Coming Attractions: Movie Trailer Night Winter 2009
An Evening of Hot Films on a Cool Night
By Charles Kirkland, DC Film Society Member
On Tuesday, November 17, 2009, Landmark’s E Street Cinema was the location of a surprise filled event that celebrated the best and the worst of the winter season of cinema. Friends and family, members and members-to-be of the Washington DC Film Society joined together and under the lead of film critic giants, Joe Barber and Bill Henry, engaged in a one-of-a-kind gathering known as the Film Society’s Coming Attractions Trailer Night.
For those who have never before had the fortunate opportunity to be a part of this joyous celebration, there are several components of the event that are essential to the evening. They are: the red ticket, the swag table, the vote and the closing ceremony. Every part is well known, loved and expected but on this night of surprises, expect nothing.
Upon entry to the halls of the cinema, after paying for entry, the small red raffle ticket appeared. The warning was given, “Don’t lose your ticket. You are going to need it.” The ticket granted access, first to the swag table then, to the closing ceremony raffle. The swag table was simply a pair of folding tables linked together and guarded by Film Society staff. On the table were rows of promotional items from various films. Some of them were: T-Shirts from The Blind Side, Ninja Assassin, The Box, Old Dogs, More Than A Game, The Soloist, Obsessed, and Saw 6; hats from Public Enemies and The Informant! and various books, whistles, CD’s and posters.
After I nestled into my seat with my posters and other trinkets (fortunately, a seat was open beside me), I listened with anticipation to Barber and Henry’s opening instructions and received the first surprise of the evening. Mr. Henry introduced a new contest to the festivities. In the front of the theater was a table with a list of all the trailers to be shown in the night. People were asked to put their name beside the trailer that they would predict to be the trailer of the night. Each person could only pick one trailer and once that trailer was gone they would have to pick one that was available. After about ten minutes and a booming request from the director, Michael Kyrioglou, the show began.
Usually, in past “Coming Attractions” nights, during the trailers, one lone voice from the very front and dead center of the theater belonging to Martin Wooster would bark out quips and barbs to the trailers. Sometimes funny, sometimes not, but always there. This night, he was not alone.
Always Look on the Bright Side of Life
The first trailer of the evening was for The Book of Eli. The trailer gave us a futuristic, post-apocalypse tale starring Denzel Washington as a butt-kicking, hand-chopping off guardian of what may be the last copy of the Bible. Mila Kunis as eye candy and Gary Oldman as the villain, this trailer started things off with such a bang that someone yelled the words “More Bass!” as the theater shook. Surprise! It was not Martin.
Dear John was the latest book adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel. The trailer starred Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried as lovers who have to struggle with his commitment to the armed forces. Somehow, some way, someone…is going to die.
Mel Gibson breaks out his best Boston accent for Edge of Darkness. Gibson plays a homicide detective whose daughter is shot to death at his home. Gibson investigates as only a homicide detective father can and finds that the shooting had nothing to do with him. Uh oh, not such a proud father now, huh?
Everybody’s Fine was the predictable holiday star vehicle helmed by Robert De Niro. De Niro plays a recently widowed man who realizes his children are not coming home for the holidays. Since they will not come to him, he embarks on a journey to visit his children. Maybe this could have been called “Meet the Children”.
The last trailer for the first category was for The Road. Adapted from the novel by Cormac McCarthy (No Country for Old Men), Viggo Mortensen and his son are survivors of some apocalypse and must migrate down a road that is beset on all sides by various nefarious characters. The serious trailer left the audience silent upon its completion. As discussion of the trailer and the film itself began, one audience member mentioned how the film was being pushed toward the Christian community. Another member shouted something about it having a Palin-esque Christian quality. Then the laughter began. Maybe there could be a cameo appearance from the Denzel character in “Eli”.
Speaking of which, “The Book of Eli” was the first category winner of the night.
Silly or Spectacle
The first clip in the second section of the night was a small little known movie called Avatar. The trailer for this movie was a visual extravaganza. James Cameron has put together a beautiful and stunning animated tale of two worlds that drew cheers and applause.
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus was the second clip in this short category. There were many squeals of delight from the women in the audience as they drooled over the cast of men starring in this movie. Heath Ledger, Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell. Who cares what the movie was about!
The squealfest continued with the third and final trailer in this small bunch, Sherlock Holmes. Starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law (again?) as Holmes and Watson respectively, the trailer highlighted their meandering and laughable antics and attempted to show that they are going to solve a crime. Who knows, I could not hear over the catcalls.
Easily, Avatar won the vote for best trailer in this category.
Just a Bunch of Animals
One of the biggest surprises of the night came with the reaction to the trailer for Alvin & the Chipmunks: The Squeakuel. Clearly the shortest trailer of the night, it depicted Alvin and his brothers as they met the new girl chipmunks in town. Catcalls, cheers, laughter and general silliness filled the theater to the disbelief of Barber and Henry.
The trailer for the Fantastic Mr. Fox was almost perfect for the movie. It created interest by showing the various animated animals. It had familiarity in the cast of voices for the movie: George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray, and Owen Wilson. It had humor when someone yelled at the end of the clip “More Chipmunks!” And it was not Martin!
And then there was Old Dogs. From the people who brought you Wild Hogs comes the tale of Robin Williams a single, slightly past middle-aged man who discovers that he is a father of twins. With his friend John Travolta and Seth Green, they embark on a hilarious (?) babysitting journey. There were modest chuckles from the crowd but there were also groans.
Rounding out the third group and leading to the break was the highly anticipated Disney animated feature The Princess and The Frog. The trailer did a great job of introducing the characters and fleshing out the story and even sampling the soundtrack. The trailer followed the same familiar format as seen in Aladdin and other non-Pixar Disney fare. It was met with some warm but polite applause.
Surprise! For some reason, our illustrious host, Joe Barber, decided that he wanted to circumvent the democratic voting process by removing Alvin and the Chipmunks from consideration. The crowd quickly rejected the idea and in a surprisingly close vote…the trailer for Fantastic Mr. Fox won the category.
During the break, the normal discussion started about the quality of movies and directors and the like. But surprisingly, a comment came down to the hosts that put things in perspective in the wake of the “Chipmunk” fiasco. The hosts were reminded that the evening was not about the quality of the movie the trailer promotes but the trailer itself. And by that standard, it was possible and even likely that a trailer for an outrageously inane film like Alvin and Old Dogs could be more enjoyable than one for an Oscar quality movie.
News From the Ongoing Wars You Have Never Heard Of
The shortest category of the night contained only two trailers which meant each of these trailers had a fifty percent chance of reaching the finals. If only they were worthy.
The first trailer of the group was for Legion, a confusing and terrifying clip. Paul Bettany plays a handsome stranger who visits a small diner in the middle of nowhere with a pregnant waitress. For some reason, according to Bettany, the angels of the Lord are after the waitress and he is the one person who is going to help. Dennis Quaid and Tyrese Gibson also star. Not very exciting clip despite the implied upcoming action, the crowd groaned.
Secondly, was Ninja Assassin. This was an action packed and exciting trailer that boasted a pedigree from the makers of The Matrix. A trained ninja betrays the ones who raised him and fighting begins. For this one I heard the men grunting their approval. Take it from me, there is almost nothing more exciting to a man than the action of a ninja movie. Hype it up with some creative “sword time” photography from the Matrix guys and you have a winner.
Of course, Ninja Assassin was the winner of the category.
Boys Behaving Badly
For this category, what better place to start than Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans? The trailer for the “sequel” to the Harvey Keitel vehicle featured Nicholas Cage as a cop who has money trouble and partners up with a local drug dealer (Xzibit) to make money. Eva Mendes and Val Kilmer also star. The clip was not very well received because silence was golden.
Brothers was the next trailer. The versatile Jake Gyllenhaal starred with Natalie Portman in a tale about how Gyllenhaal took care of his brother’s widow in every way. Until they find out the brother is alive. Tobey Maguire plays the returning warrior who is trying to get his life back. OK. My spider-sense was tingling like mad. I have no brother but even I know better than to sleep with my brother’s wife, no matter whether he is dead or alive. P.T.S.D. anyone?
A Single Man may have been the absolute worst trailer of the evening. A collage of scenes interspersed with quotations about the film. I doubt anyone could make heads or tails of the trailer. I even heard someone yell “WTF” when it was over.
Takers was the next trailer. Idris Elba lead a serious cast of hot guys that were planning a armored car heist. Listen to this cast: Paul Walker, Hayden Chritiansen, Michael Ealy, Matt Dillon, Chris Brown and Tip “T.I.” Harris. This movie looked like an updated version of “Heat”. Good, exciting and well-received.
Poor Dwayne Johnson. After his kick-butt performance in The Rundown, The Rock was poised to be a big star. But something happened on the way to heaven. Johnson lost his nickname and signed a contract with Disney. The Game Plan was a great movie but then came The Tooth Fairy. Johnson played a minor league hockey player who becomes the Tooth Fairy complete with wings and amnesia dust. Julie Andrews, Billy Crystal and Ashley Judd also starred. Martin Wooster’s best joke of the night requested some Amnesia Dust for the clip.
Ahh, how could a year go by without a movie by Michael Cera. Youth In Revolt was a hilarious trailer about a guy named Nick (Cera) who is in love with a girl, Sheeni, who find him to plain and friendly to date. Cera’s character Nick invents an alter ego, Francois, who will stop at nothing to get the girl. He also gets Nick into trouble along the way.
Easily, Youth In Revolt won the category for best trailer.
Girls Behaving Worse
Broken Embraces may have been the second worst clip of the night. The trailer did nothing to introduce the movie. It did show a lot of clips of Penelope Cruz and make sure that it was known that the film was made by Almodovar. Someone ought to tell these promoters that a film in subtitles should not run taglines from reviewers to read during the trailer.
Finally a clip for the guys. Nine was a great clip that featured Nicole Kidman, Penelope Cruz, Fergie, Sophia Loren, Dame Judi Densch and Daniel Day-Lewis. Rob Marshall (Chicago) directs this musical fun fest. Everyone seemed to enjoy this trailer as exemplified by the applause that followed. The movie looks like Chicago transported to Italy. There is something so hot about singing Italian women.
No, Serious Moonlight was not a documentary on David Bowie. It was a sad commentary on the state of a marriage. Meg Ryan played a high powered, alpha female, who finds out that her husband (Timothy Hutton) has been having an affair with another woman (Kristen Bell). In effort to save her marriage, Ryan duct taped her husband to the toilet with the intention of working out their problems. Unbeknownst to her, their house gets robbed and everyone including the mistress gets thrown in the bathroom. Very funny clip!
In When In Rome, Kristen Bell played a girl who is having a very hard time finding the love of her life. During an excursion to Rome, Bell steals some coins from a wishing fountain. Suddenly she meets a suitor (Josh Duhamel) and many others. Is her luck changing or is it the results of the coins from the fountain? Cute and slightly funny, the trailer was politely received.
After a quick vote, Nine took the category with its rousing music and beautiful construction.
