Archive for Lynn Ramsay

Twang

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 15, 2011 by dcairns

ARROWS OF UNDESIRE

Fiona had to drag me to see WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN due to my phobia about Scottish cinema. I know this is an American-set story with some British money involved, but the director is Lynn Ramsay, wunderkind of Scottish miserablism, a genre I never had any sympathy with. All through my early years trying to find some entry point into filmmaking, the movies that got backing seemed impossibly glum and unappealing — it was only after I scored a success with my short CRY FOR BOBO that I realized the movie’s subtext was pure autobiography: a character trapped in a world that demands earnest gloom when all he can offer is silliness.

That said, in certain ways Ramsay was a ray of cinematic sunlight, from her own early shorts to her first feature, RATCATCHER. Although she deployed the working-class settings of social realism, her films occasionally departed from the old songbook, notably when a mouse is carried to the lunar surface by balloon in RATCATCHER. And, as a former stills photographer, Ramsay trusts the image, and can serve up strikingly beautiful shots, some of which look like, as she once put it, “the photos you wish you could take,” while others transcend the striking frame to get into the poetry of movement. And added to this is some striking sound design, pointing to a very different artistic ambition from the social realist Ken Loach school (Loach can never do anything interesting with music or sound because he’s committed to an observational style — Ramsay’s weird mix of subjective and omniscient narration allows her to get into quite psychedelic soundscapes).

On the minus side, I still find Ramsay’s devotion to misery offputting, and when the misery isn’t entirely convincing I really resent it. If something isn’t enjoyable to watch, it better have some clear connection to life, some truth. I’m talking about the end of RATCATCHER here, while trying not to “spoil” it. Also, Ramsay’s tendency to lift shots from Tarkovsky annoyed me — I don’t object to filmmakers pilfering, but I do feel anybody lifting a shot from elsewhere is obliged to transform it, either by redesigning/improving it, or at least slotting it into a totally different context so the stolen moment is forced to function differently. DePalma’s repurposing of Eisenstein’s Odessa Steps sequence in THE UNTOUCHABLES is bold plagiarism, but at least there’s creativity in the idea of transforming propaganda into action cinema. Swiping art cinema to make art cinema is too easy: Ramsay’s borrowings from MIRROR, like Peter Mullan’s from THREE COLOURS BLUE in THE MAGDALEN SISTERS, strike me as lazy and unimaginative. When the most striking cinematic effect in your film is stolen wholesale from an easily available source in the same genre you aspire to, that’s a real condemnation of your ambition and imagination.

THE UPSIDE OF MISERY

Happily, KEVIN seems devoid of undigested borrowings — the sound design is trippy and provokes a persistent feeling of dread. Seamus McGarvey’s photography is outstandingly beautiful: long sequences simply follow one stunningly evocative image with another, making strong choices as to focus and framing — visually beautiful in a way that’s neither aimlessly decorative nor obviously illustrative. The movie’s really curious about images. It’s very obvious that this is a film made with an outsider’s eye for Americana, which sometimes leans towards slightly lazy caricature but also provides a strong, individual viewpoint at all times. Interestingly, it’s not the viewpoint of anybody in the film (the protagonists are all native Americans, though the central character is played by fellow Scot Tilda Swinton), so it adds a sense of distance: perhaps the characters are to some extent observing their lives from the outside.

The performances are uniformly strong, with Swinton utterly committed and the kids typically compelling — Ramsay gets results by auditioning massive numbers of kids, anywhere she can find them, and then working VERY hard with them. Ezra Miller is quite a discovery — with those looks and that talent, he’ll go far. The weakest link is probably John C Reilly, just because he has a really impossible role and probably hasn’t received the same support as his co-stars — as the willfully blind father of a dangerous problem child he has to keep his blinkers on in the face of truly inescapable evidence of his son’s disturbing tendencies, and the direction and screenplay are more concerned with painting those tendencies in the most unsettling hues than they are with addressing the plausibility of such behaviour being ignored.

Here’s where you have to distrust me a little, because whenever there’s a film by a Scottish filmmaker (and it’s not made by one of my friends) I can get a bit judgmental — I become the cliché of the bitter film critic whose sore because he can’t do it himself. My problems with this film, which may be trumped up from within, are —

THINGS I READ OFF THE SCREEN IN “WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN”

When Tilda backs into a wall of goods in a supermarket, I guess they could’ve been cute and had Tilda’s Rice, but instead they have tins of tomato soup, referencing both Warhol and the film’s RED theme — blood and red paint and tomatoes are a constant motif. The soup is called Ma Ramsay’s Tomato Soup — a cute in-joke and one that speaks of a certain affection from crew to filmmaker, which can only be good. If you spot it, it slightly deflates the drama of the scene, but it’s sweet.

