Posts Tagged ‘Berlinale’

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

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A pet project of the now veteran actor Don Cheadle, Miles Ahead is the ten-years-in-the-making “biopic” of the legendary Jazz musician Miles Davis. Much like Davis’s approach to his “Jazz” music (a term he didn’t care for personally), this film is more of an impressionistic series of sketches, to build up a characterised idea of the man himself.

As such, the film largely plays like a suspended, drug-addled daydream, drifting between the cocaine infused “present” of New York, 1979 – four years after Davis’ last public performance and release – and the early 60s where he married his wife Frances Taylor and experienced racial profiling by the police.

The atmosphere Cheadle creates in both his performance and direction suits the narrative well. While there is no real indication how true, or false, anything that is happening here is, the film does provide an excellent insight into being a legendary figure in an art-form which isn’t bound by rules or conventions; this translates into Cheadle’s film-making form.

Miles Ahead turns in some excellent performances from its ensemble cast, including the always excellent Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man, Steve Jobs, Trumbo), as well as the up-and-coming Keith Stanfield (Short Term 12) and Emayatzy Corinealdi (Middle of Nowhere) as the aforementioned Taylor. Meanwhile, Ewan McGregor brings the film some star-power as Rolling Stone reporter Dave Braden.

Reportedly, the project took so long largely due to funding issues, with Cheadle this past week explaining at the Berlinale how he had to write in a white co-lead role, in the form of a dutiful Ewan McGregor, just to get studios to back the film.

While this is a shameful reflection of the state of Hollywood filmmaking (and the perception of the film’s audience), McGregor’s naive, shaggy-haired reporter (who interestingly retains McGregor’s natural Perth accent), is expertly handled by Cheadle’s direction. It would have been all too easy to mishandle this invented character, but McGregor approaches the role with the right balance of subtlety and professionalism – even when his character borders on being the comedy buddy role – to avoid being an unwelcome visitor to the set.

So while Miles Ahead is by no means perfect, it does provide an interesting insight into the great Davis, celebrating his music while simultaneously questioning the integrity of his character; particularly his relationship with wife Frances and drug addiction. It is a quiet reminder than the biopic needn’t be an overblown show-pony, but can be an art-form of its own when properly realised – Cheadle does that here with some real class.

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This is the full version of an interview that originally appeared on the Berlinale Talent Press website. Paul Verhoeven (director of RobocopStarship TroopersTotal RecallBasic Instinct, Black BookTurkish DelightSoldier of Orange) appeared at the Berlinale Talent Campus speaking on the theme of Some Like It Hot: Filmmakers as Entertainers. In my interview following the talk, we discussed the importance of the theme in more detail, and looked at some of the interesting but lesser known moments of Verhoeven’s filmmaking career:

What exemplifies filmmaking as entertainment?

Well I think filmmaking in general… if it’s not entertainment, then basically there will be no film industry anymore. People won’t go there [to the cinema], money won’t come in and they won’t make the movies any more.

I think film is the form of art that is mostly, more than any of the other arts, connected to money. A film is not the only piece of art where this can be (and often is not of course), but it is also an economic product. You cannot make movies that don’t work: you can do this once, perhaps twice, and then basically people won’t finance you anymore because they lose their money.

The investment, if its half a million, if it’s a hundred million, or three hundred million, of course people would like to get their money back… understandably. The people that spend money, even if its banks or whatever, they expect something back and in principle they would like to have their money back and more.

So if you make movies that don’t work and that is meaning movies that are not entertaining enough, then your career is very short. But of course you can make movies, although they are rarely made nowadays, that are entertainment in some way, but are extremely important and artistic: I think for example Lawrence of Arabia is in my opinion and there are many others. But, I don’t think people will make movies like Lawrence of Arabia any more, it’s too personal a story, there’s not enough BANG BANG.

What did you make of The Master?

Yeah, I saw half an hour. I couldn’t stand it! I didn’t care. It didn’t interest me at all.

Is creating entertainment your most important job as a filmmaker?

No. No, I consider making movies a form of art, but I’m very much aware that if you make too much art, they won’t come any more to the theatre and your career is finished. So you have to compromise, you have to play a little bit in the middle. I’m a mathematician, but after my studies I moved to painting, then I did both painting and film and then at a certain moment film won (and I forgot the mathematics totally.) Its different you know, if you paint you don’t need money really, if you write you don’t even need money. You only need money to eat, but you don’t need money to do your work. You have to pay for canvases, you need a computer, or whatever, but that’s limited you know and you don’t have to borrow that and gather that money.

