Tag Archives: film

Blackfish | Review

At least the whale knew what he was doing.

At least the whale knew what he was doing.

By Ed Wall

Is Blackfish a film with a message but no meaning, or a film with a meaning but no message?

Although it’s not immediately obvious which of these dubious honours it might have garnered, the result is certainly not particularly impressive. Bursting with information, it singularly fails to cohere – a weak sum of potentially strong, individually compelling parts. You suspect that, had there been anyone on board with the same amount of passion for the subject as the makers of, say, 2009’s The Cove [Louie Psihoyos’ angry interrogation of Japan’s dolphin hunting culture], the result might have been a very different kettle of whale.

The purported subject of this mixed bag is Tilikum, resident of SeaWorld in Orlando Florida, the largest Orca in captivity and to this date responsible (depending on one’s definition of responsibility) for the deaths of at least three people. Through a combination of historical footage, interviews and data, director Gabriela Cowperthwaite attempts to profile Tilikum both as individual and in the wider context of ‘the industry’ of whale-based amusement parts, from shady, frontier-like beginnings in the 1970s to the current SeaWorld-dominated landscape.

As a spin on the typical documentary format, Tilikum’s story is covertly presented as a kind of murder mystery/court case. It’s an unnecessary piece of directorial artifice, and the noose by which the film hangs itself. Cowperthwaite is a weak prosecutor, unable (or unwilling) to take a position beyond some bland notion of ‘objectivity’. In this context, the form is pointless; a purely superficial touch.

Cowperthwaite is a veteran of a particular breed of televisual documentaries, having worked for some of the big names (National Geographic, Animal Planet, ESPN, The Discovery Channel) in the past. There’s something in her style that’s vaguely, uneasily, reminiscent of the parades of cable TV documentaries you might flick through at hotel stopovers. There’s an indistinct impression of disinterest in the way she approaches the subject matter; some mercenary element that’s more focused on presentation and graphics than content. This commitment to superficiality imbues some weak information with too much significance, and sucks the life out of the stronger material.

While the film is happy to (rightly) suggest SeaWorld is to blame for a lack of compassion and common sense in relation to the treatment of its water-bound behemoths, the question of motivations is never explored. In an identikit series of inane interviews with wide-eyed former trainers, Cowperwaithe steadfastly refuses to pin any of them down on where exactly they think they might fit into the tragic picture as a whole.

Bar one square-headed nutter who, employing a logic that’s so perverse it’s almost laudable, tries to claim that whales performing like trained dogs for crowds of baying humans constitutes man honouring nature, one after another of these former SeaWorld devotees spit near-identical repentant/outraged tidbits. As though the goons in a fallen dictatorship had been given the platform on which to absolve themselves, Cowperwaithe presents this parade of disembodied characters spilling words and tears, tears and words – as though there was no inherent value in making sure any of it was honest.

Of all the individuals interviewed, the one who emerges from the film with the most credit is the rather brilliantly named Dave Duffus, an expert witness for OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) in the case brought by the US government against SeaWorld’s working conditions after the last of Tilikum’s ‘accidents’. Duffus’ clear respect for Orca whales and his palpable anger at the whole sorry business transcends Cowperthwaithe’s lame ‘neutrality’. Oddly, it also means that, amid the confusion, he stands out in the film to a degree that makes him feel more central than Tilikum.

As a piece of documentary filmmaking I’m pretty sure it is, if not a total failure, then at least a weak specimen of the genre. On the other hand, the agenda it has little or no interest in using its scattergun stack of information to fully support is one that a lot of the people who will end up seeing it already subscribe to: that keeping animals in a state of captivity is inhumane. As one of these viewers it’s a challenge to know how to react. Your instinct is to agree, but something makes you hesitate. It’s like watching Bono preaching about the plight of children in Africa, but with the nagging suspicion he bought an extra first class seat on the plane for his hat.