But at the High School where — and this could be a slight spoiler if you don’t want to know ANYTHING, and the film holds this info back a fair while — Kevin runs amok on a killing spree with a bow and arrows, we get inspirational posters… I suspect such posters DO exist in US schools, but they all say heavily ironic things here like “Aim and Achieve.” I mean, HEAVILY ironic.

This implies that either the film isn’t taking its central massacre seriously — which would be unforgivable only because it takes Tilda’s suffering seriously and turns the other grieving parents into monsters — or it’s trying to imply that Kevin’s nihilistic outburst is a response to something in American culture, which doesn’t work because there’s no follow-through on the thought.

HIGH SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL

I find this kind of ugly, because it’s crude, and it seems like a sick joke. How careful do I require a filmmaker to be in tackling high school massacres? Well, I had no problem with anything in Van Sant’s ELEPHANT — I found the portrayal of the killers to be the least successful or convincing aspect of the movie, but it wasn’t a moral objection and I think the film’s brilliant. And I enjoy all kinds of violent films from time to time, and only really get offended by stuff like FUNNY GAMES that tries to teach me that I shouldn’t.

But the slomo shots of Miller, stripped to the waist, posing with his bow, struck a bum note. Very romantic images. There’s a real feeling of dread created in the movie, but I don’t know why he had to look so sexy there. And arguably Miller’s last scene, facing the consequences of his actions, is intended to strip away that glamour, but if I were a young person on the edge, I know which images would have greater resonance for me. And I have to wonder, am I just jealous of Lynn Ramsay, because “imitable behaviour” is not a concern I’ve raised with any other movie in the years I’ve run Shadowplay

My final problem, hopefully, is in the adaptation of the book — Swinton’s career as travel writer is dropped into a couple of places, and allows for a striking opening sequence (even the film’s evocation of joy comes with slomo dread and crimson splatter), but we’re really allowed to forget about it until it crashes back into the story at odd places. And other plot lacunae are even more striking — WHY is she regarded with loathing by her community after Kevin’s rampage? Because it’s obvious that she’s as much a victim as anybody else. You might think that, as mother of the killer, she’d be regarded with suspicion, but when you see the film this doesn’t work at all, given the particular circumstances. I *guess* maybe the fact that she’s stood by her son, kind of, is the clue to this, but it’s heavily underplayed if so. And I think if you’re going to make a film as bleak as this you need to make it airtight because an audience trapped in its fictive hell is going to look for escape routes with increasing desperation… In a way, that’s how I see the film’s mission: to swathe the viewer in a really despairing narrative and leave no hope of getting out unhurt…

Am I griping because I got dragged to see it, or because I’m a frustrated Scottish director? I flag those possibilities up. Whatever, this is a striking movie, well worth seeing, a “tough watch” intentionally, and my love of entertainment isn’t so overwhelming that I can’t appreciate the value of that sometimes. But do we need more pain?

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The Edinburgh Dialogues #4: James Mullighan

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 29, 2011 by dcairns

James Mullighan, fresh from bruising treatment in the British press for the perceived failings of the 65th Edinburgh International Film Festival, was good enough to speak to me, to set the record straight, express his side of things, and put forward a bold vision of the Festival’s potential future.

James has worked for Sony Classical and Columbia records in Australia and as a journalist. When recruited for the Festival he was creative director of Shooting People, the online network of independent film-makers.

James is a nice man and no idiot: you may not agree with what he has to say, but let’s be polite.

The day of our interview, the Festival board had just issued a press release confirming that some of the changes to the 65th Festival would be reversed next year, and that the new director would be a cinephile — this had to seem like a shot at James, who, by his own admission, is not a man with an all-consuming passion for, and encyclopedic knowledge of movies. He did, however, bring the Festival in on budget and in an impossibly short time frame.

I find James commendably frank in the following interview, conducted a Filmhouse a couple of weeks ago. In a few instances there might be more to things than he can reveal, and also other people may have very different takes on what went on. I’d be very interested in getting everyone’s views.

DC: There are lost of positives – all the industry events, from everyone I spoke to in the industry, were well received. I wasn’t aware of a lot of talk about films that were on that shouldn’t have been. A lot of people were happy with the films they did see.

So I guess some of the negativity was inevitably down to it being a smaller festival. And some of it was specific choices they didn’t like.

You came into the job under circumstances that people on the outside didn’t necessarily understand. I wondered if you could talk about how it all began for you.

