The Hurt Locker

Format: Cinema

Release date: 28 August 2009

Venues: Nationwide

Distributor: Optimum Releasing

Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Writer: Mark Boal

Cast: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty, Guy Pierce, Ralph Fiennes

USA 2008

131 mins

After the submarine thriller K:19 and a seven-year absence from the big screen, Kathryn Bigelow returns with a vengeance with The Hurt Locker, an intense and riveting film that looks at the psychology of war as seen from the perspective of a small US army bomb disposal unit in Baghdad. Written by journalist-turned-screenwriter Mark Boal, the film is both a psychological drama and a stunningly constructed thriller set against the backdrop of a war, which happens to be in Iraq. Bigelow here eschews cinematic embellishment while also avoiding any judgment or commentary on the actual conflict, an approach that has generated some controversy.

Pamela Jahn took part in a round table interview with Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal to talk about the making of the film, the psychological profile of people who deal with bombs and why more journalists should move into film.

Question: The Hurt Locker is based on Mark’s experience as a journalist ’embedded’ with an EOD unit [‘Explosive Ordnance Disposal’] in Baghdad in 2004 and has a very visceral, documentary quality. Once you had the script in place, how quickly did you formulate the visual style of the film?

Kathryn Bigelow: It came from constant dialogue with Mark and wanting to protect the reportorial underpinnings of it, and not have it feel too aestheticised. In other words, the real objective was: How do you put the audience in the journalist’s position, into the Humvee, into the eyes of the observer? I wanted to make it as experiential as possible, and give the audience a kind of boots-on-the-ground look at the day in the life of a bomb tech in Baghdad in 2004. So, basically, all the aesthetics came from the reporting, and the geography. It was very important for me to make sure the audience understands the geography of any given situation. The ground troops contain an area that is possibly about 300 meters, and then the EOD tech in the bomb suit takes what is called the ‘lonely walk’. The war has stopped for him and he has no idea what he’s walking towards – there is no margin for error. This in itself is such a harrowingly dramatic piece that it didn’t require a lot of cinematic embellishment.

Q: The way you use actors in the film is remarkable. Despite brief but striking appearances by Guy Pearce and Ralph Fiennes, the cast is made of relatively unknown actors, who all deliver outstanding performances. Was that particular mixture of both unfamiliar faces and big names an important part of the process?

KB:I think that an audience approaches a particular actor within his or her relative stature with a degree of expectation, and if that actor is going to come in harm’s way you think, ‘Oh, well, it will be dangerous, it might be tense, but they’re going to survive’. But if you take that out of the equation it definitely amplifies the tension.

Mark Boal: Yeah, we were really trying to mirror the unpredictability of the environment and that was just one way to do that. Besides, it helped financially (laughs).

Q: The film was shot in Jordan. How did you go about casting locally?

KB: We had a wonderful casting director. She was located in Jordan, and in Amman at the time there were about 750,000 Iraqi refugees. So we had access through her to the people, and some of them were actually actors. For example, the suicide bomber at the end of the film was actually an apparently fairly well-known actor in Baghdad before the occupation, who at the time we were shooting was a refugee in Amman, and we put him in the movie and he gave this incredibly emotive performance. That was one of the real, true surprises. We knew that where we were going we would find phenomenal locations and all that, but a surprise like that is really gratifying.

Q: The film opens with the quote, ‘for war is a drug’, and the story reveals that the soldiers are not solely motivated by a desire to do a good job. What really makes people choose to work as a bomb tech?

MB: Well, there are many different characters in the movie, but certainly one of the themes of the film is that combat, in addition to being a horrifying and awful experience, is also quite alluring to some people. And that’s perhaps one of the reasons why it continues to be a dominant feature of all cultures through all times, that it provides a certain amount of meaning for people – it’s a factory that produces giant existential experiences for some people. That’s definitely one aspect of the film, but it’s not an exclusive explanation for why anybody would do this job. There are other characters who have different motivations, some of them are quite selfish, some of them are quite selfless, for some it’s just about getting through the day and getting home, and for some it’s about the pleasure that you might take from having a high-risk occupation. So, I think it’s quite complicated and very hard to generalise, but it’s something we wanted to portray because we felt that it’s completely opposite in a volunteer army. We wanted to look at some of the reasons why people chose to go into combat situations, why they are drafted there – it’s a life choice.

Q: The film doesn’t seem to take any sides or offer any political view of the occupation unlike other films about Iraq that came out of Hollywood. How big a decision was this for you? Or was it simply more important to you to portray the humanity of it all?

KB:I think the humanity was definitely what was most important, to look at the individual and how he copes with an extremely, almost unimaginably risky situation. And I think of him more as a kind of non-political partisan – he’s not a Republican or a Democrat. But regardless of where you are, this conflict has just been so politicised. For me, if the film can remind you that there are men and women who right now are taking that ‘lonely walk’ and that they are risking their lives out there – regardless of what you feel about whether they should be there or not be there – I think that’s a pretty important emotional and political take-away.

Q: Both the editing and the sound are pretty remarkable: one can almost feel the impact of the explosions. How much of the film was actually shaped after the shooting?

KB: Sound was critical to both of us going into the project. We met with our sound designer, Paul Ottosson, before we went out to Jordan to shoot the film, and we knew that sound would play a bigger role in many respects than score. A score is repetitive, music is naturally rhythmic, and rhythm, even asymmetrical rhythm, creates a pattern. But a pattern can actually defuse tension, because you repeat it over and over again. However, if you take all that away it’s just like having an unfamiliar face. And I wanted the sound to be just as full as the image, it was very important to me that it would be almost physically honest. I tried to create a fundamental understanding of what that man in the bomb suit is experiencing emotionally, physically and psychologically as he approaches the kill zone and the bomb itself.