Based on a true story, The Blind Side was easily the favorite for winning the category. The trailer itself has been seen by almost everyone in the audience but still drew “awws” from the crowd as they watched. Sandra Bullock was great with her nearly unrecognizable accent. The trailed showed the development of a child of the streets when given a little love and attention. Inspirational, moving and funny, just right for the category.
Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker played an estranged couple who witness a murder in New York and get relocated to Wyoming as part of a witness-protection program. Did You Hear About the Morgans? is a silly clip that seems familiar. For Richer or Poorer anyone? How did this movie get in this category? It drew a few groans from the audience.
The opening scene reminded one of “Shawshank” but quickly the South African accent in Morgan Freeman’s voice became distinguishable. Freeman was the recently elected president, Nelson Mandela who has an idea to unite his county through rugby. Simple plan, right? Based upon the true story, the trailer for Invictus was a hit on all cylinders. It was a simply moving and inspiring clip.
In the next big surprise of the night, Invictus won the inspirational movie category over The Blind Side. Who would have thought?
Making History Fun
Academy Award winner Philip Seymour Hoffman leads a motley crew of amateur radio operators. Their goal? Rock and Roll! Pirate Radio was a very funny trailer with great music. The trailer contained a long list of characters and listed an outstanding resume of music for its soundtrack.
From a land of millions, comes a story only one man can tell. That man is...John Woo? The latest epic Chinese film is called Red Cliff. Swords and arrows, evil rulers and dedicated heroes, this trailer has it all including slow motion fighting sequences and of course doves!!! The trailer is impressively chocked full of action and drew a couple of whoo hoo’s from the watchers.
Then there was The White Ribbon. Honestly, after the trailers were shown. I had to go and find out what this movie was about. The trailer was in black and white and spent more time talking about it being moving and being nominated for a Palm D’Or. The trailer was infuriating in that it was trying to be interesting but failing.
What is it about British royalty? It seems like every year there is at least one movie that delves into the story behind the history of some member of the royal family. The Young Victoria is just the next in that line. From the trailer, we see that the mvie will focus on the early years of the rule of Queen Victoria. The trailer is lushly decorated and celebratory of the royal costumes. This movie seems to be a shoe-in for an award in Art Direction and/or Costumes.
The Young Victoria won a close vote over Pirate Radio for best of the history category.
Normally at this affair, we are treated by the presence of a couple of bonus trailers. Just a couple of trailers of the hottest or most anticipated movies of the upcoming season. This year, there were four excellent previews to see. What an excellent surprise!
The first trailer was for Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time starring Jake Gyllenhaal and based upon the video game of the same name. Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer films studios (Pirates of the Carribbean 1, 2 and 3) bring you this latest fantasy film. Gyllenhaal faces off against Ben Kingsley in an attempt to control the world with the fables Sands of Time. Lots of action mixed coupled with an engrossing score make the movie seem like something to see.
The second bonus clip was for a movie called Grown-Ups. Written by Adam Sandler, this comedy was about a high school basket ball team that has a reunion thirty years after winning the championship. What else needs to be said? How about a comedy all-star cast including Sandler, Chris Rock, Kevin James, David Spade and Steve Buscemi.
The third bonus clip was for Salt, a thriller starring Angelina Jolie. Jolie plays Evelyn Salt, a CIA agent who through investigation finds out that she is the prime suspect in an assassination attempt on the President of the United States. The more she tries to prove her innocence; the further she becomes entangled in a web. The part was played by Jolie was originally planned to be played by Tom Cruise. The part was turned down due to similarityother parts he had done in the past (Mission Impossible and Valkyrie). The trailer was hot and began with the accusation that she was going to assassinate the president and flies from that point on. Cheers rose at the completion of the clip.
The last bonus was for Alice in Wonderland starring Johnny Depp. This is not your mother’s Alice however. As usual, Tim Burton’s vision on Alice and Wonderland is strikingly similar yet frighteningly different than ever before. In this edition, Alice returns to Wonderland for reasons unknown. The trailer is filled with all the characters from memory, Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum, The White Rabbit, the Cheshire Cat and last but not least The Mad Hatter (Depp). Squeal girls squeal!
In an unofficial vote, Alice In Wonderland won as the best bonus trailer. (It should have been Salt but you can’t beat the squeal.)
To wrap up the night, the final vote was taken for the best trailer of the evening. The Barber-Henry applausometer (patent pending) was in play again to discover the best clip from the best of all the previous categories. The nominees were: The Book of Eli”, “Avatar”, “Fantastic Mr. Fox”, “Ninja Assassin”, “Youth In Revolt”, “Nine”, “Invictus, and The Young Victoria. In a surprising twist, the bonus trailer was not eligible for the final vote (sorry girls). So in the last surprise of the evening, the Best of the Evening award went to Invictus by a nose over Avatar. The winner of the new Pick The Winning Trailer game was Jordan Carruth. Michael, Joe and Bill raffled off a few more items from red ticket numbers, thanked those who were in attendance and said good night.
Thanks to the DC Film Society coordinating committee for their time, energy and enthusiasm in pulling together this twice-annual event, especially Karrye Braxton, Cheryl Dixon, Larry Hart, Ky Nguyen, Annette Graham, Charles Kirkland Jr., Billy coulter, Jim Shippey, Adam Spector and our volunteers.
Special thanks to Joe Barber and Bill Henry, Allied Advertising, Landmark’s E Street Cinema and staff, Terry Hines and Associates and all the participating film studios.
The Cinema Lounge
The next meeting of the Cinema Lounge will be on Monday, December 21 at 7:00pm. Our topic is "Sacred Cows: The best worst movies and the worst best movies."
The Cinema Lounge, a film discussion group, meets the third Monday of every month at 7:00pm at Barnes and Noble, 555 12th St., NW in Washington, DC (near the Metro Center Metro stop). You do not need to be a member of the Washington DC Film Society to attend. Cinema Lounge is moderated by Daniel R. Vovak, ghostwriter with Greenwich Creations.
Last month at Cinema Lounge
On November 16, 2009, we discussed "Are animated film for children or adults?" Beginning in 2010, there will be 5 nominees for best animated feature. (Normally there have been three.) The number of qualified applicants has increased, too, with likely hopefuls: The Princess and the Frog (2009), Planet 51 (2009), Up (2009), Coraline (2009), Monsters vs. Aliens (2009), Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (2009), and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009). The Toy Story films were rereleased because another film will be released next year.
Knowing that more films are being released in 3-D, someone asked if there are 3-D contact lenses available for people. After all, those 3-D glasses are flimsy, though the new glasses are not as funky as the old glasses. It seems like another 3-D phase is emerging in order to get people into the movie theatres. In the 1950s, 3-D movies grew in popularity, namely with House of Wax (1953). In the 1980s, there was another 3-D trend, with Parasite (1982), Friday the 13th 3-D (1982), Spacehunter (1983), Jaws 3-D (1983), Amityville 3-D (1983), and The Ice Pirates (1984).
Animated Films are no longer just a genre for kids, since some children-animated films are also marketed to adults, like: Waltz with Bashir (2008), Persepolis (2007), and Paprika (2006), Writer-director Richard Linklater has done a few of them, too. In Ratatouille (2007), every character had an excellent back-story. Brad Bird was brought in on the rewrite in order to salvage it. Pixar has a good track record, so their background is interesting.
Back in the old studio days, a studio's name stood for something specific. MGM represented big, lavish movies. Universal represented horror movies. Disney was animation films. Warner Brothers pushed gangster movies. These days, the studio logo doesn't mean much, versus the small studios, which still mean something. For instance, the Cohen Brothers are auteurs. Pixar has quality movies. It may not be good, but the name "Jerry Bruckheimer" does mean something, too.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) was the first animated feature. Fantasia (1940) was later, along with Peter Pan (1953). Surprisingly, Walt Disney did not invent the character of Snow White. For instance, Aladdin (1992) was done a long time ago, including TV in 1952. Mickey Mouse was invented, along with Donald Duck, and many other popular characters, most of which are based on White characters -- not Black. It seemed like in the 1990s, every year had a big Disney film, which in many cases were musicals. With Toy Story, it was less hand-drawn and more computer-drawn. Now, with the Princess and the Frog, it will return as a hand-drawn movie. It is also the first mainstream movie with Black main characters. Song of the South (1946) is set in the south with many stereotyped Black characters, though obviously not available for distribution in the United States since the U.S. consistently tries to be politically correct rather than allow uncensored expression of the arts.
One person spoke about how Disney was once considering an amusement park in Manassas, Virginia but an outcry--partially aimed at Disney's dominate use of White characters--was part of the reason the park idea collapsed. For instance, how would Disney depict slavery (in a politically correct way) if the park was aimed at different eras in U.S. history? One of the discussion members in the audience revealed she had once worked for Disney. She said there was a script for all employees to refer to Walt Disney as simply "Walt," as if each employee actually knew him.
Watership Down (1978) was animated, with rabbits trying to escape, instead of animals escaping like in Animal Farm (1954). In The Secret of NIMH (1982), rats were escaping. Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008) was animated, along with The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat (1974), which was animated in more ways than one. Down and Dirty Duck (1974) was also animated. Howard the Duck (1986) should have been animated. Could that ever be remade? Some people thought it should be!
Roger Rabbit (1988) was a hybrid-animated film. Mary Poppins (1964) was live-action animation, though it was only for part of the movie. Tim Burton has a dark style with stop-motion, like in The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993). Claymation (or clay-animation) is stop-motion but with clay, like the characters of Mr. Bill and Gumby. Nick Park still uses claymation with his company Aardman Animations.
Someone mentioned that some animated television shows were created to sell candy. They spawned movies, too, like The Rugrats Movie (1998). Twilight (2008) has dolls based on the characters. For boys, they sold dolls as "action figures," using a spin on the name to make the word sound less feminine. Waiting for Guffman (1996) has spawned action figures, along with My Dinner with Andre (1981), which is a pun in and of itself. George Lucas was a genius regarding ancillary rights. When the FOX people talked with Lucas about how he would be compensated, Lucas said he would take less money if he could control ancillary rights. The decision was so smart that when George Lucas won the lifelong AFI Achievement award, Carrie Fisher bitterly joked that Lucas controls the ancillary rights so much that whenever she looks into the mirror, she has to write Lucas a check.
What is animation's future?
Will animated films evolve into a hologram technology? No one knew for sure. Motion capture seems like a form of that. As the person moves, the characters look like wax figures, though they have mostly fixed the problems with the eyes. When animated characters don't look human, they are accepted as non-human; however, The Polar Express (2004) was creepy. Avatar (2009) will be all CGI, which should be interesting to watch. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) is not cutting-edge technology but it could popular (unless it tanks).
Many prequel characters in Star Wars were CGI. Someone said, "I stopped watching the movie because of the CGI. Beowulf (2007) was cool because they looked like people people, but then half way through I couldn't finish watching it." Another person added, "The same was true of Hancock (2008), which was good for the first half. Then in the second half they took the character seriously, which made no sense. Cloverfield (2008) was like Godzilla (1954) filmed with a cell phone. It was the same problem with The Blair Witch Project (1999); At some point, you drop the camera."
