Latest from Katherine Butler

(10 articles)

Film4′s Toronto 2013: days 4 – 7

17 Sep, 2013 Productions Posted in: Festivals, News, Opinion, Toronto

Film4′s Deputy Head of Film, Katherine Butler, reports on the Toronto buzz around Film4 titles The Selfish Giant, Starred Up, Under The Skin and How I Live Now, plus other festival favourites Sunshine on Leith, Philomena, Dom Hemmingway and Gravity.

Jack O'Connell wowed audiences in David MacKenzie's Starred Up

Jack O’Connell wowed audiences in David MacKenzie’s Starred Up

We spend a large part of our festival running from one hotel lobby to another, meeting possible co-financiers, distributors and sometimes even filmmakers about projects for the future. This is the other side of the festival experience – it’s very easy to never see a film and yet develop trenchant views on it as a result of hearing other people’s opinions in these meetings. We’ve attempted to keep a relatively healthy balance – grabbing a film or two each morning, then spending afternoons deep in conversation, followed by attending the premieres of our own films every single evening.

On Sunday we were thrilled to see Clio Barnard’s much heralded Cannes triumph, the Film4-backed The Selfish Giant win over Toronto audiences. The tears flowed as the audience responded thoughtfully and empathetically in the Q and A following the film. It’s a beautiful thing to see a lower budget and regionally specific film reach audiences across the world with its universality of story and theme – and the audience was once again bowled over by the performances of the films two young first-time stars, Conner Chapman and Shaun Thomas.

Director Clio Barnard unveils The Selfish Giant to North America

Director Clio Barnard unveils The Selfish Giant to North America

Monday brought a simultaneous screening of David Mackenzie’s prison thriller Starred Up at 9pm with Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin at 10pm. Our tiny team split up, tweeting from both events in a mind-melting mash-up of prison inmates and aliens. I went along to Starred Up where I chatted to Jack O’Connell, the young star of the film whose feature debut this is. Jack is noticeably much skinnier than last time I saw him – he is losing weight for his next film (the Angelina Jolie-directed Untouchables, no less), Angelina having cast Jack after a special screening of Starred Up. Jack and Rupert Friend meet their fans outside the cinema, and the audience is excitable and appreciative with laughs at points that even surprise director David Mackenzie.

Under the Skin has made massive waves since its unveiling at Telluride. The other half of our team here report that the Toronto audience are stunned by it, totally immersed in the world Glazer creates.   Of course Scarlett Johansson is an enormous draw for the crowds here – but audiences are also desperate to see Jonathan Glazer’s first film in nine years, and are not disappointed. It is wonderful to hear the raging enthusiasm audience members have for it the next day and we are hopeful of officially announcing a US distribution partner soon. We find the film cropping up in many people’s best films of the festival list – it makes a huge impact.

Onto Tuesday, which brings Kevin Macdonald’s latest film, an adaptation of Meg Rosoff’s hit young adult book How I Live Now. We’re back at Toronto’s beautiful, quirky Winter Garden theatre, with the vines hanging down from the ceiling to magical effect. The screening combines a young audience there for Saoirse Ronan (who is incredibly articulate in the following Q and A) alongside her talented co-star, newcomer, George MacKay and an older audience who love Kevin’s work. The film pulls the audience into its dystopian romance with few dry eyes left by the end, and we are left hugely excited for its UK release via eOne on 4th October.

Our priority for viewing new films is really those British and Irish films we didn’t have a hand in getting made – we are always madly keen to find new talent, whether it’s in front of or behind the camera. Of this year’s crop, we were roused by the Proclaimers musical Sunshine on Leith, moved by the Steve Coogan penned Philomena, impressed by newcomer Gugu Mwatha Raw’s performance in Belle, wowed by Jude Law’s reinvention in Dom Hemmingway and tickled by low budget Irish comedy The Stag. This was a huge year for British film, and we were excited by the breadth of talent on view – this time, it doesn’t feel like a flash in the pan, but an industry confident in itself at every level.

On our last day, we snuck in a special treat – Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity, which we saw on a huge 3D screen. All we can say is: go – see it on the biggest screen you can, in 3D, and prepare to have your mind blown. Like most in the audience, we were a little in shock by the end, found it hard to string a sentence together, and then ran off to phone our families. A fitting end to an exhilarating festival…





Film4 at Toronto, 3 days in

09 Sep, 2013 Productions Posted in: Awards, Festivals, Toronto

Film4 have a record 9 films (plus acclaimed Channel 4 drama Southcliffe) at Toronto this year. It’s always a big festival for us but this year is bumper – which is making for a very busy 9 days.

Toronto really is the greedy guzzler of the festivals – the schedules are completely packed with back to back premieres with an incredible array of really big name titles mixed with international discoveries. The problem being, the schedule is so busy it can be really hard to find time to make those discoveries…

Can A Song Save Your Life?

