast to the moment she enters her world of editing: this is the instant where she blends out everything around her. She focuses like a sniper; concentration, patience, silence, flow.

Patricia, what exactly do you do when you start editing a film?
Editing is quite similar to writing. A writer has his thoughts and his words. As an editor I work with the shots, the sound, the music and my thoughts. I string takes together, play around with the space of time or deplace the intended order of the shots and the meaning will be completetly different. There are endless possibilities of how a story can be told.

When things become challenging my ambition is fueled because, all the more so, I have to use my creativity and think out of the box.

What do you love about your job?
For me the most beautiful part in the process of filmmaking is the editing. The atmosphere in the cutting room is communicative and calm at the same time and I can follow my own schedule. I love working at night when the city goes to sleep, when everything around me –  the constant mails, the phone calls, the assistants – calms down.

What are the down sides?
The pressure of time. There are always tight deadlines within which I have to be creative. I would love to have the freedom to experiment even more.

How do you deal with this pressure?
After so many years I am still passionate about editing and the process itself is still rewarding to me, which compensates for the pressure.

Are men and women judged by the same measure and do they have equal opportunities in your profession?
Opposed to the women’s poor representation in the film industry in general, editing used to be a women’s domain because film was shot on celluloid, which physically had to be cut and then taped back together in the editing room, which was a very meticulous affair. A labour which was to be found more apropriate to women. Since film editing has become digital more and more men are working in this job. For myself I feel lucky to be working with women directors, such as Caroline Link or Angelina Jolie, who again themselves enjoy working with women. It is not uncommon to find women assigned as heads of department on Caroline Link’s team

Patricia, you are currently editing Angelina Jolie’s new movie. There is so much larger than life glamour associated with her, were you nervous the fist time you met her; did you find her intimidating?
Because of her celebrity I was a little hesitant during the first handshake, but I soon realized how sincere and how down to earth she is.

Is it important for your career how you dress?
No,  not really. In general I like to alternate between a casual style and simple elegance. But when I have meeings for first interviews I deliberately try to dress neutral, since I don’t want peolple to put a label on me right from the start.

Patricia, you’ve had a fantastic career so far, any advice to other women about how to get ahead?
Always be honest with yourself, be clear about what you want and what you don’t want. Be patient and open minded. Be respectful. Learn to listen, and …smile.

Patricia , thank you for sharing.

Text & image copyright of Paula Immich. For more on Paula’s work visit www.paulaimmich.de

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Filmmaking is a challenging business at the best of times. Read on to discover some of the greatest insurance risks in cinema history, from the threat of filming with real lions for the 1981 cult movie Roar  (directed by Noel Marshall and starring Tippi Hedren), to the enormous logistical challenges of shooting David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) and the threat of damaging a fragile ecosystem filming the ongoing fantasy epic Game of Thrones:

Read Full Post »

Even when Hollywood tries to make a biting drama, there are always unconvincing elements that desperately attempt to add light to the dolefulness. Whilst Anomalisa is not a depressing, dark drama, it is one of the most honest and therefore damning presentation of human errs. We follow Michael Stone, a customer service specialist who is attending a conference away from home. Michael is a bored, socially inept individual who, by the end, is someone we can both dislike and empathise with. His character’s complexity is nothing revolutionary for film, but it is a man akin to Llewyn Davis – someone rarely seen in cinema – who is distrustful yet reasonable. His short quest to find excitement and fulfilment over the film’s run-time, is a relatable one; like most of Kaufman’s work, there is always something accessible.

Adapted from a stage play, Anomalisa has a very distinctive look and direction. For one, it is entirely played out by puppets. Secondly, it includes just three (voice) actors, two playing the co-leads, and the other playing everyone else. It reflects the artificiality of life Kaufman wants to explore, and comically highlights the universal personalities that peer pressure and social media has created. Stone – and later, Lisa – is a notable exception in the monosyllabic world, one which he is unaware of. Planting a very ordinary man in an even more uniform world is engaging thanks to its identifiable portrait. Stone has many of the same insecurities and bad habits that we all develop over life – wondering how he may overcome them, or to see how they are adding to his ennui, is the narrative’s drive. Whether he succeeds or not is a desire that grows and diminishes as Michael alters his behaviour and, sometimes, decency.