JM: As you know, well before I came into the picture, there was wholesale change at the top. Iain Smith resigned, Leslie Hills was appointed, the Centre for the Moving Image was created, Gavin [Miller] was appointed, Hannah McGill resigned, Ginnie [Atkinson, Festival Producer] had resigned six months earlier […] and budgets were set. And the budgets were, necessarily, with the end of that three-year funding that the Film Council gave us, considerably smaller. For the Festival especially, but also for the CMI as a whole. So Gavin had to merge jobs, and that was all very unpleasant and uncomfortable, the last few months of last year.

Then Mark [Cousins} and Tilda [Swinton] were appointed as artistic advisors [also Linda Myles] at the CMI. And one of the first things they did, because they [the CMI] had failed to find a director, was, they started work on a consultancy process – this is back in October/November. And they said “Here’s our vision for the Festival: No Michael Powell Awards, no red carpets, and and and… playful… naked events on Salisbury Crags, all sorts of things. A very Mark, playful, philosophical, intellectual, risky, bold proposition which he put to the Board. The Board signed up for it.

And so then, a slightly different recruitment process started, which was someone to produce and direct that event. Then I got into conversations with Gavin, somebody I know recommended he speak to me, this is in early December, we had a couple of chats on the phone, he came down to London, we had a long afternoon together, and I came back up and met Leslie and Mark, and Mark spent more time talking about what he had in mind. And I agreed that sounded exciting and bold and would give it a shot, and my appointment was announced January.

I started working part-time on both Shooting People and the Festival, and I started full-time on the Festival on the 6th of February. Soon after, Mark, Tilda and Lynda delivered their blueprint that they called All That Heaven Allows… have you seen it?

DC: No…

JM: You probably know quite a bit about what was in it…

DC: Yes, but I’ve not seen a full document. Mark sent me the initial proposal.

JM: So, I had face-to-face or email conversations with them about how each of their aspects of how All That Heaven Allows was progressing, so a whole afternoon in Mark’s flat, guest curator by guest curator, a series of meetings – Lynda lives near where I live in London, so we meet up quite often, still do. Tilda was instrumental in me being introduced to, for instance, Jefferson Hack and Rankin of Dazed & Confused, as guest curators as well […] and then we announced on the 14h of February: Creative Scotland Expo Fund does a bash at the Berlinale and so I stood up, thanked everyone and (and Lynda was next to me, actually) “Here are eight guest curators,” and we announced that morning via a press release. The blogs lit up. A misapprehension was immediately created that those eight names, Isabella Rossellini, Alan Warner, Gus Van Sant, Mike Skinner… were all coming to the Festival. Actually, if I look back at the language I used, I could maybe have put in “This Does Not Mean They Are Coming,” but I didn’t mean to imply that they were, but that implication was taken.

Meantime, I’m developing, as much as I could, the other ideas, both for films and strands that were in the All That Heaven Allows document. At the same time, making a bit of a commercial assessment of “What must we put on to hit X target?” And so Mark had said, “Why don’t you play ten films, or so?” and then I said to Diane [Henderson] and the programming team, “We need a lot more than that. As you are going round festivals, think of it as more like fifty or sixty.” Which is half what we played the year before. And so the shape then was, a bit less than half the Festival as 2010, 9 and 8, and then as much of All That Heaven Allows as I could get done at that late point. And there was a whole bunch of stuff that I wanted to do anyway, like develop the industry side, but also throw those shows open to the public, and bring in a couple of guest curators of my own, like Vimeo, and Streetwise Opera and Open Cinema and Vice.

DC: So you had, essentially, half the time that someone would normally have in the job, to put together a radically different kind of Film Festival…

JM: Less than half. Work had begun in that Hannah [McGill, outgoing director] went toToronto anyway, so she kept her eye open for some films, not on the payroll or anything. And Rod [White] who programmes Filmhouse went to Sundance, and we all went to Berlin, and Diane went to Gothenberg, and I think Rotterdam. So, a handful of Usual Suspect feeding-grounds for films. But yes, if we’d had that blueprint six months earlier, and me six months earlier, I suspect a lot more of it would have ended up in the show.

Some of it got really quite well developed and then dropped out at the last minute. Greil Marcus was going to do a mini-retrospective, and then he just couldn’t come, which is a shame. I’d like to think that if I get another crack at it, then the initiated All That Heaven Allows project will continue, with some of the content that Mark suggested this year that I couldn’t get done, but also, just that approach.

So then, Mike Skinner worked up a show, but at the last minute he just couldn’t come so we had to pull it. But they’re really super-keen to come back.

DC: So, of the things you were able to put on, there were some definite hits. What was your happiest moment, or the thing you’re proudest of?

