Loach and Leigh selected for Cannes Film Festival

17 Apr, 2014 Productions Posted in: Cannes, Directors, Events, Festivals

Film4-backed Jimmy’s Hall and Mr. Turner announced for Official Selection at the Cannes Film Festival

Jimmy's Hall, from Ken Loach

Ken Loach’s Jimmy’s Hall

Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner and Ken Loach’s Jimmy’s Hall have been announced for Official Selection at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.  Both Film4-backed films will screen in competition during the 67th edition which begins 14th May.

Tessa Ross, Controller of Film and Drama at Channel 4, said: “I’m delighted that two of our most significant filmmakers will premiere their latest films side by side on the Croisette.  Ken and Mike are synonymous with great British filmmaking; with Jimmy’s Hall and Mr. Turner they return to Cannes with two wonderful films which join their extraordinary canon of work. We’re privileged to have supported them both.”

On hearing the news, Mike Leigh commented: ‘It’s a great honour to be in Competition in Cannes for the fifth time, and I’m over the moon!’

Loach took home the Palme D’Or in 2006 for The Wind That Shakes the Barley, whilst Leigh won the same prize ten years before with Secrets and Lies. The last time their films were in competition together in Cannes was in 2010, with Leigh’s Another Year and Loach’s Route Irish.

Mike Leigh's Mr. Turner

Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner

Mr. Turner
Timothy Spall heads a large and impressive cast in Mike Leigh’s rich portrait of the great if eccentric British painter, JMW Turner. Exploring the last quarter century of the artist’s life, Mr. Turner takes us from Georgian to Victorian England, from the end of sailing ships to the coming of the railway. Sumptuously photographed by Dick Pope, the film evokes Turner’s epic imagery, yet tells the tragi-comic story of a very mortal man.

Click here to find out more about Mr. Turner

Jimmy’s Hall
In 1921, Jimmy Gralton’s sin was to build a dance hall on a rural crossroads in Ireland, where young people could come to learn, to argue, to dream… but above all to dance and have fun. Jimmy’s Hall celebrates the spirit of these free-thinkers.

Click here to find out more about Jimmy’s Hall


10 Highlights from SXSW

17 Mar, 2014 Posted in: SXSW

Film4 commissioning executive and head of digital Anna Higgs,’s Catherine Bray (also co-producer of Beyond Clueless, which screened at SXSW) and freelance critic Caspar Salmon pick their highlights from SXSW (excluding, of course, anything they produced themselves – we thought that might seem a bit biased!)


1. The Possibilities Are Endless


A critics’ favourite at SXSW, James Hall and Edward Lovelace’s The Possibilities Are Endless ostensibly tells the story of the singer Edwyn Collins’s recovery from a stroke with the love and help of his wife, Grace Maxwell. But the film also functions as an exploration of memory, identity and love, a hymn for Scotland and the sea, and a tender depiction of love and companionship. Hall and Lovelace have made the decision to represent Collins’s plight – his loss of language, of identity, of memories and movement – in a purely filmic way, immersing the spectator in a series of impressionistic images. It is a bold way to go about telling his story, and one that shows what an affinity the filmmakers have for their material.

– Caspar Salmon

2. The Raid 2

It’s always fun to try and find time to see a big action-y film at SXSW if you can, as there’s nothing quite like seeing one in a packed Paramount Theatre, with a whooping and cheering audience of fanatical film go-ers. The energy and passion with which audiences meet the film and filmmakers really sums up what I love about SXSW and means I have to come back every year. In previous years it’s been Cabin In The Woods or Kick-Ass, but this year it was Gareth Evans’ The Raid 2. This screening was made all the more intense as the night it was supposed to premiere (and I couldn’t make because we had one of our films playing) the subtitles failed and so the screening was called off part way through – the most gut-wrenching of horrors for festival heads and filmmakers alike, way surpassing the goriest of movies at the fest itself! But Gareth soldiered on and they fixed the problem and a midnight screening for the following night was put on. And it was well worth the wait for the assembled crowds. The film has a lot more hammer-death than the first, but it was wonderful to see the audience responding with such enthusiasm and great to see Gareth so happy with the results after the challenges of the night before.

– Anna Higgs

3. Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton

Influential LA hip hop label Stones Throw was founded in 1996 and has since released some of the most ground-breaking records in the genre. This doc features interviews with basically all the key players, from mastermind Chris Manak (aka Peanut Butter Wolf), artists like Madlib, Tyler the Creator, Flying Lotus and Kanye West, archive footage of much-missed talents like Charizma and J Dilla (to whom the film is dedicated), and some more contemporary performances, making for a delicious grab bag of all things Stones Throw. It’s possibly a little esoteric for a disinterested newcomer, but for everyone from curious dilettantes to die-hard fans it’s a real treat – a novice looking to learn everything about the label wouldn’t have to work too hard to thoroughly enjoy themselves, and likely end up with a wallet-shafting shopping list of must-own records.

– Catherine Bray

4. Boyhood


Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, an involving portrait of a child filmed over a period of twelve years, was a huge crowd-pleaser at the festival, and for good reason. In the naturalistic, searching vein of Linklater’s ‘Before’ trilogy, the film centres on Mason, who at the start of the film is a young, dreamy kid who lives with his sister and mother (Patricia Arquette) and occasionally sees his slacker father (Ethan Hawke). The film’s technical accomplishment in guiding its characters through this time-frame is exceptional: nothing feels forced, each moment seems to have some truth in it, and the relationships between the characters grow deeper as the movie proceeds.

– Caspar Salmon

5. Adam Buxton’s Kernel Panic

It’s always great to see Adam Buxton doing his stuff for a new audience, and the way he coped with technical issues at SXSW that staff were unable to resolve was a masterclass in British resolve in the face of chaos. One half of Adam and Joe in the 20th century, Dr Buckles has since become a brilliant live act in the 21st – if you’ve never experienced his unique brand of daft videos, YouTube comment curation and genuine passion for David Bowie (plus other stuff too), his new show Kernel Panic is an ideal place to start. (There’s a five night London run coming up in April – click here.)

– Catherine Bray

6. Sequoia


With a punchy, acerbic script and performances treading a fine line between sardonic and charming, Sequoia tells the story of Riley (Aly Michalka), a suicidal cancer sufferer who crosses paths with an idealistic Christian banjo-botherer (Dustin Milligan) as she heads to Sequoia National Park to off herself. En route, the pair make a film diary of her last moments, with which to taunt her hated mother (Joey Lauren Adams). The movie revels in its gallows humour and finds moments of sass and beauty amongst the overall climate of despair – and if it occasionally falls prey to some indie traps (Instagram-style visuals, the hey-check-this-out kookiness of its premise), the leads are gorgeous and convincing, and it is a genuinely funny, sometimes properly gloomy film. Watch out for Demetri Martin’s entertainingly ghastly turn as the hideous stepfather.

– Caspar Salmon

7. Interactive Stories That Move Us presented by Caspar Sonnen, IDFA Doc Lab

Caspar Sonnen runs IDFA’s innovative and inspiring Doc Lab which works to explore documentary storytelling in the digital age alongside the prestigious festival. This panel was really insightful, looking at how digital storytelling can really move you emotionally and showcasing some great examples including Jonathan Harris’ We Feel Fine, Chris Milk’s immersive Sound & Vision project with Beck and Alma: A Tale Of Violence. The session was music to my ears and really nailed the opportunities and challenges that we’re trying to work in with Film4’s innovation work – particularly the key issue that in interactive projects the focus tends to settle on the technology and not what makes us think and feel as human beings.