At the end of the discussion session, many questions remained. Is there any room left for traditional animation? Can there be a 360-3D Cinerama style film? Will the trend evolve into Where the Wild Things Are (2009), which combined animation with other technology? There is a famous quote about the movie business: "How do you make a small fortune in Hollywood? You start with a large fortune!" To make money in the future, animated movies may be the way to go for new filmmakers.
The 53rd London Film Festival
By James McCaskill, DC Film Society Member
The 53rd London Film Festival (October 14-29, 2009) bills itself as presenting the world's best films and indeed, thanks to the diligent work of Sandra Hebron, Artistic Director, and her programmers, they do. LFF brings the top films from Cannes, Venice and Toronto to London. By my count they had 44 films from the Toronto International Film Festival alone. In addition to these stellar films they had top British, European and World Cinema all screening in this two-week festival.
The megawatt stars turned out for this world class festival: The top Hollywood stars such as George Clooney, Meryl Streep, John Hurt, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen walked down the red carpet. Brilliant newcomers like Carey Mulligan from An Education, Paprika Steen who gives the performance of the year in Applause (shown last month at the AFI Silver's European Union Film Festival) and dozens more international actors and directors were here.
For next year if Cannes is just too busy and Toronto is too soon after your summer vacation, then come to London in October. Not only do you have the pinnacle of films, you have outstanding stage plays just steps away from Leicester Square, where many of the films are screened.
I am going to break with my usual listing of top festival films as that would replicate Ron Gordner's and my list from the November Storyboard instead here are the top films that I saw and directors I interviewed at this year's London Film Festival. Certainly Ajami, Applause, Bunny & the Bull, Glorious 39, The Scouting Book for Boys, Women Without Men rank right up there with the best from Toronto.
The Opening Night film was Fantastic Mr Fox, fitting since Wes Anderson made the film in London. The film has recently opened in the Washington area. You can watch a video of Anderson's London press conference.
The press conference for The Road, which has also opened locally, can also be seen online. Both press conference clips are courtesy of Leicester Square TV. (Both are also transcribed, for those without fast computer connections).
The Closing Night film was Sam Taylor-Wood's Nowhere Boy, his highly anticipated feature film debut about the formative years of John Lennon who had lived with his Aunt Mimi since the age of five. The film looks at the impact on him of the tense relationship between Mimi and John's mother.
Watching the red carpet watchers is always interesting. At one world premier several bystanders were asking a policeman who the red carpet treatment was for. He said, "The stars of the film, I guess." And who might that be. "Beats me", he replied. At this point I whispered to him that the star was Thomas Turgoose. "Who?" The young boy in This is England. "Oh, him. I loved that film." At that point I left to take my seat for the world premier of The Scouting Book For Boys. Walking the red carpet, of course.
And the winners are ...
Best Film: A Prophet
When Malik, a young French Arab, finds himself in prison with no friends or allies, he goes out of his way to be useful to the dominant Corsican gang and its leader Cesar Luciani. After a gruelling rites-of-passage murder of a new friend, he builds, by slow degrees, a power base of his own. This astounding prison drama is Sight & Sound's choice because of the visceral intensity of its conception and delivery. At present no Hollywood director can match Jacques Audiard's vice-like grip on character-driven action cinema. Time rips by in fingernail-biting anticipation of Malik's brutally authentic travails. His irrepressible nature is brilliantly incarnated by Tahar Rahim, whose impact is equally matched by Audiard regular Niels Arestrup as the Corsican boss. More exciting than Mesrine, more enthralling than Public Enemies, this is undoubtedly the crime drama of the year.
Most original and imaginative new film: Ajami
Ajami is a tough Jaffa neighborhood, populated by Jews, Arabs and Christians, and rife with tension. Omar (Shahir Kabaha) and his younger brother Nasri (Fouad Habash) fear repercussions against their family when their uncle shoots a member of an influential criminal clan. They can end the vendetta by paying a substantial cash tribute to the offended family, but need to raise the money fast. Palestinian refugee Malek (Ibrahim Frege) is also desperate for money, for an operation his mother needs, and works illegally at a restaurant. Binj (Scandar Copti) has had enough of the place and his friends, and dreams of leaving so he might live openly with his Jewish girlfriend. Cop Dando (Eran Naim) is haunted by the disappearance of his brother, who went missing while on military service. As more is revealed about the characters' lives, angers and frustrations, their fates become drawn together. The fact that Ajami – a powerful crime drama set on the mean streets of Israel – is a collaboration between two young directors, Scandar Copti, a Palestinian, and Yaron Shani, an Israeli, serves as a statement in itself. Working with a non-professional cast and using a daring narrative structure, Copti and Shani have created an assured and authentic film of genuine class. Ajami can be seen in the Washington Jewish Film Festival this month.
Best feature-length documentary at this year's Festival: Defamation
Yoav Shamir is a documentary maker who specializes in films about modern Israeli life. His latest deals with anti-Semitism, which he claims never to have experienced personally, yet he hears the term used everyday, describing it as 'a constant buzz, always in the background, always annoying'. His quest leads him to explore whether anti-Semitism has become an excusable prejudice in some civilized societies, or whether it is used as a specter to drum up support for right wing Zionism. He garners a broad range of opinions, including those of Abraham Foxman, director of the American Anti-Defamation League, which collects evidence of anti-Semitism, and controversial academic Norman Finkelstein, author of The Holocaust Industry, who has argued that the Nazis' treatment of the Jews is used as justification of Israel's conduct toward Palestinians. A journey to the site of concentration camps in Poland with Israeli high-school students gives revealing insight into what anti-Semitism means to kids two generations away from the Holocaust. Defamation is a bold, authored documentary that not only dares to raise serious issues, but also presents arguments with wit and balance, Shamir's irreverent sense of humor making it as entertaining as it is provocative.
Best British New Comer: Jack Thorne, Screenwriter, The Scouting Book for Boys
Having grown up together on a caravan park on the Norfolk coast where their respective parents work, young teenagers David (Thomas Turgoose) and Emily (Holly Grainger) have become close friends, deeply reliant on each other for distractions and mischief. It's a shock to them both when it's decided that Emily is to be sent away to live with her father, and there's even greater alarm throughout the park community when Emily disappears. David struggles to cope as the situation grows ever more complex. The debut feature from Tom Harper, director of a number of acclaimed shorts, and written by playwright and Skins contributor Jack Thorne, The Scouting Book for Boys is an expertly constructed drama with deftly handled shifts in tone, depicting the anxieties, awkwardness and fears of being a teenager, without denying the occasional delights of being young or the possibility of fun and adventure during a hazy British summer. Thomas Turgoose continues to build on the reputation he's gained appearing in Shane Meadows' This Is England and Somers Town, while Holly Grainger delivers an equally impressive performance as Emily. An excellent supporting includes Steven Mackintosh, Rafe Spall and Susan Lynch.
Synopses of Recommended Films
Applause (Applaus, Martin Pieter Zandvliet, Denmark, 2009). Paprika Steen gives the performance of her life in this intelligent and inspiring film on the devastating world of addiction and the difficulty of recovery. While performing in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Steen's character wants to recover the two sons she gave up when she entered rehab. In so doing Steen's character has to make you believe that she is both caring mom and a monster. The festival catalogue says, "Applause is very much a story of the needs we have outside of ourselves, a very personal and involving tale of a woman lacking something, be it her children, love or drink."
Bunny and The Bull (Paul King, UK, 2009) is a road movie set entirely in an apartment. Stephen Turnbull hasn't been outside in months. Living with a painfully restrictive routine, he refused to interact with the world or thing about the past. When a sudden infestation of mice forces him to change his ways, he finds his mind hurtling back to the disastrous trek around Europe he undertook with his friend Bunny, a womanising, gambling-addicted booze-hound. Unable to stem the flood of memories, Stephen's apartment becomes the springboard for an extraordinary odyssey through landscapes he made up of snapshots and souvenirs, from the industrial wasteland of Silesia to the bull fields to Andalusia. A story of love, disillusionment, stuffed bears and globalised seafood. Bunny and the Bull is an offbeat and heartfelt journey to the end of the room.
From my interview with Paul King: "My people are party animals. Get a call from one on Sunday night and the party is on. With me two glasses of wine and I'm game. I came up with Bunny first. He is very restless. I wanted a bit of mystery. I liked the idea that he had done a lot; he was a fisherman off Yemen. A big guy called Bunny. The film is almost a children's cartoon. It is memories with homemade aesthetics. You need to process life into a story you can understand. As the film goes on the set and story become more complicated. At the end he see Bunny as he actually is, a nasty piece of work. At some point you grow up. Life is not House of Pooh Corners. Robin goes away to school and no longer needs Pooh." The weird museums that they visit in the film are actual museums that his parents took him to on family holidays: The German Cookbook Museum, The German Museum of Cutlery, The National Eyeglass Museum in Holland, the Belgium Playing Card Museum.
Glorious 39 (Stephen Poliakoff, UK, 2009). You will need a bit of a history lesson to fully appreciate this film. The events that unfold in this two week period just before World War II actually happened. It was a time of fear. Do we appease Hitler and keep some of our Brutishness or do we fight and risk the destruction of carpet bombing of England? In my interview with the director he said, "I don't think many in Britain knew either. It was a surprise to me how powerful the civil service and political elite were. My father and grandfather serviced Churchill's hearing aid. They were followed by the Secret Service as they thought my father might have implanted a listening device. The entire population of England did not want war, just 20 years after World War I. 1939 was a summer of great houses and great parties. The people felt that Hitler could take Europe and we would hang onto our Empire. The film is fiction but based on truth. What is true is the historical background, the secret recording of conversations." The festival Artistic Director, Sandra Hebron, said about this film, "The film centers on the upper-class Keyes family, determined to preserve their way of life in the midst of political uncertainty. The head of the family (Bill Nighy) is an influential Conservative MP and son Ralph (Eddie Redmayne) works at the Foreign Office. Adopted eldest daughter Anne (Romola Garai) is a budding actress, whose charmed life is disrupted when she stumbles upon a secret recording hidden in the outbuildings of her family home She is drawn into a confusion of secrets and betrayal, the full horror of which is as shocking to the audience as it is to Anne."
Life During Wartime (Todd Solondz, USA, 2009). In writer and director Todd Solondz's film that is part sequel and part variation on his acclaimed film Happiness, three sisters and the people they love struggle to find their place in an unpredictable and volatile world where the past haunts the present and imperils the future. The question of forgiveness and its limits threads throughout a series of intersecting love stories, offering clarity and, perhaps, alternatives to the comforts of forgetting. Alternately hilarious and tragic, outrageous and poignant, this film is an audacious comedy with unexperienced resonance.
Have You Heard From Johannesburg: The Bottom Line (Connie Field, USA, 2009). The latest documentary from the writer/director of the award winning film Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter and the Oscar nominated Forever Activists. This film continues Field's focus on major events in the Twentieth Century. How do you Think Globally/Act Locally? The story of a grassroots movement cuts the South Africa's Apartheid government off from the taproot of its success, its sustaining financial connections to the West. Citizens all over the world, from employees of Polaroid to a General Motors director, from account holders in Barclays Bank to consumers who boycott Shell gas, all refuse to let business with South Africa go on as usual. Faced with attacks at home and growing chaos in South Africa, international companies pull out in a massive exodus that helps to undermine the apartheid system. It is the first international grassroots campaign to use economic pressure to bring down a government and it succeeds in economically isolating apartheid South Africa.