The second pivotal plot point is the titular Lisa (nicknamed Anomalisa by Michael). Once this self-effacing person comes into it, the presentation of humanity comes full frame. The only other person that looks and sounds different, with an air of grace about her, Lisa is a beautiful creature, unknowingly swimming against the tide – like Michael – and more or less happy. Once Michael meets and begins interacting with Lisa, this is also where the meticulous movement of the puppetry gets its spotlight, too. That spark of life Stone sees in Lisa not only lifts the mood, it lifts the strings of the puppets (figuratively speaking, as this is a stop-motion animation). You soon forget you are watching an animation, and get drawn into a very human drama. The romance that blossoms is quick, yet the motions are smooth – it’s a wondrous spectacle to see the otherwise clunky look transition into seamlessness.

As with other Kaufman efforts, the careful construction is maybe felt more so after watching, upon analysis. You are certainly engrossed as everything happens, although to pontificate on its meaning arguably comes later. For many, this will be a draw-back, as it continues with Kaufman’s unconventional methods. It is meant to be alienating in essence, as the faces and voices largely melt into one, and dream sequences and hallucinatory moments jerk you out of the monotony it strives to show. The subliminal qualities are what make Kaufman such a great writer and director – take the movement point, for example, and is something you only notice post-screening, or gradually through thought.

Comedy may not be as palpable as in Being John Malkovich or Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, but you will laugh heartily at many sequences. Laughing in the face of misery is often the best defence mechanism, and Kaufman certainly advocates that notion. The nervousness of our main characters is something to chuckle at occasionally, making sure you are not too depressed about the neuroses that plague many of us. It is, at its core, a love story – that always comes with ebullience as well as sadness. To walk away from the film feeling cold shouldn’t happen – what the complications and comedy aim to provide is a warmness that can only be felt by those that understand the multifaceted layers of life. Kaufman certainly understands, and his animated characters, somehow, reflect this better than most real-life actors.

Read Full Post »

New Zealand-born composer Hanan Townshend was plucked from relative obscurity in a Texas university when an unnamed director got in touch to request his involvement in his new film. That director turned out to be the notoriously elusive Terrence Malick, and Townshend joined The Tree of Life project as an intern. He became the main composer for Malick’s next film To the Wonder and collaborated on his latest film, Knight of Cups. We spoke to him about his latest project and working with Malick.

You’ve recently finished working on Knight of Cups, how was it working with Terrence Malick this time around? Was it a different relationship?

It was and it wasn’t. I’m pretty familiar now with Terry’s process and we have our own way of working, collaborating together so a lot of it was an extension of what we’d already been doing with To the Wonder. Tree of Life was a little bit different because I was more of an intern and working in the capacity of an intern, I wasn’t the composer of course. I did write some music for it but I wasn’t the composer. But with this project I’m pretty sure that Knight of Cups was shot without a script. Obviously there was a vision for it and Terry would have the anchors, the pages of the script, but it wasn’t anything set in stone. So I feel like there was a bit more freedom in this project, in particular during the editing process, to just experiment and see the directions in which the film might take. So in many ways it was very similar and in other ways it was a little bit different. I wasn’t working in the office on To the Wonder. I was actually in an office building right next to the editing house so I was kinda creating things, sending it through every day, talking with Terry every day, or every second day. Whereas on this film I was working from my own studio and I was a little bit more separated from it, which has its advantages and disadvantages.

How did you communicate on this film?  Did he give you directives?