Q: Are you planning to work together again in the future?

KB: Actually we are working on something that Mark is writing, so hopefully we’ll revisit this combination again. The story takes place in South America in a region that is called the triple frontiers where Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil meet, and this is a fairly lawless area, so hence potentially a very rich environment for drama.

Q: Will you be keeping the same style for the next project?

KB: If it suits the material, yes. I like that style a lot because it allows for some kind of experiential filmmaking, it puts you right in there. That is one of the great things that film can do and that no other medium can. Film can create this almost preconscious physiological reaction to something. Also, I think there is something extremely intriguing in being able to parachute the audience into a particular moment that he or she may not necessarily want to experience first-hand, like walking towards a ticking bomb… I know, I certainly wouldn’t want to walk towards one (laughs).

Q: What was the main difference between shooting action scenes for The Hurt Locker and your earlier films like Near Dark or Point Break?

KB: The real important difference here was the realism and the responsibility – this is a conflict that is still going on. And the fact that it is reportorially based, I think those are the three features that were unique from me and obviously a big departure from something as fictional as Point Break. It’s all been imaginative, or fantastical, or historical. So far I haven’t had the liberty and ‘luxury’ of first-hand observation and the opportunity to work on material that is potentially topical and relevant – I love it. And if some more journalists would move into film, I think film would be a better place.

Interview by Pamela Jahn


Dead Snow

Still from: Dead Snow

Film4 FrightFest

27-31 August 2009

Empire Leicester Square, London

FrightFest website

In its 10th year, Film4 FrightFest now resides in the Victorian grandeur of The Empire on the North side of Leicester Square. Like all festivals, its line-up is dictated by the films released in time for the event, and for this reason, the programme of FrightFest 2009 is not as exciting as last year’s. However, for the first time the festival is showing films in two screens simultaneously, which means they are able to offer their largest selection to date as well as repeated screenings.

The last decade has seen a general lack of innovation in horror and has been marked by waves of various sub-genres following the release of a particularly popular film, as with J-horror for instance. The re-emergence of zombie films shows no sign of abating and the festival includes screenings of the micro-budget British film Colin, the slightly larger budget Canadian effort Pontypool, the Norwegian living dead Nazi movie Dead Snow plus Zombie Women of Satan, not to mention Infestation and the short films Deadwalkers and Paris by Night of the Living Dead. Remakes, re-imaginings and sequels are also present with new versions of Larry Cohen’s It’s Alive (1974) and the cult 80s film Night of the Demons being screened; Dario Argento revisits his favourite genre in the new movie Giallo, which was written for him to direct by fans of his career and the festival closes with the belated sequel The Descent 2, which has a lot to live up to if it is to be anything like the excellent first instalment.

2005 and 2006 saw marathons of classic films at the festival; George Romero’s original zombie trilogy preceded screenings of Land of the Dead and Day of the Dead 2: Contagium in 2005 while the year after a Hammer triple bill was introduced by Mark Gatiss. It’s a shame these screenings of classic films haven’t continued, but at least this year includes a remastered version of An American Werewolf in London (1981) accompanied by cast and crew on stage, which follows the feature-length documentary Beware the Moon. Appropriately, the director of Beware the Moon was born the same year that American Werewolf was first released! (ALEX FITCH)

Here are some of the highlights of this year’s festival:

Pontypool: One of the most intelligent and experimental horror films in recent years. Making full use of its one-location set-up, Bruce McDonald’s film focuses on ‘shock jock’ Grant Mazzy (brilliantly played by Stephen McHattie), a character who has been kicked off the Big City airwaves and now works at the only job he could get, hosting the early morning show at CLSY Radio in remote Pontypool, Canada. What begins as another boring day covering school bus cancellations due to yet another snow storm turns into something much more dramatic when reports of horrendous acts of violence start piling in. Before long, Grant and the small staff at CLSY find themselves trapped in the radio station as they discover the root of the insane behaviour taking over the city. Turning a great many genre conventions on their head, Pontypool is one of the most literate and ambitious zombie films in recent years and the climax will certainly divide audiences’ opinions. (EVRIM ERSOY)

Heartless: After a long hiatus, reclusive artist/director Philip Ridley returns to the big screen with possibly his most mature and moving work. Building on the themes that he explored in his previous films, The Reflecting Skin (1990) and The Passion of Darkly Noon (1995), Heartless focuses on a young man with a large heart-shaped birthmark on his face, who discovers that he can see demons roaming the streets of East London. Taking its cue from ambiguous horror-dramas like Jacob’s Ladder (1990), Heartless‘s basic premise slowly opens up to reveal an intricate and touching plot. With stunning performances from the lead Jim Sturges, as well as British stalwarts Timothy Spall, Eddie Marsan and Ruth Sheen, Heartless is a truly haunting experience. (EE)

Dead Snow: Following Nazi vampires in Frostbiten (2006) and 30 Days of Night (2007), Nazi zombies return to the big screen for the first time in a generation since Shock Waves (1977). The zombie genre has changed considerably since then, with some of the most notable recent examples combining the appearance of the living dead with black comedy. Dead Snow is no exception, referencing Evil Dead II (1987) and Shaun of the Dead (2004) specifically, with a subplot lifted from John Carpenter’s The Fog (1980). As another ‘zom-com’, Dead Snow is very successful when the action gets going – the large number of ashen-skinned Nazis set against the bleak snowbound setting is impressive and memorable, not to mention the director’s obsession with entrails. However, the first half of the film is a stereotypical and tedious teenagers-on-holiday set-up, which leaves you counting the minutes to the first explicit zombie attack. (AF)