JM: I was very proud of Project New Cinephilia. And that brought some new people to the Festival who hadn’t given it so much attention before, it also gave an opportunity for people to come to the Festival wearing a different hat. So Jason Wood from Artificial Eye came, and normally he’d come up just to look for films or to see how his film’s going, but then he came and contributed to that. I thought that kicked the Festival off well. There’s an absolute opportunity for that to become a permanent fixture. I think it needs a tweak, but not too much. They worked on it very thoroughly, Kate [Taylor] and Damon [Smith] and got it right. There’s a digital publication that exists now, and I think we could, for not very much money, do a physical publication […]

Some of the events that were going to be perfectly reasonable events, premieres in the Festival like PERFECT SENSE, became monster events. We lucked in, and Ewan MacGregor was free for a weekend and could attend, so what would have been two packed shows at the Cameo became a packed show at the Festival Theatre.

I was very pleased that practically all of the Reel Science programming filled up the halls. In fact, if we did that again I’d be putting it on at more favourable times of the day and bigger halls. Some of the films that ordinarily wouldn’t have had a scientist onstage, that were just in the programme anyway, like PROJECT NIM and TO HELL AND BACK AGAIN we added a scientist to the mix so it felt more integrated, rather than being a side-bar.

At pace, we put together the cluster of shorts events. With more time, I’m sure we could have sold twice as many tickets, which would have been purely through marketing. And thank God we didn’t put the show on sale any later than we did do, because marketing had a month to market what they were accustomed to market.  But I was really pleased with the shorts weekender. We had a supportive brand which kept out of it as well as paying for it. They were super-pleased. The people who had programmed some shorts at the Festival before, I gave them a lot of rope, and Kim [Knowles] did her experimental stuff anyway, which was very popular, best sales she’s ever had. And Iain [Gardner]’s animation and Lydia [Beilby]’s narratives: beautiful programmes, they really were, and they’ve been very well received. We’d do that again.

DC: For years there’s been a problem with the short films, and putting them all together like that seemed to help, it concentrated the attention and created a buzz around them. I should confess to some bias because I was a guest at the New Cinephilia event and I had a short in the shorts event.

JM: That was a really nice idea of Diane’s. To put on a programme of Scottish stuff could be perceived as a bit parochial, and at the same time it really cried out for it this year. A lot of submissions of Scottish shorts didn’t quite fit with what Ian and Lydia had in mind, so we were scratching our heads and thinking “How can we do that?” and the answer was “Let’s do one which is the opposite of what people expect.” Which was, rather than a bunch of dour, social realism, let’s have fun. So well done Diane for bringing those in.

Bela Tarr’s presence lit up the Festival for three days, his film was rapturously received, he brought three pieces of pretty-much unknown Hungarian cinema. He spoke after each screening. Those audiences were just blown away.

DC: And he’s quite a presence.

One of the people I’ve spoken to is Hannah McGill who says the worst aspect of the job is the relentless negativity of the Scottish press, which does seem to be year after year. That’s more or less a constant: you may have had it worse, but everyone’s had bruising experiences. So what would you like to say to defend your record?

JM: I’ve got a few things to say, one of which relates to Hannah. When a comment that I’d said was written up in a newspaper, they twisted it: they made it sound like a criticism of Hannah. I immediately went out of my way to let her know my words had been twisted. She wrote me a very sympathetic email and ended up giving me a great piece of advice which was “Stop reading the press.” And on that day, I turned my Google Alerts off. So people would say “Oh, see The Herald?” “Nope!”

So that’s a comment. The other comment is, “There’s press and there’s press.” Disappointingly, Richard Brooks in The Sunday Times, a chap in The Telegraph [David Gritten], both wrote pieces about the death of the Edinburgh Film Festival without bothering to do any research, get a comment, they’d obviously just listened to some tattle and wrote it up as if it was news. And then, because it’s been printed, it exists and it gets carried. And before you know it, the wires are reporting something that’s been tossed off – I found that very disappointing. A lot of the time what was written, and Phil Miller at The Herald was especially good at this, and Tim Cornwell at The Scotsman was good at this, was unfortunate, in that one doesn’t like to have anything unpleasant written about one, but actually was fair comment. I also used to be a journalist, I’ve written for The Scotsman, so I know that “The Film Festival’s great, and all’s going well” ain’t much of a story. But every now and again a fact would be twisted to sound like a drama. An example of that is, I was hired to get this festival up, and it was announced that after the Festival the process for recruiting an artistic director would take place. It was a little unfortunate and unnecessary, I thought, that somebody got their hands on that and ran it while I was still in post, I found that really uncomfortable. But what was worse was the implication in the press that I’d been sacked after only four months, that I was fighting for my job… We may not have shared with the press from the beginning that I was on a six/seven month contract, but there’s no question of being sacked. So: most of the time, fair comment and unpleasant to read but fair comment. This is a Festival pedalling very hard to tidy itself up and get itself back together and stand back up on its own two feet, not surprising given its recent history. But lazy journalism, and snipey journalism for its own sake, it’s unfair and unpleasant and unhelpful.

