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?

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Film Producers – “What Don’t They Do?”

Christine-Vachon

(The title quote is from a book called Shooting to Kill: How an Independent Producer Blasts Through the Barriers to Make Movies That Matter written by Christine Vachon – above).

Christine Vachon, a film producer who gave life to such stimulating independent films as Happiness and I Shot Andy Warhol (plus many more), gives a fine insight into her working life and the countless scuffles of the filmmaking process. Ultimately, the book is a reflection of her practice as a film producer and a rousing discussion for aspiring filmmakers to get ahead of the game, which moves ever so fast.

Christine’s grounded and somewhat taxing approach is actually refreshing to hear and she offers predominant insights into personal experience of film havoc, despite her wonderful success. It is essentially real; diary interludes offer a further taste of Christine’s approach and the inevitable tasks of filmmaking. Though, the discourse can at times be overtly self-conscious, it doesn’t set out to be a clear and concise guide of A to B, it is a meditative medium after all.

Whilst running through the filmmaking process in chronological order, Christine is generous in her offering. She provides full-budget feature film write-ups, cost reports and production reports etc. Whenever something is clearly daunting for the reader, she lightens the mood with her witty thought on the subject – “Stay sane and embrace the madness.” Descriptions like, “No cut is painless; the trick is to avoid slicing a major artery” (on budgeting whilst Shooting to Kill) are memorable and entertaining for the reader. Frankly, there are a number of quotations one could pull from this book and use as stimulus or however else you like to use intuitive information.

I wish to note a few points in the book that struck me as areas for deeper thought (not relative to practical tuition, however). Christine briefly mentions (to paraphrase) that she is intrigued by how disparate the continuity between a movie itself and moviemaking process is. The parts that make up the constituents of a film have obsessed film theorists as far back as Eisenstein (such as the process of montage editing), so yes, technical aspects of filmmaking have been studied in regard to continuity. But, the aesthetic of actually being on set (actually making a movie) – the chaos – is absurd in its discontinuity. How can cinema appear so pure on the screen? This is, of course, the magic of filmmaking (and all the hard-work that goes into it!).

Furthermore, Christine notions a lot towards the personality a film producer should have towards their work. It varies, but she gives some valuable thought. Of course, respect and equality reigns on set, yet balancing this with authority and sixty egos is no easy feat. Of the finished film, it is understandable that the producer and their team will expect everyone to think it amazing, how couldn’t they after their concentrated long-hours? Christine says, “Not everyone is going to like it, nor should they be expected to.” If you want to produce controversial work, or work that is going to be seen for its difference (often the only way in a saturated independent market, like today) then you have to keep a level head and respect peoples opinions. Okay, if it’s your last chance at a distributor and they read it completely backwards, feel free to go out into the backyard and scream a little.

Find Christine on Twitter.

Her book can be bought on Amazon by clicking here.

A New Generation of Filmmakers

carlos_robert

The 1990’s gave us a new wave of independent cinema icons. Richard Linklater burst onto the scene in 1993 with his socially irresponsible and irresistible Dazed and Confused, Quentin Tarantino with his simply “bad-ass movie” Reservoir Dogs (1992), Kevin Smith with his weird and wondrous Clerks (1994) and, perhaps most significantly (at least in terms of working around a micro budget), Robert Rodriguez with his entertaining and striking El Mariachi. There are plenty more innovating directors I could list (Steven Soderbergh, M. Night Shyamalan, Danny Boyle, Larry Clark, Edward Burns etc.), but I’m sure you follow my bearing.

There has since been the likes of Wes Anderson (Bottle Rocket, Rushmore), Paul Thomas Anderson (Hard Eight, Boogie Nights), Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream), Christopher Nolan (Following, Memento) and Alexander Payne (Citizen Ruth, Election) all emerging as significantly powerful and vital figures in independent cinema from the late 1990s. All these directors indeed still continue to make great films, even if the forte of their later work (Nolan and Aronofsky in particular) has been pilfered by Hollywood into blockbuster fair.

Here, I am arguing that there is a gap, a space for a new generation of filmmakers to make micro-budget films. It has been twenty years since Tarantino made Pulp Fiction and studios began taking independent cinema seriously and creating separate branches for distribution (Miramax Films, Fox Searchlight, Focus Features etc.) This gap for new talent is filling up fast (just look at what Steve McQueen and Martin McDonagh have managed to achieve in the last 10 years) and it is time to step on that bandwagon.

That is why, my friend Chee Keong Cheung, who has written, directed and produced three successful feature films in the climate of the 21st century, wants to help support a new generation of filmmaking talent. He has teamed up with Carlos Gallardo, the producer behind the El Mariachi trilogy and long time friend and collaborator of Rodriguez to bring you a masterclass in filmmaking. Better still, Mark Strange, who has worked alongside action legends Donnie Yen, Jackie Chan and Cary Tagawa as a stunt performer, fight choreographer, actor and producer will also be attending. These three stimulating individuals are offering an intense full day of discussion and teaching for only £99. This is the masterclass.

Intense-Masterclass

These guys know the independent film business. From signing distribution deals to negotiating releases they have been through it all and come out on top. This masterclass is for people who are serious about the film business and furthering their career in film. Yet, it is also ideal for writers, directors, producers, film students, and even casting directors or line producers who are just starting out in their careers. Carlos, Chee and Mark have played their cards in all areas of the film production process from special effects and stunt performing to executive producing and financing. Learn about the films that re-defined cinema and learn how to put your stamp in todays market. Cinema is forever changing.

Find out more and book tickets for the masterclass here.

Watch this El Mariachi tribute below: