Tag: Manchester

In Conversation with HOME’s film programming team

By reaching out to all demographics of its area, independent arts organisations are a wonderful way to build community in large cities. Here in Manchester, we have HOME, a place where film, theatre, art, and dance converge. But how do film societies work, and what do they do?

A core element of building a film society is its programming, which involves developing an audience through the venue’s choice of films and events. Independent arts organisations such as HOME work on a basis of consent and consensus between the staff and the audience, meaning that the films and events put on must reflect the audience’s taste by finding a balance between the familiar and the unfamiliar, the old and the new, the popular and the obscure.

It is that balance that the film programming team attempt to perfect with every season though multiple facets.

A crucial one is the lengthened running time in the cinema or a slower turnover of what gets screened. HOME’s Cinema 5 allows there to be a rotation of films, a room able to seat around 40 people, and is a unique space that allows opportunities to approach artists through Q&As (although these can take place in any of their cinema rooms), which is a step towards making the cinema goer’s experience an immersive and enlightening one.

Being a part of a large city, the people working at HOME take it upon themselves to reach out to different demographics/communities in the area It is important for any film society to develop an ethos surrounding their film programming. HOME Mcr has done so by limiting the amount of Hollywood/Blockbuster films, ensuring that a certain number of films are UK/World cinema, showcasing a proportion of documentaries and animation each film calendar, but also by making sure each season to programme a film which reaches out to a certain community in the area. For example, hosting half of the Jewish Film Festival, discounted tickets for students in Manchester, a £1 ticket scheme for people from an impoverished background, or hosting a workshop in January for creatives with disabilities.

By installing such initiatives, HOME has seen results and proven how important programming is within the building of a film society’s audience and their loyalty to the organisation. There is a real creation of community, and the volunteers within HOME help this community function and thrive. Film societies depend on a large staff of both employees and volunteers, who either indirectly or directly tend to the audience’s experiences, by greeting the audience, introducing them to the concept of HOME or simply talking about the event they are about to or have just seen.

Places like HOME make it their duty to prevent certain films from falling into the abyss, or not being widely shared with future generations – planned well in advance, “States of Danger and Deceit” had been in the making for over a year in order to coalesce with the one hundredth anniversary of the Russian Revolution. This is when the idea to showcase a retrospective of European thrillers came up. Senior Visiting Curator for HOME and Film Studies Professor at the University of Salford, Andy Willis expressed his personal concern that some canonical, pivotal films of his generation had never been heard of before by his film students.

At the centre of the film team is the Film Programmer for HOME, Rachel Hayward, and is pivotal to the smooth running of each film calendar. Her role involves a lot of public relations, connecting and creating links with people in the industry, as in Arts organisations, the employees are all trying to share the art, whether that be theatre, paintings, or films. “Everyone tries to help each other,” Rachel explained, when talking about the process of putting together a film season for HOME, locating often niche material and obtaining the rights to showcase it.

HOME’s Artistic Director Jason Wood started off as a filmmaker, but after co-directing three films, realised “it was going to be quite hard to make a career out of”, then moving on to work in distribution. At Entertainment Film Distributors, Jason worked on releasing independent films, including Paul Thomas Anderson’s first two films, and Se7en by David Fincher. Progressing to work in exhibition at Picture House cinemas for ten years as programming manager, he then joined the team at Curzon Artificial Eye as director of programming for five years, and during this time began to write film articles, notably for Sight & Sound and The Guardian.

What appealed to Jason about Curzon, in the beginning, was that “they were a cinema which showed almost exclusively independent films, not many of the Hollywood blockbusters”. It was when “they wanted to go much more mainstream with their programming”, partly due to financial benefits, that Jason knew he couldn’t work with them anymore.

Previously, Jason had been involved with the Cornerhouse in Manchester and their film programme, and gradually developed much more affinity with their agenda than that of Curzon’s. The opportunity then came up at HOME for Jason to take on the role of artistic director, in “a cinema that was truly a space for independent thought and filmmaking.”

What Jason, Rachel, and Andy work towards developing at HOME is a “film programme led by culture, not by commerce”, showing films that might have an alternative point of view from the mainstream or an urgent commentary regarding race, class, gender and/or sexuality. HOME has “proven that you can show a film programme which is led by culture and not just a need to make money”. In fact, as HOME’s cultural led programming has been so successful, other venues have reached out to the programming team to programme their venues as well, such as the Art House in London.

The people behind places like HOME are truly committed to the idea of culturally led entertainment and have shown what the cinema-going experience can be like if you treat your audience with respect, sensitivity, but also financial inclusion.

