On Thursday 21 March, we hosted our fourth Permanent Plastic Presents… event at London’s lovely Clapham Picturehouse – a rare, 35mm screening of Jim Jarmusch’s cult classic Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai. From the reliable combination of free pizza, drinks and vintage hip hop in the bar beforehand, through the film, and up to the final round of applause to accompany the end credits, it was clear a good time was had by all.
Luckily, we had ace photographer Yves Salmon (check out her website here) on hand to record the evening’s events. Here’s how it went down:
A big thanks to: Picturehouses/City Screen for supporting the screenings; Dan Hawkins and Kate Coventry for their support; Clapham Picturehouse managerial & front of house staff; artwork designer Piccia Neri; photographer Yves Salmon; Park Circus Films for the 35mm print; and finally everyone who bought a ticket and came along! Until next time!
When the sweet, feel-good The Angel’s Share was released in 2012, critics all asked – where has Britain’s foremost firebrand and social realist gone, at a time when we most need him? Well, he’s returned. Well and truly.
Ken Loach’s The Spirit of ’45 is a wonderful, unremitting archival documentary that steadfastly refuses to sit on the fence. What are we doing?, it asks. What next? Bold, political and polemical, it dares to make an explicit case for change, reminding us of a time in the not-too-distant past when a set of ideals helped build a welfare state which many of us now take for granted as it is insidiously dismantled while we look the other way, distracted by one-eyed dancing mascots and an old woman in the rain.
The Spirit of ’45 grabs our attention. It raids the riches of the British archives and reconstructs a narrative, which – if selective – is nonetheless compelling: The post-war election, the rise of the labour party, Churchill’s decline and Attlee’s exciting rise to power, the nationalisation of utilities and major industry, the beginnings of a truly socialist Labour party manifesto. It goes on. Figures clouded in public memory are re-animated, the most moving being Aneurin ‘Nye’ Bevan, the health minister who championed the working classes in the post-war years. Cut with interviews with retired doctors, economists, Tony Benn (a category of his own), miners, dockers, steel workers – all of whom witnessed the seemingly tectonic social changes of the ‘40s– Loach mines the archives of a British social conscience now obscured by neoliberal rhetoric.
It is, of course, a re-dreaming of post-war British public space, but in its nostalgia the film prompts us to discover what shared future we’ve lost. As an old steel-worker describes the council housing he was given after the war, and quotes from the Labour party manifesto appear onscreen, declaring that public space for culture and education should be integrated into the new estates, Loach prompts us to ask; if this was possible in the ruins of the great war, what fallacies have led us into this age of austerity? What ideology dressed up as pragmatism have we believed (or been too inert protest against) that has led us to see police battering students over education, deep cuts to welfare, and public spaces and institutions being treated like businesses, when any cretin can see that the logic of business and capital is a broken, vicious ill to society.
Some critics will call the film propagandist (for example), which it undoubtedly is. But it couldn’t be anything other, for as Mark Fisher writes in Capitalist Realism, “it is impossible to conceive or fascism of Stalinism without propaganda – but capitalism can proceed perfectly well, in some ways better, without anyone making a case for it”. The Spirit of ’45 – a socialist, collectivist spirit – can only be presented now in these terms, because capitalism is the all-pervasive norm. Despite an astronomic crash in 2008, and as countries in the EU fall, one by one, our policymakers and politicians blindly lead us further into the mire. Loach’s film dares to expose this as pure ideology, not simply the sorry necessity of the status quo, and for this the film should be celebrated, and beamed to every home in the country.
Now just a shade over two weeks away, our screening of Jim Jarmusch’s cult classic Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai at the Clapham Picturehouse is starting to cause some serious flutters of excitement. Join us on Thursday 21 March for the big event.
You can – and absolutely should – book tickets by following this link. Our last few events (including a 35mm summer screening of Do The Right Thing, and ATCQ doc Beats Rhymes and Life) have been very busy indeed, so book now to avoid disappointment!
If you’re on Facebook, you can also use our event page to tell us you’re coming. Spread the word!
Here’s a running order:
7.30 Join us in the bar for drinks, free pizza and snacks, soundtracked by classic 90s hip-hop and soul
8.50 Introduction and prize giveaway
9.05 Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai starts
To further whet your appetite, we’re delighted to unveil the event poster, designed by the ridiculously talented Piccia Neri.
