The Arbor, The Selfish Giant and Clio Barnard

Clio Barnard

I was fortunate enough to attend Clio Bernard’s lecture on her work the other day, she truly shows the promising signs of a filmmaker who understands their vision and has the passion, tenacity and talent to contribute a thorough standpoint in cinema. Her first two films have been seminal works in the last few years of British film, gaining Clio multiple awards internationally and 2 BAFTA nominations for the outstanding debut category.

Clio’s underlying themes of memory, authenticity and imagination are rich from the outset, although masked in the provincial poverty and the battle of human life that she so credibly conceives. The Arbor is her first feature length piece of work that simulates layers of reality to a shattering and enthralling effect. It is raw and lucid, and some critics have complained of its downward spiral of depression and heartache, at times there is little space for breath. Yet, on the contrary, Clio utilises innovative filmmaking tools to remind the viewer that this is simply a retelling of a story that is being remembered in more ways than one. There is the simulation of Andrew Dunbar’s play acted out in the estate yard; there is the reflection of Dunbar’s family (of authentic voices lip-synced to actors – a magical feat and by no means obtrusive), the fictionalised reenactment of events and the factual archive footage of interviews with Andrea herself. It is a true expression of Brechtian technique (from the epic theatre) and thus a remarkably fresh insight into the documentary form and the form of cinematic expression itself.

The selfish giant

Following on from this great success, Clio emerged with another tale of heartache and grief imaginatively interpreted from Oscar Wilde’s fable The Selfish Giant. Clio also drew inspiration from The Arbor and the cycle of power and greed constructed within working-class Yorkshire (Bradford). The poor are undermined by society and the audience innately experiences the cycle of poverty through the young eyes of a 14 year old boy (ironically called Arbor) trying to make ends meet for his detached and deprived family. It is a striking film with beautiful and sometimes magical cinematography, powerful and admirable acting and, of course, the instinctive and precise direction of Clio.

Clio came from a background in fine art and it was her sequential drawings that drew her to the cinematic form. She became interested in what it would be like to construct these drawings into a storyboard form, if you like, ultimately, the moving image. Clio began making short films of the experimental and artistry kind. She screened part of an intriguing short film she made in 1998 called Random acts of Intimacy which, like The Arbor, blended authentic voices with actors miming. In this case, irrational sexual acts (usually of one’s fantasy or imagination) were explained in detail and filtrated with shots from actual pornographic films. The audience wishes to seek out the vulnerability and the anonymity of lip-syncing makes this a frustrating and highly captivating task.

Clio continued to experiment with the medium, constantly looking for new ways to explore authenticity and connect with the real. However, she assertively believes that it is wholly risky to believe in the authenticity of film. Though, her social-realist style in The Selfish Giant may proclaim otherwise, it is after all inaugurated from a little fable of greed that resolves in receipt.

I am fascinated to find out where Clio will take her filmmaking journey next, she hinted she was in the writing process at the moment, nothing more. She has explored the boundaries of documentary and narrative filmmaking, both transcending the screen, one with Brechtian motives and the other via pure cinema. What’s next Clio?

Locke – Tom Hardy is enthralling even if he is trapped inside this rather tiresome movie

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MOVIE REVIEW

Locke
Shoebox Films (GB), IM Global (US)
85 Mins
UK Release: 18th April, 2014

Director Steven Knight
Producer Guy Heeley, Paul Webster
Screenwriter Steven Knight
Cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos
Cast Tom Hardy, Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson

Full credit to Steven Knight and his innovative construction of cinema, but Locke is a clever concept that fails to give me an attentive seat aboard the exciting journey from Birmingham to London. Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) is an engaging character with deep motivations and Hardy delivers exceptionally, yet he alone isn’t enough to give this story a plausible pulse. Although the meditative structure of this story is enthralling, one is drawn to expecting more from it.

Locke is a successful family man with a complex inner shell. His shell is close to breaking, but Locke effectively manages to keep calm, reflective and consistently repeat, “The traffic is OK, so I’ll be there soon. The traffic is OK.” Once his mind is fixed, there is no turning back. In this case, Locke has decided it is time to amend a fatal error he committed approximately 9 months ago. Unfortunately, this decision brings with it a tsunami of catastrophic repercussions for Locke’s life and career. If the man wasn’t honest before (at least not to his wife), then he certainly makes it his promise to be so now.

The act of birth encompasses the engine of this plot. Locke is dropping everything for a woman he admits he doesn’t love and hardly knows. Why does he suddenly care? He has everything his character could possible ask for: a successful career, a happy wife and two children and a fine BMW.  He is driven by the nature and beauty of birth; a Father has to be at the birth of his child, no exceptions. However, the woman on the other end of the line (voiced by Olivia Colman) has nothing, Locke is her next of kin, her make-believe lover and the only person who can calm her down once her water has broke (the doctors even call Locke to check on his progress, wouldn’t they just get on with their vital jobs?).