With movies investment is so much pressure and there is so much talk about if the budget is this or if its five percent more or five percent less; that becomes a thing that is inherent in filmmaking. If you look at a movie for example like La Dolce Vita, which was in fact a big success, but the next movie was Eight ½ (Fellini’s movie), and it didn’t work, although it was a very interesting movie and probably one of the few movies of the last century that was a piece of art. So it made his career much more difficult.

Was he working under bigger budgetary constraints on La Dolce Vita?

No, I think he had the money he needed. It was shot in Italy and it was not Matt Damon you know. Marcello Mastroianni was not well known at that moment, he was not expensive and I think they made it for a price but he got everything he wanted for a price. The movie is big you know, he got what he wanted for sure. I have the feeling he got exactly what he wanted, so it was more expensive than La Strada or something, but still he got the money.

I’m interested in what you learned working in the military making propaganda films? What can any filmmakers learn from propaganda films about making entertaining films?

At a certain moment where you start to do movies of long kind of minutes then you have to start thinking about structure. For the marines they were documentaries between ten, fifteen or twenty minutes, then the time structure is not so important, people will sit it out you know. In a movie, if you don’t have something in the middle at forty, fifty minutes that interests you, then you’re lost.

So I think I didn’t learn anything and the most important movie I made when working with the marines was a long documentary, well not long, twenty minute documentary. I made that very much like an action movie. Yeah, I looked at James Bond and I copied basically the way of shooting of the first two James Bond movies: Dr No & From Russia With Love.

How did they feel about that approach?

They thought it was great! Because it made the Marines look really good and of course that’s the propaganda! That’s the hidden propaganda because you make them look like they can do everything and they do it all well. Oh course that’s propaganda, not the truth. But it learned me, basically to do action stuff you know, it was landings, smaller versions of Normandy landings and there was frogmen and helicopters and this and that. I got everything, if I wanted a ship or whatever I got it you know. So I could do whatever I wanted in twenty minutes.

It sounds like the biggest twenty minute film I’ve ever heard of…

Well it was a lot happening in twenty minutes yeah. And the whole navy was at my disposal and this was because the general of the marines wanted this for the 300thanniversary of the Marines. They were basically created in 1665 and so 300 years later I was drafted and by coincidence it was the same year that they wanted to have a movie about celebrating this, so they had the money to… they wanted this really!

They wanted it to be spectacular! But of course it is as much propaganda of Triumph of the Will, in some way. I mean less of course because its not an ideology that I’m presenting…

It’s more of a showcase.

It’s more of a showcase, a very good commercial of a car you know, but the marines are like that you know. But they weren’t really tough anyhow I thought. I thought I couldn’t do it but I did.

It’s interesting that you moved from there into what would generally be considered art films…

Yes, but not in Holland you see, because they were all commercial. Very much so.

In Britain I would have put them as art films…

Well they were seen as art films outside the country, but in Holland they were not. They were very mainstream, and one of them (Turkish Delight) had the largest amount of spectators ever in a Dutch movie. Even now it’s not been repeated, so they were extremely… it was based on a very well-known novel, love novel where the girl dies and it worked very well. For the Dutch audience it was seen as total entertainment, it was not entertainment because she dies… it was not that entertaining in some ways.

Its tragedy…

It was tragedy yeah. But it’s interesting because in the United States, when I went to festivals there and they showed the movie and it was nominated for Best Foreign Film and whatever, everyone saw it as art stuff and I think its artsy enough you know. I mean, if you ever see these movies they’re not clearly commercial and they are audacious and there is a lot of things that people were shocked by.

How much should any filmmaker, including you, be concerned with what the audience wants? What did you learn from making Tricked? What should you think your audience wants or should you just not care?

No I don’t think about what the audience wants, I think about what I want. I said here at the meeting, you have to live in the hope that your taste is not so different from the audience. I make the movie for myself and then I hope that I’m different, or not too different from the audience.