Aditya Assarat’s Hi-So – a Thai slang term for ‘high society’ – presents an alluring glimpse of Thailand from the intimate perspectives of quietly privileged twenty-somethings. By focusing simply on three characters’ outlooks, Hi-So constructs a pleasant portrait of modern-day Thailand and facilitates an exploration of the effects of globalisation on a human scale.
We track Ananda (Ananda Everingham) filming his first starring role in Thailand, fresh from a stint studying abroad in the US. He lives a charmed life, unburdened by financial responsibilities and able to freely drift between Thai and Western cultures; his only difficulty is managing companionship in this rarefied, liminal space. When his American girlfriend Zoe (Cerise Leang) comes to visit him, their old dynamic does not fit into their new surroundings, and she exits his life. Then when filming wraps, Ananda’s attentions turn to May (Sajee Apiwong), a Thai film PR. They easily live together in Ananda’s family’s apartment building in Bangkok, but as time goes on, they discover limits to their relationship. While the camera’s gaze drifts from one character’s story to another, the constant is each person’s struggle to bridge culture- and/or class-based gaps.
Full disclosure: I’m Filipino-American, studied abroad in Europe and have traveled widely. So this film resonates with me personally, since it’s preoccupied with cultural clashes that result from living/traveling abroad while depicting a Southeast Asian country from a non-touristy perspective. (Interesting fact: Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country to never be colonised.) I often get frustrated with narratives that romanticise the locals and the landscapes with naive detachment, so for me, Hi-So provides a welcome viewpoint in a way that’s accessible to both Westerners and Thai people.
Thailand is depicted in a realistic, objective way – the views of palm trees and beach resorts are idyllic but have no hazy golden glow, lit only by natural white light. The effects of the 2004 tsunami still linger, debris haunting once-posh buildings. We actually hear the sounds of tropical animals and wind instead of romantic scoring. The humidity has a subtly languorous effect on everyone and everything. The circumstances of the locals are given voice; class differences and mobility across borders – money to travel, access to visas or study abroad opportunities – aren’t taken for granted in this film. It’s a blessedly far cry from the stylised depiction of Thailand in The Hangover: Part 2, which was chock full of offensive stereotypes and exotification.
Hi-So most notably portrays language barriers and the isolation you experience when encountering them, when you can hear what’s being said but can’t understand; the film perfectly captures how trust and power balances shift when translation is involved. Ananda is the only one with access to both worlds, while all the other characters onscreen, particularly Zoe and May, aren’t as fortunate as us in the audience, who have subtitles. For me, it was also particularly validating to see onscreen how female foreigners with limited voices are easily objectified. Photo-taking is much more intrusive when there are cultural gaps, whether you’re the tourist or the local.
The charm of Hi-So is its candid, un-glorified depiction of young adults in a place often simplified to be paradise. The film meanders without being judgemental, much like the ambivalent, mildly curious youth that it features. A benign sense of ennui pervades the film, occasionally too aimlessly; the result is an un-formulaic mood piece that sometimes lags, but is always thoughtful and honest in its exploration of modern Thailand’s character. It’s my hope that those who see this film, whether they care about these characters or not, at least become more sensitive travellers and perhaps develop better insight into life in worlds beyond the West.
Hi-So is in cinemas 1 March via Day For Night
Sad to report, but we’re now in the last knockings of the third and final day of the 6th annual BFI Future Film Festival. I don’t have exact figures to hand, but judging by the crowds, buzz and word-of-mouth, I’d say that it’s been the busiest one to date.
The theme of today has been documentary filmmaking, and my first act was to introduce a screening of Alex Ramseyer-Bache and Daniel Lucchesi’s superb doc We Are Poets (see teaser trailer here). An appreciative crowd lapped up the film in screen NFT2, and kindly stuck around for my post-screening Q&A with Ramseyer-Bache. He discussed his multifaceted early approach to filmmaking, the origins of his interest in the story of We Are Poets, and the challenges posed by a tight budget and a relentless international schedule.
The final round of the day’s sessions have all gone in, and include a screening of Penny Woolcock’s brilliant documentary One Mile Away; a presentation of hit online show Becoming YouTube; and workshops on sound recording and interviewing techniques. They follow a day full of workshops and networking sessions.
I’d also like to give a shout out to Piccia Neri (who’s been behind all Permanent Plastic Helmet’s event poster art to date), the leader and architect of FFF Design Global, the design wing of the BFI’s Future Film Institute. Have a look at their work on their website.
