“This is a father daughter movie. It’s about being human, about being a parent, and having a family with issues. Those themes aren’t period. They’re timeless.”

Ewan McGregor makes his directorial debut and stars in the outstanding American Pastoral, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning Philip Roth’s novel, following an all American family across several decades, as their idyllic existence is shattered by social and political turmoil that will change the fabric of American culture forever.

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In a post-war era booming with optimism and innocence, the legendary high-school athlete Seymour “the Swede” Levov (Ewan McGregor) marries an alluring Miss New Jersey (Jennifer Connelly) , inherits his father’s multi-million dollar glove factory, and starts a life of civic and domestic bliss, raising his beloved daughter Merry in a big country house in the serene, upscale neighborhood of Old Rimrock, New Jersey.

By all appearances, the Swede is a pillar of his community, a paragon of the “greatest generation” – admired as a self-reliant businessman, charitable boss and devoted family man, and gifted with an unerring belief in all the promises of the American Dream.

In the 1960s—amid the unrest fueled by the unpopular Vietnam War—an angry, and increasingly radical, 16 year old Merry (Dakota Fanning)becomes the lead suspect in an astonishing act of deadly violence in the Levov’s halcyon rural town, upending her father and his vision of the world.

Determined to come to grips with what has happened to his loved ones, the Swede goes on a quest not only to find Merry – now on the run as a fugitive from justice – but to restore the Levov family and his own heart.

American Pastoral is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel that chronicles the profound changes in the last half-century of American life, by Philip Roth.

Phillip Roth

Philip Roth

The adaptation focuses in on the Swede’s search for his daughter and the resonant themes of uncertainty, shifting fates, family and loss, that took the filmmakers nearly thirteen years to bring to the screen.

Lakeshore Entertainment producer Gary Lucchesi reflects on what drove him to stay on course throughout the long but steadfast creative process: “I have always wanted to make a father daughter story. I read the script, I cried, and I knew I had to make the movie one way or another,” he recalls. “I saw in it the story of a man who has an uncompromising love for his daughter through thick and thin. I love dramas about human beings that you can relate to and experiences that you can imagine. That’s what really turns me on as a filmmaker. Every now and then, you get a chance to do something like this that you covet—so you give it everything you have.”

Producer Tom Rosenberg was equally moved by this portrait of a seemingly picture-perfect American family, led by a decent man, yet teetering on a foundation that is cracking perilously beneath their feet.

“Swede spends his entire life trying to get Merry back and I don’t think he ever gives up. Nothing could stop him,” he says. The production itself had to have a sense of resilience. “This was a tough one to get made,” Rosenberg concludes, “but it was worth it.”

The Adaptation

John Romano

John Romano

Screenwriter John Romano, who holds a Ph.D. in Literature and has taught English at Columbia University, was drawn to a story that not only spans one of the most dizzying periods of transition in American life—from the postWWII positivity and conformity of the late 1940s through the uncorked turmoil and disruption of the 1970s—but also moves between huge historical events and their entwining with the most private family moments.

“I knew the book well and thought it was the best book about the sixties written from the perspective of the Vietnam War revolution on the home front,” recalls Romano.

“Roth was looking at the family and the psychological roots of youth revolt,” stated Romano. “His focus, and thus our focus, is on the human experience.”

Romano also knew he faced a gauntlet in trying to balance his urge to be faithful to Roth’s distinctive language and observatory powers with the narrative drive of cinematic storytelling. I approached the adaptation with a literary understanding of the novel and felt it was important to be faithful,” he says, “because Roth is brilliantly meandering in his writing, but a movie needs to grab you by the throat and keep going. There are some structural changes but I felt it was important to be as faithful as possible to what Roth created.” Romano also highlighted the characters and the relationships in his adaptation. “This is a father daughter movie. It’s about being human, about being a parent, and having a family with issues. Those themes aren’t period. They’re timeless.”

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Ewan McGregor – the two-time Golden Globe nominee known for his wide-ranging roles in films spanning from the innovative and edgy Trainspotting, Velvet Goldmine and Moulin Rouge to the acclaimed dramas Ghost Writer and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen — was attached to play the central character of the Swede in American Pastoral long before signing on to direct the film.

Ultimately, it was his love of the material that led to his decision to take a leap into his feature film directorial debut. “I was very moved by the script and I was completely taken by the Swede and the study of father daughter relationships,” he says.

“He’s a man who believes very much in living his life the right way. He’s a product of the postwar era and he absolutely embodies the idea that there was once a seemingly attainable American Dream. In a sense, the Swede is the American Dream and his daughter Merry is the ‘60s.”

McGregor knew this was a rare opportunity. “I’ve always wanted to direct, but I didn’t want to just direct for the sake of it,” explains McGregor. “I wanted to have a story that I was compelled to tell.” Recalls Gary Lucchesi: “It wasn’t as crazy as Ewan thought it was because we had already gotten to know him and we knew his passion for the project and also had really come to see him as an artist. Tom and I sat down with Ewan and had long conversations with him, and at a certain point we realized this was the director we were going to bet on. It was one of the best decisions we made.”

Adds Rosenberg: “He was meticulous, dogged and he put everything he had behind it. I’m very big on preparation, but he exceeded anything that I could imagine, so that was impressive. He also brought a great rapport with the actors. He had their total confidence and knew how to deal with their various personalities very well.”

Screenwriter John Romano says of his collaboration with McGregor, “Ewan understood Roth’s novel so well that when we began to collaborate, he pushed me even more towards the meaning of what Roth had written. The best example I can give is that the movie begins with a line that wasn’t there until Ewan became the director.”

Jennifer Connelly adds: “He’s a joy to be around and to work with. He’s so kind and generous and had a really nice way of communicating with everyone. He made a lot of time for his actors, we had a great rehearsal and very constructive rehearsal period.”

As he was prepping production, McGregor was also working to get under the skin of the film’s multifaceted and unravelling lead character. The role of Swede Levov is a particularly demanding one, beginning with the challenge posed by spanning a man’s entire adult life, from youth to old age.

In addition, McGregor faced another daunting task: bringing out the symbolic side of Roth’s iconic American athlete, industrialist and father, while also making the Swede distinctly real and human. For though the Swede never stops trying to be the upstanding man of American myths, the trajectory of his life plummets him in the opposite direction. “Throughout his life, Swede always does what people would like him to do, what’s expected of him. He never loses his moral beliefs in right and wrong. But in a way, it’s his downfall,” concludes McGregor. “Dawn, his wife, goes on to have another life. But the Swede is always looking to keep things together, to make things right again.”

Mozart’s first operatic masterpiece

Local opera lovers are in for a treat to watch South African-born soprano, Elza van den Heever, who stars in the virtuosic role of Princess Elettra in Mozart’s Idomeneo, of love and vengeance following the Trojan War, and will will be screened in Nouveau and select Ster-Kinekor cinemas from Saturday, 29 April, for limited screenings.

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Elza van den Heever is joined by a stellar ensemble including Matthew Polenzani in the title role of the King of Crete, Idomeneo, with Nadine Sierra as Illia, Alice Coote as Idamante and Alan Opie as Arbace. This classic production from Jean–Pierre Ponnelle, which has its first Met revival in over a decade this season, is under the baton of the Metropolitan Opera’s famed Music Director Emeritus James Levine. He also conducted the first Met staging of this opera in 1982.

“Here is the Met at its best. … [James] Levine conducts, drawing a refined and affecting performance from the great Met orchestra and chorus and an impressive cast” (New York Times).

Matthew Polenzani gives a “poignant, gripping performance” (New York Times) as the king torn by a rash vow; mezzo-soprano Alice Coote “exudes noble passion and dignity” (Financial Times) in the trouser role of his noble son Idamante; soprano Nadine Sierra sings “with expressivity and tenderness” (New York Times) as the princess Ilia; and soprano Elza van den Heever “triumphs” (New York Times) as the volatile Elettra, who loves Idamante to the bounds of madness.

“Vocally and dramatically, the role is a tough assignment. The soprano Elza van den Heever triumphs in it. This Elettra has a very fragile majesty. When she gets her way, she turns vulnerable, singing with sensuality and warmth. But when crossed, she erupts with unhinged intensity and steely sound, as in her furious final aria” – New York Times

“With one aria, Elza van den Heever steals the Met’s Idomeneo…” – Broadway World

The opera was first performed at the Court Theatre (now the Cuvilliés Theatre) in Munich in 1781, conducted by the 25-year-old Mozart and starring the great 18th-century tenor Anton Raaff.

Idomeneo is set in Crete, about 1200 BC. Helen, the wife of King Menelaus of Greece, has been carried off by Paris, son of King Priam of Troy, triggering the Trojan War.

As she is also the sister-in-law of Agamemnon, several Greek kings allied with him have joined forces to lay siege to the city of Troy. One of these kings is Idomeneo (Idomeneus) of Crete.

Having been away for many years, Idomeneo has, prior to his victorious return, sent ahead of him some Trojan captives, including Priam’s daughter, the Princess Ilia.

On her arrival in Crete she is rescued from a storm by Idomeneo’s young son, Idamante, who has ruled as regent in his father’s absence.

The two have fallen in love. Princess Elettra, daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, also loves Idamante. After Elettra and her brother, Oreste, killed their mother and her lover, she was forced to flee their home in Argos and has taken refuge in Crete.

Screening times for Idomeneo at Nouveau (Rosebank Mall, JHB; Brooklyn Mall, PTA; SK Gateway Commercial, DBN; and V&A Waterfront, CT) and select Ster-Kinekor cinemas are as follows: 29 April at 17:00; 30 April at 14:30; 02 and 10 May at 11:30; and 09 May at 18:00. All the ticket discounts and benefits offered to members of the Ster-Kinekor loyalty programmes, SK Club, Discovery Vitality and Edgars Club, do apply for the Met: Live in HD screenings, where applicable.

The running time of Idomeneo is 4hrs, including two intervals.

For more information and to make bookings for Idomeneo, part of The Met: Live in HD season, visit www.sterkinekor.com. Follow us on Twitter @nouveaubuzz and on Facebook at Cinema Nouveau. For information, call Ticketline on 0861-Movies (668 437).

The final two productions in the current season are Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin (20 May), and Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier (10 June).

”At this time in my life I continually think about — wonder about — faith and doubt, weakness, and the human condition, and these are the very themes that Endo’s book touches upon in a such a direct way.”

The screen adaptation of Martin Scorsese’s Silence, the Academy Award winning director’s long anticipated film about faith and religion, began in the late 1980’s with his writing collaborator Jay Cocks, and filming began in January 31, 2015 in Taipei, Taiwan at the city’s CMPC film studio.

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It  tells the story of two 17th century Portuguese missionaries who undertake a perilous journey to Japan to search for their missing mentor, Father Christavao Ferreira, and to spread the gospel of Christianity, and is based on Shusaku Endo’s 1966 award-winning novel, examining the spiritual and religious question of God’s silence in the face of human suffering.

Silence-00450The film follows the young missionaries, Father Sebastian Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Francisco Garupe (Adam Driver) as they search for their missing teacher and mentor and minister to the Christian villagers they encounter who are forced to worship in secret. At that time in Japan, feudal lords and ruling Samurai were determined to eradicate Christianity in their midst; Christians were persecuted and tortured, forced to apostatize, that is, renounce their faith or face a prolonged and agonizing death.

The Journey Begins

Martin Scorsese was born in 1942 in New York City, and was raised in the downtown neighborhood of Little Italy, which later provided the inspiration for several of his films.  Scorsese earned a BS degree in film communications in 1964, followed by an MA in the same field in 1966 at New York University’s School of Film. During this time, he made numerous prize-winning short films, including The Big Shave.

He is one of the most prominent and influential filmmakers working today. He has directed critically acclaimed, award-winning films including Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Last Temptation of Christ, Goodfellas, Gangs of New YorkThe AviatorThe Departed which garnered an Academy Award for Best Director and Best Picture, Shutter Island, and Hugo for which he won the Golden Globe for Best Director. He was recognized for his latest film, The Wolf of Wall Street by receiving DGA, BAFTA and Academy Award nominations for Best Director, as well as a Golden Globe and Academy Award nomination for Best Film.

Scorsese is the founder and chair of The Film Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and protection of motion picture history. At the 2007 Cannes Film Festival Scorsese launched the World Cinema Foundation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and restoration of neglected films from the around the world, with special attention paid to those developing countries lacking the financial and technical resources to do the work themselves. Scorsese is the founder and chair.

In 1988, at a special screening in New York for the city’s religious leaders of his latest film The Last Temptation of Christ, Martin Scorsese made the acquaintance of Archbishop Paul Moore. At the event Moore, who was nearing the end of his tenure as the Episcopal Bishop of New York, presented the director with a copy of Shusaku Endo’s historical novel Silence. Silence had been published in Japan in 1966 where it was highly praised, the subject at the time of the most intense, thorough and rigorous analysis. When an English edition of the book appeared some years later, the novel’s reputation as a profound examination of, and meditation upon, religious themes was further enhanced.

The first time he read the book, Silence made a huge impression on Martin Scorsese – it seemed to speak to him personally.

“The subject matter presented by Endo in his book has been in my life since I was very, very young, “Scorsese says. “I was raised in a strong Catholic family and was very much involved in religion. The bedrock I still have is the spirituality of Roman Catholicism I was immersed in as a child, spirituality that had to do with faith.”

Scorsese says that while reading the book he was astonished to discover it confronted the very deep and profound issues about Christianity that, as he puts it, “I still cope with constantly.

“At this time in my life I continually think about — wonder about — faith and doubt, weakness, and the human condition, and these are the very themes that Endo’s book touches upon in a such a direct way.”

The Novel

From the first time he read Silence, Scorsese was determined to make a movie of the book. Shusaku Endo’s novel Silence (Chinmoku), set in Japan in the era of Kakase Kirishitan (the ‘hidden Christians”), has been hailed as a supreme literary achievement and described by critics as one of the twentieth century’s finest novels.  Published in 1966, Silence received Japan’s prestigious Tanazaki Prize. It was translated into English in 1969, and since appeared in various languages throughout the world.

Endo_Shusaku

Shusaku Endo

Silence became an instant bestseller in Japan, having sold over 800,000 copies. It takes as its starting off point an historical Church scandal that had wide reverberations– the defection in Japan of a Jesuit Superior, Father Christovao Ferreira, who renounced his religion, became a Buddhist scholar and took a Japanese wife.

Jesuits, members of the Society of Jesus, today form the largest religious order of priests and brothers in the Catholic Church. Historically engaged in evangelization and apostolic ministry, Jesuits are committed to doing good works in education (founding schools and universities), intellectual research, cultural pursuits, human rights and social justice. Ignatius Loyola founded the order in the 1530s and composed the Spiritual Exercises to help others follow the teachings of Jesus Christ.  In 1534, Ignatius Loyola, Francis Xavier and their followers took vows of chastity, poverty and obedience to the Pope.

In Endo’s novel, two of Father Chistavao Ferreira’s students, Father Sebastian Rodrigues and Father Francsico Garupe, travel from Portugal to the Jesuit University in Macao and then Japan where they place themselves in great danger searching for the truth about Ferreira’s mysterious defection as they minister to the faithful in Japan, the hidden Christians who worship and practice their faith in fear for their lives.

Endo, one of the few Japanese authors to write from a Christian point of view, was born in Tokyo in 1923. He was raised in Kobe by his mother and an aunt, and baptized into the Church at age 11. His university studies were interrupted by the Second World War, and he worked for a time in a munitions factory. After the war, he studied medicine and moved to France. Throughout his life, Endo struggled with severe respiratory ailments, including tuberculosis, and endured long periods of hospitalization.

Endo began writing novels in 1958, almost all concerned with Christian themes, including A Life of Jesus, inviting comparison between him and Christian writers in the west, notably Graham Greene. Most of Endo’s characters struggle with complex, moral dilemmas, and their choices often lead to mixed or tragic results. Graham Greene called Endo “one of the finest writers alive.”

Silence is considered Endo’s masterpiece and has been the subject of intense analysis and debate in the years since publication. Garry Wills, the Pulitzer Prize winning author and historian, compares Silence to Greene’s The Power and The Glory. He writes that whereas Graham’s hero “maintains a priestly ministry despite his own unworthiness…Endo explores a more interesting paradox. His priest defects, not from weakness but from love, to spare Christian converts the persecution mounted against them.”

Endo himself believed the book’s great appeal in his own country among Japanese leftist students was that they saw in the story of Rodrigues’s struggles with the Samurai the more recent struggles of the Japanese Marxists of the 1930s who were tortured by Japanese authorities and forced to commit ‘tenko’ – an ideological ‘about face’ or conversion.

Silence has recently been called a novel of our time. Paul Elie writing in the New York Times Sunday magazine says, “It locates in the missionary past so many of the religious matters that vex us in the post-secular moment – the claims to universal truths in diverse societies, the conflict between a profession of faith and the expression of it, and the seeming silence of God while believers are draw into violence on his behalf.”

The relevance of Silence continues to reverberate.

The Screenplay

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Scorsese’s great regard for Silence increased with further readings. As he had already begun working on a screen adaptation with his writing collaborator Jay Cocks in the late 1980s, he planned it as his next film project.

Fate, however, had a different scenario in store.

To begin with Scorsese says, “I wasn’t happy with the draft we came up with.” He also encountered other problems, he says, not the least of which was finding the funding for such an undertaking, and so he put the screenplay aside.

In the ensuing years, however, the director spent a great deal of time pondering the book’s themes and characters, continuing to work off on and off with Cocks on subsequent drafts of their screenplay. Overall it took more than fifteen years for the duo to complete what they both felt was a successful and workable script, one that incorporated and gave expression and life to the novel’s deepest and most profound meanings.

A forward Scorsese penned for a 2007 English edition of the novel gives insight into not only what these themes mean for the director but also a sense of what Scorsese’s film of the book would express.

Scorsese wrote, “Christianity is based on faith but if you study its history you see that it’s had to adapt itself over and over again, always with great difficulty, in order that faith might flourish. That’s a paradox, and it can be an extremely painful one: on the face of it believing and questioning are antithetical. Yet I believe they go hand in hand. One nourishes the other. Questioning may lead to great loneliness but if it co-exists with faith – true faith, abiding faith – it can end in the most joyful sense of communion. It’s this painful paradoxical passage – from certainty to doubt to loneliness to communion that Endo understands so well.

“Sebastian Rodrigues (the central character) represents what you might call ‘the best and the brightest of the Catholic faith.”

Scorsese labels him a ‘man of the church’ as described in Bernanos’s Diary of a Country Priest and writes that “Rodrigues would most certainly have been one of those men, stalwart, unbending in his will and resolve, unshakeable in his faith—if he had stayed in Portugal, that is.

“Instead he is placed in the middle of another, hostile culture during a late stage in a protracted effort to rid itself of Christianity. Rodrigues believes with all his heart he will be the hero of a Western story that we all know very well: the Christian allegory, a Christ figure, with his own Gesthemane –a patch of wood– and his own Judas, a miserable wretch named Kichijiro.”

Indeed Judas, who Scorsese calls Christianity’s greatest villain, embodies what the filmmaker refers to one of the most pressing dilemmas in all Christian theology.

“What is Judas’s role?” he writes. “What is expected of him by Christ? What is expected of him by us today?”…. Endo looks at the problem of Judas more directly than any other artist I know.”

This problem infuses Silence, and determines Father Rodrigues’ fate.

As Scorsese writes, “…. slowly, masterfully, Endo reverses the tide [for Rodriques].  Silence is the story of a man who learns –so painfully—that God’s love is more mysterious than he knows, that He leaves much more to the ways of men that we realize, and that He is always present…even in His silence.

“I picked up this novel for the first time almost twenty years ago. I’ve reread it countless times since… It has given me a kind of sustenance that I have found in only a very few works of art.”

Silence

Pre-production

With a screenplay finally completed to his satisfaction after so many years, Scorsese, Koskoff, and Winkler stepped up efforts to secure financing for the project. Scorsese and Koskoff also began to grapple with casting and location issues: who would be the perfect actor to play the all-important role of Father Rodrigues? How to find Japanese actors for other crucial roles? And where to make the film? None of these issues would be resolved quickly or easily.

JAY COCKS 2

Jay Cocks (Screenwriter) co-wrote with Martin Scorsese the script for the director’s film The Age of Innocence earning an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. His script for Scorsese’s Gangs of New York, which he co-wrote with the director, was also nominated for the Oscar as well as the BAFTA award for Best Original Screenplay. Cocks has also written the screenplays for Kathryn Bigelow’s Strange Days and Irwin Winkler’s De-Lovely. Among his other credits are the documentaries A Shot at the Top: The Making of ‘The King of Comedy’ and By Sidney Lumet. Before turning to film writing Cocks was a film critic for Rolling Stone, Newsweek, Time and various other magazines.

Finding financing for a serious, character-driven film dealing with profound religious and philosophical issues in today’s worldwide film market was a daunting challenge.

“This project has so much meaning for Marty, it’s so personal for him that it became personal for me as well,” says Koskoff who is Scorsese’s producing partner and President of Production at his company, Sikelia. “I was determined to get the film made and I wasn’t going to rest until that was achieved. Every possible avenue—I pursued them all.”

After a series of postponements, Scorsese, Koskoff and Winkler finally met with success. With the release of Scorsese’s hugely popular and commercially successful The Wolf of Wall Street, the principal financiers to come on board the film were Fabrica de Cine and Len Blavatnik’s AI Films with assistance from SharpSword Films and IM Global.

Fabrica de Cine, headed by Gaston Pavlovich, co-produced and co-financed the Tom Hanks drama A Hologram for a King and Richard Gere’s Oppenheimer Strategies.

Len Blavatnik’s AI Films has financed or co-financed Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Bill Condon’s Mr. Holmes and Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge.

SharpSword Films is backed by Dale Brown and participated in the financing of The Ticket, starring Dan Stevens, Malin Akerman and Oliver Platt.

IM Global is one of the world’s leading international film and television production, sales and distribution platforms and is currently a co-financing partner on Hacksaw Ridge directed by Mel Gibson and Gary Ross’ Free State of Jones.

Even before the means to make the film became available, in 2008 and 2009, as various ways were being explored to secure financing, Scorsese, Koskoff and key members of the director’s creative team began to scout locations for a proposed production. Understanding that it would be prohibitively expensive to make the film in Japan, the filmmakers scouted New Zealand, Canada and other various locations in search of places to shoot the story on a more economically feasible basis, eventually finding the perfect locations in Taiwan.

Casting

Director, Martin Scorsese and Andrew Garfield on the set of the film SILENCE by Paramount Pictures, SharpSword Films, and AI Films by Paramount Pictures, SharpSword Films, and AI Films

Director, Martin Scorsese and Andrew Garfield on the set of the film

With so many essential elements falling in place, the process of casting, which had been temporarily put on hold, moved ahead in earnest. The main priority was clear – filling the role of Father Rodrigues.

“The actor who would play Rodrigues had to have the ability and understanding to deal with the complex issues that inform the character,” Scorsese says. “I understood also that we had to find someone who would want to play the part. Over the years I had seen many actors. Some said right off the bat they had no interest in the subject and that was that.”

Over the years Scorsese had encountered many young actors who were fascinated by the material and the story, and he considered several for the role. As time went by, however, and the film failed to move forward, these actors became too old. Rodrigues is young man in his twenties.

Stepping up the search with a production start date looming, Scorsese auditioned several young actors, when lighting struck in the person of Andrew Garfield. Fresh off his Tony-nominated triumph on Broadway in Mike Nichols’ production of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” as well as his stint as The Amazing Spider-Man, Garfield seemed like Rodrigues incarnate to the director.

“The story confronts such deep and difficult material, timeless, huge in scope, huge in emotion,” Garfield says. “It’s a lifetime the character goes through that we witness. He wrestles with the great and most important questions we all wrestle with – how to live a meaningful life, a life of faith, and does that require you to live in doubt as well. That’s just scratching the surface of why I was attracted to this story and this character.”

As Rodrigues’ fellow priest Father Garupe, Scorsese cast another charismatic, up-and coming young actor, Adam Driver. Well-known for his role in the HBO series Girls, and for film appearances such as Inside Llewyn Davis and the latest Star Wars installment The Force Awakens, Driver stars in Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson. Driver, too, was intrigued and challenged by the story and excited for the chance to work with Scorsese.

To prepare he immersed himself in Endo’s book as well as in Scorsese and Cocks’ script.

“I was really taken by the idea of a crisis of faith which is always universal, and always relevant,” Driver says.

The individual characteristics of the two young men, Father Rodrigues, and Father Garupe, Driver’s character, also appealed to the actor.

“I liked that they were disgruntled guys, and questioning, which is a big part of faith. I thought of St. Peter. Doubt is healthy – it relates to everything, to acting even. Is this the right way to make a living? Is this part right? Do I want to be with these people? Am I just bad in the role? Anything creative leads to doubt. Relationships, between parents and children are filled with doubt.”

Driver was also attracted to what he calls the atypical representation of priests in the story.

“You think of priests as calm and rational. But these Jesuits were pioneers, rough and hard. They had to be durable. Conditions were harsh in that period. These men were rough, not polished, not how we think of priests today. I think of them as explorers.”

An encounter between some of the best dancers in the world and masters of contemporary choreography

For one evening, the Bolshoi takes on a new challenge with audacity in an exhilarating encounter with the masters of contemporary choreography. The result is A Contemporary Evening, which will be screened at Nouveau cinemas from 22 April for limited screenings.

6.BOL_A CONTEMPORARY EVENING_Vladislav Lantratov and Ekaterina Shipulina (c)Damir Yusupov

Vladislav Lantratov and Ekaterina Shipulina (c)Damir Yusupov

This innovative production forms part of the current season of seven wonderful ballets from Russia’s Bolshoi Ballet company – one of the world’s great powerhouses of classical ballet – currently being screened at Ster-Kinekor’s Nouveau theatres.

Don’t miss the encounter between some of the best dancers in the world and the masters of contemporary choreography in the form of ‘Hans Van Manen’s Frank Bridge Variations, Sol León and Paul Lightfoot’s Short Time Together and Alexei Ratmansky’s Russian Seasons.

This encounter between some of the best dancers in the world and masters of contemporary choreography results in an outstanding synthesis of bringing Van Manen’s formal beauty, León and Lightfoot’s intensity, and Ratmansky’s witty brilliance to a new level.

This exciting once-off production was filmed live from the Bolshoi on 19 March for broadcast into cinemas worldwide, including here in South Africa. With music from Benjamin Britten, Max Richter, Ludwig van Beethoven and Leonid Desyatnikov, the ballet features the Bolshoi principals, soloists and corps de ballet.

A Contemporary Evening releases on South African screens on Saturday, 22 April for four screenings only – on 22, 26 and 27 April at 19:45, and on 23 April at 14:30 – only at Ster-Kinekor’s Nouveau theatres in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban and Cape Town. Bookings are now open. The running time of this ballet production is 2 hrs 40 mins, including two intervals.

For booking information on the Bolshoi Ballet’s A Contemporary Evening at Nouveau, visit www.cinemanouveau.co.za or www.sterkinekor.com. Follow us on Twitter @nouveaubuzz or on Facebook at Cinema Nouveau. For queries, call TicketLine on 0861 Movies (668 437).

Coming Up

The final production in this season from the Bolshoi Ballet to be screened at Nouveau is A Hero of our Time (13 May). The ballets are brought to the big screen by Fathom Events, BY Experience and Pathé Live.

The Bolshoi Ballet is the quintessential ballet company, presenting works of astounding skill, daring and bravura that leave audiences the world over spellbound. This season of ballets broadcast in cinemas is no different, with the company’s incredible productions set to feature some of the world’s greatest dancers.

FF8

In Fast and Furious 8 a mysterious woman (Oscar winner Charlize Theron) seduces Dom (Vin Diesel) into the world of crime he can’t seem to escape and a betrayal of those closest to him, they will face trials that will test them as never before. From the shores of Cuba and the streets of New York City to the icy plains off the arctic Barents Sea, our elite force will crisscross the globe to stop an anarchist from unleashing chaos on the world’s stage…and to bring home the man who made them a family.

If you want to win a FF8 hamper that includes a key chain, car shammy, T-shirt and 2 Fast 2 Furious DVD, tell us who wrote the screenplay and send your answer and contact details with FF8 in the subject line to us before April 30, 2017.  Enter Competition Here

Fate of the Furious, The (2017)

 

”FF8 is really about the after effects of a profound moment that threatens to shatter everything you believe in.  What happens when the central figure of your family, the one who preached the lesson of never turning your back on each other, breaks those rules?  What happens if he goes dark and his family has to take him on and stand against him?  It’s unique and, at times, a little scary.  It’s great drama for the franchise, and it gave us a reason to move forward in a compelling way..”

On the heels of 2015’s Furious 7, one of the fastest movies to reach $1 billion worldwide and the sixth-biggest global title in box-office history, comes the newest chapter in one of the most popular and enduring motion-picture serials of all time: Fast and Furious 8, which had a record-breaking 3-day opening in South Africa at R17 777 495 – when including previews FF8 delivered the second highest opening weekend at R20 135 115, just falling short of FF7, which delivered R20 971 652 in 2015.

Fate of the Furious, The (2017)

In FF8 a mysterious woman (Oscar winner Charlize Theron) seduces Dom (Vin Diesel) into the world of crime he can’t seem to escape and a betrayal of those closest to him, they will face trials that will test them as never before. From the shores of Cuba and the streets of New York City to the icy plains off the arctic Barents Sea, our elite force will crisscross the globe to stop an anarchist from unleashing chaos on the world’s stage…and to bring home the man who made them a family.

As evidenced by the December 2016 trailer debut of the film—which currently ranks as the biggest ever, with more than 139 million views in the 24 hours after its unveiling in Times Square—audiences’ appetite for tales from the Fast & Furious saga has never been bigger, and the franchise has never been more popular or more global.  Although this group has experienced much on the road that has brought them here—as they shot cars out of planes, through skyscrapers and down mountains—the core idea that drives them has never wavered: family.

FF8 is directed by F. Gary Gray, the filmmaker behind such blockbusters as Straight Outta Compton—the No. 1 musical biopic in the history of cinema—The Italian Job, Be Cool and Friday, from a screenplay by series architect and fellow producer Chris Morgan (Fast & Furious series, Wanted), based on characters created by Gary Scott Thompson (The Fast and the Furious).

Furious 7 proved to be an emotionally charged culmination of the beloved franchise built on speed.  Not only were the filmmakers and cast looking to pay homage to the legacy of Paul Walker, who was inarguably the heart of the films, but also to the very best of what The Fast and the Furious sparked in film audiences more than 15 years ago…and continues to do with another generation of fans.

Completing production of the film and then promoting it worldwide was both an exhausting and energizing labor of love for all involved.  But with the end of an era came the inevitable questions of whether this was truly the finale of the beloved franchise.

Neal H. Moritz,

Neal H. Moritz, p.g.a. (Produced by) is the founder of Original Film, and one of the most prolific producers in Hollywood today. Moritz is best known for The Fast and the Furious films—including Furious 7—which broke multiple box-office records to become the sixth highest-grossing movie of all time. He has produced more than 50 major motion pictures, which have earned a box-office total of more than $10 billion worldwide.

Faced with the decision of whether to continue the saga, producers Neal H. Moritz and Vin Diesel, screenwriter Chris Morgan, Universal Pictures executives and the rest of the cast had to think long and hard about their next step together.

The Fast family was in mourning, and, at the time, few could come up with a worthwhile reason to pick up the pieces and resume the collective saga.

The outlaws of East Los Angeles’ street racing underground had risen to infamy on the international stage pulling off daring high-stakes heists.  While they had lost friends and gained enemies along the way…any new tale would ensure they would remain true to their roots.

Whatever happened, the filmmakers felt they would need to do something completely different if the series were to continue.

When it was decided that the franchise still had more riveting stories to share, they opted to throw a curveball into the mix.  The new direction would be an explosive turn of events destined to rock the dedicated fan base to its NOS-loving core.  Since the beginning, the series’ deep-seated theme of family has been entrenched in every film, and that fundamental tenet would be put to the test.

A native of New York City, Vin Diesel has become one of Hollywood’s most sought-after film stars. In addition to his huge box-office success, Diesel is a prominent producer and filmmaker and has been honored with both a hands and footprint ceremony at the TCL Chinese Theatre as well as a star on the Walk of Fame in Hollywood.

“I only wanted to continue the saga if we were going to collectively make the best final trilogy for ourselves, for the legacy of our brother Paul, and for Universal, who’s been so supportive over the years,” says Diesel, who has served as a producer on the series since Fast & Furious.  “With Furious 7, our focus was to not only make the best film in the saga but to honor what it has represented for almost two decades.  The key to this next chapter is to challenge those core themes that have endured, and to do it in a way that is compelling but still entertaining.”

Screenwriter Chris Morgan, who returns for his sixth tour of duty with the franchise, this time joins Moritz, Diesel and Fottrell as producer.  For the series architect who charts and crafts the interwoven multi-film story points, this arc would pose his biggest challenge; once Morgan delineated the team’s ideas for the final trilogy, it would be a mind-blowing achievement.

“Recalls Morgan of the tipping point: “FF8 is really about the after effects of a profound moment that threatens to shatter everything you believe in.  What happens when the central figure of your family, the one who preached the lesson of never turning your back on each other, breaks those rules?  What happens if he goes dark and his family has to take him on and stand against him?  It’s unique and, at times, a little scary.  It’s great drama for the franchise, and it gave us a reason to move forward in a compelling way.”

Chris Morgan

FF8 marks the ninth consecutive feature-film collaboration for Chris Morgan and Universal Pictures. The collaboration began with Justin Lin’s The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. Morgan went on to adapt Wanted, which starred Angelina Jolie. Following that, Morgan wrote the next five installments of the Fast & Furious series, reteaming Vin Diesel and Paul Walker in Fast & Furious, Fast Five, Fast & Furious 6 and Furious 7.

It was an audacious premise and once Morgan, Moritz and Diesel blocked out the story points, they knew they could blaze down a new road with an original, high-octane tale while still maintaining the outlaw spirit that fans gravitate to time after time.

Remarks longtime franchise producer Moritz: “What always amazes me is how we’re able to develop and maintain that blurred line between good guy and bad guy over the course of this series.  We’ve allowed each of our characters, new and old alike, to grow in different directions.  We never go into a new chapter with any preconceived notions of what they should do, and let each movie organically grow each of these characters.  It has been satisfying to see how many different arenas we can enter and ways we can go with them.  That’s part of the fun for the audience: they love this cast of characters but are never sure exactly what’s going to happen with them.”

With each new installment in the series, Moritz and Diesel always want to keep fans on their toes and to allow them to be entertained by the unexpected.

Finding a director with the ability to deliver on every level, while retaining the series’ singular voice, has always been a prerequisite.  Justin Lin set the groundwork for a memorable four-film run when he reinvigorated the franchise with Tokyo Drift, and James Wan did it with the record setting worldwide box-office juggernaut of Furious 7.

Enter F. Gary Gray, whose versatile filmography includes the critically acclaimed biopic Straight Outta Compton, the thriller The Negotiator, actioner The Italian Job and cult comedy classic Friday, among many others.  One will see little similarities among these projects, and that’s the way Gray likes it.

F. Gary Gray

F. Gary Gray is recognized as one of the industry’s most prolific and versatile directors, known for pushing the envelope, and delivering innovative and exhilarating entertainment to a diverse audience. Throughout his career, Gray has excelled at bringing the most predominant themes from the pop-culture zeitgeist to the screen. With 25 years in the industry, Gray has been able to consistently and successfully maneuver between genres ranging from comedy to thriller to drama to action.

The director admits that he has long gravitated toward material that challenges him.  When faced with the tempting offer of taking on one of Universal’s biggest franchises, Gray was intrigued.  Still, he dug a little deeper looking for that one thing, that hook, to inspire and push his limits.  “Artists dig in more when they feel challenged, and this was a major challenge for me,” he reflects.  “I wanted to bring something different to the franchise, and it all starts with the story.  This is completely different; it’s nothing we’ve ever experienced in the Fast franchise.”

FF8 would allow Gray the opportunity to take a massive tent pole film and bring his singular approach to storytelling, eliciting performances and crafting narrative to deliver an unexpected experience on every level.

He was primed to take the series in a fascinating new direction.  Not only did Gray come to the table with innovative ideas to ground the series, he also arrived on set sharing longstanding relationships with many of the Fast cast.  The filmmaker had directed Diesel in A Man Apart, Statham and Theron in The Italian Job, and Johnson in Be Cool.  Additionally, he knows Gibson and Bridges socially from entertainment industry functions, as well as his early days in the industry, when he directed music videos and TV commercials.

Gary Scott Thompson

Gary Scott Thompson (Based on Characters Created by) is the creator and executive producer of NBC’s hit series Las Vegas and the co-writer of the hit film The Fast and the Furious. GST (as he is known by cast and crew members) was born in Ukiah, California, but spent a formative part of his childhood in Pago Pago, American Samoa.

Diesel was very pleased to see the talented filmmaker join the Fast & Furious family.  “I knew from A Man Apart what Gary could pull out in terms of a darker character.  I knew he would be perfect,” he commends.  “Gary is a director who, first and foremost, focuses with exactitude on performance; that’s why we have Oscar®-winning actors in this film.  We knew he was going to pay that much-needed attention to the nuances of performance that this chapter would call for.”

Gray knew exactly what he wanted to accomplish when he first met with the producers to discuss FF8’ signature tone and direction.

“Dom Toretto is always about family, and with this storyline it’s the absolute opposite of what you expect.  I wanted to be a part of delivering not only this different story, but delivering a performance that you’ve never seen from the entire cast.”

When all was said and done, family remains the cornerstone for the Fast family, both in front of the camera and behind.  The last 15 years has left an indelible impression, and the hope is that the film’s fierce fans feel it renewed.  Concludes Gray: “FF8 definitely represents a new beginning.  This is a new chapter in the Fast saga, and we set it off, for sure.”

 

Add Disney’s classic animated feature Beauty and The Beast to your collection

Beauty Blu RayBeauty and the Beast was the first animated feature to receive an Academy Award® nomination for best picture and won two Oscars® (best original score and best song), three Golden Globes® and four GRAMMY® Awards, among a multitude of other awards. The film was the first animated feature to gross more than $100 million at the box office in its initial release and the first Disney animated feature to become a stage musical production, one which subsequently ran on Broadway for 13 years and was translated into eight languages, playing in over 20 countries.

The Blu-Ray of the animated classic includes three versions of the film, the special extended edition, the original theatrical release, and the original theatrical release with storyreel picture-in-picture; as well as a backstage peek at Composing a Classic: A Musical conversation with Alan Menken, Don Hahn and Richard Kraft’as well as deleted scenes.

BEAUTY POSTERThe live-action adaptation of Disney’s animated classic Beauty and the Beast is a stunning, cinematic event celebrating one of the most enduring and beloved tales ever told, and one that has touched readers for centuries. Now, thanks to the artistry and imagination of director Bill Condon and a brilliant creative team, audiences of all ages are sure to be captivated by the story’s adventure, passion and romance once again.

If you want to win a Blu-Ray copy of the sensational animated Beauty and the Beast, tell us who wrote the screenplay for the live-action adaptation, and send us your name and contact details, with Beauty and The Beast in the subject line before April 30, 2017.

Enter competition here

 

 

“The delightful animated film from 1991 plays as classic animation, but if you want to go a level deeper into the story and into the songs and into the emotions, that’s what this live-action film delivers: a greater depth of emotions.”

The live-action adaptation of Disney’s animated classic Beauty and the Beast is a stunning, cinematic event celebrating one of the most enduring and beloved tales ever told, and one that has touched readers for centuries. Now, thanks to the artistry and imagination of director Bill Condon and a brilliant creative team, audiences of all ages are sure to be captivated by the story’s adventure, passion and romance once again.

Emma Watson stars as Belle and Dan Stevens as the Beast in Disney's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, a live-action adaptation of the studio's animated classic directed by Bill Condon.

Emma Watson stars as Belle and Dan Stevens as the Beast in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, a live-action adaptation of the studio’s animated classic directed by Bill Condon.

The story and characters audiences know and love come to spectacular life in the live-action adaptation of Disney’s animated classic “Beauty and the Beast,” a stunning, cinematic event celebrating one of the most beloved tales ever told. “Beauty and the Beast” is the fantastic journey of Belle, a bright, beautiful and independent young woman who is taken prisoner by a Beast in his castle. Despite her fears, she befriends the castle’s enchanted staff and learns to look beyond the Beast’s hideous exterior and realize the kind heart of the true Prince within.

Beauty Comes From Within

The classic tale of Beauty and the Beast – and its empowering message that true beauty comes from within – dates back to 18th century France and the first published version of the fairy tale, “La Belle et la Bête,” by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. Today, the themes are still just as relevant and the story continues to enthrall storytellers, resulting in countless interpretations across all forms of media, but it is Disney’s Oscar®-nominated animated film from 1991 which has been the definitive version.

One of the studio’s most treasured titles, Beauty and the Beast was released during Disney’s second golden age of animation, along with “The Little Mermaid,” “The Lion King” and “Aladdin,” among others, and was immediately hailed as a cinematic masterpiece. As spellbindingly romantic as it is comedic, “Beauty and the Beast” is an unforgettable tale of love and friendship that transports readers to a magical fairy tale world where good triumphs over evil.

Bill-Condon-and-Emma-Watson-on-the-set-of-Beauty-and-the-Beast

Bill Condon and Emma Watson on the set of Beauty and theBeast

Beauty and the Beast was the first animated feature to receive an Academy Award® nomination for best picture and won two Oscars® (best original score and best song), three Golden Globes® and four GRAMMY® Awards, among a multitude of other awards. The film was the first animated feature to gross more than $100 million at the box office in its initial release and the first Disney animated feature to become a stage musical production, one which subsequently ran on Broadway for 13 years and was translated into eight languages, playing in over 20 countries.

The studio felt an adaptation of the story of a kindhearted maiden and her beastly prince had the potential to enchant audiences once again, but when the studio pitched the idea to Bill Condon, his initial fear was remaking something that is flawless as is. “I consider the 1991 film to be a perfect movie,” Condon says. “When the film was released it was groundbreaking, in the way the story was told and with that incredible score from Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, so I initially did not want to go near it.”

But the Oscar®-winning director, whose resume includes such diverse films as “Dreamgirls,” “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Parts I and 2,” “Mr. Holmes” and “Kinsey,” soon realized the time was right for a live-action adaptation. A consummate storyteller, Condon could already visualize the story’s cinematic potential. “It is 25 years later and technology has caught up to the ideas that were introduced in the animated movie,” he explains. “Now it is possible, for the first time, to create a photo-real version of a talking teacup on a practical set in a completely realistic live action format.”

For the director, the allure of “Beauty and the Beast” was twofold: It was a chance to make a movie musical that is a tribute to the musicals from the Golden Age of Hollywood, and an opportunity to revisit a story he connects with emotionally and to dig deeper into the characters to find out what makes them tick. The director has an encyclopedic knowledge of musicals and a clear understanding of how story and music converse with one another, and saw the film as a chance to bring back the musical genre.

He explains, “When I was growing up people would say theater was dying, and theater has been dying for centuries now. I think the same thing can be said about the movie musical, not for centuries, but it has sort of been dying for the last 50 years. I want audiences to embrace the form and understand that, at its best, music and movies and musical numbers in movies don’t distract, they don’t interrupt, they deepen and help create meaning. If you’re moved by something, you’re more moved when you hear some of those Alan Menken notes or hear some of those Howard Ashman lyrics.”

Emma Watson says, “Any time I hear music from ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ it connects me with that childlike feeling that everything is going to be okay and that there’s hope in the world, and it just gives me this sense that everything’s fine.”

According to Academy Award®-nominated producer David Hoberman (“The Fighter,” “The Muppets”), “Bill was the perfect choice. He has an intimate knowledge of the fairy tale ‘Beauty and the Beast’ going back to the first written version, he is a big fan of acclaimed French director Jean Cocteau’s 1946 avant garde take on the story and he has seen the Broadway production multiple times, so he was already an aficionado.”

Working with co-screenwriters Evan Spiliotopoulos (“The Huntsman: Winter’s War,” “Hercules”) and Stephen Chbosky (“The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” “Rent”), Condon set out to expand upon the story’s timeless themes and add more depth and dimension to the familiar characters while still celebrating the animated film and its legacy. “There have been some recent movies that have been top to bottom reinventions or stories as seen from another character’s point of view or something,” he says. “This is not that. What we wanted to do was bring the story more into reality, not create a new story.”

He continues, “It is an honor to have a chance to create something that is both reverential of the original and somewhat of a modernization at the same time, but it is also intimidating. This is a story that has lived in many forms and in many languages, and to have an opportunity to work with state-of-the-art technology and an amazing cast is such a blessing. I hope that, because this movie is so loved, we’ll be able to answer questions that fans may not have even realized they had about Belle and about the Beast specifically, and how they came to be who they are today.”

The film offers a glimpse into the Prince’s life before he became the Beast and what turned him into a man who deserves to be cursed. It also expands on Belle’s life before she goes to the castle and meets the Beast and helps explain what the two have in common and what made them who they are today.

Woven into the fabric of the story are outstanding new songs from eight-time Oscar®-winning composer Alan Menken (“The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin,” “Pocahontas”) and veteran lyricist and three-time Oscar winner Tim Rice (“The Lion King,” “Evita”), and because Condon is a fan of musical theatre and knows all the songs and musical references, it made Menken’s job that much easier. “Bill really knows his stuff,” says the composer, “So we were able to begin working with a lot of tools already at our disposal and a lot of reference points we could discuss immediately. Bill is a micromanager in the best sense of the word because he is genuinely concerned with each element in the story and the music.”

In Disney's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, a live-action adaptation of the studio's animated classic, Emma Watson stars as Belle and Kevin Kline is Maurice, Belle's father.  The story and characters audiences know and love are brought to life in this stunning cinematic event...a celebration of one of the most beloved tales ever told.

In Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, a live-action adaptation of the studio’s animated classic, Emma Watson stars as Belle and Kevin Kline is Maurice, Belle’s father. The story and characters audiences know and love are brought to life in this stunning cinematic event…a celebration of one of the most beloved tales ever told.

Be Our Guest

The live-action adaptation of Disney’s animated classic “Beauty and the Beast” is a stunning, cinematic event celebrating one of the most enduring and beloved tales ever told, and one that has touched readers for centuries. Now, thanks to the artistry and imagination of director Bill Condon and a brilliant creative team, audiences of all ages are sure to be captivated by the story’s adventure, passion and romance once again.

According to Condon, “The delightful animated film from 1991 plays as classic animation, but if you want to go a level deeper into the story and into the songs and into the emotions, that’s what this live-action film delivers: a greater depth of emotions.”

“It’s rare during principal photography when everyone on set is happy, but on this film where we had hundreds of people on set every day, everyone was genuinely pleased to be there,” says Ian McKellen. “Many of them had been working since the early hours of the morning, but I never heard a single word of complaint from anyone, technician or performer, and that speaks very well for the film.”

“I feel very lucky to have been given the chance to work with this material,” says Condon. “There’s something about this story – and specifically the score, which was written 25 years ago – that is just magical, and I think that’s what still draws people in and is what makes this such a special experience.”

 

As Europe recoiled against the work of Monet, Degas and Renoir, Americans embraced it and created their own style of impressionism.

Following the success of the previous seasons of Exhibition on Screen productions at Ster-Kinekor’s Nouveau cinemas, the fourth season is currently underway. The second docu-film is a fascinating look at the Impressionist movement from an American perspective, and is titled The Artist’s Garden: American Impressionism.

The film, which releases at Nouveau cinemas on Saturday, 15 April for limited screenings, is directed by Phil Grabsky and narrated by actress Gillian Anderson.

Philip Leslie Hale, CRIMSON RAMBLER, 1909-PAFA (1)

Philip Leslie Hale, CRIMSON RAMBLER, 1909-PAFA

Taking its lead from French artists such as Renoir and Monet, the American impressionist movement followed its own path, which over a 40-year period reveals as much about America as a nation as it does about a much-loved artistic movement. It’s a story closely tied to a love of gardens and a desire to preserve nature in a rapidly urbanising nation. Travelling to studios, gardens and iconic locations throughout the United States, the UK and France, this mesmerising film is a visual feast.

In 1886, the French art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel brought a selection of his huge stock of impressionist paintings to New York, changing the course of art in America forever. American artists flocked to the French village of Giverny, home to the master impressionist Claude Monet, and cheered the French new wave: painting outdoors with a new found brilliance and vitality. As Europe recoiled against the work of Monet, Degas and Renoir, Americans embraced it and created their own style of impressionism.

The timing of Durand-Ruel’s transformative visit was perfect. As America steamed into the Industrial Age, urban reformers fought to create public parks and gardens: patches of beauty amid smokestacks and ash heaps. These gardens provided unlimited inspiration for artists and a never-ending oasis for the growing middle class, made up of increasingly independent women, who relished the writings of English horticulturalists Gertrude Jekyll and William Robinson. Meanwhile, the rise of wide-circulation magazines cultivated the idea that gardening was a path to spiritual renewal amid industrial blight and the belief that artists should work in native landscapes.

ARTISTS GARDEN

As America made its epic move from a nation of farmers to a land of factories, the pioneering American Impressionists crafted a sumptuous visual language that told the story of an era.

The Artist’s Garden: American Impressionism features the sell-out exhibition The Artist’s Garden: American Impressionism and the Garden Movement, 1887–1920 that began at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia – the birthplace of the American garden movement, and ended at the Florence Griswold Museum in Connecticut, widely considered the home of American impressionism.

With Exhibition on Screen, award-winning arts documentary maker Phil Grabsky & Seventh Art Productions are again set to delight art lovers in more than 40 countries, including South Africa.

The next two productions in the current season include: The Curious World of Hieronymus Bosch on 06 May; and Michelangelo: Love and Death from 17 June. These films take cinema audiences behind the scenes to discover what lies behind the artists and their paintings, both creatively and technically. What each artwork reveals about the artist and the particular historical period is also uncovered.

Filmed exclusively for cinema at the exhibitions and on location, this ground-breaking series allows art lovers worldwide to enjoy, marvel at and delight in the amazing works of some of history’s most foremost painters on the big screen and in stunning high definition.

The Artist’s Garden: American Impressionism releases on Saturday, 15 April for four screenings only: 15, 19 and 20 April at 19:30, and on 16 April at 14:30 – at Rosebank Nouveau in Johannesburg, Brooklyn Nouveau in Pretoria, Ster-Kinekor Gateway Nouveau in Durban and at V&A Nouveau in Cape Town.  Bookings are now open, and the running time of this production is 100 minutes.

For booking information, visit www.sterkinekor.com. Download the Ster-Kinekor App on your smart phone for updates, news and to book. Follow Nouveau on Twitter @nouveaubuzz and on Facebook at Cinema Nouveau. For more information, call Ticketline on 0861 Movies (668 437).

 

 

This not-to-be-missed sensation offers everything you can ask of world-class entertainment and much, much more.

Review by Daniel Dercksen (10/04/17) 

If there’s one gateway to blissful showbiz, it’s the super sumptuous and glamorous Gate 69, a cosy and intimate pleasure palace where Brendan van Rhyn‘s divine creation Cathy and the Trolley Dollies offers five-star entertainment.
When you arrive at Gate 69 and are greeted by the regal Cathy Specific, you know you are in for a night you will never forget.
Trolley Dollies pic 3
With the art of drag being celebrated with the Priscilla musical, real-life drag divas Cathy Specific and her trolley dollies, the delicious Christopher Dudgeon and Rudi Jansen, are wowing audiences with this not-to-be-missed sensation that offers everything you can ask of world-class entertainment and much, much more.

Written by van Rhyn, Cathy and the Trolley Dollies is rip-roaring stand-up comedy meets musical revue, meets cabaret, a saucy satirical take on the airline industry as seen through the eyes of three 8ft aviation goddesses.

Big-haired beauties

This one-of-a-kind drag troupe, three Amazonian, big-haired beauties find themselves back at work after a three-month suspension. Demoted and down in the dumps, they capture our hopes, dreams, tears, fears, traumas and tantrums about flying.

They take us on a behind-the-scenes look at the glamorous or (not-so-glamorous) life of a flight attendant. Secrets are shared and stories are told as we indulge in a first-class dining experience during the show.
Entertainment today is largely dished up as yesterday’s left overs, but with Cathy and The Trolley Dollies we get a feast that is as fresh as daisies and colourful as a rainbow.

Polished and preened delight

When Van Rhyn as Cathy Specific pours his heart out singing Dr. Longjohn, it rips through your soul like a tidal wave. Van Rhyn is blessed with a unique talent of mesmerising his audience with the iconic Cathy, a classy act that knows no equal, his biting humour is infectious, and vocally he is at the top of his game.
Teamed up with Dudgeon and Jansen, it’s a match made in cabaret heaven, a polished and preened delight that amuses, astounds and leaves one breathless.
The trio’s alluring passion is genuine, without any pretense, and holds nothing back.
Equally memorable is Dudgeon’s dead-pan Grin It and Bare It and Jansen’s riotous Sewe Sakke Sout, as well as unforgettable renditions of Mein Herr, You Can Drive A Person Crazy and Proud Mary.
At the end of the show, you have made three new friends as these gals are women we all desperately need in real life, showing us that naughty can be nice, and that nice can be as spicy as hell.
Trolley Dollies pic 1

Deliciously devilish goddesses

What makes the show work effectively well is that it deals with relevant issues anyone can relate to, and gives us a unique opportunity to enter the wacky mindscape of those in the service industry who always welcome us with a smile and embrace us with motherly affection, killing us with their imperious affection.
Now we know! Behind the façade of friendliness lurk deliciously devilish goddesses of camp that masterfully turn frowns upside down and rattle our cages, daring to venture where angels fear to tread.
Escape into the world of Cathy and her Trolley Dollies at Gate 69 with friends, family or loved ones, a pleasure palace that also serves up delightful dishes with impeccable service, feeding our body and soul with meaningful and heartfelt entertainment.
There’s only one major problem with the show, you don’t want it to end and remain seated on their flight of eternal bliss.

Let’s hope that larger than life Cathy and her Dollies will keep on doing what they do best.Cathy and the Trolley Dollies runs every Wednesday and Thursday evening until the end of June. Tickets at R550 per person which includes designer mezze served on a double-tiered Lazy Susan, a separate hot soup and bread service and dessert. Go to www.gate69.co.za for more info.

Gate69 pics (2)

A dreamer’s tale, a cautionary tale, Gold, in the way of classic adventure storytelling, exposes the true nature of men. Whether you’re working out of a dive bar in Reno or in the gilded towers of Wall Street, the pursuit of gold reduces all men to their purest elements.

Gold, inspired by actual events, is the epic tale of one man’s American dream and everything he’ll do to keep it from falling apart.

GOLD

Matthew McConaughey stars as Kenny Wells, who embodies the entrepreneurial spirit of America, so he sells his last possessions and drops off the edge of earth, heading to Indonesia where he teams up with this mythic geologist, the “river walker,” Mike Acosta, played by Edgar Ramirez – they battle nature, the NYC financial establishment, conspiracies inside of conspiracies, but most of all they test their faith in themselves.

The screenplay for Gold was written by Patrick Massett and John Zinman (Friday Night Lights), who also serve as producers, and directed by Academy Award winner Stephen Gaghan (Syriana, Traffic)

Matthew McConaughey stars as Kenny Wells, who embodies the entrepreneurial spirit of America, a man raised in the mining business, the type of men, like his own father, who aren’t afraid to go out in the mountains and dig fortune from the ground…

The Inspiration

The global financial crisis was destroying the economy, with many terming it the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. It was 2008. Everyone was struggling–losing jobs, losing homes.

patrick-massett-john-zinman

Patrick co-wrote Tomb Raider starring Angelina Jolie. His television writing career began with “Veritas: The Quest” at ABC, which he and his partner John Zinman co-created and executive produced. He then went on to co-executive produce the Emmy Award-winning “Friday Night Lights” at NBC, “The Chicago Code” at FOX and “Last Resort” at ABC with executive producer Shawn Ryan. He most recently co-executive produced “The Blacklist” starring James Spader at NBC. Patrick currently has the feature The Wild One Hundreds in production, starring Gary Oldman and directed by Gary Fleder. He and John Zinman currently have an overall television deal at Sony Pictures Entertainment. John co-wrote Tomb Raider starring Angelina Jolie. His television writing career began with “Veritas: The Quest” at ABC, which he and his partner Patrick Massett co-created and executive produced. He then went on to co-executive produce the Emmy Award-winning “Friday Night Lights” at NBC, “The Chicago Code” at FOX and “Last Resort” at ABC with executive producer Shawn Ryan. He most recently co-executive produced “The Blacklist” starring James Spader at NBC. John currently has the feature The Wild One Hundreds in production, starring Gary Oldman and directed by Gary Fleder. He and Patrick Massett currently have an overall television deal at Sony Pictures Entertainment.

In Los Angeles, screenwriter/producer partners Patrick Massett and John Zinman stumbled upon an article about the Bre-X gold scandal of the 1990s, in which the Canadian company Bre-X Minerals Ltd. reported the discovery of a huge gold deposit in Indonesia, courtesy of a mining entrepreneur who’d teamed up with a geologist. Initially a mere penny stock, Bre-X soared with billions in enthusiastic capitalization.

Money was on everybody’s minds now. Remembers screenwriter/producer John Zinman, “A lot was going on in the country with the financial crisis and the 1% movement with the growing disparity in the country, and this story seemed to ring a lot of those bells.”

So the screenwriting duo transplanted the notion to the US in the 1980s, creating the fictitious character of Kenny Wells, a Reno prospector with a loyal girlfriend named Kay, a brainy geologist partner named Mike Acosta, and a deep-seated desire to make something of himself. “We pitched it to a lot of places and everyone passed,” says Masset. “But we loved it and believed in it and thought there was such a great character in Kenny Wells and such a great world that nobody had ever seen in modern times, although there were some elements of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. But this is so global.”

The more they thought about it, the more they believed in Kenny Wells. Massett points out, “We really love characters that are underdogs, that have to fight from the ground up to prove themselves and have something to prove, and Kenny is so colorful and so wonderful but he’d also hit rock bottom.”

Kenny was getting older without success.  “You reach a certain age,” muses Zinman, “and you reflect on the men you knew in your life growing up – – my father, friends of my father, the idea of what it means to be a success in America, a man who provides.”

So in 2009, Massett and Zinman wrote GOLD, a fast-moving, character-driven spec screenplay with a colorful plot full of twists and turns, all of it brimming with wit and personality as it spanned a sprawling global scope. Plus, it had a provocative mystery at its core.

The screenplay got everyone’s attention, quickly making it onto Hollywood’s Black List of best unproduced scripts. The writers decided that rather than auction off the script, they wanted to partner with a production company so they could stay involved. And they wanted a partner who responded to the themes that intrigued them.

“Every single person at some point has to go out into the world and make something out of themselves,” reasons Zinman. “It explores ambition, ideas of self worth, and at its core it’s a story of friendship. These two guys—Kenny Wells and Mike Acosta–share certain needs. They both have the drive to be reconsidered in a more favorable light. They recognize something in each other – – whether it’s deception or collusion, the friendship is the glue that holds the other themes together.”

From Massett’s viewpoint, “Kay accepts Kenny as he is, but Kenny wants to be better than that. That’s a Western American theme in men – – our identity is so attached to our material value and our title.”

Suggests Massett, “In a nutshell, it asks, what profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his own soul?”

Adds Zinman, “And it’s about belonging! Kenny thinks, if these fuckers won’t let me in their club, I’ll buy their fucking club. So the need to belong is a theme that propels Kenny’s character.”

Producers Join Up

Massett and Zinman found somebody who responded to those themes in producer Michael Nozik at HWY61, who read the script in 2010, optioned it, and began developing the project with them.

Suggests Nozik, “Kenny Wells is a classic American character who goes from rags to riches, to rags to riches again. It’s a terrific dramatic adventure story with an iconic character. It seems like the reinvention of Willy Loman in a more modern-day setting.”

Indeed, Death of a Salesman was one of the screenplay’s inspirations and a movie discussed more during development. “Loman is about the dream of being a great man,” says Massett. “I don’t think we get as dark as Arthur Miller with Willy Loman, but there’s certainly that broken American dream.”

Another influence was Glengarry Glen Ross. Points out Zinman, “Jack Lemmon’s character in Glengarry Glen Ross – – that humanity, the slight desperation beneath his bonhomie, that story was definitely a touchstone for us and he was a touchstone.”

Directors responded to the script—among them, Nozik’s partner Paul Haggis, then Michael Mann, but the financing didn’t come together.

Then Black Bear Pictures founder Teddy Schwarzman expressed interest in partnering on the project, and began talks with Nozik, Massett, and Zinman. In 2012, Black Bear became officially involved.

Recognizes Schwarzman, “Everything starts with a screenplay that captivates you. For me, the characters were so rich, the world was so diverse, but ultimately thematically it was a story about the American dream. It’s a story about what it takes to achieve that dream – – about the lengths to which you will go and the things you will sacrifice. I think that’s the struggle that every American feels and everybody across the world feels. While Kenny Wells is very distinct in his mannerisms and his style of doing business, I think there’s a little bit of Kenny in everybody and there certainly was in myself, and I was just captivated with the story and wanted to bring it to the screen.”

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Teddy Schwarzman serves as president and CEO of Black Bear Pictures, overseeing all operations of the company, including development, production, and finance. Schwarzman has produced a range of filmed content, including Morten Tyldum’s The Imitation Game, Academy Award winner for Best Adapted Screenplay and nominated for eight Academy Awards including Best Picture

It all crystallized for Schwarzman, who points out: “It does hearken back to some great films like The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and The Man Who Would Be King. There’s something classic about the storytelling here and the characters, and yet at the same time it’s completely contemporary despite being in the 1980s. It’s themes that we’re still dealing with today, and issues that we all struggle with in our daily lives – – greed, ambition, betrayal, honesty, hope, futility, desperation, it’s all here. It’s a wild ride that takes you from the small mining town of Reno to the heart of the Indonesian jungle to the board rooms of Wall Street, where everything that you think you know, you may not.”

Schwarzman became an avid proponent of the project, and wouldn’t give up. “We bought the script outright in 2014,” he remembers.

Massett and Zinman saw new momentum mounting, with Massett noting, “Teddy’s a trooper. He fights. He’s got passion. He reminds me of the old-school Hollywood producers. He gets behind the projects he believes in and he doesn’t let go. It’s rare and special. He’s a very special producer. A lot of times, producers just follow the money. They gravitate to the projects where money is flowing. Teddy pushes the projects he loves to the money, so they get made.”

Matthew Mcconaughey Becomes A Gold Producer

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Matthew McConaughey, showing again why he’s one of the greatest actors alive, made a complete physical transformation — with a bald head and some unfortunate local dentistry, the addition of 40 lbs gained through a diet of beer, cheeseburgers, and milkshakes – to bring to life this American original

Around now, Matthew McConaughey expressed interest in GOLD. Recalls Schwarzman, “Matthew got involved through a great deal of luck, to be honest. We were very much thinking of going to a director first, but the script got out into the ether and Matthew read it and there was something he responded to in a very personal way to the character of Kenny Wells.”

The actor had movies already booked out ahead for several months, but he wanted to join Gold as its star and a producer.

Explains McConaughey, “It was one of the few scripts that I said, I have to do this. I have to be this guy.”

Specifically, Kenny Wells reminded McConaughey of a fellow named Chicago John who his father had introduced him to briefly in 1987 in Texas. “My dad took me the day before Christmas to Wal-Mart to get some stocking stuffers. On the way, he pulled over behind this abandoned shopping strip mall. There was this old white van down there and out of that white van came this guy, Chicago John. In the back of that van, he had washing machines, dishwashers, old microwaves, telephones, gadgets, all kinds of shit,” recalls McConaughey. “My dad goes over there and swaps some cash. My dad gets back in the car and says, Here, here, and wraps this thing up in some paper towels and says, put that in the glove compartment.” After driving away, his dad let him unwrap the purchase. “And in there was this silver and gold watch. He goes, `God damn! This is a $24,000 Rolex made of titanium and I just bought it for four grand!’”

