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REINVENTING MARVIN – CASTING THE FILM

How did you get the idea of offering her (Isabelle Huppert) the part of playing herself?

I thought it was interesting for Marvin to meet a woman from the theater, and Isabelle was an obvious choice from the earliest writing stage. It seemed self-evident. I didn’t know if she would say yes, but I couldn’t see anyone else in the role, which is small but very important – she literally reverses Marvin’s destiny. I think she was very touched by the film.

Tell us about Finnegan Oldfield and Jules Porier, the two actors who play Marvin.

I discovered Finnegan in “Bang Gang” by Eva Husson and “Les Cowboys” by Thomas Bidegain. I had him do several screen tests – with Gregory Gadebois especially – and didn’t hesitate long. Finnegan is an exceptional person. His story is exceptional, and his beauty is, too. I liked his indecisive relationship to femininity and virility, and the way he walks, almost like he’s levitating.

And I was completely love-struck by Jules Porier. I started looking for him way ahead of time. The role was complex, and the actor playing him had to be able to express a lot of emotions as well as a certain vulnerability – all with very little dialogue. He also had to have a certain physical resemblance to Finnegan. Jules was already in improvisation classes and responded on his own to the ad we posted on the internet. He really wanted to get into film work.

How did you prepare for the film with the two Marvins?

First by trying to build up their physical resemblance in the most subtle way possible: I dyed their hair red, I worked on their flesh tones and freckles, and I filmed them together a long time. Making the resemblance work was of the utmost necessity – the viewer shouldn’t have the slightest doubt about their identity.

Next, I asked Finnegan to prepare physically, with dance and gymnastic classes, to perfect the body awareness he already had naturally. He and I worked a lot on his character,

especially the scenes where he is alone in his student housing and the ones where he is on stage at the Bouffes du Nord. He needed direction – it reassured him.

One month before shooting began Jules, Grégory Gadebois, Catherine Salée and I left to do rehearsals in the Bijou family home. For four weeks, we tested the dialogue, worked out the violent scenes and did a lot of real searching. I had already used that method making “The Innocents” and I’ve become attached to it. It allows you to create connections between the actors, get right into the subject matter and explore possibilities without the obligation of producing results. It gives you freedom.

There are a lot of characters in the film.

And a lot of actors with important roles. “Marvin” probably has the most out of any film I’ve made.

You had already worked with Vincent Macaigne on “The Innocents,” but it’s your first time directing Grégory Gadebois, Catherine Salée and Catherine Mouchet.

More and more, I like mixing together well-known and lesser-known actors. I liked Grégory Gadebois so much that we are going to be on another film together very soon. And I love the friendliness Catherine Salée projects. Even though she doesn’t understand her son at all, I wanted the audience to feel empathy for Marvin’s mother.

As for Catherine Clément’s character, she couldn’t be a run-of-the-mill principal. She’s not your Mrs. Everywoman. I envisioned a few different actresses for the role, but when I met Catherine Mouchet, I couldn’t resist. She has a fire in her eye, the same one she had in Alain Cavalier’s “Thérèse.” With the poetry, uniqueness, and above all, mystery that she brings to the role, as small as it may be, she succeeds in making a powerful impact. She is a rare actress.

There are also many non-professional actors in “Marvin” – a lot of children.

Including the young girl who does a scene with Marvin, and who is really great. I was very attached to having them interact like that with the other actors. When I chose them and learned about their lives, they brought me even closer to my subject.

You filmed in the Vosges Mountains. Why that particular region?

I didn’t want to go to Northern France, where most films that touch upon social hardship are shot. I was somewhat familiar with Belfort, from making “Dry Cleaning.” Epinal wasn’t far from there. I like the landscapes in that region, their kind of raw beauty. It adds something to the film.

Tell us how it was shooting the film.

For reasons linked to Isabelle’s schedule, I began with the scene at the Bouffes du Nord. The next day, I was in the Vosges Mountains with the kids who bully Marvin in middle school. In two days, I had gone from one extreme to the other: the stylized version and the brutality of action. That immediately gave me the film’s keynote – the right chord to strike.

It was your first time working with Yves Angelo.

I didn’t want naturalistic cinematography. On the contrary, I wanted the image to be very subtly stylized. It was fairly complicated to define. Like me, Yves likes to explore and try different things.

Did you give him any references?

