Best of the Fest: EdFringe 2011 Comedy

Here are some of the finest comedy shows that Edinburgh offered up this year.

Josie Long: The Future Is Another Place (Fosters Comedy Award Nominee 2011)

Josie Long has been bringing quality stand-up to the Fringe for the last three or four years, winning the if.comedy award for Best Newcomer for her 2006 show, ‘Kindness and Exuberance’. Her performances are generally marked by these gentler attributes, making her stand out from the usual vitriolic comedians that marks a lot of the newcomers to the Fringe comedy circuit. This year, however, Long has continued the trend she flirted with last year and brings us into her innermost political thoughts. Having embraced the work of anti-cuts activists, UK Uncut, Long described how she has come to get to grips with the politics of the day. The programme for the show is a photocopied zine which includes a “Tories’ Fun Page” and Long directs much of her ire at the new coalition government.

She charts a year in which she made contact with Kenny Zulu Whitmore, a member of the Black Panther Party who is still in prison, performed a gig in a branch of Barclay’s and found herself flying into a greenhouse in Wales. Not all of it is directed at the Tories, there is a brief interlude featuring the Bronte Sisters, but The Future Is Another Place is undeniably a foray into serious political comedy. Good news then, that Long’s character still comes through all the material and the experience remains as much of a treat as always. I suspect she would do well to commit to some of the ideas she is raising with a bit more determination but I’m sure that will come in time. As a manifesto for a new wave of left-wing comedy, Long has made a fair bash and it’s worth an hour of your time.

Richard Herring: What is Love Anyway?

From Ferrero Roche to sexual excrement, Richard Herring tries to answer the ultimate dilemma (according to him) of 1981: what is love? This is a much softer show than those who have seen Herring before will perhaps be used to, but it is no less polished.

He charts a virginal youth, replete with dreadful poetry and pent-up feelings of chivalry, while explaining to us the various dimensions of life as a forty-four year old finding love. His journey includes a mortifying anecdoteabout Julia Sawalha, his then girlfriend, and a Fist of Fun episode involving a creepy shrine to the actress whom he had yet to meet.

Stewart Lee is not Richard Herring

At its heart this is a love story to Herring’s current girlfriend, wrapped in a smartly-paced package it never fails to impress. If you are looking for something as acerbic as Stewart Lee (whom Herring does a spot-on impersonation of) then this might fall slightly short.

If you want to take your significant other out for some quality comedy though, Herring has put together a considered and charming little show that would certainly suit.

Michael Winslow: The Man of 10,000 Sound Effects

Familiar to anyone who has ever seen the Police Academy movies, Michael Winslow’s run at this year’s Fringe proved to be a huge success.

It was the first time the stand-up had brought a show to Edinburgh and his dexterous vocal talents seem to have fit in rather well.

Winslow, who voiced one of The Gremlins and made an appearance in Spaceballs, is a man who comes across as deliriously happy to be doing what he does.

That enthusiasm is infectious, and whether he is explaining the mechanics of AM radio or taking us through the TIE fighter dogfight from Star Wars: A New Hope, he does it with such a sense of mischievous pride that you can’t help applaud the sketches.

Some of the observational comedy which ties the ‘funny noises’ together is under-cooked and often hampered the pacing of the show. So too the attempts to engage with the ‘British’ sense of humour. It seems rather unnecessary to include it, but kudos to Winslow for trying to give shape to what otherwise would be a rather manic sixty minutes.

At the end of the day the sound effects speak for themselves and that’s what people have come to hear.


4th of July In Perspective: The Role of The Continental Army


“Why The Empire Handed It To Them On A Silver Platter” (as George Orwell might put it – ed)

(As a special treat for you folks, I’ve dusted off some academia to honour our American cousins and celebrate this sunny 4th of July. Enjoy.)

The military skills of the American revolutionaries are ones less of military strength or superiority and more of diplomatic intellect in maximising the potential of any armies in the field. That is to say, the importance of simply maintaining an army and using that army toward a diplomatic victory was not lost on commanders of the American rebels. The real victory of the General of the Continental army was in avoiding defeat and knowing when to use even minor victories to his advantage. George Washington’s contemporary Ben Franklin would, along with the Committee of Secret Correspondence, exploit the wider international system to America’s benefit1. American victory would in the fullness of time owe more to British failures of ideology and command, foreign intervention – especially in the form of French alliance – and the exploitation of international movements and imperial rivalries toward the American cause, than to genuine military success on the field of battle. However the military’ ability to survive would prove to be a vital element. The colonies were rather Britain’s to lose, more than the Americans to gain. In 1776 at the outbreak of the war, the colonists were divided between patriot rebels, loyalists and a largely neutral body of the populace. It is not at this stage a war between Americans and British. By the end of the war in 1783, the divisions between the colonists are far less important, they are now unreservedly American and this owes much more to the British military than it does to the American.