On the other side of Locke’s attenuating mind is the crisis at work; he has one of the biggest concrete assemblies of his life, beginning at early hours of the next morning, which he must superintend. The big boss isn’t happy and uses plenty of bad language to get his point across before giving Locke the sack. In the name of pride, Locke continues to organise the operation with his co-worker who is on-site to do the check-ups and keep Locke’s brain from discharging. The dialogue goes into rather a bit too much detail about concrete engineering that doesn’t steer the plot to a thrilling ride for the mass audience. But then again, what other option is there to take up 85 minutes on the Bluetooth.

It is a one man, one car show. The confinements are inside the car with a few glimpses of traffic shown in wide-panning shots or through the various window reflections. It can be a stuffy ride and at times a little desperate. Knight plays with artistry through focusing various reflections to imitate Locke’s mental state, but the condition could be explored further. Despite Hardy’s engaging and intricate performance, the film fell short of my expectation and didn’t raise my heartbeat above resting (my eyes also began complaining about watching the same shot a hundred times over).

2.5/5 stars

Watch the trailer below:

BFI to join VOD craze

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“The launch of the BFI Player is a defining moment in the BFI’s 80 year history – it will unlock the past, present and future of British film.” – Greg Dyke, BFI Chairman.

It’s exciting stuff. Yersterday, Greg Dyke announced that a new video-on-demand platform will be launched nationwide on 9th October – coinciding with the BFI London Film Festival. This BFI player will shed light on all the cinephiles who crave for inependent and specialised film. It will be the BFI experience from home – a great treat – and no doubt will boost the UK film industry by offering new distribution opportunities. To be honest, it’s about time.

The player – for PCs, Macs, tablets and iPhone – will have a mix of different collections from cult British cinema to films about filmmakers and cine literate freaks. It will also hold special simultaneous distribution events, as seen with Ben Wheatley’s A Field in England. Clio Barnard’s The Selfish Giant will launch on the player alongside it’s theatrical release on 25th October. It’s said there will be many more significant events like this in the near future, including a restoration of The Epic on Everest!

bfi_player

This may all be arousing news, but you have to raise concerns for the arthouse cinemas who were previously the prior market for independent and specialised film. Is it right that the arthouse genre should be made easily accessible to the mass audience? The appreciation may not be the same. However, I’m sure the cinema audiences will still be alive, after all, everyone loves a trip to the picture house.

Edward Humphrey, BFI Director of Digital, says: “The BFI Player gives us a foundation from which we can support a digital future for film lovers and bring the story of film to a truly national audience.” What I want to ask is how come we’re not aspiring to an international audience? It seems to me, the UK industry has always acted too isolate towards our cinema. Humphrey goes on to proclaim: “The UK film industry leads the world in digital innovation.” Hard to believe when America has enough VOD platforms to be classed as contagious, but I’m sure Humphrey knows best – it’s all with good intention.

Whatever the outcome may be for BFI’s player, it’s certainly cheerful news and as Dyke said, “a defining moment in the BFI’s 80 year history.” I look forward to embracing this history on the 9th October.

The Limelight Index: Si Horrocks – Writer/Director

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Si Horrocks is a filmmaker with a passion for stories, and he achieved bringing his to the big screen on a bare budget and effectively a one-man crew. Here is his story:

What first sparked off your initial interest in filmmaking?

Through childhood I wanted to be a film director, but found myself going into music after school. Then a neighbour showed me a script he had written – he was a painter and decorator who also had a dream to make films. He’d saved enough money that he decided he was going to make a short, shot on S16mm. He spent about £8000, even hiring Stansted Airport for one scene. I was recruited to record sound (using an old reel-to-reel Nagra).

But I got involved in much more – running, assisting, set decorating, sound designing and even designed the promotional postcard. After this, my filmmaking passion was re-ignited.

Rene's Flat shoot (May 2010) 11

Who are your influences?

Charles Laughton (although he only directed one film), Chris Marker, Orson Welles, Sophocles, William Shakespeare, Christopher Nolan, Philip K. Dick, Michael Moorcock, Darren Aronofsky, Jean Vigo, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (I tend to take this question literally, so this list is potentially nearing infinity.

You work at BFI’s IMAX cinema, are you not sick of ‘tent-pole’ cinema? Does this drive your passion for independent film?

I love films from all areas of filmmaking. I wouldn’t say I was sick of it, but working in this kind of cinema does give me the opportunity to watch films I would never normally see. Having to watch Avatar over 100 times was certainly a challenge. But sometimes you find a film which surprises you. Pixar’s Up had some very inspiring and moving moments.

