Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Antonioni dies at 94

With the death of Bergman and French actor Michel Serrault, it has been a pretty sad week for movie-goers. Now Michelangelo Antonioni, the pioneering critic of post-war Italian society has died at the age of 94. Antonioni's first break came as a scriptwriter, working with directors such as Roberto Rossellini and Enrico Fulchignoni. His debut feature was "Cronaca di un amore/Story of a Love Affair" in 1950 although he didn't achieve true success until "L'avventura" ten years later.

His key films are without a doubt "Blow-Up" and "Professione: reporter/The Passenger". Although he suffered a stroke in 1985, he continued to film. His latest work was "Il filo pericoloso delle cose/The Dangerous Thread of Things" from the "Eros" trilogy.

Antonioni on Amazon US

Monday, July 30, 2007

Ingmar Bergman dies at 89

Ingmar Bergman, one of cinema's key figures, has died at the age of 89. The writer and director of dozens of films and plays died at his home in Faro, Sweden. Over his remarkable career, Bergman was nominated no less than nine times for Oscars as a director, with three of his films picking up best Foreign Film awards.

Bergman's filmography includes "Wild Strawberries", "The Seventh Seal" and "Cries and Whispers". His career started as a projectionist's assistant, later studying to be an actor and director. His first filmed work was the script for "Frenzy", directed by Alf Sjoberg in 1944. Over the coming years, he would chalk up strong critical and commercial success with his often harrowing movies.

His last public work was the TV fiction "Saraband". He once famously noted that he had difficulty watching his own films in retrospect as he found them "depressing". Given that many sprang from his own experience, this might be understandable to a degree although it hints to me that he never found closer on many of the issues.

For more about Bergman, visit Ingmar Bergman Face to Face.

Ingmar Bergman on Amazon US

Friday, July 27, 2007

Paul Laverty: the "spectacular lie"

Paul Laverty, the long-time writing partner of Ken Loach, has just been interviewed by the Santa Barbara Independent about scriptwriting and their choice of subject matter. The film "The Wind That Shakes the Barley" picked up the Palme d'or in Cannes last year. It takes an uncompromising look at the struggle for independence in Ireland and the subsequent Civil War. Although many people considered it as a metaphor for the Iraq war, Laverty denies this entirely. A far better parallel (which Laverty does not make) could be made with the Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation, not just in terms of the direct brutality of occupation but also in terms of its effects on the resistors. The core story is, after all, about two brothers that have to face each other.

An interesting quote from the article: "Did you feel drawn to screenwriting because you felt you could reach a wider audience and bring more attention to issues that were important to you? Choosing the subject matter, the characters and premise to a story, and how we attempt to tell it reveals a great deal about the filmmakers. Our choice of material is of course affected by our values, politics, and how we see the world. It strikes me that a great many contemporary films glorify the pursuit of wealth, romanticize violence, and usually set up “Western values” as superior. It’s often simplistic and very crude; black and white. In the end, it makes for a spectacular lie about how Westerners see themselves. They lie to the rest of the world, too. I have zero interest or respect for this type of filmmaking, no matter where it comes from."

For the full article, visit Santa Barbara Independent.

Paul Laverty on Amazon US

Paul Laverty on Amazon UK

Monday, July 23, 2007

The danger of "the scene"

It's always exciting when a new scene is discovered in a country. Whether it be Taiwan, the UK, Czech Republic or Denmark, media and the industry just love to be able to bunch films together by style. The stark reality of Belgium and the kitchen sink dramas of the UK are just two examples. Over the past few years, Denmark has been the source of interesting films that manage to find commercial audiences. The figures for domestic films are remarkable: in the first six months of 2007, over 1.8 million tickets were sold - one half million more than the same time last year - and fully one-third of those were for Danish films.

But the inevitable downside of a scene is the almost irresistible temptation to apply a formula. An awful lot of money is involved, so why not hedge your bets by following previous successes? In an article in the Copenhagen Post, Claus Ladegaard of the Danish Film Institute, said the Danish industry was definitely in a crisis and may have rested too heavily on its earlier laurels. ‘We probably should have looked more critically at our own success a bit sooner,’ he said. ‘Often, as soon as someone discovers a particular way to make a film successful, others follow and then movies start resembling one another.’

It's a danger that exists already at the writing stage. All the writers with a few pages of sub-"Pulp Fiction" know what I'm talking about. But trying to second guess what producers and audiences will like is dangerous. The throughput time from paper to screen is so long that whatever trend was discernible will be totally outdated by the time it would take to write and shoot it.

For more about the Danish hangover, check the Copenhagen Post. For news about Danish film, visit the Danish Film Institute.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Louis Gardel: a scriptwriter controls nothing

Veteran scriptwriter Louis Gardel ("Indochine" and "Himalaya" as well as massive amounts of stories for French TV) gives a few sobering thoughts when explaining his work methods for the Cineuropa website: "I’ve understood very well that a scriptwriter controls nothing at all and that, for the result to be good, for the film to measure up to what I dreamt, someone “strong” has to do it. I’m very attentive to that".

Gosh man, do you have to say it so loud? Someone might hear you. He does, however, have a point. Scriptwriting is an in-betweeny thing to do, as the ultimate calls are taken by the director (in Europe) and the producer.

Now that I've given you the bad news, check out the whole article for some interesting insights on Cineuropa.

Monday, July 16, 2007

"California Dreamin'" sways Brussels

Cristian Nemescu's "California Dreamin'" (co-written with Tudor Voican) was the clear overall winner in the recent Brussels European Film Festival, picking up awards as Best Film, the Audience favourite and an award from TV channel Canvas. Producer Andrei Boncea picked up the awards in the absence of the director, who tragically died in a car accident during post-production. Another noted winner was Gabriel Range's "Death of a President".

The festival also runs a pitching competition, this time won by Spain's Susana Lopez Rubo for "You Can Change Your Life in Ten Seconds" and Belgium's Robert Scarpa for "Délocalisé".

for the full list of winners, visit the BEFF.