Latest from Michael Leader

(16 articles)

John Cooper & Trevor Groth on Sundance London

09 May, 2016 Posted in: Festivals, Sundance

Before Sundance London returns to the UK in June, Film4 site editor Michael Leader talks to Festival Director John Cooper and Director Of Programming Trevor Groth about the festival’s programme, enduring reputation, and new home in Central London…


Sundance is a festival that is so defined by its setting, and the small-town vibe of Park City. Yet this year, Sundance London has relocated to Picturehouse Central, which is less than five minutes walk from some of London’s busiest tourist spots. Do you think that will have an effect on how the festival plays out?

Trevor Groth – I think the venue is so perfect for doing a festival, because what we love about the festival in Park City is not just the screening and watching of films, but also the conversations after the screenings. And I think having a venue like Picturehouse is so conducive to hanging out and socialising, and it’s got such great social spaces, so people can keep talking about films with the filmmakers, with the programmers, afterwards. I think that’s going to be a really dynamic element of the festival.

John Cooper – We have a lot of trust in the UK audience from our experience there. They’re so intelligent – we’ve had lots of comments from our filmmakers, saying how great the Q&As were. So I’m not so worried about the audiences finding us. I’m hoping to draw some of the energy off the street and into the venue.

Tell me about the thinking behind this year’s programme. Previous editions of Sundance London had a larger programme, but this year it’s more focused on the core selection of 11 feature premieres…

Trevor Groth – We love the lineup. We feel it does represent the range of voices that Sundance is all about, from the narrative films – it has first-time directors and it has established filmmakers like Todd Solondz and James Schamus. And documentaries as well, which have always played a crucial role in the festival. We even have our Grand Jury prize-winning film, Weiner, there, and our Directing prize-winning film there, Life, Animated. Even though there’s just the 11 feature films, I think if you look at all that they represent, and everything we’re doing around the festival, including the panels, I think it will be a full weekend that really does capture what Sundance is all about.



Speaking of ‘what Sundance is all about’, the festival has such a reputation, and it has become a descriptive term in its own right. Yet it’s hard to pin down quite what that means. 

John Cooper – It’s funny. When you were saying that, I took it as such a compliment, because that’s what I strive for. As director of the festival, I strive for this impression that can’t always be quantified, in a way, because it’s coming from the artists. We have seen such an evolution in the past 5 years of independent film, and most in the advancement of craft, and the craft of screenwriting, and people using modern techniques to tell their stories. That’s all adding up to what we are. We follow the artists, basically. And they lead us in such great ways. And you know who started that, who put that idea in my head when I started here 27 years ago – it was Redford. That’s what he always believed, that we were there to be flexible and responsive to the independent film community.

How do you stay flexible as a festival?

John Cooper – By being responsive to the artist, but also keeping a clear head and not getting sidetracked from your goal and your mission to discover talent. Because everybody wants to take you in a lot of different directions that may be more commercially driven for a brief amount of time, and we always have to keep coming back to it. The industry really likes that we do this, they really like coming to the festival to have a fresh approach to their own industry.

What are the hardest and easiest parts of your job?

John Cooper – Staying open. We have to find 120 features a year that you have to love, and you have to keep your heart and your mind open for so many different kinds of styles. The job is staying open and responsive – which, I know it doesn’t sound hard, but it takes constant diligence. And the easiest… For me it’s standing back stage at Park City, and it’s just me and the filmmaker backstage, and I know that after two hours their life is going to change. They don’t trust it, they’ve just made a movie, they’re nervous, they’re fidgety, they’re all over the place. But that talk I have with them, about what’s going to happen, is where the soft spot is, for me. It’s what makes it all worth it.

Sundance London runs 2nd – 5th June. Read the full programme and book tickets here.