Infestation: A terrifically enjoyable giant bug movie that sees the inhabitants of a quiet North American city (actually Bulgaria, should viewers be confused by the atypical woodlands that form the setting of the climax) knocked unconscious by a mysterious noise and light and waking up in cocoons patrolled by giant insects. The unusual premise, which combines classic British science fiction like Day of the Triffids and 28 Days Later with a tense climax inspired by Alien, is a terrific mix of comedy, slapstick (but often cruel) violence and engaging characters. The second feature by Kyle Rankin, who directed the indie comedy The Battle of Shaker Heights (2003), sees the filmmaker reunited with genre veteran Ray Wise and brings a great ensemble cast to the screen plus memorable creatures including giant spider/zombie hybrids. I, for one, hope the cheeky cliffhanger that ends the film leads to a second instalment. (AF)

Appropriately for a festival in its 10th year, the line-up is overall both fresh and nostalgic. Heartland and Infestation are must-sees while Colin and Trick ‘r Treat promise twists on the familiar elements of the genre. A new Clive Barker adaptation, Dread, is welcome and there are high expectations for Triangle and The House of the Devil, made by the directors of the excellent Severance (2006) and The Roost (2005) respectively. When catering for fans of a particular genre, festival programmes can be a mixed bag, but there’s certainly an intriguing and varied selection of films showing at this year’s Film4 FrightFest, ensuring there’s bound to be something that’ll scare and delight even the most jaded horror fan.

Alex Fitch and Evrim Ersoy


Sin Nombre

Format: Cinema

Release date: 14 August 2009

Venues: nationwide

Distributor: Revolver Entertainment

Director: Cary Fukunaga

Writer: Cary Fukunaga

Cast: Paulina Gaitan, Edgar Flores, Tenoch Huerta, Kristian Ferrer

Mexico/USA 2008

96 mins

One of the highlights at this year’s Edinburgh Film Festival, Cary Fukunaga’s excellent debut Sin Nombre is a thrilling drama about gangs and illegal immigration in Central America. In a dangerous bid to start a new life in the States, Sayra (Paulina Gaitan), a teenager from Honduras, begins the journey across Mexico on rusty freight trains with her father and uncle. When she is attacked by the vicious, cold-blooded Lil Mago (Tenoch Huerta), leader of the notorious Mara Salvatrucha gang, she becomes entangled with gang member Willy (Edgar Flores), who is forced to go on the run after he saves her.

Electric Sheep‘s Sarah Cronin sat down with the American director in Edinburgh to talk about Mexican prisons, tattoos and non-professional actors.

Sarah Cronin: Did you come to the idea for Sin Nombre through your short film Victoria para chino (about a group of immigrants who died in a refrigerated trailer when trying to cross the US border)?

Cary Fukunaga: Yes. We were doing our second-year films at film school, and I really wanted to do a short that was, not controversial, but something that was based on a real story, and not just explore my own family history in a ten-minute therapeutic short film. I didn’t have much money, and I wanted to figure out something that was of limited scope. I read about this trailer in Mexico and it was the perfect story to tell in a short format because we could get the audience in the trailer with the immigrants, and that would be a real experience. Victoria para chino wasn’t supposed to be the film that started up my career, but it started to travel around festivals and win awards, and suddenly Sundance was asking if I had a script to turn in for the Sundance Labs. I hadn’t really planned on that, so I had to quickly put together an idea based on the short film. I wrote a pretty mediocre draft of the script to give to the Sundance Labs, and they said it was interesting but I should keep developing it. So I went down to Mexico and started doing research.

SC: At that point, had you already included the gangs in your script?

CF:Yeah, the first draft was more of a triptych. It involved the trailer more, a kid in Honduras, and a kid in a gang who saves a girl. In the end, I kept the kid from the gang, he saves the girl and kills the leader. I made her one of the kids from Honduras because the first couple of people I travelled with in Mexico were from Honduras.

SC: I think one of the interesting things in the film is the hostility the immigrants face in Mexico, as in the scene where kids throw rocks at the train.

CF: There are a few things that are in the film but you just can’t fit in everything – there are no bandits, which are quite common, and very little of the immigration controls that exist – the Mexican version of the American INS or border patrol. There just wasn’t space for it in the story but they’re definitely there – also the smugglers, who are there controlling certain train cars. Maybe if I was a smarter writer I could have figured out ways to get in those details without taking time away from the main story.

SC: How did you gain access to the gang members when you were doing your research?

CF: My friend Gabriel Nuncio, who ended up doing the translation on the script, was a producer on my short film and his father was a journalist and an anthropology professor down in Chiapas. When you’re doing research, you meet one person and they say you should meet this other person, and then this person and this person. One of the people we really wanted to meet was Horacio Schroeder, who was the head of state security in Chiapas at the time. He’s always in the news, he’s one of the main people that you want to meet if you’re doing a story about immigration and gangs. He gave us his permission to visit prisons in Chiapas, so I started creating relationships with the prison in Tapachula and the one next to Tuxtla, the capital of Chiapas. We started working with the social workers there and gained access to the gang members. In the middle of our research, the government changed in Mexico and basically everyone got fired. There was a whole new group of people running everything, but luckily one of the people placed in charge was a friend of Gabriel’s from high school. It’s all who you know, your connections. After spending about two years interviewing the kids in the gangs I had lots of fact-checking to do, and details that I kept having more questions about, so I started to develop a relationship with two guys near the prison in Tapachula – one was active, one was non-active, and they ended up being really helpful in creating the dialogue.

SC: They didn’t object to the way gangs are portrayed in the film?