But of course I think about structure, I think about tension, I think about… But that’s technique, isn’t it? Its like what a composer or a painter would do, you basically balance, balance, balance, but that’s because it’s a thing in time you know… its not like a painting you see in a split second, so you need to follow the rules of drama and basically if there’s nothing to care about or theres nothing that intrigues you or that then basically the movie, people won’t go there. So that’s why it is easier to do a thriller, or something like that, like everyone is doing now because of whats happened in Denmark and Sweden of course. These are all written by, be they Henning Mankell (Wallander) or Stieg Larsson (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) or the others… All these countries in the north they write good thrillers. I don’t think it will hold, because they are not so hard boiled as the American detectives, Chandler and McDonald, all that stuff. I read all that stuff and I love thrillers you know, but they have a structure and that helps you to tell other things.

So if you have La Dolce Vita for example there is no thriller, and there is no plot, its this and that… that is really difficult for the audience there because its dark.. you only have this. There is no tea, no coffee, and you sit there and if its not interesting  its horrible because you cannot walk out to the kitchen or whatever or have a coffee or a cigarette or whatever, you are locked in this chair in the middle of a theatre and you don’t like it… you’re bored, you’re bored, you’re bored! You think yes, great, wonderful, but it doesn’t interest me really, so you have to be “is that audience or is that myself?” I think if its boring, or if I’m working on something that’s boring, or that bores me already because there is no question mark or there’s nothing that I’m interested in that is going to happen… if the character is interesting that can all be done you know.

But in an automatic way you are entertaining anyhow because you have to keep the audience by the rules of drama, you have to keep the audience at a lesson and say keep looking! As a painting you don’t have that you know, you can look at this painting BOOM in one second! But even people like Beethoven or Stravinski basically were well aware that it is an event in time and that’s why there is a fast part, then a slow part and a half fast part and an adagio and allegretto or whatever. That is all fighting time so people don’t get bored. How many changes in the melody can you allow? So all these things in time need some let’s say dramatic structure, to keep the audience there.

But you can also say what you want, in terms of themes…

…yeah its art, but it’s also fighting time and fighting time is entertaining! You are well aware that if you’re not entertaining, if its boring… there is nothing to care about. So you are automatically doing entertainment in your head already, because you are locked into that time thing. That’s why in retrospect I would have preferred to be a painter! My daughter is that now!

Did you give her that advice maybe?

No I did not, but she came to that conclusion herself.

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On the 7th of Febuary (and with more than a hint of excitement) I boarded a flight from London Heathrow to Berlin’s Tegel airport, to attend the Berlin International Film Festival (Berlinale) for the first time. The Berlinale was founded in West Germany in 1951 and is now one of the world’s most important film festivals. The festival hosts numerous world premiers, press conferences and a project market that allows filmmakers to pitch and ultimately fund their films.

The Berlinale also plays host to the Talent Campus, which offers 300 young film professionals the opportunity to develop their understanding of filmmaking from craft, to business, to publicity. As well as Campus categories for production crew the Berlinale also has a group for upcoming film journalists called Talent Press, run by Oliver Baumgarten and Aily Nash. I was selected as one of seven candidates from around the world along with Adrian (Indonesia), Ankur (India), Irena (Romania), Visnja (Croatia), Ariel (Canada) and Juan (Peru.) Meeting each candidate was intriguing, as it allowed us to share in our borderless love of cinema with all our similarities and differences. We were also gifted with the experienced mentors, Dana Linssen, Derek Malcolm, Stephanie Zacharek and Chris Fujiwara.

Each day (and under the tutelage of Dana Linssen) I was responsible for producing a text on a particular film, event or expert for the official Talent Press website (as well its partners FILPRSCI & the Goethe Institute). As such, my experience at the festival was not the conventional one of a Talent Campus participant, or a journalist covering the event. As a participant of the Talent Press I was lucky to see two sides of the festival: the films and the Campus events.

Harmony Lessons (Dir. Emir Baigazin, Kazakhstan)

The festival features in a number of different categories: Competition, Berlinale Shorts, Panorama, Forum, Generation, Perspektive Deutsches Kino, Berlinale Special, Retrospective, Homage, Culinary Cinema. Each one has a slightly different focal point, with the Competition focusing on films competing for the prestigious Golden and Silver Bear awards, Panorama dealing with more controversial themes and Forum dealing in experimental and documentary films.