Cannes 2016: 10 Picks

14 Apr, 2016 Posted in: Cannes, Cannes, Festivals, Opinion site editor and festival newbie Michael Leader selects ten films from the Official Selection at this year’s Cannes Film Festival that he can’t wait to see…

Go easy on me, I’m new around these parts. Yes, this year will be my first attending the cinema calendar’s glitziest and buzziest festival, and I’m just about keeping my composure. A good start is to dive into the Official Selection, and pick a few must-see films that will act as a guiding light once the festival gets underway in May – at which point the line-up will have filled out with the Directors’ Fortnight and Critics’ Week programmes. Read on for my initial ten picks…


The Red Turtle / Le Tortue Rouge (dir Michael Dudok De Wit)
In Un Certain Regard

Japanese animation titans Studio Ghibli may have halted feature film production, but don’t start mourning just yet, as Isao Takahata serves as ‘creative producer’ on this feature debut from Dutch animator Michael Dudok De Wit (director of the Oscar-winning short Father And Daughter), which tells the story of a man marooned on a tropical island who one day encounters a strange turtle. This is a must-see for Ghibli completists – and I’m definitely one of those – as well as anyone interested in where the field of feature animation will go now Takahata, Miyazaki and co have retired.

The Transfiguration (dir Michael O’Shea)
In Un Certain Regard

There isn’t a great deal of information knocking around about Michael O’Shea’s feature debut, but I’m all for mixing in some vampire horror with worthier Official Selection offerings. Cameos from genre notables Larry Fessenden (the hardest working man in horror) and Uncle Lloyd-y himself, Troma Studios’ founder Lloyd Kaufman, suggest this might be a crowd-pleaser.

Gimme Danger (dir Jim Jarmusch)
Out Of Competition, Midnight Screening

Jim Jarmusch, meet Jim Osterberg. After a career of saturating his fictional features with references to his favourite musicians – including roles for Iggy Pop in both Coffee & Cigarettes and Dead Man – Jarmusch here turns to the documentary format for a career overview of Pop’s pioneering Detroit proto-punks, The Stooges.

Paterson (dir Jim Jarmusch)
In Competition

Side B of Jarmusch’s Cannes long-player stars Adam Driver as a bus driver called Paterson who lives in… Paterson, New Jersey. Whether this is nominative determinism or simply clever-clever punning, we’ll have to see, but Jarmusch’s unique perspective resulted last time around in uber-cool vampire drama Only Lovers Left Alive, a Palme d’Or contender in 2013 and one of my favourite films of that year.

Captain Fantastic (dir Matt Ross)
In Un Certain Regard

You might recognise Matt Ross from his career as an actor – perhaps most notably as Luis, the chap whose business card sends Patrick Bateman over the edge in American Psycho – but Captain Fantastic, his second feature as writer-director, was praised by critics on its world premiere at Sundance. Although, don’t expect your usual Sundance-dramedy fare: this tale of a dysfunctionally-progressive family is reportedly given an arthouse heft by Stephane Fontaine, Jacques Audiard’s resident cinematographer, and is capped by a charismatic performance from Viggo Mortensen, playing, in Variety’s words, “the role he may well have been born to play”.

After The Storm (dir Hirokazu Kore-eda)
In Un Certain Regard

Kore-eda last two films, Our Little Sister and Like Father, Like Son, both premiered in Competition at Cannes (the latter winning the Jury prize in 2013), but After The Storm brings to mind his 2008 family drama (and, in my opinion, career peak) Still Walking, with Kore-eda regulars Kirin Kiki and Hiroshi Abe once again playing mother and son in what should be, no doubt, a gently paced, quietly devastating domestic melodrama.

Bacalaureat / Family Photos (dir Cristian Mungiu)
In Competition

One of two heavyweight Romanian directors returning to the Competition line-up this year, Cristian Mungiu follows Beyond The Hills, which won both Best Actress and Best Screenplay back in 2012 with reportedly his most personal film yet, a meditation on the complexities and compromises of parenthood.

The Nice Guys (dir Shane Black)
Out Of Competition

Just watch the trailer. Writer-director Shane Black has successfully re-vamped the buddy-comedy genre twice before, with indie gem Kiss Kiss Bang Bang in 2005, and Iron Man 3, easily the best Marvel movie to date, so here’s hoping his winning streak continues with this 70s-set murder-mystery.

The Train To Busan / Bu-San-Haeng (dir Yeon Sang-Ho)
Out Of Competition, Midnight Screening

Korean animation The King Of Pigs – a ferocious, allegorical drama set in the country’s ultra-competitive high-school system – marked out Yeon Sang-Ho as a director, and cultural commentator, to watch. The Train To Busan is his first live-action feature, and a companion piece to the yet-to-be-released animated film Seoul Station, both of which follow the spread of a virus across Korea.

Loving (dir Jeff Nichols)
In Competition

Performing a feat of Spielbergian multi-tasking, Jeff Nichols follows the sky-gazing sci-fi Midnight Special – which only premiered at Berlin back in February – with this more grounded, civil rights-themed drama, which is based on the story of an interracial couple (Ruth Negga & Joel Edgerton) sentenced to a year in prison in 1950s Virginia. It may sound like Oscar bait, but I’m intrigued to see Nichols’ spin on the award-movie formula.

Click here for more Cannes coverage on the Film4 blog

Paul Goodwin on Future Shock! The Story Of 2000 AD

04 Apr, 2016 Posted in: Directors, Documentaries, Film4 Channel, Interview

As Future Shock! The Story Of 2000 AD receives its TV premiere, director Paul Goodwin talks to Film4 site editor Michael Leader about making a documentary about the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic, home to iconic characters such as Judge Dredd, and launchpad for some of the medium’s most influential writers and artists…


ML: What’s your history with 2000 AD? Were/are you a reader?

PG: Yes! Pretty much everyone involved in the production of the film are fans of 2000 AD of one era or another – it’s a real passion project for us all.

I first came to it in about 1986. I borrowed a stack of old progs from a school friend and it all just blew my tiny mind! I remember reading some Rogue Troopers, Nemesis The Warlock and my first Judge Dredd was the Judge Child Quest. Immediately I was experiencing these crazy worlds and characters that were totally different to anything I’d ever read – I was hooked. I spent every day after school down at the comic shop in Harrow, and every weekend traipsing around Denmark Street and Paradise Alley cleaning them out of back issues for pennies. It was a seminal experience. Once you experience 2000 AD it stays with you for life!

When producing a film like this, where do you start? Were you looking at other documentaries, either about comics or not, to figure out the structure, tone and approach?

In terms of other documentaries, we definitely liked Mark Hartley’s Not Quite Hollywood, and talked about the tone and pace, and we wanted to create something similar for our subject. We didn’t have the luxury of all that great footage in NQH to use as cutaways though, but we did have nearly 40 years of fucking awesome artwork!

Structure-wise we knew we would use the rough chronological spine, but there were certain important aspects we wanted to focus on such as the state of the comics scene before 2000 AD in the 70s, the migration of talent to the US in the 80s and the troubles the comic went through during the 90s. These were all things that, as fans, we wanted to know about ourselves, so it was great fun exploring those subjects in the interviews. We also delved into the inspiration behind the characters, which gave us the chance to explore the very heart of 2000 AD, the subversion and the anarchy!

Another crucial element of the film is the soundtrack, composed by Justin Greaves of Crippled Black Phoenix. He’s also a massive 2000 AD fan, and we all agreed that the music needed to add attitude and a punk dynamic to reflect the 2000 AD experience. It’s amazing, perfect.


Interviewing writer Neil Gaiman…

There are so many moving parts in a production like this – interviewee access, clip clearances, imagery rights, not to mention everything that comes after the film itself is finished. What’s the hardest part of the process?

Overall, the entire project has been a joy to work on, but I’ll admit that the stuff after post production can be a bit of a drag. The film is finished and you have like another year’s worth of admin! Luckily the subject matter is something I cared about so much it was never a chore. By far the most difficult part was the legal side. 2000 AD has had quite few fiery and passionate personalities involved over the years, and so there was a busy task of ironing out any potential litigious content. Also with all the clips and artwork to clear there were endless trims and edits back and forth to keep our lawyer happy. That process went on for months, not cheap either…

Interviewing 2000 AD creator Pat Mills...

