Category Archives: Human Rights

Campbell X and THE WATERMELON WOMAN

THE WATERMELON WOMAN is a self-coined – Dunyementary – a fusion of fiction and documentary style filmmaking. In THE WATERMELON WOMAN, Cheryl Dunye uses  investigative documentary shooting on video intercut with a formal fiction comedy drama structure shot on film. Inserted within the narrative is archive footage constructed by Dunye.

THE WATERMELON WOMAN is edutainment. We laugh while being educated about the erasure of Black women in cinematic history in general, and also the invisibility of Black lesbian actresses in Hollywood history. As we watch the film we begin to question what is real and what is fiction? THE WATERMELON WOMAN is the Black actress Fae Richards who had disappeared, undocumented in the mist of time.

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The title “THE WATERMELON WOMAN” is a play on the association between racist depictions of Black people eating watermelons, equivalent to the often racist caricatured images of Black women as the Mammy/Maid characters in Hollywood. The title is also an homage to Melvin Van Peebles’ 1970 film WATERMELON MAN. Melvin Van Peebles is credited with starting the Blaxploitation era of cinema which heralded a new vision of modern African American cinema.

As THE WATERMELON WOMAN begins we see video footage of a white Jewish wedding with Black guests. As Cheryl, who is a wedding videographer sets up the frame, a white male photographer comes and tells the contributors to move around to suit his frame while she is shooting. She is of course outraged and tells him to wait his turn. This first scene sets the tone for the ways in which Black women’s stories are denied, overwritten or erased in Hollywood.

Cheryl in the film decides to search for the real Fae Richards. As she does so she interviews various gatekeepers of culture, who are unapologetic in their ignorance about Fae RichardsLee Edwards, the Black gay man, played by Brian Freeman (Pomo Afro Homos – 1990–1995) is uninterested in anything to do with history of women in cinema, the CLIT archivist played by Sarah Schulman hoards Black womens’ archival assets and denies Cheryl access to the material, the cultural critic Camille Paglia played by herself, who while explaining the impact of the Mammy role, denies there is a racist element to them, and even posits the roles as empowering because she insists on viewing them through her own Italian American experience.

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The complicity of white women in power structures is further reinforced when we learn that Fae Richards was in a lesbian relationship with a white film director Martha Paige who cast her in the Mammy roles.  Martha Paige did nothing to write and direct roles for Fae that were outside of the Mammy/Maid roles. She instead built her reputation as a film director off plantation type dramas. In fact it is often Martha Paige who is referenced in the history books and not Fae Richards. Martha Paige is played by Alex Juhasz, one of the producers of THE WATERMELON WOMANCheryl’s relationship with Diana played by Guinevere Turner (Go Fish, L Word, American Psycho, Notorious Bettie Page, Charlie Says)  falls apart when Cheryl has the dawning realisation about her liberal white racist values and her attempted appropriation of Cheryl’s project.

At the same time Cheryl interviews older Black lesbians who let her know how much they revered Fae Richards, even as Hollywood rejected her, and dumped her when she got older. She uncovers Fae Richards rich and joyous life as a Black lesbian who was survived by June, her lover of 20 years. June is played by the iconic poet and essayist – Cheryl Clarke.

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THE WATERMELON WOMAN is a genius film which subverts dominant cinema with a Black lesbian feminist aesthetic through centring dark-skinned Black women as characters and actors. And by placing Black masculine of centre women of various ages as objects of desire and love interests.   Cheryl Dunye casts herself, a black lesbian woman, as the central character, a Black lesbian filmmaker called Cheryl in order to obtain authenticity in the role, as well as intrinsically preventing any erasure of Black lesbian desire or bodies.

THE WATERMELON WOMAN is a love letter to cinema – African American cinema in Philadelphia in particular, we learn about those film companies that existed in the 1930s and see the cinemas where African Americans watched the silver screen. THE WATERMELON WOMAN while exploring the invisibility of Black lesbian women in cinema, also creates its own queer archive. There are references to other queer works of art, the documentary elements allow for the use of actual LGBT people, Dunye uses music of Black lesbians like Toshi Reagon and if you check the credits you will see interns like Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry, The L Word, Carrie ).