McConaughey explains, “And when I read this thing about Kenny Wells, it had who I thought Chicago John was, the story I had created for him over the years, and a little bit of who my father was. My father invested in a diamond mine in Ecuador. There were no diamonds in Ecuador! He got over there and got his machete and hacked through the jungle. We always used to like to say to dad, Boy, if it was a shitty deal, he wanted in. He’d rather that it be a shitty deal but work with some really fun people and have it be an adventure, than have it be a really good deal and work with a bunch of stiffs. And so, in my impression of who Chicago John was and who my dad was at that time, there is a whole lot of Kenny Wells.”

The way McConaughey perceives Kenny Wells is, “Kenny is a great big dreamer. He’s got a lot of dreams. When we meet him, he’s at the bottom of the barrel; he’s not doing too well. He took over his father’s company which was very successful and he’s run it into the ground. He literally gets drunk enough that he has a vision. He has a dream one night that there is gold over in this place that he’s been to some years earlier, and he’s brave enough to follow-up on that dream.”

Overall, McConaughey contends, “The story for me is really about what a man like Kenny Wells will do to keep his dreams alive. How far will he go? And he will go all the way.”

As far as producing, McConaughey says, “It was very important to me because I understood this story and this character that I wanted to be part of how the ship sails, where we go, what direction we head, from finding the director to all the characters’ stories and relationships. I wanted to make sure I had a creative hand in that, at least to the approval standpoint.”

Writer/producers Massett and Zinman had not envisioned McConaughey in the role when writing it, but, says Zinman, “Once Matthew entered the conversation, it was like a light bulb. He has the right energy!”

Director Stephen Gaghan Comes Onboard

Who to direct? Stephen Gaghan, the writer of Traffic and writer/director of Syriana, had certainly proven his cinematic prowess with global material dealing with current events.

If you meet Massett and Zinman you’ll think immediately the big guy is the brawler and the smaller guy is the poet. Then you’d have it backwards. Or maybe they’re both brawlers and poets. They did great work for years on “Friday Night Lights”.  I knew them long before I got a look at Gold. They’d say “we’re writing a script on a gold prospector, modern day. I’d say that’s a great idea. They’d say, oh Michael Mann is directing it. I’d say, lucky you. When I finally got my eyes on it, the films that leapt to mind weren’t just Treasure of Sierra Madre, and Wages of Fear, the classics of adventure storytelling with a point, but films like Midnight Cowboy, and The Last Detail, in other words my favorite films.

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Filmmaker Stephen Gaghan is probably best known for directing the critically acclaimed geopolitical thriller Syriana, and for writing the Academy Award nominated crime drama Traffic, for which he won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. Syriana, starring George Clooney, Matt Damon, and Jeffrey Wright, earned Gaghan his second Oscar nomination for writing and was awarded the National Board of Review “Best Screenplay of 2005.” Additionally, it was nominated for several Academy Awards, including a win for Best Supporting Actor for George Clooney. As with Syriana, Gaghan proved himself a master of orchestrating several parallel storylines and multiple settings on Traffic, a film that explores the corruption of America’s war on drugs. Gaghan garnered numerous awards and nominations including wins for the Golden Globe, BAFTA, and WGA. For his work in television, Gaghan won an Emmy for writing an episode of “NYPD Blue” and has more recently written and directed the 2011 pilot Metro (20th/NBC), and directed the 2014 pilot White City for AMC. Additional film writing credits include Havoc (2005), The Alamo (2004), Rules of Engagement (2000), and Abandon (2002), which he also directed.

“When Stephen read the script and came to us,” Schwarzman remembers, “he just knew the characters. He simply understood the world, understood the characters, and understood the struggle – – the struggle to matter, the struggle to prove yourself, not about how much money you can make, but about the impact you can have in the world and what that says about yourself. And it became a personal story for him as well.”

Producer Michael Nozik already had a relationship with Gaghan, having been a producer on Syriana, “So I knew he was particularly good at handling stories that have ambiguity in them. He loves to live in the world of ambiguity. And this is a story with essential ambiguity. Is the lead character guilty or innocent? Is he somebody you love, somebody you can be engaged with? Stephen has an interest in big themes, and themes about the American experience, and in some ways this is a story that reinvents itself.”

As for movie inspirations, “We all talked about The Treasure of the Sierra Madre as an archetype – – you go out in the desert and the blindness of gold and the ambition of greed blinds people to their own desires, and makes people do crazy things that aren’t part of their personality. Kenny is somebody who is at times blinded not by greed, but by the ambition to succeed,” reasons Nozik. “Stephen was very understanding of this character as an archetypal American. He’s very specific but he lives in the bigger realm of an archetypal character, a Willy Loman, who has become archetypal in American literature and the American experience – – the salesman that won’t ever die.”

The essential struggle to make a living resonated too with Schwarzman, who observes, “There’s elements of truth in movies like Glengarry Glen Ross, Wall Street, Boiler Room even, where you see art imitating life and our Three Greenhorns was very indicative of that: people who had been hit by the stock crash of ‘87, people who were trying to find their way through the world who believed that they were entrepreneurs who could find a way to succeed. What they were doing is no different than what people in lots of different industries who were hit by economic decline were trying to do, which is survive and thrive.”

Assesses executive producer Ben Stillman, “GOLD is a script that required a certain delicacy and intelligence while also being really fun. Steve totally understood that from the beginning. Part of his pitch was that the script would take care of itself on the intelligent side, while he would bring this energy and understanding of the relationships at the core, whether it would be Wells and Acosta and that buddy relationship, which he did great work to make even realer, or the relationship between Kay and Kenny, which is the central part of the movie, really the heart of it.”

McConaughey had his own questions for Gaghan: “I wanted to find out, as a producer and actor, do we have the same measure and threshold of what we consider excellence? Of what is a good scene, of what is a really good take? Of what is a really good choice for who could play Acosta or Kay or someone else? And do we have the same sense of humor? You know, behavioral humor. Kenny Wells is a really funny guy. He has his own moments where he’s trying to be his own standup comedian and tell his jokes, but it’s mainly real behavior from who the guy is. And another sensibility is, do you have a similar sense of what’s cool? And by that I mean, obviously trying to be cool is not cool. Characters and people that know who they are, for right or for wrong, that’s cool.”

Gaghan joined the project in 2014. McConaughey worked with him on fine-tuning scenes, as when Kenny and Acosta go to Danny Suharto. McConaughey reasons, “It’s their last chance! It’s like it’s fourth and one from our own one-yard line, and we have to throw a Hail Mary to get this deal and to get him to come on board and be a partner. What was written was originally a nice page of dialogue where Kenny sits down and says a very out of place joke about Cadillacs and pussy and stuff, and Mike thinks, oh geez, Kenny spoke out of tongue, we’re gonna lose the deal. Then Danny loves it. He goes, I love Cadillacs! I actually have a Cadillac.”

McConaughey remembers, “I told Stephen, we’ve seen Kenny use that version of salesmanship throughout the story. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. This being fourth and one from our own one, something else has to happen! The stakes have to be higher. It has to cost more. It has to be harder to pull it off. Stephen came up with the idea that Danny owns a tiger.”

Sonya Yoncheva reprises her widely praised interpretation of one of opera’s most beloved heroines

Opera lovers are in for a treat when the next production from the current Met: Live in HD season – Giuseppe Verdi’s famous opera La Traviata – releases on the big screen at Nouveau and select Ster-Kinekor cinemas nationally from Saturday, 08 April for limited screenings.

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Sonya Yoncheva reprises her widely praised interpretation of one of opera’s most beloved heroines, the tragic courtesan Violetta, a role in which she triumphed on the Met stage in 2015. Playing opposite her is Michael Fabiano as her lover, Alfredo, with Thomas Hampson in one of his most acclaimed Met roles as Alfredo’s protective father, Giorgio Germont.

Sonya Yoncheva has sung Violetta Valéry to critical acclaim at the Met in 2015, as well as with the Berlin State Opera, Bavarian State Opera, Opéra de Monte-Carlo, and Royal Opera, Covent Garden. She made her Met debut in 2013 as Gilda in Verdi’s Rigoletto, followed by widely acclaimed company role debuts as Mimì in Puccini’s La Bohème and Desdemona in the Met’s 2015 season premiere of Verdi’s Otello. She can be seen later this year as a soloist in the Met’s 50th Anniversary at Lincoln Center Gala in May, followed by reprising Mimì at La Scala and Violetta at the Bavarian State Opera. During the Met’s 2017-18 season, she will sing the Countess in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, Mimì in La Bohème, and Luisa in Verdi’s Luisa Miller.

“Traviata shines anew at the Met” (Huffington Post), as Sonya Yoncheva “grows into her stardom” (New York Times) as Violetta opposite Michael Fabiano’s “white-hot take” (New York Observer) on Alfredo. San Francisco Opera Music

 

La Traviata is based on the play La Dame aux Camélias, which was adapted from the novel with the same title written by Alexandre Dumas, known frequently in English as Camille. The opera premiered at La Fenice on March 6, 1853 and received mostly negative reviews due to the casting of soprano Fanny Salvini-Donatelli as Violetta.

At the time, although she was an acclaimed singer, she was considered too old for the role at the age of 38 and too heavy to play a young woman dying of consumption. Following the opening, Verdi rewrote sections of Acts 2 and 3, and re-opened the opera on May 6, 1854 at Teatro San Benedetto in Venice to much greater success, this time starring a much younger coloratura soprano, Maria Spezia-Aldighieri.

Verdi’s opera is the fourth-most-staged work at the Met, with 996 performances to date. The opera premiered during the company’s opening season on November 5, 1883 starring Emily Lablache as Violetta, Victor Capoul as Alfredo, and Giuseppe Del Puente as Giorgio Germont. Many notable Met sopranos have sung the role of Violetta, including Maria Callas, Nellie Melba, Joan Sutherland, and Beverly Sills, with Licia Albanese singing a record number of 87 performances of the role with the company.

Director Nicola Luisotti conducts all performances, including the 11 March matinee performance that was filmed for broadcast to cinemas worldwide, including South Africa, as part of the 11th season of the Met’s Live in HD series, which now reaches more than 2000 movie theatres in 71 countries around the world.

Screening times for La Traviata at Nouveau (Rosebank Mall, JHB; Brooklyn Mall, PTA; SK Gateway Commercial, DBN; and V&A Waterfront, CT) and select Ster-Kinekor cinemas are as follows: 08 April at 17:00; 09 April at 14:30; 11 and 19 April at 11:30; and 18 April at 18:00. The running time is 2hrs and 33mins, including an interval.

For more information and to make bookings for La Traviata, part of The Met: Live in HD season, visit www.sterkinekor.com. Follow us on Twitter @nouveaubuzz and on Facebook at Cinema Nouveau. For information, call Ticketline on 0861-Movies (668 437).

Now in its eleventh year, The Met: Live in HD series is screened in cinemas around the world, including exclusive releases at Nouveau and select Ster-Kinekor cinemas in South Africa. The Met’s new season presents ten opulent, full-length operas including five new productions, three of which are new to the series. The series has become a global phenomenon with more than 19 million tickets sold since its inception ten years ago.

These grand operas, filmed at the iconic Metropolitan Opera House, feature some of the world’s most talented singers, conductors, composers, orchestra musicians, stage directors, designers, visual artists, choreographers and dancers.

With these exclusive productions, Nouveau continues to give local audiences the opportunity to witness these spectacular ‘live’ opera productions broadcast on the big screen, in full digital projection, at various sites across South Africa. Past productions have received critical acclaim and gained recognition around the world.

View the Met: Live in HD 2016/17 season trailer here: https://youtu.be/cEG9JfPWXs8?list=RDcEG9JfPWXs8

The Met: Live in HD – 2016-17 Schedule

The final three productions in the current season are Idomeneo by Wolfang Amadeus Mozart (24 April), Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin (20 May), and Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier (10 June).

 

See Ibsen’s masterpiece with fresh eyes and to recognise that, even in the age of instant divorce, there are still modern Heddas helplessly trapped in loveless bondage.

Hedda Gabler – the acclaimed production of Norwegian  playwright Henrik Ibsen classic play filmed live at London’s National Theatre – is the next National Theatre Live (NT Live) broadcast to be screened at Ster-Kinekor’s Nouveau cinemas from Saturday 1 April, for limited screenings.

Hedda Gabler stars Olivier and Golden Globe winner Ruth Wilson (Luther, The Affair, Jane Eyre) in the title role, and also features Prometheus’s Rafe Spall and Poldark’s Kyle Soller, with Nigerian-born actor Chukwudi Iwuji in the role of Lovborg.

Tony Award-winning director Ivo van Hove (A View from the Bridge, The Crucible on Broadway) returns to NT Live cinema screens with a modern production of Ibsen’s masterpiece in a new version by Patrick Marber (Notes on a Scandal, Closer).

In the play, new bride Hedda (Ruth Wilson) and her husband, Tesman (Kyle Soller), return from their honeymoon to find their relationship already in trouble. Trapped but determined, Hedda tries to control those around her, only to see her own world unravel.

Hedda Gabler releases on South African screens from Saturday, 01 April 2017, for four screenings only: on 01, 05 and 06 April at 19:30 and on 02 April at 14:30 at Ster-Kinekor’s Nouveau cinemas in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town, and at Ster-Kinekor Gateway in Durban.

The running time is approximately 2hrs and 45mins, including an interval.

For booking information on Hedda Gabler, visit www.sterkinekor.com. Follow us on Twitter @nouveaubuzz and on Facebook at Cinema Nouveau. For queries, contact Ticketline on 0861 Movies (668 437).

The next productions from NT Live to be screened at Cinema Nouveau are:

Twelfth Night (from 27 May 2017)

A ship is wrecked. Viola is washed ashore but her twin brother Sebastian is lost. Determined to survive, she steps out to explore a new land. So begins a whirlwind of mistaken identity and unrequited love.Directed by Simon Godwin (NT Live’s Man and Superman, The Beaux’ Stratagem), Tamsin Greig (Friday Night Dinner, Black Books, Episodes) is Malvolia in a new twist on Shakespeare’s classic comedy of mistaken identity.

Rozencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead (03 June 2017)

Against the backdrop of Hamlet, two hapless minor characters, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, take centre stage.  As the young double act stumble their way in and out of the action of Shakespeare’s iconic drama, they become increasingly out of their depth as their version of the story unfolds. Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter, The Woman in Black), Joshua McGuire (The Hour) and David Haig (Four Weddings and a Funeral, The Witness for the Prosecution) star in Tom Stoppard’s brilliantly funny situation comedy, broadcast from The Old Vic theatre in London. David Leveaux’s new production marks the 50th anniversary of the play that made a young Tom Stoppard’s name overnight.

Obsession (24 June 2017)

Gino is a drifter, down-at-heel and magnetically handsome. At a roadside restaurant he encounters husband and wife, Giuseppe and Giovanna. Irresistibly attracted to each other, Gino and Giovanna begin a fiery affair and plot to murder her husband. But, in this chilling tale of passion and destruction, the crime only serves to tear them apart. Jude Law (The Young Pope, Closer, The Talented Mr Ripley) stars in this new stage adaptation of Obsession, broadcast live from the Barbican Theatre in London. Ivo van Hove (NT Live: A View from the Bridge, Hedda Gabler) directs this new stage adaptation of Luchino Visconti’s 1943 film.

Additional NT Live broadcasts in 2017 at Cinema Nouveau include:

  • Peter Pan (08 July), captured live at the National Theatre, this performance of JM Barrie’s much-loved tale screens as perfect cinema fare for the mid-year school holidays: All children, except one, grow up…
  • Salomé (22 July), directed by South African-born award-winning director Yaёl Farber;
  • Marianne Elliott’s production of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America – Part I & II (19 Aug & 02 Sept), with Andrew Garfield, Susan Brown, Nathan Lane, James McArdle, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Denise Gough and Russell Tovey; and
  • Yerma (23 Sept), Simon Stone’s radical production of Federico García Lorca’s achingly powerful masterpiece, with Billie Piper reprising the lead role.

Launched in 2009, National Theatre Live broadcasts have been seen by an audience of over 6.5 million people at 2500 venues in 60 countries. The first season began in June 2009 with the acclaimed production of Phédre starring Oscar winner Helen Mirren. Recent broadcasts include No Man’s Land with Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Patrick Stewart, Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet live from the Barbican, Tom Hiddleston in Coriolanus from the Donmar Warehouse, Gillian Anderson in A Streetcar Named Desire from the Young Vic, James Corden in One Man, Two Guvnors, Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch in Frankenstein and the multi award-winning War Horse.

Some Great New Titles To Add To Your DVD Collection

Unforgettable Hell And High Water

Hell Or High Waterin Hell Or High Water Texas brothers–Toby (Chris Pine), and Tanner (Ben Foster), come together after years divided to rob branches of the bank threatening to foreclose on their family land. For them, the hold-ups are just part of a last-ditch scheme to take back a future that seemed to have been stolen from under them. Justice seems to be theirs, until they find themselves on the radar of Texas Ranger, Marcus (Jeff Bridges) looking for one last grand pursuit on the eve of his retirement, and his half-Comanche partner, Alberto (Gil Birmingham). As the brothers plot a final bank heist to complete their scheme, and with the Rangers on their heels, a showdown looms at the crossroads where the values of the Old and New West murderously collide. Go behind the scenes of this not to be missed film

We review Don’t Breathe, our DVD of the month

dont-breathe-2016During a time where housebreaking has become an everyday occurrence, the superb Don’t Breathe is guaranteed to curb crime and stop criminals dead in their tracks. In this shocking and enthralling thriller, writer-director Fede Alvarez goes for the jugular with an unapologetically brutal and twisted horror-thriller that pits a trio of thieves against an unexpectedly dangerous adversary. Read review

 

alone-in-berlinThe profoundly moving Alone In Berlin is directed by acclaimed actor turned filmmaker Vincent Perez (La Reine Margot),  who adapted revered German novelist Hans Fallada’s international bestseller Every Man Dies Alone / Alone In Berlin for the big screen with Achim von Borries (Good Bye Lenin!). Two-time Academy Award-winner Emma Thompson (Saving Mr Banks), three-time Golden Globe-nominee and Emmy Award winner (Into The Storm) Brendan Gleeson (The Guard), and Golden Globe-nominee Daniel Brühl (Rush) star in Alone In Berlin, a powerfully moving, true-life drama-thriller set in Second World War Berlin. Berlin alone_in_berlin-554986535-large1940. The city is paralyzed by fear. Otto and Anna Quangel are a working class couple living in a shabby apartment block trying, like everyone else, to stay out of trouble under Nazi rule. But when their only child is killed fighting at the front, their loss drives them to an extraordinary act of resistance. They start to drop anonymous postcards all over the city attacking Hitler and his regime. If caught, it means certain execution. Soon their campaign comes to the attention of the Gestapo inspector Escherich and a murderous game of cat-and-mouse begins. But the game serves only to strengthen Otto and Anna’s sense of purpose and a renewed love for each other. Slowly their drab lives and marriage are transformed as they unite in their quiet but profound rebellion… Watch the trailer / Go behind the scenes

Max SteelIn the action-packed Max Steele 16-year old Max (Ben Winchell) has just moved to a new town–and is desperately trying to fit in–when he discovers his body can generate the universe’s most powerful energy. Unbeknownst to Max, a slightly rebellious and hilarious techno-organic extraterrestrial named Steel has been keeping an eye on him, hungry for his super-human energy. When they finally meet, they discover that together they form Max Steel, a superhero possessing powerful strength beyond anything in our world. These two unlikely friends soon find themselves hunted by sinister forces who want to control Max’s powers, as well as an unstoppable enemy from another galaxy. Watch the trailer / Go behind the scenes

ManhattanBased on Colin Harrison’s acclaimed novel Manhattan Nocturne (a New York Times Notable Book of the Year), Manhattan Nocturne tells the story of Porter Wren (Adrien Brody), a New York City tabloid writer with an appetite for scandal. On the beat he sells murder, tragedy and anything that passes for the truth. At home he is a model family man, devoted to his loving wife (Jennifer Beals). But when a seductive stranger (Yvonne Strahovski) asks him to dig into the unsolved murder of her filmmaker husband Simon (Campbell Scott), he can’t resist. In this modern version of a classic film noir, we follow Porter as he is drawn into a very nasty case of sexual obsession and blackmail – one that threatens his job, his marriage, and his life. Watch the trailer

underworld-awakening-kate-beckinsale-werewolfThe fifth installment in the hugely successful series, Underworld: Blood Wars celebrates a return to the brooding aesthetic introduced in the original 2002 hit Underworld, directed by Anna Foerster (Outlander, Criminal Minds) from a screenplay by Cory Goodman (The Last Witch Hunter, Priest), story by Kyle Ward and Goodman, based on characters created by Kevin Grevioux and Len Wiseman & Danny McBride. Vampire Death Dealer Selene (Kate Beckinsale) fends off brutal attacks from both the Lycan clan and the Vampire faction that has betrayed her. Aided by her only allies, David (Theo James) and his father Thomas (Charles Dance), she must end the eternal war between Lycans and Vampires, even if it means making the ultimate sacrifice. Go behind the scenes / Trailer

23-indignationBased on Philip Roth’s late novel, Indignation takes place in 1951, as Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman), a brilliant working class Jewish boy from Newark, New Jersey, travels on scholarship to a small, conservative college in Ohio, thus exempting him from being drafted into the Korean War. But once there, Marcus’s growing infatuation with his beautiful classmate Olivia Hutton (Sarah Gadon), and his clashes with the college’s imposing Dean, Hawes Caudwell (Tracy Letts), put his and his family’s best laid plans to the ultimate test. Go behind the scenes / Watch the trailer

surfsup2-wwesurfersIn the fun animated comedy Surf’s Up 2: WaveMania an adventurous penguin convinces The Hang 5, a notorious big wave riding crew, to accompany him to a surfing location known as The Trenches, where the biggest waves in the world can be found. Watch the trailer

center-stage-first-look-photos-lifetime-movieTo solve its financial problems in the romantic dance-drama Center Stage: On Pointe, the American Ballet Academy (ABA), headed by Jonathan Reeves (Peter Gallagher), seeks to expand its repertoire from ballet to add the more popular contemporary dance. Tommy (Kenny Wormald), Charlie (Sascha Radetsky) and Cooper (Ethan Stiefel) start a competitive camp to recruit new dancers for ABA.Bella Parker (Nicole Muñoz), has always been in the shadow of her sister Kate (Rachele Brooke Smith), a famous ballet dancer. She changes her last name to avoid comparisons, and to her surprise, she is chosen for the camp. Bella has trouble fitting in, and instructor Lorenza (Sarah-Jane Redmond), a ballet snob, is brutally critical of Bella’s dancing. When she is partnered with quiet Damon (Barton Cowperthwite), however, she gains confidence, as the two open up to each other.Rumors surface about one of the dancers, Allegra (Maude Green), and the dancers take sides. Bella strives to remain focused as the day of final audition arrives. When Allegra loses her partner, Bella generously lends her Damon; but in a surprise twist, Bella joins the two on stage, and all three are accepted to ABA. Watch the trailer

DesiertoMexican Screenwriter Jonas Cuarón,  who made his major feature film writing debut in 2013 with the Academy Award-winning Gravity, now makes his feature film directorial debut with Desierto, the terrifying story of a group of people trying to cross the border from Mexico into the United States who encounter a man who has taken border patrol duties into his own racist hands. In Desierto, Moises (Gael García Bernal) is traveling by foot with a group of undocumented workers across a desolate strip of the border between Mexico and the United States, seeking a new life in the North.  They are discovered by a lone American vigilante, Sam (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), and a frantic chase begins.  Set against the stunningly brutal landscape, Moises and Sam engage in a lethal match of wits, each desperate to survive and escape the desert that threatens to consume them. Watch the trailer / Go behind the scenes

Jou RomeoJou Romeo is ’n romantiese tienerkomedie wat by Hoërskool Monument in Krugersdorp afspeel. Yvette en Tyler droom al van graad agt af om Shakespeare se ‘Romeo en Juliet’ in hulle matriekjaar op die planke te bring. Die hoof, Meneer Kirby Potgieter, het egter ander planne – deur die kuns- en kultuurbegroting te sny, kan hy die krieket-klubhuis opgradeer en gevolglik die skool se T20-kriekettoernooi ’n nuwe baadjie gee. In ’n poging om te verseker dat die produksie steeds plaasvind, vra Yvette en Tyler die gewildste ou in die skool – Marko Marais – om die rol van Romeo te vertolk. Maar die cool kinders frons wanneer Marko sy krieketkolf vir ’n paar sykouse verruil… Nietemin slaag Yvette en Tyler se plan en hul vertoning is uitverkoop. Marko bevind homself in ’n tweestryd as hy besef Yvette is meer as net ’n drama nerd terwyl Yvette Marko ook anders begin sien as sy besef die sogenaamde jock is meer as net spiere en ’n mooi glimlag. Mildred, die skool se blogger en VJ, sorg dat die leerders op hoogte gehou word van Marko en Yvette se skynbare romanse… ’n Leuen dreig egter om hul te vervreem en om die opvoering te kelder. Terwyl Marko op die krieketveld moet uithaal en wys om sy droom te bewaarheid en sy reputasie te behou, vra Yvette haarself af of Marko werklik haar Romeo kan wees. Lokprent / Webtuiste

 

 

 

 

Refreshing and invigorating viewing for those who are brave enough to take the plunge.

Reviewed by Daniel Dercksen (24/03/17)

During a time where housebreaking has become an everyday occurrence, the superb Don’t Breathe is guaranteed to curb crime and stop criminals dead in their tracks.

In this shocking and enthralling thriller, writer-director Fede Alvarez goes for the jugular with an unapologetically brutal and twisted horror-thriller that pits a trio of thieves against an unexpectedly dangerous adversary.

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It’s the second feature film from Alvarez, who raised hell with Evil Dead, now showing what happened when a trio of friends breaks into the house of a blind recluse confident of an easy score only to find themselves in a terrifying life-or-death struggle.

It’s not an exploitative rip-off or B-grade seen-it-all-before, but cleverly shows how a seemingly harmless crime can erupt into a nightmarish hell where death is the only outcome.

When the film opens with a young woman being dragged by her hair down the middle of a suburban street during the quiet, early hours of the morning, you know you are in for an out-of-this-world experience that offers something unique: a scary film that is truly frightening.

It’s a masterful cat-and-mouse chase in the tradition of the classic Wait Until Dark, between a relentless hunter and ensnared prey , where the tables turn and constantly spirals into bloody mayhem.

The hunted in Don’t Breathe are three ordinary young people who make the mistake of breaking into the house of a supposedly harmless victim, an action they soon regret and one they cannot escape from as the blind man becomes a conniving killer who cunning bravado leaves no mercy.

Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto as the three perpetrators and Stephen Lang as the old man deserve medals for their outstanding performances; there are moments in the film where the fear is so real, that its heightened realism causes tension you can cut with a knife.

Don’t be surprised if you stop breathing during the film. The good news is that it only gets more frightening, a cold fear that grabs hold of you and never lets go, until the very last moment that will hit you like a ton of bricks, and even then, you won’t be able to escape its rapturous wrath.

During a time where the horror genre is drowned in an onslaught of sequels and nothing original, Don’t Breathe offers refreshing and invigorating viewing for those who are brave enough to take the plunge.

Believe the title, and be assured that Don’t Breathe promises what it delivers, and takes your expectations to extreme measures.

It’s a shocking film with cruel intentions that is not malicious, but it will upset sensitive viewers, so be warned.

The good news is that the film is now available on DVD and Home Entertainment has never been more suitable for a film than this, offering the added pleasure of a delightful audio commentary by the writer-director Fede Alvarez and co-writer Rodo Sayagues, as well as actor Stephen Lang; there’s also some insightful doccies on how the film was made.

Read more about the film

“A fairy tale for our gilded era.”

Opera lovers are in for a treat with the Met Opera’s new staging of Dvořák’s Rusalka, a haunting love story inspired in part by Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of The Little Mermaid,  ”

There will be limited screenings at Nouveau and selected Ster-Kinekor cinemas from March 25.

RUS_8254c-LKristine Opolais stars as the mythical Rusalka, with Brandon Jovanovich as the Prince, Jamie Barton as the witch Jezibaba, Katarina Dalayman as the Foreign Princess, and Eric Owens as Rusalka’s father, the Water Sprite

The opera’s world premiere was staged at the National Theatre in Prague in 1901. The only one of Dvořák’s operas to gain an international following (so far), Rusalka is in many ways a definitive example of late Romanticism—containing folklore, evocations of the natural and the supernatural worlds, and even a poignant interpretation of the idea of a love-death.

The story has a strong national flavour as well as universal appeal, infused by the Romantic supernaturalism of Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué’s novella Undine (previously set as an opera by E.T.A. Hoffmann, Tchaikovsky, and others) and Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid.

RUS_1982a-LKristine Opolais in the lead “gives a vocally lustrous and achingly vulnerable performance” (New York Times) in the role that played a significant part in launching her international career, the mythical Rusalka, who sings the haunting “Song to the Moon”.  This production marks Opolais’s first American appearances, following internationally acclaimed performances in Munich in 2010.

Director Mary Zimmerman brings her wondrous theatrical imagination to Dvořák’s fairytale of love and longing, rejection and redemption, giving the work “an inspired staging” (Huffington Post). Zimmerman embraces Rusalka’s fantastical side, calling it “a wonderful opera for a director because you get to imagine a world that is connected to this world but that has never really been, that’s imaginative”.  Sir Mark Elder conducts “a magnificent rendering of the composer’s lush score” (Huffington Post).

Brandon Jovanovich as the Prince, Jamie Barton as the witch Jezibaba, Katarina Dalayman as the Foreign Princess, and Eric Owens as Rusalka’s father, the Water Sprite, complete “a matchless cast” (New York Times).

Screening times for Rusalka at Nouveau (Rosebank Mall, JHB; Brooklyn Mall, PTA; Gateway Commercial, DBN; and V&A Waterfront, CT) and select Ster-Kinekor cinemas are as follows: 25 March at 17:00; 26 March at 14:30; 28 March and 05 April at 11:30; and 04 April at 18:00.

The running time is 3hrs and 40mins, with two intervals.

For booking information on Rusalka, as part of The Met: Live in HD season, visit www.sterkinekor.com. Follow us on Twitter @nouveaubuzz and on Facebook at Nouveau. For information, call Ticketline on 0861-Movies (668 437).

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Michael Fabiano as Alfredo and Sonya Yoncheva as Violetta in Verdi’s La Traviata. Photo by Marty Sohl

The final four productions in the current season are Verdi’s favourite La Traviata  (08 April), Idomeneo by Wolfang Amadeus Mozart (24 April), Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin (20 May), and finally, Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier (10 June).

Now in its eleventh year, The Met: Live in HD series is screened in cinemas around the world, including exclusive releases at Nouveau and select Ster-Kinekor cinemas in South Africa. The Met’s new season presents ten opulent, full-length operas including five new productions, three of which are new to the series. The series has become a global phenomenon with more than 19 million tickets sold since its inception ten years ago.

These grand operas, filmed at the iconic Metropolitan Opera House, feature some of the world’s most talented singers, conductors, composers, orchestra musicians, stage directors, designers, visual artists, choreographers and dancers.

With these exclusive productions, Nouveau continues to give local audiences the opportunity to witness these spectacular ‘live’ opera productions broadcast on the big screen, in full digital projection, at various sites across South Africa.

 

 

 

Great new titles to add to your collection

Captivating Girl On The Train

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Once this spellbinding thriller grabs hold you it never let’s go, drawing you deeper into a mystery shrouded in a web of deceit and lies, corrupting innocent lives. In the tradition of Hitchcock’s Rear Window, this film allows us to experience the narrative from different points of view, constantly shifting gears from what we think we know, to total disbelief, and then ultimate enlightenment.  Emily Blunt is outstanding in the title role as a commuter captivated by the lives of people who lives in the houses the train passes,  catching daily glimpses of a seemingly perfect couple, Scott and Megan, from the window of her train. One day, Watson witnesses something shocking unfold in the backyard of the strangers’ home. Rachel tells the authorities what she thinks she saw after learning that Megan is now missing and feared dead. Unable to trust her own memory, the troubled woman begins her own investigation, while police suspect that Rachel may have crossed a dangerous line.  Award-winning and internationally produced screenwriter and playwright Erin Cressida Wilson (who won the Independent Spirit Award for her first screenplay Secretary in 2003), wrote the screenplay, based on Paula Hawkins’ best-selling novel, with Tate Taylor (The Help, Get on Up) in the director’s chair. If you are looking for first rate entertainment that’s intelligent and savvy, look no further. Rating: 5/5  Read more about the film / Watch the trailer

Totally Awesome Life Of Pets

secretlife_sb_ogFor their fifth fully animated feature-film collaboration, Illumination Entertainment and Universal Pictures bring us the absolutely hilarious and heartwarming comedy about the lives our pets lead after we leave for work or school each day. For one bustling Manhattan apartment building, the real day starts after the folks on two legs leave for work and school.  That’s when the pets of every stripe, fur and feather begin their own nine-to-five routine: hanging out with each other, trading humiliating stories about their owners, auditioning adorable looks to get better snacks and watching Animal Planet like it is reality TV. The building’s top dog, Max (C.K.), a quick-witted Terrier rescue who’s convinced he sits at the center of owner Katie’s (Kemper) universe, finds his pampered life turned upside down when she brings home Duke (Stonestreet), a sloppy, massive mess of a mongrel with zero interpersonal skills.  When this reluctant canine duo finds themselves out on the mean streets of New York, they have to set aside their differences and unite against a fluffy, yet cunning, bunny named Snowball (Hart), who’s building an army of pets who’ve been abandoned by their owners and are out to turn the tables on humanity…all this and making it home before Katie returns at dinnertime. Entertainment at its best.  The bonus features include themaking of the film. Rating: 5/5  Read more about the film / Watch the trailer

Fantastical Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children

miss-peregrines-home-for-peculiar-childrenRich with fantastical and immersive imagery, memorable characters, epic battles, and unique time travel manipulations, this film offer perfect entertainment for the whole family, brought to life by visionary storymaker Tim Burton, in the grand style of his films Edward Scissorhands, Alice in Wonderland, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. When his beloved grandfather leaves Jake clues to a mystery that spans different worlds and times, he finds a magical place known as Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children. But the mystery and danger deepen as he gets to know the residents and learns about their special powers – and their terrifying enemies. Ultimately, Jake discovers that only his own special peculiarity can save his new friends. Based on the novel “Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children,” written by Ransom Riggs. Rating: 4/5 Read more about the film /  Watch the trailer

Bridget Jones’s Baby

Bridget Jones New BabyThe much-anticipated third installment of the Bridget Jones franchise is here!  Based on creator Helen Fielding’s heroine, the world’s favourite singleton is unexpectedly expecting.

After breaking up with Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), Bridget Jones’s (Renée Zellweger) “happily ever after” hasn’t quite gone according to plan.  Fortysomething and single again, she decides to focus on her job as top news producer and surround herself with old friends and new.  For once, Bridget has everything completely under control.  What could possibly go wrong? Then Bridget’s fortune takes a turn and she meets a dashing American named Jack Qwant (Patrick Dempsey), the suitor who is everything Mr Darcy is not.  In an unlikely twist she finds herself pregnant, but with one hitch: Bridget’s uncertain if the baby’s father is her longtime love…or the newfound one from just across the pond. The bonus features include an alternate ending and the making of the film.  Rating: 3/5  Read more about the film / Watch the trailer

 

Holiday mayhem is the order of the day in this contemporary South African family comedy.

Daniel Dercksen shares a few thoughts with screenwriter and producer Morné Lane, whose film Kampterrein turns a family holiday inside out!

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The cast features a host of familiar names, including Louw Venter (co-creator of the cult comedy TV series The Most Amazing Show), Juanita de Villiers (Somer Son, 2015), Josias Moleele (Crazy Games, Zero Tolerance, 50/50) and Zenande Mfenyana (Generations), Jurgen Hellberg (Binnelanders), Edrien Erasmus (Vir die Voëls, 2016), Reine Swart (Die Pro, 2015), Kaz McFadden (7de Laan), Ruan Wessels (Agent 2000: Die Laksman, 2014), Johan Botha (Arende, Vyfster, 7de Laan), Lindie Stander (Binneland), Therese Benadie (Home Affairs), and Marlee van der Merwe (Sterlopers).

When the Fouchés, an Afrikaans family, arrive at the ATKV Buffelspoort resort for the holidays, only to find that their regular caravan spot has been taken over by the Khumalos. Much hilarity ensues as the two families engage in madcap tit-for-tat exchanges and shenanigans. Buffelspoort manager Oom Gert and his dopey assistant are doing everything they can to prepare the resort for a surprise visit by an inspector from the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa who will determine whether to award the venue an additional star, or not …Questions start to arise about the interest in a beauty salon that offers far more than manis and pedis … There’s an old lady on holiday with her dog which she struggles to hide as no pets are allowed …  a handyman who can’t fix a thing … and a couple of local celebrities who think they can get away with not being recognised – all set against the backdrop of the beautiful and peaceful natural environment of the resort. The tranquillity is most profoundly disturbed by the ongoing clashes between the Fouchés and the Khumalos. Will they be able to set aside their cultural differences and actually enjoy their escape from the rigours of city life?

‘Kampterrein’ is directed by Luhann Jansen whose previous projects include the acclaimed series Sterlopers 1 and 2 for Kyknet. It is produced by Marcus Muller and Morne Lane of Incense Productions, and the executive producers are Joost Smuts, Johan Mehmeyer and Lizelle Demos.

Tell me about Kampterrein, what inspired writing the screenplay?
Marcus Muller(Actor) approached me with the concept. I immediately saw the potential. We started writing the script. It was a combined venture between my self and Marcus Muller.
Was it a difficult story to bring to the big screen?
There are always challenges. But the making of Kampterrein was so much fun. With the amazing crew and cast that we had it was not that difficult.
Were you closely involved with the process of turning words into action?
As producer and writer I was on on set every day. It was amazing to see the words turned into action.
Kampterrein

Morne Lane was part of the camera crew of his first documentary film Play it as it Lies in 2006. Today, nine feature films, four television series, five live recordings and many corporate productions later, he and business partner Willie Olwage launched Pretoria-based Cross Kine. The company distributes Christian and faith-based movies produced by Incense Productions, including films such as Hartsbegeertes, Forsaken, Rowwe Diamante, ReLoad and Suiderkruis.He has worked with well-known actors and celebrities like Gerhard Steyn, Kurt Darren, Angelique Gerber, Marissa Drummond, Johan Scholtz, Hykie Berg, Gretha Wiid, David Louw, Solomon Cupido and many others.His productions have appeared on Supersport, Kyknet, TBN Africa, ASTV and Kruiskyk TV. He is also a seasoned scriptwriter.

It is said that great writers are born, not made … were you born with the talent to write?

I never knew that writing if so much fun. In one of my previous films, I wrote the story for Rowwe Diamante and David Louw wrote the script. It was my first script that wrote. I’m currently busy writing my next film that we will be producing in June 2017.
As a producer and writer, do you think this helps a writer taking complete ownership of his material? 
Definitely, as a producer you have much more knowledge about production, so that when you are writing the screenplay you can visualize the picture even before it’s been made. This helps with the writing process.
What do you think are 5 elements of a great comedy?
Timing is very important, good comedy acting, a director that understands the genre, and a good screenwriter are very important.
What inspires you as a writer?
Having a good story is a great beginning. I’m a dreamer so sometimes I get great ideas and I then immediately try to put them on paper.
What do you think makes a great writer? 
Difficult question. I’m not sure. I think every writer is different. It all depends what your vision is but if I can mention one thing it must be research. Lots of research.
Do you have a specific process or routine that you follow when you start working on a new story?
I do not write when I’m tired or when I’m not creative. Writing takes time and sometimes I just sit in front of my PC.
How personal are the stories you write, or is it pure fiction?
Kampterrein was not as personal because the concept was brought to me. But that said, I grew up in a family where my dad loved camping and we went camping once a month. This helped the writing because I understood camping and love camping. My next film that I’m busy with was also a concept brought to me by one of my students. It’s about relationships. This is very personal due to my own experience with failed relationships. It helps to have pain that you can go to or joy that you can use when you write.
Your views on the South African Film industry?
It is booming at the moment. It helps that we have the DTI supporting us with funds. We are still so far behind Hollywood but we are getting there. It is a challenge to change the views of South Africans.We are sometimes narrow minded and stuck in common slapstick comedy. It’s time for good, deep stories to be told. But it is great to be in the industry.
How do you see the future of our local industry?
It will grow bigger and bigger. We are getting there and South Africa had a few film up for nomination in the last few years. And the fact that more and more International films are shot in south Africa helps to uplift our Production skills in South Africa.
What advice do you have for new screenwriters who want to get their work on the big screen?
Never stop writing. It might takes 10 or 20 scripts to get to the one. Never be afraid to ask for opinions and always be open to suggestions. What might be good for us might not be good for others. We are making movies for the people. Always be teachable. Know your audience. And write for them.
What excites you about film?  About being a filmmaker?

The ability to take words on paper and converting it to picture and the fact that we can influence peoples life’s with film is amazing. All my previous films were inspirational and the testimonies that came from it was life changing.

What do you hope audiences will get from watching Kampterrein? 
Well first of all to see themselves in the film and have a good laugh. People need to feel good after watching Kampterrein. For the one and a half hour that they sit in the cinema they need to forget about their problems and just laugh.
What’s next for you?
I’m busy writing an Afrikaans drama about relationships. We will be producing this film with our students from Bright Light Film Academy. This is a exiting project. Working with my students that is only in High School is super exiting. What they bring with their excitement and skills is amazing. We will be mentoring them, but giving them freedom to express themselves is important. My next film will be my 10th film and is a milestone for me. I will be celebrating it by doing what nobody has done and using my film academy students. 99% of them are under the age of 19. This is exciting because they think different than the rest. They are kind of free spirits. I have worked with them last year when they produced their short films. It is an eye opening experience when you let youngsters run free.

Saint Joan: daughter, farm girl, visionary, patriot, king-whisperer, soldier, leader, victor, icon, radical, witch, heretic, saint, martyr, woman.

Saint Joan – the acclaimed production of the George Bernard Shaw classic play filmed live at London’s Donmar Warehouse – is the next National Theatre Live broadcast to be screened only at Ster-Kinekor’s Nouveau cinemas from Saturday 18 March for limited screenings.

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Gemma Arterton in the Donmar Warehouse’s production of Saint Joan. Dir Josie Rourke. Photo Jack Sain

Directed by The Donmar Warehouse artistic director Josie Rourke (Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Coriolanus) and starring Gemma Arterton (Quantam of Solace, Nell Gwynn, Made in Dagenham) in the lead role, this production puts a modern twist on this one-hundred-year old play that follows the life, times and eventual trial of Joan of Arc – a young country girl who declares a bloody mission to drive the English from France.

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As one of the first Protestants and nationalists, she threatens the very fabric of feudal society and the Catholic Church across Europe. From the torment of the Hundred Years’ War, the charismatic Joan of Arc carved a victory that defined France. The play depicts a woman with all the instinct, zeal and transforming power of a revolutionary.

Saint Joan releases on South African screens from Saturday, 18 March 2017, for four screenings only: on 18, 22 and 23 March at 19:30 and on 19 March at 14:30 at Ster-Kinekor’s Nouveau theatres in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban and Cape Town.  The running time is approximately 180 mins, including an interval.

For booking information on Saint Joan, visit www.cinemanouveau.co.za or www.sterkinekor.com. Follow us on Twitter @nouveaubuzz and on Facebook at Cinema Nouveau. For queries, contact Ticketline on 0861 Movies (668 437).

Launched in 2009, National Theatre Live (NT Live) enables audiences to experience the best of British theatre throughout the year, as the National brings cameras into the auditorium to record and broadcast performances from stage to screen. NT Live broadcasts have been seen by an audience of more than 6.5 million people at over 2 500 venues in 60 countries.

The next productions from NT Live to be screened at Cinema Nouveau are:

Hedda Gabler (from 01 April 2017)

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Ruth Wilson and Rafe Spall in Hedda Gabler. Photo by Jan Versweyveld.

“I’ve no talent for life” – Just married. Bored already. Hedda longs to be free…

Tony Award-winning director Ivo van Hove (A View from the Bridge) returns to NT Live cinema screens with a modern production of Ibsen’s masterpiece, with Ruth Wilson (Luther, The Affair, Jane Eyre) in the title role, in a new version by Patrick Marber (Notes on a Scandal, Closer). Hedda and Tesman have just returned from their honeymoon and the relationship is already in trouble. Trapped but determined, Hedda tries to control those around her, only to see her own world unravel.

 Twelfth Night (from 27 May 2017)

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Twelfth Night – Oliver Chris as Orsino, Tamara Lawrance as Viola, image by Marc Brenner

Directed by Simon Godwin (NT Live’s Man and Superman, The Beaux’ Stratagem), Tamsin Greig (Friday Night Dinner, Black Books, Episodes) is Malvolia in a new twist on Shakespeare’s classic comedy of mistaken identity.

A ship is wrecked. Viola is washed ashore but her twin brother Sebastian is lost. Determined to survive, she steps out to explore a new land. So begins a whirlwind of mistaken identity and unrequited love.

Additional NT Live broadcasts in 2017 at Cinema Nouveau include:

  • ROSEN

    Joshua McGuire and Daniel Radcliffe. Photo by Manual Harlan

    Rozencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead (03 June), with Daniel Radcliffe, Joshua McGuire and David Haig in Tom Stoppard’s brilliantly funny situation comedy, from The Old Vic theatre;

  • Obsession (24 June), starring Jude Law in this new stage adaptation, broadcast from the Barbican Theatre;
  • Peter Pan (08 July), captured live at the National Theatre, this performance of JM Barrie’s much-loved tale screens as perfect cinema fare for the mid-year school holidays: All children, except one, grow up…;
  • Salomé (22 July), directed by South African-born award-winning director Yaёl Farber;
  • Marianne Elliott’s production of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America – Part I & II (19 Aug & 02 Sept), with Andrew Garfield, Susan Brown, Nathan Lane, James McArdle, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Denise Gough and Russell Tovey; and
  • Yerma (23 Sept), Simon Stone’s radical production of Federico García Lorca’s achingly powerful masterpiece, with Billie Piper reprising the lead role.

 

Kong is the seminal big-screen badass, and continues to resonate as everything from a living tempest of nature’s fury to an avatar for our own primal selves.

First unleashed more than eight decades ago, King Kong has thundered off the big screen and into our world with a force that echoes through our collective consciousness still.  Now the time has come to restore the crown of the greatest movie monster myth of all in Kong: Skull Island, re imagining the origins of one the most powerful monster myths of all.

“Kong represents all the mystery and wonder that still exists in the world,” says Kong: Skull Island director Jordan Vogt-Roberts.  “That’s why he will never stop being relevant.”

KONG: SKULL ISLAND

A compelling, original adventure from director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (“The Kings of Summer”), the film tells the story of a diverse team of scientists, soldiers and adventurers uniting to explore a mythical, uncharted island in the Pacific, as dangerous as it is beautiful.  Cut off from everything they know, the team ventures into the domain of the mighty Kong, igniting the ultimate battle between man and nature.  As their mission of discovery becomes one of survival, they must fight to escape a primal Eden in which humanity does not belong.

Vogt-Roberts directed the film from a screenplay by Dan Gilroy and Max Borenstein and Derek Connolly, story by John Gatins.

The quest to re-imagine cinema’s mightiest ape would reunite the producing team behind the 2014 blockbuster “Godzilla.”

For Thomas Tull, who produced the film together with Mary Parent, Jon Jashni and Alex Garcia, it was a prospect both thrilling and incredibly daunting.

“We wanted to create a fresh, new experience for the audience,” Tull offers.  “As fans ourselves, it was incredibly important to us that we honor the essential elements of this character that have connected with so many people around the world in a big, fun, epic adventure that delivers the pure entertainment and spectacle of an action-packed monster movie.”

The legend and iconography of Kong continue to strike consistently deep yet wildly varying chords with generations of fans.  “A lot of things define Kong—his size, his power, his animal nature, but also his heart and huge depth of soul,” observes producer Mary Parent.  “He keys into our natural affinity for other primates, and his gestures and expressions are much more humanlike than even natural primates—which is what has always set Kong apart from other monsters.  Even though he’s a terrifying predator, it’s impossible not to root for him.  In some ways, he’s been more like the classic romantic hero than a villain.”

Kong is the seminal big-screen badass, and continues to resonate as everything from a living tempest of nature’s fury to an avatar for our own primal selves.  Actor Tom Hiddleston suggests, “Kong embodies the internal clash between our civilized selves and the place in our consciousness that still has a very real sense of something bigger than ourselves.  How do you reconcile this massive creature who is both a terrifying force of nature and a sentient being with an intelligence that is different from ours but no less sophisticated?”

Kong

King Kong was originally conjured by revolutionary special effects master Willis H. O’Brien and sculptor Marcel Delgado to be the enigmatic central figure and unquestionable heart of Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack’s groundbreaking 1933 classic “King Kong”—a dazzling mash-up of Beauty and the Beast, high adventure and giant monsters that would shock and awe millions of moviegoers across the world.  It played to sold-out crowds at the height of the Great Depression and broke records through decades of re-releases and television airings.  It was the original effects-driven blockbuster and monster movie milestone, and has been remade, parodied and spun-off on every sized screen.  Kong has also become embedded in pop culture, inspiring everything from video games to hip hop lyrics to college dissertations, and deploying armies of action figures, models, toys and games.

Kong’s defiant end from high atop the Empire State Building is among the most iconic of all time.  But for fans—and Tull counts himself among them—his provocative beginning remains the Holy Grail of origin stories.  In fact, his long-held goal of a 21st century MonsterVerse wouldn’t be complete without it.  The producers brought in writers Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein and Derek Connolly to craft the screenplay from a story by John Gatins.  Tull states, “One of the most fascinating elements of the Kong lore is Skull Island—a place with the most exotic, lethal food chain you can imagine, and Kong is the alpha predator keeping the rest at bay.  That’s the mythology we wanted to crack open in this film.  Our characters are not taking Kong off the island.  They have to survive his domain.”

Samuel L. Jackson, who plays Lt. Colonel Preston Packard, the human alpha among the film’s characters, relishes the notion.  “We want to see Kong in an environment that is as big and spectacular as he is,” says the acting legend.  “We know he lives in the jungle, but what else is in that jungle?  What’s out there that allows him to exist?  Are there others or is he an anomaly?  And we find out that he was once part of a community that got wiped out by something else that’s on that island.  Now he’s the guardian that keeps those things in check.”

With “Kong: Skull Island”—and “Godzilla” before it—the producing team is laying the foundation for a vast, shared universe of monsters, one grounded in our own world but heightened to allow for the existence of MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms, in the “MonsterVerse” vernacular).  But to do it justice meant not only orchestrating the collision of two longstanding cinematic mythologies but merging two distinct timelines.

The key came in the form of a game-changing idea from Vogt-Roberts, an emerging filmmaker with just one feature under his belt—the acclaimed independent hit “The Kings of Summer.”  Producer Alex Garcia reveals, “The linchpin of our Godzilla story is the notion that the 1954 nuclear tests weren’t tests; the government was actually trying to kill something.  Jordan came in the door with the idea of setting the film in the 1970s, and that immediately lit up our imaginations.  Not only did the `70s jibe with the MonsterVerse, it’s a rich period to explore thematically and allowed us to bring ultra-real warfare and giant monsters together within the same movie.”

For Vogt-Roberts, “King Kong” had been the entrée to a lifelong obsession with film.  “‘King Kong’ is legitimately film history, and when I first saw the 1933 film, it completely shattered my brain with its endless cinematic possibilities,” he says.  “It was the first movie to transport audiences to an uncharted, untamed world.  Though it was on our own planet, we were confronted with things that we were told couldn’t exist here.”

A self-described “nerd,” the Detroit-born filmmaker came of age on a steady diet of monster movies, summer blockbusters and video games.  His discovery of ‘70s cinema would be the flashing neon sign guiding him forward into making movies of his own.  Though that generation’s bold, brash, socially conscious films had been produced long before Vogt-Roberts was even born, they spoke directly to his own contemporary experience and sensibility.  “The ‘70s are like a weird black mirror of our modern world,” he notes.  “Everything that was happening then—political scandals, civil unrest, divisive wars, distrust of the government—reflects exactly what’s happening right now.  At the same time, the `70s was kind of the last time when science and myth could co-exist.  Since then, we’ve been on a slow quest to destroy the unknown.”

By colliding Cooper and Schoedsack’s lost world of monsters into a chaotic era of choppers, napalm and rock n’ roll, then dropping the audience directly into the fray, Vogt-Roberts hoped to bring all the power and relevance of Kong to today’s moviegoers.  “I want this film to take people out of their comfort zone and thrust them into a balls-to-the-wall adventure that is visceral, intense and like nothing they’ve ever seen before.  I’m pretty sure you won’t find a gigantic ape-like creature punching a Huey helicopter in another movie,” he smiles, “but that was the movie I wanted to see.”

Moving the story from the 1930s to a more modern, but not modern-day, setting folded seamlessly into the themes the filmmakers were already exploring.  Hiddleston, who had signed on to play the film’s disillusioned SAS vet Captain James Conrad prior to the director coming aboard, states, “It’s a world before the tyranny of global satellites, near total surveillance and information overload.  We didn’t have the illusion—as we do today with the internet and cell phones and GPS—that we knew everything about the world we live in.  The period setting also gave us an extraordinary prism to explore what Kong might represent in a conversation about war, and the tendency of mankind to destroy what he doesn’t understand.”

For Brie Larson, who plays wartime photojournalist Mason Weaver, this dynamic gave the cast rich thematic territory to explore in their search for monsters.  “To me, this story feels like an allegory for the animal nature that’s within us all,” she remarks.  “We’re so far removed now from that part of ourselves; we seem to feel the need to overcome it in so many ways.  It also taps into the ways we deal with the world around us—how we treat nature and how we value it, and how we value other human beings as well.”

The year 1973 not only marked the end of the Vietnam War but the dawn of the Landsat program, when NASA began mapping the globe from space, which gave the filmmakers a credible hook for Kong’s exotic home to be discovered.  “But,” producer Jon Jashni comments, “Skull Island is a place where human arrogance can perhaps be your undoing, if you don’t look before you leap.”

Though Kong is the alpha on the island, he’s not the most vicious or terrifying thing in that order…by far.  “Skull Island has been completely closed off from the rest of the world, and followed its own unique and bizarre evolutionary path,” Garcia says.  “It’s extraordinarily beautiful but also the most dangerous place on Earth, with creatures unlike any we’ve encountered.  This is no place for human beings, and their very presence, in fact, will have a profound effect on this delicate ecosystem.”

Vogt-Roberts plunged into mapping the island’s dramatic shifts in feel and temperament and the effect each wonder and terror has on the characters and their choices.  “One of the most amazing things we’ve done as human beings is to remove ourselves from the food chain,” he notes.  “These characters come to Skull Island with all the presumptions of our place in the outside world and suddenly none of that matters…because they’re back in the food chain.  I wanted to explore what that would do to people:  Who breaks?  Who becomes stronger because of it?  Who rallies together?”

Those questions, the director adds, are the fulcrum upon which “Kong: Skull Island” spins.  “I love the idea of taking a handful of characters that have come out of the Vietnam War not believing in anything or quite knowing where they belong and thrusting them into this mystical place.  Kong is not just a giant animal in our film.  This isn’t a man versus nature story.  That’s why our Kong will be the biggest in Hollywood history—I want audiences to feel what it’s like to look up and see something conscious and ferocious and 100-feet tall looming over you.”

“Kong: Skull Island” will bring moviegoers face-to-face with a living mountain of majesty and sheer force.  But his mammoth stature is not the only thing the filmmakers are changing up.  Parent explains, “Kong is an adolescent when we meet him in the film; he’s still growing into his role as alpha.  And this is an island teeming with far more vicious creatures, including the Skullcrawlers, which killed his ancestors and made him last of his kind.  That’s what’s so exciting about exploring this piece of the mythology.  Kong is such a compelling figure anyway, but he’s facing the defining battle of his life in this film—the fight to claim his rightful place as King of Skull Island.”

kong_tan200_scp_txtd_bt1886_v12_e10c11_072216.0087984.tif

The quest to immerse today’s audiences in Skull Island would hurl cast and crew across the globe to some of the most intoxicatingly beautiful and exotic locales ever put on film.  Vogt-Roberts offers, “When you’re bringing a myth to the screen not as a symbol but in the flesh, it’s critical to place him in an environment that feels tactile, real and absolutely alive.  So it was incredibly important to shoot the film practically in environments the actors can interact with, as opposed to putting them on a green screen stage.  I want people to look up at the screen and say, ‘I believe that could exist.’”

The production of “Kong: Skull Island” spanned three continents—with locations in Australia, Hawaii and Vietnam—to capture footage that would later be seamlessly fused together to create a never-before-seen world.  The first major feature film to shoot extensively in Vietnam, it entailed a complex logistical operation to open up the pristine environments in northern Vietnam for filming and to safeguard the ecology before, during and after principal photography.

To bring the film’s seminal title character thundering back to the screen, Vogt-Roberts drew together an A-team of behind-the-scenes collaborators, who would push the envelope on design and effects, and raise the bar on digital character creation.

“Kong: Skull Island” marked only the second film—and by far the biggest—that Vogt-Roberts has made, but he was undaunted.  He reflects, “What guided me through this epic journey was to create an experience for the audience that will feel so real that it will open up a space for myth and mystery in their lives.  Even though we’re making a completely new movie with, with a very different narrative…this is King Kong.”

”The most difficult part of writing the novel was keeping it simple. I’m dealing with a dog, and a dog isn’t going to be thinking in complicated metaphors.  A dog is going to be mostly about nouns, much less about adverbs.  Its vocabulary is generally limited to around 40 or 50 words, and I wanted to write from the perspective of a real dog and not a dog that could understand English.”

Based on author W. Bruce Cameron’s beloved best-selling novel, A Dog’s Purpose shares the heartwarming and surprising story of one devoted dog who finds the meaning of his own existence through the lives of the humans he teaches to laugh and love.

Over the course of five decades, a single voice—that of an indefatigable dog—takes us along a riveting and uplifting path that speaks to the heart of anyone who has ever loved an animal.  Although he is reincarnated in the bodies of multiple canines through the years, it is his unbreakable bond with a kindred spirit named Ethan that carries and inspires one dog throughout his journey to find a true purpose for his boy.

“I made two movies about dogs previously—My Life as a Dog and Haichi—so this is my third dog story,” says director Lasse Hallström, who claims it is no accident he was attracted to the material: . ”If you have an interest in outsiders and emotions that seems irrational to humans, you can certainly relate to a dog’s feelings and a dog’s life.”

A Dog’s Purpose is adapted for the screen by Cameron & Cathryn Michon (Muffin Top: A Love Story) and Audrey Wells (Shall We Dance) and Maya Forbes (Infinitely Polar Bear) & Wally Wolodarsky (Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days).

adogspurposetrailer-1-809x538A Joyous Concept: What Is a Dog’s Purpose?

After its publication in 2010, “A Dog’s Purpose” became an enormous hit, finding an audience with animal lovers across the globe who were charmed by its tender, poignant and humorous take on what our animal companions think of us and why they are truly here.  The No. 1-New York Times Best-Selling book spent more than one year on that list and has been translated into 20 languages, and published in 29 different countries worldwide.  It even spawned a sequel, “A Dog’s Journey,” which was published in 2012 and achieved similar acclaim.

The series author, W. Bruce Cameron, is well known as the writer of the best-selling humor tome “8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter.”  The book was adapted into a hugely popular ABC sitcom, which starred the late John Ritter, and Katey Sagal and introduced the world to The Big Bang Theory’s Kaley Cuoco.

Cameron was moved to write the novel when the woman he was dating lost her dog, and she was having a difficult time processing her grief.  He explains the inspiration: “We were driving up the California coast on the 101 freeway, and I was hurting for her.  Out of nowhere, as if I downloaded it off the Internet, this story came into my head about a dog who doesn’t actually die, but is reborn again and again and again, and develops the sense that there might be some purpose why this is happening.”

The passenger Cameron was consoling was his future wife—as well as one of his fellow A Dog’s Purpose screenwriters—Cathryn Michon.  Michon remembers the day quite fondly: “On our way to the Bay Area, we stopped to get a latte, and when I came back to the car Bruce told me he had a story to tell me…and that it was going to be his next book.  He told this story for 90 minutes straight, and by the end of it I was completely in a puddle I was crying so much.”

For Cameron, watching dogs interact with each other and analyzing their behavior was the most helpful research he did before crafting his novel.  The writer explains: “The most important thing I did in researching the book was not reading about dogs, but going to the dog park and seeing how they behave.  Dogs have a crazy social structure.  Two dogs will be best friends, but when a third dog comes in the dynamic changes instantly.”  He laughs.  “It is 10 times worse than middle school.”

According to the story’s creator, the most difficult part of writing the novel was keeping it simple: “I’m dealing with a dog, and a dog isn’t going to be thinking in complicated metaphors.  A dog is going to be mostly about nouns, much less about adverbs.  Its vocabulary is generally limited to around 40 or 50 words, and I wanted to write from the perspective of a real dog and not a dog that could understand English.”

Producer Gavin Polone read “A Dog’s Purpose” while it was still in galley form, and at the request of Cameron and Michon, he would shepherd it through the development process.  During this time, it drew the attention of Amblin Entertainment.  “We wanted to find a producer to take the book to the next step, and Gavin has such a great reputation for protecting writers, so we sent the book to him,” reveals Cameron.  In their mission to find a champion to take the book to the next step, they needed a director that would have the same goal in mind.

Given Hallström’s track record of inventive filmmaking, and having already directed an Amblin Entertainment (then DreamWorks) film, The 100-Foot Journey, it was a unanimous decision that the filmic version of this story could not be in better hands.  The director claims it is no accident he was attracted to the material: “I made two movies about dogs previously—My Life as a Dog and Haichi—so this is my third dog story.  If you have an interest in outsiders and emotions that seems irrational to humans, you can certainly relate to a dog’s feelings and a dog’s life.”

While Cameron and his fellow script writers had to create rules for our story—in terms of what the dog was thinking and could process—Hallström also had to keep things logical…in what some might say is an illogical notion.

“Ultimately, the one rule we had was that the dog could not speak on camera,” offers Hallström.  “With the narration, the dog’s thoughts have human elements to it, and I have become more and more caught up in the idea of reincarnation because of this film.  But whether the possibility is real or not…who knows.  The point is to be open to the magic that there is something going on in the universe that we cannot yet explain.”

Hallström felt his most important task as director was to ground the actor’s and dog’s performances in reality.  His goal was not to stylize anything nor reach for the comedic aspects.  “I wanted a tone that feels authentic and has a light touch to it, while being rooted in real emotions—of both the dogs and the humans.  It was a fun challenge.”

One of the world’s most renowned directors, LASSE HALLSTRÖM (Directed by) is best known to audiences as the maker of such poignant but resolutely unsentimental films as My Life as a Dog, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and The Cider House Rules. The son of an amateur filmmaker, Hallström was born in Stockholm on June 2, 1946.  He began his professional career in high school when, with the assistance of a group of friends, he made a short film about some schoolmates who had formed a band. In 1975, Hallström made his debut with the romantic drama A Guy and a Gal.  Two years later, he focused his lens on one of Sweden’s most famous exports in ABBA: The Movie.  He subsequently made a number of romantic comedies; but it was not until 1985, with My Life as a Dog, that Hallström had his international breakthrough.  A bona fide art-house hit, My Life as a Dog was the touching and wholly un-patronizing coming-of-age story of a young boy sent to live with relatives when his terminally ill mother can no longer care for him.  The film earned a score of international honors, including the Best Foreign Film at the Golden Globe Awards and a New York Film Critics Circle award.  Hallström received Oscar nominations for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.

BRUCE CAMERON (Based on the Novel by/Screenplay by) is a Benchley award winner for humor and was named the 2011 Columnist of the Year by the National Society of newspaper Columnists. He has written for television (8 Simple Rules, based on his book) and co-wrote the feature film Muffin Top: A Love Story, which was released in November 2014. He produced and co-wrote the feature film Cook-Off!, which is in postproduction. His novel “A Dog’s Purpose” spent 52 weeks on The New York Times Best Sellers list.  The sequel, “A Dog’s Journey,” was published in May 2012, and was instantly a The New York Times Best Seller. Cameron has been a guest on Good Morning America, Fox & Friends, The Today Show, Oprah, Anderson Cooper and CBS This Morning. In 2017, “A Dog’s Way Home” will be published in May, the humor book “A Dad’s Purpose” will be published in June and the young readers novel “Molly’s Story” came out in September.