Osadne (Marko Skop, Slovakia/Czech Republic, 2009). How does a tiny village on the outermost edge of Eastern Europe survive in the 21st Century? Where will the funding come from to develop Osadne as a tourist destination? This film is about an encounter between current top European leaders and the local politicians from the hinterlands of the EU. The mayor and the Orthodox priest have decided to fight for the survival of their village and they and their wives take on the powerful politicians in Brussels. Included in the press notes is a quote from the director: "I want to deal with the most important thing at the end: that is our heroes - the mayor, Ladislav Mikulasko, and the Orthodox priest, Peter Soroka, together with their wives who are the most important shadow advisers. The film tells the story of their journey from Osadne to Brussels and back to Osadne. It is a story about the plans that we make, a story about the battles that we choose to fight. And, at the same time, a story about reality which we cannot change and about everyday life which sometimes gets us down and sometimes helps us to forget. And then there are fateful moments over which we have no influence... A small big story..."
Portuguese Nun (A religiosa portuguesa, Eugene Green, Portugal/France, 2009). An extract from my interview with the director, "This film is not about a nun. It a mystical film in the modern world. It plays with a Fourth Century nun's love for a French sailor who abandons her and a modern day French actress (played by Portuguese performer Leonor Baldaque) who comes to Lisbon to shoot a film. It is also a love song for Lisbon. The film is about spirituality but not through religion. There is one long scene, about 15 minutes, between the nun and the French actress. It is the mystical experience that I am trying to capture. The modern world needs spirituality as much as the nun's Fourth Century world."
The Scouting Book for Boys (Tom Harper, UK, 2009). Best friends David (Thomas Turgoose) and Emily (Holliday Granger) love their carefree life on a coastal trailer park. When David learns that Emily is being forced to move away, he agrees to help her hide out in a remote cave on the beach. But their innocent secret soon becomes complicated as David watches the police close in on his missing friend. When the real reason Emily wants to escape comes to light, David's world is shattered. Swept up in a situation out of his control, and with his feelings for his best friend growing stronger day by day, David is forced to take action. The Scouting Book for Boys is a coming of age story with a sting in the tail. Turgoose's character David is the central point of Jack Thorne's script, the nucleus around which all the other characters revolve. What makes his character so intriguing is that he harks back to the period of British cinema where anti-heroes were cherished - Albert Finney's Arthur in Saturday Night Sunday Morning for example. Thorne says that David is heavily based on his own personality as a teenager. The drive behind his exploration of David is based on what Thorne calls the "trauma of adolescence." "It is not about a guy that wants to shag a girl," he said bluntly. "It's about that moment when you want to own someone."
Women Without Men (Shirin Neshat, Germany/Austria/France, 2009). Women Without Men is adapted from Shahrnush Parsipur's book by Nashat and Shoja Azari. When I interviewed the director she said, "I am a filmmaker and a visual artist. For me it is great that the world is interested in Iran and film. There is a big difference for Iranians living inside from those living outside Iran. [NOTE: the director was born and raised in New York City.] I want to make art that lasts a long time. I want to be an artist, not a Muslim artist, not a Iranian artist. The world is so free and we are so repressed." The book, which portrays the lives of four women in Iran in 1953 (the year when Iran's elected Prime Minister was removed in a coup d'etat backed by Britain and the US in order to reinstate the Shah and avoid nationalizing the country's oil resources), has been banned in Iran since its publication in 1989. Nonetheless the book is well known in Iran and widely read by women. In the book's look at the women's own search for freedom or survival in a culture with strict rules about religion and sexual and social behavior, each of them is led to a beautiful ephemeral garden, a place of safety and refuge. I asked Neshat about the garden and its location. "We found it in Morocco." she said. "We wanted to find something like Iran in the 50s. A garden in Iran stands for heaven - a place of peace." Sandra Hebron, the festival's Artistic Director says about this film: "Filmed in haunting muted hues, the women's individual journeys are compelling, and the broader themes of the tensions between religion and secularism and between tradition and modernity have never felt more relevant."
Visit the London Film Festival website.
Fantastic Mr. Fox:
Press Conference at the London Film Festival
By James McCaskill and Annette Graham, DC Film Society Members
This press conference for Fantastic Mr. Fox took place at the London Film Festival. Present were director Wes Anderson and actors George Clooney (voice of Mr. Fox), Bill Murray (voice of Badger), Jason Schwartzman (voice of Ash), Wally Wolodarsky (voice of Kylie), Jarvis Cocker (voice of Petey) and Eric Anderson (voice of Kristofferson). It was moderated by David Griffin.
Question:[ to George Clooney] What for you is the particular appeal of Roald Dahl's storytelling and characters?
George Clooney: I just showed up for the paycheck because I heard it was a big one. Really, this is a fairly well-known book for a long period of time for a lot of us and there was an opportunity to work not only on a really interesting and fun story but also a chance to work with Wes. So I was excited about the whole process. And it was a very different process than what most people go through when they work on an animated film. We were out in the middle of nowhere on people's farms doing sound effects. The whole process was exciting for me.
Question: [to Wes Anderson] What brought you to the project? Are you a big Roald Dahl fan and why did you particularly choose this style of animation?
Wes Anderson: Why stop motion? This was actually the first book that I ever personally owned, that was officially my property. It was a book I loved as a child and also the book that introduced me to Roald Dahl's work in general. It made a big impression on me. About ten years ago I approached Lissy Dahl, Roald Dahl's wife and asked permission to do it, so it's been a long process. I always intended for it to be stop motion. I wanted to do a stop motion movie with animals with fur. I always loved the way that looks, that odd, magical style.
Question: Can you talk about Mr. Fox, what you thought of him as a fox, if you felt foxy? It's a remarkable piece of work in that it seems to be a George Clooney performance without your face.
George Clooney: Have you noticed the suit? There's something a little scary about that. For me this guy was such an optimist and I really thought it was a fun character to play. I remember reading the script and saying to Wes, 'Listen I love it and I'm happy and thrilled and excited to do it. I don't know who will see it because it's sort of made for grownups and sort of made for kids and you never know how that plays.' And he said, "Don't worry about it; let's just go make a movie and have some fun." And I thought that was a great way to approach making a film. For me it was just about the process of working with Wes. I didn't enjoy working with Bill. That's fair to say--we fought a lot.
Bill Murray: That's accurate, George.
George Clooney: But I've let go of some of the anger and we seem to get along fine now.
Question: There were some lovely onscreen moments between yourself and your son. Did that make you at all broody?
George Clooney: That's a word Americans don't understand.
Question: Did it make you want to have kids? Did it make you want to start a family?
George Clooney: I'm learning a lot of phrases this week. Just having Jason here next to me, I feel like a father, really. And he just got married, so I feel almost like a grandfather.
Question: Did the animation of Czech filmmaker Jan Svankmajer influence you?
Wes Anderson: That kind of Eastern European animation was one of the inspirations for me. I hadn't thought of the political links but I do think the movie and Dahl are anarchic and the movie is sort of a Robin Hood story so it's a bit communist--
Bill Murray: Or English!
Wes Anderson: There's another animated film, a French one, Le roman de Renard [Wladyslaw Starewicz, 1930], do you know that one? And that was a great influence on us because --- the animation in that one, one of the techniques they used is to have multiple scales, so there are puppets who are full size but also puppets that are tiny that are meant to be the same characters for big wide shots. It's very charming. That was something that we stole from that movie and used it quite a lot in ours.
Question: What is the moral lesson from this fairy tale?
George Clooney: Stealing is good, I believe. Anybody else?
Others: Celebration of stealing. Honoring thievery.
George Clooney: Be true to your animal nature.
Question: Do you want to make more animated films in the future?
George Clooney: No, I have to say in fairness. We worked for a few days out on a farm together and ran around and played in barns and out in the fields and Wes worked for a year and a half or two years or so on this project. So in some ways us being up here is a little silly. This is all Wes's job. Certainly I would do any of this again. It was an incredibly fun experience for all of us. But the real question would be to him.
Wes Anderson: One thing that I learned over the course of the movie is how much the voices of the characters give to the animator to work with. You record the voices first. The animators spend all this time animating these puppets but their inspiration comes from the actors.
Question: Group question to actors: Jarvis, Jason, Wally and Eric about your experience doing the voicing. Was this a new experience for you and how did you find it?
Jarvis Cocker: I don't know if I have a line.
Wes Anderson: Yes you do.
Jarvis Cocker: That line--I put everything into it. I hope that when people see the film, they'll be able to sense the preparation and everything, the pain that went into doing it.
Wally Wolodarsky: Having had some experience in animation, mostly in American television with the Simpsons, we used to record theatrically all the actors there, subsequently in feature animation that never happens. So this was a very fun and dynamic experience. We got to run around: when we were running we ran, when we were hiding behind bushes we hid behind bushes. It was actually quite fun. I'm not really an actor but I had a great time working with all these people. It was an unusual and unique experience.
Jason Schwartzman: I loved being a part of this movie. We've talked a lot about getting to run around, dig in the dirt, make eating noises and growling noises and how much fun that was to do together but I can't tell you just what a thrill it was to work with everyone. Often times when you're working with people that you really admire, you're working with them and can't really stare at them and take it in about just how amazing the whole thing is. Because there were no cameras rolling on this when George would get to do a scene or make a speech, it was nice because I would get to look at him and admire him, just to watch the work, and be with Bill and watch Bill and Wes work. It was nice not only to be able to work but also to watch and have that privilege. That may seem like an odd answer but that was the thing that I really loved so much about this experience.
Eric Anderson: My experience started off with all these people having a great time standing in for Jason because he wasn't there right at that moment. And then my part began to grow afterwards. So it was like a series of transatlantic phone calls with my brother [Wes Anderson], sort of like visits because I wasn't talking to him that often because he was working very hard. It was like when we were kids making movies only with no cameras and a darkened booth with Wes on the headphones. Occasionally it would be such an abstract experience he would say, "Eric, remember you're an animal." I'd say, 'Oh yeah, I forgot, I'm a fox'; I would have to keep reminding myself of that. But it was magical.
Question: I was talking to Felicity Dahl a few weeks ago and she was talking about her relationship with Roald. She said he was actually a wonderful man to live with until the last few weeks before any book was published. And then he got really grumpy and cantankerous because he had this fear--what if this is the last book, what if this is last thing I'm going to produce? I wonder if you can relate to that feeling?
George Clooney: This IS your last film.