THE WATERMELON WOMAN tells us to speak to our queer elders and hear their stories in order to document histories/herstories/theirstories so we so we know they were there.

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Campbell X

MARIO a revealing look at homosexuality in The Beautiful Game.

No matter who I talk to, hardly anyone understands why it should be a problem to be an openly gay professional football player in 2018. As early as 2013, many German politicians as well as high-ranking club functionaries and representatives of professional associations took a stand and signed the “Berlin Declaration” – a position paper against homophobia in sport. We know that there are gay football players, and club-internally they receive professional guidance and management, but towards the outside, the silence is maintained.

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Coming out in professional football is still a taboo. The blame for this is passed back and forth. Some say reactionary fan groups are the problem. Others point to the sponsors, who could bail out. Or individual players from chauvinistic cultures who would not be able to deal with the situation. Corny Littmann, former President of the St. Pauli football club in Hamburg, Germany, and gay himself, gave an interview on the topic in 2012. Asked why not a single player had come out as gay yet, he answered that this would be stupid. “Only a fool would do that.” Littmann regards the world of football as a professional field lacking the social competencies to deal with a coming-out.

Homophobic clichés and small-mindedness are still widespread, according to him. On average, a football player can pursue his career for 16 years and changes clubs every two to three years. He is a commodity, bought and sold again as lucratively as possible. An openly gay player would, however, encounter problems when trying to find a new club. He would be seen as “difficult”, even if his athletic performance were high. Coming out would therefore destroy his market value – and with it his entire career. So is everything, as so often in our society, a question of money?

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In 2018 the FIFA World Cup will be carried out in Russia, a country that discriminates against and ostracises homosexuals. 2022 will see the World Cup in Qatar, a country that punishes homosexuality with five years’ imprisonment or 90 whiplashes. As we know, football is big business, and FIFA will make sure that nothing comes in the way of that – least of all the gay question. And we will follow both cups with excitement, and we will pay to see the games. In the end, the current status quo regarding homosexuality in professional football is a contract we have all entered into. But the weight of self-denial is a weight that the gay players carry alone.

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When screenwriter Thomas Hess approached me in 2010 with his idea to make a feature film on the topic of gay love in professional football, my first question was: Hasn’t that film already been made? The topic was already present in the media, but our research showed that, apart from numerous news features, there was only a comedy dating from 2004.

The great football love story, however, had not yet been made for cinema. This is why I committed to the project. Apart from the topical relevancy, I felt very much like making another love story twenty years after “F.est un salaud”. Since classical literature, love stories that are framed by any kind of forbidden love have moved us the most. I saw the opportunity to tell a truly moving story in the given social context of a modern forbidden love. It was important to me to illustrate this context as realisticallyand contemporarily as possible. The football club BSC YB from Berne, Switzerland, generously supported me during the research and script development phases. During shooting BSC YB and the St. Pauli football club provided us with infrastructure, materials, and their names, for which I am very grateful.

Marcel Gisler

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Director and co-writer of MARIO – Marcel Gisler

Tamara Shogaolu talks about HALF A LIFE from Boys on Film 18: Heroes

Tamara Shogaolu, the director of the stunning short film Half a Life – part of  Boys on Film 18: Heroes chats about her inspiration for the film and the experience she had making it:

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How did you meet the narrator, and what led you to want to tell his story?

Over the course of two years before, during and after the revolution, I traveled around Egypt collecting oral histories of a variety of people—mostly women, activists and members of marginalized communities. It was a time of openness where people felt like they could talk and be honest and for that I feel incredibly fortunate.

The plan was always to make an animated documentary film based on these oral histories. We felt an urgency to share this story first because of the active persecution of LGBT individuals in Egypt at the moment. We are also currently developing an interactive augmented reality animated
documentary based on some of the other interviews.