We were certainly speaking on the phone a lot and he would usually call every couple of days, usually during the times when the music was having a really important part to play in a certain section of the film.  I usually go into the office where they’re editing the film and we just talk about the vision of the music and Terry’s vision for the film musically speaking. Then I usually just go away to my studio and we just start experimenting with a whole handful of different ideas. Terry has a lot of ideas and there is never any lack of ideas there (laughs). He has things that he wants to experiment with, so a lot of it is creating some music and then he might call and we’ll refine it further. But obviously I’m not creating music to picture so it’s a bit of a different thing, just kind of creating, y’know. Terry talks about it being like he’s the carpenter and I’m providing him with the wood and the nails to be able to kind of build the structure. Other than me building it, I’m allowing myself to just create this music and Terry and the editors will work to fit it to the film.

What kind of language does he use when he’s talking about the music? I’ve heard he uses particular kinds of words, like ‘river’ or ‘dance’ for the type of music he wants…

He does. Pretty much. He uses a lot of metaphors when he’s talking about music. He can be very specific and at times he can be very vague. I don’t mean vague in a way that he seems like he doesn’t know (what he’s doing). He has a very clear idea of what he’s doing. Sometimes I think as a composer and a creator in general if someone tells you too much you end up doing exactly what they tell you to do. Terry is very aware of that and he’ll talk a lot in metaphors. He speaks a lot about water. Water is a really important symbol in a lot of his films and it represents the river of life, this eternal kind of thing that continues on and on.

There is other things, like he is very interested in the tritone (an interval often referred to as “the devil’s music”). He likes to use intervals, simple intervals to kind of represent something in his film. For Terry it could be something as simple as a melody that he likes which really distinguishes his films. In this film there is a Ralph Vaughn Williams piece called Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, which is based on an Episcopal hymn. So we take that theme and kind of try to find ways to create a score that isn’t just original music but is also taking some of the big themes that Terry uses in the film, creating a sense of continuity between them. So it’s not just this big piece of music. We have a reappearance of it in the film.  He can often be quite vague in what he wants but at the same time he’s not vague, he’s allowing some freedom to experiment and I really enjoy it.

Is it intimidating to be put up against these revered composers or quite flattering? He uses a lot of different types of music in his films…

Yeah it can be, but the thing working with Terry is that it’s a constant, morphing changing thing. Often I’ll go off and watch a scene from the film and it’ll be completely different. I guess I don’t really think about it as much because I’m not constantly watching it through. You know, the pre-existing licensed music, I feel quite separated from that. But there is a little bit of everything in there, I do at times feel like, y’know seeing Ralph Vaughn Williams, Debussy…there’s a lot of heavy hitters. Being part of it is kinda cool, it’s exciting.

Were there any times when you were particularly surprised how your music was used?

I don’t tend to feel shocked in the sense ‘Oh my goodness this music has been used in a certan way and it shouldn’t’. I think that’s part of it really, when I put my name down to work on the film I’m agreeing to ‘OK, I’m going to be sending this music to these guys and you guys should feel free to find the right places’. If I’m being honest there are a couple of editors in particular who work with Terry who I think are real music spotters, who can really place (the music), because it can make a massive impact you know, how the music comes into and whether it ties two scenes together, whether it changes the whole meaning or the symbolism. So yeah,  I trust them and I never feel like ‘Oh they’ve used this in the wrong way’ or anything, I’m usually pleasantly surprised.

Do you have any favourite composers working today that you admire?

Yeah, yeah definitely. I like actually a lot of UK/British composers. I really like Clint Mansell, think he’s doing some really cool stuff. I always enjoy his scores. His score for The Fountain is probably the first score that ever got me really interested, and there’s something about that score that for me, the ways in which he uses the orchestra as just part of the ensemble and then he’s got guitars and voice. I realised film scoring can be more than just an orchestra. It can be anything you want.I also really like Jonny Greenwood. Just once again, as a guitarist he can do the orchestral or conventional stuff but he can also do this hybrid classical which is really cool. Probably one other name would be Max Richter. Really, really cool take on orchestral music. I love tons of composers, but those three in particular. I don’t know, there’s something in their sound that just resonates. Maybe something in their education sets them apart.