CF: I told everyone I met – I’d say to them, I’m making a film about immigration, and you can choose to help me, and if not, I’m still making the film. They’re pretty aware of how poorly they’ve been represented in the newspapers, and in some ways they wanted to do a little PR work for the gang – not that my film necessarily does that.

SC: It’s very hard to tell what’s authentic and what isn’t – who’s a gang member, who’s a professional actor…

CF: In the scenes in the house, there are a couple of guys from gangs, not from the Mara Salvatrucha, but from other ones. That was interesting – I gave Tenoch responsibility for taking care of everyone there, so he was always the one who told them what to do when we were off camera, and got everyone ready.

SC:The tattoos are pretty amazing – they must have been difficult to do.

CF: Yeah, that was a process, figuring out what inks to use, how long they could stay on for. The ones on the hands and the face had to be washed off the same day, you couldn’t go home wearing those. There was one time when one of the actresses was having a cigarette off set when we were in Veracruz, which she shouldn’t have been doing, and a local pulled up in a truck with a machete and got out in front of her – she quickly went back to the set! There’s a lot of anger towards the gangs and if people see one by themselves they’re like the sick animal of the herd.

SC: Were the tattoos all based on photographs?

CF: There are a lot of photographs of existing gang members, but you couldn’t just copy the tattoos because there’s rights attached to them, so we had to change everything. The ink department was pretty busy the entire film and there were days when we had to get 10 extra people to help out and put tattoos on everybody. Edgar Flores, who plays Willy, got pretty good at doing his own tattoos with this little pen that’s like a Sharpie, but the ink is just subtly faded so the tattoos look real.

SC: How did you find Edgar? He’s not a trained actor, is he?

CF: No. He was a real non-professional, but by the end he was like Bowfinger, he knew all of the words, and he was really professional – he really liked it. It was fun for him at first, not because of the responsibility, but because of all the attention. Here was this kid from off the streets who’s suddenly being taken care of, talked to differently. Hair and make-up can be a director’s worst enemy, they’ll make someone feel like a star. I didn’t want Edgar to feel like a star, I wanted him to feel grounded, because he was surrounded by really good actors who were playing supporting roles, and he was starting to act a little cocky. I was like, Tenoch, can you please teach this young man a lesson and let him know how lucky he is. It was hard for him to concentrate as well, he doesn’t necessarily have the tools to jump from joking before the camera rolls to being in character. So I’d have to do things like antagonise or isolate him, or purposely not let anyone talk to him so I could keep him in character, and those kinds of things were very difficult for him. He was also very lonely on the shoot, leaving his father and grandmother behind and suddenly being alone in Mexico. Sometimes when the most amazing things are happening to you you’re also the most depressed – I don’t know why that is.

SC: He wouldn’t know if this would ever happen again, if he’ll ever make another film.

CF: I tried to tell him that this might be the only film he makes in his life, and he should save his money. I said, you’re getting a lot of attention, but then it’s going to disappear and you’re going to feel terrible. We talk once every couple of weeks. He’s a PA for a video production company in Honduras, but there’s not really a film industry down there, so it’s not like he’s going to become a leading man. And in Honduras, he’s considered black, because although there are Latino people with darker skin than his, he’s got these African features and he has black blood, and that puts him in a weird lower class.

SC: I think there’s still a lot of prejudice in South and Central America.

CF: Absolutely. It’s hard for me to figure out sometimes. It’s like Tenoch – amazing actor, charming, and handsome by Western standards, but in Mexico he’s too brown to be a true leading man, which to me is like, are you kidding me? Why not?

SC: What was it like riding the trains when you were doing the research?

CF: Well, it’s not Amtrak. It’s pretty similar to what you see in the movie, which is based on what I saw. In some ways it’s one of the most free-feeling, exciting ways to travel, and there are moments of danger between long hours of boredom. One of the roughest times was when I was crossing Veracruz on a night train and it was really fast and really rough. We were trying to sleep on top of some really sharp metal sheeting with these ridges, it’s like lying on a bed of nails, and I didn’t have a belt to tie myself onto the train car. I had to jam my arm underneath it, and the train was really jerky, I was trying not to roll off, and it was raining and I was wet and cold. I was not in a good mood the next morning – but it really gave a good sense of what it’s like. The best memories I have are some of the surreal moments.

SC: How important was it having Canana, the company started by Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal, on board as producers?

CF: They weren’t on-set producers, but it was great to have them – it sort of legitimises the project in Mexico, and definitely makes it more of a Mexican production. It’s really a co-production in all senses – the only gringos on set were me and Abi Kauffman, the producer.

Interview by Sarah Cronin


Members of the Funeral

Format: Cinema

Edinburgh International Film Festival
17-28 June 2009
EIFF website
Director: Baek Seung-bin

Writer: Baek Seung-bin

Cast: Lee Joo-seung, Yoo Ha-bok, Park Myeong-sin, Kim Byeol

South Korea 2008

99 mins

Members of the Funeral is an inventive, clever film from first-time South Korean director Baek Seung-bin, which screened at the Edinburgh International Film Festival in June. Constructing the narrative around the funeral of a teenage boy named Hee-joon, the director uses flashbacks to trace the individual relationships that three family members – father, mother and daughter – had with the deceased 17-year-old, an aspiring writer whose debut novel mirrors the lives of the complex and intriguing family.

Electric Sheep‘s Sarah Cronin asks Baek Seung-bin about funerals and storytelling.

Sarah Cronin: What was your inspiration for the story?

Baek Seung-bin:When I lost one of my family members a few years ago, the bereaved endured the period of mourning in silence. But at some point, silence seems to become a way of life, not just a way of mourning. It seems to me that we, the bereaved, are the dead, not the one whose ashes have already scattered in the air a long time ago. That was the time when I had the idea for this story.