CATHRYN MICHON (Screenplay by) is a screenwriter, actress and feature film director, as well as the author of the best-selling “Grrl Genius” book series.  An alumna of The Second City, she has written for numerous Primetime Emmy Award-winning television series.  She co-wrote, co-directed and stars in the upcoming Lionsgate ensemble feature comedy Cook-Off!, which also stars Wendi McLendon-Covey, Melissa McCarthy and Gary Anthony Williams.  Michon also directed, co-wrote and starred in the award-winning indie film Muffin Top: A Love Story with David Arquette, currently on Netflix.

AUDREY WELLS (Screenplay by) is a screenwriter and film director from San Francisco, California.  She is the writer and director of Under the Tuscan Sun, which starred Diane Lane.  She also wrote and directed Guinevere, which starred Sarah Polley and Stephen Rea, for which she won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at the Sundance Film Festival and the jury prize at the Deauville Film Festival.  Wells wrote the original screenplays for The Truth About Cats & Dogs and The Kid.  Other writing credits include George of the Jungle, The Game Plan and the American adaptation of Shall We Dance.  Wells is currently adapting The Hate U Give for director George Tillman Jr. and Fox 2000, and writing an original animated feature screenplay for Oriental DreamWorks.  Wells serves as a visiting professor in the Graduate School of Theater, Film and Television at UCLA.

MAYA FORBES (Screenplay by) began her career writing for The Larry Sanders Show.  She has since written numerous television episodes and feature films. Her television credits include The People vs. O.J. Simpson and her film credits include Monsters vs. Aliens and Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days.  All of these she co-wrote with her husband, Wally Wolodarsky. Forbes was named one of Variety’s “10 Directors to Watch” for her directorial debut Infinitely Polar Bear, which starred Mark Ruffalo and Zoe Saldana.  Her latest project The Polka King, written and directed with Wolodarsky, stars Jack Black and will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in 2017.

WALLY WOLODARSKY (Screenplay by) began his career as a writer on The Tracey Ullman Show.  He received a Primetime Emmy Award for his work.  Wolodarsky was an original writer and producer on The Simpsons for the first four seasons, where he won his second Primetime Emmy Award.  He has directed three features and has written several features with his wife Maya Forbes.  The Polka King is the first feature they have written and directed together.

“This is not “another apartheid movie”

South African filmmaker, Mandla Walter Dube, makes his feature directorial debut with the human drama Kalushi – The Solomon Mhlanga Story.

Sacrificing his short life, through a brutal death in the hands of South Africa’s apartheid police has made Mahlangu a celebrated struggle hero in the revolutionary fight or freedom.

“Our movie follows the journey of this young man who, at the outset, is not at all involved in the politics of South Africa and was not involved in the student uprising on June 16, 1976.  He was trying to make a living as a hawker on the streets of Mamelodi and on the trains in Pretoria. When he had the hero’s call, he refused it, and then, something tragic happens to him which changes the entire course of his life.  When we are hit with adversity we have to start making certain decisions to help us change.  You either going to change or change is going to change you.”

Kalushi4_web

The all South African cast includes Thabo Rametsi (ITV’s Wild at Heart series) in the pivotal role of “Mahlangu”, alongside Thabo Malema (The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency, helmed by The English Patient director, Anthony Mingella), Louw Venter (Semi-Soet, and Kite – alongside Samuel L. Jackson), Marcel van Heerden (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom), Welile Nzuza (Vehicle 19 with Paul Walker), Shika Budhoo, and Pearl Thusi. Acclaimed poet and playwright, Dr. Gcina Mhlophe plays the role of Martha Mahlangu, and Kalushi’s actual brother, Lucas Mahlangu, serves as a cultural advisor to the production.

 

Kalushi is a true story about a nineteen-year-old hawker, Solomon Mahlangu from the streets of Mamelodi a ghetto township outside Pretoria in South Africa. He is brutally beaten by police.

Kalushi goes into exile following the 1976 Soweto uprisings to join the liberation movement.

He returns from military training in Angola en route to their mission, his friend and comrade, Mondi, loses control and shoots two innocent people on Goch Street in Johannesburg. Mondi is severely beaten & tortured; Kalushi is forced to stand trial under the common purpose doctrine.

The state seeks the highest punishment from the court, Death by Hanging.

Kalushi has his back against the wall and uses the courtroom as a final battlefield. His sacrifice immortalizes him into a hero of the struggle and an international icon of June 16, 1976.

Dube, makes his feature directorial debut with the human drama, from a screenplay co-written by Dube, and Leon Otto. Kalushi is produced by Walter Ayres (co-producer of Diana, starring Naomi Watts). Dube also serves as a producer.   Kalushi is lensed by American cinematographer, Tommy (Maddox) Upshaw (Iron Man 2, as camera operator) with Chantel L. Carter in charge of Production Design, and Costume design by Ruy Filipe (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom).

Director’s Statement

Mandla-Walter-Dube

Mandlankayise Walter Dube (Director/Producer/Co-Screenwriter) is a writer and award-winning Cinematographer who hails from in Mabopane, North West of Tshwane. Mandla lectured cinematography at both Wits Television and at Tshwane University of Technology and also consulted in both Cinematography and Heritage Management, obtaining a Master’s degree in both fields. Mandla’s diverse body of work includes documentaries, shorts, theatre and feature films. Sobukwe: A Great Soul, won SAFTA’s 2013 Best Film, Editing, Directing and Educational Documentary, Kalushi, (the Stage play), at the South African State Theatre, The Rivonia Trial stage play. He also produced music videos for Sony, City of Tshwane, and the South African Post Office. Mandla’s work in feature films includes Tsotsi, The Italian Job, Strike Back, Angel Heart, and Umtunzi we Ntaba Mandla’s experience in Short films includes Badger, Sunset Tuxedo, and A Single Rose. In addition to his qualification in Heritage Management, Mandla’s passion and commitment to South African Arts and Heritage has manifested in productions in various media, including the theatre production The Reburial of the Mapungubwe Remains, the photographic exhibition In Pursuit of Liberty in association with the Nelson Mandela Foundation, and the music concerts Moves for Life, and Velvet Opera Sisters.

“This is not “another apartheid movie” the canvas that we are using to tell the story is not set in Apartheid South Africa alone. It’s about events that fuelled him to be able to leave the country, that and tragedies that happened to him and he transitions in a different country, Mozambique where he finds new challenges; he meets a child soldier who is an orphan and that’s the avenue that he uses to escape the challenges that he had as a kid. However, another change has to come, he can’t stay in Mozambique for too long, there’s a reason he went into exile and that’s was to get training to be equipped to fight against oppression.

“Initially, when he gets into the struggle it is because he wants to avenge what happened to him and then he learns that revenge is not a good thing, instead, he learns about the human spirit; being able to accept certain things and then to do something about the things that you can actually change.

“After 6 months he’s rescued from Mozambique, and in his new terrain, Angola, he witnesses civil war where black people are killing black people. This makes him question ‘why are we even doing this, why are we getting into the struggle against apartheid back home?’ He is exposed to literature such as The Pedagogy Of The Oppressed, The Art Of War, Ché Guevara, and he becomes cognizant about what love is: it’s not just about loving yourself, it’s being able to retain love and make it tangible, and you have to fight for it. So the loss of his family back home begins to grow in him, and he questions the reason why he left South Africa.

“The toughest task as a filmmaker was deciding which point of view to tell this story from, and from which angle to approach it. What we did is we played with it a lot, because it’s Court room drama as well. Our points of view include the system structure at the time; Solomon’s; his mother’s, his friends, as well the investigating officer. The entire story embraces human rights, and the strength of the human spirit triumphing over obstacles.

“Growing up we always look up to certain heroes; all of us need a hero to give us hope and courage. This is someone who comes from humble, poverty stricken background, yet he gets up to try to help his family and there are all these trials and tribulations that he overcomes, until he is eventually executed. I think there is universal appeal here, about personal valour and triumph.”

The People In Solomon Mahlangu’s Life

Dube was determined that the entire cast would feature South African performers. “It was critical to find a performer to play the pivotal role of Solomon, an artist who could have resonance from scene to scene, somebody who could carry the emotional beats”, says  Dube. He had already settled on an actor when he came across Thabo Rametsi.  “Actually I had cast somebody and just before we signed him up Thabo walked into the room and tore it apart. He has the look of innocence.”

“The themes of courage, hope and tragedy run hand in hand in this film. We see it not only in Solomon’s character, but also in the characters of Brenda, Van Heerden, Priscilla and Martha Mahlangu. The film focuses on 3 phases in Solomon Mahlangu’s life: his transition from youth to adulthood, his journey as a struggle hero and finally his significant and consequential rise to manhood, so it wasn’t just a matter of Solomon the “struggle icon”, he also represents the voice of all the young people who participated in the Soweto Youth Uprising of June 16th 1976, so I incorporated a lot of characters and let them sing their song through him.”

Expressing admiration for his director, Rametsi says, “Mandla’s vision and passion for the film was an interesting thing because he didn’t want to make a documentary, a docudrama, or an apartheid movie. He wanted to make a movie, to tell this story through film”.

Rametsi says his approach to playing Solomon was partly inspired by comments from his own brother. “He told me that Solomon never portrayed any emotion, he was very still even to his death he never showed any emotion whatsoever. That was a challenge for me as an actor because that ‘down’ type of character is not very interesting for the audience.  So instead of playing him as Solomon Mahlangu I decided to play him as a young man of that generation.”

Perhaps one of the saddest implications of Solomon’s execution is shown through Solomon’s mother, Martha Mahlangu, who not only loses her youngest child but has to live with the advanced knowledge of the date and time of when he will truly be taken away from her.

Dube considers his fortune in casting acclaimed storyteller and poet, Dr. Gcina Mhlophe, in the role of “Martha”, Solomon’s mother. “Martha was a quiet woman and I always wanted a storyteller to play the role, and Gcina brings to this character something I don’t think I could have found in any other lead. She comes from a stage, not film or television background. In her personal life Gcina has had to overcome many challenges and this is reflected in her writing. She is a strong matriarch and I specifically wrote the role for Gcina.”

“Mandla’s vision for Mama Mahlangu was a character who managed to endured unimaginable emotional agony. Martha did not actively fight in the struggle, but she wanted to keep the family together no matter what, pray for them and make sure they live as normal a life as possible. But, to hear the day when your child is going to die….? We know that everyone is going to die but to know the date and the time must have been unbelievable pain for her to endure.”

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to work with Mandla,” says Gcina, “he was very clear about what he wanted from day one and throughout filming he stayed with his original vision. He cares very much about this story and he wants it told with the authenticity, respect and dignity that it deserves.”

Dube also specifically wrote the role of Brenda, Solomon’s girlfriend, with Pearl Thusi in mind. “When I met Pearl I knew she had something we could develop”, says Dube. “She goes through many changes from a privileged 17 year old who is very unaware of the political situation, to witnessing police beat and kill children during the Youth Uprising and then becoming a totally different person.”

“Brenda represents a beacon of hope for Solomon while he’s in Angola”, says Thusi.  “She is his reminder of the life he still has to live when he returns, but he never really gets to experience that, nor does he end up with her”. Here we are faced with one of the tragedies of Solomon’s life. We see what was taken away from him was not only his life but also the life he could have shared with others”.

Kalushi

“It’s about the relationships that we created within apartheid, where there was love and there was happiness. Some sort of happiness, some sort of goodness that people could focus on and the difficulty was how they dealt with that when it was taken away from them, even the little they chose to have in that time could be taken away from them at any time and they could do nothing about it. And it was just the strength of character in that situation, how they dealt with it and how they moved on or how they didn’t move on. It’s all about emotions and experiences.”

The theme of hope is significantly seen in the role of Solomon’s defence lawyer, “Priscilla”, played by award-wining stage actress, Shika Budhoo. “Priscilla plays a very important role in the story by encouraging Solomon to not give up the fight for his justice during his 2 year legal battle for justice. She’s a gutsy human rights lawyer, and you can see the fight in her as she fights for Solomon. She’s very close to him and they find a bond. I think all human rights lawyers have that, that otherness, it’s not just about you. She’s got this hope in her pocket that she almost transfers to him. I think she’s very important in the story in getting him to fight through the struggle.”

Kalushi looks at many aspects of South African life at the time and these multiple layers it apart from other stories set at the time. Dube affirms: “It is the story of many people not only about those who struggled and suffered. We see that the struggle transcended race and creed and this is captured by the role of security police officer, van Heerden (played by Louw Venter) who was handed Solomon Mahlangu’s case.  Van Heerden represents white Afrikaners of the time who have all been painted with the same brush by both history and art”.

Louw Venter unpacks “van Heerden”, a chief inspector forced to investigate this political incident. “I think he’s an empathetic character and it’s a very fresh and original approach to how the ‘apartheid policeman’ is generally portrayed in film. I was very attracted to it because I’m an Afrikaans person myself and I come from a family where there has been a number of policeman and in a sense my motivation of the character is quite human, and quiet noble”. Venter’s approach has been to create a multi-dimensional character on the screen.

Tommy London was another young voice of the struggle and is portrayed by Welile Nzuzas.  “He is the exact opposite of Solomon,” says Dube, “when we first meet Tommy he is murdering a man in an alley, and we know immediately that he is not as innocent as Solomon and we can only wonder what their journey together will bring”.

Nzuza notes that his character is far savvier than Solomon’s and he has experienced far greater oppression at the hands of the government.  “I think having seen oppression and being forced to speak a language that they didn’t want to speak affected Tommy’s brothers and sisters, and he joined the movement against apartheid at a very young age. He immediately stood up and decided to be an adversary of the system and he ended being the guy who took people to the military camps across the border, to Angola, Mozambique and Swaziland. With police all over we understand that he risks the danger in helping Solomon become the man that he was”.

 

In seeking to tell this tale that is not only a story-within-a-story but also an exploration of human desire, ambition and indulgence, Ford realized that he would be exercising both his directing and screenwriting skills to an even greater degree than with his first film.

Boldly exploring the psychological and emotional sea changes of men and women living – or trying to live –their own truths, the masterful Nocturnal Animals is the second film from extraordinary visionary, writer/director Tom Ford, following the acclaimed and award-winning A Single Man (2009).

4100_D002_00299_v3 (l-r.) Writer/Director Tom Ford and Academy Award nominees Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Shannon review a scene on the set of the upcoming romantic thriller NOCTURNAL ANIMALS, a Focus Features release. Credit: Merrick Morton/Focus Features

(l-r.) Writer/Director Tom Ford and Academy Award nominees Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Shannon review a scene on the set of Nocturnal Animals, a Focus Features release. Credit: Merrick Morton/Focus Features

 

Nocturnal Animals is a cautionary tale about coming to terms with the choices that we make as we move through life and of the consequences that our decisions may have. In an increasingly disposable culture where everything including our relationships can be so easily tossed away, this is a story of loyalty, dedication and of love. It is a story of the isolation that we all feel, and of the importance of valuing the personal connections in life that sustain us.
– Tom Ford

Nocturnal Animals follows one woman caught between her past and her present, while she consumes and is consumed by a story in the here and now. For the filmmaker, in adapting Austin Wright’s 1993 book Tony and Susan into a film, he found himself once again concentrating with equal intensity on both the written word and the moving image.

“Writing is one of the parts of film-making that I love the most,”says Ford.

4100_D011_01096_R4 Writer/director Tom Ford on the set of his romantic thriller NOCTURNAL ANIMALS, a Focus Features release. Credit: Merrick Morton/Focus Features

Writer/director Tom Ford on the set of his romantic thriller NOCTURNAL ANIMALS, a Focus Features release. Credit: Merrick Morton/Focus Features

”In the screenplay phase the process is entirely singular, and as the film at that point exists only in my mind it is in its most perfect form. When I write, I begin by collecting images that relate to the characters and their worlds. I look for images of interiors, locations, actual people who inhabit the different worlds of the characters that I am creating. I then start to write and often actually write into the screenplay the details that I have come across when doing photo research. The worlds our characters inhabit in Nocturnal Animals are two worlds that I am incredibly familiar with. Growing up in Texas and New Mexico, the part of the story that takes place in West Texas was easy for me to write, and the somewhat rarified world that Susan inhabits in Los Angeles is far too familiar to me as well.”

“I visualize every sound and image and often write in an almost shot-by-shot fashion. By the time that we actually get to filming, I have usually worked out most of the details of what I want to capture. The beauty of working with a strong production team and strong actors, however, is that more often than not spontaneous things happen while shooting that I could not have imagined and these can make the end product all the more rich and nuanced. It is important to keep an open mind when filming and to try to look at things with a fresh eye. While often they will be different than what I had imagined when I sat at my desk writing, more often than not the surprise of the actual moment and performance adds a great deal to the complexity and layers of the film.”

In seeking to tell this tale that is not only a story-within-a-story but also an exploration of human desire, ambition and indulgence, Ford realized that he would be exercising both his directing and screenwriting skills to an even greater degree than with his first film. While A Single Man transpired in 1962 with flashbacks to the years prior, it was largely one man’s world; by contrast, Nocturnal Animals bridges three characters’ odysseys while also closing off avenues of contact among them.
In adapting Tony and Susan into the screenplay for Nocturnal Animals, the contemporary lifestyle scenes drew him to visualize extremes for how isolated and lost the lead character of Susan Morrow truly is. He notes, “Style is not the ultimate goal for me when I make a film. Style without substance is hollow and empty. I do however pay great attention to style as it relates to the characters and the story. Sets and costumes can inform not only the audience but can help the actors inhabit the role fully. Consistency of tone is important to me, and the way that images are captured stylistically works with both the score and the sound design to create a cohesive world. I am of the mind that a picture does indeed speak a thousand words and that film is truly a visual medium. I think that a movie should play silently, and that words and language should be used only when necessary to move the narrative along.
“That having been said, I am told that I write very long scenes. It’s something that never occurred to me but that I think comes from my desire to form connections between the characters. In life I love nothing more than great conversation and so I suspect that without thinking I tend to create scenes with a good deal of dialogue interspersed with scenes where the audience is simply watching someone do something telling without speaking.”

(l-r.) Academy Award nominees Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Shannon star as Tony Hastings and Bobby Andes and Karl Glusman stars as Lou in writer/director Tom Ford’s romantic thriller NOCTURNAL ANIMALS, a Focus Features release. Credit: Merrick Morton/Focus Features

(l-r.) Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Shannon star as Tony Hastings and Bobby Andes and Karl Glusman stars as Lou in writer/director Tom Ford’s romantic thriller NOCTURNAL ANIMALS, a Focus Features release. Credit: Merrick Morton/Focus Features

The adaptation process took some time. Ultimately, his final screenplay diverges from the book. Ford explains, “The book Tony and Susan is beautifully written. It is a great story. The concept of a moral allegory told through a piece of fiction – the book within the book – I thought was fresh and original. I loved it the moment I read it and felt that it would make a great film. It was however not the easiest book to adapt and it took me quite a while to decide how to approach it. A book and a film are vastly different things and a literal interpretation of a book often does not work on the screen. For me it is important to take the themes of a book that speak to me and then to exaggerate and explore them on screen. In that way, Nocturnal Animals is true to the book even though some of the story elements are original and the setting is actually completely different from that of the book.
“Tony and Susan is to a great extent an inner monologue that is taking place in Susan’s head. I had to create scenes in her life to convey the feelings that she expresses in the book in her mind, but do so visually in order that we would understand what she was feeling without resorting to what would have essentially been a voiceover throughout the entire film. Also, the basic theme of Edward’s novel is a bit vague in the book and I felt that it needed to be exaggerated in order to be clear on screen.”
He adds, “On a more practical note, the setting of the book has been relocated, in part because the book was written in the early ‘90s, before the use of cell phones was widespread. The method of the crime that the book centers on could not occur in today’s world of cell phones and online communication if I had not relocated the story to a place in which there might not be cell phone service. I chose to locate the story in West Texas –the original story takes place in the Northeast – as there are still places there where one could imagine that there would be no cell service. It is also a part of the world that I know well, and I subscribe to the old adage: write about what you know.
“In the book Tony and Susan, the character of Edward Sheffield comments that ‘no one ever really writes about anything but themselves,’ and I chose to keep this in the film as I believe completely in this statement. We all see things through the filter that is our being. When Edward writes his fictional novel Nocturnal Animals, it is literally made up of details and emotions from his past with Susan. Most of these were of my invention, but I wanted to emphasize that Edward was writing a personal story that was clearly about his life with Susan and an explanation to her of what he felt that she did to him. For example, in one of the flashbacks we see Susan reading one of Edward’s short stories and she is bored by it and he is devastated. In that scene she is lying on a red sofa. This clearly is imprinted in Edward’s mind, as when he chooses to kill the character who represents Susan in the novel he places her body on a red velvet sofa. The killer in the novel drives a green Pontiac GTO from the ‘70s, and this same car appears in a flashback scene when Susan leaves Edward. Details from their lives together are scattered throughout Edward’s fictional story and have clearly cemented themselves in Edward’s consciousness. In the same manner, many things from my own life have worked their way into the screenplay for the film.”
Ford confides, “One of the themes of the film that hit home personally for me was the exploration of masculinity in our culture. Our hero(s) Tony and Edward do not possess the stereotypical traits of masculinity that our culture often expects yet in the end they both triumph. As a boy growing up in Texas, I was anything but what was considered classically masculine, and I suffered for it. I empathize with the characters of Tony and Edward, and their perseverance speaks to me.”
The forward momentum of the narrative – the story-within-the story- is a literal page-turner. In retrospect it seems to have been destined to be replicated in an immersive movie going experience. What drives the movie is the characters’ respective needs for closure. Some have put into motion their efforts before we even meet them; others grasp at it seemingly out of sudden necessity.

_DSC5375_R3 (l-r.) Academy Award nominees Michael Shannon and Jake Gyllenhaal star as Bobby Andes and Tony Hastings in writer/director Tom Ford’s romantic thriller NOCTURNAL ANIMALS, a Focus Features release. Credit: Merrick Morton/Focus Features

(l-r.) Academy Award nominees Michael Shannon and Jake Gyllenhaal star as Bobby Andes and Tony Hastings

The Actors

Conveying the full impact of three main characters’ epiphanies and decisive actions was something that Ford undertook in A Single Man. With Nocturnal Animals, the call for portraying the three main characters went out for two lead actors who had established both a rapport with moviegoers as well as a proven performance ability to access a spectrum of emotions.
Ford was drawn to Academy Award nominee Amy Adams “because of her spectacular ability to telegraph emotion without dialogue but with just her face and soulful eyes. Amy is truly a great actress. There is something in her eyes that feels raw, and truthful. I wanted the character of Susan to be sympathetic. It would be very easy to hate Susan because, as she says in the film, she ‘has everything’ and yet she is unhappy. She has chosen a path in life that is opposite to her true nature. She is in a sense a victim of her upbringing and of what is often expected of women in our culture.
“For much of the film the character of Susan is reading and reacting silently to what she has read. This is where Amy’s incredible ability as an actress stands out for me. She is so honest in her performance and was able to access Susan’s pain in a way that makes us empathize with, rather than hate, Susan. Her portrayal of Susan is subtle and nuanced, and was in many ways the most difficult role in the film as she could not rely on grand gestures or even language to convey the pain that the character feels.”
As evidenced in her portrayals in such films as The Master and American Hustle, Adams’ facility with steering her characters into shades of gray while still retaining audience identification meant that “the character of Susan could possess many layers of complex feelings while on the surface seeming to remain calm and composed,” says Ford.
Adams muses, “I’m a certain age so something that I can identify with is being at a certain point in your life where you become very reflective and you start evaluating choices and thinking about what your choices will be moving forward. I understood that aspect of Susan, as well as her feeling burnt out with artifice. She can never really let go of the conflict between the person she wanted to be and the person she chose to be.
“I felt I had the opportunity to experiment with this character. On the set, Tom would allow the camera to sit, and roll, for a long time. Sometimes you can get self-conscious, but then you have to work through that and struggle to find your way to something wonderful. So often, directors will call ‘cut’ when they see an actor struggle, but Tom knew it would get us to deeply emotional moments.”

Academy Award nominee Amy Adams stars as Susan Morrow in writer/director Tom Ford’s romantic thriller NOCTURNAL ANIMALS, a Focus Features release. Credit: Merrick Morton/Focus Features

Academy Award nominee Amy Adams stars as Susan Morrow in writer/director Tom Ford’s romantic thriller NOCTURNAL ANIMALS, a Focus Features release.
Credit: Merrick Morton/Focus Features

Although they had not acted opposite each other prior, Ford felt that another Academy Award nominee, Jake Gyllenhaal, would match up well with Adams. He observes, “On a practical note, it was hard to find two established and strong actors who could be believable playing characters in both their 20s and early 40s. Jake and Amy have that ability, and their subtle changes in mannerisms and speech patterns between their young selves and their more mature selves were masterful. They both managed to carry this off beautifully.”
The filmmaker was equally confident that Gyllenhaal could put himself out there for the wrenching scenes in the story-within-the-story. Ford states, “I was drawn to Jake for the part of Edward/Tony because I admire the risks that
Jake takes in his performances. This was a tough and emotionally demanding role. I felt that Jake would do a brilliant job and I was certainly not let down.”

Gyllenhaal, upon initially reading Ford’s screenplay, found himself “profoundly moved, and shook, by it. The script communicated, in a lot of ways, what it feels like to have a broken heart. It’s also about how we want to be perceived and how we present ourselves to other people – so then, who are we really, what is someone’s real truth? I feel that Tom is at war with the idea of aesthetic over honesty, and that film-making is a medium in which he can express this.
“I found Tom giving me a tremendous amount of space and quiet – which I need, to be vulnerable in front of the camera. He’s extraordinarily detail-oriented.”

The crucial supporting roles of Lt. Bobby Andes and Ray Marcus, who would seem to represent different extremes of the law, were filled by, respectively, Academy Award nominee Michael Shannon and British actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Both actors were sought by Ford because of their versatility, a quality which has allowed each to disappear into characters from different eras and nationalities – so much so that filmgoers might not be able to remember where they have seen these actors before.

4100_D021_02649_R (l-r.) Academy Award nominees Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Shannon star as Tony Hastings and Bobby Andes in writer/director Tom Ford’s romantic thriller NOCTURNAL ANIMALS, a Focus Features release. Credit: Merrick Morton/Focus Features
As Ford explains it, that quality was vital “to get at these men in full; the characters may only exist in the manuscript that Susan is reading, but the portrayals had to capture her imagination and rivet the audience’s attention.”
Shannon remarks, “I loved the idea of playing a character in a novel, and I do feel that Tony and Bobby are two aspects of their author, Edward. Bobby is a classic, iconic character; there’s a long history of characters like him that I may have referenced – some of his traits would come out of the subconscious. He is hardwired to pursue justice; dealing for years with nefarious people, he has seen a lot of lives adversely affected, so he wants to help Tony find the strength to confront the men who committed these crimes.”
Gyllenhaal reports, “Working with Michael is a joy. His interpretation of Bobby was fascinating to watch, as the situation Bobby and Tony are in is deeply serious – but Michael would still bring a wry quality to a lot of the scenes, which was really refreshing.”
Shannon smiles, “People hear ‘a Tom Ford movie’ and may think everyone will be walking around in tuxedoes. Bobby really doesn’t think about having ‘a look.’ Basically he just has cigarettes and a gun.
“Jake is a fearless actor, someone who always wants to go for another take – which I like because I’m kind of the same way. Aaron would show up in-character, he would come into the make-up trailer in the morning just on edge, unable to sit still; he harnessed a feral energy to play Ray.”
Taylor-Johnson reflects, “I read the script and thought, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to be able to do this.’ There was no angle for me to relate to this character. Then I met with Tom and listened to how he wanted to see Ray on-screen, and I put all my trust in him to go do this challenge. I started watching documentaries and reading about serial killers in American history. I’d never done a Texan accent before, and our dialect coach Michael Buster helped me get a resonance away from the twang of what people think a Texan accent is.
The filmmaker is satisfied with the enveloping quality of Nocturnal Animals as not only a compelling and suspenseful journey but also an inward-looking one. His expectation is that the viewer will be “open to identifying with more than one of the characters.”

The film opens a window into the lifestyle and subculture of modern-day Indian South Africans; their aspirations, dreams, challenges and the things that make them laugh and love

From the producers of Happiness is Four Letter Word, one of South Africa’s most successful films, comes an all new rib-tickling family comedy – Keeping up with the Kandasamys directed by Jayan Moodley (White Gold).keeping-up-with-the-kandasamys-2

“Keeping up with the Kandasamys has something for everyone,” says director Jayan Moodley.

“The universal story of neighbourhood rivalry, our desperate need for acceptance and the climb for perceived societal success, is something which touches everyone the world over. At the end of the day we can all recognize our quirks and foibles and the funny side of the weird, wonderful and strangely competitive world we live in.”

“I loved making this film in Chatsworth. It’s an iconic place, like District Six or Soweto. It’s vibrant, lively and spirited, and I believe we have managed to not only capture its idiosyncrasies but also its heart and soul, that will make global audiences fall in love with it too, over a barrel full of laughs.”

Produced by Junaid Ahmed and Helena Spring with screenplay by Jayan Moodley and Rory Booth, Keeping up with the Kandasamys, promises audiences some truly funny laughs about families, relationships and “neighbourhood-envy”.

Set in Chatsworth, it stars Jailoshni Naidoo and Maeshni Naicker as the matriarchal rivals of neighbouring families, whose young adult children become romantically involved despite their best efforts to keep them apart, with hilarious results, they are forced to acknowledge that in the end “love will always prevail.”

Shanti Naidoo (played by Maeshni Naicker) is a typical Type-A personality. Always on the move, going out of her way to please people, and overcompensating for her own perceived inadequacies by constantly cooking up a storm in her kitchen. Her life would be just fine, except that her neighbour Jennifer Kandasamy (Jailoshni Naidoo), always seems to have the upper hand.

When Jennifer realizes her daughter Jodi (Mishqah Parthiephal) is in love with Shanti’s son Prinesh (Madhushan Singh), she is determined to break them up. But in order to do that she will have to enlist her rival’s help. Together the two women scheme and plot, recruit prospective partners and generally interfere with their kids wherever they can.  Sound familiar? Just how far will one go to serve one’s own selfish needs? And will they learn that in the end, it really is just happiness that matters.

Director’s Statement

Jayan started her career as an educator with a National Higher Diploma in Education. She completed her BSc degree majoring in Mathematics and Computer Science thereafter.

However, she soon realized that her passion lay in the creative arts and embarked on this new journey in 2005. She has been involved in various projects for the SABC. Her particular interests lies within spirituality and the multi-faith concept. Some of the documentaries she has produced include The Shembes Walk to God, Buddhism – Finding the Peace Within and Ela Gandhi – the Hands that Serve. Her dream came true when she produced, co- directed and wrote the screenplay for the movie White Gold. Jayan takes a keen interest in youth development programmes.  She is currently the producer of the Hindu magazine programme on SABC 3  Sadhana which is into its fifth season.

Kandasamys#2_ASSixty years since the creation of apartheid’s dormitory township of Chatsworth, Keeping up with the Kandasamys is a legacy project that celebrates a unique, vibrant and colourful community in a democratic South Africa.

It is a film not just about space and identity and about place and people, but an in-depth exploration of the largely universal theme of family, love and happiness. It examines also the nature and fragility of complex human relationships, the importance of forgiveness, and ultimately about subduing personal pride for the realisation of our children’s happiness.

Entering the insular world of the two main characters who remain trapped within their contempt of each other, the audience is able to gently uncover their superficial layers to reveal a deep emotional scar that prevents them moving forward.  One an over-compensating mother and wife, and the other an untrusting and aloof professional, both neighbours build a metaphorical wall between their families.

Through the life journey of the two protagonists, the film is a subtle commentary on how personal pride can transform a somewhat peaceful existence into complete turmoil. It speaks to the age-old bane of overbearing and imposing parents, which takes on a new meaning in the insulated and close-knit Indian South African community. Without preachy undertones, it suggests the need for parents to give their children the space to make their own life decisions. Whilst exploring these key themes, it is always light and funny, and using the quirkiness of key characters, and comedic relief at important turning points to always guarantee entertainment value.

In the final analysis, Keeping up with the Kandasamys is a celebration of people, of love and unity, and of the importance of realising that in the end, only happiness matters.

Dr Alwyn Didar Singh, Secretary in the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, confirmed that Durban, KZN has the highest concentration of Indians compared to any other city state overseas[1]. This is an important and yet often underestimated fact, emphasising the unique geopolitical space that KZN holds globally.  The apartheid-created dormitory township of Chatsworth that was designated for South Africans of Indian origin has over the last six decades managed to preserve its unique character.

Keeping up with the Kandasamys is an attempt to provide local and international audiences with a glimpse into the lifestyle and subculture of modern-day Indian South Africans; their aspirations, dreams, and challenges. Like viewers get drawn into the inimitable characteristics of a Harlem or Bronx in New York, so too will Keeping Up transport them into the vibrant and colourful suburb, allowing them a first-hand authentic experience of the local nuances of Indian South African culture.

Whilst the setting for the film is indeed unique, its theme most certainly has universal appeal. Essentially it explores how a deep-seated rivalry between neighbours, Shanti and Jennifer, interferes with the happiness of their children who are madly in love with each other. The story comes alive as the two women scheme and plot, recruit prospective partners and generally create more and more obstacles to prevent their children from continuing a romantic relationship.

Light-hearted, and entertaining, the story is supported by an array of colourful characters that celebrate the rich way of life in Chatsworth, Durban through rib-tickling comedy. There is Jodi, Jennifer’s beautiful daughter, her friend Marlin, the local wedding planner – an epitome of fabulous flamboyancy, the sensitive medical student Pranesh, son of the crowd pleaser Shanti and the two husbands Preggie and Elvis, who always remain in the background, constantly over-shadowed by their dominating wives. Ayah, Jennifer’s elderly (and sickly) mother in law, represents that typical granny in most Chatsworth extended families, with one-liners and funny incites and eventually deep insights that are bound to strike a chord with any audience.

From a directorial point of view, Keeping up with the Kandasamys has been carefully scripted not only to entertain but to remind viewers of the important value of family in modern life. It aims to bring characters to life and to take movie-making in KZN to yet another level. It comes at a time, when the film industry in this Province has finally turned the corner, and will be a catalyst for economic development, whilst ensuring that local KZN talent remains in this beautiful Kingdom of the Zulu.

The story of a visionary trio of women who crossed gender, race and professional lines on their way to pioneering cosmic travel

Hidden Figures uncovers the incredible, untold yet true story of a brilliant group of Wonder Women who changed the foundations of the country for the better — by aiming for the stars.  The film recounts the vital history of an elite team of black female mathematicians at NASA who helped win the all-out space race against America’s rivals in the Soviet Union and, at the same time, sent the quest for equal rights and opportunity rocketing forwards.

_DSC1723.ARW

Everyone knows about the Apollo missions.  We can all immediately list the bold male astronauts who took those first giant steps for humankind in space:  John Glenn, Alan Shepard and Neil Armstrong.  Yet, remarkably, Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson’s are names not taught in school or even known to most people — even though their daring, smarts and powerful roles as NASA’s ingenious “human computers” were indispensable to advances that allowed for human space flight.

Director Theodore Melfi (St. Vincent) brings the women’s rise to the top ranks of aerospace in the thrilling early days of NASA to life via a fast-moving, humor-filled, inspiring entertainment that illuminates both the gutsy quest for Earth’s first, seemingly impossible orbital flight and also the powerful things that can result when women unite.

For all its joys and triumphs, Hidden Figures is also a film that takes place at the crossroads of the most defining struggles in American history:  the evolving fight for Civil Rights; the battle to win the high-stakes Cold War without risking nuclear war and be the first superpower to establish a human presence outside planet Earth; and the ongoing drive to show how the mind-boggling technological breakthroughs that create the world’s future have nothing to do with gender or background.

Says Melfi:  “This story takes place at the collision of the Cold War, the space race, the Jim Crow south, and the birth of the Civil Rights movement.  It is incredible territory for a rich and powerful story few people know about at all.”

Adds Taraji P. Henson:  “Now we know there were amazing women behind how John Glenn came to orbit the earth in space — we finally get to hear their story.”

Touchingly, Katherine G. Johnson, now in her 90s, finds the growing fascination with her life’s work and that of her fellow compatriots a surprise as she says she was always just doing her best for her job, her family and her community, as she believes anybody would.  “I was just solving problems that needed to be solved,” she says with characteristic modesty.

As for what she advises people facing challenges today, Johnson says:  “Stick with it.  No matter the problem, it can be solved.  A woman can solve it — and a man can too, if you give him a lot of time.”

Screenwriter Allison Schroeder, who not only studied high-level math but interned at NASA, following in the wake of her grandmother, a programmer at NASA from the early days through the shuttle program, and grandfather, who took part in the Mercury project.

Much as Schroeder knew about NASA history, she, too, had never encountered the names of Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson.  She couldn’t believe this inspiring story of women’s empowerment in the world of space science had been buried out of her sight, even as an insider.

“I did know about the ‘human computers’ at NASA, but I honestly never had heard there was a separate African-American pool of computers,” explains Schroeder.  “By the time my grandmother began working there, it was already more integrated.  I did know a lot of women worked at NASA. I remember NASA came to our school in the 8th grade and recruited women and minorities for internships. That’s how I got involved in NASA and in math and science.  So, I knew NASA was big on including everyone.”

At last, the story of a visionary trio of women who crossed gender, race and professional lines on their way to pioneering cosmic travel comes to the screen starring Taraji P. Henson (Empire, Benjamin Button, Hustle And Flow), Octavia Spencer (Allegiant, Fruitvale Station, The Help), singer Janelle Monáe making her motion picture debut and Kevin Costner (Black Or White, Field Of Dreams, Dancing With Wolves).

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Meet NASA’s  “Human Computers”­­­­

Few accomplishments in American history have been as celebrated as the nation’s space program and those first soaringly idealistic journeys to take humankind into the cosmos we’d contemplated since history’s dawn.  President Kennedy has been hailed for galvanizing the country to dream big; the astronauts who flew the perilous early flights into the unknown have become icons; and the meticulous male NASA engineers at mission control have been lauded for their grit and tenacity under pressure.

Yet there remain unsung and unlikely heroes of the space race – particularly, a team of female mathematicians who blazed multiple trails, trails towards greater diversity in science, equality in America, for human mathematical achievement and to launch John Glenn into mesmerizing orbit at more than17, 000 miles per hour as he circled three times around the globe in space.

It was a time in the country when opportunities could seem unjustly limited – that was true if you were a woman, if you were African-American, and especially if you were an African-American woman. Yet these dazzlingly smart NASA women flouted the limitations without fanfare, redefining the entire idea of what was possible – and who is vital to the nation — by proving themselves absolutely essential to America’s future.

For Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, the chance to use their knowledge, passion and skills opened up just as the demands of World War II were shifting the nation’s social fabric.  On the factory front, women were suddenly invited to become Rosie the Riveters. Less famously, the same thing was happening in science and math. Faced with a daunting shortage of male scientists and mathematicians and with new laws prohibiting racial discrimination, defense contractors and Federal Agencies began seeking out women and African-Americans with the skills to keep pushing essential research onwards.

Director Theodore Melfi explains:  “For NASA, at that moment in time, brains were more important than race or sex.  These were brilliant women who could do the math they needed, who were hungry for a chance, who really wanted the opportunity to change their lives – so who else were they going to turn to?”

At the Langley Memorial Research Lab in Hampton, Virginia – run by the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics, or NACA, a precursor to NASA — the search was on for luminous minds from nonconventional backgrounds. They needed gifted people to serve as “human computers” – that is those rare people with the grey matter to complete rapid-fire, advanced calculations in their minds, before we had digital super computers that could precisely plot out rocket trajectories and re-entry paths.

The stakes felt high to all Americans.  In 1958, the Soviet Union launched their pioneering Sputnik satellite with a bang – claiming they now had the superior edge in the raging Cold War between the two nations.  This catapulted the space race into the number one U.S. priority and preoccupation.  Millions watched the race unfold, hoping America would be able to prove its strength as a society by beating the Russians into orbit and all the way to the moon.   In a time when fear of a hot, civilization-annihilating nuclear war was at a high, the space race became an alternate path for the USSR and the U.S. to compete no holds barred.  Both nations saw it as a chance to prove their system had the greater potential, as well as to reap new military and intelligence-gathering benefits, and become the first country to establish a sphere of influence beyond our globe.  By 1960, John F. Kennedy was running for President on an inspiring platform of closing the gap in the space race and taking the lead with American ingenuity.

Recalls Katherine G. Johnson of Sputnik:  “All our engineers were mad somebody else did it first.  But what most people didn’t know was that we were right behind the Russians and we were ready.”

It was in this context, that NACA became NASA and all of its scientists and mathematicians, including the “human computers,” shifted into the space program at high velocity.

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Director Theodore Melfi and Janelle Monáe during the filming of Hidden Figures

Despite the Jim Crow laws still undermining equality and human rights in Virginia, Langley hired an entirely female team of these “human computers,” a number of whom were African American math teachers. They remained segregated, with black women eating in separate quarters and working apart in a remote division known as West Computing.  They were paid less than their white counterparts.  Yet, their extraordinary work rose above – and ultimately so won over the men in their midst that they became utterly indispensible to the boldest mission yet:  putting John Glenn into full orbit around earth.

Even before NASA saw their untapped genius, these were astonishingly special women: Johnson was a West Virginia phenom who started high school at 10 and had graduated with degrees in Mathematics and French at 18 before becoming one of the first to integrate the graduate school at West Virginia University, starting at Langley in 1953. While she was working for NASA, she was also a single mother raising three children

Vaughan was equally accomplished, a Missourian who graduated from college at 19 and worked as a math teacher before joining Langley in 1943. She quickly became the head of the West Computing group.

Jackson was a local from Hampton, Virginia with degrees in Physical Science and Mathematics. She rose to Aerospace Engineer after joining Langley in 1951, specializing in wind tunnel experiments and aircraft data, always using her position to help others.

As special as they were, the women took their accomplishments in stride.  For Johnson, it seemed normal to possess extraordinary math skills, because they came to her organically from a very young age. “Almost as soon as I was born, I loved to count things,” she remembers.  “I was always counting the stairs, and we had a lot of stairs so I got a lot of experience.  I saw that counting was a way to understand things better, to see what things were and what they meant.”

Even at NASA, Johnson felt driven first and foremost by her curiosity about the world, and never drew attention to herself as a heroine.  “I approached it as:  if someone asked me to solve a problem, I did it,” she states matter-of-factly.  “But I always wanted to know more about the importance of what we were doing.  If we were doing a calculation, I wanted to know:  What is this for?  Why is it vital?”

As for leading a triple life as a mother raising children, an African American woman navigating Jim Crow laws and as a major asset for NASA, Johnson says she never felt she wasn’t up to the task. “A woman can always outdo a man in managing multiple things at once, so it was no problem,” she muses.  “And at NASA, we were all working toward the same goal, whether we knew it or not.”

It stunned author and executive producer Margot Lee Shetterly, whose father worked at NASA, that these women remained relatively unknown.  Shetterly wrote her novel Hidden Figures based on oral interviews, extensive research and archival information, chronicling how the women of West Computing met the challenges that faced them with grace and optimism, forged alliances that helped them gain respect and aided one another to change their own lives even as they were changing the country and technology forever.  She also founded the Human Computer Project, which has received two grants from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, an organization dedicated to archiving the work of all the women who contributed to the early history of NASA.

She was especially moved by how the women themselves downplayed what they faced.  Says Shetterly:  “These women were hidden in plain sight in a way.  They felt they had a chance to do jobs they loved – and they loved this challenging math — so they didn’t draw attention to themselves.”

But now is the time to draw attention to these women, Shetterly believes. “In the past, we’ve been blind-sighted about women in technology,” she comments.  “We have this image of what an astronaut or a scientist looks like, and since these women did not fit the profile, historians often looked past them.”

Shetterly set out to give the women their full due in her book.  One thing Shetterly wanted to get across is how much these women could do with pencils and sheer brainpower.  “There’s more computing power in a toaster today than was available in the 1960s,” laughs Shetterly, “yet we were able to send a man into space, then to the moon. That is because raw computing power came from these women.”

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Especially inspiring to Shetterly was how the women navigated clashing realities – as high-level minds on the one hand and as African Americans confronted with daily institutional bias on the other.  “It must have been something to be so into your work, so fascinated by these big mathematical problems — and then you have to go use the ‘colored bathroom,’” she muses.  “Then you come back and still have to hold your head high, despite having your status as a second-class citizen pointed out again and again.”

Bonding closely together helped the women find strength, says Shetterly.  “They were a band of sisters.  They knew they had to support each other and they encouraged each other to give 150% because they also knew they were going to be scrutinized in a different way.  I think they saw they had a rare chance to open doors to other black women in a future that would be different,” she concludes.

Now, there has been a burst of fascination with NASA’s women, especially as efforts to recruit more women into STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields take off.  “A number of people did historical work and published articles in the past,” notes the film’s NASA consultant Bill Barry.  “But it didn’t catch on with the public imagination until now.  Now there’s a growing interest now in how we can really encourage women to follow their passions in science, engineering and math.”

When the manuscript crossed Academy Award®-winning producer Donna Gigliotti’s desk, she too was shaken by the women’s hidden status and stirred by all they had accomplished at a time when their achievements went unrecognized.   “We develop a lot of material – but this story was so unique,” says Gigliotti.  “It’s a part of history that needed to be heard, and I knew this was a movie I had to make.”

Concludes Melfi:  “What united us was telling this story of how a group of people at NASA – black, white, men and women – came together to achieve something great by putting all differences aside.  Was it hard?  Yes.  Was it uncomfortable?   Yes.  Did it take time?   Yes. But great things happen when people unite on equal terms.”

 

“Like so many women in history, Jackie has never really gotten her proper due. She’s been portrayed mainly for her style and elegance, but she deserves more credit for her exceptional understanding of image, public relations and really creating the idea of Camelot after JFK’s death.”

Jackie Kennedy led a multi-faceted life of power and influence, but when it came to writing about her, screenwriter and journalist Noah Oppenheim came to feel there was one story that spoke to her psyche in the most compelling way – the very brief but remarkably consequential days that the First Lady spent nearly alone in the White House following her husband’s death.

Noah Oppenheim began his career in news. In addition to writing screenplays, he is currently Senior Vice President of NBC News and Executive-in-Charge of the “Today” show. He oversees all aspects of the morning show franchise – both broadcast and digital. He co-wrote THE MAZE RUNNER, a franchise that has grossed $600+ million to date. An Emmy winner, he co-created “Mad Money with Jim Cramer,” covered three presidential elections, and has reported from Iraq, Israel, Gaza, the West Bank and Libya. He is co-author of two New York Times bestsellers – The Intellectual Devotional and The Intellectual Devotional: American History. His essays have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Esquire and Men’s Health.

JACKIE takes audiences on a personal journey into one of the most extraordinary events of American history – and also into a deeply stirring drama that illuminates in fascinating new ways the woman, the times and the ways we cope with and tell the stories of the most intensely public of tragedies.
At the start of November 22nd, 1963, Jacqueline Kennedy was among the most famed, admired and envied figures in the world. As the elegant, stylish and alluring wife of the youngest-ever elected President of the United States, she was also the first First Lady of the televised age… photogenic, captivating and yet barely-known beneath her near-mythical image of grace, youth and idealism.
Yet, within hours, Jackie’s world, along with the faith of the nation, would be shaken from their foundations when John F. Kennedy was struck down by assassin’s bullets while riding at Jackie’s side in a motorcade parade through Dallas. In a moment rife with confusion and shock, the world witnessed the First Lady’s composed grief in images that remain as poignant and mesmerizing as ever.

But what no one saw is what went on behind closed doors in Jackie’s private, tightly-contained world. Suddenly alone, save for her family, confidante and priest, the First Lady faced a remarkable series of challenges as a wife, a mother and a reluctant part of the political machine: consoling her young children, planning her husband’s funeral, preparing for the next President to rapidly move into the White House and most remarkably, fighting to maintain control over how history would forever define her husband’s legacy.

JackieIn a period of just a week, this fiercely private woman had to face unthinkable personal loss, hard political realities, a nation in the throes of a collective trauma and — amid all the uncertainty, Washington machinery and public scrutiny — the responsibility of keeping alive all that her husband wanted to stand for in America. Though today he is among the most beloved of U.S. Presidents, JFK’s legacy was hardly assured upon his death. He had spent just 2 years and 9 months in office, and the fear among those closest to him was that all he aimed for would be forgotten because the potential had gone unfulfilled. In the midst of her own anguish, Jackie steeled herself with a single-minded mission: to tell her husband’s story in a way that it would always be remembered, as brief but shining moment of American promise.
That week was a period of time, felt Oppenheim, that defined not only the icon Jackie would become but the beginnings of our image-saturated culture in ways that haven’t really been explored.
“Like so many women in history, Jackie has never really gotten her proper due. She’s been portrayed mainly for her style and elegance, but she deserves more credit for her exceptional understanding of image, public relations and really creating the idea of Camelot after JFK’s death,” says Oppenheim.

“When I read about that single week in 1963 — when she had to console two grief-stricken children, deal with moving out of what was really her only home, contemplate a whole different life moving forward, and at the same time had one last shot to solidify her husband’s legacy — it was extraordinary. I couldn’t imagine a more revealing moment to explore one of the most interesting women of the last century.”

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For Natalie Portman, the hope of committing as fully and fearlessly as she did was to find the part of Jackie that still resonates with us now. “I think every individual will have their own experience of who Jackie is,” she concludes. “But the one thing I truly hope is that you see someone who is not just an icon but a very human, complex woman who found her own way through a situation few of us could imagine.”

 

Oppenheim cut his teeth in the world of news and politics, serving as Senior Vice President of NBC News — where he often talked about Kennedy’s impact with fellow journalist and Kennedy biographer Chris Matthews — and a senior producer of the “Today Show.” He’s also the co-author of the bestseller The Intellectual Devotional: American History, a compendium of wisdom from American historical figures. Naturally, he dove with relish into the research, poring through the endless archives amassed about the Kennedy family and the short-lived but endlessly influential administration.
But research could only take him so far in his efforts to recreate the voice, personality and often-obscured emotions of Jackie.
Jackie poster“The blessing of writing about someone like Jackie is that there’s an overwhelming amount of information about who she was, how she behaved, the timeline of her life,” he admits. “This preponderance of information about her life enabled me to root her in reality, but it also provided me an opportunity to ask questions and use my imagination to fully breath life into her on the page. Because I had this wealth of research, I was freed creatively and was able to dig deeper and explore her beyond the bounds of the facts I was able to ground her in.”
As he researched and wrote, Oppenheim felt very strongly that he was writing a story not of the past, but one that resonates fully with today’s world — a story about a woman who in many ways was the first in Presidential history to forge the idea of leaving behind a visual legacy that lives forever.
“Jackie Kennedy’s story speaks to us today for several reasons,” says Oppenheim. “For one thing, it harkens back to a time when politics had a certain dignity to it, when we all admired the people who occupied the White House. I also think Jackie was sort of the first American queen, someone who showed us what it is to have the noblest grace under fire. And I think this is a time when people are desperately trying to cut through the fog surrounding what’s true and what’s not in our world — so it is a ripe time to explore how public figures craft their images and create mythologies around themselves.”

Director Pablo Larrain and Natalie Portman on the set of JACKIE. Photo by Pablo Larrain. © 2016 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

Director Pablo Larrain and Natalie Portman on the set of Jackie. Photo by Pablo Larrain. © 2016

 

Noah Oppenheim was immediately impressed by Chilean director Pablo Larraín. “Working with Pablo has been an incredibly gratifying collaboration,” Oppenheim states. He brought a really unique point of view to the material and he challenged me to push further in terms of exploring Jackie’s humanity and the contradictory sides to her personality. The script just kept getting better and better as we worked together.”

“In the beginning all that I knew about Jackie was really quite superficial,” Larraín notes. “I knew her as the woman always seen in pictures next to JFK, the woman known for her fashion, taste and style. I think that’s how most people know her in America and around the world. But I wanted to change up that point-ofview and dig further. The more I looked, the more I found a woman who was very sophisticated, very smart and who had an incredible political sense of her own. Most importantly, she was a woman who understood communication in a way very few people did in those times.”
Jackie 3Larraín also became fascinated, and moved, by the way Jackie allowed herself to become a kind of conduit for the public’s collective feelings of anguish and doubt in the wake of the only Presidential assassination of the 20th Century. “The United Stated never has had royalty and yet in that moment, Jackie became like a queen without a throne, a mother to a nation in mourning,” the director observes. “She shouldered all their sorrow and pain even as she was enduring so much grief and shock herself. She put it all on her back and she pushed on. She couldn’t have planned for these events, yet when the moment came, she carried herself with such grace and extraordinary love.”

During that turbulent week, Jackie unwittingly built a reputation as someone as courageous and beloved as her husband, planning his funeral to become a strikingly grand national catharsis. “That was not her intention — to make herself an icon,” observes Larraín. “But in trying to protect her husband’s legacy, she became one. There was a gap between her objective and the actual result which is one of many things I found interesting to explore in this story.”

Larraín was also compelled by the idea of mixing and matching historic events that are well documented — the Dallas motorcade, Lyndon B. Johnson being sworn in to the Presidency on Air Force One, JFK’s grand state funeral and final burial in Arlington National Cemetery beside an eternal flame — with the moments no one can ever document and can only be daringly imagined. It was Larraín’s idea to incorporate the 1962 television show, “A Tour of the White House with Mrs. John F. Kennedy” — broadcast on Valentine’s Day and seen by over 56 million viewers — into the narrative. Taking unprecedented advantage of television’s new Golden Age, Jackie had invited America and the world into the newly renovated White House in a way that was both public and personal, and in a way that seemed to form a bookend with her more somber public appearances after JFK’s death.”

Larraín gives a boldly unconventional spin to the biopic genre, mixing historical footage with complete fictional re-creations, and excavating just one critical moment in Jackie’s life, but in all its intricately woven layers. Meanwhile, Portman explores the haunting territory of a woman juggling her incomprehensibly vast yet contained sorrow with a world watching, remembering and making meaning out of her every move. The result is an intimate portrait, yet one of epic themes, that provides a portrait of Jackie as we’ve not seen her: a deeply human, vulnerable woman confronted at once with the power of loss, love, self-preservation, public consciousness and history.

Jackie 2Natalie Portman knew this role would be her greatest challenge — and a heavy responsibility given the realities of Kennedy’s life and place in history. But Portman had instant faith in the script. She was attracted to the idea that what was going on inside Jackie was so much more than was ever seen in the public eye; that she was a woman whose profound understanding of what lasts and what matters most anchored her in solid steel when she would have been forgiven for falling to pieces.
“I thought Noah Oppenheim’s approach in the script was really smart — he took this one short piece of Jackie’s life, this incredibly traumatic event, and excavated it for how Jackie composed herself in front of the world while dealing with everything that was happening to her privately,” says Portman. “We’ve mostly known Jackie as an almost unapproachable icon, as someone we’ve seen as a facade, not ever as a real human, so I love that this story gives you new insight into her humanity.”
To give audiences that fresh insight into a woman renown for her stoicism, Portman had to plunge into two twined sides of Jackie: the masked and the unmasked, each with its own challenges. “Jackie was not very forthcoming about her emotions, so I really explored that idea with Pablo,” Portman says. “We both were completely open to trying anything the other brought up. It was exciting because there was no wall put up as to what was the right way to approach her. It was really a path of discovery for me, because it’s such an unimaginably horrific situation Jackie went through — and there were so many different reactions that were possible and human.”

“It’s a movie about loyalty and love and specifically a character, Logan, who has been stubbornly avoiding intimacy throughout his long life, finally letting it in.”

From visionary writer-director James Mangold comes the defining chapter in the cinematic saga of one of the greatest comic book heroes ever created. Logan sees Hugh Jackman reprise his iconic role as The Wolverine for one, final time in a raw, powerfully dramatic standalone story of sacrifice and redemption.

Logan

Nature made me a freak. Man made me a weapon.And God made it last too long.

It’s 2029. Mutants are gone—or very nearly so. An isolated, despondent Logan is drinking his days away in a hideout on a remote stretch of the Mexican border, picking up petty cash as a driver for hire. His companions in exile are the outcast Caliban and an ailing Professor X, whose singular mind is plagued by worsening seizures. But Logan’s attempts to hide from the world and his legacy abruptly end when a mysterious woman appears with an urgent request—that Logan shepherd an extraordinary young girl to safety. Soon, the claws come out as Logan must face off against dark forces and a villain from his own past on a live-or-die mission, one that will set the time-worn warrior on a path toward fulfilling his destiny.

Logan stars Hugh Jackman in the title role, alongside Patrick Stewart (X-Men: Days of Future Past), Stephen Merchant, Richard E. Grant and newcomer Dafne Keen. The film is directed by James Mangold (Walk the Line, The Wolverine); from a screenplay by Mangold and co-scripter Scott Frank (A Walk Among the Tombstones, The Wolverine) and Michael Green (Alien: Covenant).

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Hugh Jackman first brought his electrifying energy to the mutant known as Wolverine way back in 2000 in the film that launched the modern-day comic-book blockbuster, director Bryan Singer’s original X-Men. Since then, the acclaimed Australian actor has slipped into the skin of the world’s most famous mutant a record 10 times on the big screen. But this time, with Logan, Jackman had the chance to craft something truly special as a mean of laying to rest his longtime screen alter ego.

“We wanted something that would feel very different, very fresh and ultimately something very human,” Jackson says, “because it seems to me that the strength of X-Men and the strength of Wolverine is more his humanity than his superpower. In exploring this character for the last time, I wanted to get to the heart of who that human was, more than what his claws can do.”

From the outset, Jackman always had a gift for locating Logan’s humanity beneath his gruff, deeply scarred exterior. But with this nuanced, deeply moving performance, the actor brings the character full circle—the cigar-chomping, hard-charging loner is now a steadfastly loyal comrade-in-arms willing to sacrifice everything for what he believes.

Of course, Jackman and Logan co writer-director James Mangold had already taken the character to new, far-flung places with the character’s previous solo outing 2013’s The Wolverine. That earlier film, adapted from the landmark 1980 comic miniseries by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller and suffused with the spirit of Japanese noir and samurai films as well as American westerns, saw Logan plucked from self-imposed exile only to be drawn into violence and intrigue in Japan. It won praise from critics for its careful parsing of Logan’s inner tumult, rather than strictly relying on over-the-top action set-pieces for thrills.

With ten feature films to date, including such notable films as Heavy, 3:10 to Yuma, Girl, Interrupted and Walk the Line, James Mangold is a writer-director known for making sophisticated ensemble films in a wide range of genres while keeping constant the powerful themes, original characterizations, memorable performances and striking imagery that have come to define and unify his work. Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix’s performances in Mangold’s acclaimed feature Walk the Line earned them both Golden Globe Awards and an Oscar® for Witherspoon for Best Performance by an Actress. The film also won the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy and received five Oscar® nominations.

Mangold says that following their experience on The Wolverine, the duo hadn’t necessarily planned to partner on another project centering on Logan. “Hugh and I were both on the bubble about doing another one of these,” says the director, who first worked with Jackman on 2001’s Kate & Leopold. “If we were going to do it, I wanted to take it somewhere that interested me, someplace intimate and primal—a character-based story where we explore the fears and weaknesses of these larger-than-life heroes, a film that makes them more human.”

Even before embarking on the project, Jackman and Mangold understood that the story needed to exist apart from the dense and heady mythology of the larger X-Men franchise. “We both wanted a movie that was a standalone movie,” Jackman says. “This is far more realistic than we’ve done before in the X-Men franchise, maybe any of the other comic book movies. It’s far more human.”

A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES

Scott Frank graduated from UCSB in 1982 with a degree in Film Studies. Since then, he has written and or directed over fifteen feature films and television programs. In 2008, Scott Frank’s directorial debut, The Lookout, won the Independent Spirit award for “Best First Feature.” Along with The Lookout, Mr. Frank’s other screenplays include Little Man Tate, Dead Again, Malice, Heaven’s Prisoners, Get Shorty, Out of Sight, Minority Report, The Interpreter, Marley & Me, The Wolverine, A Walk Among the Tombstones (also directed) and the upcoming LOGAN. Out of Sight, nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, won the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America as well as Best Screenplay awards from the National Society of Film Critics and the Boston Society of Film Critics. Minority Report won the Saturn Award for Best Science Fiction Screenplay. Get Shorty was nominated for both a Golden Globe and a Writers Guild Award for Best Adapted Screenplay and, along with Dead Again, was nominated for an Edgar Award for Best Mystery Screenplay. Mr. Frank is currently in post-production on his six-hour western mini-series, Godless, that he wrote and directed with executive producer Steven Soderbergh and Netflix. Mr. Frank is also writing a TV series for Hulu based on the Walter Tevis novel, The Man Who Fell to Earth, and a second series for Netflix, Dept Q, based on a series of novels by Jussi Adler Olsen.

Specifically, Mangold, who wrote the Logan script with The Wolverine co-scripter Scott Frank (A Walk Among the Tombstones, The Wolverine) and Michael Green (Alien: Covenant), set out to create a character-driven piece that would focus on Logan, Xavier and Laura as they made their way across a barren landscape.

“I had this kind of strange vision in my head that I wanted to make a road movie with these characters, in a way almost trapping myself as a filmmaker,” Mangold says. “Putting them in a car and trapping them on the highway would tie my hands. We couldn’t do something about worlds colliding or an alien invasion—the movie would essentially force itself to operate on a more intimate level.”

Also important to Mangold, who has long viewed Logan as a spiritual descendant of great western heroes like Clint Eastwood’s Outlaw Josey Wales or Alan Ladd’s Shane, was robbing Wolverine of his invincibility to make the character more vulnerable, more exposed. “The idea with this film was to find him in a state where his ability to heal is extremely diminished,” Mangold says. “His strength is diminished. His own health and his mental state are dark.”

Although Logan takes place more than 50 years after the events depicted in X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), it is firmly its own standalone tale that plays more like an intimate family journey—albeit one packed with high-stakes action scenes—than a conventional sci-fi adventure propelled by explosive visuals. “We wanted to go out with a bang,” says Mangold. “But the thing is—once cities and planets have been destroyed—you have to earn your bang as opposed to just getting louder.”

When the film opens, Logan is in a vulnerable and broken state, the curse of his immortality wearing heavy on him as he cares for a weakened Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) in a derelict smelting plant at the edge of an abandoned oil field. They’re joined there by a third mutant, Caliban (The Office co-creator Stephen Merchant), sheltering in obscurity at a time when the world believes mutants have passed into history.

But Logan’s days of drinking in relative solitude are interrupted when he finds himself the reluctant guardian of a young girl, Laura (newcomer Dafne Keen) who has powers remarkably like his own: from her hands as well as her feet spring the same adamantium claws as Wolverine’s. Not that he’s exactly eager to accept this newfound responsibility—he’s far too weary to play the hero once more.

Michael Green

Michael Green is a television and film writer and producer who has received numerous accolades for his work, including an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Drama Series in 2007 for Heroes. Green penned 20th Century Fox’s adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, directed by Kenneth Branagh. His other current feature projects include the upcoming Blade Runner 2049, directed by Denis Villeneuve; Alien: Covenant, directed by Ridley Scott; and LOGAN, directed by James Mangold. In television, Green currently serves as executive producer and co-showrunner of Starz’s American Gods, adapted from Neil Gaiman’s award-winning novel by Green and Bryan Fuller. Green also created and executive-produced NBC’s Kings and ABC’s The River. He has additionally written and produced for numerous shows including Heroes, Everwood, Smallville, Jack & Bobby and Sex and the City.

“He doesn’t want to help. At all,” Jackman says. “He doesn’t want anything to do with it. He’s long past the stage in his life where he reacts to people’s pleas and cries for help. Basically, he has come to the conclusion that generally when he helps, things end up worse off. The people he loves end up getting hurt, that if he gets too close, or tries too hard, it ends in pain and loss and destruction.”

Tasked with protecting her from the murderous cybernetic criminal Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), Logan and Professor X set out to cross hostile territory to ferry Laura to a place called Eden, where young mutants are said to enjoy safe haven. But Pierce and his fearsome army of cyborg Reavers are determined to return the girl to the custody of Dr. Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant), the sinister geneticist behind Alkali who triggered her mutations through a series of inhumane experiments in the hopes of creating a child super-soldier.