Bill Murray: I was just with Felicity Dahl just yesterday and she made me feel that way too. (everyone laughs) So goodbye everybody. She brings out the real fear in you, no question about it. You always feel like this is the end, this is the very end of it. But the nice thing about it being animated is they'll have a little difficulty picking me out in an audio crowd. That's what I'm hoping for. No, she seems okay. We saw where they lived. It's an amazing place and she's quite a person. So they had quite a life together and she's very devoted to him even now. So I'm sure that in that moment it must have been very forceful for her to realize that there's nothing I can do for him now. It's just an anxiety that no person can help you with. It's just your own fear, your own question about your identify and self worth. But he came through it time after time. Somebody must have roughed him once upon a time and it doesn't go away so easily.
Question: I suppose you could officially now be described as foxy?
George Clooney: Finally!
Question: But it has nothing to do with how you look. What other attributes do you share with Mr. Fox other than foxiness?
George Clooney: I seem to be considerably taller than this character. [Consults with Wes...]
Wes Anderson: Sometimes when I'm writing a script, I have an actor in mind. In this one we were just thinking of animals until the script was done. As soon as it was done, "Who is going to be Mr. Fox?" I thought Cary Grant would have been good.
George Clooney: Thanks for that.
Wes Anderson: But within 20 seconds of thinking of Cary Grant, we were talking of George Clooney.
Question: You had a good time with the actors. How do you work with and direct the animators?
Wes Anderson: I did have a wonderful time with the actors. That was a very exciting process and very free. Animating is a very slow painstaking process and the animators become the actors at that point. At the most during this movie we had thirty units going on at once so we created a system. I was not in London throughout the whole shoot. I was sometimes here and sometimes I was in other places. But it's very consuming so you have to work on it all the time while you are shooting. We had a computer system where I could look through thirty different cameras at once and see what was on each set and work with all the different people, hundreds of people designing and preparing and executing the shots. Getting the system to do it was as much a part of the process as actually doing it. But I loved making this film. I feel like stop motion is part of my arsenal of things to use for movies now.
Question: Does working with animation help or hinder your normal improvisional skills?
Bill Murray: It has to do with the director and actors you're working with it. The creatures don't come into it much. It's like any other character. The improvision is a function of how good the script is. The script was good, the story is great. The worse the script is the more you improvise. Whether it's a badger or a doctor, if the script's lousy you'll see more improvision from me. I think the real stars of this movie are Eric, Jason and Wally. They are amazing performances and the things that delight me the most in the movie. But they wouldn't have been possible if George hadn't stepped out in front and made a great character that we all maypoled around. This is among the best work I've seen anyone do in any kind of voice work.
Question: Roald Dahl was said to enjoy scaring children. Did you make the story darker than it was and do you enjoy scaring children?
Wes Anderson: I remember being scared by Roald Dahl and I loved that. I don't think we made it any darker. But we tried to keep it as dark. While we were writing the script our goal was to imagine how Dahl would have expanded the story into a movie. That was our ideal. It is a movie where they are not in danger of getting hurt, they are danger of getting killed. And that's the way it is in the book. Mr. Fox's tail is shot off and doesn't grow back. We tried to keep that.
Question: Did you channel anything in yourself to play the badger?
Bill Murray: My little animal secrets must remain my little animal secrets. (everyone laughs) Channelling the badger... we've all got a little critter in us. And when cornered we can fight ferociously and sometimes we burrow deep to get away from other people and be safe. None of that makes any sense to you right now. But playing a badger, unless you've done it, we can't even have this conversation (laughter).
Question: This is more a British tale than anything else. Why was the decision made to have more American actors with American accents rather than British ones?
Wes Anderson: Noah Baumbach and I adapted the script together. We're American and I feel like we were better writing American voices, so we decided that we would make all the animals Americans and the humans would be British.
Bill Murray: Because they're the bad guys. [Everyone laughs]
Question: What was the main difficulty you faced in directing an animation film and what was the thing you loved most about it compared to directing non-animated films?
Wes Anderson: The big adjustment you make when comparing the work on an animated film to a live action film is that the pace of it is so much slower. But what I enjoyed is that there are so many opportunities to work on different aspects of the production and refine them and see if you can find more things that are funny or that connect to other things in the story. So it was the fact that it was slowed down so radically that introduced a whole new series of opportunities to me. What animators provide themselves is very mysterious and interesting. They take a list of the frames in the film. They have instructions for what's going to happen in every single frame but two different animators will interpret those very detailed instructions quite differently and their personality comes into it. So that was the surprise for me. I shot this movie the same way I would a live action movie. People who are used to working on animated movies were a bit thrown off by it at first, but we found a way to make that work and I enjoyed doing it that way.
Question: How important would you say the London Film Festival is on the calendar of festivals in the industry?
Bill Murray: We kid about the English being bad guys--because that revolution thing is still sticking with us, we're still upset--but the reason the London Film Festival is important is that this film couldn't have been made anywhere in the world but in London. One of the most exciting days I've ever had in the film business was the day I spent with the artisans and artists at Three Mills [London's largest film and television production studio]. There was more talent in one little factory than I've ever been closeted with. I've never been with so many talented people in one place. They do things here with sets and with design, with building, with models that Americans don't dream about. We can put a man on the moon but we couldn't have made this movie. It's a celebration of all the people who worked on this film. They're fun after work too. I want to make a special point of saying that.
George Clooney: There's a level of pride in film here that's really fun. They truly enjoy it. It's a great place to bring a movie and find out whether it's going to hold up or whether it's going to work or not, not just designed to be a film that opens. It's a great film festival.
Question: You have three films showing at the film festival. Would you say that you are the hardest working man in Hollywood today.
George Clooney: Or have the worst timing for having three films coming out at the same time [The Men Who Stare At Goats, Up in the Air, Fantastic Mr. Fox]. On this film we did most of the work a few years ago. Obviously you don't always want to have that many projects coming out at the same period of time. But I'm proud of all three of them.
Question: How did Jarvis get involved?
Jarvis Cocker: Because there's a song in the film. Noah had written some words for it. Wes asked me if I'd write some music for it. It gave me a chance to show my banjo playing skills. It's nice to have the words already written, so I just had to come with the tune for it. But I thought I was going to be an animal. That was the thing that was weird. I didn't realize I was going to be human until quite a long way into the process.
Moderator: On that surreal note we will have to end.
Fantastic Mr. Fox is now playing in area theaters. Thanks to the London Film Festival for permission to use this press conference. (condensed and edited).
Up in the Air:
Press Conference at the London Film Festival
By James McCaskill and Annette Graham, DC Film Society Members
This press conference for Up in the Air took place at the London Film Festival. Present were director Jason Reitman and actresses Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick. The film is based on a book by Walter Kirn. George Clooney stars as Ryan, whose profession is firing people for other companies.
Question: Up in the Air is based on a book, although I haven't read it. But if I had read the book would I recognize it in the film?
Jason Reitman: Yes and no. The book is about a man who fires people for a living and who obsessively collects air miles. If I had directed the book exactly as it was these two lovely ladies next to me [Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick] would not be here because their characters are not in the book.
Question: How do you use the source material to take it beyond whatever is on the page?
Jason Reitman: The way I use source material is I see it as a tool box. There's a story I want to tell and I'm looking for the right words. I'll read a book or I'll read an article and suddenly it will just be the language that I've been looking for--to say something I've been meaning to say or ask something that I've been meaning to ask. And at that point it just becomes a tool box of ideas that I can either follow literally or sometimes I take someone's dialogue and give it someone else or in this case I took the main character who--I liked his occupation and I liked his life philosophy--and from there I built a plot around him to ask the questions I wanted to ask.
Question: [For the two actresses] It's a joyful script to listen to. For you it must have been a pleasure to read. How did you assess your characters when you first read them? [to Vera Farmiga] Alex is a similarly free-spirited character but with certain hidden depths we discover later.
Vera Farmiga: Yes. I didn't have the luxury of reading the script without knowing what happened in the end. It was challenging to play a woman who is very much like a man; it was difficuIt for me. It was a fine line to tread to play a woman who takes control of her sexuality and unapologically makes demands that you usually see men making in scripts. I really liked the male perspective on heartbreak.
Question: [to Anna] Your character is more explained but we discover more about her background. What about it particularly appealed to you?
Anna Kendrick: It's a rare thing to find a girl so intelligent and complicated whose character does not revolve around a romantic storyline. That was enough to make it fascinating in itself. You don't generally read scripts like that. Normally I'm so timid in real life that I'm really excited by characters who get to tell people off and telling off George Clooney was pretty awesome.
Question: I read that you wrote the role with him [George Clooney] in mind. Is that right?
Jason Reitman: Yes. I wrote the role with him in mind and with Vera and Anna in mind as well. It's easier for me to write when I know who I'm actually writing for and it's often how I identify the voice of the character. I had met Vera before and seen many of her films and I knew the things she was able to do that no other actress was capable of doing and it was because she's able to walk that very fine line of being aggressive and feminine at the same time that I was able to write Alex the way I did. It was because I had seen Anna in Rocket Science and knew the sparkling brilliance of her mind and how fast she is that I was able to write Natalie the way I did. If you're going to make a movie about a guy who fires people for a living and you still want to like him, that actor better be damned charming. And I don't think there's a more charming actor alive than George Clooney. I was just very lucky he said yes.
Question: What if he had said no. Would you then go to a Clooney clone?
Jason Reitman: I don't think there is such a thing. I would have probably just ended by career right there and then. The story is actually kind of funny. I had been writing it for about six years and I told his agent that I'm about a week away or month away from finishing this screenplay but in the middle of that I'm going to Italy on vacation with my wife. And he said "well if you're going to be in Italy you should just go see him." And I said, that sounds like an awful idea. I don't want to go see him if he hates my screenplay. And he said "No, just go, he'll love to see you." I said I'd send him the screenplay and if he enjoys it then certainly I'll drop by. I got to Italy and I called his agent up, Did he like it? "Yes, go see him." Did he like the screenplay? "Here's the address." We drive there and get to his house in Como. One of the first things he asked me is, "So what are you working on these days?" I said, There's a screenplay called Up in the Air. He said, "Oh, I gotta find that, I gotta read that." For two days my wife and I stayed at his home and I was just trying to prove that I was a man to George Clooney. I played basketball with him; I hadn't done that since 8th grade. I never drink, I tried drinking with George Clooney. He opened 4 bottles of wine between the 3 of us over an evening and I don't know how I didn't die of alcohol poisoning. And finally about the end of the second day he disappeared for a while, I don't know where. Then he walked into the room and said "I just read it. It's great. I'm in." Those are words that changed my life and it'll be one of the greatest moments I'll ever remember from my career.
Question: One of the fun things about the film is that it balances between the darkness of everyone getting fired and the optimism of these people finding new jobs. The cherry on top of that was the song that came in at the end of the credits. Was that dumb luck, was that something you were looking for; how did that come about?
Jason Reitman: That was dumb luck. After Juno, I've gotten used to teenagers sending me songs with their idea of them appearing in one of my films. I happened to be speaking at a college in St. Louis where we shooting and a man in his mid-50s came to me with a song and that was unusual. He handed me a cassette tape. So first off I had to find a place to actually listen to this. We found a car with a cassette deck. I really was ready for something ridiculous and instead on came this voice which are in the credits now. He introduced himself and explained how he had lost his job after being there for a decade or a decade and a half. He was now in the middle of his life trying to figure out the purpose of his life. And he started singing a song that is not the greatest song ever written but it's an authentic song. My feeling was that we're in the middle of one of the worst recession on record in America. About a million people have lost their jobs in the last year. But we really have no experience with who these people are. They're often just numbers on paper. Here was a guy who was able to sing very authentically about how he felt about it. And I thought, what a better tribute to end the movie. I knew halfway through listening to it, this was going to be in the credits.