– Anna Higgs

8. Music videos showcase

I love music videos, and it’s not often you get the chance to sit down and watch 19 of them in a row on the big screen with proper speakers. The selection curated by SXSW more than stood up to the challenge of screening in a cinema instead of on a laptop, with some mind-blowing VFX, engaging narratives and surreal concepts showcasing the work of new and established directing talents. I’d highlight Lesson #16 for Beatmaster V / Fun (directed by Kenneth Karlstad for Deathcrush), Mind Mischief (directed by David Wilson for Tame Impala), Cry Like A Ghost (directed by Daniels’ for Passion Pit) and Back To Me (directed by Ian and Cooper for Joel Compass).

– Catherine Bray

9. Frank


It’s always great to see a film that you’re very close to go down well at a festival, and though the film enjoyed its world premiere at Sundance, this SXSW Festival Favourites screening was huge fun. The audience were all wearing their Frank masks and really went on the journey with the film that Lenny Abrahamson and his team so intricately crafted. There’s a bit of SXSW in the film itself, so it was a wonderfully meta moment to hear the audience cheer that part and really feel like part of the world of the film.

– Anna Higgs

10. The Straight 8 competition

This was my first time at SXSW and one of the things I took away from it was how much more hands on it is for festivalgoers than most festivals. An example: I was badgered into entering a one hour filmmaking competition by the irrepressibly enthusiastic Straight 8 team, who have created an app that replicates the ‘no editing’ feel of shooting on Super 8. One hour later, we’d all shot our mainly pretty awful shorts, but the quality wasn’t important – it was the fact that as well as turning up to watch and respond to films, we’d been forced to get our hands dirty and make one, however questionable.

– Catherine Bray


10 Things We Learned About Casting at the Glasgow Film Festival

22 Feb, 2014 Posted in: Behind The Scenes, Careers, Casting, Festivals

The Glasgow Film Festival isn’t just about watching films. One of the events we attended was Close up on Casting, a session with casting director Kahleen Crawford (Under The Skin, For Those In Peril) and actress Kate Dickie (Red Road, Prometheus, Game Of Thrones). For those who couldn’t attend, here are ten things the panel shared about the mysterious art that is casting.

Close Up On Casting

Close Up On Casting

1. Consider a casting career

Think you want to work in film? Have you thought about a career in casting? Kahleen says: “I studied film and television at Glasgow Uni; I’m not sure how useful that was. I then moved to London because that’s what you do and I came back in a relative panic because it was awful and I had no money.” She was then put in touch with an industry insider who suggested casting might be for her. “All I’ve ever really done apart from being bad runner for about six months is casting, and I love it because I’m interested in people,” Kahleen says. “If it all goes wrong I’ll have to go back to being a bad runner.”

2. Casting agents aren’t the enemy

“Doing auditions is the best part about our job,” Kahleen says. “Actors have to remember, we’re not your enemy. We’d like nothing more than for you to get the job because it means our job is done!” This chimes with Kate Dickie’s experience on the casting circuit: “I like auditioning for Kahleen because you get that feeling that she’s keen for you to do as well as you can. But some castings are very intimidating and I’ve done some terrible auditions that I hope will never see the light of day!”

3. Have a coping strategy for rejection

Like every single other actor, Kate Dickie hasn’t got every role she’s auditioned for. She says, “what I do to cope with the rejections that are part and parcel of the job is to try to see every audition as a meeting. I try to think, ‘ok, I’m not for that, but they might remember me for another thing.’ And that has happened so many times – years later, people remember you.” Kahleen confirms: “People change over the years. I love seeing how actors change over the years, and I love keeping in touch with them.”

4. Get an agent if you can. If you can’t get one yet, do shorts.

Kate says “If you don’t have an agent, do short films. I still do a lot of short films even now because I think it’s important to support up and coming directing and writing talent and meet other actors. And keep your ear to the ground. I’ve got so many talented actor friends where I just don’t understand why the world doesn’t know about them and I’ll try to let them know about castings that might work for them.”