It’s confusing, painful to watch, when someone with no clear view of which field they’d rather be in positively hurls themselves onto the fence in the apparent name of objectivity, writhing around for an hour and a half before ascending to that beige heaven reserved solely for those who were pure enough to desire purgatory. SeaWorld representatives, naturally, declined to be interviewed for the film. Given the all-forgiving tolerance of the interviews here, they might now be feeling that they missed a trick.

Frances Ha | Review

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By Ed Wall

Looking back as the credits roll on this touching and open-hearted NYC-set comedy/drama, it’s startling to think that the opening scenes could ever have felt so dubious. Something about the eponymous protagonist’s self-aware manner in those first few minutes really seems designed to rub the viewer up the wrong way. At this point, the near future looks bleak – an uphill slog through a bandwagon-jumping Brooklynite yarn. Will this be utterly, unbearably pretentious? Is Frances the epitome of annoying? You’re prepared to hate it. And then it surprises you.

Given director Noah Baumbach’s history, his documented perfectionism and meticulous use of openings to misdirect the viewer’s expectations in his prior films, you’d imagine this has been an intentionally cheeky manipulation. As important as first impressions usually are, Frances excels at not making – and then transcending not making – a good one. You fall for her, and for the film, rather despite yourself.

Although the film is set in the apparent hub of hipster culture right now, Gerwig’s Frances doesn’t easily fit any conceivable definition of cool. A reactive rather than proactive person, she’s a little lost, but not particularly concerned about it. She’s lazy, and spends time (as do a lot of us) talking about what she should be doing. Most of her flaws constitute what make her loveable: she’s a bit of a goofball, often quite annoying (but in a sweet way, unlike the character of Poppy in Mike Leigh’s irritating Happy-Go-Lucky, for example), has no self-censorship and no awareness of when she’s crossing the line with other people. As a character she feels intensely real, and Gerwig (co-writer of the film) plays her beautifully, with just the right amount of confusion and vulnerability hidden under the apparent spacey lack of awareness.

Fran’s friendship with Sophie (an impressive Mickey Sumner) constitutes Frances Ha‘s central relationship. As Frances refuses to meet her impending thirties head-on, the pair start to drift apart – a plot thread which accounts for much of the film’s emotional impact and dramatic tension. It’s also a blessed relief to see a contemporary comedy focused almost exclusively on a single female lead that isn’t ultimately concerned with the male love interest; the brilliantly casual way in which Frances casts off her first boyfriend is a good indication of the film’s lack of interest in her sex life.

In a number of ways, Frances and the film mirror each other. Frances is often casual to the point of being non-present, and while Frances Ha is ostensibly a comedy, its humour is often so low-key as to seem almost unintentional. This is a definite strength, in that it never seems to be actively looking for laughs. Baumbach’s choice to shoot in black and white doesn’t feel like an act of pretension so much as a Frances-like avoidance of having to choose colour schemes (although the film is visually rich, in a nicely understated way). It’s also brilliantly edited. Frances’ daily activities, often used as bridges between scenes, are briskly summated in montage-style vignettes which cut in and out of random exchanges and personal moments. In keeping with the film’s winning combination of frothiness and mild spikiness, these sequences at once lightly mock and highlight the bizarreness of peoples’ routines and behaviours. By making these observations awkward by robbing them of their immediate context, the film portrays life as a series of random, beautiful but ultimately meaningless instances. Yet, of course, the meaninglessness is what makes it all interesting.

I must admit I found the film emotionally affecting in a way I rarely find. Frances’ willingness, in the end, to open herself up to ridicule perhaps won my sympathies. If Lena Dunham’s fantastic Tiny Furniture (2011) was a film that encapsulated the knowingness of being in your early twenties, Frances Ha is definitely older, more world-weary, but conversely also more openly optimistic. It’s something like a pep talk to dreamers. The possibility of failure manifests throughout the film, daunting, concrete. And yet Frances’ steadfast refusal to allow that reality to exist (despite it so obviously existing) means the chance of a lucky break never seems beyond her. We create our own luck, it says, through an insane, bloody-minded refusal to believe there is no such thing as failure.

