Thursday, 25 March 2010

UK Premiere of Chris Morris’ Four Lions at the 16th annual Bradford International Film Festival.

The UK premiere of Four Lions was attended by three of the lead actors, two of the writers, and the writer-director/spiritual father of the project: Chris Morris. When introducing the film he explained that prior to the first screening for friends and family his wife told him: "Even if it's really shit, well done; you’ve made a film". This caused the first eruption of laughter with many to follow throughout the evening.

Morris explained that holding the UK premiere in Bradford felt like a spiritual homecoming for the film; many of the cast are from Bradford and a great majority of the research was compiled here. Except the extremist parts, he explained jokily and not being one to shy away from controversy added “that was in Blackburn”.

The film itself can be approached from two angles; as a comedy and as an important contemporary cultural text. As a comedy it succeeded beyond expectations. Part of the pleasure surely came from the spectacle of the event; a sold out screening with cast and crew present along with regional cultural references that resonated infectiously with many in the audience, but this can take nothing away from the many levels of comedy at work within this film. There were elements of overacted screwball comedy; there were underplayed facial expressions and reactions that added a wealth of character and personality to the comedy; further still, there were elaborately constructed situational set pieces. All these elements along with explosively dynamic dialogue that was well delivered combined to send the audience into tears of laughter.

In a separate issue to the comedy there was the cultural commentary, which is always going to draw attention when it is such a taboo subject as Jihad: a word that is often avoided at all costs. The film unapologetically offers a plethora of questions around motivation, meaning and justification which it never falls into the trap of giving patronizing, melodramatic answers to nor does it preach any solutions.

The many characters were all utilised to give different points of views and different perspectives; the main protagonist Omar (Riz Ahmed) was fully fleshed out, with the other characters used to offer differing ideas and obviously the above mentioned comic relief. Omar’s brother for instance had such a minor part but raises questions around what he considers a true following of Islam, which he promotes as peaceful, but is then exposed as intrinsically sexist due to the way he practically locks his wife in a cupboard. That being said, Islam itself was to a large extent sidelined and the film much more overtly dealt with identification and senses of belonging for a demographic that has partial but not complete grips on the many angles of where its identity is created; this includes Barry (Nigel Lindsay), the Caucasian convert amongst the group.

Four Lions is easily funny enough to reach a very wide audience, where viewers will be left without answers and therefore forced to discuss these issues, which are too often brushed under the proverbial rug.

Post film Q&A

Questions were asked by the Festival’s artistic director: Tony Earnshaw, who stumbled into a little trouble when he got one of the actors’ names wrong, to which Riz Ahmed sarcastically replied “well yeah, we all look the same”.

Morris answered that no subject is taboo in comedy; it is not the subject matter that is important, it is getting the comedy in that subject matter right.

With regards to his inspiration, he explained that it came from almost ten years ago when the massive questions were raised around a so called ‘war on terror’; people soon became tired and underwhelmed with the generic, repetitive and emotionless response by the mainstream media. Morris added that Paradise Now (Hany Abu-Assad, 2005), which was a dramatic film with terrorist themes had one scene in it that had an element of humour and this was enough to tell Morris that this project would work.

With regard to criticism, both from the Muslim community and victims of terrorism: Morris anticipates that he will get more criticism from people thinking that other people will be offended than he will from people that are actually in a position to be offended under the criteria that the people complaining set out.

The structure of having three writers was championed, having the ability to bounce ideas off of each other and stop each other straying down routes that are not going to work. Further to this there was the ability of the actors to then improvise, adding their experiences as British-Asians. That being said, Arsher Ali who plays Hassan insisted that the script was so well researched that there was little need to apply this freedom.

In reference to the film functioning as a buddy movie, Morris said that from the research he had conducted he understood that within these extremist cells: "the dynamics of the group were more about group love rather than outward hatred".

Regarding an American response, Morris explained that he has learned that you cannot generalise the audience and that both Sundance and South by Southwest received the film openly.

Many in the audience were disappointed that the Q&A session was never opened to the crowd; this was an ironically safe move by the festival considering the controversial nature of the film and its willingness to ask questions. If there were questions open to the public in the later showing, that would be convenient as I was informed that there was no space for press in this screening as we were moved to the earlier one.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Bradford International Film Festival - The Shine Short Film Award

Below is a list of the films that were entered for this year’s Shine Short Film Award at the Bradford International Film Festival. I must say right from the outset that my expectations were not only exceeded but completely annihilated; I expected that one may blow me away and most to be unimportant or actually offensively bad. I don’t see why I had to have such a negative outlook, but they really exposed me for the idiot I am. I have left a little of my musings on each one along with which one I think should win come this Sunday. I wanted to get this up and give anybody who has seen them chance to comment before the award is announced on Sunday. I have included a link to the synopsis as I neither have the space nor the time to go through them, plus this is really intended for those who have already seen them.