I told him about the trilogy in black and white by Bill Douglas [“My Childhood,” “My Ain Folk,” and “My Way Home” — Ed.], which takes place in a community of Scottish miners and has an extremely pure vision of childhood. I saw a truth in it which inspired us enormously. We had to avoid the traps of satire and pessimism.

Yves is an extremely cultured individual. You can talk with him forever about meaning. We opted for a 1.6 crop factor, a format no longer in use, to make the framing tighter and bring in more characters. We did quite subtle work on the color and the grain, which differs depending upon whether we are in Marvin’s past or present. We also chose to use older lenses, which are more “vulnerable” than the ones currently used.

We are with the character all the time.

We stick with him at every age. The story is really told from his point of view. Even when he is not on screen, we need to feel that he is both the subject and, in a certain sense, the author of the film we are watching. That requires special filming methods, such as shooting

hand-held, but done with finesse so that it fuses with the character, the framing always slightly offset. You don’t see that it’s slightly off – the viewer has to feel it in his bones.

There is a lot of invention in the film. Those projections on Marvin’s bedroom wall when he is writing, for example.

Yves and I were looking for a way to represent the imaginary, and the act of creation, without necessarily using the text. We imagined projecting images of Marvin’s childhood on the wall of his small room – images from different generations, which we feel like we are seeing a bit backwards – by filming them live, as if he were physically in contact with his childhood. The result borders on special effects but blends well with the structure of the film, which is constantly playing with poetic allegory. It was a very exciting experiment for us to try out.

With such a sophisticated structure, were there any particular issues in the edit?

I had carried the film’s structure around inside me during the writing and the filming. I would have been devastated if we had needed to re-edit everything according to a classic dramatic structure at that point. But except for a few adjustments, we remained very faithful to the original plan.

From pop music to opera, there is a lot of music in the film, but none of it is original.

The music had to give the film energy, rhythm and movement. I wanted it to be modern and varied, and correspond to Marvin’s generation. It works like a sugar rush: we should never at any time feel like Marvin is going to get bogged down.

“Marvin” is truly an ode to art and culture.

That is what guided me throughout the film, from the choice of subject to its final form.

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

Being Taboo in Tehran with director Ali Soozandeh

We go behind the scenes of  the incredible TEHRAN TABOO with writer / director with Ali Soozandeh

Pari, Elias and Sara in a Restaurant

Pari, Elias and Sara in a Restaurant

What is the origin of the project? Is it adapted from any existing material?

TEHRAN TABOO is an original screenplay, not based on a novel. The idea came to me a few years ago when I overheard a conversation between two young Iranian men in the subway who were talking about their experiences with girls. They mentioned a prostitute who brought her child along on the job. This made me think about themes on sexuality in Iran. I began researching social media and I explored my own memories of dealing with such issues when I was in my teens and twenties, and the story developed from there.

Was it always your intention to make an animation film?

The initial goal was not about making a rotoscoping animation film, but animation is my main professional background. I have also worked as a camera operator, photographer, painter, storyboard and VFX artist. The most important thing for me was to make the story work. For this project, the problem with shooting a live-action film was the location. Tehran was not an option, for obvious reasons. I watched some films which used Morocco or Jordan in place of Iran but this was not very convincing. After many discussions and tests, we concluded that the rotoscoping technique would be the best way to go. I chose that technique because it allows us to feel the characters more realistically despite the animation.

Tell us about your relationship to Iran.

I was born in Iran and lived there until I was 25. I’m the only one in my family who now lives abroad. I was nine years old when the Islamic revolution came. I felt the impact when boys and girls were suddenly separated in school. This was the rest of many shattering experiences. At 25, I emigrated and I have been living in Germany since 1995. Of course I still love Iran and my people, who are among the best in the world when it comes to enduring hardships. Research and rejection within our society for the film has given me a very different image of Iran. I think I understand better the circumstances, how complex the society is and why there is no simple answer. My relationship to Iran is much closer since making the film.

Babak smokes weed

Babak smokes weed

Tell us about the taboos referred to in the movie’s title.

By making this film, I wanted to break the silence that is common practice in Iran. I would say breaking taboos is a way to protest against the restrictions. In Iran, legal prohibitions and moral restrictions are the forces that shape everyday life. When sexuality is regimented strongly, people can become very industrious at working around the many taboos. Iranians are a creative people and learn quickly how to handle the prohibitions and work around the restrictions. We find places free from rules. To compensate for forced public fronts, private life can go out of bounds in regards to sex, alcohol, drugs. The lack of freedom can push people into living with double standards. TEHRAN TABOO focuses on these double standards used to circumvent sexuality in Iran. This creates many social complications, which occasionally manifest themselves in absurd situations, often comic.

Explain the atmosphere of secrecy and paranoia that is often experienced in the film.

In the middle class district where TEHRAN TABOO is set, restrictions come from people’s mindsets as much as the actual laws. Family honour is much more important in Iran than in Europe. Iran has a society where social contacts are very important and play a big role in achieving success. An individual and his or her whole family can lose their honour for an extramarital relationship, of which the slightest is forbidden by law. But being sent to prison and paying the fine are not nearly as detrimental as the police releasing such information to the public. This means all your relatives, all your neighbours find out about your crime. For you and your family, it means complete loss of honour.

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The women are crucial to the storyline in your film, what is the that women play in Iranian society.

The images Westerners have about Iran are always very distorted and full of clichés. They are characterized by stereotypes ranging from the exoticism of «1001 Nights» to the nuclear dispute to the fierce Islamic regime. But the reality seen on Tehran streets is much more diverse. Women in Iran are often more educated than men and have a more visible role in daily life than in many other Islamic countries, such as Saudi Arabia. But there is no one modern Iranian woman. There are many types, from religious fundamentalists to Western feminists. Of course, the latter have no means to express themselves in public. I was especially interested in the role that women play and must play in Iranian society’s game of virtues. They are the ones who suffer most. At the same time, women are expected to impose the rules and taboos that restrict their liberty onto the next generation.

Wat about your characters’ spirit and the tone they give to the film.

I believe people and their dreams are similar everywhere in the world. Only the circumstances are different. Any audience anywhere could probably identify with these characters. They all suffer in one way or another from the taboos of sexual relationships and the restrictions of Iranian society. They are victims, but also offenders at the same time. No one in the film is absolutely good or bad. A character can seem very offensive by his actions, but we can better understand his behaviour when we discover the backstory.

The film adopts in large parts the perspective of a small boy. Not wanting to make an overly dark film, I preferred to adopt the optimistic, hopeful and colourful perspective that children usually have on life. This and careful storyboarding enhance the tone and look of a graphic novel or comic book given by the rotoscoping technique.

behind the scenes 2

What was the technical process involved in the making of your film.

Upon finishing the storyboards and casting, we started shooting in green screen with the actors. During this stage, the work is with a normal film crew and camera in studio. The first step in the animation stage is pre-visualisation. We couldn’t go to the edit stage with only green screen footage. We needed to create placeholders for backgrounds. After the editing was done, we started the animation process. We created the final backgrounds (which are a combination of 3D-elements and drawn images) and the drawn characters separately. Finally, we combined all of the elements in the compositing stage, combining all the elements to provide the final image. It took 13 months just to shoot and complete the animation process, and more than 40 artists were involved.

Will you continue in the field of animation or do you see yourself working on live-action films?

I feel safe in the animation world, but I can imagine working on live-action films too. It depends strongly on the story. If live-action would be the better way to tell a story, I would not necessarily make an animated film.

Scorsese, Pio and making THE CIAMBRA

In the second part of our interview writer/director Jonas Carpignano talks about working with Scorsese, his young lead Pio Amato and the perils of shooting in The Ciambra.

A Ciambra clearly delineates the various tribes in Rosarno – the Italians, Romani and Africans – and shows how only Pio can move freely between them, which makes Pio’s relationship with Ayiva one of the hopeful elements in the film.

I fundamentally believe that besides the coercive political, economic and national structures, exposure to “foreign elements,” whether they be people, food, or music is the only way to dissolve the artificial boundaries between us. To me, Pio can move freely through the complex layers of his world because none of them are truly foreign to him. He has grown up in a Calabria that has now Africans, Bulgarians, Romanians, and so on. For him they are part of the social fabric of his world. That was not the case for the previous generation.

The same is true for Marta in Mediterranea. She doesn’t see Ayiva as an invader. For her, Ayiva is a worker like so many others. She didn’t know what Calabria was like before the arrival of the Africans. Both Pio and Marta see Ayiva as Ayiva. And while both films are realistic about the limits of this relationship, I think they both depict a path forward towards a more “integrated” Calabria.

Pio’s grandfather represents a way of life that has disappeared. There is a wonderful moment in the film in which Pio has a vision of his grandfather, what was the inspiration for this? 