When you’re watching other films are there any bugbears you have in listening to the soundtracks?

Using samples too much. I remember Hans Zimmer saying this and don’t quote me exactly (laughs) but he said something along the lines of ‘the composer with the best sample wins’. When I say sample I mean sample libraries, orchestral synths. I’m just amazed, time and time again, I hear these scores it’s like not good synth, it’s fake synth. There are a lot of composers out there who do a pretty good job but I kind of learned early on if you want to get work and you want to do this job for real, you’ve got to know how to work a sample library and make it as realistic as you can. Because at the end of the day, if there’s no emotion in it, just strings going NEEE-NEEE-NEEE, no one’s going to get anything out of it.  Just bringing in a single player can really help, bringing in a violin and putting it on top. It doesn’t cost you, it’s economic, but having that one element of realism can take your mind away from all of the fakeness that you’re hearing in the samples. That’s probably my biggest bugbear because there’s no excuse for it.

When you’re working with the musicians do you always go in with a plan of what you want to hear or is there room for improvisation?

Well there are times where l’ll do both you know. There are times when I’ll be recording with an orchestra and there’s a very specific amount of time that we have to get through however much music. So I’ll work with an orchestrator and it’s completely planned out and there’s not going to be curveballs thrown in or anything. You get there, you record, you get the best takes you can get and then you mix it. But there are times where I’ll go into the studio and maybe there might be an extra 30 minutes left over with the players so I’ll use that chance in real time just to experiment. It all depends on the players, some players feel more comfortable. One piece in particular, Awareness, was used in To the Wonder and the Apple iPad ad, that was an improvisation with some woodwind players and it turned into this thing. So I love doing those sessions, you just don’t know what’s going to come out of it, you know?

Read Full Post »

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 17.56.26Closing off the 2016 edition of the Glasgow Film Festival is Anomalisa, the directorial return of Charlie Kaufman; here he collaborates with animator Duke Johnson, which is certainly an interesting pairing. The film has received a seemingly endless list of plaudits, including an Academy Award nomination and the Grand Jury Prize in Venice. However, it is an intentionally difficult film to love, making for brave choice to round off the festival.

Anomalisa is a desperately sad film, brimming with pathos towards its two main characters, neither of whom are particularly satisfied with their lives. We follow a day in the life of middle-aged Michael Stone (David Thewlis) – a semi-famous motivational speaker, within the customer service industry – who arrives at a hotel in Cincinnati, from Los Angeles, to give a speech. While there he is haunted by memories of an old flame from Cincinnati, while away from his wife and child. If this all sounds weirdly familiar, you’d be right, Anomalisa is highly self-aware about its own mundanity; indeed, it is a big part of the story.

But what sets Anomalisa apart is a storytelling device, whereby Michael has a mental condition in which he sees everyone with the same face and hears them with the same voice (Tom Noonan). This is fairly disorientating at first, as Noonan’s voice becomes the omnipresent “other” in all instances, meaning one can only distinguish Michael from the crowd. Michael is depressed about the mundanity of his life and this single voice that represents everyone else is a metaphor for how devalued and disenfranchised people can become with life. What is troubling is that Michael isn’t particularly likable himself, which creates an uneasy and anxious mood as the film progresses.

Things change when a female voice is heard, belonging to Lisa (brilliantly performed by Jennifer Jason Leigh) who also possesses her own face; as a result, Michael becomes instantly infatuated with her. Lisa is staying at the hotel with her friend Emily (Noonan, again), who has traveled from upstate Akron to attend Michael’s convention and is hugely self-conscious about herself, after an apparent attack earlier in life. While the film as a whole possesses a dream-like quality – which is a result of the animation – it never loses that authentic human touch, often making it difficult to distinguish between dream and reality.