In October 1777 with the surrender of German mercenaries under British command at Saratoga, a rare victory for George Washington, the American Revolution moved dramatically from what was essentially a regional insurgency into something more closely resembling a world war. The victory of the colonists in October was hailed in France as practically a national triumph2. By December the USA and France would be allied against the British; a year later Spain and France signed a treaty of co-operation and in 1780 the British declared war on the Dutch who had been aiding her enemies. (Upon sacking the Dutch colony at St. Eustatius in 1780 Admiral Rodney seized some £2,000,000 worth of merchandise3). The theatre of conflict stretched from India, through Africa and the Mediterranean to the West Indies; even the North Sea felt the impact of the now global focus of the American War of Independence. This would not only strain imperial Britain’s finite resources, but it would dull the Empire’s focus on American independence, allowing the potential for independence to slip into the American people’s grasp.

From the outset of hostilities the British command had a strong belief in colonial loyalists. Reports of ‘friends of government’ in the southern colonies had reached Britain4; coupled with the belief that white colonials could not resist when the majority of their population was made up of slaves, British hopes in a swift locally supported victory were strong. The offer of Lord Dunmore to give freedom to all slaves fighting for the British against the colonies would alienate many loyalists within the southern colonies. The Franco-American alliance was also reportedly unpopular and creating new loyalists ‘by the day’5. A dislike for France and a veneration of England can be seen prior to the revolution; American revolutionary spirit was arguably linked to Britishness rather than any anti-English sentiment6.

General Howe was also seemingly becoming ‘increasingly obsessed’7 with facing and defeating Washington. This is understandable considering his failure to follow up swiftly at Long Island in 1776 and conceivably crush the fledgling Continental Army. So too the co-ordination, diminished by Howe’s wayward pursuit of Washington distracted the British from the swift and decisive victory they sought in the Americas. In fact the ‘vague…intermittent references to each other’8 describes the relations between the three commanders working against the continental army in America; proof of the lack of cohesion that was playing into the hands of American colonists seeking independence. The economic importance of America to a British state financially cowed by the seven years war was so intense they were willing to use force, and even more expenditure to subjugate the insurrection, this would unfortunately play into the hands of the patriots and their ideologues.

The mistakes of Howe contrast sharply with the leadership of George Washington. Washington succeeds in instilling discipline in the Continental Army, through his own experience as a soldier in the American-Indian wars and his reportedly incredible charisma. Washington is first among equals; he is not a distant monarch but a companion to the small community of the continental force. He understands how important it is to avoid capture or defeat, that the survival of the revolution is tied inexorably to the army of the revolution. These advantages over the divided British command, and their forces, are paramount to the role that American military intelligence, and pragmatism, will play. More important is the situation this dynamic finds in the British they are fighting as it develops through the course of the war.

The failure of the British command to realise they were fighting a new kind of war, far from the traditional European conflicts of great powers they were used to. The guerrilla tactics of colonials was unprecedented; mass propaganda and public insurgency were bed-fellows of the American colonial military. Even after the capture of the colonial capital at Philadelphia the Americans did not surrender, but counter attacked. Washington’s ability to retreat strategically would prove immensely useful in a war that was proving increasingly un-popular back in England. In January 1775 prior to the outbreak of hostilities, merchants from England (ironically enough from 13 centres of commerce) petitioned for ‘peaceful concessions to the colonists’9. The ideology of radicalism in America was beginning to find a new voice among English radicals. Thomas Paine, who had been involved in revolution in France, radicalism in England and now was enlisted in the American cause, whose pamphlet ‘Common Sense’ was mandatory reading for members of the Continental army is a prime example of the ideological link between Britain’s radical opposition and that of the American revolutionaries. America had won a new sort of independence from France in the aftermath of the Seven Years War, one linked to British victory. The progression of the American cause into one of independence from British rule proved, more than by arms, to be advanced by its ideology. Viewed as a ‘non-nurturant…fatherly authority’ from Britain10, the impact of The Stamp Act on editors, lawyers, merchants and their influence on colonial populations, would directly contribute to the radical idioms that would spark the revolt, the ‘growth of a revolutionary mentality’11. The anti-Catholic strain of English radicalism would allow for an easier migration of American feeling from Catholic France to Protestant England12.

The sacrament of the American insurrection performed in the ‘hearts and minds of the patriots’ would hearten the passage from one state, that of the reign of a King, to the other, the rule of the people13. This strength within rebel ideology would be in stark contrast to British imperial forces dominated by internal divisions. British regulars consisting of English, Irish and Welshman, many of whom were press-ganged, conscripted or drawn from prison to fight. “Hessian” German mercenaries, in reality drawn from many German states, fighting for money, and not willing to die before they could spend it, were shipped to the American continent. Loyalist Native Americans, ‘savages’ in puritan eyes, used against the colonies would appal religious communities in the Americas, further driving a wedge between British subjects and their American counterparts. These combined to create a divided force whose aims were equally as splintered. When Washington surprised an ignorant British force at Saratoga it was not against foes that were ideologically opposed to American self-rule; but men whose desire to live and earn wages as soldiers of fortune had drawn them into the American Revolution.

Fighting alongside the British redcoats in the Seven Years War had reduced the spectre of the mighty redcoat to a mere model of influence for many of the militia of the American colonies. While the regulars of the British army had developed many skills for fighting irregular warfare from their militia companions, they still regarded them with a distain that would hamper the British ability to maintain cordiality and order with local loyalists. Again it was British racism toward Americans that would drive a wedge between the British government and its trans-Atlantic subjects, rather than military superiority of the rebels drawing them into independence. The French allies fighting the land war against Britain shared much in common with the Americans both finding reward in the burgeoning ideals that would lead to French revolution also. The official adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4th of 1776 is a marked step toward ideological hegemony in the cause for independence. The declaration is designed as an international declaration, no longer an issue of mere taxation, the revolution is about self-governance, Republican sovereignty and opposition to bad government.

The French treaty would have consequences in terms of opposing the British on land, but the real impact would be felt on the high seas. The British ability to meet its naval commitments when France entered on the side of America would have dire consequences on their ability to maintain control of the colonies. Caught between fighting a defensive action in the English Channel, defending her interests against the Dutch in the West Indies and combating American and French ships in the Atlantic, the British navy was pushed to breaking point. While the American navy lacked military superiority, with the help of the French they were able to compete with the might of the Royal Navy. The victory at Yorktown would demonstrate the necessity for French naval help, but so too the failure of the Americans to take New York and Charlestown afterward. They could not hope to attack such heavily fortified naval positions without French assistance. The Royal Navy was also responsible for alienating local loyalist support, their actions in burning ports up and down the coast of the colonies, beginning in Falmouth in the October of 1775, in an effort to force the colonists into realising the economic cost of insurrection would merely prove to disaffect the colonials and inspire the patriots further.

Britain could conceivably have continued fighting even after the surrender at Yorktown; they would continue to wage war against France for another 32 years. With the threat of local and international strife in India, Africa, China, Canada and the West Indies there is a clear argument for disengagement after Yorktown. Seeing the Americans had a chance to run their own colonies while believing they would eventually again need British support seemed like a fair trade-off for some harmony on the eastern Atlantic sea-bard. The Franco-American alliance, without which the rebels could never have won the war, overshadows any American military superiority. Also, the ideology of the colonists, both public and martial is superior to that of the divided imperial armies of Britain. The leadership of pragmatic intelligent statesman such as Franklin and Washington is in stark contrast to the arrogant and often stubborn gentry in charge of the British forces. Their intelligent use of a force (in the form of the Continental Army) largely overshadowed by the martial potential of the British Empire would win them places in world history and make effective points of interest for American propagandists down the ages. American military superiority played only a minor point in the victory of the colonials in the American war of independence. Through a series of other factors they were able to use what military they could to amplify diplomatic and ideological factors to their benefit.

Ultimately the victory of the colonies in the American War of Independence owes most to the contribution of military ineptitude and ideological division among the British army and the Royal Navy. It is nearly impossible for a colonial master to use force of arms to regain control of territory so far from central government without using overwhelming force to institute martial law. This was an option open to the British but was not one they would consider against the American colonists. Even if it had been instituted it is likely this would only have further inspired ideological division between Pax Britannia and ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’. The American colonies were lost the moment Britain tried to win them back.

1 P. 233 ‘The War of Independence: The British Army in North America 1775-1783’ J. W. Fortescue, John Shy, Sir John Fortescue, London (1991)

2 Tindall & David 169

3 p.168 ‘Britain and the American Revolution’ ed. H. T. Dickinson, London (1998)

4 p.160 ‘Britain and the American Revolution’ ed. H. T. Dickinson, London (1998)

5 p.164 ‘Britain and the American Revolution’ ed. H. T. Dickinson, London (1998)

(Travels in the American Colonies, New York (1916) p.580)

6 p.229 ‘American Patriots and the Rituals of Revolution’ Peter Shaw, Harvard (1981)

7 ibid

8 p.162 ‘Britain and the American Revolution’ ed. H. T. Dickinson, London (1998)

9 p.135 ‘Britain and the American Revolution’ ed. H. T. Dickinson, London (1998)

10 p.230 ‘American Patriots and the Rituals of Revolution’ Peter Shaw, Harvard (1981)

11 p.228 American Patriots and the Rituals of Revolution’ Peter Shaw, Harvard (1981)

12 ibid

13 p.231 ‘American Patriots and the Rituals of Revolution’ Peter Shaw, Harvard (1981)

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EIFF 2011 Blog w/ Troll Hunter writer & director André Øvredal

For me the stand out movie of the Edinburgh International Film Festival was Troll Hunter. A ‘mocumentary’ from writer/director André Øvredal about a grim Norwegian chap with a very peculiar sort of job. I caught up with André while he was in Edinburgh to chat to him about the film.

“I think I just wanted to make a film about trolls.” He explains to me matter-of-factly when I ask what first inspired the idea.

“We haven’t really used them for much since the eighteenth century. There have been a couple of children’s short films, animated films in the seventies which are classics you know, wonderful films but for a movie audience it’s never been used.”

So had this been something he’d been thinking about for a long time?

“Probably, but as soon as I did think about it clearly I was already in a position where I knew how. I had a knowledge of how to make a film so I just started working on it immediately. It’s the kind of thing when you come up with an idea that you really love you just have to go for it.”

And what inspired the unusual ‘mocumentary’ style to the film?

“That came pretty much immediately, because again knowing how to make a film, to make a Jurassic Park-sized monster movie is not going to happen on a Norwegian budget unless you do something different. We had a very limited amount of days to shoot because we can’t afford to have the crew on set too long and of course the effects budget will be much smaller than a Hollywood budget so we had to limit the amount of shots. But still we were able to put in enough shots to make it feel like a real monster experience.”

One of the surprising things about Troll Hunter is the readiness of André to show us the monsters. I explain to him how I had expected a Blair Witch style, where the action took place off-camera – was that something he had set out to do from the start?

“Yeah, I wanted to talk about the mythology of the trolls and I wanted to talk about how they behaved and show them. You know I didn’t want to keep them secret because I think they are such wonderful creatures. That was the whole point: I wanted to show trolls.”

And the eponymous hero?

“I was trying to put that in context of a character that you would see in a very different light, in let’s say an American movie, and having this kind of monstrous adversary, you know this crazy job and it ends up with, after having to do this amazing event (hunting trolls), having to fill out bits of paper. It puts things in perspective.”

At this point I feel as if we could be discussing a nature documentary, and that attention to detail comes across in the performances during the film. I wondered if he had noticed different audiences picking up on different references? Or some non-Norwegian audiences missing the mythology?

“Well of course people outside of Norway won’t get everything but I think most of it they will get as either something new or they understand the implication of the joke or the cultural troll mythology. It does cross over surprisingly well. I was kind of worried about, I remember the first screening of it at Fantastic Fest in Austin I was quite nervous because I had no idea if anyone was going to understand what the hell the film was about. That was actually the first, I hadn’t even shown it to anybody outside of our core crew of the producers, the editor and sound guy and they were the only people who had ever seen the film.”

“I think now the film is more known before people go into it they are a little bit more ready to laugh. I think at the very first screening people were apprehensive about that, wondering ‘Is it funny? Is it not?’ and then now that people know that they are allowed to laugh a little bit I think that they do respond more.”

Are they laughing at the right bits then?

“Yeah”, he says, laughing.

An American remake is already planned, with Chris Columbus reportedly at the helm. What did he think of that?

“I was asked if I wanted to direct it. I said no thank you, I didn’t want to do another mocumentary and do another film about trolls and actually,” he says with another chuckle “…do the same film again.”

“Personally I had a hard time seeing it from an American perspective. I was trying to think how I could tell this story about Norwegian mythology and I figured its much better to leave it up to the Americans to figure it out. They would understand how to tell that story better than I would.”

And was he worried than any of the religious references would be controversial to an American audience?

“I didn’t think it would be controversial because it is part of the fairy tales, the fact that trolls can smell Christian blood. Its something that the trolls say when you know, I can smell…” He pauses, “in Norway even the most religious people, I have read reviews of the film on Christian websites you know and they say this is great fun for Christians”, he laughs again, “The Muslim joke is so harmless, it’s not poking fun at anything. The Americans love it, they laugh their asses off when they see that scene so I do hope that they will keep that kind of idea in there.”

And so what was the shooting process like?

“It was very intense. I worked so much on the script that I ended up working on it until the very end of August 2009 and we started shooting 21st September 2009 so we only had about a month of preproduction. So it was a mad rush to make it and suddenly we are standing on set and , you know we are anyway going to improvise things but we are improvising even more than we are expecting to. We hadn’t scouted locations properly and were stopping off and saying ‘Let’s shoot the next scene here’. We were shooting in some sort of sequence, for the first three weeks we were driving around the countryside from the West coast of Norway up until the mountains.”

“Week three was shooting the final sequence (which involves some rather powerful weather in snowy foothills) and that blizzard would hit us in the middle…like we came there and started shooting on a Friday and there was no snow and we had a weekend break and we came back Monday and it was just white and we had to start all over again. Then in the last three weeks we were shooting around Oslo for most of the effects scenes in the forest and that kind of stuff, just to be closer to our production centre. It was insane.”

The mocumentary style must be unorthodox to film?

“I knew that I couldn’t direct the scenes in a traditional sense, with directions saying ‘you go there’ and ‘you turn here’, you know I couldn’t direct the scene to camera like that specifically for a composition because it would feel like a movie. So, we had to constantly shake things up. Also I wanted the actors to say things with their own words and constantly be involved in the scene, not based on their understanding of the script, but based on their understanding of the character and the situation. So we would talk much more generally about the scene, the scene was scripted, but we would talk about what the topic was what the attitude was going into the scene and what do you have to do going out of the scene. Then how you get there is your own thing.

“All the actors were constantly improvising what they were saying and what they were doing, as long as they stayed within the topic of the scene and some points that they had to hit and then in the end once we edited it down it pretty much becomes what was on the page, something similar anyway, but there was so much improvisation to get there and it was all done on set as opposed to before hand. We had a couple of days just talking because the casting was done just a few days before shooting and we spent the last weekend before shooting just talking about everything.”

“I’ve known the camera man for ten years, I’ve worked with him on a hundred commercials and I know his qualities and he’s so helpful in finding the right moment with the camera and he’s directed documentaries on his own so sometimes it’s just putting together the right people, that is such a big part of directing. The crew you have around you is everything when you’re shooting because you are basically the only one on set who is not doing anything.”

And so what is next?

“I don’t want to be pigeon-holed as a director of a specific form of film-making. I’d rather be pigeon-holed as a maker of fantasy films because that is quite an open range…I might be doing a sequel at some point. It depends on the next few years. Definitely in my opinion, I haven’t thought about much yet, but it should follow up the ending of [Troll Hunter]. There is material for a sequel.”

And so with my promise to brush up on my knowledge of Norwegian troll mythology in anticipation, I bid André goodbye.

The Troll Hunter goes on general release in the UK on the 9th of September 2011.

Categories: Blog, Film Tags: , , ,

EIFF 2011 Blog w/ The Divide director Xavier Gens

The other stand-out piece for me at this year’s festival was the grim post-apocalyptic movie by French director Xavier Gens, The Divide. It was bleak, depressing and it left a lot of the over-arching apocalypse story unexplained at the close – good work if you ask me in a genre that is sorely in need of some bravery.

I was familiar with Gens from his production work on French Zombie masterpiece, The Horde, and I knew he had directed the troubled Hitman movie, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I caught up with the director while he was in Edinburgh and had a very warm chat about starving actors, John Carpenter and Braveheart…

Me: How’s Edinburgh been so far?

Xavier: “I arrived yesterday and it’s my first time in Scotland. I’m like ‘yeah it’s good’ it’s the country of William Wallace, really happy to be here for that and I am really happy to be here because I am a big fan of Braveheart.”

Is that your favourite Scottish film?

“Honestly? I don’t really know Scottish cinema really well. That is a film I know really well, I saw it when I was teenage and it was so violent and full of, in French we say furor, it is very intense and very romantic. In that movie everybody looks at William Wallace as a very great hero and in that movie he has an adventure with a French woman and I liked that we help the Scottish to fight an evil king.”

(I leave it at that, for now – explaining history to a perfectly content film director seems like a waste of time.)

So, The Divide, what first inspired you about the movie?

“I chose to do The Divide because it was an indy production, it was something where I can go into myself and really make it like I want without anybody telling me, you know, to put a happy ending in it or something.”

“Hitman was a complicated experience because it was a studio movie. Because you really cannot have your hand on the film because there is an executive behind you and so you cannot really control the project and finally at the end you lose the editing and that kind of thing. So it is really good when you come back with an independent movie because you have total freedom.”

“I think it’s important when you think about Braveheart, it’s the same thing when William Wallace screams freedom I think it’s the same thing.”

Now I see the connection. So how was it that you came to The Divide?

“We have a very cool experience working on it together with the writers because we had eight months working on the relationships between the characters and we decided not to have a very obvious movie where there is everybody exposing themselves in the beginning.”

“We said ‘okay, let’s try to have the characters expose themselves during the film’. The first reaction then is even before people know who people are, even before they know each others names, there first reaction is to run and hide somewhere.”

And hide they do, from the opening shots of New York being reduced to ashes.

“So that was just the feeling we tried to implement in the film.”

Gens and I share a passion, not just for French women it seems, but also for the work of action-movie legend and long-time James Cameron vessel, Michael Beihn.

So what was it like working with him?

“It was dream working with Michael.”

He’s a bit of a legend isn’t he?

“That was a very cool experience to work with him. As a child I was watching Terminator and Aliens and when he arrived for the first time on the set I was really like a big teenager watching him like he was Hicks (the supporting act to Sigourney Weaver in Cameron’s ‘Aliens’). For the camera test I had him smoke a cigar and play with the gun in front of the camera and he knew I was enjoying it and he played with that. He’s very cool. He’s the best good guy in the world, when he is on screen he is so bad ass…”, he adds earnestly, “…he is naturally bad ass.”

He plays a slightly murky character in this, he’s not your average straight up good guy, was that deliberate to play on the audiences expectations?

“That was the intention at the beginning – we take Michael and he is the supposed bad guy at the beginning of the film so everyone thinks maybe he’s not so cool, he’s a bit f****ed up, he’s crazy – but finally in his craziness there is something right about human nature and finally he became the real hero of the story. He can have a bad side, but he has a good heart in the film.”

Apart from shattering myths about my child-hood heroes, the movie doesn’t hold back in it’s exploration – it’s unrelentingly bleak…

“From the start we thought ‘okay let’s try to make the bleakest movies as possible’. One of our goals was to be like John Carpenter in the 1980’s when he was doing really nihilistic films like The Thing or The Prince of Darkness where it is really dark and there is a strange ending. When we lost our funding initially, the intern’s God parents replaced the money, then he became the producer and he was like ‘guys do what you want’.”

So he was a fan of John Carpenter?

“Yeah, he wanted to make it really dark and we wanted to go the darkest place we could go. It’s about the breakdown of humanity in this basement. We focus on the different aspects of the population, we have the little girl who is abducted and Rosanna (Arquette) is the typical kind of American woman, American mother.”

She gets a pretty rough deal in the movie, how did she get to grips with that?

“Actually she is fifty years old but she have the nature of a twenty year old, She I much more brave, I have worked with many young actresses and Rosanna is just the best. She was always arriving on set with enthusiasm, and even when we were doing pretty hardcore things she was always full of ideas. During the rape scenes she was always asking questions about how it should be done, she was able to make it fun I guess…”

How much were the actors involved in what happens up on screen then?

“I asked the actors to participate in the re-writing so we did some rehearsal before the shooting and we shot the film in sequence so we could add the evolution of the character during the shooting sequence. This made it so that they could feel the anger and stuff – I asked them to not eat and not drink for a month – we had a nutritionist on the set who checked everyday if everything is good and to give them the minimum to live and they lost… Michael Eklund who plays bobby in the film, he lost seventeen pounds in that month.”

“We worked a lot on the feeling that they are rotting from inside so we didn’t want to use make-up, we worked a little bit on it but it was much more in the performance. I don’t want to play with makeup so I told them to just feel it inside themselves, so when they get angry, or when you play starving – you know it is difficult to act starved so you have to be naturally starved – and that was the idea in the film, some of them didn’t wash. It was very smelly…”

So the shoot must have been tough?

“It was very tense and we had some conflict between the group of actors so the conflict in the film, that happened in real life – some of the actors felt a little unsafe because the situation on set was kind of unsafe – I gave a lot of freedom to Michael (Beihn) and Rosanna and I deliberately isolated [Iván González] on the one side. I was playing with them, and then in real life it became the same, which was very weird to see. So when you see the film and there is strong tension that really helped the film – it made for some strong performances, I think it’s really good.”

“In one scene, Lauren German, she is in the scene feeling insecure and during the torture scene, (of Michael Beihn – in the screening I saw a couple of folk had to leave during that, I thought it was moderate compared to some films where violence is far more pervasive than in The Divide) she really broke down, she was really brave that but that was too much.”

Did that strike you as a little unethical?

“They all wanted to get involved, as actors they feel that it is good in the end because the film lasts and they have that performance. It was very brave; I just gave them the freedom.”

Is that something that inspires your work?

“I think what is important in a movie is the characters in the story and the pacing, what happens to the human beings. It is important to play with the humans, it is a post-apocalyptic movie but who cares about some bad guy who drops a bomb somewhere? Nobody will believe it, but what they will believe is the relationship between the characters, how they can deal with it and this is the lesson I really tried to apply on the movie. Afterward there are some people I know who really hate the film, but that’s cool it means they feel something – I prefer that than people who say they don’t care, that means your movie wasn’t very good.”

“If you watch ‘Irreversible’ or ‘Enter the Void’ (both from Gaspar Noé), there are people who think it is genius – I think it is genius – but you will have people who think it is very bad, but I think it is because they cannot accept and cannot deal with it.”

Are you a bleak person yourself?

“No, I am really cool. I think inside me I have bleak things and put them in the movie, and when I’m outside I feel good. Movies are my therapy.”

What’s next?

“I’m working on a few foreign language films and a French movie about demonic possession…”

What’s it like?

“It’s very bleak and depressive.

Unprompted, Gens announces for me:

“If you want: it’s like Serpico meets the Exorcist.”

That’s a by-line that publicists like…

“Maybe that’s what the producer wants me to say”, he says with a chuckle.

As evidenced with The Divide: if he can deliver on even half of that, it will likely be a movie worth watching.

EIFF – Days 4 & 5: The Good, The Bad and the BBC

20/06/2011 1 comment

I’ve just come out of a screening of ‘My Brothers’, thought it was a lovely little movie from first time writer Will Collins and first time director Paul Fraser.

Fraser directs a tale about kinship that would have been a perfect movie for a public screening on Father’s Day yesterday, a missed opportunity? Whatever the case, Fraser was here in 2008 with Somers Town, he had written the screenplay and Shane Meadows directed, but he’s probably best known for assisting with the writing for ‘Dead Man’s Shoes’ and penning ‘Once Upon a Time in the Midlands’.

This time around he’s firmly behind the camera though. Shots of Ireland’s idyllic Cork countryside play off against the nostalgic arcades and bespoke Star Wars toys of the late 1980’s. The young actors all give solid performances, but most specially Paul Courtney who debuts as Paudie; his obsession with Bruce Grobelaar reminded me of my own distant memories of following Liverpool as a lad. The story here is what really leaves the lasting impression. As the boys set out to replace their dying father’s watch, what unfolds is touching as well as amusing and credit is due to writer Will Collins for weaving such a fine tale.

But enough talk about films, what about the festival as a whole? It’s the start of week two and I thought I’d take a look at how the festival is going down in the wider world. The buzz around the place since opening night has been very much focused on what’s different this year, what’s working and what isn’t. The BBC film programme’s Jane Graham gave a damning verdict of the festival so far, and while we’re only just coming to the half-way point, it’s interesting to take stock of where things are standing.

Graham suggests that Mullighan (and you can read my interview with him from a few weeks back here) has been struggling to sell the festival adequately, suggesting:

“The tone, in terms of what Mullighan has promised us, has changed almost month to month. Sometimes he sounds like he’s apologising.”

You can listen to the show here to make up your own mind, but she pulls no punches when she says “We’re almost at crisis point” and the Twitter community that has sparked up around the EIFF took great notice of the fact she said “Something is very wrong in Edinburgh”, it seems she is not alone in thinking that. There were a lot of articles, in the same vein as this one from Variety, that had written the film festival off. The Irish Times even stated it wouldn’t bother attending based on what it had heard. For some people there is still all to prove at this stage.

There is a great deal more to come from the festival over the next week and closing weekend; more events, more great films that are most certainly worth seeing and inexorably more points of view about just how this year’s showcase is being received.

My Brothers is showing at The Cameo on 22nd of June at 17.45 and on 23rd of June at 20.15. Tickets are £9 (£7.50 CONC).

Categories: Blog, Film

Day Three: “If it bleeds, we can review it…”

Day Three at EIFF and I consider the horror....

Day Three:

On Day three I decided to catch up with the actual films of the festival and try to leave the critical theory behind me for a day. So I went to catch a couple of movies on a horror theme, achieving my primary goal, but I didn’t really leave the critical theory behind me. There is a common misconception that film festivals are where the budget movies always trump the big boys. I found out that in the world of horror at least, that isn’t always the case.

Rabies (Kalevet) is an Israeli psycho-in-the-woods outing and I followed it up with The Divide starring Michael Biehn (The Terminator, Aliens). In a video shop I’d always stump for the budget movie. Apparently Rabies cost $500,000 to make, but gone are the days when that price-tag means a few cheap thrills could be expected alongside card-board sets and screaming blonde girls. The Blair Witch Project, love it or hate it, marked a sea-change all those years ago.

Recently we’ve had the grimly detailed REC coming out of Spain and the now-established Sam Raimi returning to his roots with Drag Me to Hell and modern horror is cool again. It has marked itself with a pinache for story-telling, suspense and subtlety. Modern horror is Benicio del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, it’s Peter Jackson’s Braindead team making multi-million dollar blockbusters. But it’s also the likes of SAW, and the influence of the torture-porn slasher flick on modern horror filmmakers can’t be underestimated.

Rabies is a fairly standard affair plotwise, setting you up for a clash-of-characters scenario in the woods. Although being shot in the sunshine of Israeli parkland it doesn’t come across quite the same way as a moody Evil Dead-alike sets the scene. Most of the conflict here comes from the torture scenes that substitute for suspense. It’s a basic kind of gore-fest that has all the hallmarks any SAW audience will enjoy. If we’d got to understand the reasons behind any of the mishaps here then maybe it would have been easier to relate to, but sadly we never really come to care for the characters that maliciously abandon each other over the 90 minutes. It’s not a bad movie it’s just not my cup of tea. I suspect it will do well though, and on a small budget they’ve done a good job.

The Divide however, is a different sort of beast. It’s got the budget and the stars to take the edge but it doesn’t fall into the same turgid plot traps you’d expect from a film of that type. It’s the apocalypse and there’s this bunker and a bunch of people end up in it… you’ve seen that before. Where The Divide succeeds, and it is definitely not a movie for the squeamish, is in displaying how relationships break down. There are few heroes after the end of the world; and hunger, claustrophobia and disease have a larger role to play than in most disaster movies. It’s grim, even a little extreme, but it doesn’t fall into shocks-forthe-sake-of-it and it get its point across. It’s unapologetically bleak and a few folk in the screening couldn’t watch till the end. While the SAW franchise can often feel cold and sadistic, this feels far more instinctive.

Rabies (Kalevet) is on the 20th at 18:00 and 22nd at 22:15 in Filmhouse 3

The Divide is on the 21st at 22:30 in the George Square Theatre and the 22nd at 22:05 in Filmhouse 1.

Categories: Blog, Film

Edinburgh International Film Festival – Day One & Two

Edinburgh International Film Festival:

Day One – Calm Before The Storm

It’s underway then, and as we speak glasses of wine are being poured and the viewing public is preparing to decide what it thinks of opening night film, The Guard. It’s on at 9.45pm so it will be a late one for a fair few people tonight.

The festival itself might be underway but today was quiet. Many won’t arrive until tonight and the really hectic days lie ahead – probably starting at 9am tomorrow morning. Teviot was a sea of calmness this morning, but as the day progressed the staff I spoke to suggested it was building in intensity – last minute delegates and press arriving to register, new venues causing some festival veterans a bit of navigation trouble, a spot of rain curbing enthusiasm outside the Filmhouse.

Project New Cinephilia was the talk of the day, and as I dropped in and out of a few chats it was clear there was a serious agenda on a few people’s minds. Maybe it was just tiredness having travelled all the way up for the kick-off, but I could sense some genuinely engaged debate ringing around the venues.

In the afternoon I slipped into Filmhouse three to check out the first pick of one of the new festivals guest curators. This particular film had been suggested by seminal music magazine Dazed and Confused and was the work of uncompromising music video director, Romain Garvas, Our Day Will Come is a tubthumping pro-ginger people road-romp with Vincent Cassell on top form.

The atmosphere was jovial, with the screen packed out to the roof with press. The film itself was comical, mad-cap and pretty nasty in parts but Garvas is obviously a talented director. As a benchmark I’d say it was the busiest screening yet, and a few other film critics there agreed with me, so it did look a lot like things were getting even busier as the day went on.

Turin Horse really impressed my colleague Euan, and you can read his review here.

Tomorrow will no doubt be a heady mix of those hung-over from the opening night party, and those ready to get down to some serious film-festivaling.

Day Two – Project Cinephilia

My second day was almost entirely consumed by the day-long symposium that was Project: New Cinephilia. This seminar-esque attempt to create meaningful debate about the future of film criticism had been lauded as one of the flag-ship events of the EIFF 2011 calendar and so I was anxious to check it out. So anxious, in fact, that I turned up at ten to nine (the programme had said it started at 9am) to discover that I was an hour and fifteen minutes early (it actually started at 10.15am). So I had a coffee, mourned for the hour in bed I had just sacrificed to the gods of dodgy programme copy and decided to get on with the day.

The premise is that we are living in a world of new film ciritcs, new movie buffs, new cinema geeks and that we are now all called cinephiles. So Inspace played host to the culmination of a month long blogging project, which if you’ve been keeping track of you will know all about it and if you haven’t I guess it’s my job to try and explain it to you.

For anyone not familiar with the project I suggest taking a look at the blog. On top of that a familiarity with Little White Lies and Reverse Shot would be a good place to start. The day the started with a series of ‘provocations’. These, I perhaps mistakenly assumed they were, were not exactly wild-eyed polemics that shook the very foundations of the film world, but in fact they were a series of questions. Mark Cousins appeared by pre-recorded video to pose the cryptic: “What do you not know about cinema?”

I didn’t feel terribly provoked.

There then followed a series of guests, mostly film critics, who talked us through clips of David Lynch films telling us things we presumably already knew, and singularly failing to answer any of the questions we had been posed. By the time the first break came, I was more confused than I had been at 9am.

Things did pick up though. Jason Wood and Kate Taylor (who curated the event) both came across as having a real grasp of the subject and never failed to make salient points throughout the day. Well, I say ‘never’ failed but Jason did suggest that Nicholas Cage’s career after ‘Raising Arizona’ was a “cavalcade of shit”. He has obviously never seen ‘National Treasure’…

Joking aside, it would have seemed far more engaging if they had reduced the number of speakers so that the messages coming through were clearer and better put. Despite one of the opening provocations suggesting that new cinephiles “embrace originality”, are “no longer solipsistic or furtive” and “are inclusive and welcoming” – citing the State of Cinema Project and its “child-like innocence” – some panellists seemed to get lost in a sea of their own inarticulacy. What exactly is an ‘opening coda’?

Matt Loyd’s ‘provocation’ asked ‘What is the space of New Cinephilia?’ By the end of the day we were still no closer to an answer. This was a bold event, one that I think was a brave to attempt, but it seemed slightly rootless. Far better, I would have thought, to put on a series of events over the two weeks and make the idea of cinephilia into a strand. I spoke to a lot of established film critics who wouldn’t dream of referring to themselves as a cinephile, nor even a cineaste. What is so wrong with film buff, or movie geek?

Is that a provocation?

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