Few arthouse, festival-oriented directors would admit this but… The Dark Knight gave me hope for ‘tent-pole’ films. I found the film to be more complex than I expected or at first realised. It has almost a Shakespearean grandness and depth of character. As in Shakespeare’s plays, the ‘villain’ is a sympathetic character – there’s a logic to his madness. Plus, he’s the only one in the film prepared to die for his beliefs and stick to them until the end. Meanwhile, all the supposedly good characters become corrupted and the film ends on a downbeat note.

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I don’t think its good to dismiss anything. If I did, I would be as blinkered as the people who dismiss Third Contact without giving it a proper thought.

What drives my passion to be independent when making films is the need to express my ideas and stories without having to work to the agenda of someone who doesn’t have empathy for what I’m trying to do. Being a truly independent filmmaker means my work is between me and my audience and the work doesn’t have to be corrupted by the often uncreative and unsympathetic system which has evolved to fund films – not just through the studio, but also the public and private equity funding systems.

How did your debut feature Third Contact come about?

It’s a long story: http://thirdcontactmovie.com/makingof.html

3C screenshot 1

You shot the film almost single-handed, how did it feel working with such a small crew?

Great. I never at any moment wished I had a bigger crew. Life would have been slightly easier with a trained sound recordist/boom, and perhaps a production manager.

With such a small crew, things usually moved very quickly. Organising a team can be a job in itself. For example, when we shot the park scene at night, I forgot to bring the boom, so Scott couldn’t do sound. What we found was that, as Jannica was the only one with lines, she could hold the mic just below the edge of the frame. So, for that scene all, we needed was me and 2 actors.

This meant I was completely free to experiment with shots, almost documentary style. And of course it has a bit of that feel to it.

Sometimes I had to multi-task. There is one shot where Jannica is coming out of the crematorium and while I was filming handheld I was also negotiating the expenses fee with the actor who was to play the cab driver, over the phone. If you watch that shot with the sound from the camera you can hear me negotiating.

3C screenshot 9

You’ve, independently, managed to generate a staggering buzz surrounding your film, any tips on your marketing strategies for this?

The important thing is to spend time making friends, just like in any situation or any business. To succeed in any walk of life, you need friends and allies.

When you’re using social media, you soon realise that everyone is shouting at each other and nobody is listening. I took the opposite approach, most of the time. I decided to have quiet conversations with people while everyone else was shouting.

I thought it was better to have 5 connections on twitter who are good friends than 500 who don’t care what I’m doing. Twitter is like a big networking party and it works pretty much the same way. If someone is just talking about themselves the whole time, you make your excuse and move on. But once in a while you find a connection and common interest and then you form a stronger relationship.

I felt it was important that as many people got to know me and what I’m trying to do, so I added a blog to the website and wrote about the things I was passionate about. People seem to get inspired by the story of how I made the film as much as the film itself so I pushed both in equal measure.

3C screenshot 8

Your philosophies appear to be very spiritually and psychologically influenced, can we expect these themes to be cast in your film?

My interests are more psychological than spiritual. Ghosts and spirits and unreliable memories are all psychological, to me. They all reflect the state of mind of the one experiencing them.

Any important dates for the films future?

Since the global premiere of the film on Sept 2nd, people have been asking how they can see the film. Some of the fans of the film have started to set up ‘cinema on demand’ screenings of the film in their town, around the world, starting with Zurich (22nd Jan) and Antwerp (16th Jan).

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 Are there any other projects in the works we should know about?

I’ve got 3 projects in various stages of development, including a film/graphic novel which is a kind of follow up to Third Contact. Plus I’ve also been asked to collaborate on an architecture project involving narrative.

Finally, can you give any parting advice for young filmmakers on the industry?

Go your own way. Learn by doing, not following others. Watch as many films as you can, from 100+ years of filmmaking. The ‘industry’ is overcrowded, so how do you stand out from the crowd? By having your own unique voice – there is no long term career to be made by making yet another zombie movie (unless you come up with a brilliant new take on it).

The industry also operates on the wisdom of the self-fulfilling prophecy. If they all say something is not commercial and don’t back it then it will fail and they will feel justified. It all about proving them wrong. Go out there, back yourself and never listen to the naysayers.

Thanks Si.

The stuff Si is talking about here is extremely intriguing and positive. Here is someone who cares about people getting their stories told without them being filtered out by various investors, but nevertheless he still loves all routes of filmmaking and says that you shouldn’t dismiss anything. Give everything a chance and give yourself a chance by getting out there and making something even if you do have to be handling a phone call whilst shooting (Spielberg would go mad)!

Find out more about Third Contact on Facebook or the Website.

Keep upto date with Si on Twitter or Facebook.

Photography courtesy of Daniel Stocker http://www.danielstockerphotography.com