SC: The narrative situation also recalls Pasolini’s Theorem. Was that an influence on the film?

BS:Theorem is my favourite Pasolini film, so possibly, yes. But I didn’t think of the film intentionally while I was writing the script.

SC: Why did you choose to structure the story around a series of deaths and funerals, with Hee-joon’s at the centre?

BS: This film is about people being affected by death and loss. So I put the funeral at the centre of the film, and made all the characters gather around it. Whose funeral it is was the most important thing in this context. I needed someone who can trigger memories of death and loss buried in each character’s mind, and he is Hee-joon. Hee-joon should be the central figure because he is the only one who can give the feeling of being a member of a family to the other characters, and make them meet up altogether.

SC: The film is built around a number of echoes, not just the various funerals, but also the novel that mirrors the film, and the repetition of words and attitudes in the different relationships. What was the idea behind this?

BS: The original scenario had even more echoes and counterpoints. You may have heard of a music terminology, canon. I wanted to apply canon structure into film. I tried to make a structure of variation, for example, the second chapter becomes a repetition or variation of the first chapter. Although I couldn’t 100% embody that, I was seeking the most relevant structure to describe the various characters’ influence on each other, to give hints of what had happened to them through the novel.

SC: Jeong-hee, the mother, treats her students in the same horrible way that she was treated by her grandfather. Are you suggesting that people can only perpetuate the same behaviour that they’ve experienced in the past?

BS: I was trying to show that no one can be 100% freed from trauma, rather than suggesting people can only perpetuate that behaviour.

SC: The dead boy is passive in some ways, and by just letting the mother, the father (and the daughter to a certain extent) impose certain kinds of relationships on him, he reveals the secret vulnerabilities of each of the characters. Is that his role in the story?

BS: The boy must be the most vague, fuzzy, unrecognisable figure. Hence, he never appears on screen by himself. He is there to reveal the complexities and hurts of each family member. So his vulnerabilities are also part of his plan, in this respect.

SC:The boy remains an enigma and an absence at the heart of the story. Is he meant to represent the author of the film in some way?

BS: Hee-joon doesn’t look like a real person, flesh and blood. It is because he does represent the author of the film. But this story cannot be completed without him.

SC: The father, Joon-ki, is a very complex figure. What is more important to him – the physical contact with Hee-joon or the idea of being a father to him?

BS: Joon-ki’s father has been ill for almost half of his life. So young Joon-ki wanted to obey to, moreover, be in love with his coach, who seems to be a strong and healthy man. But it turns out that the coach was not the powerful man, the father figure he was looking for. What would happen when this traumatised boy becomes an adult, a father? I thought he would want to find a son, and be in love with him under the mask of a father.

SC: Ah-mi, the daughter, seems to have embraced death from an early age after she loses her cat and her best friend, and as a result seems like a happier person than her parents. Why?

BS: It sounds interesting to me that you thought Ah-mi is happier than her parents. I agree with you to some extent, but I don’t think she is ‘less unhappy’ than her parents. She is indifferent towards trauma and loss, but she doesn’t embrace them. It is also an unhappy result in a way. She seems relatively happy because she found a peace of mind with Jin-goo (the undertaker) in her own world. I hope she can find happiness eventually, so I put the scene where she burst into tears after seeing the corpse of Hee-joon at the end of the film.

SC: In the last shot you show Hee-joon at his own funeral. Are you suggesting that everything that has happened before is a work of fiction, that he’s arranged everything?

BS: It would be better to let audiences interpret the ending, probably. But talking about the scene of Hee-joon present at his own funeral, I wasn’t intending to tell the audience that what they have seen was all fiction from the beginning. Precisely speaking, I didn’t present Hee-joon the dead, but introduced the narrator who has been reading the story of ‘Members of the funeral’ for the first time.

SC: In the last few years Korean cinema has gone from strength to strength – what do you think is responsible for the growing success and popularity of the country’s cinema?

BS: I think it is because many young, passionate filmmakers are coming out in Korea. Digital media encourages them and helps to set up a new paradigm of independent production. But above all, the Korean film industry is full of passion and vibrancy. That is behind all those wonderful films, I think.

Interview by Sarah Cronin


This Way Up

Still from This Way Up

Soho Rushes Short Film Festival

27-30 July 2009

Various venues, London

Festival Website.

The opening night of Soho Rushes Short Film Festival started off rather unexpectedly with a 105-minute film. Having shown various shorts at Rushes over the years, director Jan Dunn was in attendance at Curzon Soho to discuss her new feature-length film, The Calling. Having moved into features, Dunn described shorts as an excellent opportunity for filmmakers to ‘exercise their muscles’ and show what they can do. In this light, shorts are seen as a stepping-stone to other projects. This attitude could be detected in some of the films showing at the festival. With glossy productions and an animation category that included two commercials, sometimes screenings felt more like showcases for insiders to spot and hire new talent. This year saw a concerted effort to bring in outside audiences with new screenings at the ICA but there is no escaping the fact that RSSF, based in Soho at the epicentre of London’s creative industries and production companies, is essentially an industry-focused festival. This can be a little distancing for those less commercially minded. Indeed a day of seminars and master classes at BAFTA was fantastically interesting for burgeoning filmmakers wishing to hear about funding opportunities and technical developments but not quite so exciting for those interested in seeing the works themselves.

That is not to say that there isn’t a need for this type of festival. The capital has alternative calendar fixtures, such as London Short Film Festival, which cater to public audiences. It is great that this type of focal point for the industry exists, but at the same time there is a sense that if an event is too introspective, the professionals won’t get an outside perspective on the works and the general public will miss out on some of the gems in the programme. And there were gems to be seen.

