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Q. Why did the Belgian chicken cross the road? A. Because there's fuck-all else to do in Bruges

Q. Why did the Belgian chicken cross the road? A. Because there's fuck-all else to do in Bruges

What an incredible year my colleagues at Film4 have had since Last King of Scotland picked up an Oscar (and two BAFTAs). Last night at the Golden Globes of the 14 movie awards 6 went to Film4 productions:

  • BEST MOTION PICTURE – DRAMA 
Slumdog Millionaire
  • BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A MOTION PICTURE – MUSICAL OR COMEDY
 Colin Farrell, In Bruges
  • BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A MOTION PICTURE – MUSICAL OR COMEDY
 Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky
  • BEST DIRECTOR – MOTION PICTURE
 Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
  • BEST SCREENPLAY – MOTION PICTURE 
Slumdog Millionaire
  • BEST ORIGINAL SCORE – MOTION PICTURE 
Slumdog Millionaire

Add to that movies like Hunger which already has picked up a shedload of silverware (20 so far including the Camera d’Or at Cannes, which I acknowledge is not technically silverware) and Garage, a landmark in Irish cinema. Irish and Waiting Around has been something of a theme this year (Garage, Hunger, In Bruges). And let’s not forget A Complete History of My Sexual Failures made by Chris Waitt, an alumnus of 4Talent.

Film4 may not be huge but they’re perfectly formed, add a great deal to the UK film industry and – like Channel 4 as a whole – punch well above their weight. “Our organization is small, but we have a lot of opportunities for aggressive expansion.”

…which brings us neatly from a great night to a Dark Knight: I have to agree with Maggie Gyllenhall’s analysis of Heath Ledger’s win in the Best Supporting Actor category: “Our movie I think is great, but I think he elevated it to a completely different place.” Without a doubt, performance of the year.

Why so serious?

Why so serious?

UPDATE 15.i.09 08:15

BAFTA nominations just announced. Film4 picked up 3 of the 5 nominations for Outstanding British Film (In Bruges, Slumdog Millionaire, Hunger); Slumdog got most nominations (equal with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button); and, of course, Slumdog is up there for Best Film and Best Director.

Good to see Kate Winslet pitted against herself in Best Actress category – you can see the speech already: “I’m so sorry, Anne, Meryl, Kristin, …oh god, who’s the other one? Me!”

Now THAT speech, it bears some anaylsis… “I’m so sorry [unconvincing (for such an experienced actress) self-deprecation] Anne, Meryl, Kristin, …oh god, who’s the other one? [what a bitch, eh? sub-text: I know full well who the other sexiest one is] Angelina! this is… ok… now, forgive me …gather [sub-text: I've been to drama school]. Is this really happening? OK, erm… I’m going to try and do this on the cuff, ok [so OFF the cuff I get the phrase wrong] – Thank you so much. Thank you so much! [sub-text: I really do need a good script-writer, I've nothing substantial to say myself] Oh god! {applause} Please wrap up, you have no idea how I’m not wrapping up! [sub-text: stop clapping, I need to wrestle control back, I'm not fucking finished!] Ok, gather…”

UPDATE 17.i.09

I’ve just gotten round to watching the end of The Reader. Having given Kate Winslet a hard time above, I have to confess it is an excellent performance, well worthy of awards. But the film itself has left me with nagging doubts, two in particular. Most of the UK critics praised it highly but I noticed two exceptions, strangely enough by two people I went to school with. Pete Bradshaw of The Guardian expressed strong doubts (from memory, the review I read on the way back from Ireland after the new year gave it one star). Mark Kermode subsequently spoke of his reservations on the weekly film review show he does with Simon Mayo on BBC Radio 5.

The implication of the film – in the trial of Hanna Schmidz – is that she left Siemens to join the SS because she had been offered a promotion which would have exposed her illiteracy. The same happened to her at the tram company after the war – she runs away when a promotion to office work is offered. What is this saying? The film comes to (and this is no easy feat) create a degree of sympathy for Hanna, a guard at Auschwitz for the SS. Is it saying because she was illiterate, disadvantaged, perhaps a touch simple it explains her role in the war? That reminds me of an experience I had in Austria in the 80s.

I was on a scholarship studying the artist Egon Schiele (to whom my attention had first been drawn by David Bowie on the radio). I went to the small village on the outskirts of Vienna to find his studio. I knew it had been up a small lane but had difficulty finding it. I asked an old man I met on the street and first he hushed me, indicating that the name Egon Schiele was still a dirty word in the village 70 odd years after his ‘artistic’ behaviour had scandalised the place. Then he brought me into a bar, bought me a white wine and launched into an apology (in the sense of ‘explanation’) for Austria’s take up of Nazism. We were poor, hungry, illiterate…

It didn’t wash then and it doesn’t in the film either. The other thing I didn’t buy was that the daughter who had been in Auschwitz as a child with her mother would keep a memento (Hanna’s tin) of a concentration camp guard, least of all by a photo of her murdered family. There’s something being underestimated there.

