London Film Festival – Interview with Director Andy Siege

19 Oct

Fifteen years after The Blair Witch Project became the most profitable film in history, a new low-budget movie has received its UK première at the London Film Festival.

Produced for $14,000, Beti and Amare is a science fiction horror film set during the second Italian-Ethiopian War. Beti (Hiwot Asres) flees from the invading forces and finds sanctuary at her grandfather’s house in the south of the country. As the troops march inwards she has to fight against the threat of starvation and avoid rape by the local militia. Salvation arrives when an egg shaped space craft crash-lands nearby.

The début feature length film for director Andy Siege, whilst in London he took time out from promotional duties to speak to us about the production, his background, and DIY filmmaking.

Grandson of actor Rudolf Siege and great-nephew of director Wolfgang Staudte, Andy Siege was raised in Africa. Born to German aid worker parents, his childhood was spent in Ethiopia, Zambia and Tanzania. After attending film school in Canada he moved to Bath and enrolled on a master’s degree. Finishing off the course he decided to return to the country of his birth and shoot a documentary.

“We ended up getting a little bit of money together from friends and family and shot this documentary. I’d been thinking about this other project for a while. I wrote my Master’s thesis for Bath in Ethopia. I wanted to go back. Whilst shooting the documentary I wrote this screenplay. We did the pre-production in a month. We shot the film in a month then we went to Germany for post production” says Siege.

A unique film, meshing African oral culture with homages to classic western science fiction. Beti and Amare’s ragged edges are never anything but endearing and the bravura performance from Hiwot Asres signals the arrival of a new screen talent deserving of greater exposure.

Tales told to Siege throughout his childhood have been woven into the film: “The stories I heard were Zambian folk stories. There’s even one about someone who comes out of an egg so I used that in the movie blended with sci-fi. I spent a lot of time in the global north and got the sci-fi influences. The egg symbolisms and visuals are a tip of the hat to Aliens where the face huggers come out of this egg. It does represent femininity as well because he’s (Amare – Pascal Dawson) born into this world . The role that Beti takes is a mother role, though she does end up sleeping with him as well. This is her story and everything revolves around her. The egg represents a child being born. The character isn’t just from another planet, he’s completely new to everything. He comes out fully grown but she then has to teach him.”

Taught filmmaking in British Columbia, Canada. His tutors championed no frills, low budget, DIY production. Siege is a passionate advocate for the opportunities new technologies offers and is keen to differentiate DIY from guerilla filmmaking.

“The way I see it guerilla filmmaking was the 90s and things have kind of moved on with the availability of technology. I personally feel the way to describe this kind of film is DIY. I’ve put together a book about DIY filmmaking with a different chapter by a a different filmmaker and a couple of them were in the punk scene and are now doing it with film.”

“Coppolla said on the set of Apocolypse Now that people are shooting stuff on eight millimetre cameras and someday some little girl from Ohio will take her father’s camera and shoot something really beautiful. Then we’ll have a Mozart of film. There are a lot of DIY filmmakers out there and it’s just going to grow and go to amazing places. Someday we will have Coppola’s Mozart. The thing about the technology being so accessible is that you can now produce something pixel wise that you can broadcast. Now there is theoretically no reason why you can’t shoot something that looks good.”

Beti and Amare received its première at the Moscow International Film Festival and was screened in Durban before arriving in London.

“The programmers in Moscow saw it, really liked it and invited it. The movie has kind of carried itself. We sent the film to all kinds of festivals all over the world, even to sci fi festivals, and the big ones took us.”

“What I want to go against is the definition of low budget. There’s all these independent low budget films with Hollywood movie stars that cost eight million dollars to make. Whenever I make a filmmaker or a producer and the say they made a low budget film for only eight million that’s like a slap in the face to me. I made a film for fourteen thousand and I’ve been at A-list festivals. I’m very grateful to the organizers for inviting me.”

Packed with interesting directorial touches, the shoestring budget becomes an asset not a restriction. Choices made because of a lack of funds take the film into imaginative places that more seasoned directors wouldn’t have considered.

An exceptional first film from a promising young director. It will be interesting to see what he is able to do with a more substantial budget.

Beti and Amare will be released on DVD and Blu-ray in 2015.

DVD News: The Code

13 Oct

Arrow Films has announced the Monday November 3rd UK DVD and digital download release of the acclaimed Australian political conspiracy thriller “THE CODE”.

THE CODE revolves around the story of a terrifying accident in the outback involving two aboriginal teens and the public breakdown of a disgraced government minister’s career. After receiving a video from a school teacher (Lucy Lawless) showing the last moments of the two young aboriginals lives, an online newspaper journalist (Dan Spielman), and his computer hacker brother (Ashley Zukerman), become unlikely targets in the fight for democracy while uncovering deep rooted conspiracies tied to the very foundations of the country.

“A welcome non-nonsense, swift moving return to real mystery and menace… it’s enjoyable and unpretentious.”  – The Financial Times 

“An Australian conspiracy thriller of interweaving plotlines, The Code is a stylish drama with substance.” – The Guardian

The Code can be ordered from Amazon:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Code-Series-1-DVD/dp/B00NFK1T0W/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1413212444&sr=8-2&keywords=the+code

Film News: White Pig – Sneak Peak

9 Oct

A year ago Irish filmmaker David Noel Bourke contacted EBNT with a bold plan, he was going to shoot the first ever crowdfunded Nordic Noir feature length motion picture. Thanks to the generosity of fans production has now reached the editing stage. Taking a break from piecing the movie together he has posted some tantalising teasers, giving us a sneak peak of the dark and chilling world of White Pig.

DVD Review: Crimes of Passion

7 Oct

Arrow Films’ latest DVD Crimes of Passion release demonstrates Scandinavia has a long history of crime fiction. In the decades before Nordic Noir’s emergence writers put a distinctly Scandinavian spin on the detective story.

Sweden’s first “Queen of crime fiction”, Maria Lang (real name Dagmar Lange) is frequently compared to Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers. Writing in an era before Larssen, Nekker, and Mennkell had popularised Nordic Noir her novels were part of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. A prolific author, she produced a novel a year between 1949 to 1990. Fondly remembered by many of the current crop of Swedish crime novelists, Camilla Läckberg has mentioned reading Lang’s books in her youth.

In Lang’s hands the traditional murder-mystery became less cosy and more adventurous. Daring, for the time, references to illicit relationships, and same sex partnerships set her work apart from anything being produced by her English counterparts.

Most of her novels are set in the fictional township Skoga, based loosely upon the author’s home town of Nora.

Adapted from Lang’s early novels, Crimes of Passion is a series of six feature films set in 1950s Sweden. The period is authentically recreated via meticulously researched clothing and hairstyles along with an impressive array of vintage motor vehicles.

Doctoral student Puck ( Tuva Novotny) is studying crime fiction. When we first meet her she is lecturing on Zola’s Thérèse Raquin. Invited to a midsummer party on a small island she embraces the opportunity to go somewhere without a telephone. Celebrations are cut short when Puck discovers that one of the guests has been strangled by a silk scarf. Every person who attended the party is a suspect. Teaming up with Eje (Linus Wahlgren) and Commissioner Wijk (Ola Rapace of Wallander and Skyfall) this intrepid trio sifts through the evidence, determined to stay alive and catch the killer.

From a remote island in Bergslagen through to a vicarage on Christmas Eve, this courageous threesome faces murder wherever they travel.

Reverent without being too referential, the programme is faithful to the books and era. The production team have left themselves with enough room to add some creative flourishes whilst honouring the source material. Sumptuously photographed, the cinematography is composed of rich colours. Karl & Pär Frid’s score echoes the sounds of a pre Rock and Roll era. A Saul Bass inspired title sequence pays homage to his work for Alfred Hitchcock and doffs a Fedora hat to Mad Men.

Deceptively familiar, the series mostly adheres to the established framework familiar to Miss Marple fans of a murder in an isolated community being investigated by an amateur sleuth albeit with the addition of sexual tension and greater emphasis on psychological realism. Acknowledging its influences for all to see, the first episode references Christie’s “And Then There Were None”.

Definitely old fashioned and yet, paradoxically, thoroughly modern. The opening episode wrong-foots viewers by following the Christie template until a revelation reminds viewers that they are firmly in Scandinavian crime fiction territory. A stylish production with superb performances from the series regulars. Eagle-eyed fans of Nordic Noir films and TV shows will spot actors from Arne Dahl, Don’t Ever Wipe Tears Without Gloves, and Let the Right One In.

Six feature length films that will delight period drama and whodunnit aficionados.

Crimes of Passion can be ordered from Amazon:

DVD Review: The Hour of the Lynx

6 Oct

Borgen director and Danish Academy award winner Soren Kragh-Jacobsen returns to the big screen with a haunting psychological drama that reunites The Killing‘s Sofie Gråbøl and Søren Malling. Adapted from a play by Per Olov Enquist, The Hour of the Lynx sees Gråbøl playing Helen, a priest who is struggling to convince herself that her work has any meaning for the modern world. Ministering to the spiritual needs of a small community, she preaches sermons at poorly attended services. Unable to contain the barely concealed frustration she utters a mild obscenity during preparations for a Confirmation ceremony and is admonished by a parishioner for defiling a place of worship.

An opportunity for personal salvation arrives when the church is visited by Lisbeth, a duty psychiatrist (Signe Egholm Olsen of Borgen) at the nearby secure hospital. For several weeks the institution has been running a behavioural experiment studying how patients respond to sharing their personal space with animals. The killer of an elderly couple has been assigned a cat. Initially unresponsive to treatment, he becomes more animated when partnered with a feline. Early reports suggest that the study has been a success but then something goes wrong and the patient is placed on suicide watch after an unsuccessful attempt to end his life. Convinced that self murder is part of God’s plan he is determined to try again.

The project is facing imminent shut down so Lisbeth reaches out to the Helen hoping she can form a meaningful emotional connection with the inmate. As the hours tick away until the study is terminated Helen builds a rapport and tries to understand the trauma he has carried with him for so long and why that led him to murder two strangers. Racing against time to save his life, and Lisabeth’s professional reputation, an intense therapy session takes place exposing dark thoughts and painful memories.

Soren Kragh-Jacobsen has crafted an uncompromising examination of guilt, faith, love, and the power of memory. Compelling in its exploration of the shadowy corners of the human psyche. This elegiac lament for lost innocence asks soul searching questions about the fragility of beliefs and possibility of redemption. A film based upon distinct oppositions. The claustrophobic environment of a secure hospital is contrasted with the tranquillity of Sweden’s countryside. Minister of faith and scientist have seemingly incompatible perspectives but are forced by circumstance to overcome their mutual suspicions and work together.

Transcending it’s theatrical origins, The Hour of the Lynx is a highly intelligent and emotionally powerful film which effectively fills the cinematic canvas courtesy of nuanced cinematography sympathetic to the script’s intentions and uniformly excellent screen performances.

Steadfastly refusing to sugar coat or trivialise the subject matter, viewers are plunged head first into the darker recesses of a troubled soul. This movie will linger in the viewer’s memory. Recommended.

The Hour of the Lynx is available to order from Amazon:

To commemorate this film’s release Ash Loydon has produced a stunning portrait of Sofie Gråbøl.

See further examples of Ash Loydon’s work at:

http://ashsarthole.blogspot.co.uk/

Blu-ray Review: Salvatore Giuliano

29 Sep

Each decade the British Film Institute’s magazine Sight and Sound polls key figures from the industry to crown a film as ‘the greatest of all time’. In tandem with this survey, the publication prints a selection of lists from a cross section of directors, simultaneously showing how the overall data was compiled and giving a window into key creative figures’ influences. Amongst the films cited by Martin Scorsese was the gritty 1962 neo-realist docu-drama Salvatore Giuliano.

On the morning of 5th July, 1950 the body of Sicilian bandit Salvatore Giuliano was found in a courtyard. Leader of a local gang of outlaws from 1943 until his death. The township of Castelvetrano and its surrounding villages saw him as a mythic hero who fought valiantly in the quest for Sicilian independence. A Robin Hood for the post war era pitched in direct conflict with an tyrannical political regime which refused to recognise the region’s right to self govern. Separatist sentiments were encouraged during the allied invasion of 1943.

Four years later, eleven people were slain and thirty three wounded during May day celebrations. Twelve days after a leftist coalition was elected to govern the region a cross section of the populace was preparing to follow the annual parade. A speaker from the local Communist party began to address the crowd when shots ran out from the surrounding hills. In the massacre four children lost their lives.

Taking full responsibility for the atrocity, Giuliano wrote an open letter that was published in several newspapers which stated his intention was to disrupt the political gathering, not to murder innocent citizens. His men, so he claimed, had been instructed to fire their guns into the air.

From this moment onward support for his actions began to wane. Previously loyal champions denounced him and a cash bounty was offered by the Italian government for his successful capture.

Fourteen years after that May morning, events were recreated with meticulous attention to detail in the very same region, survivors of that carnage relived the experiences for a feature film that probed with forensic precision the conflicting accounts of Giuliano’s death. Except for two professional actors, Salvo Randone (President of the Court of Assize) and Frank Wolff (Gaspare Pisciotta), the cast is comprised of local citizens, many of whom knew the deceased bandit.

Drawing from court records, the director (Francesco Rosi) constructed a patchwork narrative, inviting the viewer to piece together events and form their own conclusions. Giuliano is largely absent from the film. He is seen as a corpse and briefly in a pan but his influence is writ large into every frame.

A fragmented and subjective narrative is welded together by echoing Citizen Kane‘s investigative approach to constructing a biography. The ‘facts’ surrounding the titular character’s life and death are presented by people acquainted with him.

Regarded by Martin Scorsese as ‘one of the true masters of cinema’ and considered by film critic Derek Malcom to be ‘the heavy conscience of Italian cinema’ Francesco Rosi is a Golden Lion winning filmmaker that trained alongside Luchino Visconti. His 1972 feature film The Mattei Affair won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

A politicized director, and a key figure in what he termed as the ‘second phase of neorealism’, Rosi’s films frequently expose corruption at the heart of society. This former lawyer who had previously been an assistant to Antonioni is fêted in his homeland but remains less well known in the UK possibly due to the unavailability of his films. Redressing that imbalance, Arrow Films release of a restored Salvatore Giuliano demonstrates that the movie, and Rosi’s singular vision, continues to be felt in Italian cinema and TV. From Gomorrah to Romanzo criminale, the contemporary gangster genre’s DNA is built upon this film’s legacy.

To accompany the film, Arrow have assembled an extensive collection of bonus content, delving deep into the myth behind the man, alongside a wealth of material covering the film.

Salvatore Giuliano can be ordered from Amazon:

Nordic Noir and Beyond – Issue 3

12 Aug

On Friday August 15th the latest issue of Nordic Noir and Beyond will be published. Free with copies of The Guardian, the magazine has been edited by Barry Forshaw (author of Death in a Cold Climate, Nordic Noir, and Euro Noir). Packed with features and reviews, the magazine offers the readers the chance to win a trip to Denmark. A cut down version will be included with future DVD and Blu-ray releases.

Issue two of Nordic Noir can still be ordered from Arrow Films:
http://nordicnoir.tv/killingmerchandise/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=66

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