Frances Ha is in cinemas from Friday courtesy of Metrodome Pictures. Contributor Ed Wall can be followed on Twitter @edward1wall.

5 reasons to come and see The Warriors

In case you’ve missed our occasional blogging and tweeting about the matter, we’re screening Walter Hill’s cult classic The Warriors at London’s Clapham Picturehouse tonight! Prior to the screening we’ll have fun times in the bar, an intro and a prize draw. But if that isn’t enough, we’ve put together 5 more reasons to convince you to part with your cash.

1. There will be pizza

The Warriors is New York City cinema at its finest, and, as we all know, the reason why everyone loves New York is because of its pizza. So in order to replicate the NYC experience, we’ve flown in some authentic pies from The Bronx for your gastronomic pleasure*. Who can say no to free pizza in the bar beforehand (from 8pm)?

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*actually from down the road in Clapham, but that’s our little secret.

2. We’re screening it from a 35mm print

We’ve managed to source an original print, so your experience of the film will be enhanced by the warmth and feel that only celluloid can give you. It’s the perfect showcase for Andrew Laszlo’s superb cinematography and the film’s myriad amazing NYC locations. Here’s a snap of the print! (P.S. We should say at this point that the print is an old one – not a restoration. As such, it’s picked up a fair few bumps and scratches along the way, and has a slight pink coloration).

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3. It’s the perfect summer movie

The weather’s scorching outside, so cool down in the cinema. You never know, you might pick up some clothing tips for the rest of the summer. The Baseball Furies (below) know what’s up.

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4. It’s exemplary action cinema from a master at the top of his game

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Walter Hill developed his reputation making lean, mean action classics, and The Warriors found him bang in the middle of a run that included the likes of Hard Times, The Driver, The Long Riders and Southern Comfort. There’s no fat here, just 90 minutes of suspense, music, dry humour, and fighting… lots of fighting. Just how action cinema should be.

5. Because could you really live with yourself if you missed the chance to spend some quality time with Luther?

Exactly. So, you can buy tickets here or grab them on the door. Food and drink in the bar from 8pm, film at 9. See you later!

Economic Measures #2 | A Native American in The New World (2005)

[Editor’s note: Economic Measures is a new, regular column celebrating those facial and bodily gestures in film that say a lot with a little.]

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By Michael Pattison

If you’re looking for an ostensibly simple dialogue exchange that also happens to be laced with a quietly devastating symbolism, you might struggle to find one more moving than the one which takes place between Smith (Colin Farrell) and Pocahontas (Q’orianka Kilcher) towards the end of Terrence Malick’s The New World (2005). The former lovers are briefly reunited when the Native American accompanies her husband, John Rolfe (Christian Bale), on a trip to England. Small talk and heavy silences culminate thusly:

Pocahontas: “Did you find your Indies, John? You shall…”

Smith: “I may have sailed past them.”

Soon after, the film enters its concluding passage, a montage cut to the prelude from Wagner’s Das Rheingold. Rolfe addresses his young son in voice-over, telling him and us that Pocahontas, the boy’s mother, took ill and died shortly before the return voyage to their Jamestown settlement across the Atlantic. Though Rolfe’s narration confirms her death, Pocahontas lives on in the subsequent sequence, in which she is seen playing with her son and dancing joyously in the grounds of their Gravesend estate.