We’ll leave you with Rob Savage’s ace festival trailer. Until next year…
It’s day 2 of the 6th annual BFI Future Film Festival, and the focus of today’s sessions and activities is animation.
The day kicked off with a host of events at 12pm, including a screening of Sam Fell’s cracking animation Paranorman (followed by a director Q&A); a talk by Nic Benns, Emmy award-winning design director and co-founder of title company MOMOCO; and a selection animated highlights from Random Acts, Channel 4’s late night three-minute film slot, commissioned by Lupus Films and curated by ace animator Chris Shepherd.
There’s a whole bunch of stuff still to come, including a programme of BAFTA animated shorts, ident, VFX, voiceover and sound masterclasses, networking tips, script sessions with Script Factory, and the Future Film Animation awards.
And me? I’m blogging from the foyer, and I’ll be here until 5pm to take questions and chat about all aspects of film journalism, from setting up and maintaining a blog, to trying to get your name on press lists so you can invited to preview screenings!
The final day of the festival is tomorrow, and focuses on Documentary filmmaking. It’s pretty much sold-out, but keep an eye on returns, and of course it’s free to come and chat to us, or FilmClub UK (the friendly folk who are sat next to me) in the foyer.
To sign-off, here’s a snap of the crowds gathering in the foyer, outside the BFI Reuben Library aka Future Film Festival HQ:
I’m live-blogging from the BFI Southbank today, where the first day of the 6th annual BFI Future Film Festival is taking place. The festival is targeted toward young film fans between the ages of 15 and 25, and features a range of in-depth masterclasses, hands-on workshops, screenings of the best new films by young, emerging filmmakers and inspirational Q&As. Much of what’s on offer has sold out, but do have a look at the website to see if tickets remain for anything. It’s a popular festival!
This year the festival has expanded, taking place across three days, each with a distinct theme. Today’s is fiction, tomorrow’s is animation, and Monday’s is all about documentary.
I’ve got a mixed role this year. Right now, I’m blogging from the foyer, in the middle of a pile of beanbags otherwise known as ‘Blogger’s Corner’. I’m here to offer advice and ideas to any young people who might be interested in setting up a blog, or setting out into a career of film journalism.
It’s incredibly laidback, and fairly close to the set-up I have at home in my other life as a freelancer. All that’s missing is the dressing gown (and the baked beans and toothpaste smeared down the front). I’m right next to Harry Harris of FilmClub UK, and you can talk to him about the film club services they offer to schools and young people countrywide.
Earlier I hosted an onstage interview with the very talented young director Rob Savage following a screening of his accomplished debut film Strings (which he made at the terrifyingly young age of 18). Also present onstage was co-lead actress Hannah Wilder. The film went down a storm with the healthy crowd in NFT2, who asked some probing questions. Rob discussed such varied topics as his early immersion into life as a filmmaker, keeping to a very tight budget, and touring the film, while Hannah discussed her life as a young actress, and what it’s like to see yourself up on screen.
The day continues with a host of practical workshops, and right now, a screening of Saly El-Hoseini’s cracking drama My Brother The Devil upstairs in NFT3.
To sign off this blog post, I’ll leave you with the trailer for this year’s festival, directed by none other than the very talented Rob Savage:
Hirokazu Kore-eda’s film I Wish (Kiseki, literally ‘miracle’) is an endearing portrait of two young brothers and their friends and family, and the desires that drive them all.
Twelve-year-old Koichi (Koki Maeda) lives with his mother and her parents in suburban Kagoshima, while his younger brother Ryunosuke (Oshiro Maeda) lives with their father, a struggling rock musician, several hours away in urban Fukuoka. Koichi is a serious young man who worries about reuniting his family, while his younger brother Ryunosuke is a freer spirit who devotes his energy towards making the best of his new situation rather than trying to restore things.
When Koichi hears a rumour that the new bullet train connecting their two towns can make miracles happen when two of them pass each other at a certain point, he is convinced that this mystical energy is exactly what he needs to put his family back together. With the help of their close friends, both brothers prepare to reunite for an adventure. I Wish captures the tenderness of the brothers’ daily lives as they and their friends innocently reach out for help with confronting the changes the world throws at them.