History has a certain weight. We like to contextualize ourselves and to feel that we are part of something larger than ourselves, that we have roots and that we are the continuation of something that has come before us. This is true, to varying degrees, for all of us, but it is especially relevant in the Ciambra. Yet, if you really think about it, our connection with the past is more abstract that we would like to think.  I mean, we cannot physically occupy the past, we can never experience it for ourselves. The past is something that is constantly reimagined, often to justify who we are or who we would like to be.

The collective memory of a common past is part of what makes the Ciambra such an insular community, and I felt that it was important to show Pio’s connection with his past to better articulate his dilemma. I also wanted to convey this idea that his connection with the past wasn’t as concrete as his connection to his immediate surroundings. So, when confronted with the problem of how to cinematically render this, I tried to conjugate the abstraction of an imagined past with the realism of the film. The barley perceptible slow motion and the magical feeling of those scenes are an obvious departure from the rest of the film, but at the same time they are shot within the “rules” of the visual language we established for the whole film.

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Martin Scorsese

How did producer Martin Scorsese get involved? 

RT Features and Sikelia have created a fund to support first and second films. The producers at RT saw Mediterranea, they liked it, and they brought it to Martin and his producing partner Emma Tillinger Koskoff, who were immediately supportive and enthusiastic about the project.

The nature of making films in Gioia Tauro is such that everything outside feels very, very abstract compared to what is happening on the ground. I spent the last year knowing that Martin Scorsese was a producer of the film but it didn’t really sink in until we got to the editing process. I was lucky to have his notes on several versions of the cut, and his thoughts surely made an impact on the film. On a larger level, not only his work is massively influential, but his approach to and respect for the medium is what I particularly value.

How do you approach collaboration with crew? Do you prefer to work with the same crew from project to project? 

Yes. We’ve been making films in Gioia Tauro since 2011 and many of the people who were around at the beginning are still a major part of our filmmaking team. For example, my production designer Ascanio Viarigi has been part of the team from the very first short; one of the producers, Jon Coplon, had his first-ever filmmaking experience with A Chjana. My DP Tim Curtain was the operator of A Chjana and Mediterranea. It goes on and on. We are a tight knit crew for sure, and we’ve succeeded in creating a system for making films in a place where there was previously no film production. We all speak the same language now, and the basic grammar of our cinematic language is pretty well established.

Of course, people sometimes have scheduling conflicts and not everyone can be around for every film, but we always get people who have worked with someone that was part of the original crew. It’s great because the family keeps growing, but the vibe stays the same. Then there are also the people who see how we make films and steer clear of our unorthodox approach. It’s sort of a natural selection in that way.

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The Amato kids

What was the process for creating the look of the film?  What were some of the challenges in filming where you did?

While the building blocks were similar to the process for Mediterrana (and the shorts), the overall picture was very different and that came from the different perspective that the film inhabits. I always believe the film itself should feel like the main character. In that vein, Mediterranea feels very fragmented and closed in. The visual grammar is designed to mirror Ayiva’s perspective: he only has a fractured understanding of his surroundings and therefore the film only presents a fractured portrait of the place. In A Chjana, Pio’s grasp of his surroundings is more assured and, even though we used the same type of camera moves and editing style, the perspective is much larger, more comprehensive.

Shooting in the Ciambra was the challenge. It’s impossible to fully articulate what the Ciambra is like, but from the film I think you get an idea. It is a wild and unruly place where anything that can happen will happen, often ten or fifteen times over.  Luckily we knew this before going in, so we gave ourself time. We ended up shooting for 91 days.

I think if I had to boil it down, the hardest parts of making the film were waking Pio up in the morning, and directing the scenes that have tons of kids. I know they look all cute on screen, but when they don’t feel like working, man… I’ve got some outtakes and behind the scenes stuff that wouldn’t be out of place in Burden of Dreams.

Can you talk about the music? As always the score and the pop songs are on.

I love pop music. I got this question a lot while I was on the road with Mediterranea, and I’ll say now what I said then: pop music is the common denominator. No matter what language you speak, no matter where you are from, when the beat drops on a song that everyone knows, everyone is suddenly on the same wavelength. Everyone is moving to the same rhythm and I find that to be a major icebreaker when venturing into less familiar territories.

The fact that Pio and I dig a lot of the same music explains a great deal about our relationship. We were born and we grew up in very different circumstances, yet when we are listening to music Pio and I understand each other way better than he and someone born and raised in the same city would. Even though that someone speaks the same dialect, knows the same doctors, and had the same teachers – but they don’t share the same musical taste. So I find it important to the make the viewer listen to what the characters listen to. It’s a way in, a way to bring the audience closer to the people on the screen.

