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.


  1. Well done for getting as review out so fast. I attended the later (and official premiere) screening and there were quite a few questions from the audience (for at least 30 mins).

  2. There was a Q&A in the second screening which had loads of questions from the audience. I think the lack of audience questions in the first screening was purely a time issue.

  3. Did any of these further questions in the later showing shed any light on anything not covered above?

  4. Chris Morris revealed how he got such a good performance from a crow, he also said he didn't believe he'd ever made anything controversial and there was a good question about what he thought the reaction from the Daily Mail would be. He said 'bring it'!

  5. Nice one, he did good with the Crow, I hear that they are often notorious divas