What’s fascinating about this film is how its use of human-esque puppets and stop-motion animation allows it to reflect everyday occurrences and interactions more realistically than most live action films. As this is an animated film, Kaufman and Johnson are free to show sex and nudity without censorship and while that may sound like a potentially titillating aspect, it is treated as a normal, even awkward aspect of life. In one of the film’s funniest scenes, Michael gets increasingly angry at a shower fluctuating between hot and cold, something almost all of us have experienced. Meanwhile, when we get to the sex scene – though it contains erotic aspects – it is also an extremely believable interaction between two timid people who have just met and aren’t too sure about what they are doing.

So Anomalisa manages to really explore the human condition, without displaying any actual humans. The real triumph of Kaufman and Johnson’s film is that they have managed to show – through animation – how humans are passionate, tragic, awkward, frustrated and flawed beings who experience disappointment, as well as fleeting moments of fancy. It’s a tough film to close a festival with, because of the univerally melancholic feelings it evokes. However, there is a warmth in the film’s humor and style that keeps it from becoming too alientating; instead, Anomalisa shows us the moments that make life worth living.

Finally, I’d like to say thanks for reading my coverage of Glasgow Film Festival 2016. Your kind words and engagement has made it all worth it and the festival itself was a real success, with the highest attendance numbers to date. Also congratulations to Mustang for winning the Audience Award, it was a worthy winner.

Read Full Post »

The American Dreamershowing on MUBI at the time of writing – is an intriguing, reflexive 1971 documentary about Dennis Hopper, shot during the production and editing of his directorial magnum opus The Last Movie. The film, by L.M. Kit Carson & Lawrence Schiller, captures relentless-zeitgeist-barometer Hopper in a revealing moment of self-discovery, transgression and vanity.

We find Hopper holed up in Taos, New Mexico and spend only a fraction of screen time on the production of The Last Movie. Instead, the film conveys Hopper’s rapport with Carson and Schiller and his idea of what this documentary portrait should be: this involves Hopper surrounding himself with hip young women (“play bunnies”), in a scenario that resembles a harem as much as it does a love-in. He also spends time in the surrounding countryside pondering life and firing automatic rifles.

Hopper – an actor capable of murky depth and raw humanity (see The American Friend & Apocalypse Now) – actually comes across less intriguing as himself, in the guise of bohemian commune leader, than he does usually as an actor. In his acting work we often see his powerful empathetic qualities at work, in even the most troubled characters. Here Hopper appears self-absorbed and chauvinistic, posturing even, in his efforts to be the radical figure that he was known to be.

But as the artifice slides away, so does his attempt at masking it. Speaking directly to the filmmakers and to the camera, he reveals his willingness to participate in the film, in spite of the potentially negative outcome. As in many of his best performances Hopper allows us to see the truth of the character and here he rather knowingly reveals himself; flaws, superficiality and all.

Fortunately Carson and Schiller engage with their subject with the degree of humour he demands. The film opens with a scene in which Hopper greets them naked at the door of his house, before getting into the bath in front of their eyes (and the camera lens.) In another scene he strips off and walks down a suburban street in Los Alamos (the home of J. Robert Oppenheimer and the hydrogen bomb), as an act of liberation against the hidden violent history of the place.

As Werner Herzog has said: “filmmaking can easily turn you into a clown” and in its way The American Dreamer does so to Hopper. Yet, this film doesn’t diminish his place as an artist, for Dennis Hopper was forever a risk taker and cinema is so much richer for his life and legacy.

Read Full Post »

Following hot on the heels of the hugely successful revenge thriller Blue Ruin comes Jeremy Saulnier’s third feature, the similarly downcast Green Room.

After a wave of hype from Cannes and Toronto screenings, Green Room lands here as one of the hot picks for the festival and it is not difficult to see why. The presence of the legendary Patrick Stewart, who plays Darcy, the proprietor of the nazi-skinhead punk club where the film’s gig-turned-siege takes place, is, of course, the most prominent reason for said hype. Despite the unlikely description, Stewart’s character is a sinisterly collected and pragmatic character, which Stewart does well not to over-sell; this gives the rest of the film room to breathe, despite his potentially overawing presence.

Green Room follows young D.I.Y punk band “Ain’t Rights” as they try and survive on the road, with little money and resources, performing the art they love.  The first act sets a warm tone through the luscious landscape and band’s camaraderie. Saulnier, however, soon creates the same tense mood and atmosphere as his previous work, shooting entirely in the exceedingly scenic Portland, Oregon countryside.

Saulnier has said in interviews promoting Green Room that he comes from a punk music background, hailing from the legendary Washington D.C scene (as does the band of the film) and it is highly refreshing to see punk music presented in a genuinely positive light – where so often it can become a negative stereotype. As someone who has performed and toured in punk bands myself, it was particularly heartening to see a film realistically made within this world.

The film, of course, shows the other side of the coin too, in the violent racist skinhead types who act like gangsters; but thankfully they aren’t as much of a problem in reality anymore. However, even they are shown as a brotherhood who look out for each other – despite their hateful views – making them more than mere one-dimensional bad guys.

After the band see a horrific crime in the titular green room, things “turn south”, as Darcy proclaims and the band are held hostage within the scene of the crime. The two groups have their relationships tested, as the tension and stakes ratchet increasingly upwards. Darcy and his group have the upper hand, a fact that becomes brutally clear once things begin to boil over, while the central band try to work a way out of the place together.

What follows is a violent yet thrilling revenge plot, as the band attempt to turn the tables on their captors. There are plenty of fun set-pieces, using some inventive props unique to the DIY punk venue setting, which is consistent with the dark humour that rumbles throughout the film; much like the incessant music and feedback that rings around the background throughout.

Green Room sees some great performances from a mostly young cast, including Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development) and Anton Yelchin (Star Trek) in the band, with Imogen Poots as the mysterious, betrayed friend of the skinhead gang. On top of this, the sense of dread is impressive, particularly when the majority of the film takes place in the one room. The film is complete with some truly nasty moments, but equally a well-driven narrative, which keeps Green Room a fresh and impressive effort from this young director.

Read Full Post »

French-Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallée has found a great deal of success in the past two years with his Oscar-nominated pictures Dallas Buyers Club and Wild, so it is a little bit of a surprise to see him so unfocused here. He has a more than capable cast at his disposal with the ever enticing Jake Gyllenhaal leading the charge, as a man who discovers his life has been something of a lie – after his wife dies in a car crash, which he survives.

Initially Davis Mitchell (Gyllenhaal) has what many would consider the perfect life: a beautiful, smart wife, a highly lucrative job in investment banking and a nice house in the New York state suburbs. While penning a therapeutic letter to a snack vending machine company – who are responsible for a machine that doesn’t dispense the requested sweets – Mitchell realises in mourning that his life has no substance. He admits that he barely understood his wife, his job was earned on “pure nepotism” (as the CEO is his father-in-law) and due to its nature there was never “anything physical you could hold in your hands” other than the profits made. Furthermore, Mitchell realises that he has merely coasted through life, not really paying attention to anyone and living purely through material objects.

So his newfound focus on “everything being a metaphor” is a believable, if not entirely original, conceit as this widower begins to see the world differently; he pays more attention to the world around him and finds the titular act of “demolition” particularly cathartic, especially when he destroys his own marital house. Gyllenhaal too does a decent job of showing the once fairly shallow Davis transforming into a more attenuative character.

The problem comes when Davis begins practising this in the real world. His new found freedom makes him a far more sympathetic character, but there’s no real progression of this idea throughout the film beyond: wife dies, realises stuff, makes some concessions at the end. It is claimed in the film that “total honesty is your thing” about the new-born Davis, which even he jokes about, as if this is a reason to explain the film’s spotty narrative.

Elsewhere, the film lacks much focus or direction. After a while, his continued letters to the vending company gets a response from a mysterious blonde. Eventually, they cross paths on Davis’ commuter train, and it turns that she is Karen Moreno (Naomi Watts) who let Davis into her life in a plutonic relationship, mostly out of sympathy for his soul through his letters. The film then becomes a dark, romantic comedy and for Karen’s son Chris (Judah Lewis), a coming of age tale which half-heartedly deals with his potentially burgeoning homosexuality. Troubling is Karen’s addiction to Marijuana and her boyfriend and boss Carl (C.J Wilson) who is a gun-toting “good guy” apparently.