Question: One of the pleasures/sadnesses of the movie are the interviews, some of which were actually real people. How was that done? I recognized JK Simmons of course but a lot of the people I didn't recognize. Were they authentic firees?
Jason Reitman: When I started writing the screenplay seven years ago the economy in American was very different. We were basically at the tail end of an economic boom and I decided to write a corporate satire about a man who fired people for a living. And I wrote comedic scenes in which people lost their jobs. By the time it came to shoot this film it just wasn't funny any more. I couldn't go about shooting these scenes as written. We were scouting in St. Louis and Detroit and the idea just came to me that we should try to use real people. So we put an ad out in the newspaper in the help wanted section saying we're making a documentary about job loss and we're looking for people who would go on camera and talk about their experience. We got an overwhelming amount of response--we brought in 100 people and 25 are in the finished film. So outside of the people you recognize like JK Simmons and Zach Galifianakis, everyone else who loses their job in this movie is a real person who came in and sat down at a table with an interviewer and for about 10 minutes answered questions about what it's like to lose your job in an economy where really there's nothing available and you have to consider some very dire decisions. And after that we would fire them. We would say, "We'd like to now fire you on camera and we'd like you to either respond the way you did the day you lost your job or if you prefer you can say what you wish you had said." This would turn into improv scenes in which they would pelt our interviewer with all sort of questions that he did not know the answer to--about their severance, about why they lost their job instead of Jeff. Some people were really angry, some got emotional and cried, some were very funny. I'm so greatful for their participation in the film because I could have never written the type of things that they said.
Question: You have a history of writing strong female characters and some are in this film as well. Do you think there's a shortage of those in Hollywood right now?
Jason Reitman: Yes. I think that's why I write them. I like to write original films. I think many of the men's stories have been told and so many of the women's haven't. I've fallen in love with many really smart women over the course of my life, the more recent and presumably last one being my wife. I just really enjoy spending time with my wife talking about these scenes. The best scene I've ever written I only wrote half of. It's the scene in this movie where Vera and Anna talk about what they look for in a man at each of their ages. The only way I could write was to ask my wife to have a conversation with herself at 18 about what she looked for in a man. So everything that they say is true to her--which breaks her heart every time she watches it with an audience because they basically laugh at her for five minutes. I enjoy writing for women and I enjoy working with great actresses. I've been very fortunate; I've made three movies now and throughout all of them from Maria Bello on Thank You for Smoking and then Ellen [Page] and Jennifer [Garner] on Juno, and not only Anna and Vera but also also Amy Morton and Melanie Lynskey on this one. I've just been surrounded by great women actresses and hope I can work with more and more.
Question: [To Anna] There's a wonderful scene when you go to pieces in an airport after receiving a text message from your boyfriend. Can you tell us about the preparation? How much was written down how much of it was you doing it on that day?
Anna Kendrick: I don't remember what was in the script except that she starts crying. So many of the scenes are heartbreaking for me and Natalie. I knew it was supposed to be funny but that it couldn't really be funny for me. It was kind of brutal because I was so upset all day. Jason would demonstrate various squeaks and moans and wails trying to find the right thing that was still not funny to me but hopefully funny to other people.
Question: You mentioned that you started the script seven years ago and obviously you had a couple of films come out in the meantime [Thank You for Smoking and Juno]. Does that mean you put this on the back burner for a time while you did Thank You for Smoking? How did the timeline work?
Jason Reitman: No one would make Thank You for Smoking, so I started looking for something else to write and direct. I found this book, fell in love with it and started writing it. And then out of nowhere a millionaire, one of the creators of Paypal who had sold Paypal to Ebay for 1.5 billion dollars with his partners decided he wanted to make movies. He read my script. He got it from a friend and called my agent and said, "Hey I'd love to make this movie." He wrote a check for 6.5 million dollars and I made Thank you for Smoking. All of a sudden I wasn't writing Up in the Air anymore. After I made Thank you for Smoking and went back to writing Up in the Air, then Juno came into my life. It was just this irresistible screenplay that I knew if I didn't direct I would regret for the rest of my life. The interesting thing was that I basically finished the screenplay after Juno and about five years in I got to the end of the script having never gone back and re-read what I'd been writing. And as I read start to finish, I watched myself grow up. Over the course of the 6 years that I wrote the script I became a professional director, I bought a home, I got married, I became a father. I watched myself in the first act be a cynical guy in his 20s who is a satirist and then over the 6 years I became a bit more sophisticated as a writer but I also realized what was important in my own life and that really changed Ryan's journey as I continued to write.
Question: You shot in public places, actual airport lounges and twenty cities on screen that we see. What was it like for the actors to film like this? For example [to Anna] when you do the scene when you go all wobbly, was that in an actual airport?
Anna Kendrick: It was in a hotel lobby. It was little uncomfortable although we could shut down the lobby. But still it was just this space and the extras--even though they are part of the film you don't know them. But it's still embarrassing. But on that particular day it was less about other people and more about the space and feeling like I wanted something to grab on to. It was a very uncomfortable day.
Vera Farmiga: It was most often closed or controlled sets. What was most amusing for me was to see the fanaticism that George attracts. That was overwhelming and so odd. For me, no one ever knows who I am, they always think I'm a producer on the film. But watching George having to deal with that--to simply open a door and close it--and then there's a standing ovation that goes blocks and blocks. And just peeking his head out. And he's so gallant and gracious, he takes his bow. But I didn't feel that it impeded the work.
Jason Reitman: It's a total pain in the ass. Shooting in airports is very difficult and we shot in four international airports. They gave us a fair amount of access. Because American Airlines was a partner in this film, basically our trade was that they were our airline and they gave us access to all their check-in gates as well as departure gates. But still all the actors had to go through security every day on the way to the set. I think on purpose they would put George through as much security as humanly possibly. I'm surprised he didn't get patted down every time he went through. We had to bring in our own electricity, we had to wire from our generator through the airport. It was really tricky. The greatest moment for us was probably shooting in the TSA [Transportation Security Administration]. We're the first film to actually shoot the real thing. Usually when you see that in a movie you're looking at metal detectors that were put in a convention hall center. This is the real thing. All the people on camera were real TSA security people who volunteered their time. That was exciting.
Question: [to Vera] In the nude scene, was that really you and if it was how comfortable were you with it?
Vera Farmiga: I had shot this when I had about 6 pounds more of chunk--I was pregnant. And I did do the scene but I think my bottom had become too large. I didn't think so, but that's a question for Mr. Reitman. I did attempt to do the nudity. I got to certainly choose my body double. And I think Jason did a good job of selecting someone that was pretty accurate. My tush has been in many films so far.
Jason Reitman: And I studied those films frame by frame to make sure it would be an exact representation. [everyone laughs]. I'm a very specific director. Both actresses will tell you that.
Question: [for Anna] You've gone from playing quite a small role in Twilight which was a huge success to playing a lead role in this film opposite George Clooney. How did you feel when you got this role?
Anna Kendrick: I was shocked beyond belief because I thought Jason hated me. My audition was very strange and I think Jason was trying to psych me out by not showing any enthusiasm. But I thought he hated me and then when I got the job I was so shocked, and I thought he's just like that; he's going to be a tyrant on set. But he's very very nice. I was very surprised but thrilled beyond words.The script is so beautiful. And I didn't really think that George was doing it. And I just assumed it was too good to be true, for a script to be this good and to be working with George Clooney. I just thought it was one of the things that was rumored. Then Jason told me the Italy story, and I got really excited. And then I was sitting at lunch with him trying to act like "of course I'm going to be in a movie with George Clooney because I do that kind of thing."
Question: Why did Anna think you hated her, Jason?
Jason Reitman: One, I'm a mean guy. But two, I wrote the role for Anna. And Anna auditioned against thirty of the best actresses of her generation. I needed to know that she could actually do it. I basically saw her in one movie. I thought, she's great, but I need to see her actually read the lines. When she came in I didn't want her to get psyched out by saying, "Hey I wrote this role for you." Because then she would probably freak out and not be comfortable because it would then be hers to lose. But since I'm a horrible actor myself, in trying not to show that I was already a huge fan of hers I probably wasn't as nice as I could have been. It's kind of like when you meet a pretty girl and don't want to show her that you think she's pretty so you're trying to act as straight as possible and then you're not acting like yourself and pretty soon you're acting like a jerk.
Question: I'm a foreign news correspondent and my colleagues and I all laughed when someone tells Anna what a terrible thing it is to break up a relationship by text and Clooney says it's a bit like firing someone on the internet.
Jason Reitman: That brings up something worth mentioning. This is the first film my father and I have actually worked on together. I had avoided doing that in the first two because I wanted to make a name for myself. My father wrote one line in this movie. And that line is "That's kind of like firing people online." It's a monster line. It gets applause every time the movie plays. The reaction for this line is a 10 and the reaction for the next line is a 4. I'm a little jealous. But it's a really proud moment for me.
Question: One of the pleasures for film buffs is when well-known faces turn up in little roles. You mentioned JK in a very unselfish cameo. And also a lot of us were waiting for Sam Elliot having seen him in the credits in the beginning and wondered when he is going to turn up. To get distinguished people to do little bits, how much explanation do they need, or is it just a nice check?
Jason Reitman: Once I give a great role like the ones I gave to Vera and Anna, I presume that on the next film they'll come in free and do four lines of dialogue each. I begged all of them to come in and do those roles and they've all been very gracious and done them. I try to keep up strong relationships with them so that when I ask they come back and do these roles. When I started my career I think my biggest goal was I want to be a director that actors want to work with. Actors make movies, not only physically but they make them work. I knew that the only way I would be a successful director in the way I want to be a filmmaker would be if good actors actually wanted to work with me. And I'm slowly working my way towards that. I look at people like Sam Elliott who would show up for a day and do a role like that and that makes me more proud than anything.
Question: Could you talk about your choice of music in your films? Is it drawn out of personal tastes?
Jason Reitman: I start putting together a tunes library while I'm writing the screenplay. I'm very specific about music. It's a very personal thing for me. I originally thought that this movie was all going to be done to Hank Williams music. Then I got to the edit and I realized I was wrong and started moving into folk music. But it's very personal for me.
Up in the Air opens in theaters this month. Thanks to the London Film Festival for permission to use this press conference. (condensed and edited).
Press Conference at the London Film Festival
By James McCaskill and Annette Graham, DC Film Society Members
This press conference for The Road took place at the London Film Festival. Present were director John Hillcoat, screenwriter Joe Penhall and actor Viggo Mortensen. It was moderated by Jason Sullivan. The film is based on a book by Cormac McCarthy.