 

Where does the title “Half a Life” come from?

The title of HALF A LIFE is inspired by Khalil Gibran’s poem of the same name. It speaks to the value of individual action, commitment, and resistance, like the film’s interviewee and main character. The film ends with a selection from the poem:

The half is a mere moment of inability
but you are able for you are not half a being
You are a whole that exists
to live a life not half a life

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How and why did you decide the documentary should be animated?

Animation has allowed us to protect the identity of the people involved in the story, but it also affords us the artistic freedom to convey its emotion visually and viscerally. It also emphasizes Adam’s voice as he tells his story, offering us a firsthand look into the gay experience in Egypt today.

 

How was the experience for you as the director?

It has been an incredible experience. I have been working on this project for years and was finally able to get a really great team together. Everyone was really involved in all aspects of telling this story. This is the first animated film I direct and was also the first narrative film for the animation team. We were also incredibly lucky to have wonderful mentors who gave us key feedback to make the film and story more powerful.

 

What do you hope the impact of this film will be?

Like Adam, many Egyptians love Egypt, while they are struggling against the very backlash that many involved with the 2011 revolution feared. Our team is devoted to sharing Adam’s story, and it is our hope that this film can embolden and contribute to the movement for gay rights taking place in Egypt right now.

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Boys on Film 18: Heroes is released on 30/04/2018 and you can order your copy here.

 

 

 

 

The Wound – When Controversy Prompts Conversation

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John Trengove’s debut feature and Oscar-shortlisted film, THE WOUND (INEXBA), has been bestowed with accolades and critical acclaim; going on to sweep the South African Film and Television Awards this past month. With such success, there was always bound to be a degree of controversy. As with any hard-hitting film that delves into themes of sexuality, masculinity and culture; finding a consensus can be difficult, if not impossible.

The controversy in question focuses on the way in which the film handles its depiction of the Xhosa ethnic group and the rite-of-passage ceremony these young men are put through as they transition to manhood. A call to ban the film was effectively successful in South Africa but has since been overturned, allowing it a full run in cinemas. Critics of the ban and controversy have pointed to an inherent homophobia that underlines the backlash – claims that are exacerbated by the fact the film hadn’t even been released when the controversy began to emerge.

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Nevertheless, isn’t any dialogue surrounding a LGBT film helpful? Isn’t a film like this essential in reaching out to queer black men and women in the 8 million strong Xhosa ethic group? Shouldn’t Cinema provide a voice to those who are oppressed?

First and foremost we must address the very nature of the controversy and how some have argued that the film exposes private and secretive cultural traditions. Furthermore, critics have contended that the filmmakers had no right to explore these customs; attacking the film as an appropriation and distortion of their culture. However, the films depiction of these traditions is never exploited. Rather, director John Trengove directly avoids graphically depicting the ceremonial event and maintains a level of ambiguity that respects the culture but also underlines the focus of the film: a love affair between two men.

When a film such as THE WOUND is classified as R-rated and essentially deemed ‘pornographic’, isn’t it essential to debate these issues? Oppressive and draconian reactions to the tougher aspects of the film are an attack on both free-speech and art itself. With cinema, audiences are given the opportunity to submerge themselves in different cultures, ideas and mind-sets. To be transported, shocked and even inspired.

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John Trengove argues that the setting of the film is in direct resistance to ideas perpetuated by many African leaders; some whom have suggested homosexuality is un-African and a symptom of western decadence. In an interview with Peccadillo our friend the film’s director stated: “We knew we wanted to tell a story about same-sex desire in a specifically African culture”, directly challenging African taboos around homosexuality that has been embedded into their culture. The filmmaker’s bold storytelling not only opposes these beliefs, it also encourages a much-needed conversation.

Devoid of the freedom that cinema can provide, people are bound to be more close-minded, more Orwellian and more muted. Cinema – no matter how hard-hitting – gives us all a voice.