Can A Song Save Your Life?

One smaller film we caught here, The Lunchbox, is an utterly charming Indian film that won the hearts of the Cannes audience and moved us to tears – beautiful and worth looking out for. The two films all the US buyers are going crazy for are John Carney’s Keira Knightley starrer Can A Song Save Your Life? and Jason Bateman’s Bad Words – both of which we’ve yet to catch. Lots of Oscar buzz too – 12 Years A Slave being front and centre of a lot of that buzz, along with Dallas Buyers Club, August Osage County, Nebraska, Inside Llewyn Davies and several others. Everyone is agreed this is a terrifically strong season with so many films living up to expectations. We’re also trying to see as much British fare here as possible – there are apparently 25 British movies here which must be some kind of record, and has not gone unnoticed. The international industry recognises that UK film is in incredibly rude health right now, and both Film4′s titles and films like Stephen Frears’ Philomena and Ralph Fiennes’ The Invisible Woman are eagerly awaited.

12 Years A Slave

12 Years A Slave

So far, we’ve had an incredible experience launching our films here. On Friday night, we had the once in a lifetime joy of seeing the extraordinary impact of 12 Years A Slave on a large and expectant Toronto audience in the very beautiful old Princess of Wales cinema. It is universally agreed here that the film really is in a class of its own, and that the hype and excitement around it has, for once, been well deserved. The audience was hugely moved, and then hugely appreciative, staying for a Q and A where producer Brad Pitt acknowledged that ‘it took a Brit to tell this story’. The direction and performances have both been lauded, and newcomer Lupita Nyong’o has made a massive impression.

Le Week-End

Le Week-End

Following that we premiered Roger Michell’s charming, bittersweet Le Week-end yesterday afternoon in a lovely intimate cinema over by the university. The audience were particularly appreciative and there was lots of love here for Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan in their very funny but also at times brutally honest depiction of a 30 year old marriage. Having not watched it with an audience until now, Roger Michell really enjoyed hearing what they laughed at, and quite how much they laughed at key moments. Showing a comedy to the public for the first time is always a huge test – Le Week-end threw up some big belly laughs that even the director didn’t quite expect.

The Double

The Double

A very different film followed: The Double, Richard Ayoade’s second feature after his acclaimed debut, Submarine. We were here with Richard three years ago in exactly the same cinema, the wonderfully quirky The Winter Garden (it has vines hanging from the ceiling), to premiere Submarine. There was a lovely symmetry to being back here three years later, launching this film to an audience patently full of Ayoade fanatics. Jesse Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowska came along, and Richard’s laconic and self-deprecating wit charmed the room. The Double has influences ranging from Brazil to The Trial, but is a complete one-off and this audience loved it.

The great thing about Toronto is that it embraces such a range of films and film-makers, and the audience here is renowned for being warm of welcome. Onto the next three days – more premieres await and we’ll try to sample as much of the season’s up-coming fare as we can dash between.

Film4 and Cannes: a longterm relationship


Katherine Butler on what Cannes and other festivals mean to Film4, in 2013 and over the years

Cannes is fast approaching, and very excitingly we’ll be launching two British films there this year – Clio Barnard’s The Selfish Giant and Paul Wright’s For Those In Peril – which have been selected for Directors’ Fortnight and Critics’ Week respectively.

Both are low budget British films from directors at the early stages of their feature filmmaking careers. Paul is a first-time feature director, recently graduated from the NFTS and with a background in short films, including the BAFTA-winning Until the River Runs Red. The Selfish Giant is Clio’s second feature (and first fiction film) after her critically-acclaimed and award-winning Channel 4-backed The Arbor which merged documentary and actors to ground-breaking effect.

Clio Barnard’s The Selfish Giant

“From first short to international festival debut” 

Cannes can be a great launch pad for British directors, and for first or second-time filmmakers it’s often just the beginning of their story. A big part of our role here at Film4 is to support filmmakers throughout their filmmaking careers: from first short to international festival debut to established British auteur.

Just as our current slate features the next Mike Leigh and Ken Loach films, we are also funding and developing the latest films from other former Cannes debutantes. Lenny Abrahamson, whose second feature Garage won the CICAE Art and Essai Cinema Prize in Cannes in 2007, is currently in post-production on Frank.  Steve McQueen, who followed up the Camera d’Or-winning Hunger in 2008 with the multiple award-winning Shame, is currently in post-production on 12 Years A Slave, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch and Paul Giamatti. In 2012, Ben Wheatley’s murderous caravanners were the talk of the Croisette with Sightseers, Ben’s third feature.  Less than twelve months later he’s finished production on A Field In England, and will later be starting work on US big-budget Freakshift. Casting our minds back ten years, David Mackenzie’s Young Adam played Un Certain Regard in 2003 – he is now in post-production on Starred Up, starring up-and-comer Jack O’Connell alongside Ben Mendelsohn and Rupert Friend.

Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers

Beyond Cannes….

However, our festival relationships extend well beyond Cannes. We work hard all year round to make sure each film finds its best possible way to audience and a big part of this begins with finding the right festival home to start each film’s journey. In the past 12 months, we have premiered films at Sundance, Toronto, Telluride, Venice, Edinburgh and played many many other festivals in between. This year will be no different – we have a larger than ever slate of films launching across 2013 featuring  a mix of both new voices and established directors working at all sorts of different levels.

To give you a quick flavour… Jonathan Glazer’s long-awaited third film Under The Skin stars Scarlet Johansson and is based on Michel Faber’s cult novel.  And speaking of cult novels, Kevin Macdonald has brought Meg Rossoff’s award-winning How I Live Now to the big screen with Saoirse Ronan in the lead role. Anton Corbijn’s third film, an adaptation of John Le Carré’s A Most Wanted Man, stars Philip Seymour Hoffman and Rachel McAdams. And judging by the reaction to a sneak industry preview of a few seconds of footage of Richard Ayoade’s second film The Double, starring Jesse Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowksa, the world can’t wait for a follow-up to his first film Submarine.

As if this isn’t enough, we have several more feature debuts in the works including award-winning promo director Daniel Wolfe’s Catch Me Daddy, multi-award winning playwright and Bafta Single Drama winner Debbie Tucker Green’s Second Coming and Yann (Top Boy, Criminal Justice) Demange’s thriller ’71.

Paul Wright’s For Those In Peril

This huge wealth of British film-making talent brings a depth and breadth of vision and audience appeal which shows us what rude health the home-grown industry is currently in. Our Cannes debut film-makers Paul Wright and Clio Barnard epitomise the kind of talent we are honoured to work with here at Film4. Instinctive British filmmakers with truly distinctive voices, making films that are both intimate and cinematic, exploring stories that are of a certain place and time and yet speak to us all. Their films are beautiful, moving, powerful, poetic – more than that, they could only have been made by British filmmakers. Or rather, British auteurs. We feel very privileged to be premiering these two films in Cannes, and look forward to seeing the other British films playing there (Ruairi Robinson’s The Last Days On Mars, Mark Cousins’ A Story Of Children And Film, and Andrew Kötting’s Swandown). And here’s to a whole year of premieres across many different festivals with a superb slate of British talent.

Film4’s Senior Commissioning Executive Katherine Butler’s Sundance round-up, part 2

29 Jan, 2013 Productions Posted in: Festivals, Film4 staff, Opinion, Sundance

Back home from eight days at the Sundance Film Festival, Katherine Butler gives us her second update on what characterised Sundance 2013…

Sundance shouldn’t really work – a small mountain town which takes ages to get to, is impossible to move around, is snow-bound and blocked by too much traffic and too many people… And yet, it’s a wonderful place to kick off the year in film-making – we’ve return exhausted but energised, full of admiration once again for the world of independent cinema, and excited about the year ahead. Our earlier blog rounded up our favourite screenings – but what about everything else that makes up the Sundance experience? What characterised Sundance 2013?

The view from the front door

The view from the front door

Beautiful weather
As any veteran of Sundance 2012 will tell you, when the snow comes down, it really comes down. A blizzard last year half way through the festival made life colder, wetter and all the traffic grind to a halt (including a bus load of directors on the way to Robert Redford’s lodge who were stuck half way up the mountain). This year, the weather was blissful. Blue blue skies, bright sunshine every day made the snow shimmer and sparkle, and raised our spirits. It was all so damn purty that we just couldn’t help tweeting pictures of sunny splendour from our front door as the UK moaned and shivered and froze over.

Lots of sex
In the films of course. The over-riding theme of the film selection was definitely sexuality. It was inescapable. From Joseph Gordon Levitt’s debut Don Jon’s Addiction which was a funny, charming film with an extraordinary performance from Scarlett Johansson as the New Jersey girlfriend of porn addict Jon; from real-life characters Paul Raymond in The Look of Love and Deep Throat herself in Lovelace; from much heralded ‘lesbian-housewife-gone-wild’ film Concussion… And many more that we didn’t manage to catch – including much-loved The Spectcular Now; Very Good Girls; Two Mothers. Sex was everywhere, and in the main, the films were smart, provocative and with amazing performances.

And some vegetables
Not many. But we did find some broccoli on night one, and then much later on, there was good asparagus to be had. This is a good result in Park City, and we return having avoided scurvy, although only narrowly.