I Wish is a delight to watch because it showcases superb acting by its ensemble cast – all of the characters onscreen seem so natural and immensely relatable. It’s easy to see what makes each character tick, which is rare to see onscreen in adults, let alone pre-pubescent children. I’d bet that few of us remember the unique mix of naiveté and reflection, curiosity and criticism that we had once, not to mention the boundless, restless energy; in the film, the kids seem to be running all the time! It’s enchanting to be reminded of that time of our lives when our curiosities and passions thrived, unsullied by cynicism and practical limitations, the world seemed big but not scary and our friends were everything.
The cast is led by two real-life brothers, Koki and Oshiro Maeda, a comedy duo that goes by the name MaedaMaeda. The director re-wrote the script after meeting the Maeda brothers, blown away by their confidence, their comfort with improvising and their sense of fun. The other children who play their friends had mostly not acted before, but were cast for their unique personalities. All seven children are engaging because they are just starting to form their adult personalities, but are at slightly different stages of early maturity. Megumi (Kayara Uchida) is serious about becoming an actress; Makoto (Seinosuke Nagayoshi) wants to be a baseball player and loves his dog Marble; Tasuku (Ryoga Hayashi) fancies the school librarian; Kanna (Kanna Hashimoto) likes drawing; and poor Rento (Rento Isobe) loves her food but wants to be better at running.
The children were not given any scripts, and their performances are successfully unforced. The director’s tactic was to tell them their lines on the day of filming, as he did when working with children for Nobody Knows in 2004. Koki was the elder statesmen of the children, aware of what was needed and guided the others. Oshiro’s guileless charm has a feminine appeal, so it suits his character to be close to three girls while his older brother hangs out with two other boys. The brothers’ contrasting personalities – one solemn, the other lighthearted – provides enough dramatic tension to propel the story forward.
While the narrative perspective of I Wish is slanted heavily towards the children, this is not a Japanese Beasts of the Southern Wild - there’s no precocious voiceovers and their world is real and un-magical. The parents, grandparents, teachers and even strangers who watch over the kids in this communal society are sensitively portrayed; all have their own backstories, their own flaws and preoccupations, and support the kids from the sidelines, not as dictators. We see the brothers’ dad hanging out with his band, their mom meeting up with old classmates for karaoke, their granddad conferring with his buddies to try and revive his old career making sweets.
By allowing screen time to show these small details, the film gives us fellow grown-ups the means to fully understand the world these kids inhabit. Kore-eda says of the adult characters in his film: “All the adults that appear in I Wish are all adults I want to be. I want to be an adult that casually waits for his children to come back from their adventures.” It could be argued that the adults in the film trust the kids to an extent that could seem unrealistic and impractical; but it is easy to justify and sympathise with their benign faith in them as a natural extension of the kids’ infectious exuberance and optimism.
It’s a truly great film about pre-teen life: honest and unsentimental, but also gently humorous. I first saw I Wish at the 2011 London Film Festival and felt grateful to have caught it because I doubted whether it would get UK distribution – but now it has! So go see it, and reacquaint yourself with your inner child.
I Wish opens in selected UK cinemas on 8 February.
A weekly round-up of links, trailers and other stuff that’s caught our eye
Since his Sundance-storming debut sex, lies and videotape (1989), Steven Soderbergh has proved one of America’s most consistently intriguing directors, traversing seamlessly between higher-budget genre fare (Oceans Eleven, Contagion), compelling mid-level character stuff (The Limey, Magic Mike) and genuine oddities (The Girlfriend Experience, Bubble). This excellent, satisfyingly lengthy interview over at Vulture goes in-depth on his creative process and his decision to retire from feature filmmaking. Here’s a choice snippet:
“I remember describing making movies as a form of seduction and that people should look at it as though they’re being approached at a bar. My whole thing is, when somebody comes up to you at a bar, what behavior is appealing to you? And there are certain things that I’m not willing to do to get a reaction.” - (via Vulture)
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Last week, the 29th annual Sundance Film Festival took place in its usual location of Park City, Utah. The Grand Prix award for best dramatic film went to Fruitvale, directed by 26-year-old first-timer Ryan Coogler and produced by the great Forest Whitaker. It tells the true story of the last day of a young man who was killed by the police in 2008 in Oakland, CA. The man, Oscar Grant, is played by former star of The Wire Michael B. Jordan (he was Season 1′s tragic Wallace). It looks great, and we’ll be keeping tabs on news of UK festival showings – perhaps Sundance London in April?
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One of our favourite films from last year – Ira Sachs’ beautiful Keep The Lights On - is released today on DVD and Blu-ray courtesy of UK indie distributors Peccapics. You can buy it here, and read our in-depth interview with Sachs here. Here’s the film’s trailer – watch out for the gorgeous cinematography by Thimios Bakatakis and fine score by late New York musician Arthur Russell:
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We always enjoy the witty writing of Nick Pinkerton (a regular contributor to Sight & Sound and The Village Voice), and he’s knocked it out of the park again with his recent ‘Bombast’ column for Sundance NOW; this week the subject is logos and idents, including this classic from J. Arthur Rank (titter):
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PPH was shocked and amused to spot light-entertainment’s John Barrowman playing an icy, high-level government official in Kathryn ‘Torture’s Handmaiden‘ Bigelow’s controversy-stirring Zero Dark Thirty. Inspired by this, our editor Ashley Clark has put together a list of 10 genuinely bizarre cameos from cinema’s past at the website Grolsch Film Works. It includes this beauty from KFC’s Colonel Sanders – yes, that’s really him; finger lickin’ him:
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Top tweeter and uber-connected film Londoner Emerson Forde has picked up on an exciting-looking BBC TV drama called Dancing On The Edge, which focuses on the fortunes of a black jazz band in 1930s London. It stars Chiwetel Ejiofor (soon to headline Steve McQueen’s film Twelve Years A Slave) and is written by Stephen Poliakoff (Close My Eyes). It starts on 4 Feb 2013 at 9pm on BBC2. Here’s the trailer:
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Some lovely stuff linked by the Criterion Collection on Twitter here - 110 years of title cards. Here are a few of the best:
…aadand that’s all from us. folks. Have a great week.
You may have never seen ballroom dancing in person, but you’ve probably seen Strictly Come Dancing (or Dancing with the Stars, if you’re in the US) and noticed that it’s actually really difficult. In addition to remembering all the steps, you’ve got to be fit, you’ve got to make it look meaningful, and you’ve got to trust your dancing partner. Ballroom Dancer is a documentary about a professional duo, Slavik Kryklyvyy (go on, say it) and Anna Melnikova, struggling with all the aforementioned things, under enormous pressure – they’ve just gotten romantically involved with each other, and this is Slavik’s last chance at a comeback after ten years out of contention.
Slavik reminds me of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the Swedish footballer – yes, they’re both of Eastern European descent and happen to wear their long dark hair slicked back into a knot, but they both have an intense, virtuosic charisma about them, possibly informed by their martial arts training. Slavik lives and breathes dance, an exacting perfectionist about his craft; but at 34, he’s intent on proving that he’s not past his prime. Anna is younger and certainly in her prime, as the current amateur Latin champion; she’s formidable yet vulnerable, and struggles to cope with Slavik’s anxieties and dominance of their relationship.
Their romantic and professional partnership is the centre of the film, slanted towards the perspective of Slavik. We often see the two in their hotel room hanging out in addition to seeing them during rehearsals and competitions, so we can observe their chemistry and communication candidly, on and off the dance floor. We come to know their individual personalities through observing their separate physical and mental preparations for competitions; Slavik pushes himself to breaking point, while Anna seems to be more circumspect. Their egos clash constantly, and we see them striving to negotiate between their individual needs and the needs of their partnership. Anna exasperatingly comments during one argument that if you don’t want to deal with partners or emotion, ballet rather than Latin would be a better fit.
The film is an intimate portrait of the couple, going far beyond the usual fly-on-the-wall perspective of documentaries to construct a character-driven narrative. We’ve got Big Brother-like access to their lives, augmented by the candid reflections shared with their coaches and trainers (so there’s no need for anyone to speak directly to camera). The Danish directors, Andreas Koefoed and Christian Bonke, say the film was ‘shot as cinema verite but [was] edited like fiction’ and indeed, while watching Ballroom Dancer, it’s almost surreal to think that there was no script, that these are real people and this actually happened between them. It doesn’t hurt that they’re both attractive and emotive, like hired actors, but it’s the authenticity of their story that’s so compelling – this isn’t light, Dirty Dancing-like fare. Ballroom Dancer’s brutally honest depiction of a couple’s struggles is refreshing to see onscreen, whether you like ballroom dancing or not.
Ballroom Dancer is out in selected cinemas now. Contributor Cathy Landicho can be followed on Twitter @ConfusedAmateur.