Now I’m not sure what comes from the David Hare screenplay and what from Bernard Schlink’s source novel (Der Vorleser) but the tin and the flight to the SS from the Siemens promotion both give me the impression that Schlink (or Hare, but I suspect the former) was letting Germany off the hook too easily – ignorance is no excuse and forgiveness doesn’t come that easy.

For all that, it’s still a very well made and compelling movie. Ralph Fiennes’ performance is on a par with Kate Winslet. Ironically the one time I met and spoke to him, in the bar at the Almeida in Islington, he had just played the fiendish Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List. David Kross who plays Fiennes’ character, Michael Berg, when young is also excellent. The film was part-shot by my old boss Roger Deakins (who shared the gig with fellow Brit Chris Menges) and it certainly looks great too. Well worth watching but there’s something dubious to be read between the lines.

Update 22.i.09:

This lunchtime this year’s Oscar nominations have been announced and Channel 4′s Film4 has received 12 (yes, 12!) nominations:

Slumdog Millionaire

· Cinematography

· Directing

· Film editing

· Original score

· Original song – “Jai Ho”

· Original song – “O Saya”

· Best picture

· Sound editing

· Sound mixing

· Adapted screenplay

In Bruges

· Original screenplay

Happy-Go-Lucky

· Original screenplay

25 today

jump london

I can’t let today pass without marking the 25th birthday of Channel 4 which was at 4.45pm this afternoon. Ironically at that time I was entering the BBC (at Bvsh House), albeit with Camilla Deakin of Lupus Films, custodian of Channel 4 animation and a former Commissioning Editor herself in the Arts department. We were meeting Philip Dodd, formerly of the ICA, Sight & Sound and now of Made in China, to talk about exporting British animation to China and a possible broadband animation channel to launch next year – animation being a great example of where the Channel has lead from the front, all the way to the Oscars. So broadband video and China – very now&next.

Also very now is me sitting here watching the Big Fat Anniversary Quiz and writing a blog simultaneously – so 2007. MC Jimmy Carr was in the Channel 4 caff earlier today when I got into work. Coming into 124 Horseferry Road past the Big 4 this morning I couldn’t help but feel a little quiver of pride&joy. Who’d have thought that that day quarter of a century ago when I watched a bloke called Gavin (or was Gavin the actor and Paul or somebody the character?) opening his bedroom curtains to reveal Brookside Close for the very first time that one day I’d be beavering away for the nascent Channel.

That winter I left for a year to live in Chambery in France (Savoie) before going to university – my first time living away from home. To stay in touch with things back in Blighty I had a lively correspondence throughout 2003 with my lovely friend Katherine (now herself abroad long term in Aspen) about Gavin, his missus Petra, Bobby and Sheila, etc. I just got back on Monday from a visit to Paris to my other great mate Marcelino Truong who I first met that winter in Chambery – he was just about to pack up teaching and become a comic book illustrator. So 2002/3 was a very big year in my life as well as for British broadcasting.

That same first night the film ‘Walter‘ was broadcast starring Ian McKellen. That too came to have a personal connection. While I was at college I met a visiting fellow called David Rudkin (Artemis 81, December Bride), an accomplished screenwriter and Hitchcock expert. He brought to the university for a speaking event Alistair Reid (Tales of the City, Traffik – both for C4), original director of ‘Morse’, who showed his home video of the making of the series, an inspiring presentation and one of many things which lead me to leaving university with no more precise an idea that that I wanted to work with moving pictures. David also introduced me to ‘Walter’ producer Nigel Evans and his business partner Simon Mellor who gave me my first job in the biz – a holiday job as a runner at his company AKA in Farringdon Road (now the Guardian Newsroom annex where last year, 20 years on, I found myself presenting my commission Breaking the News).