So, endeavour to go and see THE WOUND when it hits UK cinemas on 27th April 2018; make up your own mind about the film and engage in a much-needed dialogue with those around you. That’s what Cinema is all about!

Maysaloun Hamoud director of IN BETWEEN

Born to communist parents in Budapest where her father was studying medicine, Maysaloun grew up in Dir Hanna, a village in the North of Israel.

After a Masters in History of the Middle East at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Maysaloun’s interest shifted towards cinema. In 2012, she graduated from the Minshar School of Art in Tel Aviv. She has been living and working in Jaffa for the past nine years.

From 2010 to 2013, Maysaloun was in charge of communications at the Tel Aviv based NGO SADAKA, which promotes political and social change.

Since 2009, she is a member of the group PALESTINEMA, a group of young filmmakers whose objective is to promote Arab culture by organising screenings of films in Israel and Palestine

Maysaloun Hamoud, July 2017 Tel Aviv Yaffo.

Maysaloun Hamoud -photo by Anne Maniglier

Maysaloun Hamoud in conversation with Haggai Matar – +972 Magazine

Is Tel Aviv the condition for freedom? Could this happen elsewhere, or is the Jewish hegemony in which the story is set needed for the girls’ feminist liberation?

“The movie takes place in Tel Aviv, because I wanted the imagery to be within a hegemonic space, but the scene in which they live is in Jaffa. The essence of the scene is Jaffa-Tel Aviv, and the plot-lines draw a lot of inspiration from what happens around me and from real characters in my own life…

Tel Aviv is a city, and that’s what a city does. It challenges. The same things would likely happen in Beirut or Amman…Tel Aviv is not the Berlin of the Middle East. It’s just the city that’s here. The scene here is unique because it’s Jewish-Arab, with a lot of mutual influence. Most young Palestinians in the city believe in a shared life, while the Jews [in this particular community] are left-wing and anti-Zionist, which is like a glue that creates mixed couples.”

 The difference between religion and the religious

… “The atmosphere of the Arab Spring didn’t skip Palestine/Israel, we were all with them in spirit — in the opposition to oppression, patriarchy, chauvinism and the perpetuation of the old system. This generation can no longer continue playing around with obsolete codes. We have to put everything on the table, because as long as we keep sweeping our fears under the carpet, the carpet will rise and we will stumble. Fundamentalism is a serious disease, and if we don’t shake out the carpet it’s likely going to be too late.”

Now that the film has been commercially released, what response are you expecting to these sentiments, which are also at the heart of the movie?

“Some people will want to hang us in the town square, for sure. The conservatives. The film does something very clever: I don’t say a single bad thing about religion. Everyone has his own faith. That’s not what the religious say, but even among them there are no ‘bad guys.’ There are characters you fall in love with in conservative society as well. Nour wears a hijab; she isn’t leaving the faith. Yes, she’s searching for a place of liberation in her own world — the religious, believing world — and that’s the place I’m searching for. So I’m very curious as to what the religious will pick up from the film.

The film doesn’t let liberals off the hook. It holds up a mirror to them too. We all know those families, Christian or Muslim, that are terribly open, but in moments of truth everyone falls in line behind the same traditions. It’s not just Nour’s family from Umm al-Fahm — it’s also that of Salma, the Christian. And the film doesn’t go easy on Jews, either. Maybe they’ll say, ‘Hey, it happens among us too, how great,’ but they need to address the fact that they always leave Arabs out. It’s a case of not here, not there. But the essence [of the film] is the intra-Palestinian conversation.”

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Drugs and alcohol are a significant part of the film — marijuana, MDMA and more. What does that mean to you?

“First of all, during the first party in the film they’re taking Ritalin, and that’s intentional, because the parents watching the movie are themselves giving their kids Ritalin. Coke generates more antagonism, so I didn’t put an emphasis on it.

But there’s more to say beyond that. We want to say that the current period is like the Sixties of the Arab world, and in an underground which you don’t want in the Middle East, everyone is taking every drug. It’s integral to the scene, and it influences identity, politics and culture. If we’re already doing it, why not show it?”