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Pio Amato

The film ends with a boy becoming a man, but not without a cost.  Do you consider it an optimistic ending? 

Optimistic? In my own life I tend to be a very optimistic person, but I try not to think about my films in terms of optimism or pessimism. In the end the goal is to give the viewer my take on what life is like where I live, and to leave them to decide for themselves how they feel about it. While my films are not “objective,” they don’t have a specific agenda, they are not a rallying cry for any specific cause. They are primarily designed to be character explorations. They are about characters who find themselves in conflicting and contradictory situations, who must try to cope with those situations as best as they can.

While this film touches on race relations, poverty, stereotyping, crime, etc., it is ultimately about Pio, about who he is and who I see him becoming. In life, I am optimistic about Pio. I love him very, very much and I appreciate who he is now and who he will become. At the same time I realise that every place imposes certain structures that are often hard to shed when you live within them.

I think that if confronted with the choice he has to make in regard to Ayiva, Pio would do exactly what he did in the film. What happens is obviously very, very sad, but in the end I don’t think that the viewer will dislike him. Good people do bad things, and when our backs are against the wall we usually resort to tribalism and embrace the burden of identity, which is frequently the easy way out. People in the Ciambra have done all kinds of things that are viewed and judged as “bad,” but they are not bad people and I think this film is a testament to that.

So just like with the end of Mediterranea there are those who will view this ending optimistically and those who will view it pessimistically. In the end I think it’s important that, while Pio does what he does, we see how hard it is for him. It takes a toll on him, and ultimately if there is a path to some form of solidarity between the Africans and the Gypsies it will be through someone like Pio. You can be pessimistic about the social architecture imposed on Pio or you can be optimistic about seeing how he feels at home, and made to feel at home, in the African community. Nobody is perfect, and I am personally relieved to know that Pio Amato is out and about, doing his thing.

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Director Jonas Carpignano

Find the first part of this interview on how Jonas met the Amato family on the Peccadillo Blog

All about “Buddy”, in Boys on Film 18: Heroes.

BUDDY LOVIN

A reunion with your ex-lover can be an emotional experience. An odd mix of contradictions. Intimacy and detachment. Awkwardness and familiarity. These casual meetings can have a tremendous impact on our lives. Especially if one still has feelings for the other. Something most of us can relate to. Therefore, it was very important to me that ‘Buddy’ would feel genuine and true.

In my quest to give the short film a sense of realism and believability I gave my actors tremendous freedom to move and improvise. In collaboration with my director of photography we created a shooting style that enabled our actors to move and act freely. The film was shot on location at a real STI clinic.

buddy waiting around

‘Buddy’ is based on an autobiographical event. What fascinated me about the story, is the inability of the main characters to communicate, despite sitting directly next to each other. The location of this reunion is the waiting room of an STI clinic. Probably one of the most uncomfortable places to be sitting with your ex. Surrounded by nervous pacers bracing for bad news. An atmosphere of tension and tediousness.

Seeing his ex boyfriend in such a vulnerable position, our main character cannot deny his feelings anymore. By being part of this very intimate moment, he feels there might still be hope for the two of them getting back together. There is something beautiful about losing the reality of the situation in favor of the possibility of love. Most of us have been there, I think.

‘Buddy’ is about accepting the truth, no matter how hurtful it may be. And about letting go the one you love.

Niels Bourgonje Director

buddies being buddies

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

There’s more to life…in conversation with Blandine Lenoir.

I GOT LIFE! writer/director Blandine Lenoir talks film-making, female solidarity and real women:

Aurore Blog

Tell us how this film came to be?

As it often happens, the subject arose from personal experience. I was extremely anxious about turning forty, and didn’t understand why I was so afraid to grow old whilst my male friends didn’t share this concern at all. I quickly realized that women in their fifties weren’t represented in cinema, how can you possibly feel like reaching an age that tends to be invisible? I saw many women around me ending up in a terrible loveless solitude; incredible, beautiful and talented women whose exes had been able to make new lives for themselves. I wanted to pay homage to these women, give them – and myself – the desire to grow old. Aurora also a way of healing my own anxieties.

The heroine Aurore accumulates difficulties: she lives alone, is in a precarious financial situation and is going through the menopause…

But she also takes her life in her own hands. She is a strong character who, when confronted with discrimination, discovers solidarity with the women around her, which makes her realise that anything is still possible. As always, I wanted to tell this story with humour, trying to laugh about things that aren’t really funny – there’s so much there to say.