Introduced as one of the strongest categories in the festival, the animation screening at the ICA had some excellent works and was also nicely eclectic, with a mix of stop-motion, cartoons and 3D work. Particularly inventive was Txt Island, which showed the development of a beach resort on an unspoilt desert island, using only plastic lettering and a peg signage panel. There were lovely touches as swimming alligators and leaping fire were created out of the simplest typography. Photograph of Jesus, which took a look at the work of a picture library, also used stop motion to enchanting effect. Based on an interview with one of the picture researchers, the film visually represented some of the more ridiculous requests received at the library (photographs of Jesus, a picture of Hitler at the 1948 Olympics in London). Origami Yetis swung between filing cabinets as Jack the Ripper tore paper cuts into the bodies of his victims. The overall winner of the category, This Way Up, involved a similarly charming physical type of comedy as two funeral directors struggled to carry a coffin back to their parlour. Echoing the comic choreography of silent cinema, the timing was spot-on and the 3D animation had a beautiful Gothic quality as the two figures made their way across swampy moors.

These films, and many more throughout the festival, were carefully considered works that wonderfully fitted the definition given by actress Pauline McLynn at the Q&A that accompanied The Calling: a successful short should be a ‘beautiful sonnet’. RSSF screens some fantastic work and it deserves to be visible to those both inside and outside the industry.

Eleanor McKeown


Beautiful Losers

Format: Cinema

Release date: 7 August 2009

Venues: key cities

Distributor: Revolver Entertainment

Directors: Aaron Rose, Joshua Leonard

USA 2008

90 mins

Beautiful Losers is an infectious documentary that celebrates the loose artists collective that sprung up around the Alleged Gallery in New York in the early 90s. Totally outside the mainstream, these artists, often self-taught, were inspired by street style and the subcultures of punk, graffiti and hip hop, embracing a DIY aesthetic so they could ‘make something out of nothing’. Directed by Aaron Rose, who owned Alleged, the film features illustrators, designers, photographers and filmmakers like Mike Mills, Geoff McFetridge, Barry McGee, Ed Templeton, Shephard Fairey and Harmony Korine, who are now busy remaking contemporary pop culture in their own image.

Sarah Cronin sat down with Aaron Rose to talk about inspiration, being an outsider and starring in his own film at last year’s London Film Festival.

Sarah Cronin: What did you want people to get out of watching the documentary?

Aaron Rose:I guess there are a lot of things going on in the filmmaking process, but the documentary really found its direction when I finally came to the realisation that our original motivation, before I got mixed up in what the movie needs to be and all that pressure, was that we wanted to inspire people. You can do pretty much anything you want in this world, and it’s not all that difficult – you just have to ignore the people who tell you that you need to go this way, and it’s the only way. If you just try a different road, nine times out of 10 it will lead you, if not to the same place, then to some place equally beautiful. More than anything, that’s the message that we wanted to get across in the film, it’s more important than the artists or the art in the film. They were just vehicles.

SC: Are there similarities between curating and directing a film?

AR:In an exhibition you create a narrative, there’s a flow to how things are laid out. There’s an order and you want to tell your audience a story as they go through the exhibition. I understood that part of it – storytelling – but that was where the similarities end in the creative process. Although editing is a bit like curating – when you curate a show there are a lot of things that don’t fit. It was like that with the movie, there were lots of things I loved that had to go because they didn’t work in the overall picture.

SC: What did you personally gain the most from making the film?

AR: The message that I wanted to put out – I should say we, because filmmaking is a collaborative experience. I’m reluctant to take all the credit, I’m the director but so many people put love and care into the film. Our motivation – that you can do anything – was something I had forgotten, even though I was putting out the message. After making the film and hearing the audience reactions, I was reinvigorated to constantly be doing that myself, so that was the most rewarding thing that I got from this process. Life hasn’t been easy for me in some departments, and I still need to go where it’s hard.

SC: I think one of the main themes is about being an outsider – do you still feel like one? And what about this idea of selling out?

AR: The word ‘selling out’ is like a 90s term (laughs).

SC: But in the film, Geoff McFetridge still seems defensive about the ads he did for Pepsi.

AR: Well, Geoff is a product of the 90s, of selling out, and punk. We call it punk rock guilt. Whenever we make money, we joke about what the punk rockers would say. I do still feel like an outsider, I think most artists feel like they’re outside society – no matter how many accolades they receive, or how much money is in your bank account, whatever is going on in your life on the professional side. I don’t think that feeling of being an ‘other’ really goes away, it’s essential to being able look at the world and interpret it. But unfortunately, it has its downside, which is that you feel alienated a lot of the time, especially from the real mainstream of the world.

SC: You’ve said that your alienation grows the more successful you become.

AR: Of course, because you get further and further away from what makes you comfortable, and that’s other alienated people. I’ve noticed in my life that as you work on more things with more people, you spend less time hanging out with other people who are artists, creative people who give you a sense of family. Because I’m always on productions, running around, working on projects, I feel less and less like I’m part of a community.

SC:So how do you feel about doing interviews to promote the film, is it another distraction for you?

AR: No, I’m a writer, so I interview people all the time, and I think of it as being a very creative process. And because you’re a writer, I feel like interviews are something that’s artist to artist, that we’re collaborating on something. Giving interviews is actually one of the most creative parts of the film promotion process.

SC: I like the passage in the film where Mike Mills says that the ‘nerds have inherited the creative earth’. I get the feeling that a lot of the artists had this suburban, middle-class childhood that they hated.