Balls in the face of BDS [The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement works to end international support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law.]

Success aside, In Between also sheds light on the complications of politics and identity faced by many Palestinian citizens of Israel who are filmmakers. For example, Hamoud put together a soundtrack featuring original music by artists from different countries in the region, whose names she could not publish and who couldn’t be credited in the movie. The movie also features music by DAM, a Palestinian hip-hop group from Lod, who wrote a dance song especially for the film. “They were amazing collaborators and I love them so much,” Hamoud says.

Other artists who saw earlier versions of the movie wanted to collaborate, but ultimately felt that their reputation would be in danger if they worked on a film funded by Israeli government institutions.

One day, Hamoud met a musician in Ramallah who was especially enthusiastic when he heard the movie’s plot and watched some of the rushes. “So I told him, yalla, we’ve put ourselves on the line for this movie, put yourselves on the line and say, ‘We’ll be the first people to look at the complexity, at the Palestinians who are inside [Israel – h.m.].’ But in the end they refused, despite knowing that they were contradicting themselves. There’s no link between the synchronization among us and the separation that reality has created.

“Yes, the state is giving me money, because I deserve to make films from the money I pay [in taxes]. I’m not ashamed, and I deserve even more. And still, I would have taken money from elsewhere in order to lift the cloud of a boycott, but there’s nowhere else. So I took from the state, and the film will be screened as an Israeli-French movie, despite it being mostly Arab-Palestinian.”

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 Bitter candy

“People in the Israeli cinema world have never worked with the Arab community. They don’t know what it is. Arabs don’t go to the movies much, because there aren’t cinemas in their communities, they watch Hollywood films at home and there are no local movies they want to see. Now all of a sudden they have a reason to go out, and we need to make use of this swell in order to bring other people into the industry.”

But the most important thing of all for Hamoud is her dream that her movie will open up a “new era of representation of women in Palestinian cinema, in which the woman is at the center and not behind the male character,” she says.

“In most Palestinian movies the political story dominates the plot, and so [women] are generally represented as victims. Even in my early movies [filmed when she was a student – h.m.] I told women’s stories via men’s heroics. The women I want to show are all around us but are invisible in the movies. Gender, activism and liberation from the patriarchy can be feminist, even if that word doesn’t necessarily define the women themselves. One way of telling this complex story of women, and the weighty issues that accompany it, was to wrap the whole tale in simple cinematic language, almost American. It’s also the women’s internal language in the film. They are burdened by the outside world, but they see themselves in the same image we are accustomed to seeing in the cinematic output of a liberated and vibrant society. The film’s producer, Shlomi Elkabetz, calls this “bitter candy” — something wrapped in flamboyance and beauty. You get into the film, and then get kicked in the stomach.”

 Translated from Hebrew by Natasha Roth.    

 

What are little boys made of..?

If you’re blind to what is different, this story is not for you. But if your eyes are open, you should listen carefully

Every so often a film comes along where it is incredibly difficult to find the right tone. With GIRLS LOST we have been through countless design concepts and have really discussed, argued and fought over how it should look, how the synopsis should read, how to present this to the audience and even who that audience should be.

We’ve never had it like this on a single title before. But I have to say that after months of changing minds, designs and words we’ve finally cracked it, literally the day of release!

It’s an amazing film, in fact one for all the family! Read more below…

Kim (as a girl) and Momo (as a girl) from GIRLS LOST

Kim (as a boy) and love interest Tony from GIRLS LOST

“Girls Lost is maturely executed, offering a discussion that presents us with ideas that cannot be considered in haste, the post-contemplation of the film necessary.” HeyUGuys

Here’s the synopsis follow link

You can find out where and how to watch GIRLS LOST : http://www.girlslostfilm.com/

POUTfest 2016 Is Here!

Next week is going to be an exciting and busy time for the Peccadillo team. We will be celebrating the launch of POUT Fest 2016 with Holding the Man at Picturehouse Central on May 18th so come on down and join us for some excitement.