From the very first frames you tackle menopause head on, it stars with Aurore having a conversation with Lucy, her youngest daughter.

I like tackling taboo subjects. The bond between generations, which I already broached in Zouzou, my first feature film, is very important to me. It’s important to remember the way our mothers and grandmothers were raised. Many things have changed, of course, women vote, work, use contraception, but the same glaring inequalities still prevail today, and there is even a sense of backlash in certain instances.

Aurore is really in a period of personal deconstruction/reconstruction. She loves without knowing if it’s requited, her youngest daughter leaves home…
The period she’s going through reminds me of a sort of counterpart to adolescence. She discovers a newfound freedom to which she isn’t accustomed and which manifests itself at first as a feeling of loss. Movies often show parents relieved to see their adult children finally leave home, but what I see around me is much more often friends who are upset over their children leaving home. Before feeling once again that they have time for themselves and new things to pursue, these women have to face a very deli- cate transition.

I Got Life Girls

Aurore is also given a very rough time professionally: there’s that new boss who has chosen a nickname for her against her will, how can you show humiliation at work in just a few scenes?
Stripping someone of their identity seemed to me the worst thing you could force someone to be subjected to. If you have even the slightest bit of dignity or self-esteem, it’s unbearable. Workplace suffering is a terrible reality, but Aurore is a fighter, she is never a victim.

Skits that are very powerful, for example when Aurore is a ‘cleaning operative,’ and has a conversation with a colleague who brings up discrimination.
It wasn’t an easy part of the script to perform. For this scene to exist, the character had to immediately be whole and present. I called upon a non-professional actor– a Tunisian beautician who had told me once that she dreamed of being in a film. She’s a very sharp woman with a strong accent. I knew that she could easily embody the character and deliver this text.

We can sense an unbelievable solidarity between all the women in the film.
I have great faith in feminine solidarity: A solidarity that carries me throughout all of life’s stages without fail. In my mind it was of the utmost importance that every age be represented in the film.

When referring to stages of life, you integrate excerpts from an interview with the feminist anthropologist and ethnologist Françoise Hériter who explains that not too long ago, when a woman was going through the menopause, her life was considered over.
Just as I had quoted Christine Delphy [French feminist and sociologist] in Zouzou, I absolutely wanted to pay homage to Françoise Héritier in Aurora. This was made possible thanks to footage that Patric Jean agreed to give me, excerpts from his DVD, conversations with Françoise Héritier. Like Thérèse Clerc, Maya Surduts, and Benoîte Groult, all recently deceased, these women belong to a generation which contributed enormously to the advancement of political thought and feminism.

Did you immediately have Agnès Jaoui in mind for the role of Aurore?


I wanted an actress whose face had been familiar to the public for a long time and I also wanted and actress who was comfortable with her age and enjoyed all the advantages that it implies. Whilst being more mature, Agnès is extremely feminine and attractive. It was important for my heroine not to resemble an eternal adolescent. Agnès immediately took a liking to the Aurore character – she agreed within two days.

AJ Aurore

I GOT LIFE! is in cinemas from 23rd March. Find out more and get your tickets here.

 

 

 

It’s All About Frankie from BEACH RATS

Director Eliza Hittman and star Harris Dickinson discuss the character of Frankie in BEACH RATS.

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Frankie doesn’t really know where he’s headed or what he wants, but he does know what kind of behavior is off-limits in the heteronormative culture he’s grown up in. The web is his only real outlet to explore his attraction to other men. As Hittman describes it, “Frankie’s testing the waters. He’s thinking of the internet as being his channel to a world that might exist a few subways stops away, one that is more adventurous and progressive.” After his father’s passing, Frankie takes the next step and begins hooking up with some of the men he meets online.

Meanwhile, Frankie’s relationship with Simone progresses in fits and starts. Simone, who is also 19, is cut from different cloth than Frankie’s regular companions, Alexie, Frankie and Nick. She has a regular job and is conscientious about her responsibilities. She perceives and empathizes with Frankie’s emotional pain and is willing to forgive his faults, up to a point. “Simone is more aspirational than the men in film; she has a sense of purpose,” says Hittman. “She might want to make it work with Frankie, but in the end she’s capable of letting it go.”