In Conversation with Kumail Nanjiani

It’s late on Thursday July 7th. Manchester is midway through a tight schedule of preview screenings and interviews, but Kumail and Emily show no signs of fatigue from their string of late nights and early starts. Nor have they lost any of their appetite, emerging from the lobby with the same enthusiasm as day one.

Just yesterday they were in London, at an event much larger than the one today. The host was Richard Curtis, CBE, veteran of the Rom-Com genre and personal inspiration of Kumail. From ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ to ‘Notting Hill’ Curtis has perfected a craft very few can replicate, creating ensemble cast films with well-rounded characters.

Oh look who dropped in

That evening, after the screening, Kumail was invited to dinner with Curtis. “I was trying so hard to keep it cool but I’m sure he saw right through me” Suddenly there was a knock at the door. I say suddenly, but Kumail said only he was surprised. Curtis just smiled, sauntered over the door, and revealed Hugh Grant — A little exposition is needed here. In his formative years, growing up in Pakistan, Kumail was fond of Hugh Grant. Mimicking his hairstyle and lack of smiling because Grant said in an interview that “smiling made him look fat” — For the remainder of the dinner he tried his best to play it cool and not embarrass himself in front of his idols, secretly taking pictures, posting them to Twitter the moment their backs were turned.

Beyond human inspirations, Kumail too found his fondness of film critical in shaping the comic he is today. Of course, elements from some will have seeped into his film, The Big Sick. In particular he mentions 1987’s Broadcast News and 82’s Tootsie. “I wanted to make a Rom-Com with real emotion and real laughs. Most just half-ass both”. The commentaries of both proved invaluable in making this film, based upon his story with his, then girlfriend, now wife. Rom-Com’s often suffer from clear-cut edges separating comedy and drama, but Kumail is weary of this. “I learned that at the peak of an emotional scene. That that moment is the perfect time for a joke. The drama and humour feed into each other”

That’s the movie you’re going to make

5 years ago, 5 years after the events of the film, Kumail and Emily decided the time was right to make their story into a screenplay. No longer raw enough to cause tears, their memory of the events was still fresh. Early on in the process they met with producer Judd Apatow (40 Year Old Virgin, Superbad). After hearing the story his vision was clear, telling the pair “your story is so unique no one could ever think of it”.

Apatow acted as a mentor during writing. They began building a skeleton of facts, each moment a bone in what would eventually become a living, breathing being. Not everything seen on the screen is true to life. A scene here, a character there, but for the most part, this is their story. With each draft they submitted, Apatow gave thousands of notes. “Each detail was important to him, every character needed depth, struggles and dreams”

Although an autobiographical film, Emily did not want to play the role and auditions took place after the three year writing process concluded. She decided against attending, not wanting the actresses to “feel weird look at who they would have to become”. The tapes were initially discouraging. Although there were many fantastic actresses, none encapsulated Emily, her sarcasm, her presence, her charm. That was, until Zoe Kazan. “She did something more than the others, she took the words on the paper and really made them her own”

He just shouted it out before I even finished asking the question

Before any financing was secured, the pair decided to keep the project a secret, especially from their families. “We didn’t want to have any awkward conversations before they were necessary, and we didn’t want to disappoint them if it didn’t come to fruition” When harvesting season came though, the fruits of a fully financed deal with FilmNation were ripe for the plucking. The Apatow name surely sweetening the deal, his name synonymous with box office success.

Shortly after Kumail approached his family to walk them through the script, pointing out the real moments from the artificial. “I remember approaching my dad to ask who he would like to play him. I’ve never seen him so sure of anything in his life. He was set on Anupam Kher. So we sent him the script and the very same day he said yes. I didn’t even expect a response. He told us it would be his 500th film. 500! I haven’t even seen 500 films”

With the cast and crew ready, leads Kumail and Zoe ready, there was just one problem niggling in the back of Kumail’s mind, the kissing scenes. “I told her (Emily) to not be on set for them as I didn’t feel comfortable making out with another girl while saying her name but they were both amazingly normal about it. Turning it on me saying it was weirder if she left. – I think most of the cut scenes were making out scenes though, so I guess in the end i must have just been real bad at it”