Following on from the fantastic success of POUT 2015, we are bringing you all an opportunity to experience another POUT with all new titles and events ready to take up your calendar.  POUT Fest 2016 aims to promote LGBT cinema with a variety of short films and feature length films that can inspire, move and emancipate the audience. To know more, read on at your leisure.

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Holding the Man perfectly encapsulates what POUT Fest 2016 aims to achieve; it’s daring, entertaining, touching and makes one proud to be who they are. POUT Fest 2016 will also see the launch of The Girl King, a historical film that covers the reign of the first native, female sovereign of Sweden as she is thrust into an all-male court that has no tolerance for her awakening sexuality. Enchanting visuals and intrigue map the film throughout. Girls Lost is another fantastic addition to the line-up. The hypnotic film follows three girls who discover a curious plant that has a rare magical ability; transforming the three girls into boys. As their genders change, so does the world around them leaving their responses to this change profound. We are also honoured to be showing the classic film, My Beautiful Laundrette, starring Academy Award winner Daniel Day-Lewis and Gordon Warnecke. The film is a classic example of identity and inexorable love. For some laughter and fun we also have the cult film Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same gracing the POUT screens with its witty and humorous tale of romantic emotions. For all you documentary lovers we have the privilege of showing Limited Partnership, which tells the inspiring story of the first same-sex couple in the world to be legally married; taking on the US government in court to prove the legitimacy of their affection for one another.

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On May 20th Peccadillo will also be celebrating the release of Departure, a British drama starring the talents of Juliet Stevenson (Bend it like Beckham and Truly, Madly, Deeply) and Alex Lawther (The Imitation Game). The stunning debut from Andrew Steggall confronts the issues of family, first love and the dawning of one’s sexuality. With impressive visuals and an incredible cast, this is one film that will arouse the senses of the audience and anyone who has dealt with the issues presented. Get on down to the cinema to show your support for this years’ most incredible debut!

For more on POUT visit poutfest.co.uk

Interview with Asaf Korman – Director of Next To Her

How did you come across the idea for this film?

The idea for the film and the characters came from my wife, screenwriter and actress Liron Ben Shlush. Back in 2009 — she was still my girlfriend then – she told me she wanted to write a script based on her own experiences growing up with a mentally disabled sister. Talking about it for a while, we understood that this film will not be about looking after; it will be about a woman neglecting her own life for the sake of another person, and the dangers this neglect enfolds.

How was it working as a couple on the film?

Our combination, as a couple and as a screenwriter\actress and her director, defined the essence of this film. During the writing we got married and had our first child together, realizing that the film is not only about a situation of co-dependency, but also about parent-hood, about the boundaries we are forced to deal with when taking care of another person. There was a lot of anxiety before filming started. Liron had to perform nudity and love scenes with another man, and she had to deal with Dana Ivgy re-enacting her own real life sister. Eventually, these were the easiest parts of filming. The nudity and sex were technical, and the resemblance of Dana to Liron’s real sister allowed her to relate to her and made her feel comfortable.

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The challenge in working with Liron on the character of Chelli was the fact that she wrote it. We had to find a way making every situation in the film new to Liron, making her forget everything she wrote so she can experience the scenes as if they are the present reality, and not something meticulously tailored in writing. The fact that the lead actress of the film was always the only person on set knowing better then everyone the meaning of the scenes and actions was both helpful and dangerous, but the strength of the emotional connection to the story, and the semi-autobiographical elements of it, allowed her to create an amazingly complex and ambiguous character that is both her and the troubled women she could have become. This film is an act of love, in the most complex and challenging sense. It is an act of cooperation that encloses passion and pleasure, side by side with struggle and distress. It is an act of observation, of looking deep into each other’s eyes, which required true exposure, without compromise. In that sense, the film is also a continuation of my short film DEATH OF SHULA, that also touched the edge of exposure, revolving around the family’s deepest of fears, and crossing borderline between fiction and real life.