“He’s a sociopath who has no emotional understanding or feeling for the mutants that he creates,” Grant says. “He sees human beings as something to be cloned. He’s very scientific and intellectual about everything. He has no real emotional involvement whatsoever.”

With Wolverine’s tremendous physical abilities compromised by age and the passage of time, their relentless pursuit of the travelers takes a great and bloody toll.

It’s often said that a film is often only as great as its villain, and Jackman was quick to praise Holbrook’s turn as the unhinged Pierce. “Boyd is a phenomenally talented actor, a really gifted artist,” he says. “When I read the script, I told him that I thought Pierce was one of the hardest parts to pull off. The greatest villains seem to be having more fun than anyone else in the movie, and he embodied that and he did it brilliantly because he could turn on a dime and be very menacing as well as funny.”

But the actor had especially kind words for his young co-star, Dafne Keen, who makes her feature film debut with Logan with a virtuoso performance. “She’s a phenomenal actress, and it’s an honor to share the film with her,” Jackman says. “Laura, genetically, has Wolverine’s DNA, so there are elements of him in her personality and her physicality and that’s not easy to pull off. I found it hard to pull off when I was 30, let alone an 11-year-old-girl, and she’s not like that at all. She’s very bubbly, vivacious and energetic. Playing this constantly pissed off, rage-filled mutant who will take your head off if you look at her sideways is nothing like who she is, and she nailed it.”

Logan 2

Because of their shared traits, Logan is in a unique position to help Laura come to terms with her feelings and channel that overwhelming rage. “Logan had a goodness to him, and if he just didn’t have that, he would have been the perfect killing machine because he goes absolutely berserk,” Jackman says. “He can take anyone out, but he had a heart. He had a conscience. He had a mind and didn’t just blindly follow whatever order he was given.”

If Logan serves as a surrogate father to Laura, he’s the prodigal son to Charles Xavier, who is battling a debilitating illness that threatens to harm others as well. “He’s old, he’s ill, but most importantly, he’s dangerous,” says Stewart of Charles. “His powers are out of control and have to be controlled. He’s in peril. And the person who looks after him, mothers him, nurses him, supervises him, argues with him, picks him up off the floor when he’s fallen down is Logan.”

Stewart continues: “The superhero aspect and the mutant powers are not the focus of attention as much as they were in all of the other movies. The sense of people, of individuals, of relationships, I think is stronger in LOGAN than it has been before. James has created a world which is recognizable and familiar and every day, and in its way, commonplace, yet wrapped in this maelstrom of fear and excitement and danger and the need to escape.”

Like Jackman, the acclaimed British thespian’s performance in LOGAN represents a culmination of years of work on screen. “He reveled in this character, and it shows,” Jackman says of Stewart. “It’s a heartbreaking, beautiful, layered, textured, complex performance—at times unbelievably lucid and clear. You see the relationship with he and Logan as very sort of father-son in all its colors: pride, disappointment, anger, frustration. It all plays out.”

Even Caliban, too, belongs to the unconventional family, and he and the famously anti-social Logan enjoy a certain measure of camaraderie. “I felt like it was important for me to not just constantly be antagonistic with Logan,” Merchant says, “that we could have a few moments where there was some warmth between us, again just to hit that idea of a surrogate family.”

“It’s a movie about family,” says Mangold. “It’s a movie about loyalty and love and specifically a character, Logan, who has been stubbornly avoiding intimacy throughout his long life, finally letting it in.”

Logan sees the wizened hero find a surprising human connection, but the film also offers its most authentic, unfiltered depiction of Wolverine yet, with Jackman unleashing his berserker rage as never before. It earns its R-rating, a first for any film in the X-Men series. “Wolverine may be one of the darkest, most complex characters in the comic book universe—all Jim and I were worried about was taking off the seat belt,” Jackman says.

Hugh-Jackman-announces-Wolverine-3-title-Logan

From a film making perspective, Mangold says the rating freed him to take Logan in a more mature direction, to explore human frailty, mortality and the complicated bonds that bind families together. “I didn’t want to make a more violent, sexier, more explicit, more obscene movie,” Mangold says. “I wanted to make an adult movie. This is not a movie for nine-year-old children. When your movie is rated R, you suddenly are making a movie about more grown-up themes. You’re not under the pressure to make a movie for everybody.”

But there’s no question that the movie absolutely will speak to those longtime fans of Wolverine, those who have followed Jackman’s portrayal over the last 17 years. In fact, it was critical for Jackman, as he said farewell to his extensive X-Man past, to put everything on the screen for this, his last mutant adventure.

“There was a moment that I came to terms with the fact that this was my last one,” Jackman says. “I love this character, and he’s been amazing to me. I’d be lying if I said that I would have been okay if I didn’t feel everything was left on the table. And I mean everything. Every day, every scene was a kind of battle to get the best out of that character, to get the best out of me.”

Concludes Jackman: “There was an element of life and death about it—I know that sounds dramatic, but that’s how it felt.”

 

Live Theatre At Its Best On The Big Screen.

The next National Theatre Live broadcast to screen at Cinema Nouveau nationwide is the 2016 National Theatre production of Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus, and is screened from Saturday, 04 March for four screenings only.

Amadeus releases on South African screens from Saturday, 04 March 2017, for four screenings only: on 04, 08 and 09 March at 19:30 and on 05 March at 14:30 at Cinema Nouveau theatres in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban and Cape Town.  The running time of this production is approximately 210 mins, including an interval.

7. Behind the scenes at the Amadeus camera rehearsal. Photo by Ludovic des Cognets

8. Adam Gillen - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Lucian Msamati - Antonio Salieri, photograph by Marc Brenner

Adam Gillen – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Lucian Msamati – Antonio Salieri, photograph by Marc Brenner

Starring Fresh Meat’s Adam Gillen and Misfit’s Karla Crome as Mozart and his wife, and Game of Throne’s Lucian Msamati as the composer’s great rival Salieri.

Tthe stage production of Amadeus, directed by Michael Longhurst, was filmed live for broadcast into cinemas globally at the National Theatre in London, with orchestral accompaniment by the 30-piece Southbank Sinfonia orchestra.

Shaffer’s iconic play follows Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Gillen), a rowdy young prodigy, who arrives in Vienna, the music capital of the world – and he’s determined to make a splash. Awestruck by his genius, court composer Antonio Salieri (Msamati) has the power to promote his talent or destroy his name. Seized by obsessive jealousy, he begins a war with Mozart, with music and, ultimately, with God.

18. Adam Gillen - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Image by Marc Brenner

Adam Gillen – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Image by Marc Brenner

After winning multiple Olivier and Tony Awards when it had its premiere at the National Theatre in 1979, Amadeus was later adapted into Milos Forman’s Academy Award-winning film.

Watch a video interview as the cast discusses what it’s like to perform Mozart’s music with Southbank Sinfonia

For booking information on Amadeus, visit www.cinemanouveau.co.za or www.sterkinekor.co.za. Follow us on Twitter @nouveaubuzz and on Facebook at Cinema Nouveau. For queries, contact Ticketline on 0861 Movies (668 437).

The next productions from NT Live to be screened at Cinema Nouveau are:

Saint Joan (from 18 March 2017)

The Donmar Warehouse production of Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan is directed by artistic director Josie Rourke and stars Gemma Arterton as Joan of Arc.

Joan: daughter, farm girl, visionary, patriot, king-whisperer, soldier, leader, victor, icon, radical, witch, heretic, saint, martyr, woman. Bernard Shaw’s classic play follows the life and trial of a young country girl who declares a bloody mission to drive the English from France. As one of the first Protestants and nationalists, she threatens the very fabric of feudal society and the Catholic Church across Europe.

Hedda Gabler (from 01 April 2017)

“I’ve no talent for life” – Just married. Bored already. Hedda longs to be free…

Tony Award-winning director Ivo van Hove (A View from the Bridge) returns to NT Live cinema screens with a modern production of Ibsen’s masterpiece, with Ruth Wilson (Luther, The Affair, Jane Eyre) in the title role of a new version by Patrick Marber (Notes on a Scandal, Closer).

Hedda and Tesman have just returned from their honeymoon and the relationship is already in trouble. Trapped but determined, Hedda tries to control those around her, only to see her own world unravel.

Additional NT Live broadcasts in 2017 at Cinema Nouveau include:

  • Twelfth Night (27 May), starring Tamsin Greig and directed by Simon Godwin;
  • Rozencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead (03 June), with Daniel Radcliffe, Joshua McGuire and David Haig in Tom Stoppard’s brilliantly funny situation comedy, from The Old Vic theatre;
  • Peter Pan (08 July), captured live at the National Theatre, this performance of JM Barrie’s much-loved tale screens as perfect cinema fare for the mid-year school holidays: All children, except one, grow up…
  • Salomé (22 July), directed by South African-born award-winning director Yaёl Farber;
  • Marianne Elliott’s production of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America – Part I & II (19 Aug & 02 Sept), with Andrew Garfield, Susan Brown, Nathan Lane, James McArdle, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Denise Gough and Russell Tovey; and
  • Yerma (23 Sept), Simon Stone’s radical production of Federico García Lorca’s achingly powerful masterpiece, with Billie Piper reprising the lead role.

A fresh new look at Monet, who is arguably the world’s favourite artist – through his own words

Following the success of the previous seasons of Exhibition on Screen productions screened at Nouveau, the fourth season is scheduled to launch locally from Saturday, 25 February with award-winning director Phil Grabsky’s feature-length documentary film about one of the world’s most famous artists, titled I, Claude Monet.

I, Claude Monet releases on Saturday, 25 February for four screenings only: 25 February, and 01 and 02 March at 19:30, and on 26 February at 14:30 – at Rosebank Nouveau in Johannesburg, Brooklyn Nouveau in Pretoria, Gateway Nouveau in Durban and at V&A Nouveau in Cape Town. 
Art

Claude_Monet_1899_Nadar_cropBased on over 2500 letters and narrated by Henry Goodman, I, Claude Monet reveals new insight into the man who not only painted the picture that gave birth to impressionism but who was perhaps the most influential and successful painter of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Monet’s life is a gripping tale, an endless quest, about a man who, behind his sun-dazzled canvases, suffered from feelings of depression, loneliness and even suicide. However, as his art developed and his love of gardening led to his glorious series of paintings depicting his Giverny garden, his humour, insight and love of life are revealed.

The film, shot on location throughout Europe at the very spots where Monet painted some of his most iconic paintings, I, Claude Monet is a fresh and intimate cinematic exploration of some of the most loved painted scenes in western art.

Claude Monet (French, 1840 - 1926 ), The Japanese Footbridge, 1899, oil on canvas, Gift of Victoria Nebeker Coberly, in memory of her son John W. Mudd, and Walter H. and Leonore Annenberg

Claude Monet (French, 1840 – 1926 ), The Japanese Footbridge, 1899, oil on canvas, Gift of Victoria Nebeker Coberly, in memory of her son John W. Mudd, and Walter H. and Leonore Annenberg

Following I, Claude Monet, which screens from 25 February, are: The Artist’s Garden: American Impressionism on 15 April; The Curious World of Hieronymus Bosch on 06 May; and Michelangelo: Love and Death from 17 June. These films take cinema audiences behind the scenes to discover what lies behind the artists and their paintings, both creatively and technically. What each artwork reveals about the artist and the particular historical period is also uncovered.

Filmed exclusively for cinema at the exhibitions and on location, this ground-breaking series allows art lovers worldwide to enjoy, marvel at and delight in the amazing works of some of history’s most foremost painters on the big screen and in stunning high definition.

With Exhibition on Screen, award-winning arts documentary maker Phil Grabsky & Seventh Art Productions are again set to delight art lovers in more than 40 countries, including South Africa.

The running time of this production is 100 minutes.

For booking information, visit www.sterkinekor.com. Download the Ster-Kinekor App on your smart phone for updates, news and to book. For more information, call Ticketline on 0861-Movies (668 437). Follow us on Twitter @nouveaubuzz and on Facebook at Cinema Nouveau.

Claude Monet, Impression Sunrise, 1872

 

 

Broadway at its best on the Big Screen

A once-off screening of one of Broadway’s most successful musicals in recent years, the Tony Award-winning musical, Newsies – the Broadway Musical sings and dances its way onto the big screen in South Africa for one night only – Wednesday, 22 February at 19:45.

NEWSIES

Jeremy Jordan reprises his Tony Award-Nominated performance as newsboy leader Jack Kelly.

Based on the 1992 musical film of the same name starring Christian Bale, Newsies tells a timeless story about the power of standing up for one’s rights. Boasting award-winning song and dance performances, Newsies – the Broadway Musical promises to be one of the event cinema highlights to be screened at Nouveau and select Ster-Kinekor cinemas in 2017.

Newsies is inspired by the real-life ‘Newsboy Strike of 1899,’ when newsboy Kid Blink led a band of orphan and runaway ‘newsies’ on a two-week-long action against publishing giants such as Pulitzer, Hearst and other powerful newspaper publishers.

Set in New York City at the turn of the century, Newsies tells the rousing tale of ‘Jack Kelly’, a charismatic newsboy and leader of the ragged band of teenaged ‘newsies,’ who dreams only of a better life far from the hardship of the streets. When publishing titans Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst raise distribution prices at the newsboys’ expense, Jack finds a cause to fight for and rallies the ‘newsies’ from across the city to strike for what they believe is right.

Since opening on Broadway in 2011, Newsies has played 1 711 performances between Broadway and the North American tour, to more than 2.5 million audience members in 65 cities across the country.

One of these performances, captured live at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre in September, is being broadcast into cinemas across the globe in February, including here in South Africa, thanks to Ster-Kinekor.

Newsies, a Disney Theatrical Production under the direction of Thomas Schumacher presents Newsies, music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman, book by Harvey Fierstein, starring Dan Deluca (Jack Kelly), Steve Blanchard (Joseph Pulitzer), Stephanie Styles (Katherine Plumber), Angela Grovey (Medda), Jacob Kemp (Davey), Zachary Sayle (Crutchie), Anthony Rosenthal or Vincent Crocilla (Les) and Matthew J. Schechter (Les) under the direction of Jeff Calhoun, choreographed by Christopher Gattelli, North American Tour premiere Thursday October 30 Philadelphia

Newsies, a Disney Theatrical Production under the direction of Thomas Schumacher presents Newsies, music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman, book by Harvey Fierstein, starring Dan Deluca (Jack Kelly), Steve Blanchard (Joseph Pulitzer), Stephanie Styles (Katherine Plumber), Angela Grovey (Medda), Jacob Kemp (Davey), Zachary Sayle (Crutchie), Anthony Rosenthal or Vincent Crocilla (Les) and Matthew J. Schechter (Les) under the direction of Jeff Calhoun, choreographed by Christopher Gattelli, North American Tour premiere Thursday October 30 Philadelphia

In the filmed production, Jeremy Jordan reprises his Tony Award-Nominated performance as newsboy leader Jack Kelly. Joining Jordan in this high-energy show from the original Broadway cast include: Kara Lindsay as Katherine, Ben Fankhauser as Davey and Andrew Keenan-Bolger as Crutchie. They are joined by North American Tour stars Steve Blanchard as Joseph Pulitzer, Aisha de Haas as Medda Larkin and Ethan Steiner as Les, together with members of both the Broadway and North American Tour ensembles, who fill the stage with more ‘newsies’ and more dancing than ever before.

Tony-nominee director Jeff Calhoun has bulked up the cast, giving Tony-winning choreographer Christopher Gattelli even more jumps, flips, and kicks to work into the popular dance routines. The production features a Tony Award-winning score with music by eight-time Academy Award® winner Alan Menken and lyrics by Jack Feldman, screenplay adaptation by four-time Tony Award winner Harvey Fierstein and is produced by Disney Theatrical Productions. The entire creative team has reunited to bring this break-out smash musical, which includes such hit songs as ‘Santa Fe’, ‘Seize the Day’, ‘King of New York’ and ‘Carrying the Banner’, to cinema audiences around the world.

NEWSIES 3

Newsies – The Broadway Musical releases in South Africa exclusively for one screening only – on Wednesday, 22 February at 19:45 – at the four Nouveau sites: Brooklyn in Pretoria, Rosebank Mall in Johannesburg, Gateway in Durban and V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, and at the following Ster-Kinekor cinemas: Bedford Square, Sandton and Cedar Square in Johannesburg; Mimosa in Bloemfontein; Somerset in Somerset West; and at Blue Route in Cape Town.

Running for 150 minutes, the cinema broadcast also includes exclusive behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with select members of the cast and crew.

Bookings are now open for this once-off special cinema event.

For booking information, visit www.sterkinekor.com. Follow us on Twitter @nouveaubuzz and @sterkinekor and on Facebook at Ster-Kinekor and Cinema Nouveau. For queries, contact Ticketline on 0861 Movies (668 437).

The discounts and benefits for cardholders of SK Club, Discovery Vitality and Edgars Club loyalty programmes apply for all live theatre productions. Special prices for school and group bookings are also available on request.

Love, thrills and chills

The Local Romance Vir Die Voëls Soars Triumphantly!

Vir Die Voëls  was inspired by the true story of Irma Humpel (Simoné Nortmann), a surly tomboy who ends up in a wedding dress, in front of the altar, with the boy who relentlessly teased her as a child. She has always believed that independence was the only form of freedom, until Sampie de Klerk (Francois Jacobs) came along and challenged her convictions on all levels. The film is set in the late 1970s and will make you feel nostalgic. It’s a film about a strong, mature woman and an equally strong man who respects that woman enough to fight for her love. It’s a story about inner conflict and preventing external circumstances and emotional baggage from getting in the way of future happiness. Director Quinton Krog’s visual sensibility is impeccable, drawing you into the story and on a journey you will always remember. If there’s one reason to see this outstanding South African film, it’s for the endearing performances and sizzling chemistry between Nortmann and Jacobs.  This is what romance is all about!  The bonus features include a behind the scenes feature. The film is in Afrikaans with English subtitles.  Read interview with director Quentin Krog.

Thrilling And Captivating 9th Life Of Louis Drax

the-9th-life-of-louis-drax_0If you are looking for a film that will keep you on the edge of your seat, The 9th Life Of Louis Drax is a suspense thriller and psychological mind bender that offers first rate entertainment and plenty food for thought, testing the fragile boundaries of fantasy and reality.  After surviving eight near-death accidents throughout his unlucky life, Louis Drax [Aiden Longworth] plunges off a steep cliff on his ninth birthday. While police investigate the cause of Louis’ near-fatal fall and the whereabouts of his violent father Peter [Aaron Paul], acclaimed neurologist Dr. Allan Pascal [Jamie Dornan] uses unorthodox techniques to try to tap into the boy’s unconscious mind and reveal the truth about the events that led to his condition. But as he’s drawn deeper and deeper into the mystery of Louis’ seeming ability to cheat death, the doctor finds himself falling for Louis’ mother, Natalie [Sarah Gadon]. As new clues emerge in the case, a shocking revelation changes the fates of Louis Drax and everyone around him. Read more about the film

Tyler Perry’s Boo! A Madea Halloween Will Kill you With Laughter

tyler-perrys-boo-a-madea-hallowee-poster1-759x477Blending Tyler Perry’s distinctive humor with elements of horror, this hilarious culture clash between generations –Tyler Perry’s Boo! A Madea Halloween – heralds a fresh turn in the Tyler Perry/Madea franchise: a movie that blends Perry’s distinctive humor with elements of horror. As the film begins, divorced dad Brian (played by Perry) must leave his rebellious teen daughter Tiffany home alone on Halloween.  He enlists his aunt Madea, Uncle Joe (both also played by Perry), and friends Hattie and Aunt Bam to keep an eye on her.  Determined to meet her girlfriends at a nearby frat party, Tiffany tricks her four gullible chaperones with a frighteningly realistic ghost story that convinces them to stay in their rooms so she can sneak out. All hell and hilarity break loose when Madea, Hattie and Aunt Bam crash the party to bring their baby girl home. And when the women call the cops to break up the Halloween rager, the brothers of Beta Psi Alpha dress as ghosts and ghouls to terrorize them. But of course, the boys soon learn that they are messing with the wrong woman. “This is a whole new side of Madea because audiences don’t think of her as someone who gets scared,” says Perry. “Watching Madea running from ghosts had everyone on set cracking up. They chase her right into a church — a place she swore she’d never go unless they had a smoking section!” Read more about the film

IntruderIn the thriller Intruder a young woman’s quiet night in becomes a free-fall into fear in this disturbing home invasion thriller. After she lands her dream job, a young cellist (Louise Linton) settles in for a relaxing few days holed up in her apartment-but as a violent storm rages outside, she can’t shake the feeling that someone is watching her every move. Cleverly toying with the rules of suspense, director Travis Z wrings maximum terror from everyone’s worst nightmare: you may not be alone.  Watch the trailer

John Taylor (MORRIS CHESTNUT) and Anna Walsh (JAZ SINCLAIR); 2am... John lets the last catering staff out... heads up to bed and hears music; John finds Anna playing music in the living room in Screen Gems' WHEN THE BOUGH BREAKS.

John Taylor (Morris Chestnut) and Anna Walsh (Jaz Sinclair); 2am… John lets the last catering staff out… heads up to bed and hears music; John finds Anna playing music in the living room…

In When The Bough Breaks John and Laura Taylor (Morris Chestnut and Regina Hall) are a young, professional couple who desperately want a baby. After exhausting all other options, they finally hire Anna (Jaz Sinclair), the perfect woman to be their surrogate – but as she gets further along in her pregnancy, so too does her psychotic and dangerous fixation on the husband. The couple becomes caught up in Anna’s deadly game and must fight to regain control of their future before it’s too late. The bonus features include audio commentary with director John Cassar, writer Jack Olsen and actress Jaz Sinclair, as well as 9 deleted and extended scenes.  Watch the trailer

 

Fences is a story about broken dreams.

Two-time Academy Award-winning Denzel Washington co-produced, directs and stars in August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Fences.

Theatre buffs will delight in the potent big screen adaptation of August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, driven by crackling dialogue and strong characters, allowing us to take an emotional journey into the lives of bruised souls seeking ultimate redemption.

Denzel Washington plays Troy Maxson and Viola Davis plays Rose Maxson in Fences from Paramount Pictures. Directed by Denzel Washington from a screenplay by August Wilson.

Denzel Washington plays Troy Maxson and Viola Davis plays Rose Maxson in Fences from Paramount Pictures. Directed by Denzel Washington from a screenplay by August Wilson.

A family drama set in the 1950s, Fences ran for 525 performances on Broadway, the longest residence there for any of Wilson’s plays, and collected the trifecta of playwriting honors: a Pulitzer Prize, a Tony Award, and a New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award.

A 2010 revival on Broadway, starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, won Tony Awards for best revival, best actress in a play for Davis, and best actor in a play for Washington. Now, of course, Fences will become the first of Wilson’s plays to be made into a feature film, directed by Washington and starring him and Viola Davis.

During his lifetime, Wilson received two Pulitzer Prizes, for Fences and The Piano Lesson, and an astonishing eight Best Play awards from the New York Drama Critics’ Circle. (Only King Hedley II and Gem of the Ocean went unrewarded.) All his works except Gem of the Ocean and Radio Golf have received major revivals on or off Broadway, and his dramas are a staple of institutional nonprofit theaters from coast to coast and indeed across the Atlantic, where Britain’s National Theatre recently mounted an acclaimed production of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. It went on to win the Olivier Award, England’s equivalent of the Tony.

Wilson wrote his initial draft of the screenplay in the late 1980s and continued revising and refining it until his death. With Washington helming the film, Fences also posthumously honors Wilson’s longstanding desire that an African American direct the screen version.

Fences is the story of Troy Maxson, a mid-century Pittsburgh sanitation worker who once dreamed of a baseball career, but was too old when the major leagues began admitting black players. He tries to be a good husband and father, but his lost dream of glory eats at him, and causes him to make a decision that threatens to tear his family apart.

When and how did you first become aware of the work of August Wilson?

I saw Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom in 1984, the year it came out, and I remember all the great performances. But Charles Dutton, in particular, just blew me away [in the role of Levee]. I never heard of this guy and then I did research about him and found out he’d been in prison and started acting there and gone to Yale Drama School and all of that. When I saw that play, I didn’t know who August Wilson was. I didn’t know he was going to write all these other great plays, but somehow his voice was a familiar voice to me. I just remember that night in the theatre and just being amazed and moved.

What do you recall from when you saw the original Broadway production of Fences?

I related more to Cory [played by Courtney Vance] because I was closer in age to Cory. And I remember how fragile Mary Alice [as Rose] looked compared to James Earl Jones. I’d seen James do Othello with Christopher Plummer on Broadway. And I’d seen him do Oedipus the King up at St. John the Divine. In fact, I went backstage. He didn’t know me, but I guess he sensed I was a young actor, so he let me hang around. He was meeting people, and I’m walking around looking at his makeup, and he had all of his rings from the play. I started putting them on, and you know James is a big man, so the rings were like bracelets. I just remember how big he was and that voice, that power.
What about his performance as Troy? It was James Earl Jones, so you know I’m going to see it. My career started in the theater. I was one of those Lincoln Center Theatre snobs. We weren’t thinking about movies. I was going to be James Earl Jones one day, hopefully, and make $650 a week and do Othello. And, in fact, my first two roles were the Emperor Jones [by Eugene O’Neill] and Othello. So I was thinking about James and Paul Robeson. That was at least the benchmark to shoot for.

Did your own father remind you in any ways of Troy?

My father wasn’t a tough kind of a guy. He was really a gentle man. He was a very spiritual man, a minister. But, like Troy, he was concerned about practical things for his son. I remember him saying things to me like, “Get a good trade.” He worked for the Water Department in the City of New York. He worked upstate on the reservoirs. He’d get water samples. He talked about how he could get me in the Water Department and I could move up and be a supervisor in 30 years. And my mother’s like, “No, he’s going to college.”

What did your father think of you becoming an actor?

I don’t remember what he thought when I started, but I do remember going to visit him in Virginia after I had started to get work. It was embarrassing, because we went to a supermarket or something and he’s telling people there, “You know who this is?” Nobody knew who I was. But I am Denzel Washington, Jr., so he, Denzel Washington, Sr., was bragging about his son.
I’m glad for both of us that happened. I remember I was on my way to New York in April ’91, to meet with Spike Lee to work on Malcolm X and my brother was at the airport. And he says, “Come, sit down.” I said, “I don’t need to sit down. Who died?” And it was my father who was on his way to death. And I just remember that connection.

How does Troy fit into the life of his family?

Fences is a story about broken dreams and where does that energy go. It’s about what happens to a dream deferred, as Langston Hughes put it. What happens when you were good enough and you didn’t make it? Where does that energy go when you’re not able to express your talent? Troy could’ve been a Willie Stargell, a great slugger for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but change came too late for Troy.
And being fueled with his bitterness, he wants the best for his son, but he could only see so far. Rose is saying, “Hey, Cory can get a chance to go to college with a football scholarship.” And all Troy could see was Cory getting a trade. He doesn’t understand the possibilities. He doesn’t see the future. Like Rose says to him, “The world is changing and you can’t even see it.” Troy’s just stuck in time, ill-equipped to handle a changing world and frustrated about missed opportunity.

At what point did you get to know August Wilson himself?

I didn’t get to know him too well. I spent a lovely day with him, sometime in the early 2000s. I flew up to Seattle, where he was living then. It rained all day and he just smoked cigarette after cigarette. And he was writing. He was writing Gem of the Ocean [his next-to-last play] and my agent suggested I go up there. So I went up there to see him and we just talked all day. And he talked about how he writes plays, and he locks the doors and shuts the windows and basically writes what the characters tell him to write. So I guess he was telling me, “Look, I’m not just writing something for you, I got to write what I’m compelled to write.” Which was fine with me. And I just remember that day. It was just a lovely day.

August Wilson, of course, passed away in 2005. He had completed all the plays in his American Century Cycle. But he did not live to see his screenplay of Fences brought to fruition. Did you have an extra sense of obligation in making the film?

Not for me. I had enough already. I didn’t need more motivation.

Where did the motivation come from?

It came from the material. And it came from August. I was just trying to serve August the best I could. I felt a responsibility to not screw it up. When in doubt, go to the source, you know? If there are 25,000 words in the screenplay, 24,900 of them are August Wilson’s. I may have added a line or an ad-lib here or there, but it’s August’s words.
On the one hand, for people in theater and literature, August Wilson is unquestionably among the greatest playwrights in world history. And yet, a lot of people will have this film as their introduction to Wilson’s entire body of work.

What do you hope they’ll take away from it?

When people ask me what I expect people to take away, I always say that it depends on what they bring to it. I know they’ll be entertained and enlightened. I know that they’ll see great performances, some great actors up there on screen. And they’ll hear a voice that they haven’t heard before, yet is familiar. The rhythm, the music of it.

For you as an actor, what was the difference between playing Troy on stage and on screen?

I couldn’t imagine trying to do this film, having not done it on stage first to figure out who Troy is. There was no time to be trying to figure that out when we’re shooting a movie. So, number one, I had time to know the character. And I knew that we did a production that worked, that we got the response from the audience and the accolades and all that kind of stuff. I knew it worked. I don’t know if that’s more pressure. It’s like, “Don’t screw it up now.” But all I knew is that I just had to get the camera in front of the actors and let them do what they’d been doing all along.
Were there things you were able to use from the stage production? When I steal, I steal from the best. I mean, the shape of the film was fundamentally the shape that we had found or at least the characters that we had found doing the play with [director] Kenny Leon. Now we could take it inside the Maxsons’ house. It’s not all in the backyard, the way it was on stage. We go to different places. But other than obviously Jovan Adepo [as Cory] and Saniyya Sidney [as Raynell], the little girl, nobody else had to catch up.

You shot in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, where August Wilson grew up and nine of his plays, including Fences, are set. Was that the plan from the outset?

Once I got there and saw it. I didn’t know what the Hill was until I got there and started seeing and meeting the people. I wanted to be in Pittsburgh, no question, on the Hill.
The neighborhood, though, has changed a lot since the 1950s, when most of the film is set. Entire blocks of homes are gone. Businesses have shut down. What were the challenges getting the Hill in 2016 to resemble the Hill in 1957? The area where August lived, the lower Hill, was gone. We went further up and we found some streets that were intact. Just take the bars off the windows and change the cars.

You shot this film sequentially, which is relatively rare in motion pictures. Why was that important to you?

I’m an actor first and I know how important that is. I know how I felt as an actor. You get there on Day One and we’re going to shoot the end first. Well, you don’t even know how your character got there yet. So we did try to shoot in sequence whenever possible.

Denzel Washington plays Troy Maxson and Stephen McKinley Henderson plays Jim Bono in Fences from Paramount Pictures. Directed by Denzel Washington from a screenplay by August Wilson.

Denzel Washington plays Troy Maxson and Stephen McKinley Henderson plays Jim Bono in Fences from Paramount Pictures. Directed by Denzel Washington from a screenplay by August Wilson.

Before we started this interview, you mentioned that you had a ritual of every day asking August Wilson—meaning, of course, the spirit or soul of August Wilson—what he thought of what you were doing.

It wasn’t just a ritual. If I didn’t have an answer to some problem or challenge or choice, sometimes I’d go, “Maybe that’s not what August wants.” That was throughout the process. Why didn’t he put this in there? Well, maybe he didn’t want it. Well, I wonder why. What would happen if you did? You know, sometimes you fiddle around with ideas like that until you realize, okay, that’s not a good idea. But you need to wake it up. You need to keep asking. I was just aware of not wanting to rely on our past success. We were very successful as a play and that’s great. Now we’re starting over or at least like to look at it that way. We’re starting fresh.

What do you think about August’s relationship with religion?

I like to use the word “spirituality” because “religion,” that’s when man gets in it. Oh, mine is right and yours isn’t, you know? August obviously has this spiritual essence, as do I. I try to make that a part of everything I do. I start my day with a prayer. I’m not telling you what you’re supposed to believe or I don’t even like that word religion. Because that’s, that’s a man-made thing, it smells like man to me.

Fences is set in a very precise time—1957, with a final scene in 1965. Do you find yourself thinking of how it can speak to the present day?

Malcolm X said that in order to know where you’re going, you got to know where you came from. So I think history is a big part of it—to embrace it, to acknowledge the struggles that were made, the sacrifices that were made before you got here. But you can’t force it. You can’t do anything on purpose to be “relevant.”

You spoke before about how the universal stems from the specific. In what way does this film hit universal chords? That’s what you do. You do what you do and then you see how it affected you or the feeling you got. I’m not trying to tell people what they should feel but, you know, August Wilson wrote a masterpiece, and God only knows how it affects people. And that’s the beauty of it. Come in, sit down, and we’ll find out or you’ll find out.

I’m happy now that Fences goes to the masses. I was reading about how much it is taught in schools. So a lot of young kids may know more about it than our generation might. So to be a part of spreading the words of August Wilson is an honor and I take it seriously and I know it’s a responsibility.

It’s part of our job, my job to, to share him with more people. So they’ll find out why he’s with the greatest ones. You’ve got Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Eugene O’Neill, Edward Albee, August Wilson. I’m happy to do my part and to help share his brilliance with the world.

 

Atmospheric and visually breathtaking, the film is compelling and thought provoking.

From visionary director, Gore Verbinski, A Cure For Wellness is a chilling and mind-bending psychological thriller that explores the true meaning of wellness and the trappings of avarice and power, while asking what fulfillment really means.

Embarking on A Cure For Wellness, Verbinski wanted to make a thriller with the depth, insight and power of classics in the genre that he admired, such as The Shining (Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film), Don’t Look Now (Nicolas Roeg’s 1973 film) and Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski’s 1968 film).

In the tradition of Verbinski’s indelible 2002 classic, The Ring, the Academy Award winning filmmaker brings his inimitable style and vision to A Cure For Wellness, from a screenplay by Justin Haythe, based on the story written by Haythe and Verbinski.

Dane DeHaan stars as Lockhart, a driven Wall Street stockbroker who is sent by his firm to a remote alpine medical spa. Lockhart is on a mission to retrieve the company’s CEO, Pembroke (Harry Groener), a patient at the spa, who has told his staff that he has no intention of returning to New York.

Lockhart arrives at the tranquil sanitarium where the residents are supposedly receiving a miracle cure.

In fact though, they seem to be getting sicker.

As he investigates the dark and baffling secrets behind the spa, he meets a young woman, the hauntingly beautiful Hannah (Mia Goth), a patient herself.

He also gets to know another patient, the eccentric Mrs. Watkins, played by Celia Imrie, who has done some detective work of her own.

Soon, Lockhart is diagnosed with the same condition as the other patients by the institution’s director, the ominous Dr. Volmer (Jason Isaacs), and finds that he is trapped in the alpine retreat.

Lockhart begins to lose his grip on reality and has to endure unimaginable ordeals during the course of his own ‘treatment’.

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The Inspiration

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A graduate of the School of Theater, Film and Television at UCLA, Verbinski resides in Los Angeles with his family where he runs his production company, Blind Wink.

The idea of a quick fix cure, together with society’s malaise and the obsession with perfect health were topics that fascinated Verbinski, whose films include the hugely successful Pirates Of The Caribbean franchise and the Academy Award winning animated film, Rango.

“We started exploring the notion of a health spa in the Alps, a wellness center that doesn’t actually make you well,” says Verbinski, “and it slowly evolved from there. It became pretty clear to us that this was going to be a genre piece, and we started playing around with the concept of inevitability. It’s the sense that there is a sickness, a sort of black spot on your x-ray that won’t go away!”

Verbinski sat down with screenwriter Justin Haythe (The Lone Ranger, Revolutionary Road).

“I had an idea bouncing around in my head for some time from various influences and preoccupations, but it mostly came from a suspicion of medicine,” says Haythe, who was inspired by the work of German writer Thomas Mann and by psychiatrist Carl Jung. “The film really concerns the pollution of our minds and bodies in the modern world and our obsession with purity as a result of that.”

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Justin Haythe

A superb storyteller and a master of pacing, Gore creates an unsettling, ominous atmosphere throughout A Cure For Wellness, immersing the audience in the world of the spa, where nothing is clear or straightforward. “Well it is interesting, because I think the more enigmatic you make something, particularly in this genre, the more you can employ a sort of dream logic,” says Verbinski.

“Things can remain enigmatic because you sense there’s some other force, something inevitable happening. To me, that’s the big tease—to try to make everything feel like there’s this sickness that’s not going away; it is pulling you. You are pointing the camera down the corridor and leading the protagonist towards his ultimate epiphany. Once you have that working, you don’t need to have so much exposition, explaining how things work. You just feel like this is all happening for a reason.”

The opportunity of working with Gore was a formidable draw for everyone involved in the film, from the cast to the production team. Justin Haythe describes the experience as a pleasure. “He’s the best!  Gore is uncompromising,” says Haythe, “but only and always in pursuit of the best movie. Ego does not factor in. Design and sound have great power in this genre and Gore is a master of both.”

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What Ails Us: Is The Cure Worse Than The Disease?

A Cure For Wellness is unsettling and utterly riveting, but it also contains insights into the purpose of life, looking at the way in which people often don’t take time to examine what they really want for themselves. “I think the movie is actually a comment on wellness,” says DeHaan.

“The ultimate question is: What is the sickness? Maybe the sickness is what happens when you give yourself over to ambition and selfish desires for wealth and wanting to advance in this world. I think it’s an interesting question to ask, especially in the world we live in today. Ultimately people want to be healthy and people want to be successful,” continues DeHaan.

“If it appears that those things could come quickly with just a simple treatment or a simple trick and that would make life easier, people want it. So I think that is why fad diets exist and different spa treatments that promise to make people better or cure them. But when you go in for those quick fixes, is that ultimately what you are being given? Probably not. Some people are so healthy it is unhealthy. And some people are so successful that it is detrimental to them as human beings, so I think it is about finding balance, and anytime that balance is thrown off, it can have the opposite effect that you want it to have.”

It’s a subject that Verbinski says is right at the heart of the movie. “I think that there’s a whole wellness industry preying upon us,” says Verbinski. “The patients at Volmer’s medical spa are confident that they are getting better, despite evidence to the contrary. The sanitarium is a place that heads of industry and oligarchs come to for a cure, people who do whatever they can to win at all costs,” comments the filmmaker.

“These are people who might be vulnerable to Dr. Volmer’s diagnosis, to being told: ‘you’re not well but there is a cure.’ But in fact it is all a great con, and it is the thing that keeps them there. We are exploring that sense of there being a sickness that we are all in denial of. It is perhaps the sickness of the modern man, if you will. We must at our core have a sense that something is not right, to battle the human condition.”

The film explores what it means to lead a life that is examined and meaningful. “We look at the universe; we look at the stars. We’re born onto a treadmill and then we could get hit by a bus and I think it’s interesting to say, wait, is that all it’s about? More than anything it’s saying: ask the question, what’s the point of it all? That is the existential crisis in its purest form. We are not providing the answer in this film, but we are saying: ‘maybe it’s time to pause, just take a moment.’”

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The Psychology Of Fear

 The evocative world created by Gore and his gifted team, the treatments that the patients undergo at Volmer’s spa, and the dramatic tension throughout the film, combine to create a gripping and terrifying cinematic experience. Like the best films in the genre, A Cure For Wellness leaves the audience unsettled and unnerved, questioning the darker side of human nature. It’s the kind of unease that lingers long after the closing credits have rolled.

“It’s like people telling ghost stories around a campfire,” says Verbinski, explaining why moviegoers enjoy watching an engrossing psychological thriller. “There’s something about a group of people, particularly strangers who are watching a film together, which creates that kind of powerful experience. It is not quite Schadenfreude because it’s not an overt enjoyment at somebody else’s demise, I would say, but for me the power of enigma is that if you don’t quite know what’s happening, you (the audience) let me inside your head. You know, when you’re eating pizza and everything’s great you’re going to forget about that meal right after you walk out of the cinema. We’re trying to give you a meal that you’re going to remember. But the process of not quite understanding something and leaning into it and trying to follow breadcrumbs, rather than a ‘hand on your back’ is quite a different kind of storytelling. You are asking: What is this all about? If I can get you nibbling breadcrumbs, that can do a lot more in terms of giving you something that’s going to stick with you.”

“It’s almost like a huge roller coaster, but the film is also asking a lot of important questions,” comments DeHaan. “At times, you are really feeling terrified. But if you are in a communal setting like a theater, you know you are safe and you know that what is happening on screen is completely removed from reality.”

“I just think this is an opportunity to watch a movie that is compelling but also frightening,” says DeHaan. “It’ll be a good time, and it’ll be fun, but it is also a movie that leaves an impression on you, and a movie that’ll shock you.  I don’t even want to talk about it too much. You just have to go and see it. It is almost like a dare. I dare you to go and see the movie!”

“This is a movie about Chinese history and culture … Yes, it is a monster movie, but I believed I could still express myself through it.  It is a fascinating story with interesting themes and emotions.” Zhang Yimou

Directed by one of the most breathtaking visual stylists of our time, Zhang Yimou (Raise the Red Lantern, Hero, House of Flying Daggers), the action-fantasy The Great Wall marks his first English-language production and the largest film ever shot entirely in China.

The Great Wall

Matt Damon (The Martian, The Bourne franchise) leads humanity’s greatest fight for survival in The Great Wall, from Legendary and Universal Pictures. When a mercenary warrior (Damon) is imprisoned within The Great Wall, he discovers the mystery behind one of the greatest wonders of our world. As wave after wave of marauding beasts, intent on devouring the world, besiege the massive structure, his quest for fortune turns into a journey toward heroism as he joins a huge army of elite warriors to confront this unimaginable and seemingly unstoppable force.

Damon describes the story as “historical fantasy.  It’s similar to the way Game of Thrones feels like it takes place in the Middle Ages.  Even though we know there weren’t White Walkers or dragons.  Likewise, ours is not quite The Great Wall that exists today.

In The Great Wall, Damon stars as William Garin, a battle-scarred mercenary and master archer taken captive by a secret army of elite warriors known as The Nameless Order.  In a vast military outpost called the Fortress City, they fight to protect humanity from supernatural forces upon one of the greatest defensive structures ever built: The Great Wall.  On his journey, Garin is joined by Pedro Pascal (Netflix’s Narcos, HBO’s Game of Thrones) as his sword-wielding sidekick, Pero Tovar, a tough, wise-cracking Spaniard who has become a brother-in-arms to William; and Willem Dafoe (Platoon, Shadow of the Vampire, The Grand Budapest Hotel) as Ballard, a shadowy prisoner inside the fortress who plans his escape from his longtime captors while hoping to pilfer their greatest weapon during his getaway.

Set in an alternate vision of ancient China (circa 1100 A.D., during the Song Dynasty), the story imagines that The Wall was built to defend against a mythical Chinese creature called the Tao Tei (historical spelling, “Taotie”), a malignant species and gargoyle-like figure from Chinese mythology that rises every 60 years from the heart of the Jade Mountain to attack in vast, swarming armies and feed on humankind.

“I remember being told when I was young that the magnificent Great Wall of China was the only manmade object one could see from space,” says producer and Legendary CEO Thomas Tull.  “True or not, I never forgot that, and when I set out to create a company known for its monster movies, I wanted to make one that combined my love of the genre set against this magnificent structure.

“I always wondered what was so important and compelling to have a country build a structure that big, that incredible,” Tull continues.  “At Legendary, we like monsters, so my geeky brain went to work on the idea of a country building this wall to keep monsters out.”

The thrilling adventure comes from an original screenplay by the writing duo Carlo Bernard & Doug Miro (Prince of Persia, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice) and Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton, The Bourne Legacy).  It is based on a story by Max Brooks (World War Z) and Edward Zwick & Marshall Herskovitz (The Last Samurai, Love & Other Drugs).

MAX BROOKS (Story by) is the best-selling author of several novels, graphic novels and comic books.  His most notable novel, “World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War” (2006), is an original depiction of global war between mankind and zombies.

Born in Winnetka, Illinois, EDWARD ZWICK (Story by) Zwick began his feature-film career directing About Last Night and went on to direct the Academy Award-winning films Glory and Legends of the Fall,  as well as Courage Under Fire, The Siege, The Last Samurai, Blood Diamond, Defiance, Love & Other Drugs and Pawn Sacrifice.

MARSHALL HERSKOVITZ (Story by) is a writer, producer and director who has won numerous awards for his work in television and film.

CARLO BERNARD & DOUG MIRO (Screenplay by) have previously partnered on four screenplays, including John Dahl’s WWII adventure The Great Raid (2005); the ghostly thriller The Uninvited (2009); and a pair of Jerry Bruckheimer epics—Mike Newell’s sword-and-sandals spectacle Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010) and Jon Turteltaub’s Medieval adventure The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (2010). They most recently co-created the new Netflix series Narcos.

TONY GILROY (Screenplay by) made his -film directorial debut with Michael Clayton. A veteran screenwriter, Gilroy also spent seven years working on the first three Bourne films—The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum.  In 2012, Gilroy co-wrote and directed the fourth installment of the series, The Bourne Legacy.  He also wrote the screenplays for Dolores Claiborne, The Devil’s Advocate, and Armageddon. 

As Tull developed the idea with The Great Wall’s story and screenplay writers, he discussed the idea of a European soldier of fortune wandering Asia in the Middle Ages who comes upon a magnificent structure that covers the entire horizon.  When the mercenary approaches, he is told that the guardians are preparing for the attack.

“During the course of developing the screenplay, Western writers actually discovered the Chinese legend of a monster called the Taotie [historical spelling],” adds producer Peter Loehr, who has spent the last 25 years of his career working in China.  “The Taotie is actually quite well known in China.

“There’s a fantasy book called the ‘Shan-hai Jing,’ which dates back 2,500 years,” Loehr continues.  “In the book, they set out different types of monsters, goblins and demons, and the Tao Tei (our spelling) is one of them.  The Tao Tei, in the fantastical ‘Shan-hai Jing,’ as well as historical records, are portrayed as gluttonous.  They eat incessantly, so much so that when there’s nothing left to eat, they eat their own bodies.”

Producer Charles Roven, who is known for his indelible print on blockbusters from The Dark Knight trilogy (alongside Legendary), Suicide Squad and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice to the much-anticipated upcoming Wonder Woman and Justice League, was brought onto the production by producers Tull and Jon Jashni.  He walks us through his initial involvement in the film: “Alex Gartner and I were invited into the project by Thomas and Jon; thereafter, we were part of the original story development.”

Roven reflects on his intrigue at the premise of The Great Wall: “At the time period of our story, the Chinese were among the greatest societies…creating things the West had never seen.  The gunpowder they’d invented motivates the mercenaries in our story, who are Western savages initially only out for themselves.  When they come across this secret society that is trying to preserve humanity, it makes them reevaluate everything.”

Producer Jashni explains that the production team long aimed to acknowledge and honor both a bygone historical period and a long-ago era of filmmaking—one in which the sets were built to scale.  “These structures were built, both then and now, to incite awe and respect,” he notes.  “We knew we wanted to depict the inner workings of The Wall as practical.  One might think of it as going inside a clock.  It seems to do something fairly simple from the outside, but what allows it to appear so simple is rather complex.  The audience might rightly assume that The Wall is merely capable of defending—by virtue of its height and its impenetrability—that which is protected behind it.  We wanted to surprise them by also having The Wall be able to ‘fight back’ in clever and unexpected ways.”

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Zhang Yimou

“When we began this process, Legendary wanted to make a movie that was truly an East-West collaboration,” states Tull, who opened his Far East production base, Legendary East, in Beijing in 2012 and garnered success not long after with the Chinese release of Pacific Rim in 2013.  “A movie that was not just a local story, but one with global appeal as well.  We found the perfect director in Zhang Yimou, one of the best in the world.  What a privilege to be able to have him direct this.”

In fact, Zhang Yimou is one of the planet’s most celebrated filmmakers.  Among his two dozen feature credits, he directed the first Chinese production to earn a Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award® nomination, Ju Dou (1990), with two more nominations for Raise the Red Lantern (1991) and Hero (2002).

Among many career triumphs, he won global accolades for his magnificent staging of the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympiad, a feat that fan and fellow filmmaker Steven Spielberg called “the grandest spectacle of the New Millennium from this creative genius.”  That accomplishment landed Zhang as runner-up for Time magazine’s 2008 Person of the Year.

“When I started learning about Chinese cinema 25 years ago, Zhang Yimou’s early work stood out to me,” offers Loehr, who speaks fluent Mandarin.  “His early work evolved into these great martial arts epics like Hero and House of Flying Daggers.  And who could forget the Olympics when you’re talking about that body of work?”

As Legendary considered filmmakers for this huge production, it required the ability to straddle two cultures, to tell a very Chinese story in a way that an international audience would love.  Loehr points out: “Zhang Yimou seemed like the natural choice because he had done that in his films.  He did it with the Olympics as well.  Here, he took something that was inherently Chinese and made something truly amazing.”

Roven agrees with his fellow producer, raving: “The Great Wall has all the visual splendor and spectacle of an extravagant film, and it is shot amazingly by one of the most iconic filmmakers working today.  His visuals are stunning, the colors that he uses are incredible, and the shots that he designs—whether they’re regular 24 frames or slow-motion—are art.”

The filmmaker also appreciated that Zhang Yimou embraced the throughline of cultural collaboration that permeated the story.  “Watching Yimou, with his cinematic vision, translate the script into a unique way of creating spectacle is an unforgettable memory.  He was quite interested in blending the cinema styles of Western tent-poles with Chinese filmmaking,” notes Roven.  “Here was material that was completely conducive to it, and we were thrilled that he wanted to join the production.”

Once the director was welcomed onto the team, Roven found him to be a unique collaborator, one whose thoughtful insights and fascinating inspirations brought life to The Great Wall’s story.  “Yimou contributed an enormous amount to what became the final vision of the movie,” says Roven.  “A few examples are the fog battle, as well as opening the film up with the climactic sequence away from The Wall.  It has been a great collaboration with Yimou and a thrilling experience working with our ‘East-meets-West’ crew.”

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“The Great Wall is in the lyrics of our National Anthem, so it symbolizes the same thing in the heart of all Chinese, which is our people, our country and our history,” reflects Zhang Yimou.  “We use it to express many things spiritual.  To all of us in China, The Great Wall is a symbol of China’s national spirit.  It resonates in every Chinese person, as a symbol of our traditions and our flesh-and-blood.”

The filmmaker believes that applies to this story as well.  “In the movie, The Great Wall symbolizes the safeguard of peace and national spirit,” he continues.  “I thought the screenplay was a special story, especially when you look at The Wall from a different angle.  The Wall was built to protect our homeland from invaders.  From this perspective, it makes little difference whether the enemy is people or monsters.”

For Zhang Yimou, to mount this undertaking would be to celebrate enormous pride.  “This is a movie about Chinese history and culture shot entirely on location in China,” he reflects.  “What attracted me most was the Chinese cultural elements.  Yes, it is a monster movie, but I believed I could still express myself through it.  It is a fascinating story with interesting themes and emotions.”

He elaborates on producer Loehr’s summary of the film’s antagonists: “For the monster Taotie, we did a great deal of research, including ‘Shan-hai Jing,’ the classic Chinese text and compilation of ancient myths, which is China’s oldest fantasy novel,” states Zhang.  “They were born because of human greed.  They eat massively.  We Chinese still use the word and terms to this day.  In traditional culture, ‘Taotie’ is a big eater.  So, it’s linked with great banquets and feasts in China.  Taotie has a cognitive position in Chinese culture.  Taotie exist because of humanity’s greed, so they are man’s worst enemy.  It’s the greediness of humanity that produced Tao Tei, and it now recoils on humans.”

According to Chinese mythology, fear of the monster led its image to be cast often on ancient and ritual bronze vessels, daggers and weapons.  Along with Taown, Hun Dun and Qiong Qi, it is one of the Four Fiends, prominent Chinese demons representing evil virtues.  So intimately are the Taotie imbedded into the culture, they have even been found on Chinese currency.

“To begin with, it has lots of mysteries,” he continues.  “What’s the story about the monsters?  How did they come into being?  What are their weaknesses?  How many years have humans fought against them?  What kinds of feelings and connections have been built among these warriors during the fight?  How do they survive, or do they die in the end?  There were many things to tell.  It is totally different from all other monster movies.”

Zhang Yimou appreciated the focus on such a cultural touchstone.  “What mattered most was the script,” he says.  “The script was written by Americans, and I provided suggestions from a Chinese perspective.  They welcomed and liked my ideas.  It was revised and polished, trying to make it acceptable and likable to both Westerners and Chinese.  That was the hardest job.”

“Every genre has its limitations, and that certainly applies to monster movies,” Zhang observes.  “You have to establish a set of rules. Taotie is an ancient monster that comes from our imagination.  The rest of this story stands on solid ground, based on actual history.  We didn’t want our characters to have supernatural powers.  In that case, there would be no limits.  So, what we did was to set strict and basic, but very real, limitations.  We placed ourselves in a realistic world, and we created an honest story.  We designed everything within those limits, such as the actions, the weapons.  Because The Great Wall is a very real object, a cornerstone that was built one brick at a time.  We approached the layers of our story in the same way.”

Tull, whose years-ago idea for a monster movie set on China’s Great Wall came to fruition and brought together two diverse cultures, concludes: “The Great Wall is something so iconic to China.  Now, we have a great big, intelligent and fun monster movie set on The Wall.  With the scope of everything that Zhang Yimou brought to the table, the colors, the scale, the weapons, the monsters it has so much eye candy.  I can’t wait until people get to see the movie.”

Zhang Yimou feels that The Great Wall has become an epic fantasy event that evokes the inspiration he felt when visiting China’s signature landmark as a teenager in 1967.  He ends: “The first time I saw The Great Wall was during China’s Cultural Revolution when I was 17.  I found it to be truly unbelievable.  In making this film, our balance was to integrate these Chinese elements and story concepts into a blockbuster.  Now, our film is the very first one made about The Wall in China with such a huge budget and grand scale.”

 

A dream­‐like journey through the classic fairy tale The Sleeping Beauty, complete with jewelled fairies, a magical kingdom, a youthful princess and a handsome prince in this purest style of classical ballet.

The next ballet to be enjoyed on the big screen, The Sleeping Beauty, is the third of three iconic ballets with music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky to be screened in cinema from the Bolshoi Ballet stage in Moscow, which releases on Saturday, 11 March for limited screenings.

The Sleeping Beauty releases on South African screens on Saturday, 11 March for four screenings only – on 11, 15 and 16 March at 19:45, and on 12 March at 14:30 – only at Ster-Kinekor’s Nouveau theatres in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban and Cape Town. Bookings are now open. The running time of this ballet production is 2 hrs 50 mins, including one interval.

With choreography by Yuri Grigorovich, the ballet stars the Bolshoi’s prima ballerina Olga Smirnova in the title role as Princess Aurora, with Semyon Chudin danding the role of Prince Désiré). Also dancing in the production are Alexei Loparevich as the Evil Fairy Carabosse, Yulia Stepanova as the Lilac Fairy, Vitaly Biktimirov in the role of Catalabutte, Artemy Belyakov as Bluebird and Anastasia Denisova as Princess Florine. The principal dancers are accompanied by the company’s highly accomplished soloists and corps de ballet dancers.

On her 16th birthday, a curse by the evil Carabosse causes the beautiful Princess Aurora to fall into a deep slumber for 100 years. Only the kiss of a prince can awaken her…

In this resplendent and magical classic of The Sleeping Beauty, the Bolshoi dancers take the audience on a dream­‐like journey through this classic fairy tale complete with jewelled fairies, a magical kingdom, a youthful princess and a handsome prince in this purest style of classical ballet. The Bolshoi’s sumptuous staging with its luxurious sets and costumes gives life to Perrault’s fairy tale unlike any other. This ballet is a must-‐see!

The Bolshoi Ballet is the quintessential ballet company, presenting works of astounding skill, daring and bravura that leave audiences the world over spellbound. This season of ballets broadcast in cinemas is no different, with the company’s incredible productions set to feature some of the world’s greatest dancers.

For booking information on the Bolshoi Ballet’s The Sleeping Beauty at Nouveau, visit www.cinemanouveau.co.za or www.sterkinekor.com. Follow us on Twitter @nouveaubuzz or on Facebook at Cinema Nouveau. For queries, call TicketLine on 0861 Movies (668 437).

Watch ‘The Fairy Variations”: scenes from the Bolshoi Ballet’s The Sleeping Beauty.

The final two productions in this season from the Bolshoi Ballet to be screened at Nouveau are A Contemporary Evening (22 April) and A Hero of our Time (13 May). The ballets are brought to the big screen by Fathom Events, BY Experience and Pathé Live.

Chance For Ballet Lovers To See Prima Ballerina Svetlana Zakharova Dancing Her Iconic Roles Of Odette And Odile In Swan Lake On The Big Screen

The next ballet to be enjoyed from Russia’s Bolshoi Ballet company on the big screen is one of the classical ballets of all time, Tchaikovsky’s timeless Swan Lake, which released on Saturday, 18 February for limited shows.

In this quintessential ballet, lovers of dance will be treated to the ethereal magic of prima ballerina Svetlana Zakharova as Odette / Odile, roles that she has made her own at the Bolshoi Ballet – and the world over.

The Bolshoi Ballet is the quintessential ballet company, presenting works of astounding skill, daring and bravura that leave audiences the world over spellbound. This season of ballets broadcast in cinemas is no different, with the company’s incredible productions set to feature some of the world’s greatest dancers.

Swan Lake opens at moonlight on the banks of a mysterious lake, where Prince Siegfried (Denis Rodkin) meets the bewitched swan­‐woman, Odette (Svetlana Zakharova). Completely spellbound by her beauty, he swears his faithfulness to her. However, the Prince realises too late that Fate has another plan for him…

Swan Lake is a ballet of ultimate beauty with a score of unparalleled perfection, which was born at the Bolshoi in 1877. In the dual roles of the white swan Odette, and her rival black swan Odile, Svetlana Zakharova exudes both vulnerability and cunning through superb technical mastery, alongside the powerful and emotional Siegfried, Denis Rodkin. Including breath-taking scenes with the Bolshoi’s corps de ballet, this is classical ballet at its finest.

Choreographed by Russian ballet master Yuri Grigorovich to the hauntingly beautiful musical composed by Pyotr (Peter) Ilyich Tchaikovsky, and also starring Artemy Belyakov as the Evil Genius and Igor Tsvirko as the Fool, Swan Lake promises to transport viewers into the magical world of the swans.

This production was filmed live at the Bolshoi Ballet on 25 January 2015, for broadcast into cinemas globally.

For booking information on the Bolshoi Ballet’s SWAN LAKE at Nouveau, visit www.cinemanouveau.co.za or www.sterkinekor.com. Follow us on Twitter @nouveaubuzz or on Facebook at Cinema Nouveau. For queries, call TicketLine on 0861 Movies (668 437).

More Bolshoi Magic

The other productions in this season to be screened at Nouveau include: The Sleeping Beauty (10 March), A Contemporary Evening (21 April) and A Hero of our Time (12 May). The ballets are brought to the big screen by Fathom Events, BY Experience and Pathé Live.

 

 

The LEGO Batman Movie” welcomes audiences of all ages into a world of DC Super Heroes and Super-Villains uniquely realized for the big screen

In the irreverent spirit of fun that made “The LEGO® Movie” a worldwide phenomenon, the self-described leading man of that ensemble—LEGO® Batman—stars in his own big-screen adventure.

But there are big changes brewing in Gotham City, and if he wants to save the city from The Joker’s hostile takeover, Batman may have to drop the lone vigilante thing, try to work with others and maybe, just maybe, learn to lighten up.

LEGO

Back In Black…And Yellow

Bringing together the energy, imagination and memorable characters from both the LEGO world DC universe, “The LEGO Batman Movie” welcomes audiences of all ages into a world of DC Super Heroes and Super-Villains uniquely realized for the big screen. With plenty of action, fun, and laughs, plus Batman’s amazing arsenal of gadgets and vehicles and the Batcave as it’s never been built before—brick by LEGO brick—this brand-new adventure also asks the question, can Batman just get over himself and be happy?

The film’s star is LEGO Batman, the coolest, handsomest, buff-est, and most awesome leading man of all time….even if he does say so himself.

And he does.  Frequently.

“The ‘LEGO Movie’ version of Batman was such a favorite, breakout character, and I’m sure he would agree that he deserves to be the focus of his own movie and not some third banana.  He feels he’s definitely a first-banana kind of guy,” says Christopher Miller, who, along with Phil Lord, wrote and directed “The LEGO Movie” in 2014.  Keeping the creative collaboration both fresh and familiar, the duo returns as producers on “The LEGO Batman Movie,” directed by Chris McKay, their filmmaking partner who served as animation director and editor on the first film.

Joining Batman this time is the super-positive and freakishly agile young Dick Grayson, on his way to becoming Robin; Batman’s loyal and deceptively reserved butler, Alfred; Gotham City’s new police commissioner Barbara Gordon, aka Batgirl, who wields major girl power; and The Joker, who desperately wants the recognition he deserves—in a story that not only showcases Batman’s sick skills and enviable abs but also takes a searching look into his personality.  Specifically, this lone wolf’s need to work alone, to brood alone on his dark past and generally distance himself from everyone to a degree that is starting to make him seem, well, a little bit dysfunctional.

“Batman is beloved the world over and for good reason, yet no one could really behave the way he does and get away with it, which is what we’re exploring in the movie,” says lifelong fan Chris McKay, who nevertheless feels that even at the character’s most extreme, “he’s still very sympathetic.”

“What was so special about Batman in the first movie is that he was selfish and egotistical, but still loveable in his own way,” is the assessment of returning producer Dan Lin.  “He had no self-awareness and it was a new twist on the character, someone who often said the most outrageous things.  It’s a subversion of the Super Hero genre, but with a joyous heart and told in a family-friendly LEGO way.”

Adds McKay, “When we were figuring out what kind of movie this would be, we knew that he could be funny and charming, we knew there were plenty of opportunities for jokes, but we wanted it to be more than all gags and sketch comedy. It had to be an absurd, action movie.  But it also had to be moving, with an emotional core to these characters and a reason for people to get involved.  We wanted to have it all: to respect them as individuals with all their complexities and defining traits while at the same time looking at those traits in the funniest possible way.”

The best example of this is Batman’s perpetual state of somber introspection, never mind the fact that, as Lord points out, “He’s got a great life.  He’s a billionaire, he’s handsome, he’s strong, he has great cars and gadgets, and he gets to punch people in the face with no repercussions!  I mean, the guy should be grinning from ear to ear all the time.  So we thought the tension between how he feels and how he should feel was a great premise and something we wanted to poke fun at.”

The writers on “The LEGO Batman Movie” have roots in a range of comedic and/or animated projects.  Seth Grahame-Smith’s novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was made into a successful feature; writing partners Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers have been recognized for their work on “Community” and “American Dad”; Jared Stern counts “Toy Story 3” and “Wreck-It Ralph” among his feature animation credits; and John Whittington is a staff writer on the upcoming series “Green Eggs and Ham,” based on the classic Dr. Seuss children’s book.

Reprising his role as the gravelly voiced DC Super Hero with issues is Will Arnett, who concurs, “It’s fun to take an iconic figure like Batman and play with the rules that have always been in place for him, to keep it consistent in terms of his being good at what he does and having that bravado and machismo, but play up his flaws and make him a little goofier without entirely losing his cool.  That’s the kind of license we took originally, and then expanded on that to really get down to what makes Batman tick.”

Speaking of ticking… The story opens with a spectacular action sequence as The Joker, voiced by Zach Galifianakis, gleefully leads the vast Rogues Gallery of baddies in a series of heists culminating in a full-scale attack on Gotham City, with a time bomb that Batman must quickly locate and defuse.  But it’s not just mayhem The Joker craves now.  After decades of unresolved conflict, point and counterpoint, the Clown Prince of Crime justifiably feels that he and the Caped Crusader have forged a special hero/villain bond that needs to be formally acknowledged.

Naturally, Batman refuses, even if the fate of the city rests on his uttering those three magic words The Joker wants to hear: that he is, in fact, Batman’s greatest enemy.

The filmmakers know, however, that putting Batman on the hot seat over his relationship with The Joker isn’t enough by itself to prompt real soul-searching.  So the story also introduces Dick Grayson, who comes to live under Batman’s guardianship through a series of events The Dark Knight can’t quite figure out.  Voiced by Michael Cera, this talkative and enthusiastic youngster, destined to become Robin, brings a ray of sunshine into Batman’s life but, along with it, a level of personal accountability he’s not ready to assume.