While Davis is a more than polite guest in Karen and Chris’s lives, it is a problematic relationship that tries to make some slightly ill-conceived comment on class differences. The main point seems to be that the rich are a bit selfish, until someone dies and that the working class are not good at looking after themselves, but are more creatively expressive.

It’s a shame because Demolition – despite throwing several half-baked ideas at the screen – does has some genuine warmth to it. Gyllenhaal makes the best of a bad situation, delivering a strong performance that ranges from genuinely humorous, to emphathetic, to sad indifference. Lewis is excellent as the conflicted teenage son, but none of this really means anything without a properly realised narrative to back it up. One feels there is a great film rattling around in Demolition somewhere, it just required more care to truly realise it.

Read Full Post »

Here at Lantana Publishing, an independent publishing house dedicated to challenging the lack of diversity in children’s books, we have been watching the Oscars’ ‘Diversity Debate’ unfold with interest.

Hardly a day has gone by in the past few weeks without the news reporting that another industry heavyweight has waded into this dispute. Follow the #OscarsSoWhite and you can see the world’s reaction to the 2016 Oscars shortlist unfold: Hollywood power couple Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith, as well as esteemed director Spike Lee amongst others, have made it clear that they intend to boycott this year’s ceremony, while meanwhile, the debate has reached all the way to the White House. Barack Obama recently made his voice heard, commenting on the importance of everybody working within the film industry getting a “fair shot”.

While semantics might seem unimportant given the gravity of an issue that even the American president has seen fit to comment on, the inflammatory labels that have been applied to this news story – row, scandal, problem, furor to name but a few – threaten to turn what could be a debate into a cartoonish battleground: the gung-ho ‘for diversity’ team facing their bullish ‘against diversity’ opponents. Media coverage seems destined to turn the issue into a simple binary or a story with a clear-cut trajectory, moving from uncomplicated problem to solution.

In this vein, many commentators have lambasted Helen Mirren for her claim that “it’s unfair to attack the Academy”, because she speaks from a position of white privilege. However, it appears Mirren was not intending to dismiss the current criticism of the Academy, but inviting us to dig deeper and find the root of a wide-scale problem that simply reaches its culmination in the Academy’s nomination process. More often than not, it is her initial statement (in defence of the Academy) that is criticised as opposed to her later support of diversity in the film industry more widely. In fact, Mirren was adamant that “the issue we need to be looking at is what happens before the film gets to the Oscars – what kind of films are made, and the way in which they’re cast, and the scripts.”

In order for this to truly be a ‘debate’, defined as a public forum in which people exchange views and thrash out an issue, we need to accept that there are not only two sides to the argument; there are not simply two teams waving ‘yes, diversity’ and ‘no, diversity’ placards at each other but a whole spectrum of angles and views which deserve to be considered if we want to move forward to create a fairer and more tolerant space in which the arts can flourish. Under this aegis, the diversity debate should not simply be about awards ceremonies but about grass roots; not simply about race, but about the fair and equal representation of gender, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, age and disability in all walks of life and in all facets of arts production. To pounce on Mirren’s statement as simply ‘what you would expect’ from a celebrated white woman is to undermine the terms of this broader debate.

As a representative of the publishing industry, we would be the first to point out that this conversation is welcome – we strive to give authors and illustrators of minority backgrounds the opportunities to publish stories that celebrate their diverse and multicultural communities, beliefs and customs, and are aware of how unusual this makes us. What we know from experience is that it is a conversation that is complex, and should be on a large scale, taking into account many different industries and areas of public life – not just Hollywood. In fact, the attention shone on the film industry over the past few weeks – although a welcome call to arms – has created a glare that might prevent many from seeing the lack of diversity inherent in other industries.