She told me she was gunna beat my ass

In the film, there is a scene where Kumail crashes and burns terribly in an show, his pent up feelings about a hospitalised Emily erupting, one of several heartbreaking moments. But this was not his worst experience on stage. “I got a call to do Lettermen so I quickly arranged some practice shows the next town over (Atlanta) a week before. During the set a drunk women started aggressively heckling me. Now, on stage you feel like a superhero, a confidence unlike anything you’d have normally, so I started aggressively heckling back. I thought I got the upper hand and it was over, but then she flicked her lit cigarette at me and tried to start a fight”

Fortunately the show did not descend into violence, with Kumail shining during his Letterman performance a week later. From Silicon Valley to Adventure Time, all his successes can be traced back to this, his big break. Back in present day his greatest success of all, The Big Sick, received wide acclaim during its premiere at Sundance. Shortly after, a bidding war for distribution rights took place, with Amazon Studios paying $12 million, the second largest deal of the entire festival. It will receive its full release on July 14th and I would eagerly recommend you do. It is a fantastic film and a great achievement for them both.

HOME Spotlight: Rose

11117831_806877179407791_1047848895505030855_nAs new members of the HOME volunteer team in Manchester, James and myself were lucky enough to see Dame Janet Suzman’s latest and most wonderful performance of Rose, written by Martin Sherman and directed by Richard Beecham.

An eighty-year-old Rose sits alone in what could be referred to as a ‘memory space’, dressed head to toe in black as she recounts her tumultuous life that took place over the twentieth century. From a Jewish background, Rose grew up in a small Ukrainian shtetl (village), experiencing the horror of pogroms and famine. Adventurous, free-spirited and eager to escape the dreariness of her current life, she eventually seizes the chance to leave her shtetl, joining her brother and his wife in Warsaw.

Suddenly our Rose is a young woman in a vibrant, beautiful city, she eats cake in cafés and falls in love. Too soon these are but bittersweet memories, the religion she never believed in catching up with her and somehow have made her a target of Hitler’s Nazis and the terrible Warsaw Ghetto. The Rose that stands before us remembers everything, as much as she tries to repress it.

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When the war finally ends, like many others in her situation, the promise of Palestine is on her lips. “Exodus 1947” her boat from France reads, and the Americans sailing them self-proclaim themselves as their saviours. One of them is a young man from New Jersey, and falls in love with Rose. His last name just so happens to be ‘Rose’, and turns out to be her ticket to freedom, or to America.

She describes New Jersey in the fifties and the description coupled with the minimal atmospheric use of lights takes us there. There are so many Jewish people Rose tells us, all with a slight look of guilt in their demeanour. No one wants to hear about what went on in the ghettos and extermination camps in Europe, not yet.

Rose begins to live what you could call the American Dream. She works hard and starts a family, builds up her reputation in the hotel industry as the very singular ‘Rose Rose’. She tells us of her experiences of life in America, seemingly miles away from the trauma she so recently went through.

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For the two hours of the show, Suzman’s performance and storytelling gift had me utterly wrapped up in Rose’s world and emotions.

Now onto James’ thoughts:

Before we took our seats I was worried that I would not enjoy it. Having never been to a single performer show it was a completely new experience for me. However everybody I spoke to about Rose said it was fantastic and I have to say I agree with them entirely.

Dame Suzman immediately filled the stage with her presence, extinguishing all the worries that I had. The set was incredibly minimal, (first one, then many benches) but had a profound meaning that became clear as she explained her life story. Rose has cemented itself as one of the best theatre shows I have seen and I simply cannot recommend it enough!

Manchester Lift-Off 2017: Northern Lights

Nicholas Connor breathes new life into the young-adult drama genre with his latest film Northern Lights, featuring an unusual realism owed to his young age. There is a light dusting of issues throughout but overall it demonstrates a raw natural filmmaking ability and hints towards a very bright future.

We follow the story of best friends Rob and Emma as they journey through high school towards their GCSE exams. His infatuation for her is made clear from the start and although he tries to keep his cool, her little sister Mia quickly catches on and relentlessly teases him for it.

For an independant film without the budget to sign well-established actors, I was shocked at the level of performances and versatility shown, most notably the younger actors. Katie Quinn and Rhys Cadman who play the lead characters perfectly capture the high-school romance in a way that just is not seen on the big screen today. Stares that last a moment too long and both unknowingly liking the other are often exaggerated to allow even the most uninterested to follow. Conner avoids this by making the film his way rather than pandering to the audience, a strategy that consistently leads to films of far greater quality.

Sadly however the acting falls short in the form of Emma’s father. The gulf in ability was most apparent during an argument between Emma and him and resulted in the scene lacking the entire emotional power intended. Quinn’s transition from happiness to tears was absolutely phenomenal and exposed the weaknesses in his performance, a crying shame given the high standard set by the fellow cast members.