LEGO BATMAN MOVIE

Simultaneously, Batman is smitten by Gotham City’s fearless and capable new police commissioner Barbara Gordon, played by Rosario Dawson, as a law enforcement pro with her own ideas about crime-fighting, and who could be a powerful ally if Batman would only accept her help.  And, as if that’s not enough, Batman’s long-standing association with his butler and father figure Alfred comes to a crisis as Alfred, played by Ralph Fiennes, embarks on a tough-love campaign to force Batman out of the shadows and toward a healthier, happier lifestyle.

It’s a lot of upheaval for a guy who just wants to save the city on a regular basis, soak in some public adulation and then hole up at home with his old photos and chick flicks.  Or alternately, vent his deep angst writing heavy-metal rap.

While these storylines serve up a lot of laughs they also encourage Batman to recognize the value of teamwork versus going it alone, which is one of the film’s central themes.   Similarly, Batman’s coming to terms with the significant people in his life touches upon another of the film’s themes, which is the rewards of family, however a person comes to define that.

“The LEGO Batman Movie” again employs the digital animation technique that made “The LEGO Movie” look and feel so tactile and engaging.  Each scene and asset was built brick by brick, through a meticulous process of rendering and surfacing thousands of individual pieces and then assembling these as sets and props in the computer—much as people around the world do so to tell their own stories with LEGO play materials.  Though entirely CG, it suggests the same stop-motion quality that gave its predecessor its distinctive handmade and hand-held look.

However, McKay notes, while the two films share a continuity of style, there are subtleties that set them apart: “The look of this movie is different than ‘The LEGO Movie.’  It’s still within the same world but is more cinematic and photo real.  The scale is larger, with wider camera lenses, and the characters are more detailed.  Batman, for example, has a molded utility belt that he didn’t have in the first film.  We also incorporated some natural effects, like smoke and water.”

Because of the commitment to appropriately depict Batman’s classic environs, unlike the sunny brights of the first film, McKay sought to balance the thematic darkness of such places as Gotham City, Wayne Manor and the Batcave with super-saturated color.

Overall, he says, “We strove to make sure everything was up to the quality and standards set by ‘The LEGO Movie.’”

The creative team again honored the LEGO brand’s imprint by finding ways to work with its physical properties authentically rather than “cheating” movement.  Thus, the Minifigures only move, turn and bend the way their real-life counterparts can.  Referencing the director’s extensive experience with stop-motion animation, Miller says, “Chris is a genius at figuring out the tricks and challenges, how characters can move and how you can make them do things like clap or hug or scratch their foreheads, when their arms only go so far.”

“What’s compelling about the look of these LEGO movies is that it’s your toys come to life,” says Lin.  “And not only your toys but your imagination.  If you could have all these LEGO bricks and build these amazing sets and vehicles, this is what it could look like.”

Production ran concurrently in the U.S. and at the Sydney, Australia headquarters of award-winning digital design, animation and effects company Animal Logic, which provided the animation for “The LEGO Movie”— reuniting many of the artists who worked on that film, again with input from the LEGO design team based in Billund, Denmark.  For two and a half years, approximately 400 dedicated people collaborated to turn this beloved character onto his ear in a way that will delight adults as well as children.

“The LEGO Batman Movie” unapologetically deviates from the DC canon to a ridiculous degree…but, the filmmakers attest, with purpose as well as total love and respect.  “We all know, for example, that this is an inaccurate back-story for Barbara Gordon,” Lord acknowledges.  “It literally has nothing to do with the canon whatsoever, but everyone knows this is a tongue-in-cheek version and it’s all in good fun.  It gave us an opportunity to present Batgirl as a strong female role model with a contemporary point of view.”

“It doesn’t count as real canon because these are little plastic people,” adds Miller, with a laugh.  “And everything is done with affection for these characters.  Chris McKay was a big factor in why the first LEGO movie was so successful; his tone and his point of view are all over it.  He’s a real genius.  He’s also a crazy, super-fan of Batman and DC comics and their history, so the guy’s credentials are legit.  He even has a tattoo of Catwoman on his forearm.”

It’s true.  He does, and will readily roll up his shirtsleeve to prove it.

“These are our Greek gods and our archetypes,” McKay explains.  “So it’s irresistible sometimes to make fun of them, but also to find out what’s true and real about them and what they represent, and what they mean to us.  There are jokes here for people who want to delve deep and stuff that’s just going to be silly and slapstick. The live-action films have a very different take on Batman, and I think what we’re doing doesn’t take anything away from that.  We’re still playing in the world they created.”

LEGO 2

Despite the film’s short-legged, claw-handed protagonists measuring one-and-a-half inches high, with printed facial features, “The LEGO Batman Movie” was conceived, designed, lit, shot and scored like an epic action film.  Therein, the filmmakers feel, lies its appeal as well as the crux of its humor and heart.  Says McKay, “There’s something inherently funny about these little Minifigures taking things so seriously and having the action choreography unfold like some high-powered epic, with people rushing around trying to stop someone from detonating a bomb and all this crazy stuff.

“It’s fun to stage massive action on this level,” he adds, “because it’s all rendered in LEGO bricks so you still have the charm of something that is intimate and handmade.”

For LEGO Batman, defending Gotham City from takeover plots by its thriving criminal underworld is an ongoing exercise.  Time and again, this DC Super Hero and Master Builder swoops in to save the day, free the hostages, disarm the bombs and put the kibosh on whatever diabolical assault the city’s enemies have most recently launched.  Time and again, he is feted by police and politicians, gushed over by the media and cheered by a grateful public amidst parades and fireworks.  The citizens love him.  And he loves that they love him.

Then he goes home alone as Bruce Wayne.

It’s this self-imposed solitude that has always been part of the Batman legend and mystique, which McKay and his team have chosen to focus on in the extreme, with an aim toward making it both touching and hilarious.  “We’re taking the subtext of the character and putting that on the surface,” says McKay.  “Batman is so dark and brooding, so our premise was to explore that, like, ‘What’s this guy’s problem?’  Can he actually be happy?  Can he still function as a Super Hero but also learn to enjoy himself and learn to work with other people?  Let’s force him into a situation where he has to confront these issues and see how he does.”

 

Trimming the excess fat off your story and keeping it lean and fit.

By Daniel Dercksen

If there’s one obstacle that will prevent your story from being realised on film or television, it’s an overweight, or overwritten screenplay or manuscript.

Story Diet

 

Putting your story on a diet does not mean that you have to starve it to death, or force it into a dull and  lifeless creation.

It simply means that you have trim it down so that it is lean and mean, without drowning the reader with words.

It also doesn’t mean that you have to write your first draft starving for rich visual narrative.

A first draft is the equivalent of an actor clearing his throat before walking on stage to perform.

As a writer you have to purge your emotions and indulge your fantasies so that your first draft could end up up to 180 pages instead of the standard 125 page.

When you have been working on a draft for years, it is impossible to see the forest for the trees, or see the bigger picture.

This is where a story editor jumps in to put your story on a diet, trimming it down to size so it works dramatically and is effective structurally.

The story editor will build muscle and emotion.

Looking for a story editor that will trim the fat off your story?

The Write Prescription from your Script Doctor

The Write Journey – 12 steps of writing the perfect screenplay

Here are some common pitfalls of most first drafts:

Dull locations

When dealing with a visual medium, it is always about what we see. Once you have established where the scene takes place in the slugline (INT. ROOM – DAY) , it is important to let us see (1) what the location looks like (2) and tell us where we are.  Where does the story take place?  Where the character lives and where the story is set is an important visual dynamic. It has become an important aspect of filmmaking and needs to be rooted in the screenplay. Also make sure that the setting reflects your thematic purpose, if your story deals with death, your locations will be dark and intimate, if your story deals with emancipation, your setting will reveal the transformation from confinement to freedom.

Film Is A Visual Art that expresses its subjects in space.

The art in a visual art consists of how those subjects are composed in space.

  • A painter composes with colour, shapes, and tones.
  • A sculptor composes with shapes and spaces.
  • A photographer composes with real and sometimes unreal objects of light.

The visual side of the film is primarily in the hands of three members of the production team:

  • Production Designer/ Art Director: Responsible for designing sets and the total visual concept of the film.
  • Cinematographer: Who decides the lighting, and in some cases the composition of the shot to be photographed.
  • Director: Who supervises the mechanics of filming.

Weak character descriptions

In the description paragraph of the screenplay, when we meet a character for the first time, we have to know what that character looks like. You have to give a brief description of the character in your story.When you introduce a character you should always do it as follows:  JOHN (20), a ruggedly handsome charmer.

Not revealing important information

Be clear about establishing the relationship between characters.  Don’t write:  Two friends walk down the street.  Any information that you feel is important for us to know, should be revealed through exposition (visual or dialogue).

Scenes without a purpose

One of the most important aspects of a scene, and to establish the mood and context of the scene, is to know what the function of a scene is. Once the function of your scene is set in motion, it should amplify or reflect your thematic purpose.

Show don’t Tell

When writing for a visual medium it is always good to open up your story visually.  Unlike a stageplay where it’s all about talking heads (dialogue), dialogue in film should be lean.

When the writer takes on the role of editor

Don’t tell the editor where to cut. When you have a new slugline, it is clear where one scene ends and the next scene begins.  Remember that you are the writer, not the editor.

Overwritten visual narrative

Keep the visual narrative it lean and to the point. Don’t write what we can’t see. Also, keep different actions in the narrative separately.  If there are three things happening, write three short, succinct paragraphs.

Not showing emotions

When you describe how a character feels in the narrative, we need to know that.  It’s a visual medium.  When Matt feel rejuvenated and has writer’s block, we need to see these emotions.

Writing information we can’t see

If you are writing for a visual medium, it is essential to reveal emotions, thoughts, and introspective mindscapes visually. Don’t write:  He looks at her and thinks about what she was like as a young girl….  Show us what he is thinking so that we can see the character’s thoughts.

Looking for a story editor that will trim the fat off your story?

The Write Prescription from your Script Doctor

Copyright © 2017 Daniel Dercksen/ The Writing Studio

A taste of what to expect when a fairy tale doesn’t play by the rules.

Fifty Shades Darker, the second chapter based on the worldwide bestselling “Fifty Shades” phenomenon invites audiences to slip into something a shade darker.

Ghosts returning to haunt, helicopter accidents, sexual exploration, revenge, a billionaire’s lifestyle, Thomas Hardy, sadism, abandonment scars, charitable acts, Venetian masks, adult toys…no doubt the heady amount of subjects and objects E L James worked into her record-selling trilogy has helped to fuel the global desire to follow the tale of Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele.

The story continues as a wounded Christian Grey tries to entice a cautious Anastasia Steele back into his life…and she demands a new arrangement before she will give him another chance. As the two begin to build trust and find stability, shadowy figures from Christian’s past start to circle them, determined to destroy any hopes for a future together.

Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed were lensed simultaneously, resulting in two successive Valentine’s Day weekend releases in 2017 and ’18,  further exploring the compelling romantic tango of Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele.

The litany of reasons behind filming both chapters in the same period were clear to all involved.  Naturally, with films that are successive stories, characters and environments are common to both—with actors in character, production up and running, and sets and locations primed for shooting.  Economically, it made sense to maximize effort and time.  Viscidi reflects: “We also had other reasons that were more important than strictly the financial ones—for the actors and director James Foley, to have both scripts and to understand where their characters and stories begin and end.  It made it a more fluid process throughout the whole filming.”

Viscidi explains that while the first chapter was an awakening, the next two would delve deep into the characters’ motivations and world: “Dakota’s character in Darker has to evaluate what is it that makes her desire Christian, not just because he’s a good-looking man.  But she actually begins to want to be in the Red Room with him, to experience the sexuality she was unsure of in the first movie.  Now, she has to figure out what’s inside her that’s driving her, where she wants to participate in the same way that Christian wants her to participate.”

The dramatic thriller Fifty Shades Darker is directed by James Foley (Fear, House of Cards) and once again produced by Michael De Luca (Captain Phillips, The Social Network), Dana Brunetti (Captain Phillips, The Social Network) and Marcus Viscidi (We’re the Millers, How to Be Single), alongside E L James, the creator of the blockbuster series.  The screenplay is by E L James’ husband, Niall Leonard, based on the novel by James.

fifty-shades-grey-sequel-darker-casting

Dark Side of the Fairy Tale

EL James

E L James is a former television executive, wife and mother of two, based in West London. Since early childhood, James dreamed of writing stories that readers would fall in love with, but put those dreams on hold to focus on her family and career. She finally plucked up the courage to put pen to paper with her first novel, “Fifty Shades of Grey.” The “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy has sold more than 150 million copies worldwide and is published in 52 languages. “Fifty Shades of Grey” has been on The New York Times Best-Sellers list for 133 weeks (to date), and was No. 1 for 25 consecutive weeks. At the peak of sales, two copies of the trilogy were selling every second. In June 2012, James was revealed as Amazon U.K.’s best-selling e-book author ever (the book reached Kindle sales of more than one million, making it the No. 1 bestselling Kindle book of all time in the U.K.), as well as Amazon U.K.’s bestselling author ever. “Fifty Shades of Grey” was No. 1 on USA Today’s best-selling books list for 20 weeks in a row, breaking a previous record of 16 weeks. In 2012, James was named one of Barbara Walters’ 10 Most Fascinating People of the Year, one of The World’s 100 Most Influential People by Time and Publishers Weekly’s Publishing Person of the Year.

Producer Dana Brunetti discusses that it was long the intention to explore the decidedly dangerous turn E L James’ second novel takes: “Fifty Shades Darker is more of a thriller.  We have suspense, stalking, helicopter crashes…all in addition to the theme of this couple and their particular type of romance.  Suddenly, their relationship is confronted with many more obstacles than previously, a lot of them from Christian’s past life.”

E L James, who is rejoined by her fellow producers from 2015’s Fifty Shades of Grey, reflects on the title progression: “For the second novel, I knew I wanted to keep ‘Fifty Shades,’ because it was quite memorable.  I thought, ‘Where are we going with this?’  Then, I knew that in the second book that we would discover what was behind Christian’s darkness.  Hence, ‘Darker.’”

De Luca found it difficult to believe it has only been a few years since he, Brunetti, Viscidi and E L James began work on bringing the first book to the big screen.  “Taking this journey with Erika and my other fellow producers has been surreal at times,” reflects the producer.

“We managed to take what was already a literary phenomenon and bring it to worldwide audiences over Valentine’s Day weekend in 2015, and here we are again.  We have all grown considerably in these roles and never stopped being the caretakers for Anastasia and Christian’s story.  It’s something we don’t take lightly, and my hat stays off to Erika for keeping us on track as we imagined this filmic world for her characters to inhabit.  I’m extraordinarily proud of how far we’ve all come.”

For the adaptations, production went back to the source: E L James herself, working with the writer who had lived with the characters—and their creator—since the beginning—E L James’ husband, accomplished screenwriter Niall Leonard, whose task it was to translate these massively popular novels with their bold new emblems of mainstream sensuality into two screenplays.

The journey from print on-demand paperback to the creation of one of the most iconic and memorable literary sensations in decades was as shocking to their family as it was to publishers.

“I retain that role as the person who is the first sounding board, so, ‘Fifty Shades’ crept up on me,” Leonard muses.  “Erika was publishing a story, and I knew it was interesting and dark.  I knew that it was gathering an online following, but even so, when it burst into life in the real world, it astounded me how big the phenomenon was.”

As the family grew adjusted to E L James’ skyrocketing fame, as well as the filmic reception of “Fifty Shades of Grey,” they focused their attention on assuring the purity of the subsequent books’ translations.

Niall Leonard

A native of Newry, Northern Ireland, Niall Leonard (Screenplay by) graduated from the National Film & Television School in the U.K. as a writer and director. After several years of directing British television classics, such as The Bill and The Tomorrow People, Leonard moved into writing screenplays fulltime. His versatility and his talent for comedy made him a regular contributor to long-running series such as Ballykissangel and Monarch of the Glen, along with crime thrillers such as Wire in the Blood and historical dramas like Horatio Hornblower 3, shows that won big audiences on both sides of the Atlantic. In 2012, Leonard published his first novel, “Crusher,” a thriller for young adults, quickly followed by the sequels “Incinerator” and “Shredder.” Following his contributions to the movie adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey, the producers asked him to adapt its two sequels, Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed for the screen.

“For Darker and Freed,” Leonard continues, “she was keen that the movies had to be done quickly and that they had to be close to the books.  Knowing the story and the fandom, I was very familiar with the parts that mean a lot to Erika and to her fans.  I was keen to see those properly included.  With experience as an adapter and screenwriter, I felt qualified to take on the project.  The studio was willing to have me on board to take these enormous, sprawling novels and condense them into something that was of movie length…without losing any of the relationship and the important parts that fans really wanted to see.”

E L James is the first to admit that it was an unexpected and unusual collaboration in bringing her Christian and Ana to life in another medium.

“It was an interesting time while Niall was writing,” she reflects.  “He would go off and do his thing, and then he’d bring me a draft and ask, ‘What do you think?’  Then, we’d have discussions until we were ready to submit it to the studio.”  In her typical dry fashion, the author adds: “He was very private about it, but we’re still speaking to each other.  So that it worked out well.”

Leonard offers that knowing your spouse will be your editor is a curious thing indeed.

“I was quite nervous.  Then I heard her laughing in the next room, and I thought, ‘Okay, I’m off the hook; she’s enjoying it.  We got over that first hurdle of her accepting my work.  Then, we had to work together revising it.  Sometimes, we’d have a bit of a ding-dong about particular scenes, and I’d say, ‘I really want to do this,’ and she’d respond, ‘That’s not true to the story.’”

To be certain, the screenwriter promised the creator of his source material one thing before they began adaptations.  “If it ever came down to the crunch, it was always to be her decision,” Leonard says.

“Christian Grey is not this cutesy, handsome, all-things-to-all character.  He’s dominant, dangerous and a real challenge.  His journey into being rescued by Ana is a tricky one, and the only person for this is Erika.  She knows every step, and is the North Star.  If you follow her lead, you can’t go wrong.”

Director on board

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James Foley is an American film director. His 1986 film At Close Range was nominated for the Golden Berlin Bear Award at the 36th Berlin International Film Festival. Other films he has directed include Glengarry Glen Ross, based on the both Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning play of the same name by David Mamet (the film version of which was nominated for the Golden Lion at the 49th Venice International Film Festival) Fear, which starred Mark Wahlberg and Reese Witherspoon; as well as The Chamber, based on the novel of the same name by best-selling author John Grisham. Foley also has an extensive background in television, having directed for hit shows such as Netflix’s House of Cards, Showtime’s Billions and NBC’s Hannibal. Following up on Fifty Shades Darker, Foley is in postproduction on Fifty Shades Freed, to be released February 9, 2018.

When he made the decision to take the director’s chair for both films, James Foley joined the rarefied ranks of very few directors who have maximized time and effort by filming back-to-back projects.

Brunetti discusses the process in finding the one who’d captain the team: “When we were determining who the next director was going to be, there was speculation on whether we were going to shoot Darker or Darker and Freed at the same time.  I knew James from House of Cards, as he directed a majority of the first season and was our show director/showrunner.”

Not only was Brunetti a fan of Foley’s work for Netflix, he has long enjoyed many of the filmmaker’s features.

Glengarry Glen Ross is one of my favorites.  We met with him, and his thoughts on the film were fantastic,” says the producer.  “We saw a lot of different directors after that for Darker and made a short list.  Then, when we began to discuss making both films at the same time, I knew that is how we shot a lot of House of Cards—two episodes at a time, and we would cross-board them.  I pushed for James, not just because of his experience shooting this way, but because of his understanding of the books and take on what the films should be.”

Viscidi agrees with the decision to which fellow producers De Luca, E L James and Brunetti arrived: “We needed someone of that caliber who could direct the actors in a strong, confident and accomplished style.  In the first meeting with Foley, he said he wanted to expand and open up the film.  He appreciated the first movie—thought it was good, sexy and provocative—but wanted the characters to be more a part of the real world, get them outside more in the next chapter.  He wanted to see Seattle more, and have the characters interact more with the world around them.”

Foley discusses his interest in joining the franchise: “‘Fifty Shades’ defied a genre; it’s full of elements, drama, romance, fantasy, all mixed together.  It is a special kind of combination—a special kind of brew—like you brew beer.  It’s has its own fizz.”

No stranger to adapting lauded work, the filmmaker felt a connection with the protagonists of E L James’ work.  He reflects: “I’ve always been interested in psychological realism—movies, dramas that have a psychological complexity to them.  What I got from the three books was that they were a master study in the field—particularly of Christian but also of Ana.  There was something interesting in the journey that they took together, and how each of these psychologies interacted with each other and wind up changing each of them over the course of the three books quite dramatically.  It was that evolution in their selves which was the most important thing to me.”

The relationship quickly established by director and author/producer was soon harmonic.  “Erika was very clear about the arc of the story and how she wanted Christian and Ana’s characters to develop between the two films,” observes Viscidi.  “James was able to take that information, turn it around and implement it in his vision.  It was a great working relationship, and Erika trusted him implicitly from day one.”

Foley addresses one of the key elements of working with E L James—indeed, one of the key elements of any successful film production—when he says, “It’s been the sweetest thing—we were pals throughout the process.  There was compromise—I compromised, she compromised—but the film was not compromised.  We got the best combination of our talent.  I was very respectful of the books—they have their own kind of magic that worked on so many people.  I sought to transfer that magic to the screen, and having her around was great.  Erika was very supportive and always respectful.”

“James Foley stepped into the Fifty Shades Darker production almost as if he’d been with us since day one,” says De Luca.  “He brought this deep respect—not only to the cast and crew who’d been part of the first production—but an honor for Erika’s source material and Niall’s distinctive, significantly darker take on the next two pivotal chapters.  Foley is the consummate filmmaker and gentleman, and the exact right filmmaker to bring innovative ideas about what Darker and Freed could become.  He has this ability to elevate our production to a level none of us could have expected.”

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No Rules, No Punishments:The Curious Couple Returns

While Fifty Shades of Grey introduced movie audiences to billionaire entrepreneur Christian Grey and curious college student Anastasia Steele, the next two episodes would challenge everything audiences expected of the couple who had ended their relationship at the end of the first film.

With the whirlwind of launching Fifty Shades of Grey behind them, Dornan and Johnson set to work on the Darker and Freed set, ready for the unique set of challenges that lie ahead.  “The evolution that we have seen in Jamie and Dakota has been nothing short of astonishing,” raves De Luca.  “They were dropped into this rarified on-screen space of iconic coupledom and asked to establish immediate intimacy…all while the world looked on and analyzed every movement in their nonverbal language with one another.  The Herculean task of embodying the characters of Christian and Anastasia would have made many a performer crumble.  But they rose to every challenge.  As actors, they continue to impress me to the lengths they’ve gone and the depths of their ability to discover nuance and emote passion.”

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Darker is a deeper exploration into these two people,” says Johnson.  “It feels like they are on this tumultuous, twisted path, and they’re not simple characters.  It’s not lovey-dovey, easy-breezy bullshit.  It’s darker.  We are not sugarcoating any of the real, raw and difficult things in this relationship.  No matter what kind of relationship is going on between two people, there’s a universality in the difficult things, all of the particulars of Ana and Christian notwithstanding.”

One of the major players in Fifty Shades of Grey is a woman who never actually appears—but the wake in which she has left Christian radiates outward and affects everyone in his life.  Ana flippantly refers to her as Mrs. Robinson—in reference to Anne Bancroft’s character in the film classic The Graduate, who seduces the much younger man, played by Dustin Hoffman.  The duplicitous friend of Christian’s mother, she brings the 15-year-old Christian into her bed and her lifestyle.

The character—Elena Lincoln—is an integral part of the story of Darker, and who better to inhabit the enigmatic woman than the distinguished Academy Award®-winning actress whose C.V. includes her own cinematic venture into the dark side of a romance in the memorable and shockwave-causing 9½ Weeks.

Screenwriter Leonard took to the predatory character with a certain amount of glee.  He says: “It was great fun writing Elena, because she has this immense self-confidence.  She’s assured, sexy, experienced, intelligent and successful—all the things that Ana feels she isn’t—so she’s incredibly intimidating.  Ana feels utterly dwarfed by her presence and threatened by it.  Casting Kim Basinger in the part is an absolute dream, because she just comes across with this wealth of sophistication.”

With her “author” hat squarely on her head, E L James reasserts: “All of the ‘Fifty Shades’ books are romance books, full stop—they should be, and hopefully will be, romantic films.  In this one, we discover more, go deeper, and there’s also the first hint of Christian’s old life, with that coming back and infecting the couple as they try to get it together.  That’s one of the reasons why it’s darker, because there are these threats in the wings that come in to destabilize what should be a happy romance.”

”Historians can debate how the Holocaust took place, but the fact is, the Holocaust happened.”

An American professor finds herself the defendant in a high-profile British libel trial that would impact the way the history of the Holocaust is told in Denial, a taut courtroom drama based on one of the most significant international legal cases in recent memory.

A powerful story about one woman’s relentless efforts to establish justice and remind the world about the tragedies of the Holocaust, Denial is a gripping, inspirational real-life account based on Deborah E. Lipstadt’s book Denial: Holocaust History on Trial, and adapted for the big screen by esteemed playwright David Hare.

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Tom Wilkinson plays Lipstadt’s quietly fierce, Scottishborn barrister Richard Rampton. Wilkinson was intrigued by Denial’s unusual story and its avoidance of what he calls the clichés of genre filmmaking. “The central story is about a fish out of water,” he says. “There are huge differences between the cultures, not only British vs. American, but also Jewish culture. Deborah Lipstadt was under tremendous pressure from survivors of the Holocaust who wanted the world to hear them speak. She also wanted to have her say in court. Yet her rather cool British lawyers saying, ‘No, you can’t. Once you get in there, you’ll get pulled to pieces.’” “And that’s essentially the core,” he continues. “He’s a Holocaust denier, for heaven’s sake. If that guy’s ever going to win a suit, then what does it say for any sort of justice? The emphasis in the movie will be on the sense of isolation that she feels in the context of this rather bizarre court case.”

Denial recounts Deborah E. Lipstadt’s (Oscar winner Rachel Weisz) legal battle for historical truth against David Irving (Timothy Spall), who accused her of libel when she declared him a Holocaust denier. In the English legal system, in cases of libel, the burden of proof is on the defendant, therefore it was up to Lipstadt and her legal team led by Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson), to prove the essential truth that the Holocaust occurred.

Lipstadt believes the film provides an opportunity for her to take her life’s work another step forward. “I’d like people to understand that the Holocaust is the best documented genocide in the world. There is no denying it. You can debate aspects of it – why it happened, how it happened, but not the fact that it happened. It is incontrovertible fact. It can’t be debated. And that’s not being closed-minded, it’s acknowledging the truth.”

Denial producers Gary Foster and Russ Krasnoff first became aware of Deborah Lipstadt and her work some eight years ago. “Our kids, who are the same age, were applying to colleges,” Krasnoff recalls. “I was researching Emory University in Atlanta, where Deborah is professor of modern Jewish history and studies. The university had just announced a $1 million grant to translate portions of her Emory-based website, HDOT: Holocaust Denial on Trial (www.hdot.org), which archives all materials from her trial into Farsi, Arabic, Russian and Turkish. “I thought it was amazing that a university would do this and I wanted to know more about her.”

This inspired Krasnoff to get a copy of Lipstadt’s book, Denial: Holocaust History on Trial [previously published as History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier], an account of the libel case brought against her by David Irving. Irving’s lawsuit against Lipstadt and her publisher, Penguin Books, asserted that the professor had committed libel against him. Lipstadt’s book was a first-hand account of the trial.

“In addition to being an important topic, it was wonderful storytelling,” he continues. “Gary and I thought it would make a great movie.”

Some preliminary research revealed that Holocaust denial was much more widespread than the producers had realized. It was espoused by several prominent voices in the U.S. and Europe, as well as throughout the Middle East — most notably by thenpresident of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“It was all opinion turned into fact,” Foster says. “You can have a conviction, a passion, a belief — but that doesn’t make it a fact. That was a big part of our decision to make the film and to stay with it for the eight years it took to get it to the screen.”

In 2008, while Foster and Krasnoff were making the film The Soloist in Los Angeles, Participant Media’s Jeff Skoll and Jonathan King visited the set during shooting on the city’s Skid Row. When Skoll and King learned about the producers’ idea for a movie chronicling the Lipstadt trial, they jumped at the chance to be a part of it. “They bought the project on the spot,” Foster recalls. “Participant’s mission is to create entertainment that inspires and compels social change. This story fit perfectly, but it took some time to find just the right team to put it together.”

By 2012, Foster and Krasnoff were developing another film, My Old Lady, in partnership with BBC Films. Christine Langan, former head of BBC Films, suggested Foster and Krasnoff speak with acclaimed playwright and Academy Award®-nominated screenwriter David Hare about adapting the book into a feature film.

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Tom Wilkinson and Rachel Weisz

David Hare the ideal writer to adapt the book

Langan had worked with Hare on a trilogy of television films about MI5 and believed he would be the ideal writer for this story.

David Hare's plays and screenplays include Plenty, Skylight, The Blue Room, The Hours and Stuff Happens.

DAVID HARE (Writer) is a playwright and filmmaker. For the silver screen he wrote Wetherby, Damage, The Hours and The Reader. Television credits include “Page Eight,” “Saigon: Year of the Cat,” “Dreams of Leaving,” “Licking Hitler,” “Turks & Caicos” and “Salting the Battlefield.” He has written more than 30 stage plays including “Plenty,” “Pravda” (with Howard Brenton), “The Secret Rapture,” “Racing Demon,” “Skylight,” “Amy’s View,” “The Blue Room,” “Via Dolorosa,” “Stuff Happens,” “South Downs,” “The Absence of War,” “The Judas Kiss” and “The Moderate Soprano.” In 1997 the French government honored Hare as an Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, and in 1998 the British knighted him for services to the theater.

“Stories like this one aren’t the specialty of mainstream American cinema any more,” says Hare. “Spotlight was an exception, but it’s an unusual beast among American films. They were convinced such a factual political drama needed the BBC’s sensibility.” Hare, who received an Oscar® nomination for his adaptation of Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader, which revolves around a Nazi war-crimes trial, says he didn’t immediately recognize the historical significance of Lipstadt’s case.“I didn’t feel the weight of that until one day late on, when I had to write some dialogue spoken at Auschwitz. For the first time, I felt I had a special responsibility to the subject.”

It was the idea of defending objective historical truth that initially intrigued Hare enough to agree to tackle the project. “That meant I had to be historically accurate myself, so that enemies of the film, the people who agree with David Irving, couldn’t accuse me of distorting the record.”

To do so, Hare sifted through pages and pages of official records to document the courtroom scenes. “It took me four or five hours to read a single day in court,” he says. “So you can imagine my initial reaction: Have I really got to read 40 days of trial? I couldn’t fake drama in the courtroom that didn’t happen.”

In fact, there was no need to fabricate dramatic moments. All of the dialogue from the courtroom scenes was taken verbatim from the official record.

Hare also points to a reallife moment depicted early in the film in which Irving unexpectedly appears at a lecture given by Lipstadt in Atlanta and disrupts her speech.

“He started waving $1,000 above his head and saying, ‘I’ll give it to anyone who can prove Hitler ordered the killing of the Jews!’ That became a wonderfully dramatic opening to a film. The real mystery for me is why Deborah Lipstadt was chosen by David Irving in the first place. Why did he pick on her?” While he believes that decision reveals a great deal about Irving, Hare says he wasn’t interested in writing “a portrait of an anti-Semite.”

“The film is not about Irving’s psychology. He is seen almost exclusively from Deborah’s point of view, so I have no right to speculate or try to explain Irving. He simply behaves in the extraordinary manner he did throughout the trial and I offer no explanation. I’m not qualified to go into his psychology. There’s no ‘behind-the-scenes’ with him. There’s only information that is on the public record.”

Director Mick Jackson tackles Denial

British-born filmmaker Mick Jackson was chosen to direct Denial on the strength of an extensive résumé that includes major box-office hits (The Bodyguard), an Emmy®-winning TV movie (“Temple Grandin”), and a string of highly regarded documentaries and dramas for the BBC and Britain’s Channel 4.

DENIAL, Cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos (left), Director Mick Jackson (cap), on set, 2016. Ph: Laurie Sparham /© Bleecker Street Media

MICK JACKSON (Director) is a British film and television director and producer. He is perhaps best known for The Bodyguard, starring Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston, which was nominated for several MTV Movie Awards and became the second-highestgrossing film worldwide in 1992. His other feature credits include Volcano, The First $20 Million Is Always the Hardest, Clean Slate, L.A. Story and Chattahoochee. More recently Jackson has turned his attention to television, directing the highly acclaimed 2010 HBO movie “Temple Grandin,” for which he and Claire Danes won Emmys. Jackson also shared in the telefilm’s DGA Award (his fourth) and Peabody Award. The director was previously Emmy nominated for the Lifetime movie “The Memory Keeper’s Daughter,” starring Emily Watson; HBO’s “Live From Baghdad” (2002), starring Michael Keaton; and “Indictment: The McMartin Trial” (1995), with James Woods. He is also a three-time BAFTA TV Award winner, for “A Very British Coup,” “The Race for the Double Helix” and “Threads.” Other small-screen credits include the miniseries “Covert One: The Hades Factor” and telefilms “Screen Two: Double Image” and “Tuesdays With Morrie.” Jackson has directed a number of TV documentaries, including “The Age of Uncertainty” and “The Ascent of Man,” on which he worked alongside Sir David Attenborough and won a Peabody Award.

 

“I started out in documentaries,” says Jackson. “I have a feeling for what’s real and I like shooting in that style. I try to shoot as much hand-held as I can and keep things very fluid. Deborah’s book was perfect for me. I loved her attention to the smallest details, like who sat where in the courtroom or the color of Richard Rampton’s tie.”

The director was also drawn to the timeliness of the film’s subject matter.

“We live in an age of unreason and lies, an age of violent outrages and all kinds of assaults on the truth,” says Jackson, who adds that he had a more personal reason for taking on the project. “When I was a very young director at the BBC, I worked on a landmark series of documentaries called ‘The Ascent of Man.’ We shot an episode at Auschwitz. Just being there touched me in a profound way. When this script came my way, I thought, ‘I have to do that.’”

According to the director, the film’s title has a double meaning. “To win this case, which is about Holocaust denial, Deborah will have to deny herself the glory of standing up in court and speaking to this monster,” he says. “That act of self-denial is her only hope of beating Irving’s charges.”

Jackson compares the film to a piece of music with repeated themes that stand on their own, but are also woven together in counterpoint. One thread is the progress of the trial and the anticipation of its outcome. Another is the human story of Lipstadt and her legal team.

“We see through Deborah’s eyes, with all her media savvy, that there are two trials here: the one in the courtroom and the one in the court of public opinion.”

Lipstadt involved during filming

Lipstadt was closely involved with the making of the film from the time her book was first optioned, providing the filmmakers with access to her life and insights into her experience. “I spent two days with Rachel Weisz and we talked afterwards on the phone,” she recalls. “I’d never met David Hare, but I knew his work. I’d seen The Reader and The Hours. David spent two or three days in Atlanta, meeting me, shadowing me, coming to my classes, even walking around my home. Then he shared some of the script and I offered comments.”

Portrait of actress and film director Judith Malina, New York, New York, 1999. (Photo by Chris Felver/Getty Images)

Rachel Weisz, left, and author Deborah E. Lipstadt on the set of their film “Denial.”

When the crucial courtroom scenes were filmed in London, Lipstadt visited the set, looking on as her own past unfolded on a soundstage. It was a vivid reminder of how isolated she felt when she arrived in London for the trial. Her A-list legal team had devised a defense strategy that shocked her — she would not testify in court, nor would they call Holocaust survivors to testify.

“We were, as they say, divided by a common language,” she says. “Lawyers talk in shorthand. I felt like a deer in headlights, not because of Irving, but because of the situation. I was in a foreign country, in a foreign arena.”

Lipstadt was unfamiliar with Britain’s two-tiered legal system and the strict division of labor between barristers and solicitors. Solicitors, like Anthony Julius, formulate strategy, undertake negotiations and draft legal documents.

While barristers, like Richard Rampton, provide specialized legal advice and represent individuals and organizations in court. In addition, Lipstadt was shocked to learn, the burden of proof in a British libel case lies with the defendant.

The basic American legal tenet of “innocent until proven guilty” is reversed. The historian agrees with Hare’s description of her as “a fish out of water” during the preparation and the trial.

“It’s not how I think of myself,” she says. “But it’s not untrue. For the sake of a dramatic arc, David emphasized my relationship with the lawyers. I had to learn to trust those lawyers, keep quiet and have faith in the process.”

Although she initially doubted her legal team’s strategy, she soon learned they had her best interests at heart.

“Anthony offered to do this pro bono because Irving needed to be fought. He was willing to fight as if it were the biggest commercial case to ever come across his desk. He’d already represented Princess Diana against the House of Windsor in her divorce and settled that. Now he talks about this as one of his most important cases.”

The trial took place almost 20 years ago, so reliving it on a film set had a surreal quality for Lipstadt.

“Some moments approximate the truth almost exactly. I also worked closely with Rachel, who is unbelievable — such a professional! I’m blown away by her. But still there’s something disorienting about it all. She’s even wearing some of my clothes — including scarves that belong to me. The costume department looked at some pictures of me from that time, and I told them I still had some of those clothes. Rachel looks different than me, but I do love that they tried to approximate the hair to a certain extent.”

Lipstadt calls the trial “a defining moment” in her life.

“It didn’t change me or what I had to say. It changed how people listen to me. It gave me a hearing I hadn’t had before. Suddenly what I had to say had more clout, more gravitas because I’d successfully faced down David Irving.”

At the time, she was advised by many not to fight the charges. “I was told by some academics that I was wasting my time,”

Lipstadt recalls. “Some of the leaders of the British Jewish community felt that whatever happened, he’d win. But if I hadn’t fought, then I would have surely lost. It would have become illegal to call the world’s leading Holocaust denier what he is. That would have been a terrible thing that legitimized all Holocaust deniers. In the end, all those people who had said I shouldn’t have fought came around.” In Hare’s opinion, Lipstadt behaved with extreme fortitude throughout the lengthy ordeal. “When somebody sues you for libel, it’s a long business,” the writer says.

“From start to finish, it took seven years. I’m sure she experienced many dark nights of the soul. But not a word of hers was proved to be inaccurate. And never during that time did she say anything inappropriate or out of order. She behaved with complete integrity.”

Lipstadt faced a particularly insidious adversary in David Irving, says Hare, because he gave anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial a respectable face. “Irving dressed like an English gentleman. He lived in Mayfair. John Keegan, an extremely distinguished military historian, said that David Irving was a first-rate historian who happened to take Hitler’s point of view and that there was as significant historical value in looking at history from the side of the loser.”

In retrospect, Lipstadt says, the point of the trial was not to crush David Irving, but to expose a destructive lie that he and others like him were perpetrating.

“This trial has importance over and above and beyond itself. In an age of relativism, kids grow up thinking, ‘it must be true, I saw it on the Internet.’ But not everything can be true. There are not two sides to every issue. My students often believe everybody has a right to their opinion, but facts are facts. Historians can debate how the Holocaust took place, but the fact is, the Holocaust happened.”

Lipstadt believes the film provides an opportunity for her to take her life’s work another step forward. “I’d like people to understand that the Holocaust is the best documented genocide in the world. There is no denying it. You can debate aspects of it – why it happened, how it happened, but not the fact that it happened. It is incontrovertible fact. It can’t be debated. And that’s not being closed-minded, it’s acknowledging the truth.”

According to Jackson, the trial has made a lasting difference in the world. “If Deborah Lipstadt had lost, it would have had a chilling effect on every other similar case,” he says. “All kinds of things that were controversial would have been very difficult to litigate, because people would have been afraid of losing. As Richard Rampton said after the verdict, it won’t bring any of them back. But now, no reasonable historian can ever doubt that the Holocaust took place.”

 

“The title Moonlight refers to shining light in the darkness or illuminating things you’re afraid to show. Everybody in life has had a struggle like Chiron’s at some point, whether it’s for a short period of time or an entire lifetime. Anyone who insists they haven’t put up a façade is living in some kind of darkness.”

Moonlight is a consummate masterwork from writer-director Barry Jenkins that takes you on an emotional journey into the heart and soul of humanity and will live in your heart forever. It won 3 Oscars in 2017 for Best Film, the screenplay adaptation by Jenkins and Taryn Alvin McCraney, based on McCraney’s play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue,  and supporting actor for Mahershala Ali.

If you have a true life story that reflects the uniqueness of your culture, why not write the screenplay that can be turned into a film?  Our celebrated The Write Journey course will take your idea from page to screen. Take the first step in the write direction!

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André Holland and Trevante Rhodes in Moonlight. “Black is thrown a lifeline by the one person he’s allowed himself to be intimate with, and through André’s soulfulness, he attains a kind of freedom. Kevin is saying to his old friend, I’m not going to push you, I’m not going to force you, I’m just going to offer you this light…”

An unforgettable and not-to-be missed drama at the intersection of race, sexuality, masculinity, identity, family, and love, the film arrives eight years after Jenkins’ critically acclaimed romance Medicine For Melancholy, bringing audiences a  deeply felt cinematic swoon, following one young man’s tumultuous coming age in South Florida over the course of two decades.

One of the most powerful aspects of Moonlight is that it was conceived in cinematic form by a straight man working from material rooted in the personal experiences of an openly gay man

Featuring a trio of gifted actors (Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes) inhabiting a single character during three phases of his life, it tells the story of one young man’s coming of age in a tough Miami neighborhood.

As Chiron grows from an uncertain and tentative boy into a bullied teenager grappling with his sexuality and finally into a grown man, Jenkins skillfully shows through three distinct chapters a life in full, revealing how the powerful moments in each of our lives coalesce to shape our identities and define our fates.

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Taryn Alvin McCraney is best known for his acclaimed trilogy The Brother/Sister Plays, which include The Brothers Size, In the Red and Brown Water, and Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet. Other plays include Head of Passes, Choir Boy, and Wig Out! Tarell is the recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” Grant, the Whiting Award, Steinberg Playwright Award, the Evening Standard Award, the New York Times Outstanding Playwright Award, the Paula Vogel Playwriting Award, the Windham Campbell Award, and a Doris Duke Artist Award. He was the International Writer-in-Residence for the Royal Shakespeare Company from 2008-2010, and a former resident playwright at New Dramatists. He is an ensemble member at Steppenwolf Theatre Company and a member of Teo Castellanos/D-Projects in Miami. Tarell is a graduate of the New World School of the Arts, the Theatre School at DePaul University, and the Yale School of Drama, and he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Warwick. He recently joined the University of Miami as Professor of Theatre and Civic Engagement as part of a three-year program, in partnership with UM, Miami-Dade County and the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center.

After reading Jenkins’ adaptation, producer Adele Romanski was immediately captivated by the script’s highly emotional take on coming of age under fire.

Although Moonlight is set in a very specific place, its themes apply to anyone who has ever felt out of place in the world.

“The script broke my heart,” Romanski shares. “Chiron’s story was something I could identify with even as a white female. A lot of people across race, gender, age, and sexuality can identify with feeling ‘other.’ While Moonlight is in essence a gay, black coming of age drama, the core of its story is the universality of its otherness.”

One of the most powerful aspects of Moonlight is that it was conceived in cinematic form by a straight man working from material rooted in the personal experiences of an openly gay man — yet the film’s sexuality is not its centerpiece or defining feature, owing to Jenkins’ penchant for subtlety and introspection over telegraphed moments or sermonizing. Ultimately, Moonlight transcends labels and definitions, telling a universal story through one young man’s cathartic personal struggles. “Barry is a very introverted and private person,” Romanski explains. “He doesn’t show much of himself outside a core group of people he trusts. Moonlight allowed him to tell a story that is unique to his own upbringing and history — yet he was able to access it through an adapted work that was Tarell’s story.”

Producers Jeremy Kleiner and Dede Gardner were deeply moved by what they read. “The writing was incredibly beautiful and like its predecessor possessed a notable elegance and simplicity in its structure,” Kleiner shares. “Barry has the remarkable ability to create and capture intimate spaces between characters — specifically two characters. He penetrates interior emotional states in a way you don’t see coming and suddenly you’re in the depths of the human heart.” Adds Gardner: “Barry is someone who believes that whole worlds collide in the space of one conversation. It takes a skillful writer-director to bring that alive on the screen.” Plan B signed on shortly after reading, and financing on Moonlight was completed in early 2015, when A24 made their first foray into production and got behind the project.

The journey begins

In 2013, Romanski (Morris From America, The Myth Of The American Sleepover) was helping Jenkins sift through feature film projects for his eagerly anticipated follow-up to Medicine For Melancholy. The duo, friends since college, began holding bi-weekly meetings where they volleyed ideas back and forth until a dozen solid ideas took shape. One of them was McCraney’s evocation of his own Miami youth, which had fallen into Jenkins’ hands through a Borscht collective member. “Tarell did a great job of capturing what it felt like to be a poor black kid growing up in the Miami projects,” Jenkins explains. “I saw it as an opportunity to get some of my own childhood memories out of my head and onto the screen, filtered through Tarell’s wonderful voice. The root of his experience was also the root of my experience — it was the perfect marriage.”

By coincidence Jenkins came of age in the same rough and tumble Liberty City housing projects where McCraney grew up, and where much of Moonlight the film unfolds. He also contributed work to the Borscht Film Festival — Jenkins’ 2013 short film “Chlorophyl” was a sprawling 17-minute evocation of his native Miami emphasizing changes wrought through urban renewal. The short film incorporated some of the same themes as Medicine For Melancholy, including displacement, gentrification and yearning for love and connection amid urban anomie.

Jenkins and McCraney did not know each other as children but their formative years were remarkably similar. They attended the same elementary and middle schools (despite a difference in age) and both went on to become artists, treating subjects and themes close to their own experiences, including themes of identity and masculinity. Most notably, both grew up in households in which their mothers grappled with severe drug addiction. Jenkins’ mother survived her battle and has remained HIV positive for 24 years, while McCraney’s mother ultimately succumbed from AIDS as a result of her struggles.

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Barry Jenkins was born and raised in Miami, FL. After graduating from Florida State University with a BA in English and a BFA in Film, he relocated to Los Angeles where he worked as an assistant to director Darnell Martin on Harpo Films’ Their Eyes Were Watching God. His feature film debut, Medicine For Melancholy, was released in theaters by IFC Films and hailed as one of the best films of 2009 by A.O. Scott of The New York Times. In 2010, Jenkins co-founded the commercial collective Strike Anywhere Films. A nominee for several Spirit and Gotham Awards, Jenkins’ recent work includes a screen adaptation for Overbrook Films and staff writing on HBO’s “The Leftovers.” In addition to being a curator and presenter at the Telluride Film Festival, he is a United States Artists Smith Fellow and was recently named one of the “20 Directors to Watch” in world cinema by The New York Times. MOONLIGHT is his second feature film.

Adapting Moonlight

For his adaptation, Jenkins set about broadening the story’s three chapters, expanding on an adult interlude in Chiron’s life that was a mere phone call in McCraney’s source material, and giving equal shrift to three distinct eras in his young protagonist’s journey from childhood to adulthood.

McCraney’s original piece was rooted in the relationship between a young Liberty City boy and a local drug dealer, who becomes a kind of surrogate father as the boy contends with bullying, his mother’s addiction, and a pervasive feeling of loneliness and otherness that ultimately ends in tragedy. Jumping back and forth between youth and adolescence, yet deeply rooted in themes of masculinity, identity, and community, the non-linear “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue” examined the burgeoning gay sexuality of its protagonist Chiron coming of age in a challenging milieu. “It was important to me to show from the beginning how the community is active in Chiron’s life,” McCraney says. “The community knows things about him before he knows them about himself. People want to place him in a category before he even understands what that means. This happens to all of us, whether we’re male, female, black, white, straight or gay. There are moments when our community decides to tell us what they see us as. How we respond to that makes our struggle very real, and deeply influences how our lives unfold.”

Casting the film

Casting Moonlight began with Jenkins’ bold decision to show Chiron’s progression during various stages of his young life beginning at age ten and extending into his early 30s, without aging a single actor through the course of the film’s three chapters. This considerable challenge required the casting team to find three distinct actors who could convey the same inner feeling across multiple years without ever meeting during the course of filming.

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Alex Hibbert

Moonlight opens with Chiron (Alex Hibbert) at age 10 (nicknamed Little in the movie), fleeing from bullies in his housing project until he is rescued by the drug dealer Juan, who becomes his mentor and unofficial guardian with the help of his saintly girlfriend Teresa. In the second chapter, Chiron grapples with young love in the form of his teenage schoolmate Kevin, the declining state of his mother Paula and a traumatic schoolyard incident that changes the course of his life. The third chapter follows Chiron in adulthood — now known by his street name Black — contending with the thwarted love that has hindered his identity through his inability to express his feelings. In a virtuoso sequence set in a Miami diner, Chiron reunites with Kevin in a thoroughly unforgettable and unexpected way.

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Ashton Sanders

For Chiron at age 16, Ramirez scouted teenagers all over the country, reviewing audition tapes and headshots and scanning the Internet for video clips of students who were graduating from high school performing arts programs. In the end the filmmakers chose Ashton Sanders, who Ramirez first discovered during one of her numerous Los Angeles casting sessions. Sanders had appeared in a previous independent film and had a brief role in Straight Outta Compton, but he stood out for his stillness and impassivity, crucial attributes for Chiron in the film’s second chapter.

 

Trevante Rhodes, a former track and field star from Louisiana who was discovered by a casting agent on his Texas college campus and immediately cast in a Nicolas Cage film, had originally read for the role of the adult Kevin in the film’s evocative third chapter. But his reading was interrupted by the casting team, including Ramirez, Jenkins and

Trevante Rhodes

Romanski, the common thread that pulled the three different stages together, which was an intense vulnerability. Each actor could express it in his eyes, helping to create a complete picture of this character’s life.” Adds Jenkins: “You don’t see black males on screen where they’re just allowed to emote instead of talking or being active all the time. All three actors were great at emoting.”

For Rhodes, the biggest challenge inhabiting Chiron as an adult came in staying true to the character’s deeply concealed emotional core despite physical “armor” like muscles and grills, and a decidedly opaque street name. “Black is an introverted, troubled man who is hiding his true self from the world because he’s frightened of letting people know who he really is,” explains Rhodes.

“The title Moonlight refers to shining light in the darkness or illuminating things you’re afraid to show. Everybody in life has had a struggle like Chiron’s at some point, whether it’s for a short period of time or an entire lifetime. Anyone who insists they haven’t put up a façade is living in some kind of darkness.”

At its heart, Moonlight is a story about masculinity and how it’s expressed in a specific community like the Liberty City housing project in Miami, where much of the movie was filmed. In this milieu, criminal life routinely overlaps with everyday domestic life and paternal figures come to take on the ambiguous qualities of provider and supplier.

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Mahershala Ali

In the case of Juan, the local drug dealer who takes Chiron under his wing while quietly supplying his mother with crack cocaine, the role required an actor who appeared ferocious on the surface but harbored kindness and nurturing underneath.

“There are so many different layers to a character like Juan,” Jenkins explains. “I’m examining black masculinity in this movie, but on a deeper level I’m exploring inner city impoverished black masculinity. We needed someone who could be menacing one moment and extremely caring the next.”

The filmmakers found their Juan in the Oakland-born stage and screen actor Mahershala Ali, whose most visible role to date is playing the lobbyist and former press secretary Remy Danton on Netflix’s “House of Cards,” and whose other works include this year’s Free State Of Jones, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay and Netflix’s forthcoming “Marvel’s Luke Cage” series. Romanski had just finished working with Ali on another production, Justin Tipping’s KICKS, and had been deeply impressed with his work; while filming she thought of him for the role of Juan, and mentioned to him she had a project she was hoping to share with him as soon as it was ready.

In a brief yet astonishing performance, Ali in the guise of Juan imparts valuable information to Chiron that helps him survive inside and out through the years — until he comes to embody a version of Juan in his adult life. “He’s the father figure to Little, which is important because you want to feel like Little has someone guiding him through life,” Ramirez explains. “There’s also this dangerous level to Juan, which isn’t what you associate with paternal figures. Mahershala is a very intense, emotional actor, but he also has this ability to comfort.”

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André Holland

Showing a different side of masculinity in the quietly explosive third chapter of Moonlight is the actor André Holland (“The Knick,” Selma, 42), whose luminous and serene performance as the adult Kevin brings a sense of comfort and ease that ultimately helps Chiron emerge from his shell. Early in the casting process Holland — who has appeared in several of McCraney’s plays, including the Brother/Sister trilogy — was considered for the role of Juan. But the multi-faceted stage and screen actor submitted an audition tape as Kevin that reduced the casting team to tears, making it instantly clear where the performer’s strengths were best utilized. “André is so comfortable in his skin as an actor, signaling a way out for Chiron through his openness and giving nature,” Jenkins explains.

 

“Black is thrown a lifeline by the one person he’s allowed himself to be intimate with, and through André’s soulfulness, he attains a kind of freedom. Kevin is saying to his old friend, I’m not going to push you, I’m not going to force you, I’m just going to offer you this light…”

The last of the male actors to be cast in Moonlight proved to be the most difficult, owing to the frank sexuality depicted in the film’s second chapter between teenage friends Kevin — who is more experienced — and Chiron, who is only beginning to grapple with his sexuality. Ramirez auditioned hundreds of actors for the promiscuous, freewheeling Kevin, considering rappers, musicians, up-and-coming actors and non-professionals alike, with no Kevin in sight. Nearing production, in a state of desperation, she turned to the Internet and found upstart actor Jharrel Jerome in the theater program of LaGuardia High School of the Performing Arts in New York City, where he was just graduating. “A lot of great actors come out of that school and he had already turned 18,” Ramirez explains. “It was a relief to find someone we really liked instead of having to settle.”

Ultimately, Moonlight is a universal story of love, family and reconciliation, which through its electrifying atmosphere comes to liberate anyone who has ever felt distinct or apart, or has felt trapped inside their own emotions, yearning for change. Sums up Jenkins: “This is an immersive, experiential film in which characters over time negotiate what they will allow themselves to feel. What they project back to the world with those feelings becomes the universal process of claiming one’s identity. It’s amazing to watch someone yearn for something internally but not have the courage to express it.” Moonlight is an expression of that yearning.

Romance, Drama, Comedy and Horror.

Love rules In The Light Between The Oceans

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The Light Between The Oceans is a heartfelt film about love, truth and the secrets people keep in relationships, and what happens when those secrets are exposed to the light of day. The best-selling novel that swept readers away with its transporting story of fate, love, moral dilemmas and the lengths one couple will go to see their hard-fought dreams realized, comes to the screen as a lush, classically star-crossed romance starring written for the screen and directed by Derek Cianfrance. As mesmerizingly beautiful as it is heartbreaking, M.L. Stedman’s novel “The Light Between Oceans” was a literary sensation upon its publication in 2012. Set on the remote edge of Western Australia in the years following the devastation of the Great War, the book lured readers into a seductively old-fashioned tale of love and impossible choices beneath which lay roiling, contemporary questions of right and wrong, the effects of war and peace, the wonders of connection and the dangers of blind scruples. Michael Fassbender is sensational as Tom Sherbourne, a shell-shocked veteran, who devotes himself to his new job as lighthouse keeper on the otherwise uninhabited Janus Rock, surrounded by nothing but the vast sea, seeking solace in the solitude. He intends to remain alone, but unexpectedly meets Isabel Graysmark (Alicia Vikander)a vivacious young woman from the town of Partageuse across the harbor, herself grieving two brothers lost in the war. Despite the obstacles, their love flourishes in the stark isolation and they are soon married. Passionate for each other and hoping to be part of creating a new life together, they try to start a family, but fate intercedes. Then, one night, a mysterious rowboat holding a dead man and an infant girl washes ashore, setting off a chain of decisions—some impetuous, others wrenching— that unravel with shattering consequences. “’The Light Between Oceans’ is a film about love, truth and the secrets people keep in relationships, and what happens when those secrets are exposed to the light of day,” says Cianfrance. “It is a moral drama, but at the core, it is a timeless love story.”  Go behind the scenes of the film

Hilarious Nine Lives Is A Film For The Whole Family

NineWhen a work-obsessed real-estate mogul suffers a magical accident that leaves him trapped inside the body of his 11-year-old daughter’s cat, he realizes he has to put his family first if he ever hopes to regain his human form in Nine Lives. He has built an empire at the expense of any sort of true human connection and is surrounded by good people who love him in spite of his skyscraper-sized flaws. But it isn’t until he finds himself with four paws and a tail that Tom realizes how lucky he’s been.  When the Nine Lives script crossed Kevin Spacey’s desk, he decided the time to get silly again was, well, right meow. “Barry Sonnenfeld has done some of the great films of all time, no doubt about it,” says the actor. “So when he came onto this project, I was enormously excited.” According to Sonnenfeld, Spacey’s unique qualities made him ideal for the duality of the role — first playing an insensitive human, then voicing the same person transplanted into a cat’s body. “Kevin is perfect for the role because he’s smart, funny, sarcastic, and can portray very warm or very cold,” says the director. “Kevin’s voice is also perfect for this because it’s recognizable, it’s droll, it can be sardonic — it’s all the things you want for the voiceover.” Go behind the scenes of the film

The Power Of Miracles Shines In Sully

Sully‘On January 15, 2009, the world witnessed the “Miracle on the Hudson” when Captain “Sully” Sullenberger glided his disabled plane onto the frigid waters of the Hudson River, saving the lives of all 155 aboard.  However, even as Sully was being heralded by the public and the media for his unprecedented feat of aviation skill, an investigation was unfolding that threatened to destroy his reputation and his career. Now Oscar-winning director Clint Eastwood brings the story to the big screen,  from a screenplay by Todd Komarnicki, based on the book Highest Duty by Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zaslow, with Tom Hanks as Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger. Moments after takeoff from New York’s LaGuardia Airport, a flock of birds strikes US Airways flight 1549, taking out both engines at only 2800 feet and causing an immediate, forced water landing.  It is, we will learn, unprecedented.  “No one has ever trained for an incident like that,” notes Tom Hanks, speaking as the titular Captain Chesley Sullenberger in director/producer Clint Eastwood’s “Sully.” Recounting the real events that took place on that cold day in January 2009, the film also explores their very real aftermath. Looking back on his experience from just seven-and-a-half years ago, able to now put things into perspective, he says, “Part of the emotional context of this story is that it happened in a time in our history when there was worldwide concern on several fronts: it was post-9/11, we had troops in the Middle East, there was the ’08 financial meltdown…people were worried.  That this happened in Manhattan and that we survived it, well, I think it gave people hope, even ones who were not directly connected with the flight.” The bonus features include a doccie on the man behind the miracle; the difference between disaster and deliverance rested on the character of the man with his hands on the controls.  Go behind the scenes of the film

Blair Witch Lives

Blair_Witch_reviewIt’s been 20 years since James’s sister and her two friends vanished into the Black Hills Forest in Maryland while researching the legend of the Blair Witch, leaving a trail of theories and suspicions in their wake. Now James (James Allen McCune of TV’s“Shameless”) and his friends Peter (Wreck-It Ralph’s Brandon Scott), Ashley (Corbin Reid of TV’s “Disney Star Darlings”) and film student Lisa (Callie Hernandez of upcoming La La Land and Ridley Scott’s upcoming Alien: Covenant) venture into the same woods in Blair Witch, each with a camera to uncover the mysteries surrounding their disappearance. The Blair Witch Project, which premiered in 1999 to become a global phenomenon, created lasting lore around our timeless fear of being alone in the woods. The nearly no-budget film grossed millions and set the gold standard for found footage movies, spawning a new generation of horror fans. “When it first came out, I was one of a billion high school kids taking a camcorder into the woods and doing a Blair Witch spoof with my friends,” says Wingard. “The film had a total dedication toward authenticity. No one has so completely committed to that type of realism before or since. Simon and I re-watched the film half a dozen times during pre-production to consider every option when creating our story, and were we were astounded by how well it held up — not just as a found footage movie but also as a horror movie.” Go behind the scenes of the film

“As a filmmaker, this was a chance to pay homage to the classic Warner Bros. gangster movies of the 1930s through the `70s.”

Oscar winner Ben Affleck (Argo), who directed, produced and stars in the dramatic crime thriller Live by Night, also wrote the screenplay, based on the award-winning bestseller by Dennis Lehane, marking the second collaboration for the Boston natives, following the acclaimed drama Gone Baby Gone – the film was produced by Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Davisson under the Appian Way banner; and Ben Affleck and Jennifer Todd for Pearl Street Films.

Director/Screenwriter/Actor BEN AFFLECK on location during the filming of Warner Bros. Pictures' and Legendary Pictures' crime drama "The Town," distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. Photo by Claire Folger

Ben Affleck (Joe Coughlin) is a two-time Academy Award winner who has been recognized for his work as a director, actor, writer, and producer. Most recently, Affleck was seen in “The Accountant,” and in early 2016 playing crime fighting icon Batman/Bruce Wayne in the global blockbuster “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.”Affleck first came to prominence in 1997 with the acclaimed drama “Good Will Hunting,” which he starred in and co-wrote with Damon. The two won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, as well as a Golden Globe Award and Humanitas Prize. In addition to his successful film career, Affleck is also a passionate advocate and philanthropist. In March 2010, he founded the Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI), the first U.S.-based advocacy and grant-making initiative wholly focused on the mission of helping the people of eastern Congo support local community-based approaches that create a sustainable and successful society in the long-troubled region. Affleck is also a longtime political activist, as well as a strong supporter of many charitable organizations.

What you put out in the world will always come back to you, but never how you predict.  Taking fatherly advice is not in Joe Coughlin’s nature.  Instead, the WWI vet is a self-proclaimed anti-establishment outlaw, despite being the son of the Boston Police Deputy Superintendent.  Joe’s not all bad, though; in fact, he’s not really bad enough for the life he’s chosen.  Unlike the gangsters he refuses to work for, he has a sense of justice and an open heart, and both work against him, leaving him vulnerable time and again—in business and in love.

Driven by a need to right the wrongs committed against him and those close to him, Joe heads down a risky path that goes against his upbringing and his own moral code.  Leaving the cold, Boston winter behind, he and his reckless crew turn up the heat in Tampa.  And while revenge may taste sweeter than the molasses that infuses every drop of illegal rum he runs, Joe will learn that it comes at a price.

Affleck

Live by Night was a true passion project for Affleck, who says, “As a filmmaker, this was a chance to pay homage to the classic Warner Bros. gangster movies of the 1930s through the `70s.  I grew up watching them and they had an epic, sprawling feel that really took you into a different world, a different era.”

“Joe fully acknowledges that he’s chosen to be an outlaw in a town run by gangsters, with the Irish and Italian mobs at war,” offers writer/director/producer Ben Affleck, who also plays Joe.  “What I find most intriguing about him though is that, while he breaks the law and makes his own rules, it’s his own morality that prevents him from considering himself one of them, a gangster.”

For the ten years following the war, Joe Coughlin managed to live like an outlaw—under his policeman father’s roof, no less—before it all caught up to him.  “The things that Joe witnessed as a soldier made him decide there wasn’t any meaning to the rules we follow in life, to playing it straight,” Affleck states.  “He even sees the organized hierarchical nature of the gangster life as an equal anathema to the hierarchy of the military.  He wants no part of that, no part of taking orders from anybody.  He’s going to make his own rules.”

And he does so with a fair amount of success, so long as he keeps it, as Affleck describes, “small-time, running around with just two other guys and doing little stick-ups, that kind of thing.”

But it isn’t Joe’s distaste for authority, or even an ill-chosen robbery, that causes him to make his gravest error.  It’s love.  And it’s that singular emotion in its many forms—from passion to compassion—that will continue to be his downfall for years to come.

Affleck adapted the screenplay from author Dennis Lehane’s novel of the same name; the two first collaborated when Affleck made his acclaimed directorial debut with his screen adaptation of Lehane’s crime thriller Gone, Baby, Gone.  Lehane served as an executive producer on “Live by Night.”

“Creatively speaking, Ben and I are a unique fit—and it’s not just the Boston thing, though the Boston thing is big,” Lehane smiles.  “There’s something special about Ben’s aesthetic.  His first time in the director’s chair was with ‘Gone Baby Gone,’ and he did such a beautiful job, I love that film.  So when I heard he was going to adapt Live by Night, I was happy to be working with him again.  And like before, watching this book transmogrify in Ben’s hands, from the screenplay on, was a special thing.”

As a lifelong film buff, Affleck posits that the story has all the tropes that made him a fan of the gangster genre in particular: beautiful women, dangerous men, cops, the mob, shootouts, car chases…the whole fiery, combustible mix.  “As soon as I read Dennis’s book I knew that there was something there for anyone who just really likes to have a great time at the movies.”

Leonardo DiCaprio’s production banner, Appian Way, held the rights to the book, which Affleck read at the suggestion of DiCaprio’s producing partner, Jennifer Davisson.  “Our company is constantly looking for stories about great men—which doesn’t necessarily mean good men, just that they have greatness in them in one way or another—and what they sacrifice for that,” she explains.  “One of the things Dennis does so well is dissect the male ego in a really complex and interesting way, and that’s something I think Ben does equally well.  We had the property, but when Ben was reading the book, it was clear how much he liked it and that it was right for him.  When we read Ben’s beautiful script, the same Lehane sensibility jumped off the page.”

Producer Jennifer Todd agrees.  “Ben is attracted to Dennis’s stories, and this one in particular really excited him: the time period, the characters, going from Boston to Florida.  It all felt like nothing else we had looked at.  Add to that the central character Joe, who is not quite a bad guy and not quite a good guy but caught somewhere in between the two, so he makes his choices, but he feels the consequences.  Where does he really belong?”

Joe leaves Boston after a short prison stint for the warmer environs, and even hotter underground rum trade, of Tampa.  In addition to working in and around the greater Los Angeles area, the production shot extensively in various sections of Boston, especially Lawrence, and recreated the exotic Florida locales in various parts of Georgia, which better represented the Tampa from that era.  In collaboration with Affleck, designers Jess Gonchor and Jacqueline West and their teams recreated the time and place, with Robert Richardson capturing it all and William Goldenberg cutting.

Live by Night

Affleck notes, “Diving into this world, this era, with Bob and Bill and Jess and Jackie all encapsulating it so deftly, and all these great actors populating it and turning in tremendous performances, made this one of the most enjoyable films I’ve been involved in.  Everyone came in and did such a great job that it felt like we were there, in that life, going through that experience.”

The three women Joe crosses paths with in the film—in one way or another—are portrayed by Elle Fanning, Sienna Miller and Zoe Saldana.  They are joined by Brendan Gleeson and Chris Cooper on one side of the law, and Remo Girone and Robert Glenister squarely on the other.  Joe’s most trusted friend and fellow felon is played by Chris Messina.

Sienna Miller, who portrays Emma, says she shares Affleck’s enthusiasm for the genre.  “I’m obsessed with the Prohibition era, so to be in this film is a dream realized, but more important to me was the fact that Ben had written the script and would star and direct in it.  Having seen his previous work, I would have dropped anything to be a part of this and to play such an exquisite role.

LIVE BY NIGHT

“Emma’s the quintessential gangster’s moll,” Miller continues, “serving drinks in a speakeasy where illegal poker games go on, being squired about on the arm of her married boss and sleeping with the enemy behind his back.  She has a steely center that serves her in navigating a world that is dark and murderous and misogynistic, and that leads her to embark on a romance with Joe that is beautiful and transient and ultimately tragic.  It’s very clear from the outset that she’s a strong, no-nonsense Irish lass doing what she must to survive.”

Zoe Saldana plays the part of Graciela, a Cuban living in Ybor, a multi-ethnic, multi-racial community of hardworking immigrants, known for the production of cigars.  “Joe’s been working with barbaric, violent criminals his whole life, so there’s an integrity to the people, Graciela’s people, that Joe finds appealing,” she suggests.  “And Graciela is unlike other women he’s known.  She’s educated, she’s traveled and studied music and art.  She’s very cultured and also very smart when it comes to her family’s business.”

Live by night 2

Joe loves Emma, but he learns what love actually is from Graciela.  “What Joe and Emma have is urgent, dramatic, immature in some ways,” says Jennifer Todd.  “What Joe and Graciela have feels more grown up, grounded, and based in something real.”

Perhaps what sets Graciela apart from women like Emma is what she really wants out of life.  “I don’t think Graciela woke up in Cuba and said to herself, ‘I want to date gangsters, I want to live on the dark side,’” Saldana adds.  “I think she wants a full life with a good man, a home, children.  The more time she spends with Joe, the more she realizes that she could have all that with this man.  She sees who he really is, who he could be, if he could wash away all the bad that he does at night by doing good during the day.  She sees his redemption.”

Like Miller and Saldana, Elle Fanning, too, utilized an accent for her role as Loretta Figgis, the sweet, at times naïve daughter of the Tampa police chief.  However, for the Georgia native, it was simply a matter of returning to her roots.  It was the many other facets of Loretta’s journey that would prove an exciting challenge for the young actress.

“At first, Loretta has such sparkle, this girl with a twinkle inside her who is looking for adventure in life, she’s so excited to follow her dreams.  Oddly, it’s when she loses that sparkle, loses that twinkle that she had, that she discovers her real purpose in this world,” Fanning reveals.

Loretta’s initial meeting with Joe is very brief.  The next time they come in contact, the tables have definitely turned.  Both the children of policemen, the comparison ends there; their paths have taken them in very different directions.  Still, Joe can’t help but have a measure of respect for the slip of a girl who could, with just a few words, bring his world crashing down around him.

The script called for a couple of lengthy monologues, one of which took place in front of a large crowd, Joe included.  With Affleck’s blessing, Fanning took the opportunity to speak her lines aloud for the first time when cameras were rolling.  “I just wanted to go for it, to feel that energy, and Ben was so helpful and so giving—both as a director and as an actor in the scene.”

“Elle gave Loretta such an angelic presence and, at the same time, a broken innocence,” observes Jennifer Davisson.  “It’s trickier than it sounds to do that, but it was important for the character and she got it.”

“Elle’s an extremely gifted actress,” Affleck states.  “In the book, the character starts out at 13, but in the script I wrote her to be closer to the cusp of womanhood, someone who was straddling that line of being a girl and being grown up.  I thought it would make Loretta’s storyline even more heartbreaking.”

Affleck summarizes by stating, “Just like those classic gangster movies I watched as a kid, Dennis Lehane created an engrossing world and a character we can all relate to.  We all want to be our own person, live life on our own terms, but sometimes there’s a price for that and it’s high.  I found it almost heroic for Joe to try so hard to be true to himself, despite what he knows it will cost him, and I hope moviegoers will, too.”

Films released on the Big Screen in South Africa in 2017

Latest Releases     Top Films of 2016 

January – April , 2017 (Listed Alphabetically)

A CURE FOR WELLNESS A Cure For Wellness reflects society’s malaise and obsession with perfect health / Watch the trailer

A DOG’S PURPOSE  Writing A Screenplay from a Dog’s Point Of View / Watch the trailer 

A MONSTER CALLS    The Art Of Adaptation  / Watch Trailer

ALLIED  A mesmerizing espionage thriller, sweeping war drama and passionate romance / Watch the trailer

AMERICAN PASTORAL Adapting Pulitzer Prize-winning Philip Roth’s novel / Trailer

ASTERIX AND OBELIX: MANSION OF THE GODS Read more about the film /  Trailer

BALLERINA  Read more / Watch the trailer

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST Disney’s Beauty and the Beast celebrates one of the most enduring and beloved tales ever told / Watch the trailer

BILLY LYNN’S LONG HALFTIME WALK  Read more about the filmTrailerReview

BIRTH OF A NATION The Birth Of A Nation puts a fiery and focused new lens to history / Watch Trailer

BOSS BABY Read more about the filmWatch the trailer

THE BYE BYE MAN Read more about the film Watch the trailer

CHiPs  Read more about the film / Trailer

COLLATERAL BEAUTY An inspiring story about the triumph of love and the human spirit / Trailer

COLLIDE Read more 

DENIAL  Denial unmasks the historical truth of the Holocaust / Watch the trailer

DIE REBELLIE VAN LAFRAS VERWEY Read more about the film/  Watch trailer

THE DISAPPOINTMENTS ROOM  Read more about the filmTrailer

FENCES  Denzel Washington talks about Fences – directing and starring in the big screen adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play / Watch trailer

FIFTY SHADES DARKER  A fairy tale that doesn’t play by the rules.  / Watch the trailer

FIST FIGHT  Watch the trailer / Read more about the film

GALLOWS ROAD Read more about the film /  Watch trailer

GET OUT  Read more about the film / Trailer

GHOST IN THE SHELL  Read more about the film /  Watch the trailer

GOLD An epic tale of one man’s American dream / Watch Trailer

THE GREAT WALL  A monster movie set on China’s Great Wall / Watch trailer

HACKSAW RIDGE Robert Schenkkan and Andrew Knight talk about the ten years it took to write the screenplay for Hacksaw Ridge / Hacksaw Ridge – An Extraordinary True Story /  Trailer

HIDDEN FIGURES   NASA’s Wonder Women / Watch the trailer

HOENER MET DIE ROOI SKOENE    Trailer

THE HOLLARS Read more about the filmTrailer

IN DUBIOUS BATTLE Read more about the film / Trailer

JACKIE   Read review   / Trailer Feature: Writing the screenplay for Jackie 

JAGVELD Read more about the film / Read review   / Watch the trailer

JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2  Read more about the filmWatch the trailer

KALUSHI Trailer / Feature: “This is not “another apartheid movie”

KAMPTERREIN: DIE MOVIE  Read an interview with writer-producer Morne Lane

KEEPING UP WITH THE KANDASAMY’S A new South African comedy / Trailer

KONG:  SKULL ISLAND  Read more about the filmTrailer

LA LA LAND  La La Land gloriously revives the musical genre with verve and vigour / Trailer

THE LAST FACE Read more about the film /  Watch Trailer

THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE  The LEGO Batman Movie brings together the energy, imagination and memorable characters from both the LEGO world DC universe / Read the review  / Watch the trailer

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LIVE BY NIGHT  The Art Of Adaptation: Live By Night – A true passion for filmmaker Ben Affleck  / Watch the trailer

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MANCHESTER BY THE SEA : From Page To Screen / Interview with writer-director Kenneth Lonergan

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MISS SLOANE   Read more about the film /  Read review  / Watch the trailer

MONSTER TRUCKS  Watch trailer

MOONLIGHT  A commanding gay, black coming of age drama that speaks to everyone / Watch the trailer

NOCTURNAL ANIMALS Review / Trailer / Feature: A mind-bending cautionary tale

PASSENGERS Passengers – A Spaced-Out Thriller / Trailer

PATRIOT’S DAY   Watch Trailer

RESIDENT EVIL: THE FINAL CHAPTER Watch the trailer   Read more about the film

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SNAAKS GENOEG Snaaks Genoeg – An Entertaining And Poignant Dark Comedy / Trailer

THE SPACE BETWEEN US . Watch the trailer   Read more about the film

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SILENCE A 26-year-journey from page to screen for writer-director Martin Scorsese / Review /  Trailer

SMURFS: THE LOST VILLAGE  Watch the trailer

SPLIT Read review / M. Night Shyamalan’s Split delves into the mysterious recesses of one man’s fractured, gifted mind / Watch the trailer

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The life-affirming story of one man’s progress through the landscape of loss and what he ultimately finds – with heart, candor, a thread of humor and the recognition that there will always be some things beyond our understanding.

For screenwriter Allan Loeb (Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, 21), Collateral Beauty began as the germ of a concept that grew to capture his imagination until it could not be denied.  “It was a little story in my head that kept nagging at me, about a man who writes letters to abstractions like time, love and death, and why would he do that?”

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Screenwriter Allan Loeb doggedly pursues and creates unique, character-driven films that are grounded in authentic emotion, poignant honesty, and a deep sense of humanity. Originally breaking into the industry in 2004 with one of the first Black List scripts, “The Only Living Boy in New York,” Loeb has worked professionally and continuously as a screenwriter and script doctor, writing on over 40 studio movies and six television pilots across a variety of studios and networks. Having built a successful career as a true working screenwriter, Loeb has refocused on his passion projects, such as “Collateral Beauty,” a script so personal that he took six months off to write it.

When a successful New York advertising executive (Will Smith) suffers a great tragedy he retreats from life.  While his concerned friends try desperately to reconnect with him, he seeks answers from the universe by writing letters to Love, Time and Death.  But it’s not until his notes bring unexpected personal responses that he begins to understand how these constants interlock in a life fully lived, and how even the deepest loss can reveal moments of meaning and beauty.

“It came together piece by piece over a long period of time as I wrote other movies and worked on other things,” he recounts. Collateral Beauty is about finding your way back to life and love in the wake of unspeakable loss, and about those unexpected moments of hope, meaning and connection – the proverbial silver linings – that light the path through even the darkest times.

“It’s those things we sometimes take for granted or don’t notice all the time, but that might be there every day, like a sunset…or fleeting, like a child’s smile,” says director David Frankel.  “There are millions of examples of collateral beauty; they’re unique, and we all have different ideas about what they could be.  They’re the reason that we go on, and I think what’s really compelling about this story is that it reminds us to take notice of those brilliant fragments of life that make it worth living.”

Discovering those moments illuminated by every tragic event is an emotional and spiritual journey profoundly personal to each individual, yet something that we all share. Set amidst the warmth, energy and often bittersweet notes of the holiday season in New York City, “Collateral Beauty” tells the life-affirming story of one man’s progress through the landscape of loss and what he ultimately finds – with heart, candor, a thread of humor and the recognition that there will always be some things beyond our understanding.

“The way you see the world, the way your heart opens and the way you relate to people after a tragedy can be very beautiful,” observes screenwriter Allan Loeb, who is also one of the film’s producers.  “It can be transformative.”

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Will Smith, who stars as the central character, Howard, a man lost in grief, concurs. “The over-arching idea of collateral beauty touched all of us, that no matter how difficult your circumstances, there is something special happening right there; you just have to look for it to see it.” Citing the holiday classic ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ among his favorites, and one of his inspirations for “Collateral Beauty,” he adds, “So many of the actors David approached first said yes.  It was one of those times where we all got it; we all wanted to be a part of delivering this story to the screen.”

Howard was a highly successful and dynamic advertising executive, the head of his own company, for whom those words once represented powerful marketing tools.  They were great motivators.  In an early scene evoking his former passion, he is seen addressing a rapt crowd with the statement: “These three things connect every single human being on Earth.  We long for love.  We wish we had more time.  And we fear death.”

But after his six-year-old daughter succumbs to a fatal illness, casting Howard emotionally adrift, these concepts take on a larger meaning.  Increasingly withdrawn from human contact, the only communication Howard now initiates are the angry, accusatory letters he writes to Love, Time, and Death.

“He’s struggling with big, philosophic questions and looking to the universe for answers,” Frankel says. “Like a modern-day King Lear, you might say, he’s howling at the gods.”

“We call them abstractions, but of course we know there’s nothing abstract about these things,” says producer Michael Sugar. “They’re what drives all of us.  Every filmmaker aspires to make a film that is both entertaining and deeply moving, and I think this piece captures the essence of all the things in life we think about, which is why, when I first read this script, I was blown away.  We all were.”

Eventually, Howard’s fixation gives his friends an idea to possibly break him out of his endless malaise by somehow allowing him to confront these very concepts.  They’ve tried every other means of help from traditional grief counseling to shamanistic rituals, offered comfort and patience, and nothing has worked.

Howard’s friends are also his closest colleagues and long-time business partners: Whit, played by Edward Norton, Claire, played by Kate Winslet, and Simon, played by Michael Peña.  Though their concern for him is genuine, their plan has a practical side, too, as Howard’s disconnection from the daily functions has brought the company to the brink of insolvency and they must quickly affect a sale to save it.

Producer Anthony Bregman explains, “He’s in the process of destroying his own agency because he can’t engage in anything in the world anymore, and his partners and best friends fear that everything they’ve worked for together will be lost.  So they decide to take matters to an extreme.  They do it for the company and the hundreds of people who work there, but most importantly they do it out of love.  They do it for him.”

“It’s an intervention,” says Frankel.  “Tough love.”

Thus one day, while at his usual bench in the dog park, Howard is approached by a self-assured woman smartly dressed in vivid blue, who sits beside him.  She holds a letter he recently posted to Death. Taking him completely off-guard, she introduces herself as the recipient of that letter.  When Howard recoils, she reminds him that people are forever seeking answers from the universe but not many are granted a direct response.  And so it begins…

Reflecting on the scene’s unusual set-up and Howard’s response, which might be equal parts incredulity, curiosity and revulsion, Frankel acknowledges, “It’s a very touching story, but it also has natural opportunities for comedy, especially in the often playful relationships between characters and the workings of human nature. The biggest challenge for me was in balancing those moments with characters that are quite deep and ideas that are profound.”

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The woman in the blue coat is played by Helen Mirren, who, like many of the cast and filmmakers, was drawn to the project by its story.  “It’s original.  I hadn’t read anything like it before and I responded to the concept of collateral beauty and what that means,” she offers.  It’s a lovely idea.  The reality is everyone has a different understanding of these elements; it’s private and personal to them.  But undoubtedly, these are among the most important and imaginative ideas we have to grapple with as human beings traveling through life.”

“I was probably 20 or 30 pages into it when it grabbed me,” shares producer Kevin Frakes.  “I knew it was going to be an amazing screenplay, but I didn’t realize how personally it would affect me.  I was in tears.  It completely crushed me and really hit home, so I knew that this was a movie I needed to make.  For me, it’s about the miracle of life…birth and death.  And when someone dies, their soul stays with us.  That is my interpretation of what collateral beauty means.”

At the same time, notes Edward Norton, “It has a lightness of touch, while working underneath are some very poignant themes, and a blend of elements that reminded me a little of Billy Wilder movies.  If you look back at some of the movies of the ’30s and ’40s, they were able sometimes to layer in very adult themes but also had a sort of confection quality to them.  When you look at those kinds of films, you marvel at the ability of the filmmakers and actors to straddle those tones and when I read this, I thought it presented that kind of challenge. The tonal balance is interesting.”

“We knew David was adept at delivering humor and emotion without being manipulative.  He’s always excelled at capturing special tones in his films,” says Sugar.

Equally important, “He’s able to get very grounded performances that keep the story feeling as real as possible,” producer Bard Dorros attests, “while allowing audiences to also feel that there’s something more to the story. There’s a meaning behind these events.  There’s a meaning behind grief, a meaning behind love, and a reason why all these elements interact.  I hope it gives audiences that sense of satisfaction you get when you watch a story that becomes greater than the sum of its parts.”

As events unfold, those parts are revealed to include the lives and longings of the other main characters, apart from their focus on Howard.  We see that this journey is also relevant to them, to the issues they need to resolve and the things they’re searching for, as the concept of collateral beauty expands to touch all of them in ways they never anticipated. “In each scene, what I focused on was the connections people were making, how they were being drawn together, and how they were trying to find what they needed in life,” says Frankel.

In addition to Smith, Norton, Winslet, Peña and Mirren, the film’s stellar ensemble cast includes Keira Knightley and Jacob Latimore, who make the case, respectively, for Love and Time, and Naomie Harris, as a grief counselor who truly knows the terrain.

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Director David Frankel’s previous films include “The Devil Wears Prada,” starring Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway; “Marley & Me,” starring Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston; “The Big Year,” starring Jack Black, Steve Martin, and Wilson; “Hope Springs,” starring Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, and Steve Carell; and “One Chance,” starring James Corden, Alexandra Roach, Colm Meaney, and Julie Walters. Frankel won an Academy Award for Best Short for his film “Dear Diary,” and an Emmy for his direction of HBO’s “Band of Brothers.” His other work for HBO includes the “Entourage” pilot, for which he earned an Emmy nomination, as well as several episodes of “Sex and the City,” and the acclaimed miniseries “From the Earth to the Moon.”

Frankel worked closely with screenwriter/producer Loeb during production, as Loeb tailored aspects of the characters and dialogue – an uncommon experience for the Hollywood veteran, and most welcome.  “There was a lot of on-set writing,” he recalls, “not changing the structure of the piece or its heart, but tuning to the voices of our stars.  Writing for Will is a little different than writing for Edward, or Kate, and each of them brought their own insights.  I was on set every day, working with the actors, and I must give a nod to David Frankel for that because it’s rare that a director allows the writer such access.”

Addressing the film’s basic premise, Loeb says, “the script was a Trojan Horse of a discourse about what I believe are the three most important elements of all of our existence.  And I wanted to talk about it not from a Greek chorus point of view but literally from the mouths of Love, Time and Death.”

Toward this end, he crafted characters whose primary purpose was to take on the defining elements of these concepts and let them boldly challenge Howard’s attitudes and assumptions, face to face, about their purpose in the world and what they mean to him.

Returning to the themes of Love, Time and Death, Frankel says, “I don’t expect that people will necessarily come away with a deeper understanding of these profound ideas, but they might be moved to think about how it affects their own lives.  We all have to grapple with the importance of these abstract notions, and that’s the heart of the movie.

“What I’m hoping,” he concludes, “is that we can give audiences a life-affirming, chest-swelling experience that takes them out of the everyday and gives them something to talk about.”

La La Land is a cinematic experience unto itself.  It is sweeping but also intimate.  It is large but also romantic.  It is happy and melancholy.  It dances and sings.  And it paints a portrait of love and Los Angeles that you’ve never seen before.

La La Land began with a crazy dream.  Writer-director Damien Chazelle (Whiplash) wanted to see if he could make a film that channels the magic and energy of the most poignantly romantic French and American musicals of film making’s Golden Age … into our more complicated and jaded age.

For as dizzyingly fast as our world has changed in the last half century, are we any less captive to the whimsies of accidental meetings or missed opportunities, of dreams hitting roadblocks or dreams coming true, of knowing pure, mad love or watching as the demands of the world change our purest connections? Chazelle wondered if song-and-dance storytelling could again bring audiences solace, joy and enduring fairy tales, even in a world where much of cinema is darker and more digitized than ever.

“La La Land deals with something that’s really personal to me:  how you balance life and art, how you balance reality and dreams and also, specifically, how you balance your relationship to your art with your relationships with other people.”

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Boy meets girl meets the up-ending aspirations of the city of stars – and they all break out of the conventions of everyday life as La La Land takes off on an exuberant song-and-dance journey through a life-changing love affair between a jazz pianist and a hopeful actress.  At once an ode to the glamour and emotion of cinema classics, a love letter to the Los Angeles of unabated dreams, and a distinctly modern romance, the film reunites Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone.

The film begins as everything begins in L.A.: on the freeway.  This is where Sebastian meets Mia, with a disdainful honk in a traffic jam that mirrors all too well the gridlock they’re each navigating in their lives.

Both are focused on the kind of near-impossible hopes that are the lifeblood of the city:  Sebastian trying to get people to care about traditional jazz in the 21st Century, Mia aiming to nail just one uninterrupted audition.  But neither expects that their fateful encounter will lead them to take leaps they never could alone.

The leaps they both make, towards each other and, conflictingly, into their grandest artistic dreams, creates its own quintessentially cinematic world of rapture in La La Land – one that with light, color, sound, music and words takes a trip directly into the ecstasies of the happiness we chase… and the heartache of the passions we never get over.

“With La La Land, I wanted to do a love story and I also wanted to create a musical like the musicals that entranced me as a kid, but updated into something very modern.  I wanted to explore how you use color, sets, costumes and all these very expressionistic elements of Old School movie making to tell a story that takes place in our times.”

Wearing its influences on its sleeve yet taking considerable risks, La La Land allows Chazelle to pay homage to legends of cinema while harnessing its current power to make the most private human terrain – the territory of intimate relationships, personal dreams and the crossroads where decisions set fate into motion – come to life on the screen as a palpably real, yet enchanted, universe.

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“To me, it was important to make a movie about dreamers, about two people who have these giant dreams that drive them, that bring them together, but also tear them apart.”

He goes on:  “La La Land is a very different movie from Whiplash in many ways.  But they both deal with something that’s really personal to me:  how you balance life and art, how you balance reality and dreams and also, specifically, how you balance your relationship to your art with your relationships with other people.  With La La Land, I wanted to tell that story using music, song and dance.  I think the musical as a genre is a great vehicle for expressing that balancing act between dreams and reality.”

The components of the film might be ageless, but producer Marc Platt, a veteran of stage and film musicals, notes the approach is novel.  Platt joined up with producers Fred Berger and Jordan Horowitz, who closely developed the project from the start with Chazelle.

“Damien has reinvigorated the genre by drawing on classic elements, but bringing them forth in a way that speaks to contemporary life in L.A. He brings the foundation of great old movies into something for a new generation,” Platt observes.

Working with a group of collaborators who each brought their imaginations to the table

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Damien Chazelle most recently wrote and directed the Academy Award winning Whiplash. Released in 2014 by Sony Pictures Classics Whiplash received five Academy Award® nominations, including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay for Chazelle, and three wins, including Best Supporting Actor for J.K. Simmons. His 2013 short, based on the Whiplash screenplay, won the Short Film Jury Prize at Sundance, and the following year the feature film took home both the Jury and Audience Awards from the festival. Previously, Chazelle wrote Magnolia Picture’s Grand Piano, starring Elijah Wood and John Cusack and co-wrote Paramount’s hit thriller 10 Cloverfield Lane, starring John Goodman. His screenplays for Whiplash and The Claim both appeared on the Blacklist. Chazelle made his first feature film Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, as an undergraduate at Harvard University. The critically acclaimed musical was named “the Best First Feature of 2010” by L.A. Weekly and “easily the best first film in eons” by Time Out New York.

To forge this hybrid of forward-looking ideas married to classic forms, Chazelle worked with a group of collaborators who each brought their imaginations to the table.  In addition to Berger, Horowitz and Platt, they include composer, Justin Hurwitz, who takes a creative partnership he began with Chazelle on their previous films Whiplash and Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench into the crafting of an entire musical universe; the Tony and Emmy nominated Broadway lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, dubbed the 21st Century heirs to Rogers and Hammerstein, who put words to the melodies; executive music producer Marius de Vries, who music-directed Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge and co-scored Romeo + Juliet; and choreographer Mandy Moore who has been bringing contemporary dance into the mainstream on So You Think You Can Dance, and gets her first chance to create large-scale, big-screen dance numbers.

Hurwitz says that he and Chazelle looked for ways to bring a contemporary language – musical, visual and emotional languages – to a genre that runs the risk of nostalgia.

“The idea of doing not just a musical, but a musical that is about the realities of love and dreams in today’s L.A., energized me and Damien,” the composer says.  “Musicals are so heightened and we adore that about them but we also loved the idea of capturing a real feeling of current life within that heightened world.”   For Moore, La La Land takes its own place, suspended on the border between the current and the timeless.   “The film showcases how culturally relevant the beautiful marriage between music, movement, acting, singing, and storytelling can be,” she sums up.

Marc Platt notes:  “Throughout La La Land, you have a very contemporary aesthetic.  There is a fluid camera that lets you feel like you are very much in the moment, while taking you back to the era of Golden Hollywood entertainment.”

That aesthetic had its roots in Chazelle’s life-long love of movies, but the film’s origins began with a coffee shop meeting between Chazelle and two rising producers — Fred Berger, who began his career working with Sofia Coppola and produced the award-winning Taking Chance as well as the forthcoming sci-fi thriller The Titan, and Jordan Horowitz, known for the 2010 Oscar®-nominated nontraditional family drama The Kids Are Alright.

Harvard alum Justin Hurtwitz speaking with Ryan Gosling on the set >>of the film “La La Land”

First Pitch

That was when Chazelle first pitched a musical romance set in Los Angeles.

The producers had no idea when or how it would be made at that time, but the sheer aspiration of it intrigued them.

“When we met him, Damien blew us away with his understanding of movies, even though he’d only made one small film.  As we watched him go from a shy young kid to a filmmaker on the rise and fulfill on that promise we saw at that first coffee, it was really something special,” says Berger.

As for his pitch, Berger recalls:  “It was so different and so bold.  We felt it might never get made in the current landscape, so it was worth it to us to devote years to making sure it did. It makes the romantic musical something fresh and visceral.  And given Damien’s encyclopedic knowledge of moviemaking, we felt if there was anyone who could actually pull this movie off, it would be him.”

Adds Horowitz: “Damien has such infectious energy and creativity that when he said, ‘This is what I want to do,’ we were ready to go with him on that journey, whatever it took. But our challenge was to figure out the best way to help him tell this story.  We really loved his concept but from there it was a long process of developing the script, the characters and the songs.”

Horowitz and Berger knew that challenge was huge, but they also knew there was only one way to approach it:  all in.  “We threw caution to the wind,” Horowitz says.

“We were able to follow a more organic process because we really weren’t working towards a specific deadline in the beginning.  We simply knew we would figure out how to make this film.”  In terms of his more classic influences, Chazelle was uniquely inspired by the films of Jacques Demy, the French New Wave director who broke the hyper-serious 1960s mold with intoxicating, candycolored musicals such as The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, The Young Girls of Rochefort and A Room In Town.

“Demy’s probably the single biggest influence not just on this movie but on everything I’ve done or wanted to do.  There’s no more formative movie for me than Umbrellas Of Cherbourg.  That’s a profound love that I’ve had,” Chazelle says.

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Inspiration and exploring Los Angeles as a muse

Chazelle became struck by the idea of fusing some of his favorite elements from musicals of the 40s, 50s and 60s – the continuous musical score, the eye-popping colors, the mood-driven energy – with his favorite city:  Los Angeles, which becomes as much a romantic character in La La Land as the film’s two lovers. Los Angeles has been many things on films – a searing noir backdrop, a lush bikini paradise, a city high on the fumes of ambition.

But Chazelle set out to explore Los Angeles as Muse, a constantly in-motion canvas of fateful encounters, endless traffic, but also endless striving as everyone chases their own private, unrealized dreams, at times futilely, sometimes transformationally.

“La La Land is about a city that is very epic and unto itself – it’s a wide-screen city,” observes Chazelle.  So I thought it would be great to shoot it in wide-screen, to make it as a big and spectacular to me as a classic Hollywood musical.”    He set the film’s opening music number in a freeway tangle for very clear reasons.

“In L.A. you mostly have cars with one or two people in them.  It’s part of what makes the city feel a bit lonely.  But it’s also reflects how L.A is a crazy haven for dreamers.  Because when you’re in your car, what are you doing?  You’re playing music, or you  dream.  Each dreamer has their own dream; each person is living their own song.   You’re in your own bubble universe, your own living musical.  So that is why that moment is the perfect one for two dreamers like Sebastian and Mia to meet. We use the car radios to create a tapestry of music that everyone, one by one, on this freeway joins into at the moment.”

Chazelle’s Los Angeles is also a city of unseen yearning – an L.A. of hole-in-the-wall jazz clubs, heart-numbing audition waiting rooms, way-stop apartments, and studio coffee shops where the famous and aspirational collide; as well as an L.A. where parties, planetariums and even parking spots can bust out of the mundane and expected to become a kinetic dreamscape rife with musical mirth.

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La La Land is absolutely a love letter to Los Angeles

“La La Land is absolutely a love letter to the city,” says Platt.  “The way the film mixes two people leading very hip, modern lives with all these iconic Hollywood locales is unique.  You get a feeling both of the romantic fantasy of the city and its grounding in real lives.”

Chazelle’s concept for La La Land was elaborate, but a large-scale musical was not exactly an obvious next move for the still up-and-coming filmmaker.  Chazelle is best known for writing and directing the 2014 Oscar-winning drama Whiplash, but before that film was even made, Chazelle had already been exploring the sung-through musical.

His debut film, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, was a black-and-white romance told through song-and-dance, an edgy re-envisioning of the retro MGM musical made on a shoestring budget as his Harvard senior thesis film in 2009.  For Chazelle, it was equally an opportunity to look back into film history – and move forward.   “I came to the musical late, at the end of high school, when I started getting into avant-garde films, and I started looking at old ‘Fred and Ginger’ movies as part of that tradition,” Chazelle explains.

“The 30s musicals were very experimental and that was exciting.”   Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench established Chazelle as an intriguing new talent.  But Chazelle still harbored grander Technicolor dreams that were just waiting for the right moment for him to sink his teeth into them.

“Guy and Madeline only scratched the surface of what I wanted to do with the genre,” Chazelle says.  “So I continued writing scripts to figure out an idea for a much bigger-scale musical that operated by the same principals, a musical about real life but in keeping with the spectacular Cinemascope and Technicolor musicals of the 1950s.”

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The creative synergy between Chazelle and Hurwitz was catalytic.

These dreams are what led, though not necessarily in straightforward fashion, towards La La Land.  Chazelle first began working on the outline of the story with composer Hurwitz –who first met as students at Harvard – long before the two collaborated on the acclaimed scores for Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench and Whiplash.   Hurwitz says he and Chazelle have always talked to each other in rhythm and melody.

“Our relationship has always revolved around music – and movies with large musical numbers were always inspirational to both us, whether it was The Umbrellas of Cherbourg or Singin’ In The Rain.”

Adds Chazelle:  “Justin and I have a distinctive shorthand and we speak the same language.  He wrote the music for Whiplash, he has written the music for La La Land, and I hope he’ll write the music for every film that I do.   Now, Hurwitz was thrilled to see Chazelle create Sebastian and Mia, two modern-day dreamers who echo their own two greatest passions — music and moviemaking.  For Hurwitz, the true-to-life frisson between Sebastian and Mia – so magnetized to one another yet also pushed apart by their individual artistic goals — is the driving force of every creative element, including his score.

“It’s a very romantic movie but there is also a sense of melancholy,” says Hurwitz.  “There is the exhilaration of love and there is haunting heartbreak so all those shadings had to be woven into it.”

The creative synergy between Chazelle and Hurwitz was catalytic.  “Justin has been by my side at every step of the process,” Chazelle notes.

“Before I even wrote any dialogue, when we were still figuring out the story, Justin was working out the musical theme of the film. Even while editing, I was working in one room, and he was working across the hall from me.” Says Fred Berger:  “Justin was a crucial piece of the film’s family from day one.  One of the great joys of this film was that the music was being composed alongside the development of the script – and since Justin and Damien have known each other since they were 18, they work together like brothers in the way they push each other.  Justin literally lives and breathes music and he won’t sacrifice quality for anything. He would send hundreds of piano demos to Damien, who would whittle it down to twenty, then Jordan and I would listen and whittle it down further, and from these small threads, the songs developed almost the way you develop a screenplay.”

Observes Marc Platt: “Justin Hurwitz is a very special talent, a quiet fellow with a real soul, which pours forth in his music. In La La Land, he was asked to write melodies that conjure up many different feelings, that are of the moment but with the feel of a timeless jazz world.  He’s written every note of music in the film – it is a musical voice that echoes Damien’s style and has its own grammar.”

Marius de Vries, who worked alongside Hurwitz and the rest of the creative team from the beginning of preproduction, notes: “It was wonderful to have such a rich and organically coherent framework of Damien’s meticulously foresightful story-telling and Justin’s gorgeous melodies and already sophisticated orchestrations at such a developed level from the very beginning of music preproduction – La La Land had its very own musical flavor from the start. We knew the world and the sonic universe we were in immediately – and so we could protect it and nurture it more easily. As the response to Whiplash cemented Chazelle as a major talent, that breathed new interest into La La Land.  Chazelle presented his vision for the film to Lionsgate, who wanted the film to be made exactly as it was conceived.

“We were allowed to make exactly the movie that Justin and I had first envisioned it back in 2006,” says Chazelle.

“The movie we mad is exactly that movie without any compromise.  Realistically, I think we all expected there to be some compromises because, when does real life ever live up to the fantasy?  But this was a dream come true in that sense.”

As the film grew, Marc Platt, who began his career in theatre and has produced leading movie musicals including Into the Woods and Nine, came aboard to help navigate.   Platt says he could not resist working with Chazelle.

“I’m a great admirer of musicals – but I’m also an admirer of new filmmakers who have something to say, and a particular way of saying it.  I was struck instantly by the way Damien’s vision brought the past into the present.  He was ready to shoot sequences the way old studio films did it, where you never cut away.  He was interested in the rich palette of Demy and the choreography of Jerome Robbins and Bob Fosse.  But at the same time, what made his script so strong is the emotional realism that comes from two lovely, modern characters.”

Still, musical productions are notoriously tough to pull off in today’s film world, Platt confesses. “There are so many more variables than a dramatic film,” he explains.  “First, you have the music – melody, lyrics, orchestration and arrangement – then you have actors who need to learn songs and dance numbers, and all the visual components, the art design, wardrobe, camera, lighting style – all of which has to create a world that is not quite the real world but is related to it. The question was:  could we actually unify all this into something with a single tone that would feel contemporary?”

Part of the answer lay in casting in the leads a pair of actors who are a distinctly contemporary coupling.  Comments Chazelle:  “The idea here was to both embrace the old Hollywoodness of an iconic screen coupling that you’ve seen before.  You used to have Fred and Ginger, Bogart and Bacall, Myrna Loy and Dick Powell, these larger-than-life couples who take on different roles but are always these huge personas.  It’s an idea I find incredibly romantic, and I felt that Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are the closest that we have today to that today.  At the same time, I felt they could also help make this movie feel surprising and to subvert expectations. So the movie also strips away some of the veneer and the gloss that we normally associate with Ryan and Emma when they’re together.”

La La Land 2

For as much as La La Land is a breathless romance it is also a tale of what we give up to pursue our own private dreams. “Ironically, for Sebastian and Mia to achieve their dreams, they also need to separate. I am very moved by the idea that you can meet someone in your life who transforms you and sets you onto a path that is going to finally enable you to be the person you always dreamed of being –but ultimately, you need to go on that path alone,” says Chazelle.  “You can have a union that winds up dictating the rest of your life but doesn’t last the rest of your life.  I find that incredibly beautiful and heartbreaking and wondrous.  At its soul, I wanted this movie to be about that.”

Jordan Horowitz was gratified by how the film’s entire corps unified to pull off the feat of making a modern musical.  “There were many great collaborations on this film and I think what made it unusual is that everyone was really passionate about their own work but also in creating Damien’s vision as joyfully as he created it.”

Adds Fred Berger:  “The result is such a visceral experience it really lends itself to the big screen, to going out to have a fun, happy time.  The characters are authentic but it is also a visual spectacle from beginning to end.”   For Platt, every carefully-rendered element of La La Land – from the dialogue to the songs, performances, photography and right down to the tiniest details of the sets and costumes – synchronizes together to create something that, like romance, feels mysteriously more than the sum of its parts.

“La La Land is a cinematic experience unto itself.  It is sweeping but also intimate.  It is large but also romantic.  It is happy and melancholy.  It dances and sings.  And it paints a portrait of love and Los Angeles that you’ve never seen before. Ultimately, it may transport you into a different kind of feeling than you’re used to having at the movies,” Platt concludes.   Chazelle hopes one of the feelings the film evokes is passion, since that was the root if its intricate creation.

“I do think La La Land is about passion — it’s about passion for art and passion for love and hopefully the passion with which we approached the movie, with which we wrote it, with which we composed the music for it and with which we present it is something you feel.”

Daniel Dercksen shares a few words with David Dennis, Daniel Buys and Phillip Schnetler, who step into the shoes of the iconic and colourful Bernadette, Mitzi/Tick and Felicia/Adam in the highly anticipated musical Priscilla Queen of the Desert The Musical.

DANIEL BUYS, DAVID DENNIS, PHILLIP SCHNETLER - PRISCILLA

Daniel Buys, David Dennis and Phillip Schnetler

It tells the heart-warming and uplifting tale of three drag artist friends who hop aboard a battered old bus aka “Priscilla” and go off on the adventure of a life-time through the Australian Outback, to perform in Alice Springs.  On the way they find friendship, love and far more than they ever dreamed of.

With a dazzling array of over 500 award-winning costumes, 200 extraordinary head-dresses and a hit parade of dance floor favourites including I Will Survive, Hot Stuff, Finally, Boogie Wonderland, Go West, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, and I Love The Nightlife, this wildly fresh and funny musical is a journey to the heart of FABULOUS!

The proudly South African, exceptionally talented 28-member cast, live band, crew and creative team will give audiences a night of unforgettable performances, nostalgic music and an entertainment experience with all the sparkle to share in Priscilla’s “fabulousness”.

The originally opened in Australia in 2006 and after a sell-out two year run, opened on London’s West End followed by Broadway in New York. The show continues to wow audiences across the globe with recent return tours to the UK, Australia and New Zealand. It has won awards all over the world, including prestigious Olivier and Tony awards.

The critically-acclaimed hit musical Priscilla Queen of the Desert based on the Oscar-winning hit film makes its South African premiere at Artscape, Cape Town on Tuesday, 28 March 2017 before touring to Montecasino’s Teatro from Friday, 28 April to 18 June 2017Book your seats at Computicket or  www.showtime.co.za 

When I interviewed you in November last year you had no idea how Priscilla will change your lives. What has the experience leading up to opening night been?

David Dennis: I could not have imagined the fun and how emotional the journey would be. Although it has been a great physical challenge I seem to have lasted the distance with relative ease and have “hit the boards running” as I promised back then. I suspect I may be the oldest geezer to have played Bernadette so I hope I can claim a little pride for having met the standard. An amazingly supportive young cast, fellow principals Phillip Schnetler & Daniel Buys – with whom it is such a great pleasure to share the stage. Hazel Feldman (producer RSA) – Thank you for making that call getting me out of “retirement” and the Australian creative team of Andy Hallsworth (choreographer) & Dean Bryant (director) – thank you for the respect & faith you have shown me – I have found the joy of performing again…at the very theatre in which I made my acting debut.

Daniel Buys: The experience so far has been very challenging and quite overwhelming.  It’s so different to anything I’ve ever done and becoming a drag queen has not been easy.  The biggest surprise so far is how the audiences have reacted to the show.  Their response augments our performances and has made us understand how this show has been a success for so many years.

Phillip Schnetler:  The experience thus far has been absolutely amazing!! We are playing to incredible audiences and the joy I get from the first moment I walk onto stage is just the most amazing feeling ever!! I am completely overwhelmed by the responses we have been receiving from the public, David puts it really well when saying that it feels like a pop concert from beginning to end… it’s roaring!

We have been working our buts off to get this show up and running, the last week has been quite a challenge, trying to make it on stage with all the quick costume changes, and voices being a little tired, but we carry on and just fight through until everything is smooth and even. I must also say that our creative team has been an absolute blessing. They are completely amazing!!

What do you think audiences can expect? 

David Dennis: Judging by the response so far – it is a show worth every cent & more. Laughter & tears and utter amazement at almost 500 costume changes in the space of just over two hours. Young and old alike

have been on their feet at every preview. It sounds like a pop concert from curtain up and there is no let up until curtain down. Thank you Capetown!

Daniel Buys: Audiences can expect to have a lot of fun watching Priscilla Queen Of The Desert, full of laughs and for some, tears.  It is a great night out!

David Dennis

David Dennis

Why do you think Priscilla fever has had such an everlasting impact worldwide – on film and now immortalised live on stage?

David Dennis: Not much to laugh about just now is there – at home and abroad. However the sun still rises in the east and sometimes we just need sheer unadulterated entertainment.

Daniel Buys: So many people yearn to do things they want to.  To find acceptance for who they are and celebrate that.  It’s a warm hearted story centered on a very vivacious and flamboyant story.

Phillip Schnetler: I believe it is because it is such a relevant topic. It is current and people don’t like to always talk about the issues addressed in the show. It is way easier rather see a show about it, than to just talk about it. Then also because the music is just AMAZING, the costumes are quite extravagant.

You must be over the moon landing one of lead roles in this iconic musical?

David Dennis: It has come as a surprise especially after a long absence from the Musical Theatre scene. Didn’t have much time to think about it really as it took about four days from first hearing of the audition to the final casting. I told a colleague afterward that I had a feeling that I had just auditioned for the film and not the musical.

Daniel Buys: Yes I am very excited and proud to have landed this role.  It was a stressful audition process and it’s a wonderful validation to get the role I auditioned for.

Phillip Schnetler: I am completely over the moon. I never in my wildest dreams thought that I would be part of such an iconic show. Not to mention playing one of the main characters. I am just so blessed that I have the opportunity to put my own energy and stamp (If I could call it that)  on the character Felicia. I still have to pinch myself every time I think about it.

Daniel Buys

Daniel Buys

Did you ever dream you would step into the shoes of one of the most colourful and celebrated characters the world has ever seen?

David Dennis: Certainly not this one. There have been other iconic roles such as Riff Raff and later Frank ’n Furter in the first full SA production (1991/92) of The Rocky Horror Show and the shows 21st anniversary season a couple of years later both directed by Christopher Malcolm. Before that,  there was King Lear and many other Shakespearean and classic greats…and then the TV role of Sol from 10 seasons of Soul City has become something of an iconic character I hear.

Daniel Buys: I never dreamed I’d play a ‘drag queen’ but as my career has gone on I’ve slowly done more and more surprising gigs.  These ‘shoes’ are particularly challenging.

Phillip Schnetler: Never in a million years. It is such an honour and a privilege to step into the shoes of this character. So many other guys  – all over the world- have played this part, from the original Australian production Daniel Scott, to the amazingly talented Nick Adams, a broadway superstar, Oliver Thornton who played it on the West End  and now my name can also be added to the list…  WHAT??  I am without words.

Tell me about your first encounter with the film Priscilla? What impact did it have on you?

David Dennis: The sheer brilliance of its storyline – remove all of the glitz, glam & hype and it’s still a great film narrative.

Daniel Buys: I may have watched the film when I was very young but I only recently watched it again.  It’s a fun, playful story with beautifully  sensitive moments. It made me excited to play the role.

Phillip Schnetler: I can’t even remember the first time I saw the film… I was but a baby when the film was released. A mere 4 years old… Growing up on a farm in Limpopo I had very little experience or encounters with drag artists  or female impersonators. It was only when I moved to JHB that I became more aware of everything around me. When I saw the film this year I was completely obsessed with it. The music, the costumes the dialogue. Every aspect of it was amazing!’

Phillip Schnetler

Phillip Schnetler

The musical is different from the film in that you get to burst out in song and fully express your emotions? 

David Dennis: There are of course many great musicals in the Hollywood Film Musical genre – what distinguishes the Theatre from the Cinema is the living, heaving, sweating, rawness of live performance, the triple threat. It’s all a ‘bit of a song and dance’ really….at least that’s what I remember it to be.

Daniel Buys: We’ll I’m involved in musical theatre because I love to act and sing and dance so this I’m sure will be a blast.

Phillip Schnetler: I think it’s FANTASTIC!! People get to experience not only a beautiful show, but also ground breaking music. I mean, if you want to give someone a show, you should always give them some tunes to listen to. It’s amazing how they incorporated the songs into the story, to advance the storyline and not to be filling gaps in the show with random music. I promise you, you will know all the music from this show.

What do you think makes musicals such an entertaining romp?

David Dennis: All the backstage shenanigans.

Daniel Buys: Musicals are beautiful whirlwind of emotion that explore the human condition.  This particular show is an orgy of light, sound and sight.

Phillip Schnetler: It combines everything people like. Dancing, singing, visual stimulation. Its an escape from reality and it combines three different forms of entertainment in one.

How do you relate to your character? What do you draw from to play this role?

David Dennis: With some difficulty – the heels, the hair the lashes and twice on Saturdays and Sundays!!. Inspiration, standing In the shadow of great work and learning from that – I was struck by the integrity of Terence Stamps performance ….an astonishing transformation.

Daniel Buys: I can relate to Tick/Mitzi in that I know how it feels to look for acceptance particularly as a performer.

Phillip Schnetler: Well we are both born to perform. We both love the stage (even though I think Felicia likes the spotlight a little bit more more) Felicia is very witty and fun, in a way more than I am. I consider myself a little bit more of an introvert, where Felicia is super out there…I could learn so much from this character in the sense of just being me and not pretending to be something I am not. She is outspoken and maybe even a little obnoxious, She LOVES having fun, and the audience should enjoy her witty sense of humour. She is still a quite young.

It gloriously celebrates the freedom of sexuality and self-expression….

David Dennis: I am all for freedom of self- sexpression and with freedom comes responsibility.

Daniel Buys: Yeah people’s sexuality is still a taboo topic.  Maybe less so these days but we’re still fighting for acceptance and understanding for all the different ‘colours of our rainbow’.

Phillip Schnetler: I truly believe every person has the right to express themself in any way they feel comfortable with, whether you are gay, straight, bi or trans,  freedom to do what you desire is a BIG yes for me!!

Tell me about how you are preparing for the role, to step into the shoes of an iconic character and wow local audiences?

David Dennis: One has to start getting performance fit several months in advance, although at the moment I feel like something out of Jurassic Park, I intend to hit the boards running.

Daniel Buys: I think I’ll start with trying to get into shape.  Gotta look good in those outfits.

Phillip Schnetler: I have to get myself to the gym every morning  and learn how to walk in heels, (even though I used to walk in my Moms heels all the time when I was a kid) these shoes are quite different…

Your favourite Priscilla moment?

David Dennis: The ‘cock in a frock on a rock’ bit and the /red lizard costume with flared collar …I wondered at the time… just how far can this go.

Daniel Buys: When the three ‘girls’ are refused service by a particularly unattractive woman in an outback bar.  Bernadette makes a joke about her putting a cracker up her fanny…it’s very crass but very funny!

Phillip Schnetler: When Felicia lip sincs on top of the bus, dressed from head to toe in sequence, sitting on a giant silver stiletto. And in the musical my favourite moment would be the entire “Color my World” scene and song. Where they paint the bus bright Pink.

Any comments you would like to share?

David Dennis: The Guptas had nothing to do with my getting the part. I have never met a Zuma in my life.

Daniel Buys: I’m excited and nervous to don my heels and frocks and can’t wait to hit the road in this bus.

Phillip Schnetler: I can’t wait to meet everyone after the show. Please come and say Hi, in the foyer!!

Book your seats at Computicket or  www.showtime.co.za  Hashtag – #PriscillaSA

Copyright © 2017 Daniel Dercksen All Rights Reserved.  Published with permission in OUT Magazine, December 2016.

Add these great titles to your collection!

There are some great new releases this month: Genius is a masterful drama about the complex friendship and transformative professional relationship between the world-renowned book editor Maxwell Perkins and the larger-than-life literary giant Thomas Wolfe; The Meddler is a charming coming-of-age story with Susan Sarandon in top form as a woman who discovers that it is never too late to find true love; Woody Allen conjures up a 1930s world that has passed to tell a deeply romantic tale of dreams that never die in Café Society; Director Antoine Fuqua brings his modern vision to a classic story with The Magnificent Seven;From director Todd Phillips (The Hangover trilogy) comes War Dogs, a comedic drama based on true events, following two friends in their early 20s living in Miami Beach during the Iraq War who exploit a little-known government initiative that allows smaller businesses to bid on U.S. Military contracts; Nobody’s Died Laughing is a documentary on Pieter-Dirk Uys, one of South Africas most prolific writers, satirists and activists; Life On The Line is a riveting action thriller and family drama centered on Beau (John Travolta), his beloved niece Bailey (Kate Bosworth) and the hardworking men who risk their lives to work “on the line” and keep the electric grid running; and Sausage Party, the world’s first R-rated CG animated comedy, is definitely for adults only.

Genius – an intelligent masterwork for discerning viewers

From Academy Award-nominated screenwriter John Logan (Gladiator, The Aviator, Hugo, Skyfall) and acclaimed, Tony Award-winning director Michael Grandage (former artistic director of the Donmar Warehouse) in his feature film debut, comes the masterful drama about the complex friendship and transformative professional relationship between the world-renowned book editor Maxwell Perkins (who discovered F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway) and the larger-than-life literary giant Thomas Wolfe.  If there’s one reason to see this film, besides Logan’s intelligent screenplay and brilliant interpretation by director Grandage, it’s for the commanding performances delivered by Colin Firth (The King’s Speech) as Max Perkins, alongside Jude Law (Anna Karenina, The Grand Budapest Hotel) as Thomas Wolfe. Finding fame and critical success at a young age, Wolfe was a blazing talent with a larger-than-life personality to match. Perkins was one of the most respected and well-known literary editors of all time, discovering such iconic novelists as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. Wolfe and Perkins develop a tender, complex friendship. The film is based on the biography “Max Perkins: Editor of Genius by A. Scott Berg, it also stars Guy Pearce (The Rover, Lawless) as F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Dominic West (Testament of Youth, Pride), as Ernest Hemingway. Watch The Trailer  / Go behind the scenes of Genius

Café Society – Woody Allen at his best

cafe-society

Woody Allen fans will indulge in this superb journey into the allure of fame and fortune in Hollywood during the roaring 30s. Allen’s vibrant and panoramic tale of New York and Hollywood features a kaleidoscopic cast of characters that range from movie stars to millionaires, playboys to professors, and working girls to wise guys. This bittersweet romance follows Bronx-born Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg) to Hollywood, where he falls in love, and back to New York, where he is swept up in the vibrant world of high society nightclub life. Centering on events in the lives of Bobby’s colorful Bronx family, the film is a glittering valentine to the movie stars, socialites, playboys, debutantes, politicians, and gangsters who epitomized the excitement and glamour of the age.

Poignant, and often hilarious, Café Society, a film with a novel’s sweep, takes us on a journey from pastel-clad dealmakers in plush Hollywood mansions, to the quarrels and tribulations of a humble Bronx family, to the rough-and-tumble violence of New York gangsters, to the sparkling surfaces and secret scandals of Manhattan high life. With Café Society, Woody Allen conjures up a 1930s world that has passed to tell a deeply romantic tale of dreams that never die.  Watch the trailer / Go behind the scenes of Café Society

Meddler

Susan Sarandon and J.K.. Simmons in The Meddler

The Meddler is a charming coming-of-age story with Susan Sarandon in top form as a woman who discovers that it is never too late to find true love. Armed with a new iPhone, an apartment near the Grove, and a comfortable bank account left to her by her beloved late husband, Marnie Minervini (Susan Sarandon) has happily relocated from New Jersey to Los Angeles to be near her daughter Lori, a successful (but still single) screenwriter, and smother her with motherly love. But when the dozens of texts, unexpected visits, and conversations dominated by unsolicited advice force Lori to draw strict personal boundaries, Marnie finds ways to channel her eternal optimism and forceful generosity to change the lives of others – as well as her own – and find a new purpose in life. Watch the trailer  / Read an interview with writer-director Lorene Scafaria

magnificent-7Director Antoine Fuqua brings his modern vision to a classic story with The Magnificent Seven, from a screenplay by Nic Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk. With the town of Rose Creek under the deadly control of industrialist Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), the desperate townspeople, led by Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett), employ protection from seven outlaws, bounty hunters, gamblers and hired guns – Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), Billy Rocks (Byung-Hun Lee), Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier).  As they prepare the town for the violent showdown that they know is coming, these seven mercenaries find themselves fighting for more than money. “When MGM asked me about making a Western, I got excited about the possibility of it, because I grew up with Westerns,” says Antoine Fuqua, who re-teams with Denzel Washington in the story of seven outlaws, gunslingers, gamblers and bounty hunters who band together to save a town under the thumb of corruption in The Magnificent Seven.  “So I asked myself, ‘Why make a Western now?  Why would it be important?’ And the answer was, the idea of tyranny, happening in our world today – that’s what made it timely.  You’d need a special group of people to come together to fight tyranny.” Watch the trailer/  Go behind the scenes of The Magnificent Seven

Pieter-Dirk Uys

Nobody’s Died Laughing is a documentary on Pieter-Dirk Uys, one of South Africas most prolific writers, satirists and activists. Having written and performed over 20 plays and over 30 revues and one-man shows throughout the world, and been awarded South Africas prestigious Truth and Reconciliation Award in 2001, the film covers his many achievements including his travels around South Africa, visiting over 1.5 million school children, as well as prisons and reformatories, with a free AIDS-awareness entertainment programme. Watch the trailer

john-travolta-life-on-the-lineLife On The Line is a riveting action thriller and family drama centered on Beau (John Travolta), his beloved niece Bailey (Kate Bosworth) and the hardworking men who risk their lives to work “on the line” and keep the electric grid running. These unsung heroes brave raging storms and dangerously dizzying heights in their dedication to keeping the populace safe. Toiling hundreds of feet in the air on wires carrying as much as 500,000 volts of electricity, tragedy is often inches away. Haunted by the electrocution death of his brother, Beau is devoted to Bailey and determined to see her go off to college and away from the life of linemen. Bailey has other plans, which include the strapping second-generation lineman Duncan (Devon Sawa), whom Beau despises. A deadly tempest is brewing and headed straight to their Texas town. Beau, Duncan and a legion of linemen are thrust into the eye of the storm and must face down impending disaster to keep their community connected. This compelling action drama also stars Sharon Stone, Ryan Robbins, Julie Benz and Gil Bellows. Watch the trailer

War Dogs 2From director Todd Phillips (The Hangover trilogy) comes War Dogs, a comedic drama based on true events, following two friends in their early 20s living in Miami Beach during the Iraq War who exploit a little-known government initiative that allows smaller businesses to bid on U.S. Military contracts. The screenplay is by Stephen Chin and Todd Phillips & Jason Smilovic, based on the Rolling Stone article titled “Arms and the Dudes,” by Guy Lawson. War Dogs grew out of the story of two stoner kids, barely into their 20s, who became multi-millionaires as the most improbable of international arms dealers. But just as they reached what should have been the pinnacle of success, it all came crashing down in spectacular fashion. Watch the trailer / Go behind the scenes

Sausage partySausage Party, the world’s first R-rated CG animated comedy, is definitely for adults only. Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have been the masterminds behind some of the world’s most outrageous, inventive, and hilarious comedies – from Superbad to Pineapple Express to This Is the End to The Interview.  Now, they go into the world of animation for Columbia Pictures and Annapurna Pictures’ Sausage Party, the world’s first R-rated CG animated comedy, about a group of supermarket products on a quest to discover the truth about their existence and what really happens when they become chosen to leave the grocery store.“The concept of the movie was ‘what if sausages could live out their dreams of getting in buns?’” says executive producer Kyle Hunter, who co-wrote the screenplay with Ariel Shaffir, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. “It’s about a sausage, Frank, that’s in love with a bun named Brenda,” says Shaffir.  “They believe they’re going to get ‘chosen’ to leave the store together, and getting out of the store is their version of what they believe to be heaven.  But then Frank overhears a product who has actually been out of the store, who says it’s not what everyone thinks – it’s actually terrible, more akin to going to hell.  They fall out of the shopping cart instead of getting chosen, and Frank goes on a journey to find out the truth about what actually happens.”  “It’s a very bizarre take on a hero’s journey….an outrageous, anything-goes animated movie about the raunchy life of our food.” Watch the trailer / Go behind the scenes

“Lion gives an insight into the lives of children who have been adopted and I hope will push more Western countries to recognize the need for and benefits of adoption. There are so many kids who never end up in a loving family and there are so many loving families who want a child.”

The incredible true story of Indian-born Australian Saroo Brierley and his unwavering determination to find his lost family and finally return to his first home is now realised in all its splendour on the big screen in Lion.

Director Garth Davis during the filming of Lion.

Five-year-old Saroo gets lost on a train travelling away from his home and family. Frightened and bewildered, he ends up thousands of miles away, in chaotic Kolkata.

Somehow he survives living on the streets, escaping all sorts of terrors and close calls in the process, before ending up in an orphanage that is itself not exactly a safe haven. Eventually Saroo is adopted by an Australian couple, and finds love and security as he grows up in Hobart. Not wanting to hurt his adoptive parents’ feelings, he suppresses his past, his emotional need for reunification, and his hope of ever finding his lost mother and brother.

But a chance meeting with some fellow Indians reawakens his buried yearning. With just a small store of memories, and the help of a new technology called Google Earth, Saroo embarks on one of the greatest needle-in-a-haystack quests of modern times.

Director Garth Davis (l) on the set of LION. ©The Weinstein Company. CR: Mark Rogers

Garth Davis was the co-director of the first series of the acclaimed Top Of The Lake with Jane Campion (The Piano) for See-Saw Films and starring Elisabeth Moss, Peter Mullan, David Wenham and Holly Hunter, for which he received Emmy and BAFTA nominations. Garth is internationally renowned for some of the most memorable and awarded commercials. His recent work has won gold at the London International Award show, the prized Gold Lion at Cannes, and in 2010 he received a finalist nomination from the DGA (Directors Guild of America) for best commercials director. Originally a fine artist and designer, Garth has explored all forms of filmmaking. His dramatic work has included the festival hit documentary Pins, the Dendy Award winning short film Alice, and the highly acclaimed TV series Love My Way.

The Weinstein Company acquired Lion at script stage at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, where they closed the deal for worldwide distribution excluding Australia and New Zealand. Transmission Films is the Australian and New Zealand distributor. The film was co-financed by Screen Australia and Fulcrum Media Finance.

When See-Saw Film’s Emile Sherman and Iain Canning first heard the true story of Saroo Brierley’s journey to find his childhood home and birth mother, they immediately sensed that it could make an extraordinarily powerful feature film.

A bidding war was soon underway for the film rights to Saroo’s story and book which See-Saw won based on the company’s track record for quality films and the producers’ commitment to making a film that was authentic and international in ambition.

“It’s one of those stories where it is virtually impossible not to move people when you talk to them about it. It’s an incredible story that gives everyone tingles up their spine. It taps into something primal in us as human beings – the need to find home and the need to know who you are,” Producer Emile Sherman says.

Producer Iain Canning says:  “It is an incredible true story. As soon as we heard it we felt that we had to go after it. Emile and I read an early manuscript of Saroo’s memoir and it has, without question, one of the most incredible endings in Saroo finally finding home.”

Iain and Emile approached Garth Davis to direct the film while at the  Sundance Film Festival in 2013 for the world premiere of their television series Top of the Lake, co-directed by Garth, with Jane Campion, who also co-wrote the series. Both directors were nominated for an Emmy Award for their work on Top of the Lake.

Impressed by Garth’s stunning work on the series, Emile and Iain didn’t hesitate to offer him the opportunity to direct Lion.

“We followed our instincts. We felt Garth – although he hadn’t yet made a feature film – was exactly the right director for the film.  He’s incredibly cinematic and can create real visual scope. At the same time he’s just brilliant with actors.  He creates such intimacy in his work and we wanted to make sure this felt raw and real.” Emile says.

“This is a film about family, about those deep bonds that never go away, that underpin our lives. Garth feels those bonds. He is a director who is not afraid of emotions. He embraces the emotion but does it in a way that is real and fresh and edgy. He also has a spiritual side – there is a sense of fate in this film. It’s about destiny and hope and we knew that Garth would bring out those resonances in a way that another director might not have been so finely tuned to do.”

Lion 2

Iain continues:  “On set Garth is a real leader, not just in terms of the specifics of performance but also because tonally he brings such a human warmth and energy to everything.   People feel safe and very comfortable with him and are therefore able to explore the highs and the lows of the human experience.”

See-Saw Films has a commitment to ongoing relationships with key talent and their creative connection with Garth Davis continues with See-Saw’s Mary Magdalene, which Garth is currently in pre-production on, starring Rooney Mara (who plays Lucy in LION) and Joaquin Phoenix.

Producer Angie Fielder from Aquarius Films, whose previous credits include Wish You Were Here, starring Joel Edgerton and Teresa Palmer, and filmed on location in Cambodia, was invited to join the producing team.  She and Emile had been looking for a project to work on together.  Before Emile had even spoken to her about the film, Angie had discovered Saroo’s story in a press article and been captivated by it.

“When Emile told me he had secured the rights to Saroo’s book, it took me about two seconds to decide that I wanted to do it. And then he told me that Garth Davis was attached to direct.  I had long been an admirer of Garth’s work so the idea of the film was very exciting,” Angie says.

“You couldn’t make Saroo’s story up, it’s so extraordinary. It has all of the stuff of great cinema – it has adventure and peril, it traverses continents, it travels across time. And his journey is deeply, deeply emotional.  What also makes it incredibly cinematic is that the story is so ultimately satisfying.  After years of being without his biological family and years of searching he actually, amazingly, like a needle in a haystack, found his way home.”

Determined to honor the truth of the story, Garth travelled to India while developing the film where he spent time in Kolkata (Calcutta) and also in Saroo’s childhood home village,.  Garth was there in the village when Saroo’s birth mother Kamla and adoptive mother Sue met for the very first time.  Some of the filming of LION took place in the village and Saroo’s family were welcome visitors to set on several occasions.