DC: The things that concerned me were the programme, or guide, that was an industry guide rather than a programme. I could see the justification for shrinking it, but I was disappointed that the films were at the back and there wasn’t any writing about them.

JM: You missed the catalogue. Everyone was sad about that, I was disappointed not to be able to do a catalogue. We didn’t have the budget for it and I went scrabbling around trying to raid other bits of the budget, but it was a good ten, eleven thousand pounds that we just didn’t have.

That’s certainly not the only cut that really hurt. One of the invisible ones is that usually a team of three or so would run a certain department, and this year it was a team of two or something. So everyone was really ragged, we worked everyone to absolute exhaustion.

There was lots of data about the films that we couldn’t publish in hard copy. The guest services was hugely reduced, so we had to say No to some people who might want to come because we couldn’t afford expensive hotel rooms and business class flights. If we can resurrect the budget, I would definitely reinstate the catalogue, everyone misses that.

DC: I might be wrong here, but early on there was talk about reducing ticket prices, but in the end they went up.

JM: I think the full price went up. Concessions stayed the same. And the deals were scrapped. And that’s definitely something to reconsider, because that’s been a chorus of disapproval. I don’t necessarily stand behind it. We projected what money we needed to make and how many tickets were on sale and what likely capacities were… in that we did sell those tickets and did less deals that helped us hit out targets. But we’ll take that into consideration. I mean, one element is that if you’re paying full price for five films rather than paying for five films and getting the sixth free, or whatever the deal was, you were less likely to experiment. You’re more likely to, in the end, only go and see three films.

DC: And then you might be less inclined to spend your day in the Filmhouse drinking and eating in the bar, which also brings in money. I definitely know people who normally come for the whole ten days and this year only came for a couple of days, because they couldn’t afford it.

So, I suppose the lack of a big retrospective, because that’s something I always particularly enjoy…

JM: I think we were wise not to attempt to do one in four months. I think it takes a long time to put that together and get it right. Source prints, and find people to write about them, commission writing about them. And I imagine that if we were sitting here two years ago, I’d be able to hint at, without revealing, that we’d already started work on the retrospective for next year. I don’t think that would have been a good thing to rush. I also think that the mini-retrospectives on Jarman, the Hungarians, and Skolimowski filled a void.

DC: Yes, I appreciated seeing them, there were things you’d never expect to see. I think what you don’t get with that is that sense of unity a retrospective can bring, starting on day one and ending on the last day, binding it all together. I don’t know of a substitute for that.

JM: You’re not the first person to say so.

DC: They’ve announced that the Michael Powell Awards will be back…

JM: They have, haven’t they?

DC: With a hint that they were only ever intended to go away for one year…

JM: Well, I have been saying this, over and over again – and I inherited these decisions – all that was tossed away, Michael Powell Awards, red carpets and all that – was for this year of experimentation, and everything is both and off the table. So the Board has listened to various voices and decided the Michael Powell Award is to be reintroduced and that seems to be popular.

DC: Yeah. I’m always happy if somebody gives me an award, but I don’t think they’re important, but they’re probably useful for attracting films – the chance of winning something. The Michael Powell Award was expensive to administer, because of the celebrity jury, but it needn’t be. You don’t necessarily have to have an expensive imported jury.

JM: And that expensive imported jury paid itself off in a way as well, because Danny Huston wandering around town meant that we got lots more coverage. There’s lots of things I’d like to reinstate. One of the things, should I be given another run at it, is having another couple hundred conversations like this, David, although without the Dictaphone necessarily… “What do you think?” You think retrospectives, proceed with the Cinephilia, that works, shorts seem to work, and I’d take all of that seriously, but I’d do it a couple of hundred times. I’d go to London, I’d go to Glasgow, I’d go to New York, and I’d deeply, deeply research what this Festival needs to be for those who need the Festival. Some of them might say, “Bring Michael Powell back,” they might also say “Create a slate of other awards as well.” But if it’s me, it’ll be after a deep consultation.

Similarly with dates. That’s to be taken very seriously and carefully. I hear the clamour for August. I’ve been to four Junes now, and run one, and I’ve been to six Augusts, and I know exactly what they’re saying. It’s amazing out there in August.

DC: But can it filter in here?

JM: It definitely can. And if we use the Cameo. Might go and talk to Cineworld, Vue, we need extra cinemas. The concern is, having left August, that space has clammed up, or been filled up. The Point [Conference Centre] which we used as the delegate centre, is now a [Edinburgh Festival] Fringe venue.