Hittman didn’t write BEACH RATS as a coming-out narrative or a story about someone coming to terms with their sexuality. “Frankie’s an inarticulate 19-year-old who is slowly coming to consciousness about who he is,” she remarks. “For me, what was at the crux of the character was that he kind of knows but doesn’t know. He’s clinging onto his indecision; His answer for everything is ‘I don’t know.’ I think that’s very typical for a guy that age who is kind of incapable of saying anything about how he’s feeling.”

In trying to navigate his competing desires, Frankie makes decisions that lead to unintended and ultimately terrible consequences. Hittman was careful to show that when violence does erupt, it is spontaneous, a long-brewing fury that has found its escape valve.

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Hittman spent approximately two years developing and writing the screenplay for BEACH RATS after receiving a fellowship from the nonprofit film foundation Cinereach (BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD, TEENAGE, SALERO), which had previously helped support the distribution of IT FELT LIKE LOVE. To the production executives at Cinereach, Hittman’s screenplay affirmed the promise shown by IT FELT LIKE LOVE and they decided to take on the project as a Cinereach original production. Says production head Andrew Goldman, “Eliza is a bold and insightful filmmaker. She has a unique ability to create a cinematic world wrought with complexities and nuances that few storytellers can capture on film. BEACH RATS is a big leap forward for her and we’re so thrilled to be part of her continued growth and success.”

Brad Becker-Parton and Drew Houpt joined Cinereach’s Goldman and Paul Mezey to produce BEACH RATS and began the casting process in the spring of 2016. The role of Frankie was not an easy one to cast, given the film’s psychological subtlety, sexual candor and frontal nudity. The production found its Frankie in a young English actor, Harris Dickinson, who makes his feature debut in BEACH RATS.

Dickinson says his interest in BEACH RATS was piqued by the email from his representatives in Los Angeles. “They said that screenplay was a bit rough-and-tumble and I might not like it. Those are usually the scripts that I want to read, because they’re unconventional,” he laughs. “I started reading and I loved it straightaway. I felt the tone of it, I felt the pace. The character jumped off the page for me — I was feeling it and reading as Frankie. It’s rare when something like that happens and it makes you really enthusiastic about the project. You want to be that character and you want to tell that story.”

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He appreciated the observational nature of the script. “It’s not a typical problem-and resolution narrative. It’s an honest and raw look at a period in someone’s life,” the actor remarks. “We start the film and we’re introduced to the fact that Frankie’s father has cancer. It’s a time for Frankie where nothing is secure, nothing is solid in his own head. His father dying is a weird thing for him. He doesn’t really show much emotion in the script or in the film, he doesn’t react to it in the traditional way. A lot of the time, someone is a closed book and there are these brief moments where the book opens for a slight second and you see the underlying sadness, the underlying hate and fear and insecurity.”

Dickinson wasted no time making an audition tape, which made a powerful impression on Hittman. “The first thing that stood out to me was his very deep voice. But then he had this sort of gangly, teenager body and very intriguing eyes,” she recalls. “Harris’ acting was very subtle and didn’t telegraph anything that was internal. He didn’t transform, he didn’t take it to melodrama. He had a natural sense of rhythm and understanding of the dialogue. It was clear that he was a leading man and that he could carry the weight of the film on his shoulders.”

Dickinson’s upbringing in suburban London gave him a certain insight into the environment he would inhabit as Frankie. Says Hittman, “Harris is from the outer edges of London, which is not that different from the outer edges of Brooklyn and Queens and there are a lot of similar class issues. He understood the world perfectly. It was like he knew these guys without ever having been to New York,” she comments. She also felt affinity for his approach to acting. “Harris is very intuitive. He doesn’t want to talk in depth about the character. He wants to focus more on the behavior. He understands that acting is an act of doing. He’s a very serious and thoughtful young actor, very mature and focused.”

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Read about the origins of BEACH RATS here.

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.    

 

Tom of London?

TL Blo

 

In an exclusive interview with Durk Dehner, co-founder and president of the Tom of Finland Foundation, we heard plenty of insightful tales about the gay icon where it was revealed he even came close to becoming Tom of London. By the late 1960s Tom (real name Touko Laaksonen)  had made plenty of visits to the UK capital and thrown himself into the emerging underground leather scene, one which he had heavily influenced through his erotic art. Along with friend and leather club entrepreneur Felix Jones, he embraced a fetish flourishing London and was close to permanently sharpening his pencil in the big smoke.  However, restrictions in the British postal service proved too invasive and would have called a halt on the artists already well established homoerotic mailing operation.