“It was important for me to just walk in Saroo’s reality as much as possible and so I literally retraced his steps as best as I could. I walked around his village by myself and imagined being a little boy growing up in that area.  I sat on a bench at the Burhanpur train station where he woke up alone, and then on to Kolkata and the main train station, Howrah, where the full force of the story really hit me. I have my own kids and to imagine a five year old alone there, unable to speak the language…that’s when I knew this was going to be a really powerful film.”

LION

Screenwriter Luke Davies made his own journey to India.

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Luke Davies is the author of three novels (most recently God of Speed), four volumes of poetry (the latest, Interferon Psalms, won the inaugural Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Poetry, Australia’s largest and most prestigious literary prize) and a co-writer, with Neil Armfield, of the feature film Candy, an adaptation of his own novel. Davies’ short film Air, his first as writer/director, starring BAFTA-winning actor Andrew Garfield, premiered at the Marfa Film Festival in Texas in 2010, and also screened at the Venice International Short Film Festival, the Festival des Antipodes in St Tropez, the Bigpond Adelaide Film Festival, the Big Sur Shorts Festival and the Melbourne International Film Festival. Davies’ screenplay Life, about the friendship between James Dean and Life magazine photographer Dennis Stock, produced by Oscar-winning The King’s Speech producers See-Saw Films, was directed by Anton Corbijn and stars Robert Pattinson, Dane DeHaan, Sir Ben Kingsley and Joel Edgerton. It premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in 2015. Davies is currently writing the screenplay adaptation of the memoirs Beautiful Boy: My Journey Through My Son’s Addiction by David Sheff and Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines by Nic Sheff (two books adapted as one film) for Brad Pitt’s company Plan B. The film is to be directed by Oscar-nominated director Felix von Groeningen (Broken Circle Breakdown) and produced by Oscarwinner Jeremy Kleiner (12 Years a Slave, Selma). Davies is currently writing a TV adaptation of the Joseph Heller novel Catch-22, for True Detective producers Anonymous Content and Paramount TV.

Iain and Emile had previously worked with Luke on Anton Corbijn’s Life and also on the filmed adaption of Luke’s novel Candy.

“Having worked with Luke on two previous films, we felt that he had the right sort of emotional sensibility to tackle this story,” Iain says.

Coincidentally, Luke had read Saroo’s story online just days before Emile approached him and he too was riveted by it: “It’s such an incredibly moving story. And it’s a primal story – the loss of the mother and reunification with the mother.  At that mythic level it’s amazing, but at an actual human level of ‘this really happened to this kid’.  The opportunity to take a script to some very emotional places is for a writer the most exciting thing,” Luke says.

Garth and Luke collaborated closely and intensely, experimenting with ideas, including the film’s structure. Would it be told in flashback or as a linear narrative? How do you honor the truth of the story but tell it in a way that is satisfying for a cinematic audience?

Emile Sherman says:  “The more traditional structure would have been to start with Saroo in Australia, for it to be the story of a western man who suddenly has memories of the past, and to cut back and forth as he searches for home. We battled long and hard with the structure and ultimately decided to go for a more epic one – letting the audience fully experience young Saroo’s life in India upfront. Starting with his family life, through the moment he steps onto the wrong train, onto his life on the streets of Kolkata, we are with young Saroo as his story unfolds. The enormous power of this experience is then felt throughout the Australian section, and we can then fully appreciate his emotional pull back to his birth mother.

One of the great challenges of the film was to find an Indian boy to play Saroo as a five-year-old. Angie Fielder says that the Indian production team worked closely with schools and parents in several large Indian cities in their search for the right boys for the roles.  They screen tested thousands of children and each child who was considered to have acting potential was filmed and the tests  sent back to Australia.  Garth, Angie Fielder, Australian casting director Kirsty McGregor and dramaturg Miranda Harcourt then travelled to India to work with the shortlisted children, including Sunny Pawar who was chosen to play Saroo.

LION 1

“I had an emotional template for this character and, through the story, I could feel the spirit of this kid. So I knew who I was looking for but it was very sobering to think about what we had to achieve.  Children generally can be good actors from about the age of eight but it is difficult to find a five year old capable of acting.  But I knew it was important to have a small boy – it is visually very powerful having a tiny boy lost in the world – and a boy who had the resilience and the patience to cope with the demands of the lead role in a film.” Garth says.

“I just kept coming back to Sunny. I would put a camera lens on him and he just felt like the boy I had been feeling. I needed a boy who in his natural state could give me 80% of the performance, someone with a look behind his eyes, a history, a quality that’s beautiful to look at…and Sunny had that in spades.  He could just sit in a room with the cameras on him and those of us watching would get lost in his story, in his face. At the same time there was something darker, something interesting going on,” Garth continues.

“He was one of those special kids.  So then the question was ‘can we do a scene with him? Can he take direction? Can he cry? Can he scream? Does he have strength? Can he withstand direction?’ He did all of that and more.

“There was a certain point, maybe a week into the shoot, where he became an actor…where it was clear he was putting together different emotional ideas. It was absolutely extraordinary recognizing that he was bringing something to his performance that we weren’t asking him to do.”

Producer Angie Fielder says:  “Sunny went from being a young boy who had no idea about acting to a total pro who understood everything about what he was doing and was completely in control of his performance. And I think you can see on screen that he’s not wandering around looking at things, he’s feeling things. I remember one important scene where Saroo’s older brother is arrested and Sunny started crying as we were shooting – they are real tears, there was no make up involved. He was genuinely crying because he was so emotionally involved in the scene.”

Production began in the eastern Indian city of Kolkata (previously known as Calcutta) in January 2015.  Dev Patel, who plays the adult Saroo, arrived early in the shoot to film the scenes of reunion with Saroo’s birth mother.  Dev campaigned hard to win the role, convincing Garth Davis and the producers that cinema audiences had yet to see the range he was capable of.

Emile Sherman says: “We knew we had to cast a Western actor of Indian heritage rather than an actor from India, to ensure the accent was correct. Saroo himself is very much an Australian man. We always had Dev in mind. He just blew us away in his screen test. He’s a wonderful actor, but he’s also so likeable, so warm and so much fun. We knew we were in the hands of an actor who’d be able to take the audience on a very emotional journey. Dev really embraced that and exceeded all of our extremely high expectations.

Iain Canning adds: “Dev brings an incredible depth to this role, beyond anything we’ve ever seen him do before on screen.  I truly believe this film will establish him as a leading actor of gravitas and maturity.”

Garth Davis says:  “Dev heard we were making the film very early on, when we were still writing. He pulled up one day at Luke Davies’ house in Los Angeles where we were working, walked in and introduced himself. He was very passionate about the role. Eventually we did a four and a half hour screen test in London – literally bare feet and a handheld camera – and I pushed and pushed Dev to see how far he could go with this character.  We needed a soul that shined and that is Dev!”

Iain Canning and Angie Fielder recall meeting Saroo Brierley and their first impressions of him.

Angie says: “When you meet Saroo you get a sense of how he managed to survive on the streets of Kolkata as a five year old. There is something about him as a person that is very resilient and industrious and confident.  At the same time he’s a quintessential Aussie guy with a larrikin sense of humor.”

Iain says:  “I was very taken by how family orientated he is, both with his Australian family and with his birth family in India. At the time he was genuinely surprised that his journey had captured the public’s imagination and had also captured the imagination of Google.”

SarooHaving heard the vital role Google Earth played in Saroo’s search for home, the company had invited him to speak at an international conference where he met the company’s Chairman, Eric Schmidt. Google assisted the producers throughout filming, ensuring authenticity of the scenes in which Saroo searches for his Indian birthplace using Google Earth.

To better look like the real Saroo Brierley who is tall and strong after a lifetime in the Australian outdoors, actor Dev Patel embarked on a punishing weight and food regime, to add bulk and muscle. He also worked with a dialect coach to perfect the notoriously difficult Australian accent.

Dev confirms that he chased the role.  He says he’d never read a script so enchanting:  “It encapsulates triumph. It’s such a hopeful story about this kid’s will to survive and to find his family again.  What particularly drew me to the role was that it is a very contemporary character and also that the story has complex family dynamics – it’s a beautiful role.”

Young Saroo’s close relationship with his older brother Guddu is a critical emotional thread through the film.  Guddu is played by Abhishek Bharate in his first acting role.

“In casting for Guddu, I felt that the character just had to be pure light, he had to shine,” Garth explains.   “When I was in India looking at locations, I was in a small village and saw a boy standing on the roof of his house. He was everything I thought Guddu to be. He had a kind of Indigenous quality, an old world feeling, and a light that shone from him. I did test this boy and although he wasn’t right for the role, he became symbolic for me in the search for the right boy to play the role.  Abhishek came in and it was instant – he had a smile that just killed you. He’s like the sun on your face, when he’s around you, you just feel his energy.”

After meeting the real Sue Brierley at her home in Hobart, Tasmania, the southern island state of Australia, Garth knew he wanted Academy Award® and Golden Globe Award® winning actress Nicole Kidman to play her.

“I was spending a lot of time with Sue and one day, while she was talking to me, it just dropped into my head ‘that’s Nicole Kidman’. Serendipitously, as we were going off casting around the world we had a note saying that Nicole had managed to get her hands on the script, had read it, and was very keen to talk.

“I met Nicole in New York and we just talked and cried and talked and cried… she knew everything about Sue in the way that I knew it. It just felt great. I just loved working with Nicole and being around her.  She’s super professional, super prepared. She’d ask me really, really smart questions along the way. She’s a very hard working actress. But most of all I really enjoyed how brave she was.  She’s kind of wild to watch, kind of method and just really commits to the character. And then she was just really lovely on set, down to speaking to the neighbors who were peering over the fence watching us filming. She is very inclusive and very loving…and also brilliant.”

Rooney Mara, was recommended for the role of Lucy, who becomes Saroo’s girlfriend after they meet as students at an international hospitality college, by Executive Producer Harvey Weinstein. Weinstein personally contacted Rooney to talk to her about the film, and Rooney then went on to win the Cannes Film Festival Best Actress Award and to be nominated for an Academy Award® for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in Carol.

“Lucy is critical to the story. She’s everything that Saroo wants in his present. But his journey pulls him away from her as he becomes more and more isolated by his search for home and by the past. Lucy of course wants to support and help him but his journey becomes all consuming and incredibly isolating. This pull between the present – his love for Lucy – and the past – his memories and pull to his birth mother – is at the centre of Saroo’s drama. Rooney brings huge tenderness to the role and the scenes of Saroo and Lucy meeting and falling in love are so alive and touching.“ Emile says

Garth says Rooney Mara is mesmerizing as a performer:  “All the mystery of the story just sat on her face…when she’s quiet, it’s loud; it’s really noisy with all the subtext just ripping up to the surface. It’s quite extraordinary. I didn’t realize just how impactful that was going to be, because a lot of the stuff happening between Lucy and Saroo is unspoken. But Rooney’s an actress who manages, without saying anything, to just bring all that out. It was kind of unbelievable to watch.”

Saroo’s Australian dad is played by David Wenham, who starred, with Elisabeth Moss, in See-Saw Films’ Top of the Lake television series, which was co-directed by Garth with Jane Campion.  Emile Sherman says:  “When casting we were thinking ‘what human being would you want to have as your father if you were adopted and arrived in Australia?’ And we just couldn’t go past David Wenham; he represents everything that we knew our little Saroo would want. He is absolute safe harbor, he’s funny and he’s kind.”

Dev Patel and Saroo Brierley

Dev Patel and Saroo Brierley

Saroo’s Thoughts

The producers and Garth spent considerable time with Saroo and his Australian parents while preparing for the film.  Saroo spoke to Garth about a butterfly coming to him throughout life whenever he was under threat, for example while facing danger on the streets of Kolkata.  Saroo talks about the butterfly as being the spirit of his older brother, guiding him.

“I spoke to Emile while we were at Sundance and said ‘I think the butterfly is the spiritual totem of the film, but we don’t need to let anyone know that, it can just be a texture’.  We finished that conversation, went together to a private function and five minutes later a homeless Indian man walked into the room selling butterfly pins to raise money. I looked at Emile and said ‘it’s happening’.

There are motifs throughout the film, including the sea and butterflies.  Garth explains:  “In much of the film, it’s what’s not said that’s interesting. But how do I get that across in the camera, how do I get that working? So the second half of the movie – when Saroo arrives in Hobart, Australia, I decided to use the sea as an element. Tasmania is an island and Hobart is on a large harbor and river.  Our  characters all live by the water and it’s so totally different to where Saroo came from in India, which is a landlocked world. There’s something about the sea that’s feminine, and something whereby the ocean connects all of us.”

Garth talks about the ‘mapping’ of Saroo’s story for an audience: “A lot of thought went into how to get across clearly the steps Saroo needs to take to find home. What his memories are, how to represent them, what the audience knows at each point. All so that the audience can be with Saroo on his journey, discovering home with Saroo. That needed to be very carefully worked out.

“I hope to watch the film it looks effortless, but a lot of thought has gone into the engineering of how the visual storytelling helps the layers of the story.”

Emile Sherman believes the creative team has well and truly made a film that delivers on the promise of the story:  “This is a film I am very proud of. It’s an incredible story about mothers, and the primal urge to find home.  I hope audiences have the same spine tingling experience that Iain and I did when we first heard the story.”

Emile also believes the film will deliver a powerful message about adoption:  “The film gives an insight into the lives of children who have been adopted and I hope will push more Western countries to recognize the need for and benefits of adoption. There are so many kids who never end up in a loving family and there are so many loving families who want a child.”

Over 80,000 children go missing in India each year. See-Saw Films have been exploring opportunities to work with reputable organizations to support children in India and around the world. Using the profile and publicity that will surround the release of this moving film, See-Saw hope to shine a spotlight the need for global support to assist these organizations.  Audiences will be able to find out more information and an opportunity to make a donation via the film’s website, www.lionmovie.com.

Saroo Brierley and his adoptive parents Sue and John continue to live in Hobart, Tasmania, where Saroo works in the family business.  Saroo is a passionate supporter of the work of Mrs. Sood, who arranged his adoption to Australia and who runs orphanages in Kolkata, and he returns to India frequently to visit Mrs. Sood, his birth mother Kamla and his extended Indian family. Saroo is also a sought after motivational speaker in Australia and overseas.

Allied is absolutely a story of betrayal and that’s the universal theme of this film: how we react when we start to think someone we love isn’t who they say they are.”

From Oscar winner Robert Zemeckis, the innovative director behind Forrest Gump, Cast Away and Flight, comes Allied, at once a mesmerizing espionage thriller, sweeping war drama and passionate romance between two assassins who may be fated soulmates or deadly enemies – or both.

In a sumptuous, visually evocative production that roams from Casablanca to London’s Blitz days to German-occupied France, Zemeckis creates the kind of grand tale that flourished in Golden Hollywood – full of mystery, thrills and romantic heat – yet told with all the richly immersive power of 21st Century cinema.

Brad Pitt plays Max Vatan and Marion Cotillard plays Marianne Beausejour in Allied from Paramount Pictures.

Brad Pitt plays Max Vatan and Marion Cotillard plays Marianne Beausejour in Allied from Paramount Pictures.

For secret World War II operatives Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) and Marianne Beauséjour (Marion Cotillard), the key to survival is never being truly known by anyone.  They are experts in deception, play-acting, second-guessing and assassination. When they accidentally fall for each other in the middle of an extraordinarily risky mission, their one hope is to leave all the double-dealing behind – but instead, suspicion and danger become the core of their wartime marriage as husband-and-wife are pitted against each other in an escalating, potentially lethal test of loyalty, identity and love…with global consequences.

Max Vatan has been trained by the British SOE to be intrepid, coldly focused and silently deadly.  He knows exactly how much to show of himself and what to omit.  He can leave behind his Canadian upbringing at a moment’s notice and assume any identity.  And yet, nothing in his training prepares him for what he goes through when he meets the woman known as Marianne Beauséjour in Casablanca.  They are supposed to be a temporary, pretend couple – but even though Max’s cautious head tells him not to get involved, his heart cannot help but be magnetized to Marianne, with her vivacious wit and probing questions.  As they turn, against all odds, from make-believe couple to real one, the line between their false identities and the real truth threatens them more than any mission they have yet survived.

Some true stories you hear once and can never forget.

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Steven Knight (Screenwriter) began a freelance writing partnership with Mike Whitehill in 1988, providing material for the TV quiz show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? He wrote the screenplays for Dirty Pretty Things, Amazing Grace, Eastern Promises, The Hundred Foot Journey, Pawn Sacrifice, Seventh Son, Burnt and The November Criminals; the stageplay The President of an Empty Room; wrote and directed Hummingbird and Locke, and is also the creator and Executive Producer/writer on television drama Peaky Blinders Series 1, 2 & 3, and the BBC series Taboo. Knight has had four novels published — The Movie House, Alphabet City, Out of the Blue and, in 2011, his first children’s novel, The Last Words of Will Wolfkin.

That was the case when screenwriter Steven Knight – an Oscar® nominee for Stephen Frears’ London thriller Dirty Pretty Things and honored for the screenplays for David Cronenberg’s Russian Mafia tale Eastern Promises as well as writing and directing the daring one-man drama Locke – heard the story of two undercover WWII spies who fell madly in love only to be set mortally against each other when their true identities were exposed.

They say all is fair in love and war, but when the two combine in the most volatile of ways, the moral certainties of the world can quickly spin out of control.

The story that instantly obsessed Knight centered on a Canadian spy and a French school teacher turned resistance fighter who met on assignment, then defiantly decided to marry, a practice that was discouraged by intelligence agencies.  Still it seemed a happy ending – until abruptly, one was outed as a double-agent providing vital intel to the enemy, putting their love and their lives in imminent danger.

Sudden romances were known to spark among some World War II operatives working in life-and-death situations at close quarters, especially since men and women often posed undercover as couples.  But there was a daunting rule – the so-called “Intimate Betrayal Rule” — that hung over them:  should two agents marry and should one discover their partner divulging secrets to the other side, that agent was expected, in heartbreaking self-sacrifice, to execute his or her lover without delay … or face immediate hanging for high treason.

The idea of lovers facing the ultimate dilemma between the shatterproof promises of marriage and their profound loyalty to country in a must-win war for the world’s future fascinated Knight and became the jumping off-point for a script that soon was drawing lots of attention.

Knight re-envisioned the story to center on a particularly hard-nosed and proficient assassin, Max Vatan, who is not the type to let flirtation cloud his thinking.  He made Max a member of the legendary, highly-trained British Special Operations Executive (SOE) – the top-secret intelligence agency that was ordered by Winston Churchill to “set Europe ablaze,” and did exactly that, collaborating with the French Resistance in a series of audacious sabotage missions and assassination attempts behind Nazi lines.

Then, Knight created the alluring, enigmatic woman even Max could not resist with the French resistance fighter Marianne, who is every bit as smart, skilled and tough as he is – yet might not be what she seems.  The mistake people make in such situations is feeling, says Marianne, but neither can turn off their longing for the other.  From the start, Max and Marianne are constantly testing and teasing one another in playful ways – but that play becomes deadly serious when Max is forced to shadow his beloved wife to answer the most unthinkable question:  could she truly be a traitor?

The snowballing intensity, shifting trust and sheer danger between the two, unraveling across several war-torn countries, made for a read that was as sensuous as it was relentlessly suspenseful.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve seen an epic wartime thriller and grand, tragic love story like this,” says producer Graham King, who knew as soon as he met with Knight about the script concept that he wanted to make the film.  “It’s the kind of rich storytelling on an ambitious scale we rarely experience anymore and it’s also very relevant to today’s world.  It’s about what war and divisions can do to the beauty of love.”

A Visual Innovator’s Pov On WWII:  Bob Zemeckis Takes The Helm

Producer Steve Starkey hopes the film gives audiences a chance to experience the kind of sweeping narratives that that have themselves been swept aside in an era when most films are either huge fantasy blockbusters or small-scale dramas. By harking back to the vaster dramatic canvases of Golden Age filmmaking, he sees Zemeckis bringing modern immediacy to the sprawling suspense epic.

“For people not raised on the 1940s style of movies, they’ve likely never seen this kind of picture, one that offers a big, visual spectacle and excitement but also profound human emotions,” says Starkey.  “The film was made in the most modern, technological way which makes for intense action. But Brad and Marion also embody the kind of grand movie romance we haven’t seen in a long time.”

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Robert Zemeckis (Director/Producer) won an Academy Award, a Golden Globe and a Director’s Guild of American Award for Best Director for the hugely successful Forrest Gump. The film’s numerous honors also included Oscars for Best Actor (Tom Hanks) and Best Picture. Zemeckis re-teamed with Hanks on the contemporary drama Cast Away, the filming of which was split into two sections, book-ending production on What Lies Beneath. Earlier in his career, Zemeckis co-wrote (with Bob Gale) and directed Back to the Future, and went on to helm Back to the Future, Part II and Part III, completing one of the most successful film franchises ever. In addition, he directed and produced Contact, the macabre comedy hit Death Becomes Her, the romantic adventure hit Romancing the Stone and Flight. He produced and directed the motion capture films The Polar Express, Beowulf and A Christmas Carol. He also wrote and directed the box office smash Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, cleverly blending live action and animation, and co-wrote (with Bob Gale) and directed the comedies Used Cars and I Wanna Hold Your Hand. Most recently Zemeckis directed Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Ben Kinglsey in The Walk, the story of French high-wire artist Philippe Petit’s attempt to cross the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in 1974. In March 2001, the USC School of Cinema-Television celebrated the opening of the Robert Zemeckis Center for Digital Arts. This state-of-the-art center is the country’s first and only fully digital training center and houses the latest in non-linear production and post-production equipment as well as stages, a 50-seat screening room and USC student-run television station, Trojan Vision.

As Zemeckis’s first foray into WWII territory, executive producer Patrick McCormick notes that the film heads in a different, more psychologically thrilling, direction than the battles that have long been a cinematic staple.  After all, the danger for Max and Marianne goes beyond the gunfire of their missions and the bombs showering London; they also face a more insidious peril: the hidden truth.

“Though the film is set against the stunning backdrop of World War II’s different warfronts, Allied is a story of double lives, one that is incredibly compelling on a human level,” McCormick observes.  “What’s so exciting is that in every scene in this story, the two main characters of Max and Marianne are operating on two different levels – what you see and what you don’t — and their every action resonates with unspoken secrets.  That makes for a powerful and unique subtext to both the thriller elements and the love story, because there is a boiling cauldron of suspicion coming to a head beneath them just as the war is building to its climax.”

Producer Graham King knew he needed a director who could bring a dynamic, contemporary sensibility to an expansive Golden Hollywood scope of storytelling running the gamut from espionage and assassinations to seduction, betrayal, fear, courage and unbreakable love.  Ironically enough, that director ultimately came to him.  “Bob Zemeckis walked into my office one day and said ‘I love this Steve Knight script and I want to direct it.’ I had never even met him before, but I was a big fan of his work,” recalls King.  “I learned later that Bob has long had a desire to make a World War II film.”

Continues King:  “Having Bob come aboard was absolutely essential to making the film the way it was made.  It’s the reason the film looks the way it does and also a big part of the reason we were able to cast Brad and Marion.  Bob may be known as a technical genius but he’s also very character-driven.  It’s so rare to find both in the same person and that is exactly what this story needed.”

Steve Starkey, who has been working with Zemeckis since the pioneering animation-live-action-hybrid Who Framed Roger Rabbit, believes no current filmmaker could be a better fit for Allied.  “If you have a story you want told on a grand scale, then you have to think of Bob,” he notes.  “He is a filmmaker who loves to tell a big story.  He is always willing to hang it all out there and take huge creative risks.”

Zemeckis’s long and varied career has been marked by both visual innovations and cultural influence, with films ranging from the seminal Back To The Future series to the comic special-effects fantasy Death Becomes Her to the historical adventures of Forrest Gump to the recent The Walk, which recreated the extraordinary tightrope journey between New York’s former World Trade Center towers. But Zemeckis has equally been associated with films that are about the raw power of storytelling as in Cast Away, the story of one shipwrecked man reckoning with his life, or Flight, which excavated a heroic pilot’s inner battle with alcoholism.

And yet, for all the wide span of stories Zemeckis has explored, he’d yet to tackle the genre of the period romance.  Nor had he brought his visual style to the evocative landscapes of WWII — and both called to him as a filmmaker.  He was drawn to Allied at once as an absorbing mystery, a web of deception, a fresh look at survival in WWII and a love story of unusual depth and power that becomes about lasting honor. Above all, he saw a film full of visual potential that could match the story’s themes.

Says Zemeckis:  “The screenplay had a sweeping, epic, romantic feel.  The thing I most love to do as a director is to move audiences  — and when you have a story as powerful as this one, and with so many emotional twists and turns, you have immense opportunities to do that.  This type of story is perfect for a filmmaker like myself because I like to make audiences really feel and use all the tools as my disposal to do that.”

Zemeckis saw the story as one that asks questions we all ask of loved ones – Do I really know you?  Can I trust you completely?  Will you betray me? How far would you go to save what we have?  — but these same questions take on a deadly, mounting ferocity within the high-wire world of WWII spies.

Brad-Pitt-and-Marion-Cotillard-in-Allied

Allied is absolutely a story of betrayal and that’s the universal theme of this film: how we react when we start to think someone we love isn’t who they say they are,” Zemeckis comments.  “It’s something that happens in life, but in the realm of Max and Marianne, you have two people already pretending to be someone else from the get-go and the truth is elusive to them.  So how do you establish trust?  And how can you even talk to your loved one if you believe the enemy is listening in on you?”

As soon as he read the script, Zemeckis had a driving vision for the film’s style – capturing not just the devastation of WWII but equally the exuberant, fervent life of people intoxicated by the sheer wonder of survival.  He re-creates with the verve of 21st Century style the tense but glossy glamour of occupied Casablanca; the austere, windswept beauty of the Moroccan desert; the shadowy corridors of the SOE’s Baker Street offices; the powder keg of Dieppe, France where a failed Allied raid left behind a Nazi occupation and struggling French resistance; and the shattered but boldly defiant London of the Blitz.

“I especially loved how the screenplay really evoked the feeling of war-torn London,” Zemeckis says. “London was being bombed nightly but despite that, the people carried on with the life of the city.  That was even their slogan: carry on.  So that was something I wanted to capture in this:  a world where the machinery of war is always there in the background – and sometimes in the foreground – yet people are living with a kind of total abandon because they realize that life could end at any moment.  There was a kind of fatalistic quality both to the way people behaved and the way that London looked in that time.  That really interested me – and that’s what I wanted to created both in the atmosphere of the film and its design.  It’s a world where people are trying to defy death at every turn, including Max and Marianne, whose love develops in danger and cannot escape it even when they marry.”

 

“I’m taking something you believe and pushing it into the fantastic realm.”

Writer/director/producer M. Night Shyamalan returns to the captivating grip of The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs with Split, an original film that delves into the mysterious recesses of one man’s fractured, gifted mind.

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Shyamalan saw James McAvoy as absolutely up for the challenge. “This is the most complex character I’ve ever written. I was thinking, ‘Does he understand what I’m asking him to do in this piece?’ And he did; I’ve never worked with an actor so fearless.”

Following last year’s breakout hit The Visit, Shyamalan reunites with producer Jason Blum (The Purge and Insidious series, The Gift) for the thriller being hailed as “Shyamalan’s most terrifying film to date, ” and “a masterful blend of Hitchcock and horror.”

Though Kevin (James Mcavoy, X-Men series, Wanted) has evidenced 23 personalities—each with unique physical attributes—to his trusted psychiatrist, Dr. Fletcher (Tony Award winner Betty Buckley, The Happening, TV’s Oz), there remains one still submerged who is set to materialize and dominate all the others.

Compelled to abduct three teenage girls led by the willful, observant Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy, The Witch), Kevin reaches a war for survival among all of those contained within him—as well as everyone around him—as the walls between his compartments shatter apart.

The Root of Terror: Split Begins

M Night

Writer/director/producer M. Night Shyamalan has captured the attention of audiences around the world for almost two decades, creating films that have amassed more than $2 billion worldwide. Shyamalan made his first foray into television when he executive produced and directed the pilot of Wayward Pines, which aired in May 2015. The highly anticipated 10-episode event series, based on a best-selling novel and brought to life by Shyamalan, premiered on FOX. The show quietly turned into a fan favorite, becoming the No. 1 watched drama of the summer. Shyamalan began making films at a young age in his hometown near Philadelphia, and by 16 he had completed 45 short films. Upon finishing high school, he attended New York University’s NYU Tisch School of the Arts to study filmmaking. During his final year at NYU, Shyamalan wrote Praying with Anger, a semiautobiographical screenplay about a student from the U.S. who goes to India and finds himself a stranger in his homeland. The film was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, alongside Reservoir Dogs and Strictly Ballroom. In the years that followed, Shyamalan wrote Stuart Little for Columbia Pictures and completed his first mainstream feature, Wide Awake, a film that explored a boy’s search to discover his faith. In 1999, The Sixth Sense, which starred Bruce Willis, catapulted Shyamalan into fame and he became one of the most sought-after young filmmakers in Hollywood.

Moviegoers were first introduced to the mysterious and intricate universe of M. Night Shyamalan in 1999 with the worldwide phenomenon The Sixth Sense, which was followed by such blockbusters as Unbreakable and Signs.

The filmmaker began a new chapter in 2015 with his terrifying The Visit, which grossed almost $100 million worldwide.  Following the same model as that movie’s production—and to allow for complete creative freedom—Shyamalan made the decision to return to his independent roots by self-financing Split.

“I want to make something new with every single film by doing something that nobody’s ever done,” Shyamalan says.  “That’s exciting for me, and it’s also dangerous and problematic, especially when selling it to the world.”

After the global success of The Visit, Shyamalan again teamed up with Blum and his Blumhouse Productions for Split.

Blum, known for his industry innovation in helping to shepherd small-budget films into worldwide blockbusters, discusses the partnership: “Night can tell these extraordinarily character-driven stories against a backdrop of a larger subject matter.  Split isn’t a typical small-budget film; it’s a large vision on a limited budget.  It is not CGI or hundreds of millions of dollars that makes Split feel so epic—it’s Night’s incredibly provocative story.”

With a more intimate setup, Shyamalan was able to primarily focus his energies on the story and character development by eliminating some of the noise and variables that come with a larger film.  “It’s easy to knock me out of my comfort zone, which is a reason why I make smaller movies,” Shyamalan says.  “That way I can turn down certain factors so I can hear that creative voice telling me if something we’re doing is off track.”

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Shyamalan pitched the idea for Split over dinner with Rajan, his longtime collaborator and president of production for Shyamalan’s Blinding Edge Pictures.  “I was immediately blown away.  I thought it was the perfect film for Night; it’s a convergence of all the types of stories he tells,” Rajan says.  “He scribbled some ideas and a couple of scenes on a piece of paper, and they were all just riveting.”

Blum immediately responded to the drama and complexities of Shyamalan’s new offering, and how the film didn’t follow typical thriller conventions.  “Audiences will enjoy Split on both a visceral ‘popcorn’ level, and at the same time, it will force them to reflect on human nature, which is the real underlying theme and preoccupation of Night’s career.”

Shyamalan’s filmmaking style also goes beyond a single genre.  “Each film is uniquely his own,” says executive producer Schneider.  “He weaves together folktales, legends and other narratives, and blends them with his background and experience.  All of his films cover complex themes and characters, and I was amazed by the depth of Split.”

Schneider believes audiences will not only be entertained by Split, but they will be challenged by it.  “My hopes are as ambitious as Night’s that the film’s strength in storytelling will spark debate about the complexities of human identity,” he says.

Whether it was looking into clairvoyance for The Sixth Sense, superhuman strength for Unbreakable or sundowning for The Visit, Shyamalan starts his stories with ideas inspired by phenomena in the natural world.  But that is simply a beginning point: Shyamalan then takes his characters’ journeys to an extraordinary realm, letting narrative arcs arise from the struggles of the characters themselves.

As a storyteller, Shyamalan pairs comprehensive research with pure imagination.

His films in the suspense and supernatural genres lead him to draw from the mysterious and fascinating, using those premises as building blocks for his imagination and ask, simply, “What if?”

Shyamalan explains: “I’m taking something you believe and pushing it into the fantastic realm.  I wondered what would happen if, in Dissociative Identity Disorder, each individual personality believes they are who they are, 100 percent.  If one personality believes they have diabetes or high cholesterol, can their body chemically change to that belief system?  And what if one personality believed it had supernatural powers?  What would that look like?”

During his time at NYU, Shyamalan took courses in which the subject of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) was discussed, and over the years, the filmmaker has remained fascinated by theories surrounding the diagnosis.

When Shyamalan started to craft the Split screenplay, he read a great deal about the most documented cases—and these stories of those involved made a huge impact on his imagination.  To inform his supernatural tale, Shyamalan spoke with psychiatrists in the field and gained practical knowledge about how therapists would conduct themselves in sessions with patients in this population.  That inquisitiveness fleshed out the characters who became Kevin and Dr. Fletcher.

“This film is a convergence of skillsets and storytelling that Night brings to this medium, and there’s an incredible ride at the center,” says Rajan.  “The performances are stunning, and I think that will resonate with audiences.”

As a specific and precise director hailing from the school of Hitchcock, Shyamalan labors over every scene.  “Night’s a perfectionist, and he obsessively storyboards each shot to make sure he’s following his original vision,” producer Bienstock says.  “He wants every shot, every moment to be the very best, and that’s inspiring.”

Like everything Shyamalan does, the look of Split is also incredibly specific.  “It’s a dark film but visually stunning with a beautiful color palette and use of shadows,” says Blum.  “Night has an unparalleled talent for creating dread and fear in the seemingly mundane and commonplace, which makes the film quietly threatening instead of overt or in your face.”

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Getting Into Characters: Nine Rolls in One

Shyamalan felt there were only a handful of actors who could play the demanding role of a man with 23 personalities in Split.  It was paramount for the writer/director that Kevin’s personalities not be viewed as caricatures but as fleshed out personas that audiences would embrace with sympathy.  To that end, Shyamalan sought out James McAvoy—a dynamic actor who handles blockbuster roles and small, intimate parts with equal aplomb—to play the lead character’s many roles.

Shyamalan saw James McAvoy as absolutely up for the challenge.  “This is the most complex character I’ve ever written.  I was thinking, ‘Does he understand what I’m asking him to do in this piece?’  And he did; I’ve never worked with an actor so fearless.”

Shyamalan intentionally sent the actor the script with little context, hoping to draw from his performer ideas about Kevin he could never have imagined.  The filmmaker recalls: “James asked, ‘What’s the name of the character I’m playing so I know, just so I don’t get confused.”  And I said, ‘I can’t tell you, just read the script.’”

McAvoy was immediately intrigued with the story’s many twists and turns.  “I read the first 10 pages and thought, ‘Wow, what is this?’  Then I read the next 10 pages and thought, ‘What is that?’” he says.  “It felt like I was being continually confronted with something completely different.  That’s the joy of what Night does so well.  He keeps an audience on their toes trying to figure out what the film is: Are we watching a thriller, a psychological drama, horror, sci-fi or something supernatural?  And this film is all of those genres.”

Shyamalan’s commitment to creating and funding his project was an inspiration for McAvoy.  “He’s brave and bold for bucking the trend that says, in order to tell a good story, you must spend $200 million,” he says.  “Instead, he’s clearing away all the interference so he can tell a really quality story.  It’s a privilege to work with a director who has that attitude and approach when it comes to storytelling.

Shyamalan and McAvoy worked closely to ensure the actor’s performance remained incredibly singular as he transformed into each role with authenticity.

“Night’s demanding and almost forensic in what he wants you to do,” McAvoy says.  “He has a very specific idea of what he wants in his mind, yet he’s extremely collaborative and giving.”

Changing colors and characters—sometimes within the same shot—was particularly demanding.  “You hope the audience will buy you as one character,” McAvoy explains.  “Then you need them to buy you as this next persona and make that transition interesting without alienating viewers.”

Still, the role presented the seasoned stage and screen actor with an extraordinary opportunity.  “To be honest, I quite enjoy playing each character, because as an actor you rarely get the chance at this type of performance,” he says.  “It’s quite exciting to radically change what you’re thinking, who you are and what makes you in a moment.”

The duo worked diligently to ensure each personality had a distinct voice and presence.  “James is Scottish, but most of his career he has performed with an American or British accent,” says Shyamalan.  “I rifled through his encyclopedia of accents, and would throw out an idea like, ‘How about Hedwig has a lisp?’  And James was just brilliant at adapting.”

When embodying young Hedwig, McAvoy walked a fine line between playing a child versus a simplistic version of an adult.  “That’s how most people play a child,” says Shyamalan.  “Hedwig’s very smart—he just happens to be 10 years old.  I would tell James, ‘You’re not playing a dumb adult; that’s not what we’re doing.  Use your eyes; you’re very smart.  But you’re 10, so you don’t know what that gesture means.’”

McAvoy and Shyamalan continued to delve into the flavors and motives of each of the alters.  “James would ask why a character responded a certain way, and since I was so close to the story, I was able to walk him through my logic,” offers Shyamalan.  “It was essential to discuss each character until this persona was real for both of us.”

While Shyamalan strictly sticks to his script, he encourages actors to add their own color between the lines.  “One of the ways to achieve this authenticity is by ad-libbing, and that comes out, in a way,” he says.  “But I treat the script like a play—that’s always how I refer to it—and I don’t alter lines.”

“I want actors to realize they’re much more pliable than they think they are..”

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For Shyamalan, there are millions of ways to perform a scene without altering words.  “I want actors to realize they’re much more pliable than they think they are,” he says.

McAvoy performed between the lines with incredible artistry and expertise.  “He said the exact words in the script but ad-libbed with this face and physicality,” says Shyamalan.  “James would bring these incredible new aspects to the table.  We got into that wonderful rhythm where things that were sacred to me weren’t touched but only heightened.”

The performer’s athleticism also proved a huge asset.  “He was doing very physical feats like jumping fences and climbing,” says Shyamalan.  “We would have the stunt person there just in case, but James is so agile and his physicality was a definite strength.”

Beyond performing stunts, the actor seems to shrink three inches when playing Hedwig and stiffens as strong Dennis.  “Whether he was playing a child or a severe woman, he approaches each character with great comfort in his physicality,” states Shyamalan.  “He’d finish a scene and the crew would break into applause because we knew we were watching something extraordinary.”

“When you think about what James had to do in this film, it’s astonishing,” raves Blum.  “Not only was he seemingly effortless as he switching between alters on certain shooting days, he switched between them during certain scenes.  You’re seeing an actor at the top of his game, and we were all awe-struck by what he managed to do as an extraordinarily disciplined actor.  I’ve never seen anything like it, and I hope his performance receives the critical acclaim it deserves at the hands of Night’s deft direction.”

A story is lifeless without a heart and soul and as its creator, the writer has to bring it to life.

HEART AND SOUL OF STORY

By Daniel Dercksen

The writer is responsible for the birth of a story, its lifespan, and the everlasting emotional impact it must have on its audience.

It all begins with the written word, and ends with an emotionally rewarding and fulfilling story that lives on in the minds of those who experience it.

It is important for the writer to make the audience experience the story as a visceral and breathing organism.

Every story has a life and it’s not simply you as a writer telling the story, but creating its vitality.

Telling a story is simply dictating what happens.

Creating a story, is breathing life into it, and giving it a heart and a soul.

The heartbeat of your story is the plot, using rhythm, pace and tempo to create a dynamic emotional truth.

  • Rhythm is the beat, the smallest structural point in your story; beats build scenes, scenes escalate into sequences, and sequences create acts.
  • The tempo is the rate of the rhythm or how, fast the rhythm moves; an action scene is vastly different from a scene that requires a hushed dramatic intensity.
  • Pacing: The various changes in tempo and rhythm that take place in story.

The soul of your story is found in the inner mindscape, the inner life of the story, probing the thoughts, dreams and nightmares of your characters, illuminating their respective point of views – how they see the world.

The blood pumping through your story is how you write it, the rich visual narrative that captivates and ultimately rewards with its stirring emotional impact.

You know that your story is alive when the characters become real people and start to take on a life of their own in the fictional reality the writer creates, exploring, confronting and challenging their raw sexuality, lurid secrets, hostile aggression, passive serenity, flawed innocence, vulnerable dispositions, forbidden fears and illusive fantasies.

A year after Tennessee Williams won the Pulitzer for his sell-out play A Streetcar Named Desire on Broadway, he was still rewriting the play. When asked about this, Williams replied that the character of Blanche was not strong enough to stand on her own two feet and that he as its creator was still holding her hand.

Once you have given your story a heart and a soul, it is equally important for the writer to know what’s at the heart of the story, being fully in control of the focus point of the protagonist’s existence, and the axel around which everything in the story revolves around.

Film magnifies a story 10 times and becomes larger than real life.

Therefore, the focus point of your story needs to be clear and not muddled or diluted by the intricate plot and subplots, amplifying the writer’s thematic purpose.

  • At the heart of a murder mystery you will find a romance.
  • At the heart of a romance you will discover the tragedy of abuse.
  • At the heart of disaster you will find a father and daughter story
  • At the heart of horror you will unveil the beauty of life.
  • At the heart of death you will find the vitality of being alive.

It is through your story that the writer allows the audience to feel what’s happening and establishes a bond between writer and viewer.

Only when the action on the screen and the reaction in your mind are united as one, “film” is taking place.

This ‘communication’ begins with the screenwriter who created the idea for the film, and uses film as the medium (the element that the artist uses to express ideas) for communicating and expressing the idea.

Just as a book is nothing but words until someone reads it, film is nothing but tiny pictures until someone sees it.

Stories change the way we see the world and writers have to initiate and inspire this transformative experience.

Our The Write Journey course looks at how you can fully explore and develop the heart and soul of your story.

Copyright © 2017 Daniel Dercksen/ All Rights Reserved

NT Live Broadcasts At Cinema Nouveau

Theatre buffs are in for a real treat with the new season from National Theatre Live at Cinema Nouveau launching on January 21 with the glorious revival of Harold Pinter’s classic play No Man’s Land, starring Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart.

NO MANS LAND by Pinter, , Writer - Harold Pinter, Director - Sean Mathias, Set and costumes - Stephen Brimson Lewis, Lighting - Peter Kaczorowski, Sheffield, 2016, Credit: Johan Persson

Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen in No Man’s Land. Photo by Johan Persson

Following their hit run on Broadway, McKellen and Stewart return to the West End stage in No Man’s Land under direction of Sean Mathias, also featuring Owen Teale and Damien Molony.

One summer’s evening, two ageing writers, Hirst (Stewart) and Spooner (McKellen), meet in a Hampstead pub and continue their drinking into the night at Hirst’s stately house nearby.

As the pair become increasingly inebriated, and their stories increasingly unbelievable, the lively conversation soon turns into a revealing power game, further complicated by the return home of two sinister younger men.

This glorious revival of Pinter’s comic classic is not to be missed.

A bonus for theatre buffs is an exclusive Q&A session with the cast and director Sean Mathias

Filmed live at London’s Wyndham’s Theatre for broadcast to cinemas globally, it releases at Cinema Nouveau theatres on Saturday, 21 January 2017 for four exclusive screenings only.

No Man’s Land releases on South African screens from Saturday, 21 January 2017, for four screenings only: on 21, 25 and 26 January at 19:30 and on 22 January at 14:30 at Cinema Nouveau theatres in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban and Cape Town.

The running time of this production is approximately 2 hrs 20 mins, including a 20 min interval plus the post-performance Q&A.

For booking information on No Man’s Land, visit www.sterkinekor.co.za. Follow us on Twitter @nouveaubuzz and on Facebook at Cinema Nouveau. For queries, contact Ticketline on 0861 Movies (668 437).

The discounts and benefits valid for members of SK Club, Discovery Vitality and Edgars Club loyalty programmes apply for all live theatre productions. Special prices for group bookings are also available on request.

Coming Up

The next productions from NT Live to be screened at Cinema Nouveau are:

AMADEUS (from 04 March 2017)

Music. Power. Jealousy…

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a rowdy young prodigy, arrives in Vienna, the music capital of the world – and he’s determined to make a splash. Awestruck by his genius, court composer Antonio Salieri has the power to promote his talent or destroy his name. Seized by obsessive jealousy, he begins a war with Mozart, with music and, ultimately, with God.

Lucian Msamati (Game of Thrones, NT Live’s The Comedy of Errors) plays Salieri in Peter Shaffer’s iconic play, broadcast from the National Theatre and with live orchestral accompaniment by Southbank Sinfonia.

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Adam Gillen as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in Amadeus. Image by Marc Brenner

SAINT JOAN (from 18 March 2017)

The Donmar Warehouse production of George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan is directed by Donmar Artistic Director Josie Rourke and stars Gemma Arterton as Joan of Arc.

Joan: daughter, farm girl, visionary, patriot, king-whisperer, soldier, leader, victor, icon, radical, witch, heretic, saint, martyr, woman. George Bernard Shaw’s classic play follows the life and trial of a young country girl who declares a bloody mission to drive the English from France. As one of the first Protestants and nationalists, she threatens the very fabric of feudal society and the Catholic Church across Europe.

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Gemma Arterton in the Donmar Warehouse’s production of Saint Joan. Dir Josie Rourke. Photo Jack Sain

HEDDA GABLER (from 01 April 2017)

“I’ve no talent for life” – Just married. Bored already. Hedda longs to be free…

Tony Award-winning director Ivo van Hove (A View from the Bridge) returns to NT Live cinema screens with a modern production of Ibsen’s masterpiece, with Ruth Wilson (Luther, The Affair, Jane Eyre) in the title role of a new version by Patrick Marber (Notes on a Scandal, Closer).

Hedda and Tesman have just returned from their honeymoon and the relationship is already in trouble. Trapped but determined, Hedda tries to control those around her, only to see her own world unravel.

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Ruth Wilson and Rafe Spall in Hedda Gabler. Photo by Jan Versweyveld.

“I saw this as a powerful and important story to tell as a movie – an adventure that anyone can relate to.”

Directed by J.A. Bayona (The Impossible, The Orphanage), A Monster Calls is a visually spectacular and stunningly emotional drama based on the award-winning novel. The screenplay adaptation is by the book’s author, Patrick Ness, who wrote the novel from an original idea by the late Siobhan Dowd.

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12-year-old Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall) is about to escape into a fantastical world of monsters and fairy tales. He is dealing with his mother’s (Felicity Jones) illness, which has necessitated Conor’s spending time with his less-than-sympathetic grandmother (Sigourney Weaver). His daily existence at his U.K. school is one of academic disinterest and bullying by classmates. As Conor’s father (Toby Kebbell) has resettled thousands of miles away in the U.S., the boy yearns for guidance.

He unexpectedly summons a most unlikely ally, who bursts forth with terrifying grandeur from an ancient towering yew tree and the powerful earth below it: a 40-foot-high colossus of a creature (portrayed in performance-capture and voiceover by Liam Neeson) who appears at Conor’s bedroom window @12:07 one night – and at that time on nights thereafter. The Monster has stories to tell, and he insists that Conor hear them and powerfully visualize them. Conor’s fear gives way to feistiness and then to looking within; for, The Monster demands that once the tales are told it will be time for Conor to tell his own story in return. Ancient, wild, and relentless, the Monster guides Conor on a journey of courage, faith, and truth.

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In June 2012, Patrick Ness’ novel A Monster Calls, inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd and illustrated by Jim Kay, became the first book to win both of the U.K.’s oldest and most prestigious children’s book awards, the CILIP Carnegie Medal and the Kate Greenaway Medal for illustrations. Mr. Ness became only the second author to win two consecutive Carnegie Medals. A Monster Calls also won The Children’s Book of the Year Award at the Galaxy National Book Awards; the Red House Children’s Book Award; Germany’s Jugendliteratur Prize; and the U.K. Literary Association’s Children’s Book Prize. His much-praised “Chaos Walking Trilogy” is being developed by Lionsgate as a feature film series. The first book in the trilogy, The Knife of Never Letting Go, won The Guardian’s Children’s Fiction Prize in 2008 as well as The Book Trust Teenage Prize. The second book, The Ask and the Answer, won the Costa Children’s Book Award in 2009; and the third book, Monsters of Men, brought Mr. Ness his first Carnegie Medal in 2011. His books have been translated into 37 languages. His novel for adults The Crane Wife was inspired by a Japanese folk tale and was selected for Oprah’s Book Club in the U.S., with Mr. Ness then being shortlisted for UK Author of the Year at the 2013 National Book Awards.

A Monster Calls began with the book A Monster Calls, first published in 2011.

Sergio Sánchez, a voracious reader, and also the screenwriter of The Orphanage and The Impossible, was so entranced by the novel that he gave it to those award-winning films’ director, his friend J.A. Bayona.

Upon reading the book, Bayona recognized at once “themes I’d touched on in The Orphanage and The Impossible: characters finding themselves in a very intense situation, with death on the horizon.

“I saw this as a powerful and important story to tell as a movie – an adventure that anyone can relate to.”

Millions of readers agree. The novel, written by Patrick Ness, based on an original idea by the late Siobhan Dowd, has been published in almost 40 languages. A Monster Calls won many prestigious prizes worldwide, including the distinguished Carnegie Medal and, for illustrator Jim Kay, the Kate Greenaway Medal. Bayona marvels, “It became beloved, and iconic – and I wanted to do it justice.”

Belén Atienza, Bayona’s producer on his earlier movies and an executive producer on the multi-Oscar-winning Pan’s Labyrinth, took to the book as well. “Belén and I both felt passionate about it,” states the director, adding that he “knew it would be an even bigger challenge than The Impossible.”

Atienza muses, “Like all good books that deal with a big subject, in the end you find that it’s truly been speaking to you about a lot of different things. One of the key themes is how we process grief and the loss of loved ones. That’s what strikes you in a very direct way when you first read the book, but reading it again you can realize the author is exploring how fantasy is part of us as human beings – and the power it can give us to help deal with life.

“Once you start to read it and to hear Conor’s voice, the effect is so compelling. The beautiful, delicate jewel of a story stayed with me for months.”

The story had originated with another author, Siobhan Dowd. She succumbed to cancer soon after starting it. Ness reflects, “Siobhan wrote magnificent books, ones that teenagers deeply responded to; A Monster Calls was to have been her fifth. She had an opening; 1,000 words; an idea for a structure; and a few characters.”

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J.A. Bayona’s most recent feature film as director was The Impossible, starring Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, and Tom Holland; it was based on the powerful true story of a family’s survival of the tragic Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. The Impossible grossed more than $180 million at the worldwide box office and brought Ms. Watts Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild, and Academy Award nominations. Mr. Holland received honors including an Empire Award for Best Newcomer. The Impossible won five Goya Awards, which are Spain’s Oscars equivalent, including Best Director; and six Gaudí Awards, including Best Director. Prior to making A Monster Calls, Mr. Bayona directed the first two episodes of Showtime’s series Penny Dreadful, starring Eva Green, which instantly attracted a loyal following. Having completed A Monster Calls, he will next direct the new Jurassic World movie, for release in June 2018. Born in Barcelona, he grew up with a passion for film. This led him to become a journalist and later to study directing, at the Cinema and Audiovisual School of Catalonia (ESCAC). After directing two short films, My Holidays and The Sponge Man, Mr. Bayona met screenwriter Sergio G. Sánchez, who gifted him with the script for The Orphanage, which became his first feature as director. The Orphanage world-premiered at the 2007 Cannes International Film Festival to a 10-minute standing ovation. It was then released nationally in Spain, and its opening four-day box office was the highest of the year and at the time the second-highest ever for a Spanish film. The Orphanage was nominated for 14 Goya Awards, winning seven including Mr. Bayona’s for Best New Director.

Initially hesitant when approached by the late author’s editor and asked to adopt the idea, Ness eventually took on the responsibility. His attachment to the story only grew, and he wanted to ensure that the conversations it encouraged would continue. As such, he wrote a very faithful screenplay adaptation. He explains, “To me, this is a story about fear of loss. I was really trying above all things to find the truth of how Conor felt; to not lie about it, not sugarcoat it, not sentimentalize it…to really feel how it hurts, because it surely does.”

The producer and director sensed that the story could work as a film – without ever losing the emotional core. Atienza notes, “Bayona is someone who listens to his emotions. He found a lot of himself in this kid, how Conor accesses fantasy in this difficult point in his life.

“Since, in his films, Bayona likes to speak to audiences through a combination of different genres, this was perfect material for him. He began to see how he might interpret the novel, bringing it ‘round to his own territory.”

The director notes, “I was also inspired to think about why it is we tell stories, and I began to read up on works of mythology from experts such as Joseph Campbell.”

After finishing The Impossible, a film which went on to move audiences around the world, Bayona received the A Monster Calls screenplay from his agent. Spain’s Telecinco Cinema, which had backed Bayona’s earlier films, stepped forward to finance the development and the director knew it would be his next project. Atienza states, “With the unconditional support of these dear partners, we were able to prepare the movie properly.” Joined by Spain’s La Trini, and by the prestigious U.S.-based production companies Participant Media and River Road Entertainment, the story was finally headed for the big screen.

“Bayona and I felt that River Road and Participant understood our creative goals, and this story, from the very beginning,” remarks Atienza. “They realized that we wanted the movie to be a meaningful experience, something you think about afterwards, for a wide audience.”

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Bayona and Ness began meeting in Barcelona. “Bayona spoke of how A Monster Calls could for him complete a trilogy about mothers and sons,” remembers the author. “I could see that he was the ideal storyteller for this tale. One thing I like about him, which is probably the most important thing in all of my own writing, is that he takes the feelings of a child seriously. He sees the child as a human being, not as a human being in waiting but as someone who truly lives and experiences and feels pain, joy, fear, trust issues, and happiness.”

The two took time to work out details of taking the book from page to screen. “We didn’t want to make a melodrama,” states Bayona. “Everything had to be integrated: Conor’s diverging relationships with his mother and his grandmother, and the fantastical element of the story. I realized that the 40-foot-high Monster would need to be depicted by integrating 2D and 3D animation.

“One other thing that unlocked it for me was the idea that Conor loves to draw; it connected everything else. This was also a bond to me personally, as I was obsessed with drawing when I was a boy.”

Bayona feels that “the book speaks about death in a direct and darker way. For the film, I wanted to transcend what we know is coming – the death of Conor’s mother – and be able to fuse the boy’s need to draw with the strength of legacy. There is light at the end of the story, resulting from the idea that art heals. Patrick’s screenplay has added themes while still being faithful to the novel; in making the movie, there are some elements of the book that we have taken further.”

Director J.A. Bayona and Lewis MacDougall during filming of A Monster Calls.Bayona states, “Lewis was the perfect actor to play Conor. He has a wonderful vulnerability and at the same time a great strength that goes beyond his years, and a lot of that is echoed in the character. He can be compared to an adult actor because he has an amazing ability to prepare himself for a scene. © Focus Features

 

As usual for the director, prep work encompassed everything from concept art to casting calls for children. To take the journey of making A Monster Calls, he invited core creative collaborators along, “the people who have been critical to the stories I’ve told – some dating back to film school.”

Atienza adds, “Óscar Faura, our director of photography; our editors Bernat Vilaplana and Jaume Martí; Fernando Velázquez, the composer – this powerful team of ours can meet any technical challenges while also keeping their artists’ souls and a sensitivity to the intimacy of the stories that Bayona tells.”

The creative team on A Monster Calls also includes production designer Eugenio Caballero, an Academy Award winner for Pan’s Labyrinth who previously collaborated with Bayona on The Impossible; and costume designer Steven Noble, who previously collaborated with actress Felicity Jones on her Oscar-nominated performance in The Theory of Everything. Bayona marvels, “I had the finest resources in the form of these collaborators.”

At every phase of pre-production, production, and post-production, Bayona sees Atienza as “my shadow. She is a constant support, not only in the organization of the shoot, but creatively as well. Belén is key to my process.

“We have tried to bring this novel to the screen in the best and most faithful way possible while at the same time infusing it with our personal vision.”

“The Birth Of A Nation leaves us with a question we must ask if we are to heal as a nation:  when injustice knocks at our own front door, are we going to counter it with everything we have?”

Writer, director and actor Nate Parker takes on a distinctly vast ambition for a first-time filmmaker, presenting a more take-charge slave narrative than we are used to seeing with The Birth Of A Nation, boldly reclaiming the title of D.W. Griffith’s 1915 film.

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Amidst sweeping action and romance Parker presents a man driven equally by love, spirituality, fury and hope to free his people from the legacy of bondage in America.  In the process, he restores a figure long relegated as a historical footnote and shows him as the heroic trailblazer he was.

Set against the American South thirty years prior to the outbreak of the Civil War and based on a true story, The Birth Of A Nation follows Nat Turner (Nate Parker), a literate slave and preacher whose financially strained owner Samuel Turner (Armie Hammer) accepts an offer to use Nat’s preaching to subdue unruly slaves. As he witnesses countless atrocities – against himself, his wife Cherry (Aja Naomi King), and fellow slaves – Nat orchestrates an uprising in the hopes of leading his people to freedom.

Photo by Buckner/Variety/REX/Shutterstock (5567589kf) Nate Parker of 'The Birth Of A Nation' The Variety Shutterstock Sundance Portrait Studio, Park City, Utah, America - 25 Jan 2016

Nate Parker (Nat Turner/Directed By/Screenplay By/Produced By) first garnered attention for his starring role in The Weinstein Company’s and Oprah Winfrey produced, The Great Debaters opposite director/actor Denzel Washington and Forest Whitaker. Washington handpicked him to play the troubled yet brilliant “Henry Lowe,” who overcomes his selfish ways and becomes the team’s leader. Parker would later receive an honorary Doctorate from Wiley College in Marshall, Texas—the actual school upon which the film was based. Parker’s most recent efforts have gone into the launch of the Nate Parker Foundation (NPF) a public organization designed to provide monetary and technical support to a significant number of community based organizations that are dedicated to transforming the lives of people of African descent both domestically and abroad. Nate Parker has dedicated his career and life to using his platform as an artist and activist to inspire a protest in the face of community and global injustices. Photo by Buckner/Variety/REX/Shutterstock

The Turner slave rebellion stands as one of the most influential acts of resistance against slavery in all American history, yet remarkably, the story has never been recounted in a contemporary screen drama.  Contentious to some and inspirational to many, until now, the life and impact of Nat Turner has largely been confined to folktales, novels, documentaries and a few paragraphs here and there in history books.

The Birth Of A Nation puts a fiery and focused new lens to Turner’s story – taking on the incendiary notions of retaliation and how the institution of slavery continues to afflict and inform present times. The film offers a fresh perspective on what led to his insurrection against slave owners in 1831, and offers a comprehensive and human portrait of the man behind the rebellion – a man driven by faith and a confidence that God is on the side of the oppressed.

It is no accident that Parker has boldly reclaimed the title of D.W. Griffith’s 1915 film, which, while pioneering modern film techniques, somehow portrayed the Ku Klux Klan as a force for good – a graphic reminder of how racial imagery smoldered in the early days of Hollywood.  Parker offers his film as the birth of something new, an alternate take on the birth of this nation – the unsung story of those who have pressed the country forward in their yearning to be free and equal.

While a number of revered films have explored the contours of slavery, from 12 Years A Slave to Glory, Amistad and Lincoln, Parker’s motivation is to renew the past and to seek illumination from it, rather than turn the same blind eye that kept people in the dark for so long.

Says Parker:  “Nat Turner became a leader against incredible odds.  So often when we see slavery in popular culture, it is through stories of suffering and endurance.  But Nat Turner’s is a more incendiary narrative; he was a slave but also a true rebel against injustice. His story demands to be told honestly; it is timely and speaks to the aspiration of finding racial peace in this country.  For me, calling the film The Birth Of A Nation was about reclaiming those words, about righting a wrong – and turning the title into something that can inspire.  It leaves us with a question we must ask if we are to heal as a nation:  when injustice knocks at our own front door, are we going to counter it with everything we have?”

Armie Hammer as "Samuel Turner" Nate Parker as "Nat Turner" in THE BIRTH OF A NATION. Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures. © 2016 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

Armie Hammer as “Samuel Turner” Nate Parker as “Nat Turner” in The Birth Of A Nation. Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures. © 2016 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

For Parker, the film was also an answer to a calling he had felt throughout his life – and worth taking a considerable personal risk to pursue.  “I have asked myself how I could be most effective as a filmmaker:  I can either keep reading these scripts that project people of color in stereotypical, counterproductive ways or I can put everything I am into a project that I believe will change the conversation and create the opportunity for sustainable change,” Parker explains.

Parker knew he had five daughters relying on him, but he also knew he wanted those daughters to look at him and see someone who did not shrink in the face of what he felt needed to be done.  “Everyone said, if this doesn’t work it could affect you being relevant in this town as an actor or from an economic standpoint, being able to support your family. So I had to ask, are you willing to go down that road? But when I thought back to the Denmark Veseys, the Harriet Tubmans, the Nat Turners who were willing to give their lives, I said surely I can step away from acting for a couple of years and just see what happens.”

There was no guarantee Parker would get there but with the inspiration of so many others – who sacrificed so much more than a motion picture career – he found a fire burning within that could not be squelched.

“Now I feel so desperately blessed that I was able to tell this story and do it in such a way that I had the control that I did,” Parker concludes.  “If I had to go back and do it again, as arduous as it was, I would do it the exact same way.  The takeaway of the film is what I had hoped:  wherever injustice lives in the world, it is our duty to face it down.”

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Taking Back A Hero:  Nat Turner In American Culture

Nat Turner has long been one of the most captivating, mysterious and perhaps misunderstood historical figures in the ongoing making of an equal America.  His unflinching resistance to the institution of slavery is often cited as integral to the buildup of the Civil War as an act that alarmed and hardened the hearts of Southern slave owners yet raised imperative questions about the morality and sustainability of the so-called “peculiar institution” that stole away the freedom, dignity and destinies of millions.

nat-turner-2To Nate Parker, Nat was not so far removed from an African American version of Braveheart’s William Wallace, who roused and united the Medieval Scots against their oppressors at a time when no one thought it was possible.

Despite growing up in Virginia near where the Turner insurrection occurred, Nate Parker did not once hear the name Nat Turner in school.   “I heard it in whispers and from family members,” he recalls.  “As if they were conjuring the very spirit of rebellion.  But it wasn’t until I was in college, taking African-American Studies that I really learned about him.  When I did, I thought ‘how is it possible that I didn’t know about this?’ Yet it happened right in my back yard.”

That denial of this essential history lit a fire in Parker.  He needed to know more.  And the more he tried to trace Turner’s past, the more he was drawn to a figure who was not at all the savage fanatic portrayed in popular books and legends. Instead, Parker discovered the historical Nat Turner was a spiritually-fueled man of astute intelligence who viewed slavery as a symbol of Satan on earth – and came to believe the only way the world could be set right was to “cut off the head of the serpent.”

“This is someone who tried to make a difference in spite of the impossible odds of his environment. I had always longed for that kind of hero, and he’d been withheld from us,” Parker says.  He saw in Turner “a measured, self-determined man of faith, whose courage and belief allowed him to sacrifice himself for his family and the future.”

Parker also began to realize that just as in life Turner had never owned his identity, this repeated itself after his death. No one knows Turner’s true surname or where his desecrated body is buried.  In the last 200 years, Turner’s image had been used to signify many things. He’d been vilified as an aberrational extremist, re-imagined as a lusty metaphor for a “slave mindset” and exalted as a political revolutionary.  Yet the man’s real life and source of his courage seemed lost in all that.

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An Inspirational Journey To The Screen

It took several years of all-consuming historical and creative searching – including time spent as a Feature Film Program Fellow at the Sundance Institute — for Nate Parker to finish his screenplay.   He acknowledges the process was lonely, and at times felt like being locked alone in a dark tunnel, but he also says, “that is part of the cost of trying to not only make a movie but disrupt a culture.”

During that time, Parker’s own life underwent major changes. When he started writing, Parker was a former All-American wrestler just getting his acting career started.  He drew notice in 2007 in The Great Debaters, personally selected by director Denzel Washington to play a 1930s debate whiz.  He went on to star in The Secret Life Of Bees, Red Tails, Arbitrage, Red Hook Summer, Ain’t Them Body’s Saints and Non-Stop, among others.