Jools Holland has just popped up to ask a question on the Big Fat Quiz about the Tube. The AKA experience helped me land my first proper job at Solus Enterprises, the co-operative of Jack Hazan & David Mingay (makers of British cinema verite landmarks like ‘A Bigger Splash‘ and ‘Rude Boy‘ with The Clash), Roger Deakins (Sid & Nancy, Shawshank Redemption, O Brother Where art Thou?, etc.) and Dick Pope (Secrets & Lies, Vera Drake). The cutting room upstairs at 35 Marshall Street was usually occupied by promo director Tim Pope and editor Pete Goddard. In there was made the series Groovy Fellas for Channel 4, commissioned by Seamus Cassidy. The title graphics were deliberately difficult to read and looked as much like Groovy Fuckers as Groovy Fellas, derived from Jools’s legendary Freudian slit of the tongue. The graphics, from memory, were designed by Andy who used to do all The Cure’s covers. Alongside Jools, it starred Roland Rivron as an alien who dapper Jools was guiding around contemporary Britain. These days Roland and I cross paths in the local schoolyard rather than the cutting room.

My path also crossed Channel 4 in the next phase of my career in another edit suite – that of the very talented Jan Hallett, the Harrymeister with the legendary ‘trouser tape’. Jan is married to Niamh Byrne who has been doing Presentation at Channel 4 for a dog’s age, one of the longest serving staff members. Jan did all the graphics for Chris Morris’s shows (Channel 4′s ‘Brass Eye’ and the fabulous ‘Day Today’). The ‘Day Today’ gig landed partly because it was done out of IDF (later Jump Design, the graphics outfit which emerged from ITN under the direction of the one&only Richard Norley, who had designed the titles for Channel 4 News). We worked out of the Quantel edit suites of ITN in the downtime between the end of Channel 4 News and the start of Big Breakfast News at dawn. Fueled by adrenaline, beer and curry they were golden days which landed us the Grand Award at the New York International Film & Television Festival and a bunch of other gongs from around the world. And the over-night working combined with inability to sleep in the daytime, frankly, was better than drugs.

So, like the Northern Line, the Channel has been a thread through my life from way back when. Since I started working at C4 early in 2003 my personal favourites include DV8′s ‘Cost of Living’, ‘Shameless’ and ‘Jump Britain’.

So we’re in an ad break now. The ads? Apple iPhone. Nintendo DS. What a different world the Channel’s in 25 years on. A huge challenge. Huge opportunities. The important thing is to stay in touch with our values – well expressed, in the Mark Thompson regime under which I started, as: Do It First, Make Trouble, Inspire Change. And also to have a vision going forward as bold as our heritage – one which refreshes and redefines the broad social purpose of the organisation within UK society on a grand scale, as public service media moves into the digital age.

What’s up doc?

 

kurt & courtney

Enjoyed the afternoon helping judge a Mediabox/FourDocs short documentaries competition. Also on the panel were Nick Broomfield (The Leader, His Driver & the Driver’s Wife; Kurt & Courtney; Biggie & Tupac), Molly Dineen (Heart of the Angel; The Pick, the Shovel & the Open Road; Geri), Peter Dale – Head of More4, and Patrick Uden (The Apprentice).

Media Box is a DCSF fund to enable 13 to 19 year old disadvantaged young people to use creative media to express their ideas and views, gain new skills and get their voices heard.

The winner was a real stand-out piece but I can’t reveal it right now as the film-maker hasn’t yet been informed. [I'll come back here and update this once it's officially announced.]

Nick was very generous in his appraisal of the films, spotting the seeds of talent in the smallest details. Molly was incredibly thorough and assiduous. Patrick chaired with his usual purist standards (thank God there are still some around). Peter also enjoyed the viewings, impressed by the finalists’ get-up&go. He set less store by the presence of narrative than me – he reckons that will come in due course.

I suggested that the briefing should consist simply of two bits of advice:

  • tell a story that matters to you
  • and that said, for the most part, show – don’t tell

Patrick sets great store on deconstructing other people’s films, especially really good ones.

It was a good fun, good will-filled couple of hours and, of course, a privilege to kick thoughts around with such seasoned documentary makers.

I first came across Nick Broomfield when he was making ‘Driving Me Crazy’ (1988). I was working at Solus Productions, a co-op whose partners included Roger Deakins (Sid & Nancy, The Shawshank Redemption, Brother Where Art Thou, etc.)). Nick knew Roger from the National Film School and wanted him to shoot the film (he didn’t in the end, Robert Levi did). ‘Driving Me Crazy’ is about a film project going tits up – a theme/device Nick has used throughout his career. Hearing some behind-the-scenes stories from a couple of the mentors on the Mediabox competition, it was evident some of the entrants had experienced that sort of documentary trial&tribulation. A film about a neo-nazi about to enter the British army turned into a parody wildlife film on chavs when he pulled out. A young woman’s film about the joy dancing brings her got hijacked by a specialist dance director. That’s the great thing about documentary film-making – the development and production is often a story in itself.

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