5. Don’t fret if you’re just not right…

Kahleen says it’s best not to take it personally if you’re just not quite right for the role: “If we’re looking for a banana and you’re an orange, they’re nothing you can do. Just be a great orange and maybe next time we’ll be looking for an orange.

6. …but don’t be afraid to take a chance on a role you don’t think you’ll get.

Kate plays Lysa Arryn in Game Of Thrones, described in the book as looking very different to Kate. “I was really lucky on Game Of Thrones, because in the book, my character is very voluptuous, a very full figure, but I auditioned and they liked what I did.”

7. If you’re a director, don’t be afraid to share your tastes with your casting director

Kahleen works with Ken Loach a lot and says “it’s been quite a journey. Now I get Ken’s taste and his sense of humour – he’s a real mischief. So with a new director, spending time with them, learning their tastes and what they like or don’t like is very useful.”

8. Learn to self-tape an audition

Kahleen says it’s increasingly common practice to film an audition yourself and send it in, rather than meeting in person. “On Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth, starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cottilard, they were mostly accepting self-tapes for auditions. It’s really worth getting good at making those.”

9. Treat it like a date

Kahleen advises actors to conduct themselves with an eye for first impressions: “A good audition is like a date. You both want a second date, but you’re both there to find out more about the other person. You don’t want to be too needy. And you want to make a good impression. It never ceases to amaze me how many actors go into an audition carrying about 45 carrier bags. You want your handbag and a bottle of water, but you want to get in and out of an audition smoothly.” Kate agrees: “Be on time, but try not to be too much of an eager beaver. It’s not one way; it’s also a meeting for you to see what you think of it.”

10. If it goes wrong, don’t panic

Kahleen remembers: “We had an actor turn up for a reading with Gillian Anderson and he got his time wrong, and that didn’t matter, she was fine, we were fine, but he got a bit flappy about it because he was flustered, and he blew it. And he would have got the part. If you arrive late and a bit sweaty, worry about that after your audition, don’t bring it into the room.” Kate adds: “I’ll always go to the audition early, work out where it is, then go and have a coffee and try to relax.”

P.S. And finally – if you hit the jackpot and get that part in a film? “Take a book, because there’s an awful lot of waiting, says Kate. “I think it was Michael Caine who said something like ‘they pay me to wait, I do the acting for free.”


Glasgow Film Festival: day one

21 Feb, 2014 Productions Posted in: Festivals, Talent

Catherine Bray reports on the opening night and first day of the Glasgow Film Festival, with films including the UK premiere of Grand Budapest Hotel and the Film4-backed Starred Up, starring Jack O’Connell.

Glasgow Film Festival is 10 years old!

Glasgow Film Festival is 10 years old!

Amazingly, the Glasgow Film Festival is already 10 years old – happy birthday Glasgow Film Festival! The tenth festival kicked off in style with the UK premiere of Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel, introduced via video by Wes Anderson. The film is a real high energy, aesthetically impeccable comedy with a very funny central performance from Ralph Fiennes. I won’t say more about the film here because we’ve a lovely review from Michael Leader who was at the world premiere in Berlin, which you can read over here.

Wes Anderson introduces Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson introduces Grand Budapest Hotel

The film was followed by a party at the entirely suitable Grand Central Hotel, which gave the fictional hotel a run for its money style-wise. I chatted with co-director Allison Gardner, who explained that the mission of the festival continues to be providing a festival for the people – no hierarchies, no special VIP treatment – for example, every member of the public who bought a ticket for the opening night film could come to the premiere party.

The Grand Central Hotel

The Grand Central Hotel

The festival proper began the next day with the first film in the 1939 retrospective, Mr Smith Goes To Washington. Introduced by co-director Allan Hunter, the film is one of several 1939 Oscar nominees playing as part of a strand designed to celebrate 1939, the year Glasgow’s artistic directors have dubbed the greatest in the Hollywood studio system (others include: Gone With The Wind, Goodbye Mr Chips, Ninotchka, Of Mice and Men and The Wizard of Oz).