And that’s the second stage. The first stage is, those two hundred conversations.

DC: What I heard from the other people I spoke to was… Hannah McGill obviously had all of the reasons at her fingertips why the move had been made in the first place. They were good reasons.

JM: I’m probably a bit more June than August. A local friend of mine this morning said “Oh it’s lovely that it’s in June, because it’s something else to do in the summer.” As much as we are an industry festival, we can’t forget that four out of five tickets sold are to people within a ten minute bus ride of [postcode] EH3.

DC: Jim Hickey reckoned that a move back to August might be inevitable, just to prove that the Festival is listening to criticism. Whether it’s right or wrong, they might feel they have to…

JM: I think Jim’s very close to the nub of the matter, but not quite. I think there’s lots of things that we can do in June, that if we persist for a year or two, we could double this Festival, where we could never double it by going back to August. That’s exactly what the plan is.

DC: There would be other ways to prove that the Festival is listening to criticism other than a move back to August. And there are other dates that have been floated.

JM: I don’t think the listening process involves reading The Scotsman.

DC: [Laughter]

JM: It involves reading Sight & Sound. And Screen. And Variety. And The Herald to a certain extent, and The Times to a certain extent. It involves a hundred meetings.

DC: The Scotsman, historically, has hated everything Scottish Screen or Creative Scotland have been involved with.

[I do apologise if this is unfair to specific writers at the Scotsman. But it does seem to sum up the paper’s overall stance for the last fifteen years.]

JM: The last word on The Scotsman is they’re lucky my mother wasn’t here.

We need to talk about WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN.

DC: So, I guess there were specific films that weren’t here –

JM: That we didn’t get, yes. I was working on that list for my director’s report when you announced yourself. WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN was the big one. Tilda had made it clear through her agent that she just couldn’t come because she was filming. Lynn [Ramsay] could come. Seamus [McGarvey, cinematographer] could not come. And then after that, other people involved in the project don’t light up the gala so much. Like the boy, and John C Reilly.

And so Artificial Eye said “We’ve got the opportunity to have everybody, on a major junket, on the Croisette. And then we’re not releasing until –” whenever it is, October, September? “So why would I give it to you, given that you are without Tilda? Then they had this huge gap where all that heat would dissipate. I fought for it. Every point he made I countered. But he’d made up his mind.

Then there was YOU’VE BEEN TRUMPED. This is the other one I “failed” to get. But I didn’t fail to get it, I chose not to programme it. An average, made-for-telly documentary about Donald Trump’s golf course. And when I rejected it, the filmmaker decided to talk to the press and say that “Mullighan’s scared to programme it,” or “Mullighan is in thrall to Scottish government. They won’t let him programme it.” And the answer was, Edinburgh just wasn’t right for it.

I also “failed” to get THE WICKER TREE. And then I heard about it, I went to Rod, Diane and Jenny [Leask] and everyone, and asked, what have you heard about it, and they went [horrified expression, hands raised as if to ward off great evil ].

So I rang the filmmaker back and said “Well, I don’t think the Festival is quite the right launch pad for your film, what you should do is build yourself a cult experience…” Stopping short of telling him my opinion of the film.

DC: I’ve heard from others who have seen it… you could have shown it, you got knocked for not showing it, but if you had shown it, the criticism would have been so much worse…

JM: But that’s not what [Brian] Pendreigh wants to write about in Scotland on Sunday.

DC: Had it lived up to its illustrious predecessor, obviously it would have been a great addition…And TREE OF LIFE?

JM: Yeah, that sucked. That was on the table, but unlikely, when it was with Icon, who also gave us PROJECT NIM. But they said, “It’s unlikely, there’s always a protracted legal battle with a Malick film.” And then suddenly it was on, and I immediately wrote to them and said “Come on!”, they said “Don’t believe what you’re reading online, it’s very difficult,” and then suddenly, and this is now well after the Festival book has been printed and there’s only two weeks to go to the Festival, Icon lose it and Fox Searchlight get it. And so we ring Fox Searchlight and say, “Of course: what do you want for THE TREE OF LIFE? Especially, I hear there’s a 70mm print kicking around, that’d be quite nice in Filmhouse 1, what do you need?” She said, “James, I don’t know if I can… this is a month before it comes out. We’ve only got it yesterday […] For me, you’re an administrative complication, not an opportunity.” I went, “Well, whatever I can do, whatever I can do…” She said, “Well, I’ll talk to you at the end of the day.” I talked to her at the end of the day and she said, “I just don’t want to.”