Even as his acting career took off, Parker never wavered in his resolve to tell Turner‘s story. A devoted team soon set out to beat the odds and get a production off the ground that, on paper, was an improbable sell:  an explosive story from a first-time filmmaker, an audaciously fresh take on the slave movie as heroic epic, and to boot, a period action-drama with large-scale battle sequences to be shot on an indie budget.  In Kevin Turen, Jason Michael Berman, Aaron L. Gilbert and Preston L. Holmes, Parker knew he had found his ideal partners.

Each of the producers thought that bringing Parker’s original voice to the world was a uniquely motivating force. Though they all shared in that, the producing team had very little overlap, notes Berman, Vice President of Mandalay Pictures.  “We all brought very different skill sets – and Nate seemed to understand how to use each of our specific skills when they were needed.  We were all there to serve his vision and he saw that and integrated it, but didn’t ever take it for granted.”

Given the subject matter, time stresses and budget, the production was rife with challenges.  Yet as a first-time director Parker never allowed himself to flinch.  He set out from the beginning to leave no stone unturned, meeting with directors he admired, including Steven Soderbergh, Spike Lee and Mel Gibson, whose direction of Braveheart battle sequences were an influence. “It was a kind of compressed apprenticeship,” muses Parker.  “I was told you have to be so prepared that you are never second-guessed.  You have to know what you want but also know when you get what you want.”

“That this movie got made is a kind of miracle,” observes producer Turen, President of David S. Goyer’s Phantom Four.  “There was no previous business model that fit this film.  It happened because a group of people came together who deeply, deeply believed in Nate and who felt we were making a film that could be important and great.  We were betting fully on Nate’s ability to execute something special and he has.”

Turen says it was Parker’s incredible promise that gave him the driving confidence that he could compel financiers to back a project that looked high-risk at the outset.  “Nate has one of the most amazing minds I’ve encountered in the film business and he also has a work ethic that means he is always brilliantly prepared,” says Turen.  “He’s worked hard for everything in his life and has a real appreciation for that – and you sense all of that when you meet him, which was our main advantage.”

Berman also had a fervent response to The Birth Of A Nation.  “I’ve been involved in my fair share of independent film but this is by far the most ambitious film I’ve been a part of,” he says.  “I thought the screenplay was beautiful, exciting and extremely important. Though it was clear it could be major financing challenge, that didn’t bother me.  I thrive on challenges and the script and Nate were so incredible, I was completely up for it.”

The key to the financing, Berman came to believe, was Parker.  “When I met Nate it was game over because he has a quality you dream of in a filmmaker: an incredible energy that transfers to everyone he meets. This film could only have worked with a strong leader and Nate was that leader.  I’m a persistent and aggressive person, but Nate has given me a run for my money in that area.”

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Parker says it was natural to talk to investors from the heart.  “I knew I wanted to create a film that could be a creative legacy.  I knew I wanted to be able to show it to my children and have them see that I made an effort to change things. So I said if those are the things I want to achieve, then why can’t those ideas become the game plan for talking to investors? I put it in those terms:  what movies are we leaving for our children and our children’s children?”

Berman also saw the impact in action when they were hiring the crew.  “Everyone wanted to be involved because of Nate’s passion.  It’s also important that as strong as he was, Nate was equally kind, humble and gracious and I believe you see that on the screen.  It’s all about his humanity and ability to get the best out of people.”

For Berman, one key thing sets the film apart:  “It’s the empathy we feel for the characters,” he says.  “When indie films break out the reason is never just the performances or the relevance of the social issues they tackle – it’s the fact that audiences can really relate to the characters, can root for them and really feel why they do what they do.”

A huge piece of the financing puzzle fell into place when Canadian producer Gilbert’s Bron Studios came aboard with an unrelenting commitment to get the film to the screen.  Gilbert says he was blown away by the power of the script and its exciting, relevant perspective on a past that still has a profound impact; but, as with others, it was meeting Nate Parker that utterly sealed the deal.

“I met Nate for what I thought was going to be a little hello and we ended up spending the next four hours together,” Gilbert recalls.  “I’ve had a lot of different experiences in the film industry, but I can say this was truly one of the absolute most important, life changing meetings of my life.  Nate and I had a wide-ranging and emotional conversation about how he got to the point of needing to tell this story and his vision of how it would be made and by the end, there was no way I could not make this movie.  There’s something rare about Nate where he has that ability to move people, to touch and challenge them in a motivating way and you feel that instantly.”

“This story might take place 200 years ago, but it depicts the era of slavery in a vital new light,” says Gilbert.  “You see Nat Turner standing up for his people. Some will argue about his methods, but drastic times can call for the most drastic measures.  It’s also a story that speaks to our own times and what’s happening in the world right now, with so many oppressed people still living these kinds of stories.”

The feeling that The Birth Of A Nation brings a new, necessary shift in perspective also drew producer Preston Holmes, known for such productions as Malcolm X, Hustle And Flow and New Jack City.  “I’ve had an interest in African-American history throughout my career,” says Holmes, “and the story of Nat Turner is too little known.  There has been very little seen previously to even indicate there were many rebellions against the institution of slavery by kidnapped Africans.  The film is unique because Nat Turner was not content to go along with the program.  The opportunity of a film like this doesn’t often come along, so I was thrilled to take part in it.”

Parker’s confidence to take on an emotionally demanding central performance while trying to direct a visionary first film at the very same time enthralled Holmes.  “This would have been a difficult task for the most experienced filmmaker,” he points out.  “But Nate was always very clear about his overall vision.  We all worked hard to make this film happen, but no one worked harder than Nate.”

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“It’s not until we have an honest confrontation about how we got where we are now that we will ever be able to heal.  Gone are the days that we can hope that things will change without us.”

Everyone involved in the film was buoyed not just by Parker’s fervor but also by the sense they were telling a story that might do what is increasingly difficult in entertainment:  to get people talking about things that matter.  “This is a film that has the potential to stir controversy but also spark big conversations,” says Aaron Gilbert.  “That’s part of what has us all so excited about it.”

Says Preston Holmes:  “I think the more that people know about the true history of our country … the more understanding it will foster between us as Americans and as human beings.”

Nate Parker is sanguine about the likely reactions to the film.  He knows there are those who it will rankle and many who may learn about Nat Turner’s heart stopping actions for the first time, but he hopes for one particular reaction across the board:  empathy.

“I hope that you cannot watch this film and not have empathy,” he concludes.  “My goal was to create the mirror of all mirrors on this subject and I challenge the grand wizard of the KKK to not be moved by the film’s humanity.  When I see Nat Turner in the final moments of the film, it moves me to tears every time.   He is so heroic … and this is what I was missing my entire life.  It’s the pride you’ve longed for, the pride you’ve never felt or been allowed to feel.”

“For me, this film is about the hope of untethering the industry from our dark past, about the opportunity to retell the narrative of America in new ways.  It is an attempt at a rebirth in a sense – a rebirth where we acknowledge the truth so we can move forward, a rebirth in which, to new audiences, the phrase THE BIRTH OF A NATION will now refer to Nat Turner’s legend – the antithesis of what Griffith intended.”

For Parker, the film will succeed if it not only shines a light on the hidden past but also ignites conversations about intolerance, equality and the devaluing of black lives in our era – an era in which racial narratives thought by some to belong to the past still play out over and over.  Parker sums up:  “It’s not until we have an honest confrontation about how we got where we are now that we will ever be able to heal.  Gone are the days that we can hope that things will change without us.”

“It took me a while to get into screenwriting and filmmaking. I started out as a playwright, and I’m still a playwright, but I was in my early thirties before I ever tried to write a screenplay for myself..”

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Kenneth Lonergan’s first film, You Can Count On Me (2000), which he wrote and directed, was an Academy Award® and Golden Globe® Nominee for Best Screenplay’ and won the Sundance Grand Jury Prize, Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award, NY Film Critics Circle, LA Film Critics Circle, Independent Spirit Award for ‘Best Film’ and Best Screenplay, among numerous other awards and nominations. Lonergan’s second film, Margaret (2011) and Margaret – Extended Edition (2012), won the European Film Critics’ FIPRESCI Award at the Vienna Film Festival, the Traverse City Film Festival Founders Prize, and received widespread critical acclaim both in the U.S. and abroad, as well as becoming a cause celebre among  cinema  journalists  and  critics  worldwide.   He  also  co-­‐wrote  the  screenplays  for  Analyze  This and Gangs Of New  York (2002 WGA and Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay).       His plays include This Is Our Youth (1996),  Drama  Desk  Best  Play  nominee,  2015  Tony  Award  Best  Revival (Steppenwolf); The Waverly Gallery (2000), Pulitzer Prize finalist; Lobby Hero (2001), Drama Desk   Best Play nominee, Outer Critics Circle Best Play nominee, 2002 Olivier  Award  nominee  for  Best  Play  during its West End run; The Starry Messenger (2009), and Medieval Play (2012).

You saw “Manchester By the Sea” as a story of a guy going through the steps that lead him nowhere.  

I was interested in someone who has endured something that was unbearable, but because of his attachments to the rest of his family, he can’t simply disappear. My fantasy always has been—I have a daughter—my fantasy has always been that if she lost her life I would kill myself. Because I couldn’t bear to be alive. That may or may not be true, I certainly hope I never find out, and you’re not even supposed to say things like that, but that’s the thought you have as a parent. And so, how people survive what they survive is a mystery to me. It’s interesting that what causes that amount of anguish, and can help you through it, is love, and you don’t feel that kind of pain unless you lose someone you love. But love is the only thing that can get you through that kind of distress. There are other situations in which love is of no use whatsoever, like when you’re being murdered and massacred by ISIS, it doesn’t matter how many people love you, they’ll still cut your head off.

It has to be a challenge to make a film that works toward that but also to make a film with a character who is so interior, so inexpressive.

There’s just certain conversations he’s just not interested in having. I see him as being extremely active. I never noticed that he didn’t say much until people started point it out to me. Because, to me, every day [for him] is a struggle to not collapse. A very active struggle. He works very hard to get through every day in a way that he can stand. He’s sometimes not successful. He’s in so much pain. He has got so much emotional burden to carry that he’s got to work very hard to keep it at bay or he just can’t function. He does it by trying to relegate everything into small tasks. When he has a bigger task he tries to do that too, but it is not as successful because once human beings become involved it becomes very difficult to control your environment.

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Michelle Williams and Casey Affleck in Manchester By The Sea

Regarding your casting of Casey Affleck in the lead role of Lee: how did you get him to express what you wanted most from the character, especially in terms of the restraint within his performance? 

Well, he’s an amazing actor and an amazing person. We’re very good friends now. We were friends before, but we’re very close now, I would say. I don’t know if he would agree because he’s frequently wrong about everything, so he might have the wrong idea about that too. But he has an amazing worker bee attitude towards the part he plays. We had the most interesting in-depth, interminable discussions about the character: where he was at, why he was acting this way in this scene, why he wasn’t acting one way in another scene, where he was later, why did he react to the kid. [Casey’s] first comment was that he felt he was being very mean to the kid, his nephew; he wasn’t being comforting about when his father died. In the beginning of the discussion months later, we knew how the character was getting through his days after this terrible thing that had happened to him, and we both worked out together where he was at. It’s easy for him to be mechanical and cut off from the doctors and nurses who are trying to express sympathy, but his nephew gets to him. So it’s about who gets to him and when, and what shakes him out of the routine that he’s established in order to survive what’s happened to him, was a source of really interesting and really productive discussions. We talked about it months before the movie started, we talked about it every day on the set, we talked about it even after he saw the movie. It was really interesting and I learned a lot doing that.

How exact do you plan films, not just with characters, but in directing? How exact do you imagine these projects? 

It’s always … you have one idea. Well, ideally, you have one idea that works in your head. And then you start with that, and then other people come along and either don’t get it and you try to get them to it, or they have some other idea that is germinated from your idea or related to it, and it enhances it and makes it better. And then you build on it together. That’s the really fun part of that. That goes for every element of the film, of acting, cinematography, the sound mixing, the locations, everything. When that’s all going well, it’s really fun. But I like the actors to stick to the dialogue as best they can, some pieces of dialogue I don’t really care that much, some I really do care, I couldn’t say why, it depends on the line. But I usually feel like [actors] should work within the dialogue and not outside of it. But apart from that, the behavior and how you shoot it, and where the emphases go and in the editing of course too, it’s all, “I know this works, and where can I go from there?”

There are many moments [in your films and plays] of people being stupid or putting their foot in it or just not expressing themselves clearly.

I know I write about that a lot, people misunderstanding each other, but I don’t do it on purpose. I don’t know what that is. But I do remember high school really vividly, and college, too, in some ways. After that, it all becomes a murky, semi-grown-up blur until this moment. Which will then be absorbed into the blur later. But I remember the grown-ups from then, too. I remember people’s parents. I remember watching other people’s parents and my parents trying to cope with us and feeling bad for them, while also going off privately and making fun of them in a snotty teenage way. It’s clearly a bad situation for everybody. [both laugh] I also remember being a little kid really vividly. But I couldn’t write scenes about that because I wouldn’t know how to write what a little kid says. But when you’re a teenager, you’re so self-conscious and so self-aware for some reason. And I remember what people talked like very well. And then you get older, and you see teenagers, you hear them in the streets, half showing off and half nervous. And you just watch them, their physicality, like, three boys in the street, and you can tell which one’s the leader, which one’s nervous, if they all are really comfortable with each other … Their body language is so clear. Or, if it’s girls, you’re like, “Okay, which one’s the cute one? Which one’s the popular one? Which one’s the kooky friend who’s hanging around?” And these hideous things they have to be. They seem very much like everybody else, but times ten.

This is not a film that you set out to direct. Was there a point at which it was either you had to direct it or it would go away?

I don’t think that ever came up. I think it was just a question that Matt was going to direct it all the time it was being written. Then, when he read the script, by that time his schedule had constricted. Also, I think he was enthusiastic about the idea of me directing it. It was never put to me like, “If you don’t direct it, we’re not going to be able to do it.” He said, “I think it would be a really good idea for you to direct it. I think you’ll do a great job.” Whether that’s true or not, I thought about and decided I did want to direct it because I’d gotten very attached to the material in the interim.

Was it hard to make the decision to come back to directing after the break and after your last experience?

No, not at all. I knew I would at some point. I wasn’t sure it was going to be with this because I was writing it for Matt.

When you know you’re going to do a piece and set it in a place like this, how does the accent influence approach to dialogue?

I approach dialect by trying to write down what I hear in my imagination. In this case I heard them speaking with this regionalism and that just works its way into the script. I wanted to avoid certain clichéd expressions. Nobody says, “wicked,” or anything like that. It’s not a favorite expression anyway. Even nowadays most of the people say in a sort of self-referential way because they have seen it in the movies so much. I avoid that one. Other than that, you know where your characters are from, you know how they talk and you write that down.

What steps do you take to get the region correct? If you don’t get it right, I’m sure you’ll get called on the details. How did you make sure you got it right?

You just try to follow the details, really. Details give you the bigger picture. I did a fair amount of research on the town and of the area when I was writing the script. A lot more when I got there in pre-production. Then we integrated as much of the environment as we possibly could on the fly when we were there. I really like dialogue. I’m really interested in it. I’m really interested in verisimilitude because that’s how I personally build up my work. There are a lot of approaches that don’t necessarily have to do with verisimilitude, but that’s my way in.

I’ve noticed movies that take place in certain specific locations. I’ve noticed movies where everyone sounds the same and you can tell they all have the same accent coach. I didn’t want to do that. My wife [actress J. Smith Cameron] shoots a TV show called Rectify in a small town in Georgia. You go down there and a lot of people have a strong local accent and a lot of people don’t. I don’t see that in a lot of movies. Usually if it takes place in Maine everyone has the same accent. When you really go to Maine everyone has a different accent. I wanted to make sure their were characters who did not have a regional accent and there are several. When you go to Manchester, Gloucester, and Cape Ann, a lot of people have the local accent, a lot of people don’t. I wanted to reflect that. I knew which characters I wanted to have a specific local accent and which ones I didn’t. There are a lot of transplants.

We were scouting the movie and ran into two guys who came out of a boat repair shop, they both had thick Southern accents. One of them was from Alabama and one of them was from Tennessee. They lived there for 20 years. It was really hilarious because they had these strong Southern accents. They were like, [adopts Southern accent] “Oh, yeah. I’ve lived up here for my whole life practically. I love it.” And you’re standing in the middle of Gloucester Harbor. They’re covered with grease from the boats and they’re just chattering away in their Southern accents. You just try to stick to the particulars and it often gives you the bigger picture.

You’re used to creating plays and movies that are complete pieces and the idea that open-ended story would be something new.

It is a very different form. It took me a while to get into screenwriting and filmmaking. I started out as a playwright, and I’m still a playwright, but I was in my early thirties before I ever tried to write a screenplay for myself. I was doing it to make a living but it took awhile for me even do that. I think it might just be a trick of my imagination, just a switch to jump the track and go over to the television world. I don’t know.

Something about the long form appeals to me. One of the main worries about a play or a movie is that they are only supposed to be so long. The fact that if you can do the show over four episodes or four hours, or eight episodes, eight hours, or eight two-hour episodes if you happen to have that much to say or write about, that’s very liberating.

When do you know when a movie is done?

When your adjustments start to make it worse instead of better, you have to stop.

What’s a sign of that?

Just that when you watch it you’re like, “Why did I do that? That’s not better. That’s worse.” You’re in there, you have this great idea. You’re like, “Oh, wow! That scene’s really good, but this other take we didn’t use is so great. Maybe I could just get a couple of lines from that take in there. Switch those out.” Then you do all this fussing, you do a screening and you step back and you’re like, “Oh. This is not as good.” When you see more breaking down than improving, it’s time to stop.

As a playwright and screenwriter, what is your attitude when going into the editing room? 

It’s been different every time. I have only done three movies. The first movie I was so nervous on the set because I never directed before, that when I got to the editing room it was a complete and utter relief because it was just like writing. All the materials were there, it was like writing a script and then trying to make it the best version of it. I had all the materials, the editor Anne McCabe and I worked on the individual scenes and put them together, we stepped back and looked at them, the same as you write a bunch of scenes and then read the whole act of a play. You notice things, go back. So, it was a breeze. It was really fun and easy and familiar to me. “Margaret” was so challenging because there are so many balls to keep in the air, but it was really fun too, in a different way. Again, you just have to keep the whole thing in your head, but I had a very clear idea of how to edit that too. But the trouble came from outside. But I knew what we were doing, and finally, [we] more or less got to do what we wanted to do in the extended version, years after years of torture and misery and rescue from critics and friends and Twitter. That was very unpleasant, and then a miracle at the end. That multiple story form I am very interested in pursuing again.

This movie, I wasn’t sure how to edit. We went in and we just started playing the scenes. I had an idea for the beginning should be a bit of his routine, and I knew I wanted to establish the routine. The idea of starting the film the way it starts now was a later idea which I think works. It was more feeling your way through it, I think. It’s tricky because you have all of these takes and all of these performances that are great, and you have to decide what shapes a scene. Casey also makes you do hundreds of takes because he won’t stop until you tell him to go home, if there’s a somewhat better way to do it he wants to do it. And I’m a little bit that way too, sometimes. So, it’s hard to decide which one of his dozen great deliveries of this line to use. But eventually, a cohesion appears.

“I don’t have anything I know that other people don’t know — everybody has lost someone, has had terrible pain in their life and had to live with it. People have different ways of recovering. There’s a whole gamut of things I think it’s nice to see reflected back to you in fictional form.”

Manchester by the Sea sneaked up on writer-director Kenneth Lonergan.

The film was originally planned as a directing and starring vehicle, respectively, for its two producers, Matt Damon (who starred in Margaret) and John Krasinski. Damon, who costarred with Casey Affleck in the first cast of “This is Our Youth” on stage in London, offered the story to Lonergan to write.

Writer-director Kenneth Lonergan discusses a scene with Casey Affleck during the filming of Manchester By The Sea

Manchester By The Sea tells the story of the Chandler family, a working class family from Massachusetts. After Lee’s (Casey Affleck) older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) suddenly passes away, he is made the legal guardian of his nephew (Lucas Hedges). Lee is forced to deal with a tragic past that separated him from his wife Randi (Michelle Williams) and the community where he was born and raised.

Kenneth Lonergan talks about writing and directing Manchester By The Sea

Damon and producer Moore, while shooting “The Adjustment Bureau,” tried to develop a movie version of Lonergan’s play, “Lobby Hero,” which never came to fruition. But Lonergan liked the Manchester story idea, about a man with a tragic history who must face his past after his brother dies and makes him his son’s guardian.

Lonergan didn’t consider directing the script, but Damon fell out — and Lonergan eventually agreed to take over the movie. Then Damon and Krasinski’s heavy schedules worked against them acting in the film, which required a short New England winter shooting window. They all agreed to ask Casey Affleck to star, and he happily jumped aboard with Michelle Williams, who stuck with the project, which became a tougher sell with Affleck than Damon. (The final movie cost $8.5 million.)

However, “tough” is a matter of perspective. With “Margaret,” Lonergan faced five years of editing disputes with producers before it could be released; here, the director enjoyed the backing of a powerful movie star and a team of producers and financiers (the Megan Ellison role is played by neophyte K Period CEO Kimberly Steward). And all of them pledged to let Lonergan make the film he wanted to make.

“Kenny knew the whole time he would be protected and safe,” said Moore, who works with Damon and Ben Affleck’s Pearl Street Films. “He should be allowed to make Kenny movies.”

Even so, Lonergan initially struggled with the script. He changed the nephew from a younger child to a teenager. “I thought the idea of a kid who’s having a very good life despite what he’s been through is interesting,” said Lonergan, sitting in a Telluride theater lobby. “One character is in a lot of trouble, and one has a pretty good life going. He’s a resilient, tough kid with a lot of love for his father and his family, he’s been hit hard in a lot of ways, but he’s having one of those rare good high school experiences and he doesn’t want to lose it. That’s the main conflict of the story.”

When the first draft didn’t work for him, Lonergan started over with the material he found most intriguing: the depressed janitor/handyman/mechanic Lee, shoveling snow near Boston. “He’s in so much distress, he doesn’t wish to function, doesn’t want to connect to anybody else,” said Lonergan. “But he has to, because he’s still connected to his brother and his family. He’s been through a terrible, life-destroying tragedy, but his brother does not allow him to disappear into the void.”

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Casey Affleck and Kyle Chandler in Manchester By The Sea

Walking into Lee’s life “forced me to put the past into the flashback structure,” Lonergan said. “That turned out to be a very successful structural correlative to the emotional situation, because he’s someone who’s carrying a block of memories that he can’t live with. And it wasn’t conscious on my part, but it worked out. Sometimes when you just follow what you like, it works out that you are doing something that makes sense.”

It didn’t always make sense for the producers. The complicated weave of time frames didn’t always read on the page. “People will be confused by all these weird flashbacks and random flashing to a scene,” Moore told Lonergan at one point.

Lonergan was not fazed. “No, they won’t. They will understand completely,” he replied.

“He’s ornery as hell and super honest about people,” said Moore, “who we really are, and what we really do, and how we really act. He sees dramatic moments that aren’t the big moment. He sees the little dinner table conversations. People have conversations that seem so pointless, that from the outside don’t look meaningful, but really are.”

The scene that sets grown men sobbing is one when Lee (Affleck) runs into his ex-wife Randi (Williams) on the street. It seems simple enough: Back in Manchester after his brother’s funeral, the estranged couple runs into each other on the sidewalk. She wants Lee to get together with her for a talk. He says he can’t.

“A friend said to me once about acting, ‘If you do something really truthfully, it doesn’t matter what it is, it’s going to be interesting,’” said Lonergan. “And I believe that that’s true. I found a long time ago that real life — as best I can transcribe it — the details are always richer than leaving them out.”

Lonergan kept delaying the scene toward the end of filming. He wanted to make sure there was plenty of time to get it right. (Affleck especially likes to shoot as many digital takes as possible.) The director rehearses the cast ahead of time like a theatrical play, sitting at tables or standing in a room; time becomes too precious while shooting.

“With actors like Casey and Michelle, you don’t have to do that much, but you can suggest what the characters might be trying to do, what lines of behavior they might be following,” said Lonergan. “There’s so much history between them. They’re both trying so hard to be kind to one another. They’re trying to protect each other. She’s trying to reach out to him after this terrible thing that happened a long time ago, that’s separated them. He can’t do it.”

Lonergan was pleased with the end result: “I love watching it. It’s painful to watch, but I love it. It’s very satisfying.”

Shooting in Manchester was tough: A tight schedule, bitter cold, multiple exteriors, driving shots, too much or too little snow. Still, Lonergan enjoyed seeking the area’s physical details and the different ways people live there. What makes him crazy is movies that bypass reality.

“I see them sugarcoat and pass over experiences everybody in the world has had,” he said. “It annoys me because it seems like a lie. I don’t have anything I know that other people don’t know — everybody has lost someone, has had terrible pain in their life and had to live with it. People have different ways of recovering. There’s a whole gamut of things I think it’s nice to see reflected back to you in fictional form.”

The final movie wound up close to the one Lonergan wrote, “except for the surprises that come up,” he said. For example, the day they filmed with boats went so well that they had six extra hours to cruise around the harbor and town grabbing shots, which yielded the opening sequence of the movie—not in the script.

Director’s Statement

We shot this movie in Cape Ann from late February to early May. It was very cold  at  first,  but  very  beautiful. In Cape Ann you are never far from water. I loved being by the ocean and inlets all the time; I   loved shooting on the boat, and  in  the  marinas  and  dockyards  and  houses  in  Manchester,  Gloucester and Beverly. I loved that part even when we were in triple overtime and I wanted to go to bed and never     get up again. Plus, the food was great. My favorite restaurant was the Clam Box, in Ipswich, which has         the best lobster rolls I’ve ever had, even though it was actually recommended to me for its fried clams,   which are also excellent -­‐-­‐ although not as good as the fried clams at Nicky’s  Cruisin’ Diner in  Bangor, Maine, near the airport. But the Clam Box lobster rolls were literally twice as good as the next best lobster roll I’ve ever had, and I have had a lot of first-­‐rate lobster rolls. I have no idea how this can be true, but it  is.

During the shoot, I got to stay in a house in Annisquam, overlooking a little cove off the Essex River. It had a big picture window and a long deck outside facing the woods and houses across the water. In the daytime there were all kinds of birds outside my window, and spectacular planets in the sky almost every night. Except for weekends, I was usually in the house in the early mornings either going to work or coming back from it. In the early Spring a swan appeared and could be seen drifting around the cove very regularly. I don’t know anything about swans except what I read in The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White. In that book, the cobb swims around and around all Spring on the lookout for predators, while his wife sits on her nest somewhere nearby, waiting for her eggs to hatch. I thought maybe that’s what this swan was doing. I had no idea of course, because we wrapped and went home before the cygnets would have been born anyway, and I don’t know anything about swans.

You never know why you write about the things you end up writing about. I suspect that the impetus to create anything is too specifically rooted in the artists’ personal psychology to be of much interest to anybody else, but you hope the results will be. My favorite part of filmmaking is the process whereby a story initially developed in the privacy of your own imagination becomes the emotional property of other people. The story is nurtured and made to blossom under the care, emotions, and ideas of your collaborators. It becomes a kind of shared fantasy belonging to all of them, until it is finally passed along to an audience where -­‐ you hope -­‐ it becomes a part of their inner life, the way the movies I love have become a part of me.

-­‐     Kenneth  Lonergan

 

Top 10 South African Films Of 2016

By Daniel Dercksen

Local has indeed been lekker in 2016, with more than 30 films released in South Africa. Here are the films that had a visceral and emotional impact, allowing us to see the world through home-grown eyes.

Since he launched The Writing Studio 19 years ago Daniel Dercksen has been actively involved in the teaching of storytellers and the development of screenplays, novels and plays, working passionately with emerging writers and storymakers on their respective stories. He has been a freelance film and theatre journalist for 30 Years, writing regular features, interviews and reviews for magazines and newspapers, as well as the website of The Writing Studio. He also received the number one spot for most popular lifestyle contributor for 2012,  2014 and 2015 on www.bizcommunity.com and second most popular contributor in 2016.

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Edwin van der Walt in My Father’s War

1. MY FATHER’S WAR This bilingual (Afrikaans/English) drama focuses on the heartbreaking broken relationship between a father and his rebellious teenage son with outstanding performances by Edwin van der Walt as a conflicted young man who is constantly at was with his father, a veteran of the Angola border war, with an equally powerhouse performance by Stian Bam as a man torn between a past that shattered his life, and a future that holds little promise. Erica Wessels is also superb  as the wife who is caught in the middle of their epic battle. The men don’t see eye to eye on anything, and there seems to be no hope for reconciliation between them.

2. MODDER EN BLOED  In this emotional journey into the heart and soul of a war that divided a nation, reconciled revenge forces underdogs to triumph in the spirit of togetherness.It’s a poignant story of man versus himself when incarcerated with other Boer prisoners-of-war on the island of St. Helena in the Atlantic Ocean, but also the story of Afrikaner men tortured emotionally and physically by a monstrous British tyrant during the Anglo Boer War of 1899-1902, as well as the story of a British woman who redeems herself through the horrors she witnesses.

3. FREE STATE This heartbreaking romance is set in 1979 and tells the story of a forbidden love affair between Jeanette – a white Afrikaans girl – and Ravi – an Indian man.  The film is written and directed by multi-award winning filmmaker Sallas de Jager. “The film explores the predicament of a parent and child relationship within three families when they are confronted by the ripple effect of the forbidden love affair between Ravi and Jeanette.  The parents are confronted by the need of a parent for your child to find true happiness versus the need for your child to uphold the way of life taught to him/her from childhood in order to fit into a community as an adult.

4. ‘N PAWPAW VIR MY DARLING Family. You want to live without them, but can’t survive without them. That’s the essence of Koos Roets‘ quirky satire ‘n Paw Paw Vir My Darling, which takes us on a humorous and heartfelt journey into the hearts and souls of a needy Afrikaner family living in the fictional Damnville in 2003.Based on an idea which Roets skilfully adapted from Jeanne Goosen bestseller that offered  an intelligent and her sharp observation and understanding of the pshyce of characters and their reactions to the social, cultural and political mileu in which they find themselves, the film adaptation aptly celebrates the core of Goosen’s work. Although at heart it’s a brilliant social satire in the tradition of Siener in die Suburbs and Triomf, it’s equally a women’s film that acutely addresses issues of woman finding their worth in work and home, but also a human drama about a family that tries to unite dramatically and comically, and also addresses serious issues like cancer with dark overtones.

5. DIE ONTWAKING  A grisly, mesmerising thriller that investigates the mind and motivations of an acutely intelligent serial killer, and marks the directorial debut of acclaimed production designer Johnny Breedt (Paljas, Hotel Rwanda, A Long Walk to Freedom). Hailed as a game-changer for South African film, Die Ontwaking is based on the first book of the ‘Abel’ trilogy, Abel se Ontwaking (translated into English as The Skin Collector), by well-known crime writer Chris Karsten. Says Breedt: “I really wanted to be challenged as a film maker and wanted to do the same with my audience, take them to a place where they do not necessarily want to go.”

6. NOEM MY SKOLLIE If you are looking for a gritty and hardcore prison drama, Noem My Skollie features Dann Jaques Mouton (last seen in Abraham) delivering a touching performance as a man who grows up on the impoverished ganglands of Cape Flats in the 1960s. It tells the tragic story of four teenagers, AB (Austin Rose) and his three best friends Gimba (Ethan Patton), Gif (Joshua Vraagom) and Shorty (Valentino de Klerk), and their vicious journey into adulthood. It’s the autobiographical story of screenwriter John W. Fredericks who takes us into the hardship of prison life, but also the story of a man who find life in a hellish existence.

7. SY KLINK SOOS LENTE is a refreshing revival of the Afrikaans Romantic Comedy genre, with Corné van Rooyen’s sensitive directing style and Stiaan Smith’s fresh script create a wonderful background for Amalia Uys and Smith’s gripping performances and pulling out all the emotional stops.  It’s a delightful tale of a mechanic (Smith) who falls in love with a beautiful and brainy redhead (Uys) who is the daughter of his boss at a car dealership in Johannesburg. The chemistry between Smith and Uys is pure magic and when the sparks begin to fly, the mechanic spins a white lie and tells her he’s the lead singer in a band.

 

WONDER BOY FOR PRESIDENT Writer-director John Barker turned politics inside out and upside down with his biting independent mockumentary.  Funnyman Kagiso Lediga steps into the shoes of Wonder Boy,  a charismatic and authoritative young man from the Eastern Cape, who is coerced into running for president by two dubious and corrupt characters played by Ntosh Madlingozi and Tony Miyambo. Their aim is to mould him into a great politician and manufacture his downfall at the right time, for the right price. It is a political satire that delves into political dynamics and challenges that arise.

9. DIS KOUE KOS, SKAT A charming local film that features Anna-Mart van der Merwe in top form as a renowned food writer  Clara, who discovers that her husband is cheating on her with one of her best friends and moves to Cape Town with her two kids where she rediscovers her true nature, and gloriously uncovers the allure of food in romance! Clara undergoes this journey not only of healing, but of rediscovering her passions in life, all the while plotting her revenge on her ex husband and his new, much younger wife. Deon Lotz is equally brilliant as the cheating husband with Frank Opperman ideally cast as a restaurant owner and chef who has a peculiar food fetish. Elzabe Zietsman is also fantastic as the best friend and matchmaker who adds to the humour in the story of love lost, and ultimately found in the strangest of places.

10. NOMA Challenging conventional filmmaking, Pablo Pinedo is very much an auteur when it comes to his well-researched and structured Noma, using his skills as producer, writer, director and cinematographer to create an impressionistic documentary that is different from traditional filmmaking. Noma tells the story of Nomaliphathwe Gwele, a 25 year old single mother of two, who lives in a backyard in a rented shack, and wants to improve her life. To do that she decides to join a land occupation action to build her own shack in the new settlement but risking violent evictions.

Other Noteworthy Releases

shepherdsSHEPHERDS AND BUTCHERS The true account of the legal process of capital punishment, and the inhumane treatment of prisoners on death row, which took place during the apartheid era in South Africa.“It’s a film about young people taken by a society, taught how to kill and then left to their own devices,” says director Oliver Schmitz, “it’s very much about apartheid but equally it could be anywhere in the world, where a kid in a situation of war who is given a gun, is told to shoot someone, and must then go home and be normal. It doesn’t work.”

safebetSAFE BET Writer-director Bonginhlanhla Ncube (better known as Mr. B) and screenwriter Carl Roddam have joined forces for Safe Bet, a film that was officially selected in 6 festivals and traveled to entertain audiences in the US and Europe 4 months after completion. In Safe Bet, Frank (Wandile Molebatsi)’s lifelong friend Khaya (Godfrey Thobejane) turns up with another money-making scheme, Frank is tempted into throwing in the entire boss’s money into a fixed boxing match.

Vir Altyd kiss

VIR ALTYD An honest and sincere journey into the hearts and souls of two young lovers on the rollercoaster of love and life, it’s a heartfelt film about love and how Cupid’s arrows pierces the hearts of those who want to love but are hopelessly lost on their search for meaning and understanding,  and revered conquerors of love celebrating its joy and anguish.

Botha and Roberts wrote and co-produced Vir Altyd with Danie Bester, whose Johannesburg-based company, The Film Factory produced three of the top six highest grossing Afrikaans feature films at the South African box office: the very successful teen comedy trilogy Bakgat!, Bakgat! 2 and Bakgat! 3; box office hits Ballade vir ’n Enkeling, Wolwedans in die Skemer, Hoofmeisie and Pad na Jou Hart; as well as the critically acclaimed Roepman and Verraaiers.

Sink websiteSINK is a contemporary drama written and directed by  Brett Michael Innes that poignantly explores the themes of entrapment, loss and forgiveness against the backdrop of the current South African class structure and the experience of foreign nationals in the country. It tells the compelling story three people trying to deal with a tragic situation: Rachel (Shoki Mokgapa), is a mother trying to come to terms with the loss of her child and the bitterness that she feels towards the people responsible; Michelle (Anel Alexander), a woman trying to deal with the arrival of her own child and the guilt that she feels towards her involvement in the death of another’s; and Chris (Jacques Bessenger), a man trying to juggle both of the above as well as a relationship with a co-worker that threatens his marriage.

AlisonALISON A story of monsters, miracles  and hope. Director-writer-producer Uga Carlini, changed lives in a profound way with the poignant documentary Alison, which  won the Best Documentary at the Asia Pacific International Film Festival, after selling out at the Encounters International Film Festival, and wowing crowds at its international premiere at Dances with Films Festival in Los Angeles. After recently being nominated for Best Documentary at this year’s Silwerskermfees 2016, the hybrid film, Alison the movie was bestowed the top honour this past weekend of International Humanitarian Platinum Award Winner for Best Documantary at this year’s World Humanitarian Film Awards. Translated into 7 languages and a perennial on Penguin’s best seller list since 1998, the documentary is based on the bestseller that tells the harrowing story of Alison Botha, who was raped, stabbed and disemboweled – and survived to rebuild her life as an inspirational speaker. Carlini’s hybrid feature documentary on Alison Botha is a deeply personal and emotional story of triumph and survival. Using a creative and innovative fairytale aesthetic, Carlini’s film is a poetic and insightful exploration of trauma and overcoming.

happiness-is-a-four-letter-word-cast-khanyi-mbau-mmabatho-montsho-and-renate-stuurmanHAPPINESS IS A FOUR LETTER WORD A heart-warming romance that explores the lives of three best friends – Nandi, Zaza and Princess – living the good life in the vibrant city of  Johannesburg. Nandi (Mmabatho Montsho) who has just been made partner at her law firm is engaged to emerging entrepreneur Thomas. Zaza (Khanyi Mbau) is a trophy wife to the wealthy and successful property developer Bheki. Princess (Renate Stuurman)  is the celebrated owner of one of the trendiest art galleries in town, and is living with her sexy and talented boyfriend Leo. But things aren’t what they seem!

 

 

An Emotional And Transformative Year On The Big Screen.

By Daniel Dercksen

What makes  a film memorable is not critique from the critics, money raked in at the box-office, or communal affirmation, but its enduring emotional impact and transformative power.  Here are the films that changed the way I see the world.

Top 15 Films Of 2016 (scroll down for Other Noteworthy Releases)

Since he launched The Writing Studio 19 years ago Daniel Dercksen has been actively involved in the teaching of storytellers and the development of screenplays, novels and plays, working passionately with emerging writers and storymakers on their respective stories. He has been a freelance film and theatre journalist for 30 Years, writing regular features, interviews and reviews for magazines and newspapers, as well as the website of The Writing Studio. He also received the number one spot for most popular lifestyle contributor for 2012,  2014 and 2015 on www.bizcommunity.com and second most popular contributor in 2016.

Knight-of-Cups-Trailer

Christian Bale in Knight Of Cups

1. KNIGHT OF CUPS With Knight of Cups, Terrence Malick is very much a storymaker in search of meaning, and through his journey of finding an answer to the essence of life, love and art, he allows us to reconnect with our own personal journey into ourselves and our place in this world.Malick explores the excess of nothingness and the extreme of everything, where complete silence and feverish chaos form an incongruous symphony of emotions in this story of a lonely comedy writer Rick (Christian Bale) living in present-day Santa Monica who longs for something other, something beyond the life he knows, without knowing quite what it is, or how to go about finding it. Film is ultimately an art that communicates thoughts and ideas through created imagery and sound. Malick is indeed a ‘Knight of Cups’ and ‘Prince of Dreams’, constantly creating new ways of communicating, celebrating the gift of creation, and cherishing the talent for expressing the kingdoms of make-believe and the imagination. He makes it clear that anything is possible if you dare to dream, and that nothing is impossible if you ignite your imagination.

2. GENIUS A masterful journey into the mindscape of an impassioned writer and how the creative process impacts on the reality of the world and people surrounding the writer. This stirring drama deals with the complex friendship and transformative professional relationship between the world-renowned book editor Maxwell Perkins (who discovered F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway) and the larger-than-life literary giant Thomas Wolfe. Jude Law is superb as the crazed Wolfe, with Colin Firth in top form as Perkins. Genius is the culmination of screenwriter John Logan’s 20-year journey to bring the story of Maxwell Perkins to the screen.

3. THE DANISH GIRL The extreme truth of his hidden identity and acceptance of his true self sets an impassioned artist free in the exceptionally soulful The Danish Girl. It’s the much anticipated new film from Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech, Les Miserables), and one that will make its mark in history.The Danish Girl boldly celebrates the valour of those who embrace their true identity and are not shamed of who they are, and salutes those whose kind-heartedness makes the world a place everyone wants to share equally. If you are looking for a film that offers a sincere and profound journey into the heart and soul of those who walk a different path, The Danish Girl should definitely not be missed. It is a film that will transform the way you see the world of those who live outside your comfort zone. Eddie Redmayne delivers a tour de force in his dual roles as man and woman; it is astonishing how he never imitates or impersonates, but becomes, immersing himself wholeheartedly into the character of Lili, allowing his transformation to be truthful. Redmayne’s passionate performance is layered with immense sadness, but equally presents us with the blissful joy of true fulfillment and absolute enlightenment.What’s truly admirable about Redmayne’s courageous performance is how he perfectly captures the innocence and essence of a man who falls in love for the first time when he unleashes the goddess inside.

4. THE REVENANT A heart wrenching story of survival, transformation and ultimate redemption. Last year Alejandro G. Iñárritu blew our minds with Birdman.  Your heart will bleed watching his latest masterwork, The Revenant, a spiritual odyssey into humanity and a man’s soul, and a brutal story of survival that will drain everything out of you emotionally. The Revenant is poetry in motion, an epic story in which visual imagery are selected for their beauty, sound and power to express feelings. It’s a perfect union of sound and image that speaks a serene and emotionally charged language that results in a musical beat created through rhythm, rhyme and repetition imperiously perfected by Iñárritu’s long-time cinematographer, Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki, sound designer Lon Bender, editor Stephen Mirrione , composers Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto, production designer Jack Fisk,  Visual Effects Supervisor Rich Mcbride, and picture-perfect composition by Iñárritu that burns into your memory. Leonardi DiCapprio, who received an Oscar for his performance, delivers the performance of his career as Glass, an incredibly difficult and arduous role as he has to perform some of the most memorable and heart-breaking moments in the film in utter silence, and only through expression.  The quiet intensity he delivers is unequivocal, laced with a profound wisdom and deep sadness.

5. THE DRESSMAKER If there is one film that is divinely unique in every possible way, it’s this quirky Australian charmer, a film that transforms you in many ways.This enchanting creation was written by husband-and-wife team Jocelyn Moorhouse and P.J. Hogan , based on the novel The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham, with Moorhouse in the director’s seat – Hogan will always be remembered for his cultish Muriel’s Wedding and most recently helmed Pan, and Moorehouse made a great impact with her feature film debut Proof, which starred Hugo Weaving and Russell Crowe. Moorhouse and Hogan understand the world and people they write about with loving care, compassion and a great sense of twisted humour; it’s a universal story anyone can easily identify with and sink their teeth in. It’s through their vibrant and dynamic characters that we immediately fall hopelessly in love with their respective journey and will to survive living in a small town reminiscent of classic Western films.At its heart, The Dressmaker is a spicy mother-and-daughter story, with Kate Winslet and Judy Davis perfectly cast as a devilish duo that explodes with fervour and zest.

6. ROOM Both highly suspenseful and deeply emotional, Room is a unique and touching exploration of the boundless love between a mother and her child. At once a taut narrative of captivity and freedom, an imaginative trip into the wonders of childhood, and a profound portrait of a family’s bonds and fortitude, Room is a beautifully transcendent experience based on the award-winning global bestseller by Emma Donoghue, who wrote the screenplay, based on her original novel. Director Lenny Abrahamson remains faithful to the novel while bringing Jack, Ma and their entirely singular world to heart-pounding and intensely cinematic life. Jacob Tremblay is superb as 5-year- old Jack, with an equally emotionally charged performance by Brie Larson as Ma. The one thing Jack holds tight to is the one thing that matters most of all—his special bond with his loving and devoted Ma.

 

7. THE JUNGLE BOOK A universal coming-of-age story that everyone can relate to. The Jungle Book returns to the big screen in magical, larger-than-live, live-action epic adventure that showcases the art of animation, storytelling and filmmaking, blending live-action performances with stunning CG environments and extraordinary photo-real animal characters. Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Chef) directed The Jungle Book from a screenplay by Justin Marks (Top Gun 2, TV’s Rewind) that was based on Rudyard Kipling’s timeless stories and was inspired by Disney’s classic animated film, with an approach all its own. It was the last film that Walt Disney oversaw. He passed away in 1966, the year before the film’s release. “We embrace the mythic qualities of Kipling in the more intense tonal aspects of the film,” says director Jon Favreau, “but we left room for what we remember from the ’67 film, and sought to maintain those charming Disneyesque aspects.”

8. THE ADDERALL DIARIES Adapted from Stephen Elliott’s true crime memoir of the same name, The Adderall Diaries is an incredible journey into the twisted mind of a once-successful novelist paralyzed by writer’s block and in the thrall of an Adderall addiction – who becomes fascinated by a high-profile murder case as a way to escape his personal struggles.If there’s one reason to see this film, besides a first rate and highly imaginative adaptation from writer-director Pamela Romanowsky,  it’s for the explosive and dynamic confrontation between James Franco and Ed Harris, who plays his father  who mysteriously resurfaces and claims that his son’s nightmarish memories were fabricated.

9. CAPTAIN FANTASTIC Here’s one film you cannot miss! From the wacky minds-cape of writer-director Matt Ross springs a story that will touch you emotionally, and challenge your perceptions about the state of the human condition. Viggo Mortensen is outstanding as the fiercely independent patriarch living in the woodlands of the Pacific Northwest, raising his family as far as he can from the influence of modern consumerist culture.  For writer-director Matt Ross, the story is an exploration of the choices that parents make for their children. “Ultimately, it’s an extremely emotional and transformative journey for a very close-knit family that has chosen to live in an unusual way.”

 

10. DON’T BREATHE A brainy twisted horror-thriller that will shock you to the core. Writer-director Fede Alvarez goes for the jugular with a visceral an unapologetically brutal onslaught that pits a trio of thieves against an unexpectedly dangerous adversary. Shocking and enthralling, Alvarez’s masterful, visually stunning thriller maintains a frenzied pace to the last chilling minute.In this second feature film from Alvarez (Evil Dead) and legendary filmmaker Sam Raimi, a trio of friends breaks into the house of a blind recluse confident of an easy score only to find themselves in a terrifying life-or-death struggle.

 

11. HELL OR HIGH WATER  Ben Foster and Chris Pine deliver gut-wrenching performances as bank-robbing brothers, holding-up the very banks that are threatening to take away their land. On their trail, two Texas Marshalls (Jeff Bridges & Gil Birmingham) investigate the robberies, seeking to bring the culprits to justice. This contemporary western has far more on its mind than a simple outlaws-versus-cops morality tale.The antagonists in Hell or High Water aren’t even the cops or outlaws, but the corrupt faceless institutions (capitalist and governmental) that control them.The film examines the hopelessness Pine & Bridges face when up against cold bureaucracy, one forced into breaking the law, the other resigned to uphold it.Hell or High Water is the result of that increasingly rare invention: an original screenplay by Taylor Sheridan.

12. THE FREE STATE OF JONES Based on Oscar-nominated writer/director Gary Ross’ original screenplay, the epic action-drama tells the extraordinary story of a little known episode in American history during which Newt Knight, a fearless Mississippi farmer, led an unlikely band of poor white farmers and runaway slaves in an historic armed rebellion against the Confederacy during the height of the Civil War. Matthew McConaughey delivers an Oscar-worthy performance as a man torn between what he believes and who he loves, with other superb performances from Keri Russell, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as the two women who shape his life.

 

13. A PERFECT DAY Everyone seeks a day that is perfect, and as the delightful film reveals, you will only know what a true perfect day is once it has happened, and then its reward turns out to be a gratifying surprise.Spanish filmmaker Fernando León De Aranoa has a wicked sense of the absurd that is grounded in a reality we all know; setting A Perfect Day in a world that is foreign to most people, that of an armed conflict zone, an improbable tourist destination that no-one will visit without trepidation. De Aranoa succeeds in emphasising the absurd, the irrationality of the human being. For him the first victim of any armed conflict is reason, and that’s why ‘’irrationality might be the most fearsome enemy in the film.’’

14. HELLO, MY NAME IS DORIS A witty and compassionate late-life coming-of-age-story with a heart-breaking performance from Sally Field as an older woman in search of love.  After a lifetime of being overlooked and ignored, a woman of a certain age finds her world turned upside down by a handsome new co-worker and a self-help seminar that inspires her to take a chance on love in Hello, My Name is Doris, a witty and compassionate late-life coming-of-age-story.Based on a short film by Laura Terruso, Hello, My Name is Doris was written by Terruso and Michael Showalter and directed by Showalter. For Showalter, the film is an inspiring combination of humor and heart, with a truly memorable performance at its center. “I want people to come to this film and just enjoy it, but I also want them to see how wonderful Sally Field’s performance is,” says the director.

 

15. THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS  An absolute delightful and utterly charming journey into the world of pets and what happens in their lives when we leave them alone at home. It was directed by Chris Renaud, co-directed by Yarrow Cheney and written by Cinco Paul & Ken Daurio and Brian Lynch. Lynch loved extrapolating upon these pets’ secret lives, revealing: “This film is a salute to how much all of us love our pets.  No matter what they do in the movie, the new friends they meet or the death they defy, they still have to be back at the end of the day to see their owners come home.  Even if they go on crazy adventures during the day, the highlight of every day is when their owner comes home.”

Other Noteworthy Films

13 HOURS: THE SECRET SOLDIERS OF BENGHAZI Michael Bay takes us into the heart of conflict. The heated fury of fictional reality exploded dramatically in Bay’s profound exploration of warfare that offered a brutal and hard-core assault on the senses.

THE 33 “Family is all we have,” is what keeps the flame of hope burning in this tense and taut untold true story directed by Patricia Riggen from a screenplay by Mikko Alanne, Oscar nominee Craig Borten (Dallas Buyers Club) and Michael Thomas, based on the screen story by Oscar nominee José Rivera (The Motorcycle Diaries) and the book Deep Down Dark by Hector Tobar. It was a potent film about the miracle of life and the power of hope.

BEFORE I WAKE Fear is real in the tense and terrifying Before I Wake, which exists in a world with supernatural elements while maintaining a strong foothold in reality.“The horror of Before I Wake is born of the souls of its characters,” says Director/Co-writer/Editor Mike Flanagan. “This is really a bedtime story for grownups complete with its own boogie man.”

BEN-HUR Ben-Hur returns in all its magnificent splendor and spectacle with Russian-born producer/director Timur Bekmambetov’s inspired re-imaging of this timeless tale.“In many ways we still live in the Roman Empire, we still live with its values,” comments Bekmambetov. “Power, greed and success rule the world, people try to achieve everything in harsh competition, and only few realize that true human values are collaboration and forgiveness.”

THE BOY When horror is reinvented as in this superb unconventional horror thriller,  it’s an invigorating experience you will never forget! Directed by director William Brent Bell (The Devil Inside) from a screenplay by Stacey Menear. “I wanted to make a classic haunted-house story,” says Bell.“I figured it was the perfect next step for me. The script is character-driven, layered and subtle, but at the same time really frightening. So much happens in the film, which is rare for a scary movie. There’s also a great twist, which was a blast to direct. We all thought we could make something that would last forever and I hope that is what we made.”

CAFÉ SOCIETY Poignant, and often hilarious, Woody Allen conjures up a 1930s world that has passed to tell a deeply romantic tale of dreams that never die,  and took me on a journey from pastel-clad dealmakers in plush Hollywood mansions, to the quarrels and tribulations of a humble Bronx family, to the rough-and-tumble violence of New York gangsters, to the sparkling surfaces and secret scandals of Manhattan high life.

THE CONJURING 2  Be afraid, be very afraid for this supernatural thriller will have you sleeping with the lights on! James Wan is a master of paranoia, of playing on such universal fears as being in the dark, being alone and, in the case of The Conjuring 2, being overtaken by the unknown. Wan once again at the helm following the record-breaking success of The Conjuring, seeking to terrify moviegoers once again with his depiction of another highly publicized case involving the real-life horrors experienced by paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren with The Conjuring 2, from a screenplay by Chad Hayes & Carey W. Hayes (The Conjuring) & James Wan and David Leslie Johnson (Wrath of the Titans) , story by Chad Hayes & Carey W. Hayes & James Wan.

DEADPOOL  This zany film pushes the boundaries of superhero and comic book films. Based upon Marvel Comics’ most unconventional anti-hero, the explosive and mind-blowing it tells the origin story of former Special Forces operative turned mercenary Wade Wilson, who after being subjected to a rogue experiment that leaves him with accelerated healing powers adopts the alter ego Deadpool. It marks the directorial debut of Tim Miller.

DEMOLITION The explosive Demolition tells a mind-blowing story of a man whose life unravels and starts to rebuild it, beginning with the demolition of the life he once knew. The film is directed by Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club, Wild), from an original screenplay written by Bryan Sipe, who dropped out of college just a few credits shy of graduation when he decided that the best education as a filmmaker was to dive in headfirst.

EDDIE THE EAGLE The feel-good Eddie The Eagle takes us into the life of Michael “Eddie” Edwards (Taron Egerton), an unlikely but courageous British ski-jumper who never stopped believing in himself, and with the help of a rebellious and charismatic coach Hugh Jackman), took on the establishment and won the hearts of sports fans around the world by making an improbable and historic showing at the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics. It was directed by Dexter Fletcher (Wild Bill), from a screenplay by Sean Macaulay and Simon Kelton. Jackman says he was indeed a huge Eddie the Eagle fan growing up — just another reminder of the huge impact Eddie’s exploits had on the world at large.

THE END OF THE TOUR If there’s one film you cannot miss that’s now available on DVD, it’s the incredible The End Of The Tour, based on David Lipsky’s memoir about the five-day interview he had with acclaimed novelist David Foster Wallace for Rolling Stone Magazine.  Jason Segel’s portrayal of Wallace as a skeptical, ambitious, modest, hyper-self-conscious, depressive, and fundamentally generous figure of genius is unbelievable and is as revelatory of the unexpected depths of this hitherto bro-centric actor as it is of Wallace’s self-effacing fascination.  Equally brilliant is is Jesse Eisenberg as Lipsky, delivering a sympathetic rendering of a highly idiosyncratic individual. The film is an emotional tour-de-force and takes you into the heart and soul of what it takes to be a writer and journalist. Directed with imaginative flair and insight by James Ponsoldt, with a crackling screenplay by Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright Donald Margulies, it’s one of those films that grabs hold of you and never let’s go.

EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!!! A “spiritual sequel” to Dazed and Confused set in the world of 1980 college life, writer-director and producer Richard Linklater’s comedy follows a group of friends as they navigate their way through the freedoms and responsibilities of unsupervised adulthood.“It’s pretty autobiographical,” confesses Linklater. “Looking back, I realize it was a fun time to be in college, not only personally, but it was an interesting cultural moment. It was still the end of the 70s. What people now think of as the 80s really didn’t kick in until ’82 or ’83.

FREEHELD  When it comes to prejudice and discrimination against same sex unions, one always remembers Arnold in Harvey Fierstein’s autobiographical Torch Song Trilogy when his conservative mother accuses him of blasphemy when he recites cottage at the gravestone of his young lover.‘’You lost your husband in a nice clean hospital, I lost mine out there. They killed him out there on the street. Twenty-three years old laying dead on the street. Killed by a bunch of kids with baseball bats. Children. Children taught by people like you. ‘Cause everybody knows that queers don’t matter! Queers don’t love! And those who do deserve what they get!’’ 35-years later, with films like the powerful Freeheld, these profound words reverberate in the remarkable, inspirational story of New Jersey police lieutenant Laurel Hester and her partner Stacie Andree – a story which started out as an intensely personal experience of love and identity, but in 2005, became a flashpoint in the growing global battle for justice and equal rights, and a world where some don’t “give a damn about a dyke who is dying.”

HIGH STRUNG You might think it crazy to combine classical ballet and violin with hip-hop music and dance, but wait until you see the sensational High Strung, a superb romance between a classical dancer and British violinist, where two radically talented people from opposite sides of the tracks need to find harmony to achieve their dreams in New York City. A colorful, kinetic neo-musical that celebrates dance, music and the boundless optimism and energy of youth, fusing cutting edge hip-hop with contemporary and classical dance.

JANE GOT A GUN This riveting and epic love story told amidst the sprawling expanse of the American west, tells of Jane Hammond (Natalie Portman), who has built a life on the rugged western plains with her husband Bill “Ham” Hammond (Noah Emmerich) and young daughter. When Ham stumbles home riddled with bullets after a run-in with the relentless John Bishop (Ewan McGregor) and his gang, she knows they will not stop until her family is dead.

JOY As with emotion, Joy the film is full of outstanding surprises, where an optimistic dream turns into a heated warzone where self-expression, individualism in a tightly-knit family, and the empowerment of identity and ownership clash head-on. It springs from the extraordinary mind of writer-director of David O. Russell, who gave us the equally magnificent The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, and based this delightful tale loosely on the life and rise of inventor and home shopping star Joy Mangano. Russell describes it as genre-blurring story that boldly fuses reality with fantasy, linear narrative with inventive flashbacks and flash-forwards, convention with experimental explorations, and an old-fashioned family drama with a contemporary women’s film.

THE LEGEND OF TARZAN The legendary character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs returned with fervour, directed by David Yates (the final four Harry Potter films) from a screenplay by Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer, story by Brewer and Cozad based on the Tarzan stories created by Burroughs.“‘The Legend of Tarzan’ takes us to a world of adventure in deepest Africa, which is as exotic and awe-inspiring as anywhere on this planet,” says Yates.  “We wanted to make a movie that was thrilling while touching on the themes of family and community and preserving the natural world.  It celebrates the majesty of those landscapes, the dignity and grace of the people who live there, and the wonder of its animals.  The story has so many facets that we think make it a rich and very exciting experience in the cinema.”

LIGHTS OUT  An absolutely terrifying tale of an unknown terror that lurks in the dark.Making his feature film debut with Lights Out,  David S. Sandberg has written and directed a slate of short films with deliciously disturbing titles like Closet Space and Attic Panic, and earned a throng of internet devotees who expect him to scare the wits out of them. Lights Out is based on Sandberg’s recent horror short of the same name, and it was both the quality and the impact of that insomnia-inducing gem that brought the young Swedish filmmaker to the attention of Hollywood.

ME BEFORE YOU Based on the critically acclaimed, bestselling novel by Jojo Moyes, Me Before You marks the feature film directorial debut of renowned theatre director Thea Sharrock, from a screenplay by Moyes.“At its most basic, this is a story about the power of love and how it transforms you,” says director Thea Sharrock.  “These are two characters who, but for their very different and difficult circumstances, should never have met…but here they are.  And that’s where the fairytale begins.”

THE KEEPING ROOM Amid the rising suspense of three Southern women defending their besieged home, director Daniel Barber finds both grit and a deeply moving grace in the actions the women must take to stay alive in the face of desolate circumstances.  This tense drama rife with jeopardy, is at its core an uncommon depiction of women boldly countering the impact of war on their lives.

MONEY MONSTER A mainstream thriller that’s exciting, fast-paced, and smart.  In the real-time, high stakes thriller Money Monster, George Clooney and Julia Roberts star as financial TV host Lee Gates and his producer Patty, who are put in an extreme situation when an irate investor who has lost everything (Jack O’Connell) forcefully takes over their studio.

NICE GUYS If there’s one reason to watch this film, it’s for the electric chemistry between Russell Crowe and Ryan Gossling, and excellent comedy timing reminiscent Laurel and Hardy. Writer/director Shane Black relates, “L.A. in the ‘70s was this moldering town where smog covered the city like a crust and Hollywood Boulevard had turned into this cesspool of pornography. And in this scenario, you get these two numbnuts who kind of stumble into shoes they can never fill when they uncover this huge conspiracy. So you’ve got your corruption, you’ve got your decadence, and then the question became how unsettlingly inappropriate could we make these two guys for the task for which they set themselves up.”

RISEN The powerful story of a non-believer’s journey into faith, with Joseph Fiennes delivering a heartfelt and impassioned performance as a powerful Roman military tribune who is tasked with solving the mystery of what happened to Jesus (referred to by the Hebrew name Yeshua in the film) in the weeks following the crucifixion, in order to disprove the rumours of a risen Messiah and prevent an uprising in Jerusalem.  The biblical account of Yeshua’s crucifixion and resurrection has been portrayed on the big screen many times, so when LD Entertainment approached Kevin Reynolds to make a movie about the world-changing events of 2,000 years ago, the writer-director was determined to bring a fresh approach to the story.In contrast to previous versions, including Cecil B. DeMille’s 1927 silent film The King of Kings, 1965 blockbuster The Greatest Story Ever Told and Mel Gibson’s 2004 The Passion of the Christ, Reynolds imagined the narrative told though the skeptical eyes of a non-believer. “We wanted to do something completely different from what had come before, so I came up with the idea that Risen would be told as a detective story,” he says.

SING STREET A charming film that delivers an honest and moving perspective on the perils and wonders of teenage life. “I wanted to do something that was personal. I didn’t want to just be doing a musical story for the sake of it,” says Irish writer-director John Carney, whose Sing Street tells of a Dublin teenager (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) who forms a rock ‘n’ roll band to win the heart of an aspiring model (Lucy Boynton). The origins of Sing Street go back many years to the director’s life as a teenager in 1980s Dublin. John Carney experienced growing up in the Irish Capital by moving from private school to an inner city comprehensive.  It ultimately became the seed of an idea to create a musical film about this period in his life growing up

SPOTLIGHT serves as a shining example of what professional, top-flight journalists can accomplish. It tells the astonishing true story of the Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Spotlight” team of investigative journalists, who in 2002 shock the city and the world by exposing the Catholic Church’s systematic cover-up of widespread pedophilia perpetrated by more than 70 local priests.Written by Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer, and directed by McCarthy, it’s a deeply moving film that sheds light on a world where petrified kids are not ‘’prayed’’ on by priests, but ‘’preyed’’ on by those they respect as mediators of God. Liev Schreiber delivers a commanding performance as the newly appointed editor of The Boston Globe, who arrives from Miami to take charge of the Globe in the summer of 2001, and directs the Spotlight team to follow up on a column about a local priest accused of having sexually abused dozens of young parishioners over the course of 30 years. It’s a magnificent ensemble piece, with equally brilliant performances by Michael Keaton as the Spotlight editor, and Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Brian d’Arcy James as reporters and researchers who are fully aware that taking on the Catholic Church in Boston will have major ramifications when they delve more deeply into the case.

TOUCHED BY FIRE A first rate drama released on DVD about two poets, Carla (Katie Holmes) and Marco (Luke Kirby), struggling with bipolar disorder and the painful truth that their romantic relationship fuels their mania.  For director, first-time filmmaker Paul Dalio, the subject was important to him because it was based on his own experience dealing with mental illness. The film is based on Dalio’s “feeling of being misunderstood for a long time, and the rebirth of fully showing the world what this thing really is. It was cathartic,” Dalio said, adding that before he got healthy, he had been through a period of hospitalization and suicidal depression and “the shame of being a freak and not knowing who you are anymore — and then, romanticizing your difference. The heaven and hell we all go through.”

TRUMBO An absolutely riveting film about the right to free speech. In 1947, Dalton Trumbo was Hollywood’s top screenwriter, until he and other artists were jailed and blacklisted for their political beliefs.The film recounts how Dalton (Bryan Cranston) used words and wit to win two Academy Awards and expose the absurdity and injustice under the blacklist, which entangled everyone from gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren) to John Wayne, Kirk Douglas and Otto Preminger.The film was directed by Jay Roach, the winner of four Emmys, a Golden Globe and a Peabody Award, who is best known for directing such comedy classics as the Austin Powers trilogy, Meet the Parents, Meet the Fockers and The Campaign. The screenplays was written by John Mcnamara (Writer, Producer) is a writer, producer, showrunner and television creator.

TRUTH   A classic newsroom drama, a suspenseful behind-the-scenes procedural, a multi-character study—and also something more: In the words of former CBS News anchor Dan Rather, “This film is about what has happened to the reporting of news, how and why it’s happened, and why you should care.” For Writer-Director James Vanderbilt, a fascination with journalism initially drew him to the project.If there’s one reason to see this film, it’s Cate Blanchett’s commanding performance.