Just as the music is beginning to swell, we are presented with an apparently incongruous image of a Native American. Played by Matthew Yeung and referred to in the end credits as a shaman, this otherwise anonymous character sits on a chair, as if posing on the throne of a European monarch, and directly eyes the camera. In the next shot, he exits the manor by bolting through a doorway and into the courtyard beyond. Confronting us one moment, he retreats in the next. Was he intruding? Is he chased? At any rate, one gesture appears to be contradicted by the other. Running through the door in a seemingly wounded fashion, Yeung’s physical vitality nevertheless plays out in contrast to that other, more celebrated doorway-silhouette, that of John Wayne at the end of The Searchers (1956).

It’s an odd moment. On first inspection it serves no narrative function. Yeung has before now appeared only briefly, on the periphery of the frame as Pocahontas alights a ship and steps for the first time onto English soil. Breaking the fourth wall, his gaze destroys in an instant what has until now been accepted as a seamlessly worked hermetic fiction. Later in the same sequence, we see an image of Pocahontas’ (imagined) grave in a present-day setting. Stitched into an otherwise conventional historical drama, both moments appear as violent ruptures. They force us out of the diegesis and contradict all notions of a harmonious narrative. Indeed, Yeung’s Native American resembles a history museum exhibit, static and lifeless – only in the next image to appear alive again, rejecting and rebelling against his own fate. The period setting is demystified.

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In The New World, history records, tells and observes at the same time as it perceives, distorts and contradicts. As such, it bears during its most powerful passages the markings of an essay film, confident in nothing if not its own self-questioning. As with the violent battles that took place earlier in the film, for instance, Malick treats an otherwise finite act such as Pocahontas’ death as multifarious. It unfolds in a staggered and self-contradicting way. Edited as something that is about to happen, as something that is happening, and as something that seems already to have happened, the everyday is given urgency – and the historical is rendered immediate, even contestable. Yeung’s bounding leap through the doorway of Pocahontas’ manor seems in this way to be an active refusal of some sort – even if it is merely a refusal to be enclosed by Malick’s film.

The past and the present, the perceived and the actual, the old and the new, the historical and the mythic, the natural and the imposed – all of these and more are seen not as opposites, but as co-dependent. Because of this, The New World is able to complicate its own rueful riffs on the trajectory taken by western civilisation upon the discovery of and expansion across the Americas. In this version of the John Smith-Pocahontas fable, the romantic ideal is problematised by scientific endeavour and imperial expansion – currents and phenomena that coincided with the formation of capitalism itself. This is the essence of the heartbreak that pervades that would-be reunion between Pocahontas and Smith. When the latter remarks that he may have sailed past the Indies he had been tasked to find, he seems to be acknowledging something else entirely – a missed opportunity for moral and emotional purity.

Such notions are of course romantic in themselves. The deeper devastation, the one that makes this the powerful anti-romance film that it is, is that Pocahontas doesn’t so much reject Smith as accept that history itself would have always denied them a happiness ever after. Put another way, abstractions such as moral and emotional purity are incompatible with historical particulars. Indeed, Smith left Pocahontas in the first place because he was sent on an expedition as part of wider economic imperatives – the same imperatives, to be precise, by which Pocahontas’ peoples were to be annihilated. And somewhere amidst this terrible realisation, an anonymous Native American retreats, rejects, turns his back in disgust. Capitalism annihilates these gestures too.

Contributor Michael Pattison can be followed on Twitter @m_pattison and runs the blog idFilm.net.

The Warriors NYC filming locations – then and now

I’d like to thank my friend, BFI archive curator Dylan Cave, for alerting me to an awesome, three-part piece on the brilliant website Scouting NY, which juxtaposes images of a bunch of images of locations used in Walter Hill’s NYC classic against snaps of them today. Needless to say, some of the changes (and similarities!) are breathtaking.

Here are a couple of photographic examples, though of course the best way of comparing is to book tickets for our upcoming, 35mm screening of the film at London’s Clapham Picturehouse cinema on Monday 15 July: Ticket booking link.

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See the rest here.