Interviewing 2000 AD creator Pat Mills…

The roster of writers, artists, editors and 2000 AD comrades that you interview in the film is incredible. Of course, they’re all remarkable, but do you have any personal favourites?

It was a genuine honour to meet and chat about comics with all our contributors and I thank each one for giving up their time to speak to us. Everyone was hugely supportive of the project and their passion and openness on camera was a testament to what an impact 2000 AD has had on us all.

I would say that our interview with Pat Mills was very important, that was the moment we knew we had a great spine for the documentary. He’s so important to the history of the comic, he recognised that we wanted to do a very thorough job and was happy to talk at length about anything and everything to do with the 2000 AD.

We were also very lucky to sit down with Alex Garland for a couple of hours; he’s not known for doing many interviews but told us he was happy to be involved as 2000 AD was such a seminal influence. On a personal note, it was a huge honour to interview Peter Milligan, whose work I’ve admired for many years.

Where would you recommend a newcomer to 2000 AD start, if their interest in the comic is piqued after watching the film?

Ha! Well, apart from signing up for the prog every week… I’d send people straight to DR & Quinch. S’right!

Future Shock! The Story Of 2000 AD premieres on Film4 at 11.25pm on Wednesday 6th April 2016, as part of Dark Futures Season.

Alden Ehrenreich on Hail, Caesar!

02 Mar, 2016 Posted in: Actors and Actresses, Interview

As Hollywood comedy Hail, Caesar! hits UK cinemas, site editor Michael Leader speaks with actor Alden Ehrenreich about singing cowboys, the studio system and working with the Coen Brothers…

Alden Ehrenreich in Hail, Caesar!

Alden Ehrenreich in Hail, Caesar!

Hail, Caesar! is a movie by and for movie lovers, and it’s packed with so many references and homages to Golden-Age Hollywood. Hobie Doyle, the ‘dust actor’, seems to be playing on the old Western archetype of the singing cowboy. Did the Coens ever say, in the screenplay or on set, ‘this is Gene Autry’?

They make some references to that. I grew up with a lot of John Ford and Sam Peckinpah Westerns but I’d never really seen any of the ‘singing cowboy’ stuff. Certainly the most famous people in the genre would be Gene Autry or Roy Rogers, but they kind of created their own. It doesn’t really sync up in the way that some of the other characters do, to one person in particular. I feel like they really created their own, unique guy which was what made it so fun to play.

If you didn’t have any prior knowledge of this sort of Western star, did the Coens set you any homework, or did you do any research into the genre yourself? 

Yeah they showed me a couple of things. Not so much for the character, specifically, but they sent me a clip of Roy Rogers that they thought was really funny, where he says a line and immediately after the line he just starts singing. We also watched a clip of Will Rogers doing trick-roping.

One earlier Western that I really loved growing up was Destry Rides Again, which was made in 1939, the same year as Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz. It’s Jimmy Stewart and Marlene Dietrich and it’s great. I have a few favourite actors of that era, but Jimmy Stewart is one of my favourite actors in the world. I adore him. He chose to play a certain type of role and you believed him, I have a lot of respect for that.

James Stewart & Marlene Dietrich in Destry Rides Again

James Stewart & Marlene Dietrich in Destry Rides Again

Looking at the era of Hail, Caesar!, where you have contracted movie stars who would have guaranteed studio work for a set amount of time, there must have been something quaint and attractive looking back at those days.

Absolutely, like you just said the job security seems really appealing. My other favourite pre-World War II film star is Spencer Tracy, and I remember him saying something about actors – which I don’t agree with – but he says that actors were better then because they were constantly working, and they were constantly trying different things and they were challenged. And that’s really appealing.

Now at the same time, there’s the great story of James Stewart talking about being forced to do a musical, and him not being able to sing at all, and he was horrible in it, which is kind of what happens in Hail, Caesar! – you would end up playing parts that you weren’t right for. So that’s the downside. And you didn’t have any control over what you were saying or what kind of films you were doing, but on the other hand the upside is the consistency of work you were getting.