AR: The suburbs are incredibly oppressive. I actually believe that the suburbs are much more dangerous than the ghettos. In the ghettos, it’s all upfront, you can see what’s dangerous about them. The suburbs have this sheen, this facade that everything’s ok, but some of the most horrific things I’ve ever seen have been in the suburbs. Of course, now I like the imagery from suburbia, but when I was a teenager I couldn’t wait to get away from it.

SC: How much do you think gentrification has affected New York, do you still think there can be a similar scene there?

AR: There’s still a scene there, New York is New York, but it’s a moneyed scene, especially in Manhattan. The cool street kids in Lower Manhattan are pretty much all rich kids, who are slumming it in the Lower East Side. It doesn’t mean that they’re bad people, and there are some good artists, but anyone who’s not from that background is pretty much excluded from that scene. It’s still vital and creative, but it’s not as diverse as it was. It used to be that any kid from the Midwest could show up in New York with $20 in his pocket and figure it out. That’s what I was, I had $100 and I spent it in the first two days.

SC: It seems like a lot of the artists have moved to California.

AR: A lot of artists in our group left New York for California because it was manageable. You could have a big studio, and have head space to create, whereas you couldn’t do that anymore in New York. The whole West Coast is like that, there’s endless space, you can spread out – it’s like a metaphor for your creative mind too. You can go there and make your work, and then go to New York and make your money.

SC: There’s a lot of cuteness in the art – pastel colours, teddy bears – where do you think that comes from?

AR: I don’t know, I try not to analyse it too much. I do know that for all the artists it’s very important to speak in a vernacular that can be understood by everyone. It’s not work that’s created for intellectuals, and that kind of imagery needs to be easily digestible.

SC: The DIY aesthetic seems very important.

AR: It’s the most rewarding. It takes a little bit longer, but it’s like a cliché, the journey is more important than the destination. Going about things in a DIY fashion just makes the trip that much better, it’s like a story generator.

SC: Did you find it difficult being in the film? It’s also your story, and the story of your gallery. Was it hard to stay objective?

AR: That was why I didn’t want to be in the film at all. I thought it was a huge conflict of interest to be the director and the subject – it’s very sketchy territory to be in. I’ve seen what’s happened to other directors who have done that – I won’t name them for this article. But in the process of making the film I realised that what bound all these artists together was the damned gallery. I had outsiders watch the film to tell me if I was coming off as authentic, and not just a guy who was making a puff piece about himself and his friends. I was constantly sending the film in a very raw state to people on the outside, and listening to their judgements, because I knew there was no way I could judge it.

SC: You mentioned having a chip on your shoulder when you began to lose some of the artists to bigger galleries. Do you still feel that you need to compete with the big guys? Was that part of your motivation for making the film?

AR: That shit sent me down a very dark and dangerous path towards trying to compete with people that I should never have tried to compete with. I lost my business, I lost my marriage, I became addicted to drugs, and it was all because of this ‘I can fight you, Power’. So I learned from that. To tell you the truth, I never really cared if this film came out, because the people who needed to see it would get it. You can get home-made DVDs, it would be out no matter what. It was about making a film that’s true and honest and tells the story of these people and what they’re about, and if the mainstream watches it, well, I still don’t care.

Interview by Sarah Cronin


The Nightingales

The Nightingales spent the 80s being fêted by John Peel and straining the powers of the NME superlative generator. They are probably the only band to have supported both Nico and Bo Diddley on tour and they happily held their own against ‘top comedian’ Ted Chippington and punky all-girl band We’ve Got a Fuzzbox and We’re Gonna Use It on the era-defining Vindaloo Records Summer Special EP (if you missed it you might be surprised to learn that 1986 WAS an era). Singer and lyricist Robert Lloyd reformed the group in 2004 and they have since released three albums. Their latest, ‘Add Insult to Injury’, was produced by Hans Joachim Irmler from krautrockers Faust. For more information, visit their MySpace or their website for the latest on tour dates and other news. Robert Lloyd guides us through his filmic influences below. NICK DUTFIELD

1- Aguirre, Wrath of God (1972)
Herzog is considered an art-house director but in my opinion his eye for a story is second to none – including any of the celebrated populists. This story is simple, but mad. Aguirre leads a collection of conquistadors down the Amazon in search of El Dorado. His troops rebel, and, ravaged by power, he loses his mind and goes apeshit. The story unfolds beautifully, the filming is stunning, the soundtrack by German cosmic sorts Popol Vuh is just about perfect and the acting… well, Klaus Kinski in the lead role is one of the greatest performances I’ve ever seen. Herzog’s legendary best buddy and worst enemy drove the director to remark, ‘Every grey hair I have on my head I call Kinski’. Check out the Herzog documentary about their relationship and collaborations, My Best Fiend.

2- Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens (1979)
This is such a hilarious, larger-than-life look at Smalltown USA that it can be called a live-action cartoon, a grade A lampoon. Trying to describe the plot is pointless because its stories of assorted small-town dwellers are basically a collection of lust-based gags and/or platforms for glorious, self-indulgent Russ Meyer-isms. Beyond his own jokey rantings, some blinkered bullshit from his hardcore fans and some down-looking sneers from some snobby cineastes, make no mistake – Meyer is a class act, and Ultravixens is the ultimate Meyer movie for me.

3- El (1953)
Luis Buñuel is mostly celebrated for his early surrealist films or his later, relatively glossy, successes made in France. But the bulk of his work was filmed in Mexico during the 50s and early 60s, and for me this is when he made his best films, including my favourite, El. A super-witty satire on obsession, jealousy and machismo, El tells the story of Don Francisco, played with fantastic relish by Arturo de Córdova, falling in love and descending into self-inflicted madness. There is humour aplenty and many scathing snubs on orthodoxy but the tale is presented in a fairly cheesy 50s melodrama style. I prefer this simplicity to the director trying too much ‘I’m wacky me’-type clever dickery. And the zig zag scenes – you gotta see it to get it – are among my top film moments ever.