New Frontiers icelandic volcano

New Frontiers icelandic volcano installation

New Frontiers section
This year I spent a couple of hours at the New Frontiers section which celebrates art/video installation work and the more experimental end of the film-making spectrum. As I stood watching the hypnotic piece inspired by the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokull by Joanie Lemercier that erupted in 2010, I realised that standing next to me was none other than Robert Redford himself. I like to feel that we communed together with the art work for a while before he carried on around the exhibition. It’s the first time in five years that I’ve come across the great Redford, and we definitely shared a special moment. I’m sure he remembers me too….

This way to Robert Redford...

This way to Robert Redford…




Film4’s Senior Commissioning Executive Katherine Butler’s Sundance round-up, part 1

Back home from eight days at the Sundance Film Festival, Katherine Butler reflects on her screenings highlights of snowy Park City, Utah

I love Sundance – it is the festival that feels the most Film4 of them all, with its focus on the lower budget end of independent film-making, and its lack of black tie glamour and Hollywood showbiz. Yes, it’s difficult to get around due to snow, altitude (you set off determined to walk the short distance to your screening and within 10 minutes of walking up a small incline you are puffing and panting like an old man with emphysema), and your own inability to get on the bus going in the right direction. And ok, so the food is perhaps not great for those vegetarians amongst us who like a bit of broccoli with our dinner. But in terms of the films, the people who attend, the people who run the festival and the whole ethos of the celebration of independent film, it can be the best festival experience of the year.

View from the lodge window, Sundance

So, some of this year’s Sundance cinema highlights for me included…

The films overall
This year, the selection of films was felt by all to be very strong indeed. The quality was high throughout, with very strong US dramatic and premiere sections, and great docs across the board. We don’t always get to choose the films we can see due to our meetings schedules or the availability of tickets, so we just have to take pot luck a lot of the time. This year we barely took one misstep. Pretty much every film was terrific, from amazing docs like Alex Gibney’s We Steal Secrets about Wikileaks, and the Israeli The Gatekeepers; to great US indie films like Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster in what might be this year’s Winter’s Bone) and world cinema like Sebastian Silva’s two films in the fest, Crystal Fairy (Michael Cera goes on a trip to the beach, where he then goes on a trip) and the midnight film Magic Magic.

The Egyptian Theatre

The Egyptian Theatre

The big premiere
Every year we try to get to at least one big evening premiere in the huge Eccles theatre. The buzz is always electric, the theatre completely packed and the stars all turn up to introduce the film. This year’s big film for us was Park Chan Wook’s Stoker. Being huge fans of his Korean films, we were sure this English language foray was going to be a disappointment. After all, how could Director Park (as he’s known) maintain his high level of bonkers violence and extraordinary invention when working with a studio, albeit a mini-major? Well, perhaps the violence wasn’t quite as extreme, but this extraordinary piece of film-making had all the originality, high tension, big ideas, and beauty of his previous films. We loved it. Nicole Kidman is perfectly cast; Mia Wasikowska shines; the film-making is breathtaking. And whilst the audience was apparently split down the middle if the post-screening tweets were to be believed, it was our highlight of the festival. Not to be missed.

Our films

Steve Coogan stars in The Look Of Love

Steve Coogan stars in The Look Of Love

Film4 had three features playing in the festival – Michael Winterbottom’s The Look of Love; Jeremy Lovering’s In Fear and Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers, plus two great short films – Kibwe Tavares’ Jonah and Fyzal Boulifa’s The Curse. We think this might be our record for Sundance – whether it is or not, it is a lovely number of films to be showing in one festival. Shorts Programme 1, including Jonah, opened the festival and was one of the highest quality shorts selections we’ve ever seen. Jonah, shot in Zanzibar and involving extraordinary use of animation amongst the live action, looked stunning.

Jeremy Lovering's In Fear

Jeremy Lovering’s In Fear

Sightseers played over at the Marc cinema, and whilst we’ve all seen it many times, it was glorious to find that its oh-so-English humour also plays brilliantly in Utah. The Look of Love debuted on Saturday night in the vast and packed-out Eccles Theatre, and it was wonderful to be amongst a hugely appreciative audience and with many of the film’s team including Michael Winterbottom, producer Melissa Parmenter and star Tamsin Eggerton. In Fear was a very different screening, though just as successful: midnight, in the intimate Egyptian Theatre – no laughter this time but jumps and scares and gasps. The Park City and later the Salt Lake City audiences were well and truly scared shitless. Great result. Finally, The Curse showed once again to an appreciative audience in another rather brilliant short film selection – lovely to see how far this multi-award winning (and Bafta nominated) short has travelled over the past year.

Kibwe Tavares stands in front of the poster for his film Jonah

Kibwe Tavares stands in front of the poster for his film Jonah