It’s so true. I recently watched a screwball comedy from the 1930s called The Awful Truth, with Cary Grant, and he’s amazing in it. He just looks like Cary Grant as we know him, the iconic star wearing the suit, pratfalling and quipping. But I read that he hated the experience, and tried to quit the production – yet that was the film that created the star persona that defined the rest of his career.

The other one is Clark Gable, who was forced to do It Happened One Night as punishment because he kept saying no to things, and so MGM lent him out to Columbia, a smaller studio, and he thought that it was the worst thing that had ever happened. And yet it won Best Picture! It was a happy accident.

Joel & Ethan Coen

Writer-directors Joel & Ethan Coen

Are there any happy accidents when working with the Coen Brothers?

The Coens in a nutshell are unbelievably prepared and they have everything, like the writing, so complete that when you get to set it’s a very relaxed environment, because there’s only so much that can go wrong. And if it does go wrong you have the feeling that they know exactly how to fix it.

And then when you get there, because they’re so prepared, they give you a lot of latitude and a lot of freedom. I’ve never been on a set that was so relaxed, so fun. They’d say “you can go home now”, and I’d be like “it’s only noon, can I stay and watch?”

Hail, Caesar! is released in UK cinemas on March 4th 2016. The Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis premieres on Film4 on March 2nd.

Berlin 2016: Homo Sapiens

13 Feb, 2016 Posted in: Berlin, Festivals, Uncategorized

We’re now three days into the Berlin Film Festival, and despite fierce competition from some hotly-tipped heavy hitters (including world premieres of Jeff Nichols’ Midnight Special & Mia Hansen-Løve’s Things To Come, to name but two), the film that has made the biggest impression, and continues to stick with me, was one I saw on opening night: Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s Homo Sapiens.

Homo Sapiens is the perfect festival film. It is dialogue-free, and consists of a series of static camera shots from abandoned, dilapidated and overgrown locations from around the world, presented without commentary or descriptive text. For an hour and a half.

Now, before you high-tail it to your nearest Deadpool screening, bear with me a minute. Festivals give you the opportunity to take a risk with the sort of films you wouldn’t normally go to see (or even be able to see) at your local multiplex. Often those risks don’t pay off, but sometimes they do, and when they do you can feel your cinematic horizons broadening with every frame. Enter Homo Sapiens, a film of formal simplicity that provides a wholly unique, and utterly enthralling viewing experience.

A shot fades in, and immediately the viewer is drawn into an eerie game of cinematic  I Spy, encouraged to decode the image, reverse-engineer the effects of time, rewind the decay to figure out where we are, and what we’re looking at. A golf course? A supermarket? A scrap yard? Geyrhalter cheekily – or cautiously, or cruelly – omits specific location information even from the film’s end credits, so we’re left on our own, scrutinising for clues as we luxuriate in each image’s immaculate composition (a sequence featuring shards of sunlight cutting through holes in the ceilings of cathedrals and cinemas is one of many highlights). Is that a hammer-and-sickle emblem over there? Are we in a former Soviet state? A vending machine stands tall, out of place in a thicket of weeds – is it inscribed in Japanese?

Homo Sapiens makes the modern world seem strange, and before long there’s an odd sense of welcome familiarity, even nostalgia, when recognisable iconography appears, be it a McDonald’s sign or a Twilight film poster. This is the present-day post-apocalypse, and we’re picking through the rubble, accompanied only by wildlife, the elements and the sound of what remains when the human element is removed.

This deserves to be seen on the big screen (in Dolby Atmos if possible), and with any luck it will become an indispensable text for anyone embarking on a project set in a world where human society has collapsed. With this collection of astonishing imagery, Geyrhalter has revealed that such places already exist – you just have to find them.




by Michael Leader

Michael Leader is editorial director of Film4 Online. As a freelance writer he's written for Sight & Sound and Little White Lies. Before joining the Film4 team, he worked for BAFTA.

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