DC: Frustrating. Hannah said, because people who are watching from the outside aren’t party to all this, they make the assumption that everything’s your choice.

JM: Yeah. Why have I turned down THE TREE OF LIFE, or Why have I tried to get it and failed? Which I admit: I tried to get it and failed.

DC: And “Why have you chosen to have a film festival that’s not as big as Cannes?”

JM: We don’t have the endowments to put on those shows. Our budget was well under a million pounds this year.

DC: And Cannes excludes the public, it’s an entirely different event.

JM: People don’t consider what those film festivals are for, they consider the pictures of the actresses on the front pages of the newspapers. The critics go there and gorge on all these films that are desperate to get into Cannes. And I said in a statement, “We have neither the will nor the appetite to recreate the wattage of Cannes, Venice, Berlin and Toronto”. I  also believe that when Edinburgh gets super-fancy it doesn’t look right. It’s not that kind of town, it’s not LA, it’s not Cannes, it’s not Sydney with its glitterati, you’re just a different breed of people. Haven’t really got the buildings for it, don’t have a purpose-built Palais de Festival. The Festival Theatre does work, after a fashion. I also think, in these straitened times, when this country especially has had to suck in its stomach a little bit, squandering – quote me on this – squandering taxpayer money flying in the stars for the sake of a few people who miss that, is just not something I’d be interested in even if I had the budget.

DC: I heard that a previous year was offered Brangelina, but that was going to be $300,00 or something.

JM: Brangelinas cost. Bela Tarr came EasyJet.

Imagine a Freedom of Information request, if we’d had two million pounds and we’d spent it on Brangelinas, and we’d kept half a dozen journalists and fifty people from Edinburgh high society happy. I’d rather be answering these questions than those.

And then, when you do it without trying to do it, we were fortunate Ewan MacGregor comes to town, fortunate Kings of Leon were playing Murrayfield the next day, and you don’t block off the street in a metropolis, you do it in a big building and you get a hundred people with their iPhone cameras and you get a few burly security guards to make sure there’s no crush, in comes Ewan, Ewan stands on stage, packed house, and it’s beautiful. That’s all you need. That’s why we were trying to distinguish between a red carpet as a piece of fabric and a red carpet as an approach. The approach is the ugly thing, I think.

Certainly that’s how it’s going to happen for the next few years whoever runs the show.

It’s quite nice to be with Ewen Bremner at one o’clock in the morning at the Library Bar in the Teviot, that’s great. If people who are famous want to come, please do!

DC: What else do you think, for going forward, for whoever comes into the job, you or anybody else? What’s the way forward?

JM: I do believe that with careful planning and building new partnerships you can pretty much double the score with roughly the same dates, with more films, I think that’s a worthy goal. And I think that having conversations with suppliers, producers, sales agents and distributors, starting those conversations in September rather than February, will mean that the odd Tyrannosaur we didn’t get because we tried to do it too fast, we would get, so the programme would get beefed up a little. Also I think what we learned – if the successor wants to pursue the guest curator stuff, that could become a much bigger, more lively, more compelling, audience-diversifying proposition. I know there’s a lot of low-hanging brand fruit out there, the likes of which we used for the shorts weekend, that we don’t have to put stars on red carpet with champagne brand experiences. You can go and get those brands if you want. I just think you can tease out some of this programming and offer it as a package to a brand, so that it speaks to their values. And once they’ve paid for it, you can do more of it and take risks. I think we’ve barely skimmed the surface of what we can do with science. And popular science never has been more so. Popular scientists are quite like the rock stars now, Brian Cox is playing stadia. Brian Cox and Ben Goldacre, I’m not saying they’re coming, but I know we could build those up.

I’m a big believer in – because this is not the first Festival I’ve run – and inevitably we’re shagged out at this exact moment in the year – but I do believe a festival can have year-round activity which means it’s not solely reliant for its success in what happens in the big ten or twelve days. And even though you have a calendar year of sorts, there’s still an Edinburgh Film Festival brand which could package and present content outside of Edinburgh, maybe around Scotland, Britain, or overseas. I think it’s a good revenue generator. I think festivals kill themselves putting themselves on and only rarely do they have a year-round programme of events which generates revenue – the Sundance Institute would be a perfect example of that, and an aspiration of mine is to emulate some of the best things that they do. Which is, you have your massive showcase of films, and included in that showcase are films which have been developed within the Sundance Institute’s laboratories. And one of the conditions is that the premiere would be at Sundance. So it becomes a double Sundance film. I see no reason why that couldn’t happen here. We’ve got fantastic talents, and fantastic talents come to this Festival as well. I would take that even a step further and make our lab a cross-platform fiction lab. So film might be at the centre of the project, but other things as well.