[Source: ScoutingNY.com]

This Is The End | review

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Reviewed by Ed Wall

Loosely based on their 2007 short Jay and Seth vs. the Apocalypse, comedy-writing team Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have reimagined the End of Days from the perspective of a group of friends trapped in James Franco’s Hollywood home. As the Apocalypse rages outside, the group (Rogen, Franco, Jay Baruchel, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill and Danny McBride) must come to terms with themselves, their friendships and the total, unequivocal destruction of everything ever. Cue the dick jokes.

The cast is essentially a reunion of stars from earlier Rogen/Goldberg films, all friends in real life, and fully prepared to take the piss out of themselves by playing up to the common (negative) public opinion of A-list celebrities. They clearly had a lot of fun making this, which translates best in extended scenes of dialogue rather than the later CGI horror/action sequences. The film’s strengths naturally lie in the sharpness with which the character relationships are portrayed. Male friendship and bonding rituals have always been a big focus in the pair’s writing, and they’re particularly astute at revealing the nuances in male egos that make their characters feel solidly human. In the wrong hands This Is The End might have slipped into lowest common denominator gross-out territory, but Rogen and Goldberg provide customary vital touches of warmth and sadness. Like their other efforts it’s also genuinely funny, their expert way with a cutting put-down shining especially brightly here.

Where the film falls down slightly is in the concept, which is initially interesting, but ultimately tiring. There’s the gnawing impression that Rogen and Goldberg weren’t wholly clear where to take the idea, and that the clearly sizeable budget allowed for too much. The first disaster sequences are actually pretty tense, the shocks real. But herein lies the problem; if you’re going to start a film with tension it becomes obvious when the tension is lost. Much of the plot outside of the house in the later stages is half-baked – as though everything around the original scenario has been more or less tacked on. Rogen and Goldberg don’t seem interested in developing the setup in unexpected ways and thus come to rely heavily on star cameos to carry through the lulls. Besides that, the film slips into self-indulgence fairly easily. What you end up with is a movie that looks at first like a blockbuster, feels for a good while like a joke between friends, and then sputters around in the final third like a balloon that’s not been tied at the end, finishing (probably like the earth itself will) with a whimper, not a bang.

At the end of the days though (honk!) this is an enjoyable and very funny addition to the Superbad/Pineapple Express collection of US comedies with a bit more bite; perfect fodder, in our globally warmed times, for the excruciating and pathetic death-whimper of the British summer.

This Is The End is in cinemas from Friday. Contributor Ed Wall can be followed on Twitter @edward1wall

Shun Li and the Poet director Andrea Segre | interview

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[Editor’s note: An abridged version of this interview originally appeared on the Grolsch Film Works website. This is the full transcript.]

Shun Li and the Poet, in UK cinemas now, is the beautifully observed story of the titular Chinese immigrant (Xhao Tao) who finds herself unexpectedly transferred from a textiles factory on the outskirts of Rome to Chiogga, a small Venetian fishing village. Lonely and concerned only with attaining the documents to secure the safe import of her 8-year-old son, she strikes up a tentative friendship with Bepi (Rade Sherbediga), a friendly fisherman of Slavic origin.

I thoroughly enjoyed this tender and poetic film, so it was a delight to sit down with its director, the charming – and wondrously bearded – Andrea Segre, for a chat.

[PPH in bold]: It’s obvious you come at the story from a humanistic perspective. How did your previous work on social issue documentaries and ethnographic studies influence you?

[Segre in regular]: When people ask me why I have an interest in this story as a filmmaker, the answer is that the direction is the opposite. I reached the cinema – became a filmmaker – starting from the interests I had in this story. I didn’t study cinema. I studied sociology and started to have an interest in these topics, these lives. I didn’t know that I wanted to be a director. I became a director through just speaking about this stuff. The reason I had an interest in the story is that it’s related to my experience. I grew up in a country that wasn’t an immigration country. In my class at school in Italy, we were all Italians, in the village. Nowadays in the village in my daughter’s class, there are children from all around the world. This change in Italy happened in my life; I grew up in the 15-20 years of this change. For me to research the story of this change was very important. I wanted to know what caused the tension in the society; not only the Italian one but others too. To be able somehow to use the normal difficulties you have in intercultural relations in a positive way is one of the most important challenges we have to build a better place, a better world.