Encouragingly the festival featured a number of films made by campus alumni, including the impressive competition film Harmony Lessons by Kazakh director Emir Baigazin, which won the Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Achievement in cinematography for DOP Aziz Zhambakiyev. Harmony Lessons was my personal favourite of the festival. It impressed me with its elliptical (almost Kitano-esque) take on the gangster genre. The film follows a young boy who is subject to frequent bullying at school and the cyclical problem of violence that arises from his situation. A Talent Press discussion following the film provoked a particularly rich debate on the film’s numerous thematic concerns (including nods to Darwin and Ghandi) and its strengths and weaknesses.

Danis Tanovic’s An Episode In The Life of an Iron Picker was another favourite. It features a dramatic reconstruction of a Bosnian Roma family’s financial dilemma, when the mother of the family experiences a life threatening miscarriage. As I learned from producer Amra Baksic Camo in a talk entitled ‘Small Wallets, Great Films’, the film was made in a matter of months, with the real family acting as themselves. Tanovic makes excellent use of the family dynamic, making the film feel like an intimate family event. The DSLR cinematography by Erol Zubcevic captures the industrial marred Bosnian countryside with a raw cinematic sensibility.

Soderbergh’s Side Effects was an equally intriguing, albeit structurally chaotic, critique of the drugs industry. While somewhat haphazard in its final act, this film is a brilliantly effective thriller with a staunchly pessimistic outlook on the moral implications of stock trading in medical products. The film has a hyper-modern yet Hitchcockian glaze, within which Rooney Mara, Jude Law, Channing Tatum and Catherine Zeta-Jones weave a timely tapestry of sordid deception. [Second Look: 09/03/2013 – On second viewing my negative feelings about Side Effects‘ structure are annulled, the structure is logical, efficient and dramatic; the film is hugely entertaining and a great success, I was the one in need of a second look.]

I also saw a number of films that did not work so well, though this is not to say that they were disinteresting. Polish director Małgośka Szumowska’s In The Name Of was a bizarre story of homosexuality and religion, in which (the otherwise excellent) Andrzej Chyra plays Adam, a Catholic priest who is torn between his faith and his attraction to a young man in his community. The film is overloaded with taboos including the treatment of the mentally handicapped and lacks focus; this also gives way to one bizarre scene where Adam drunkenly dances with a portrait of the pope.

Something In The Way (Dir. Teddy Soeriaatmadja, Indonesia)

Maladies, starring James Franco and directed by the visual artist Carter, was a great misstep. Dealing haphazardly with the subject of mental illness, the film see’s Franco behaving in a confused, erratic and oddly (and inappropriately) amusing manner, while performances by Catherine Keener, Fallon Goodson and David Strathairn revolve inconsequently around him.

Other imperfect films of interest included the enjoyable (and darkly humorous) low budget Indonesian thriller Something In the Way about a deluded young religious man, who drives taxis and masturbates on a chronic basis. No Man’s Land by director Salomé Lamas was an intriguing yet ultimately impenetrable character study of homeless ex-mercenary Paulo who fought in Portuguese colonial wars in Mozambique and Angola, before working as a contract killer. Wasteland: So That No One Becomes Aware of It was also a beautiful, but ultimately limited story about a group of Syrian and Lebanese children living in secluded asylum in Germany.

And yet some of the most interesting moments were not the films. At a dinner for British Talents Ken Loach offered his critique on the nationalistic branding (and therefore limiting) of British culture by advertising experts, for the Creativity Is Great Britain campaign. Loach described his unease with the use of the Union Jack (which he referred to as “the butchers apron”) and the unsubtle (and grammatically erroneous) campaign slogan. At dinner he discussed the pyramid of executives now pressuring film directors in the British film industry and I drew his attention to Soderbergh’s recent Vulture interview concerning the same issue in Hollywood, which he regretfully found unsurprising. On the final day we participants were also joined for breakfast by President of the 2013 International Jury, Wong Kar-wai.

Also published on the Talent Press website are my interviews with Dutch director Paul Verhoeven (Robocop, Total Recall, Basic Instinct, Turkish Delight), as well as producer Paula Vaccaro and director Aaron Brookner, who are currently producing the film Smash The Control Machine. I also wrote about Walter Murch, who spoke about using sound in storytelling. The experience of the Berlinale Talent Campus was truly a rich one, full of interesting people, events and films (regardless of quality.) It was one of an open and accepting culture, where people from almost 100 countries could meet and engage in the art and craft of filmmaking. To any aspiring and upcoming film journalists, I endorse you to apply for the Talent Press; it was an exciting and formative experience that I will certainly cherish.

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