 

TOUKO LAAKSONEN (PEKKA STRANG) MAINOSMIEHENA BY JOSEF PERSSON

 

Touko was distributing his work way before the internet, PayPal or buy-with-one-click even existed. He would create a printed catalogue with around 40-50 of his recent drawing and distribute around the world to an established and trusted network. Replying with a list of their selected prints, clients would include payment often in their own currency leaving the artist to act as Bureau de Change. But it worked; his macho fetish drawings were making their way across the globe, almost on an unconscious mission to start revolution and influence gay culture.

 

DOUG (SEUMAS SARGENT) JA TOUKO LAAKSONEN (PEKKA STRANG) JA JACK

 

Dehner first clasped his eyes on a Touko drawing in a leather bar called The Spike in New York City and like most reactions to the stimulating art, it hauled his attention.  Whilst working as a male model, being photographed by no other than Bruce Webber, Durk wrote a fan letter to Touko which was the origin of a yearlong pen pals friendship with the pair eventually meeting in 1978 just before the artist’s first US exhibition.  Through building a treasured relationship which crossed boundaries from professional, personal and intimate, together  spread the fetish word, steadily building the Tom of Finland brand which today lends its name to condoms, oven mitts, bath towels and coffee (oh and cock rings, nipple clamps and handcuffs).

We’re sure there’s plenty more stories which we’ll never know about the man behind the giant graphite gentiles but we’re certainly more educated than when we first caught a glimpse of those fine Finnish exports.

Tom of Finland is released UK wide from 11th August, book tickets http://www.tomoffinlandthemovie.co.uk/

50 Years What to Watch

50 Years What to Watch.  It’s proving to be a Summer of Love for the LGBTQ+ community. Not just with this being pride season across the country, but also this being a significant year for LGBT history being the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act established in 1967, which legalised sex between two consenting men above the age of 21 in England and Wales.

Queer lives have been reflected on our screens over the decades in both positive and not-so-positive lights. This anniversary is the perfect opportunity to watch  the groundbreaking films and TV shows that presented queer lives in all their glory over the past 50 years and beyond. BBC and Channel 4 have also commissioned a range of fascinating documentaries and drama series centred around the 50 year anniversary. Keep reading for a run down of what’s on this summer and 50 years what to watch suggestions;

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BFI: Gross Indecency

The BFI is screening a series of classic films, TV and archive material throughout July and August that address the more problematic on-screen relationships with queer portrayal on British film and TV. This includes The Leather Boys, Sunday Bloody Sunday and Edward II.

 

Picturehouse Cinemas: Criminal Acts A Charged Past

Launching with The Naked Civil Servant, Picturehouse have programmed a season of landmark British film including Andrew Haigh’s Weekend on 18 July. Since Peccadillo released it in 2011, it has become a modern classic, winning many awards and international critical acclaim, as well as launching Andrew’s meteoric career along with his two leading men, Tom Cullen and Chris New.

 

Channel 4: 50 Shades of Gay

At the forefront of LGBT programming in the 80s and 90s, Channel Four has a series of documentaries available on All4 that look at the social and cultural changes of the past 50 years including Rupert Everett presented 50 Shades of Gay.

BBC: Gay Brittania

BBC ONE: Man in an Orange Shirt – Broadcasting soon

A two-part drama about two gay love stories from across generations written by best-selling novelist Patrick Gale and directed by Michael Andrews. It Stars Julian Morris, David Gyasi, Tommy Bastow, alongside Vanessa Redgrave and Frances De La Tour.

Accompanying this are a documentary on Patrick, What Gay Did For Art which looks at the contribution of LGBT people to British culture and Is It Safe To Be Gay in UK?  a hard hitting investigation into the alarming rise in homophobic attacks.

BBC TWO: Against the Law – 26 July

Against The Law,starring Daniel Mays, Charlie Creed-Miles and Mark Gatiss, tells the true story of Peter Wildeblood’s affair with a handsome serviceman that led to him being jailed during the 1950s. The drama is interwoven with real-life testimonies from men who lived through those pre-1967 years, experiencing jail and even subjected to aversion therapy.

BBC THREE: Queer Britain

Presenter Riyadh Kalif, delves into issues that still face the LGBTQ+ such as faith, body image, homelessness, porn and racism in thisbreezy BBC Three series. Available on iPlayer.

There’s plenty to entertain, stimulate and provoke your viewing pleasures this summer, far more than we could fit on this list of 50 years what to watch, so if you have anything else you think we should include get in touch on Facebook or Twitter