How did you research the Chinese story in particular?

I researched it for this film only, I didn’t research especially about China before. Before this film I researched specifically Eastern countries, the Balkan areas, Albania, Moldova, the former Yugoslavia, Ukraine. In 2005 I moved more to the south side of the Mediterranean, to Tunisia, Libya, then to Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana. The research was connected to my sociology research. My thesis was about the social communication of NGOs working in post-civil war Yugoslavia. After that I was working as an academic researcher and an NGO activist/militant. I was working on the policies of securitarian countries against so-called illegal immigrants. All of this ran parallel to my filmmaking interests. I was in the middle of this context of social activism, academic research and the filmmaking profession.

The distribution of my documentaries always has a social and political goal. My documentaries have been used to increase knowledge about the injustices produced by this wave of securitarian politics that the European Union has built in the last ten years. It’s something that makes me interested because one major challenge of the future is if we are going to be able to keep our humanity while we insist on the necessity of controlling our space. We have decided that somehow we have to control people’s movements. But to control someone who is moving because he needs to move, that you have to beat him, put him in prison, deport him? That you have to use violence against a human being who didn’t do anything criminal against you? It’s the human challenge. The human subject of these stories that really interests me. I want my films to be used politically to stop injustices, but what is inside my interests as artist, as a storyteller, is the human tension that everyone can feel. You have to ask yourself if it’s just or not to stop a human being in this way.

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Political cinema can sometimes beat the audience over the head with its points. But your film is very subtle in this respect. It’s about the community, the characters and their relationships…

Thank you. Everything started six or seven years when I went to the osteria [fisherman’s bar] that we used in the real film. I knew this osteria because it’s in my mother’s village. It’s like a living room for a fisherman – part of your house! The bar woman plays a very important role in the fishermen’s lives. They speak with, communicate in an intimate way, confide, drink a couple of glasses of wine. She’s the only woman so you speak with her in a way that you don’t speak with the clients. Suddenly she’s Chinese! It’s a difficult change. You don’t have the instrument in your daily life to have an intercultural relationship with her. I’m a fisherman… what is this intercultural relationship!? They started to have a problem, a real one.

Some use this problem to create a public fear. To use it in a xenophobic, demagogic way. That is what the politicians try to do because it is very easy. They say, “your life is going very bad because she is Chinese”. That’s easy and politicians have done that for a long time. But a part of this demagogic side of the problem is that for them it is a [genuine] difficulty, and I thought that was also really important to respect. I didn’t want a stereotypical portrait of them as racists. Yes, there are members of them who are violent and use this fear who don’t have the tools to deal with these difficulties so they react with arrogance. But I try be with them in the film, not to fight against them. In the osteria I involved some of them in the story, they are non-professional actors. They are real Chioggia fisherman. I wanted to build a portrait of this community which was going through an identity crisis. They were born in a poor fisherman’s village and Italy has changed in the last 40 years. We were a poor country made by fishermen, farmers and so on. In the last 20-25 years – even though the recent crisis is changing this again – we became richer and also the identity of the people changed. They know that their world is going to die. In this microcosm I had the opportunity to build a metaphor for what is happening to our country.

The music in the film is powerful. Can you tell me more about it?

Most of the music has been played by the composer Francois Couterrier, but everything started from the piano music you hear when Shun Li first arrives in Chioggia. That is a piano played by an Australian pianist. He tried to build melodies using a destroyed piano. He was trying reveal melodies from an instrument that was no longer producing melodies. I loved this combination of harmony and disharmony and I asked Francois to work in this way. We preferred piano and accordion. We didn’t work on a Chinese atmosphere specifically but maybe we put some in there somehow! What we tried to do was build a harmony between the voice of Shun Li and the music because she is speaking about poetry and it was important to feel that her voice and the music were going well together.

Zhao Tao is wonderful in the lead role. Can you talk about her casting and performance?

I wanted to have her since I saw Still Life, the Jia Zhangke film which won the Golden Lion at Venice in 2006. I really loved the mixture of simplicity and profundity that she has. You believe that she’s a real Chinese woman working in a bar but you feel that she has something else. However, she doesn’t show that she has something else. She finds a way to make you feel what she’s feeling. That is something very difficult and wonderful to do in acting. Another thing that was important for me was that she became an actress with her husband Jia Zhangke and so I knew that she was used to working on the border between documentary and fiction – Zhangke is a master of that. I sent her the script, I asked her if she wanted to play it. She was looking for a project to play outside of China. She’d only ever been to Italy once (for the Venice festival) and for her it was great for her to a play an emigrating Chinese woman for the first time she acted out of Italy.

With Rade [Sherbediga] when I asked him to play Bepi, he said, “How did you know I was an actor as well as a fisherman?!” I didn’t know!

Though it’s being released now, the film was made in 2011. What have you been up to since?

Well, the life of the film has been incredible. But after Shun Li and the Poet, I made a documentary called Closed Sea. It’s the story of the pushing back policy of the Italian police against the immigrants coming from Libya. After that I made another documentary about music in Greece that’s also about the economic crisis. That’s called Indebito. And I made a feature which will hopefully screen later this year in Venice, called The First Snow. It’s a story based in a small valley in the mountains of Northern Italy, about a son who has lost a father, and a father who doesn’t know how to be a father to be his daughter. This son is Italian and the father is African. I’m always trying not to make political cinema, but to make a cinema that doesn’t stress its political content to the audience, rather it makes the audience think about it.

 Shun Li and the Poet is released on 21 June at Renoir and Curzon Home Cinema.

The PPH Twitter Question #1: favourite book about film

[Editor’s note – Each week, I’ll throw out an open, pop-culture related question on Twitter, and collate the results in this space. The aims? Not too lofty: to stir debate, to provide recommendations, and to introduce Tweeters to each other. I’m also fascinated by the idea that someone can be a good “Twitter writer”, cramming wit, eloquence and import into such a tiny space. Hopefully we’ll see some of that, too.]

The original question:

The responses:

PPH Presents Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai | How it went down – in pictures

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 SamuraiFrom 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:

In good company

In good company

Credit to the talented Ben Collison for the chalkboard artwork

Credit to the talented Ben Collison for the chalkboard artwork

Crowds gather downstairs in our special bar area for pizza and chat

Crowds gather downstairs in our special bar area for pizza and chat

Alas, pizza isn't the type of food to hang around for long...

Alas, pizza isn’t the type of food to hang around for long…

Ticketholders make their way to the cinema screen (past Piccia Neri's brilliant artwork)

Ticketholders make their way to the cinema screen (past Piccia Neri’s brilliant artwork)

Your friendly host (that's me) introduces the screening

Your friendly host (that’s me) introduces the screening

Just some of the prizes up for grabs (DVD bundles, Picturehouse membership) in our pre-screening quiz

Just some of the prizes up for grabs (DVD bundles, Picturehouse membership) in our pre-screening quiz

A nice big crowd settles in, and the film gets going

A nice big crowd settles in, and the film gets going

The screening's over... and it's hometime

The screening’s over… and it’s hometime

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!

The Spirit of ’45 | review

the_spirit_of_45_dogwoof_copyright_bfi“The terrain is strewn with ideological rubble, and it’s there to be fought over.” – Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism

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.

Contributor Basia Lewandowska Cummings can be followed on Twitter @mishearance. The Spirit of ’45 is released in cinemas 15 March by Dogwoof