Jason Sullivan: I'll start by introducing our guests. The director first came to my attention in the mid- 90s with a film called To Have and To Hold (1996) starring Rachel Griffiths and Tchéky Karyo set in the steamy forests of New Guinea. He then came to the London Film Festival in 2002 with a very distinctive Australian western called The Proposition which I don't think any of us who've seen it will ever forget. And he's been equally unforgettable in bringing Cormac McCarthy's book to the big screen. He's the director John Hillcoat. In the middle is a British playwright and screenwriter who first came to attention with his play Blue/Orange. He's also carved out a distinctive career as a screenwriter with a very wonderful little British film Some Voices. He then adapted Ian McEwan's "Enduring Love" which was here at the London Film Festival. He's recently taken to TV as well with the wonderful miniseries on the BBC "Moses Jones". He now has the tough task of adapting Cormac McCarthy's best seller "The Road" to the big screen. He's the screenwriter Joe Penhall. And to my left is an actor who became a global phenomenon as part of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy. He's also starred in Hidalgo and A History of Violence. He opened the London Film Festival as a tattooed Russian mobster in David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises for which he was also Oscar nominated. We've seen him more recently as a monstrously sympathetic Nazi opposite Jason Isaacs in Good. Now Aragorn takes on the Apocalypse in Cormac McCarthy's The Road: Viggo Mortensen.
I'll start with you John. The look of The Road is vastly different from the vision you gave The Proposition. Yet when I was watching it I was struck by the similarities between the two. What drew you to the material? Is there something about you that likes a wide open space and desolation?
John Hillcoat: I love heat and sun, coming from Australia. They are polar opposites yet they're both extreme worlds. I've always been interested by extreme environments, the way that environments impact on people. My first film Ghosts... of the Civil Dead was an all interior prison film. It's a character for the other characters to react to. I think we all do that.
Jason Sullivan: The shoot seemed pretty demanding and grueling.
John Hillcoat: No. I love travel and I love to unwind in the cold middle of winter in Pennsylvania. Yes, it's a bit grueling logistically. It adds pressure but I hoped that the performers react off the environment in a positive sense. It helps add a reality. As Kodi said, for him it's easier to be a bit cold than to act cold on top of all the emotional stuff. And also the crew helps focus everyone on what sort of world we are trying to enter into. Whereas to me working in a green-screen studio is a much harder leap, it's much tougher.
Jason Sullivan: Where did you shoot, mostly real locations? You mentioned Pennsylvania.
John Hillcoat: That had to do with the abandoned freeways there, deciduous trees that had lost their leaves in wintertime and the strip mining, but then we also went to places like New Orleans for the aftermath of the Katrina cleanup which is still going on and Mount St. Helens and also Oregon for the gray beaches.
Jason Sullivan: Joe, when you're writing a piece like this, how do make the landscape play a part of your screenplay?
Joe Penhall: My usual bag of tricks like dialogue and plot were not quite relevant. It was really all about the environment and the landscape. I loved John's film The Proposition where the landscape is a character, it's virtually the whole film and I enjoyed taking my hands off the steering wheel and being guided by someone else, writing a film that relied on landscape and epic vistas and the elements and didn't rely at all on dialogue or tightly wound plot.
Jason Sullivan: I haven't read your script. Is it easy as a screenwriter--can you say "they go over an open field?"
Joe Penhall: No you have to write everything. You have to write every weed in that field and the color of sky. That was what was so much fun about it, the descriptions of the landscape. Some of them were a half a page long. I really enjoyed that. It was incredibly detailed and it really paid off.
Jason Sullivan: You also got two fantastic main human characters, one played by Viggo, one played by Kodi as father and son. They're almost in every single scene together. Was that a filmic device?
Joe Penhall: No, I love stories like that. The stories I've done in the past have always been about one person on a mission usually. I find it quite hard to write lots of characters. So this was great for me. I just did my best to put the book into a different structure.
Jason Sullivan: When you were writing it had the success of Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men happened already? Were you conscious of that [filmed] adaptation while you were doing yours?
Joe Penhall: No, none of that had happened. The book hadn't even been published. No Country for Old Men hadn't come out. We didn't know any of this. We just thought what a good book, we've got to do this.
Jason Sullivan: Did you know who was going to be the father? Did you have an actor in mind?
Joe Penhall: I think John wanted Viggo right from the start, early on. That made it easy for me. They say when you write you shouldn't have an actor in mind but I often do. And it works.
Jason Sullivan: You've done Daniel Craig twice.
Joe Penhall: Yes and I've worked with Ray Winstone, Dan, and now Viggo. The delight of it is that they always do almost exactly what I hoped and dreamed they would do.
Jason Sullivan: Because you tell them to in the script.
Joe Penhall: Well they're professionals aren't they?
Jason Sullivan: Viggo, let's talk about getting this part. A part you must have known from having read the book or did you come to it fresh from the script? Does that help or make a difference?
Viggo Mortensen: I'm a fan of McCarthy and John is as well. I had read all of his books except The Road and The Road had come out to great fanfare at least in North America. Even though No Country for Old Men has won Oscars, The Road is still his most far-reaching universally appealing work because the dilemma is easily understood by any culture. But I hadn't gotten around to reading it just out of stubborness. But I was going to read it and kept seeing it in airports and Oprah Winfrey's show. It was a big deal. But I read the script by Joe and I thought it was a really good script, great story and realized it was quite an honor to be offered this role. I ran right out and read the script and ran to the store and got the book and read it. It's one of those books that you can't put down; if you've read it you know what I mean. I realized it was a very good adaptation which only became better and better as it became fine-tuned before we prepared to shoot. Including Lord of the Rings or anything else I know of that I've been in or seen, I think it's probably the most faithful adaptation--not just in spirit but in letter--of any book. It really is very much like the book and I was drawn to it. Any character I play, I want to sooner or later find ways of coming out of hiding. The truth will out with any character with any story in little ways, and big ways, sooner or later if you allow it to. There's a line McCarthy has in the book "The frailty of everything revealed at last." I think he's referring to nature and to people, to everything as he says. I liked that about it. I liked the journey which had to necessarily be really tough. And it was helpful to Kodi, to myself, to the others, and the crew. For one thing as an actor, you're only as good as who you are with. The landscape was so real, so gritty, so truthful that you had to live up to that, you had to reflect that in your behavior. You had to be very real, you couldn't hide at all emotionally. I was worried when I got cast and thought, this boy in the story just kills you, just breaks your heart in the book. How are they going to find that boy? And luckily we did. Kodi Smit-McPhee is amazing in the movie, he's an extraordinary individual. I think it's a measure not just his talent but his humanity that he was able to be joyful every day at work, like a kid. He could be joyful and then focus and deliver what his character required--the sorrow, the doubt, the fear, and then just that native happiness that he has. I liked the dynamic between father and son because the boy doesn't know anything of the world as it was, it's only what I tell him or show him in picture books--animals, birds, leaves on the trees, flowers, so it was really interesting to play with that. Adults have accumulated a lot of doubts and regrets and nostalgia, whereas kids are just there. And in this case much more so, because that's all they know.
Jason Sullivan: You have a son yourself. So in your role as a father you kind of played it in real life.
Viggo Mortensen: To a degree, it was a way in, initially. But you don't have to be a parent to understand the story. It was a way in, like other things you might be able to do physically. But it really came down to being quite naked from the inside, being very honest. It had to be that way or it wouldn't work and it wouldn't work if I didn't have a partner like Kodi who could pull certain things out of me and then I would return it and I think that complicity, that relationship that was forged through hardship and also having a good time--frankly, you feel it on the screen. And the journey, hard as it is has to be that difficult to earn what happens at the end which I think is strangely uplifting and quite beautiful when everything is stripped away. We see people at Q&As after screenings where a lot of people have a blissed-out look on their face or even a smile but at the same time tears on their eyes. I think you would have to be quite obstructed interally somehow--whether you like the movie or not--if you weren't moved by it. As the character says in voiceover "If I were God I would make the world just so." I think any story that has a chance of inspiring you to feel that this life no matter how complicated it is--this world no matter how messed up it is--is good and beautiful. That in some way it's worthwhile, you wouldn't trade it for another even if you could. That story has done its job and I think the movie does that.
Question: Can you tell about the process you went through to become your character; for example, did you have to lose weight?
Viggo Mortensen: There was a big feed before the last couple of days when we did the flashbacks with Charlize. I went out and make a complete swine of myself, because I wanted to seem somewhat healthier than I had been for the previous months. Spring had arrived also; everything was quite different. There were certain things, externally. Obviously I couldn't look extremely well fed, so I lost some weight and ate less, was more careful about what I ate. But after a certain point it was more a leap of faith for everyone involved. That's why I like working in the movies and I like going to movies--very old movies, new movies--there's a shot, there's a closeup, there's a composition; a certain wide shot, there's a look on someone's face that's beyond technical explanation. No matter how technologically advanced movie-making has become, there are certain things that are beyond explanation once you make that leap of faith. And in a case like this, with copies of the book around all the time, where you felt supported, where everybody was going together on this journey, it takes you beyond what you're able to do. And having Kodi, it took me to another place. There's something else that happens in movies that those shots stay with you forever sometimes. And I felt that we got there together. But as far as preparation, it was much less than any other character I've done, about the externals. Yes, I listened to certain kinds of music, watched certain kind of movies, yes I lost some weight, yes we thought about the logistics. John shared movies that he was inspired by in terms of the look of it, we talked about certain literature, just those things that get you in the mood. But it was much less about the externals and far more about revealing yourself from inside. Being a dad, these external things were helpful initially but really in the end it was about all of us being brave enough to just let it all hang out and hope that it would work, to be satisfied that we had given it our all. And in my case as an actor it was mostly with this boy and having to be completely exposed. So it was much more an internal job than I've ever experienced.
Question: Why are you so fascinated with McCarthy's writing?
Viggo Mortensen: Mostly his prose descriptions. The dialogue is quite spare in this story understandably and then when you transfer it to a visual medium it becomes about the unspoken things, emotional reactions to extraordinary events and difficult circumstances. I like his prose descriptions in the book a lot. My favorite is Blood Meridian. His descriptions in that book, like in The Road, just stop you cold. He's a real poet.
Question: You mentioned Lord of the Rings earlier, obviously a very different movie. But both films share these huge mythic landscapes and the whole otherworldliness. Can you compare the projects in terms of what the experience was like, especially in terms of the emotional and physical baggage each project brought you, and can you even compare the two experiences?
Viggo Mortensen: On some level you can. Lord of the Rings was another story like this one where the crew had the book. Where people, just like with The Road, would say, "Tomorrow, we shoot the scene where Robert Duvall's character shows up... that's going to be interesting." And because Joe found a way to get across what McCarthy does in his prose descriptions and was faithful and found the right place and right selection in terms of the dialogue scenes, it was very true to the book so the crew was looking forward to that. When you feel that people are really into the story it's not just a job, another movie for crew members it lifts you, it makes you braver. You can feel that on Lord of the Rings as well. But it was a different thing. Sometimes there were seven units shooting and all kinds of directors, not just one. This is much leaner, obviously, but on some level it's more consistently truthful in terms of human nature. It's just a different kind of story. There was a family feeling on both projects.