Allan Hunter introduces Mr Smith Goes To Washington

Allan Hunter introduces Mr Smith Goes To Washington

I then just had time to squeeze in art house horror The Strange Colour Of Your Body’s Tears before interviewing Starred Up writer Jonathan Asser and star Jack O’Connell (watch this space for those interviews). A session at the Centre for Contemporary Arts followed, as casting director Kahleen Crawford, who recently cast the Film4-backed films For Those In Peril and Under The Skin (which will close the Glasgow Film Festival), and actor Kate Dickie (Red Road, Prometheus) shared their thoughts on the mysteries of casting. I’ll be writing that event up shortly as Ten Things We Learned About Casting – for now, I have to dash off to the premiere of the Film4-backed Starred Up, which will also be covered in a separate blog. But so far, Glasgow is shaping up as a festival characterized by variety and accessibility to all.

First look review: The Dark Valley

10 Feb, 2014 Posted in: Berlin, Festivals, Opinion, Review

The Dark Valley

The Dark Valley (Das finistere tal, 2013)

Dir: Andreas Prochaska

Starring: Sam Riley

If you consider the parts played by Sam Riley to date as a string of Byronic outsiders, then surely it was only a matter of time until the actor followed his turns as moody rocker (Control), moody beatnik (On The Road), moody mobster (Brighton Rock) and moody vampire (Byzantium) with a spur-heeled saunter into the (moody) Wild West. But who would have guessed that the opportunity would come in a German-language film set among the chilly climes of the remote Alps?

The Dark Valley, directed by Austrian filmmaker Andreas Prochaska (who, in a previous life, edited Michael Haneke’s Funny Games) and adapted from Thomas Willmann’s period page-turner, enters that small canon of films (which also includes John Hillcoat’s Aussie scorcher The Proposition) that relocate the tropes and texture of the Western genre to a new culture.

The familiar touchstones are all here: honest, hard-working folks straining under the yolk of both the elements and the local thugs; shady goons causing trouble in the saloon (or, in this case, a schnapps den); a mysterious stranger rocking up with an occluded past. This interloper is Greider (Riley), an American who is reportedly visiting the valley to photograph its landscape and its residents – but his arrival spells certain doom for the town’s de facto dictator Brenner and his six sons, who not only exploit their neighbours but periodically rape the community’s women, too.

The original novel’s dedications to spaghetti western supremo Sergio Leone and German ‘homeland’ novelist Lugwig Ganghofer serve as an effective blueprint for Prochaska’s gritty, stylised adaptation, which fetishises the mountain landscape and gory violence in equal measure. Sam Riley may not quite capture Clint Eastwood or Charles Bronson’s grim stoicism, but he handles the moody man-in-black job well, although while donning his fur-lined duster and thick winter scarf he does look remarkably like he’s just walked in from a photo-shoot for Burberry’s frontier retro-chic collection.

Stylistically, though, the film is a bit of a botch job. Prochaska shoots for the mythical, terminal inevitability of revisionist bloodbaths, but while he has Peckinpah-style gunfights down pat (complete with effectively squelchy gore and splintering sound design), the story itself is a dreary drudge through angel-of-death revenge flick cliches, with nary a character to be seen among the archetypes and stock players.

For every nice detail – the breaking of ice on the surface of a shaving bowl, the creak and rustle of snow-leaden pines – there are baffling nosedives into unintentionally humorous gothic melodrama, from a fire-and-brimstone sermon from a grizzled priest to a grotesque scene in which Greider forcibly feeds an innkeeper’s wife coins as punishment for corruption.

True, Prochaska’s approach is as subtle as buckshot – but when your themes are as broad as a barn door, it’s pretty hard to miss the mark completely. Ultimately, though, The Dark Valley comes off more like cartoonish pastiche than revival; it’s unsurprising that this well-mounted rehash has already been called ‘the Alpine Django’ in the German press.