We weren’t partners with the University this year, we just used one of their buildings, and we did that quickly, but more of it could be done. Which means I think we could find a trail of buildings from here [Filmhouse] to Teviot which would make that walk feel smaller. The appetite was high but the timing was bad to use Edinburgh College of Art, because of their grad shows, but it’s full of cool spaces and it’s halfway. And once you get to there, the whole university precinct is empty in June.

But we got George Square [Theatre], I think that worked really nicely, that venue.

In the hoped-for event that I get another run at it, and it ends up being in June again, I would use the Festival Theatre a lot more, because it works now, and they’re used to us now. We did five shows in there. We did the very different propositions that are THE LION KING in 3D, the Kings of Leon with the band on stage, PAGE 8 with Bill Nighy onstage, and PERFECT SENSE. Each of them are completely different films, all of them the people said “This is the best room this film’s played in.” It’s an opera theatre, surprisingly it’s big, it’s really quite steep, and they took our head of tech’s advice and spent heavily when they kitted it out, so the tech’s beautiful in there.

We’ve had quite a bit of feedback from delegates about how we could make things better as well. A few of them were disappointed with the numbers of films in the videotheque. I think the answer to that problem is, rather than it being a box-ticking exercise, it’s actually about talking to them patiently about what the risks and rewards are of having a film in the videotheque. I think a lot more of them could be convinced. It was beautiful this year, much bigger…

DC: You’ve said that if it were up to you, you’d like to do the job again, despite the attacks, the criticism, the stress of it all… do you think there’s support for that, and if there’s resistance, what do you think the resistance is based on?

JM: To me doing it again? There’s plenty of people in this organisation who are fans. I think what the Festival needs to be, in its next edition, needs to be very thoroughly thought through. And if the board decide that what they need is a cineaste in the old mould, someone who watches films all day, then it’s pretty unlikely that I’d get the job. It seems that’s what they’re recruiting for, and I’m going to apply anyway with my vision of what the Festival should be, and then we’ll see how that goes down.

DC: Thank you very much.

Why Don’t We Do it in the Road?

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on March 21, 2008 by dcairns

 Lava, Lava

OK, admittedly it’s late at night, but Fiona’s safely abed with a cold, there’s no chance of interruption, SURELY I can finish watching Andrea Arnold’s RED ROAD this time. I must be about halfway through it.

In episode three of this exciting serial, Kate Dickie is drawn closer still to the ex-con (Tony Curran) she’s been stalking. In fact, having submitted to a pawing at a party round at his flat, she’s working up to a full-fledged seduction.

The film’s third sex scene is something of a departure for Scottish cinema, since it seems to be both consensual and, to a degree, pleasurable for the participants. Not necessarily for the audience, mind you, but let’s not get carried away with hibernian joie de vivre here. More beautiful photography is deployed (night-time views from a tower block are a gift to digital cinema), though I’m uncertain about the cut-aways to a gently burbling lava lamp during the actual coitus — it seems somehow comical. But the shots themselves are v. pretty.

Mario Lava

The semi-pleasurable sex (very explicit, very unromantic, kind of squalid and horrible to watch, but photographically nice at times) fits in with the general vibe — this is post-RATCATCHER Scottish miserabilism. Lynn Ramsay’s sullen wallow of a film departed from the social-realist vibe of the Loach imitators with flights of fancy, like a mouse landing on the moon by balloon — only a moment, but it lifts the thing out of straight realism. The new flavour is more “artistic”,  in the sense that poverty must be rendered aesthetically pleasing, less political, but just as dour. (Lynn Ramsay = Tarkovsky with deep-fried Mars Bars.)

Curran’s chat-up line, in which he speculates frankly as to the flavour of Dickie’s genitals, and his description of her as “that bird with the nice arse” seem to have won her over, and the sex scene goes off without a hitch, nobody gets beaten or covered with custard (thank you, YOUNG ADAM, for that enduring image of Caledonian loveplay) and everybody seems to have as good a time as they’re capable of, within the generic constraints.

Then Dickie walks out on Curran, goes to the bathroom, and does something horrible involving bodily fluids.

And to think, I’d been invited round to one of my student’s flat to watch an evening of films about MINING.

Time for bed. I’ll finish this tomorrow. I’ll admit I’m intrigued as to what she’s up to, though. But I can’t help feel that by holding back Dickie’s whole motivation, Arnold has effectively shut the audience out of the film. I have more sympathy at present with the rather vile Curran character, because I share his puzzlement. It’s hard to share anything with Dickie as she’s such a closed book. But I expect all this to be cleared up, and that may justify everything.

Songs For Swingin Lavas

Apart from the lava lamp, which needs no justification.