Film making demands collaboration with hundreds of people. How did you manage to work on such a personal film with others?

It was very liberating to be able to share our intimate and personal cinematic dream with a whole bunch of creative people. Our producers Haim Mecklberg and Estee Yam Mecklberg (2-team Productions) played an integral part in all the artistic aspects of the film, from start to finish, sharing their passion, vast experience and uncompromising love for filmmaking. We also had a very enthusiastic production designer, Ron Zikno, who managed to build the main location of the film as if the characters lived there forever, and filled the set with objects from Liron’s childhood memories which he carefully researched. Amit Yasour, the director of photography, apart from bringing his innovative cinematic approach and subtle style, created an artistic and non-technical environment on set which allowed us to focus on telling this story, with all the emotional challenges, the best way we could.

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Watching the film, one could think that Gabby is portrayed by a real mentally challenged actress. How did the actress manage to do that?

The actress portraying the disabled sister is a famous Israeli actress, Dana Ivgy. I met Dana in high school, she is a very close friend of mine for many years and she was lead actress in the first short film I made in high school when we were 18 years old. We have been waiting to work together again ever since, and me and Liron knew we would cast her from the early stages of writing. Our close friendship was what allowed us to trust each other going into the wild journey this character demanded. In order to play the role of Gabby, Dana worked very long hours at the hostel in Haifa where the real sister of Liron is living. She researched a lot and met doctors and specialists, trying to deeply understand the physical and mental state of the character. We also rehearsed quite a bit, trying to master the gestures of the two sisters and reach the intimacy of siblings that was so crucial to the credibility of the film.

 

Next To Her will be released in cinemas and on-demand – March 11 at Curzon Bloomsbury, ICA, Art House Crouch End and Home Manchester.

Next To Her Review – The Unpaid Carers of the World

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‘Gabby’ played by the award winning Dana Ivgy, portrays a 24 year old girl who suffers from a severe mental disability. She is taken care of by her sister ‘Chelli’, played by Liron Ben-Shlush who has dedicated her life to helping her sister. Coping with both her work and personal life, the two sisters live together in a dingy apartment, existing in an unhealthily symbiotic bubble where everything from toothbrushes to baths are shared.

A heartwarming yet emotional journey that questions human morality and the social/political systems which sometimes fails us. It came to my attention after viewing this film and doing some research that one in eight adults are now unpaid carers in the UK, this comes in the form of looking after a friend or family member who faces an illness, disability or frailty. It estimates to a staggering 6.5 million people who are pulled into a round-the-clock system of taking care of a loved one, which becomes a struggle in managing both their own personal and working lives, this will increase to 9 million by the year 2037.

The UK statistics show that most carers care for just one person (83%), but 14% care for two people and 3% are caring for at least three people. This breaks down to 58% of carers looking after someone with a physical disability, 20% look after someone with a sensory impairment, 13% care for someone with a mental health problem and 10% care for someone with dementia. These unpaid carers help save the government billions of pounds a year, which questions the politics of our health services and how this will continue to dramatically effect us over the coming years.

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The two actresses deliver a naturalistic performance, that informs us on the relatable urgency of how far one is willing to go for the person they love and care about. It also leaves us questioning our own personal commitments, and whether one could face such a laborious task in caring for someone who suffers an extreme mental disability, alone with limited facilities. Where family, love and dedication seems to be the underlining themes of the film, a darkness also clouds the film during moments of mental instability on Chelli’s part, resulting in her own theories of “fixing” Gabby’s situation by having a brief melt-down. This level of mental health can effect a carer due to their exhaustion and the helplessness they can sometimes feel when faced with tasks that they are inexperienced with. While this is not to say that all unpaid carers in the world find it difficult caring for someone, and that money becomes an easy solution, but there are people out there who do need the help and support that can make things a lot easier.

Next To Her is based on Liron Ben-Shlush’s own experience of having a mentally disabled sister, yet what we also learn from the film is that not everyone is trained as a professional carer – and looking back at the immense number of carers in the UK, this becomes worrying in that sense. She is forced to use her own methods in certain situations, although this can lead to the building of inner frustrations from both the carer and the cared if not implemented properly. This is highlighted in the film when Chelli bribes Gabby into doing something by giving her pitta bread and coffee.

This repetitive lifestyle is interrupted when Chelli brings a man into the equation. At this point, we start to see a shift in Chelli’s behavior patterns. While spending all of her time and energy on her sister, she neglects her own self-importance, from the minutiae of daily life, like getting her eyebrows threaded to much larger necessities such as sexual intimacy. While Zohar (Chellis boyfriend) moves in and disrupts the fabric of their intimate existence, his involvement also becomes a breather for Chelli as she is faced with an extra pair of hands to help out.

Besides from being an artistic achievement from director Asaf Korman, the film takes you on a roller-coaster of emotions yet is an essential cultural and educational tool that informs the viewer about the struggles carers have to face. Whether it be in Israel, the UK or other parts of the world, Next To Her is a leading cinematic force that teaches us the importance of love and care and the everyday situations people have to face that we may not always be aware of.

The film will screen at Curzon Bloomsbury March 9th with a special Q+A with the director and actors. You can book tickets here: http://www.curzoncinemas.com/bloomsbury/qas/next-to-her

To find out more about UK statistics and how to be involved in helping unpaid carers in the UK, go to: http://www.carersuk.org/

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Xenia – An Interview With Director Panos H. Koutras

Dare To Follow The White Rabbit?

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After the death of their mother, Dany, 16, leaves Crete to join his older brother, Odysseas, who lives in Athens. Born from an Albanian mother and a Greek father they never met, the two brothers, strangers in their own country, decide to go to Thessaloniki to look for their father and force him to officially recognize them. At the same time in Thessaloniki, is held the selection for the cult show, “Greek Star.” Dany dreams that his brother Odysseas, a gifted singer, could become the new star of the contest, in a country that refuses to accept them.

Why did you name the film Xenia?

“Xenia” could be translated as “hospitality”, though the meaning of this ancient Greek concept is much more complex. The Greek gods abided by this law, which commands us to honour and welcome strangers wherever they come from. Zeus, the father of all gods, is also sometimes referred to as Xenios Zeus, “Zeus the hospitable”. Hospitality was a major founding principle in Ancient Greece. Xenophobia is a relatively modern concept. Today, not only has Greece forgotten its duties towards foreigners, but it also deceives and misleads its people.

“Xenia” is also the name of a chain of luxury hotels built in the late fifties by great architects throughout the country. People were discovering tourism, it was a time of great economic prosperity in Greece. Today, more than 90% of these luxury hotels are abandoned and condemned.

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The quest of two brothers, a family feud, a character named Odysseas… Greek mythology and tragedy haunt Xenia and hold a prominent place in your films…

I am Greek, and in Greece, they teach you about Greek mythology from primary school. There is no getting away from it. Although to me, mythology has more to do with popular culture than with some noble academic discipline for the happy few.

Your films often verge on fantasy. The way you combine present-day realism (immigration, crisis…) with fantasy is pretty unique.

Fantasy is vital to me, it is a need, not an aesthetic choice. Reality and dream often get mixed up in my daily life. I don’t see why it could not be so in films. To me, it is the best way to come closer to reality. For Xenia, it seemed only natural to resort to fantasy to build Dany’s character. Traumatized children find often refuge in the realm of imagination.

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A gay club called “Fantastiko”, a lawyer named Antigone, the Greek Star… Xenia is constantly filled with humour, parody and irony, as an answer to tragedy. Will humour save Greece?

Will humour save Greece or the world? Humour holds reflection in itself. It provides a certain distance, and distance is an incredible luxury. I don’t think cinema is going to change the world. But I am sure it opens perspectives that can help us to see and understand. I totally subscribe to André Bazin’s statement, which has become a cliché but is still so true and beautiful: “Cinema is a window opened to the world”.