4- Happiness (1998)
I was asked to pick only 10 movies so unfortunately Marleen Gorris’s A Question of Silence (1982) – my favourite separatist feminist comedy – has to make way for my top paedophile comedy, Todd Solondz’s Happiness. Joking apart, paedophilia is only a single element of this family story. True to life, all the characters in Solondz’s dark, middle-class satire are in some way fucked up, and most are adept at fucking up others. There is no beginning, middle or end but no worries because the story gets through anyway. Occasionally, the script tries a tad too hard to be smart, but there is enough spunk, provocative ideas and laughs for the movie to work.

5- In a Year with 13 Moons (1978)
Rainer Werner Fassbinder is my number one. In ways that I don’t have time to explain he has influenced and inspired my writing more than any poet, lyricist or rock star. His artistic fertility is both amazing and affecting. My pick of his movies would probably change every other day but of the 32 creations he made in the 70s this is one of his greatest. Following the success of his first English-language film, Despair, Fassbinder seemed bound for international recognition, but his lover committed suicide and, deeply depressed, he retreated from filmmaking. He returned with this astonshing but not exactly commercial movie. 13 Moons follows Elvira – superbly played by occasional Fassbinder bit player Volker Spengler in his first starring role – as she tries to face questions of love and identity. It is a brutal but moving, funny but tragic, in-your-face melodrama, which only Fassbinder would be brave enough to attempt, let alone carry off.

6- Kung Fu Hustle (2004)
This movie is absolutely brilliant entertainment. Vaguely based around a rather tacky love story, it tells a very Hong Kong-style tale of baddies trying to fuck over some decent sorts, to which the goodies respond, etc. But the story is immaterial. The action, which rarely stops, is the backbone and bulk of the film and the action is astoundingly good. It is genuinely original, wild, often hilarious and fantastically choreographed and filmed. As a big fan of martial arts movies, from the raw to the graceful, I must say this is, for me, the top of the lot. Stephen Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle is a must-see… again and again.

7- M (1931)
Just about my favourite actor is Peter Lorre and M is his first major role. He’s a motive-free, meaningless child killer in this paranoid film by the godfather of German expressionism, Fritz Lang. Often filmed from above, it feels like we are looking down on the grim, doom-laden chaos as cops and criminals – pissed by the new level of police presence on the streets – plot the capture of Lorre. Following a superbly structured chase and capture, we get one of cinema’s finest trial scenes. In the early part of the build-up, I like the way so much of the action is off-screen, leaving detail, but not event, to our imagination. Brilliantly lit and with imaginative sound ideas (the ‘Peter And The Wolf’-esque whistling refrain to notify coming menace has since become a mainstream ploy), this diligent but adventurous film set the standard for future screen psychopaths and tells us much about hysteria and mob mentality.

8- Occasional Work of a Female Slave (1973)
Without doubt my favourite abortion comedy. Alexander Kluge is one of the more intellectual types of New German Cinema. Perhaps because his work is the result of concepts and political theories rather than instinctive filmmaking he is one of the more overlooked directors from the late 60s new wave of German directors. However, his films – Occasional Work in particular – are terrific and far more satisfying than, for example, the more celebrated, American-ised, often wishy-washy, fare that Wim Wenders knocks out. Even though it is a bit shabby around the edges, Occasional Work is a mini-masterpiece. The story revolves around Roswitha – played by Kluge’s sister Alexandra – a housewife, mother and part-time abortionist whose repressive circumstances lead her to take singular action against… well, just about everyone. Roswitha’s hopeless verve and her trials and tribulations are unsentimentally portrayed with no small amount of wit. This is a rarely shown movie, and it is many years since I last saw it, but it still remains strong in the memory.

9- Strangers on a Train (1951)
I don’t know if this is Hitchcock’s finest film – the rarely seen Rich and Strange is a belter, and film buffs would list any number of other contenders – but it is a really cracking movie. The story, adapted from a Patricia Highsmith novel, is classic in its simplicity. Two men meet on a train – Guy, a sane, famous-ish tennis player looking for divorce from his unwilling wife, jokes that he wishes his spouse was dead. Bruno, a friendly psychopath, feels the same about his hated father and suggests they murder each other’s problems. Guy imagines this suggestion is a joke until Bruno carries out his half of the deal. When, in Bruno’s eyes, Guy bottles his half of the ‘contract’, Bruno tries to frame Guy for the murder of his wife. Bruno’s effort, Guy’s awkward denial and the ensuing turmoil lead to a giddy climax. Fantastic performances, several brilliant, memorable individual scenes and Hitchcock’s visual panache and sense of fun make this creepy, amoral and very funny movie a gem.

10- The Hairdresser’s Husband (1990)
When push comes to shove, Patrice Leconte’s Hairdresser’s Husband is the one I’d put forward as my all-time favourite film. The titular character, Antoine, played to perfection by Jean Rochefort, follows his boyhood fixation with a female hairdresser, who commits suicide, by, much later, fulfilling his ambition of marrying a hairdresser when he meets the beautiful Mathilde. The pair are gloriously in love and lead the happiest of lives together. The basic story is simple, sexy and for the most part joyous and delightful. Antoine’s dancing to his other love (Middle Eastern music), the couple getting shit-faced on hair tonics, their constant adoring looks at each other, the homemade swimming trunks… so much enchanting stuff captured with real brio by Leconte – an underrated director whose every film is a genre-hopper. This movie is a real beaut. Once you’ve seen it and fallen in love with it, try the same director’s Ridicule, then work your way through his others.