Crescendo Pierre Terade, Didier Woldemard - France

The overall message was one that I very easily ascribe to: fuck the narcissistic alpha male and fuck the system (the colourful language here is necessary to capture the rage within the lead character). By killing her abusive narcissistic boyfriend and taking over his drug trade, it could be read that she will simply become a new version of him, thus creating a cycle, but I think this would be a reductive stereotype that drug dealers = bad. I would also argue that the film takes the same stance as me by showing the individual buying the drugs in the middle of the school to be an upstanding member of society, not the clich├ęd council estate dwelling drug user. For me it showed that this was the only way of her establishing her own agency and caring for her child, bearing in mind the film showed how the state had already foiled her efforts to make a so called ‘honest’ living.

Death of a Double Act Christine Entwhistle - GB

From the best of the bunch to the worst of the bunch. In a very strong programme this film seemed out of place. Its message was admirable and its reveal toward the end gave it something interesting to say but its delivery was not enjoyable to watch at all. If it was mourning the death of a certain type of performance, what was shown onscreen did nothing to justify its preservation.

La Preda (The Prey) Francesco Apice - Italy

If my gut instinct didn’t tell me that Crescendo was the pick of these films, then La Preda would have been a really strong contender. It is a beautifully shot film that also managed to conjure up a tremendous amount of suspense in such a short amount of time. Not only that, but it portrayed some very complex relationships and asked enough questions to leave you thinking, whilst also offering a whole tale.

The Man With All the Marbles Hans Montelious - Sweden

This film was easily good enough to prove its worth in this collection of shorts, but didn’t quite reach the quality of the best ones. Watching the two brothers face off, both with the marbles but more importantly through their sharp wits and dialogue made for an enjoyable watch.

An Ode to Modern Democracy and the Hairdresser Matt Strachan - GB

A very fun little film that showed an unspoken truth: that it is the semi-skilled, working, everyday person with real character and a real attitude that makes a difference in the country. Not simply the bland, unoriginal world leaders who feel the need to have the same boring and adequate hair cut to fit perfectly into their uninspired existence.

Toshi Jon Gilbert - GB

This film was carried by the underplayed performance by Kentaro Suyama as Toshi. This is not to take anything away from the rest of the film; the script was well written; the directing brought everything together nicely and the tale was well paced, but it was the tremendous central performance that really made it stand out.

Under God Richard Farmer - USA

This film started stronger than it ended; it lost credibility for me when the computer – when asked is there a god? - said ‘there is now’. The rest of the film was stylised but plausible and was asking some interesting questions as to whether a world leader should choose science and knowledge or military might, therefore the implausible answer given by the computer was at odds with this. And undermined everything else it was trying to say.

When the Hurlyburly's Done Alex Eslam, Hanna Maria Heidrich - Germany

This film had a very high production value and maybe it is just my disposition, but along with this production value I fear (though unfoundedly with no evidence) that there was a large budget. I also fear that this may give the film an advantage over some of the other films, yet I thought it was a lot more style than substance. I felt that many of the other films asked more questions and had more interesting things to say. That being said, if it is a talent of the filmmakers to have gone out and secured this many sponsors and this much funding, then maybe they do deserve something for it.
I anticipate that this film will win the prize for its high production value.

Yellow Cake Nick Cross - Canada

It was fantastic to see an animation in here and this was indeed a strong animation; better than most animations in fact, that you would see at an animation festival. The film perfectly portrays the kind of class struggle, oppression and absurdity that dominated the 20th century and through a rampant western consumerism still exists by economically holding developing nations to ransom. The animation style was fitting; a pastiche of the western animation style of early Hollywood, which would have no issue portraying Bugs Bunny shooting Native Americans by the dozen.
I hope that this condensed summary of my thoughts sheds some light on the state of this competition. I cannot stress enough that this was a very solid line-up of short films and my hat comes off to the Festival organisers.

I thought I would make a list of preference just to see where the prize goes to and where that film places on this list.

1. Crescendo
2. La Preda
3. Toshi
4. Yellow Cakes
5. When the Hurlyburly’s Done
6. The Man with all the Marbles
7. An Ode to Modern Democracy and the Hairdresser
8. Under God
9. Death of a Double Act