Dialogue is the core of the film generating some of the most evocative scenes while also being the source of some of the negative moments. A perfect instance of the former is during the psychiatric’s appointment. Emma is asked to describe how a panic attack feels for her personally and what follows is a harrowingly accurate explanation which leaves both her and the audience with a sense of nervousness. The slow zoom in of the camera as Emma relaxes and opens up more and more really helped in emphasising the true extent of her anxiety. Where the dialogue falls flat though is in the normal everyday conversations. The pause between one person finishing talking and the next one starting was far too often a little long, resulting in it feeling unnatural.

Some films will make you laugh, others will make you cry. It takes something truly special to do both and Connor achieves this effortlessly demonstrating a impressive control of human emotion. With more filmmaking experience and higher budgets the few creases within this film can be iron out for those that follow. The potential to reach Loachian height is not out of grasp and at only seventeen years of age, that is a very exciting prospect.

Click here to go back to the Lift-Off Homepage to check out more reviews and interviews

Manchester Film Festival 2017: Hunter Gatherer Review

Hunter Gather marks Joshua Locy’s first venture as both a writer and a director after formerly working as an art director. This encouraging debut is an understated and quirky comedy about surviving in a lower-class black neighbourhood whilst finding glimmers of joy in the simpler things. Although far from perfect, it certainly broadcasts Locy as a capable director and is a refreshing break from the filmmaking norm.

Returning to live with his mother following a three year stint in prison, Ashley (Andre Royo – The Wire) is looking to continue his life exactly where he left off. Except everyone around him has moved on. This does little to affect his infectiously positive outlook on life, rather it gives him new life goals. Firstly, to win back his sweetheart Linda, who has since moved on to a local garbageman, and secondly, to hustle enough money to treat her how he feels she deserves. His escapades lead him into the refrigerator disposal business, one that gives short term financial gain in return for a garden full of broken refrigerators that he lacks the ability to shift. Enter Jeremy (George Sample III). Around half his age, this curious initial encounter blossoms into a charming friendship with each providing the other with their most urgent needs. Ashley, with a truck to transport his fridges and a first friend after his release from prison and Jeremy, with an important father figure as his only referenced family is the grandfather who’s nursing home room he sleeps in.

The feeling of renewed childhood is used consistently throughout the film with this being the source of many hilarious moments. During an exchange at a school supplies store, Ashley asks the worker to give him recommendations and ultimately critique his look wearing different backpacks. The effortless manner this scene plays out cements it’s place as perhaps the best in the film. Later on, a situation that is all too familiar for those in the audience, the ‘but mum’ moment. Where one child receives a stern telling off from his mother in the presence of a friend. It’s highly entertaining to watch this unravel with a forty something year old man as the target. Humour lies at the core of this film, whether whimsical like those mentioned or deadpan, like Jeremy reminiscing about the time his pinky toe was removed and reattached using a laser. Locy manages to integrate bizarre elements into his scenes without losing the realistic foundation he has made.

Unconventionality is embraced by Locy in various aspects of the film, for example the camera is used in ways not often seen on the silver screen. One in particular which worked each time it was utilised was the ‘blur to foreground, blur to background’ technique. Whether to emphasis loneliness or show different character’s exploits in a single shot, this stood out as interesting and incredibly well implemented. The same cannot be said about everything Locy attempts. At several points the film strays into surrealism with the main characters faces overlapping and passing through each other. This seemed out of place but also a step away from style of work that suits Locy best.

Hunter Gatherer excels in making the abnormal normal with situations that seem ludicrous in real life feeling utterly everyday through Locy’s directorial style. Occasionally it may wander beyond its boundaries but the poetic beauty and ever-positive Ashley make this film one you won’t easily forget.

Manchester Film Festival 2017: Creedmoria Review

Greatness in the coming-of-age genre is rare. Far too often the same story gets simply repackaged with a different cast. That’s why the best films stand out, they have unique qualities that set them apart from the crowd. In the case of Creedmoria, that quality is unconventionality. The only comparable aspect it possesses to other films of the genre is its incomparability. For that reason alone it was hardly surprising that Alicia Slimmer won the Best Director award at this year’s Manchester Film Festival.

Set in the fictional city of Creedmoria, named after the local institution for the mentally ill Creedmoor, we follow one of the most dysfunctional families seen on the big screen through the eyes of 17 year old Candy (Stef Dawson – Hunger Games). Each family member has one key personality trait that is exaggerated to the nth degree to create this fantastical world. Her mother is wholly self-centred and emotionally devoid, using her children as pawns to progress her own social status. She also has two brothers. One, a drug and alcohol addict who never ceases to find ways to embarrass his mother, and the other is a closeted gay that seems to be the last person to find out about his sexuality. The family is rounded off by their ironically named dog Cuddles. Although the entire family’s problems are amplified beyond that of anything in real life, they coalesce to form a charming family dynamic more realistic than most found within the genre.

The world Slimmer creates is similarly overemphasised, taking each stereotype of the late 70’s early 80’s era and magnifying it to an parodical level. Candy’s boyfriend Billy for example, who is terrifyingly jealous, appears to have modelled his complete physical appearance on Danny Zuko from Grease. They met at the drive in burger joint she works at, where she is relentlessly belittled by the aptly credited ‘dickhead manager’. Away from the people, several other elements of the film demand the viewers attention. The soundtrack is an eclectic compilation of songs with each used perfectly to either represent a particular character or scene. This eclectic theme continues in the fashion and decoration with Slimmer stating that Wes Anderson has been a direct influence on her work.

As the film progresses through its story arc there are a few moments where it lurches slightly. This occurs in the form of shifts between the many individual stories and in tone with the climax of the film being a prime instance. Whilst this can be partially forgiven due to the independent nature of the picture and the problems this triggers, most notably in the painfully low budget, it is a shame given the high quality of everything preceding it.

Creedmoria’s message is about rising above the unpleasant events that take place in your life and maintaining a resilient positive attitude regardless. Alicia Slimmer deserves high praise for her impressive debut feature. After 10 years of hard work to get the film to screen, every award won is a well deserved triumph. For me personally it was the most entertaining film at this years festival.

Click here for the Q&A about the film

 

Manchester Film Festival 2017: Creedmoria Q&A

Once the screening of Creedmoria had finished, the director and writer Alicia Slimmer and the lead actress Stef Dawson came out to answer any questions the audience had. It was a heartwarming end to the film’s festival run and Slimmer seemed at times emotional to have reached this point after 10 year attempting to get the film made. Below are some of the questions asked.

What was your inspiration for the film? When pregnant with my daughter I thought about the type of mother I wanted to be, and the type of mother that I really didn’t want to be. The film is semi-autobiographic in the sense that some of the elements were real. For instance the scene where Billy gets a tattoo with Candy’s name did really happen.

Were there any problems with the early 80’s setting? The biggest challenge was cars as they are very expensive. The idea was to use a lot of muscle cars, fortunately I used to be a drag racer and still had contacts. Locking down an entire street without SUV’s was also hard. Luckily there were no phones or computers in that time period so cost was cut there. The outfits and costumes were at times a problem but a fun problem. Sometimes a crew member would wear something that fit the time period so we would borrow it for the shoot.

How big was the crew? We tried to stay small, one gaffer, one grip, one dp etc. The aim was usually to keep it under 25 at any given time with under 40 total. This was to keep everything efficient but also due to the incredibly small budget we had.

How did you (Stef Dawson) develop Candy as a character? To begin with I couldn’t understand why I was cast but as time passed it clicked. The passion and sunniness despite all of life’s challenges is the main reason, a key part of Candy’s nature.

What were your influences when writing the screenplay? As this was my first feature film it was a unique experience. Mainly it was music, I grew up on the confluence of heavy metal and new wave. When I incorporated music into the film, I gave each character their own song. This was given to the relevant cast member in advance to allow them to get the tone of the scene perfect. I also didn’t watch many films growing up so my imagination had the chance to run wild. Wes Anderson’s quirky style did influence me though, and so did my favourite film ‘A Fish Called Wanda’.

Is the mother character based on your mother? Yes it is. My relationship with my mother has healed over time. The first time she watched it was during the Brooklyn Film Festival. During the Q&A there she stood up and said how the mother character isn’t based upon her. It absolutely was, karma’s a bitch and sometimes its your mother.

What is next for you? The indie film scene is a bit disheartening at the moment. If it wasn’t for small festivals like this one then who would watch these films. I’m transitioning into television now, in particular i’m working on a Game of Thrones type show set in medieval France. Another reason for the transition is that the money just isn’t in indie films unless you get a big break whereas with television I know that i’ll be getting a paycheque.

The Q&A was a fabulous end to the both the film’s showing and the day’s program. A staple of the film festival, it allows the audience and amateur filmmakers alike the chance to pick the brains of those involved.

Click here for the review of Creedmoria