There have been several high profile campaigns drawing attention to the lack of diversity in children’s books, not least the interest that transformed the Twitter #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign into a fully-functioning not-for-profit with a mission to promote diversity in publishing. The attention heaped on film, and the Academy’s failure for the second year running to nominate any actors from ethnic minority backgrounds, begs the question of why film generally makes the headlines more often than other media. Does the fact that films feature actors (and often those who have reached celebrity status) make the industry’s lack of diversity any more damaging than the corresponding lack of (fictional) characters from black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds found in children’s books?

Surely, if we are to acknowledge that the Oscars’ ‘debate’ is actually a complex and nuanced discussion about the endemic problems within cultural representation, we also need to be aware of the fact that many of the people who work in high profile industries have their outlooks shaped by the books they read in their early years, before they even enter a career. Perhaps, as well as looking at the film industry and questioning why there are not more roles available to people from minority ethnic backgrounds, we should also consider the inequalities at the heart of book production that see barely 5% of the UK’s and US’s publishing output represent authors of cultural minorities.

Challenge the lack of diversity in children’s books and we may go a long way to educating future generations about the importance of every art form representing humanity in all its myriad forms.

To find out more about Lantana Publishing and their high quality, multicultural picture books for children, visit the website: www.lantanapublishing.com.

Read Full Post »

Joachim Trier follows his highly regarded Oslo, August 31st with his English-speaking debut Louder Than Bombs, which received mixed reviews in Cannes and Toronto before arriving here in Glasgow. Featuring an impressive cast including Gabriel Byrne (The Usual Suspects, Millers Crossing), Isabelle Huppert (Amour) and Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network, The End of the Tour) Trier directs with skill, regardless of the new challenge of a second language.

Louder Than Bombs opens with a striking image of life – a newborn holding the hand of its father Jonah (Eisenberg) – shortly followed by a reveal of the death of Eisenberg’s mother Isabelle (Huppert), although this has already happened by the birth of Jonah’s son. This becomes a staple technique of the film, jumping forward and backwards in time, revealing a bit more detail each time, or viewing the same scene from a different character’s perspective. As a result, the dead mother Isabelle remains a living, breathing character in the film’s narrative, either due to flashback or premonition.

As for the rest of the family, the film deals with their varying attempts to cope with the grief of losing their mother including the sensitive windowed Husband Gene (Byrne), the aforementioned Jonah – who is more similar than his secretly suffering mother than he realised – and the younger teenage son Conrad; expertly played by Devin Druid, previously only known for playing teenage Louis C.K in his eponymous show. Conrad’s character is particularly fascinating, as while he appears to be the hardest hit of all, he shows the greatest deal of optimism in the film.

As well as family grief, Louder Than Bombs is very much about the words and feelings that go unexpressed between close family members – and the gap in understanding that this creates. Jonah’s character goes in the opposite direction of his younger brother: at first seeming capable of saving his family’s problems, but soon emerging as repressed and neglectful.

While the premise may sound fairly depressing, there is plenty of emotional depth found in this film. Louder Than Bombs retains a sense of humour and is playful enough with its form to keep it from being a “Capital D Drama” as Trier has put it. While the film examines the universally difficult subject of family grief, it doesn’t fail to show the warmth that these characters exert; even if often misplaced – as shown in several attempts by the father and sons to engage with the opposite sex – with varying degrees of success and conscientiousness.

On top of this, Trier plays with not just narrative structure, but with realism and filmic self-awareness, including lots of fun references to influential films (Vertigo, being one.) He also uses the imagination and dreams to represent the characters’ consciousness on screen. The greatest example of this is Conrad listening to a female classmate he is crushing on. As she reads aloud a classic text, he starts imagining her words visually; his mind takes over and she begins narrating the scene of his mother’s death and what thoughts might have gone through her mind, when she realised she was about to die. It is a truly thrilling scene and a technique that Trier explores throughout this intriguing film.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: