London Film Festival – Interview with Director Andy Siege

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 Review: Crimes of Passion

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:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Crimes-Passion-DVD-Ola-Rapace/dp/B00MPRQHI0/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1412707025&sr=8-1&keywords=crimes+of+passion

DVD Review: The Hour of the Lynx

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:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Hour-Of-Lynx-DVD/dp/B00KILJX90/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1412579253&sr=8-1&keywords=the+hour+of+the+lynx

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

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See further examples of Ash Loydon’s work at:

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