Question: Earlier Viggo was talking about how the adaptation was faithful in spirit and letter. But as a writer as well as an adapter are you able to somehow stamp your own personality or style on the material or is it important to remain invisible?
Joe Penhall: In The Road I kind of wanted to leave no footprints. I thought that was the challenge. You read so many scripts and they're just garbage. They read like deodorant advertisements. The joy of this was to write a movie script that read like a Cormac McCarthy novel. So I kind of adopted his language and stuck with it as much as I could, as an act of ventriloquism or mimicry. And after we had done it, we showed it to Cormac and had a few drinks afterward. And Cormac revealed that he had written a lot of scripts himself. No Country For Old Men started life as a movie script he wrote. He couldn't get it off the ground and turned it into a novel. So it was kind of a thrill to do that, to write it as if Cormac had written it. But in terms of choosing what goes in and what stays out and how things link up and sometimes subtly altering the subtext of the story, that's my decision. When you read a book you take away from it something that is individual to you; your understanding of the book is different from the next guy's understanding. So my understanding of the book is my understanding of the book. And I think that people who know my other work will probably see some of my hallmarks in there. That's the fun of it.
Viggo Mortensen: It's a lot harder to do. When it works it seems simple and seems to flow and you think this is very much like the book. I think what Joe did is a lot harder than it looks. There's one example which is in the character of the mother, the role that Charlize Theron plays. There's been rumors that it's expanded, it's a whole different thing. And it's actually not. He found a very clever way of going to another medium--he and John together, John by how he directed the sequences with her. In particular I'm thinking about the scene across the table. What I felt reading the book--and I read it several times--wasn't that I didn't like her but that I disagreed with her. I felt that the man and the boy were braver and you sort of leave her behind and get on with these guys. What they did in the movie with the screenplay and the way the movie is structured is that you understand her point of view. When the character of the man and woman agree to disagree, really at that point in the story, her choice in the face of the end of nature and the loss of humanity and the hopelessness of it all--to do as the neighbors do and end it your own way--it's the rational one, it's the sensible one. When she asks the man how do you plan to survive and why, he doesn't really have an answer. He comes to answer the why by the end, the how we never know. That's something you really got across--the way you understand her, that her point is as valid as the man's in a way, it's just different.
Joe Penhall: That was a big change that I made. I wanted her to be much more sympathetic because it makes the dilemma much harder then. In the book she's vaguely nuts. That's probably got to do with Cormac's relationships over the years, I don't know. We wanted to really feel for her and her dilemma which makes his dilemma even worse.
John Hillcoat: The loss for the man and having to hide that from the boy, raises the stakes, and I think that's a tricky thing to maneuver--for Viggo to have that loss without actually talking about it with his son. On occasions they bring it up. But he has to carry that all the way through. So we want to built on that and remind us how precious and special those things were..
Joe Penhall: One reason films get changed a lot from the book is because it's a very imprecise art form and a lot of people are involved. The thing about this is that Viggo's performance is so precise and John's direction is so precise and the writing had to be precise so you end up with something that is faithful.
Question: Although very moving, some of the scenes were disturbing and very sinister. How did you approach that with your child actor?
John Hillcoat: That was my single greatest fear, just like with Viggo. We loved the material. When I first read it, it floored me. But then I thought, How are we going to find this kid and how are we going to protect this kid? I was thinking of shooting it in a way that the kid would never see half of the stuff we were shooting. I started from that point of view, a very protective point of view. And Viggo and I discussed it at length, how we were going to work with this situation. Kodi comes from a very close knit family and half of them are actors including his father. Friends had mentioned I should check out this kid in Australia and they sent an audition piece. I had actually asked the kid to do something quite neutral to get a sense and they did additional scenes which included Kodi's father playing the father for real and teaching him about putting the gun in his mouth. And that was basically his message to me to say "my kid can handle this"--or else they were completely insane. That did cross my mind, but I thought, I've got to check it out, can't dismiss this. By the time we got it down to four kids the critical thing was the relationships. Viggo came in and we worked together with each kid to see how it worked. And Kodi's father had already read him the entire book, so some of my strategy went out the window, because here was a kid that was incredibly grounded, basically mature beyond his years. He was still a kid but had this instinctual understanding of what storytelling is. At the time he was ten and just turned eleven; we were looking at kids as young as seven or eight. But the whole dynamic changed; it wasn't as interesting or complex. The boy has to take a leap of faith in standing on his own feet. Although in the book he's younger.
Viggo Mortensen: It's the transition you make when you realize your parents aren't gods. With a younger kid that might not have worked.
Question: [to John Hillcoat] What are your thoughts about the ending of the film?
John Hillcoat: This combines the question of the harrowing scenes and Cormac's unflinching view of how we can slip into our base nature. The whole world is just a backdrop, a projection of our fears. It's every parent's worst fear, every human's worst fear. As you see the story progress, the man is trying to protect him but in protecting him he's closing down through fear other possibilities. Other people are in the same predicament and they can't connect. The boy sees that in the old man and yet there's a natural understandable fear from the father and he closes off these possibilities. So to me the end is that the boy gradually stands up to the man. Not only that, but he opens up new possibilities, he takes a leap of faith and in doing that his instincts are correct, not to be blinded by fear.
Joe Penhall: He doesn't get rescued at the end. He goes off with the other people. He has a gun. He says I'll take my chances with these other people
Viggo Mortensen: There was someone at a Q&A who said, "I think these people will be definititely be eating him" I said you are joking. "No, he's definitely dinner and that dog is bait." Because of course the kid likes the dog. They'll probably eat the dog tomorrow but tonight they're eating the boy. There was a big argument about that [at the Q&A].
John Hillcoat: The whole point of the story is about human goodness. Blood Meridian is about human evil. We all have to face our own mortality. And there's another generation coming along. I think the whole setting of the Apocalypse is a metaphor to highlight a moment of hope or grace under pressure--and the greater the darkness around it, the more special and precious that is.
Viggo Mortensen: I think the boy works as the audience in a sense. You have these abstract terms such as being the good guys or carrying the fire. The boy doesn't quite grasp it--are we still the good guys? what fire? By the end of the story the boy understands probably even better than the man does what it means, and hopefully the audience does as well. And the boy has nothing. There is no hope apparently and yet as human beings we do have a choice--a conscious choice that we can make. We are equally capable of doing good as doing bad things. You choose compassion and kindness, love. Or you choose fear and all the things that fear provokes--contempt, mistrust, violence, cruelty, hatred, cannibalism. It is that simple but to get to that simple conclusion you have to go through a tortuous journey mentally and physically. And the boy does ask those questions because it's not clear at first.
Joe Penhall: Cormac's big question is a simple one: Is it better to be cynical and self absorbed or is it better to be naive and hopeful? That's the burning question at the end. The boy thinks he should be hopeful and the father thinks that he should pack a gun and continue to be paranoid.
Viggo Mortensen: The tricky thing is to know what's going on and still be hopeful. The boy takes it a step further. He comes to an understanding of how inhumane people can be. The father can only keep him from seeing things for so long. It's a measure of real humanity making that choice--when everything is against making that choice--and you do it anyway. He can shoot anyone who comes near him or not, in spite of everything he knows. But I agree, there is that difference. He doesn't know any other world. Like a boy, he wants to find what's good and accept it.
Joe Penhall: Some critic in Venice said the boy is endlessly hopeful and generous. Which is a nice description of him. He's like a little boy, he's is endlessly hopeful and generous. even though he's born into this horrible apocalypse.
The Road is now playing in area theaters. Thanks to the London Film Festival for permission to use this press conference. (condensed and edited).
Calendar of Events
American Film Institute Silver Theater
The "Secret Policeman's Film Festival" runs from December 10-15, celebrating the 30th anniversary of Amnesty International's pioneering series of benefit shows. Most shows are double features--see the website for exact dates.
This year's holiday film celebration includes Home Alone, It's A Wonderful Life, Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation and Christmas Holiday.
The AFI takes part in the 20th Washington Jewish Film Festival December 3-13.
Freer Gallery of Art
Continuing from last month, "Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga, Father of Anime" is a retrospective of the work of Osamu Tezuka (1928-1989), creator of hundreds of manga comic books and dozens of animated films. On December 5 at 3:45pm is The Fantastic Adventures of Unico (Toshio Hirata, 1981) and on December 6 at 1:00pm is "Tezuka on Television," a program of episodes from Tezuka's work for TV. On December 11 at 7:00pm is 1001 Nights (Eiichi Yamamoto, 1969), with Yoshihiro Shimizu, general manager of Tezuka Productions present to introduce the film. On December 13 at 2:00pm is "Tezuka and the History of Anime," a discussion about the history of Japanese anime with Yoshihiro Shimizu.
National Gallery of Art
"Joseph Losey: American Abroad" is a series of films by American-born Joseph Losey, whose centennial we celebrate this year. Two films remain in December: on December 5 at 4:00pm is The Gypsy and the Gentleman (1958) and on December 5 at 2:00pm is The Prowler (see below).
"Recovered Treasure: UCLA's Festival of Preservation" is a selection of new preservation from the 2009 festival. On December 5 at 2:00pm is The Prowler (Joseph Losey, 1951); on December 12 at 3:30pm is Point of Order! (Emile de Antonio and Daniel Talbot, 1963) shown with Sunday (Dan Drasin, 1951); on December 13 at 4:30pm is A Woman Under the Influence (John Cassavetes, 1974); on December 19 at 2:30pm is Song o' My Heart (Frank Borzage, 1930) shown with Young America (Frank Borzage, 1932); on December 20 at 2:00pm is Secret Beyond the Door (Fritz Lang, 1948); on December 20 at 4:00pm is Ruthless (Edgar G. Ulmer, 1948); on December 26 a 1:00pm is The Brother from Another Planet (John Sayles, 1984); on December 26 at 3:30pm is Return of the Secaucus 7 (John Sayles, 1980); on December 27 at 2:00pm is a program of "Vitaphone Varieties 1927-1931); and on December 27 at 4:30pm is Gamperaliya (Lester James Peries, 1964).
Special events at the Gallery include Herb and Dorothy (Megumi Sasaki, 2008) on December 16, 17, and 20 at 12:30pm. A lecture/screening on December 6 at 2:00pm is on the topic "American Visionary Filmmakers and the Heritage of Emerson" with four films to be screened; the lecturer is P. Adams Sitney from Princeton University. On December 6 at 5:00pm is Black Orpheus (Marcel Camus, 1958), now celebrating its 50th anniversary. Carl Theodor Dreyer's Two People (1944) will be shown on December 12 at 1:00pm. Andrew Simpson will accompany The Little Match Girl (Jean Renoir and Jean Tedesco, 1928) on piano December 19 at 1:00pm.
Smithsonian American Art Museum
To accompany the exhibit "1934: A New Deal for Artists" on December 9 at 7:00pm is Soul of a People (Andrea Kalin, 2009), about the Federal Writers' Project. The two co-producers of the film will be present to introduce the film.
Washington Jewish Community Center
"History in Film" is a program of films by ZDF, a major television network. On December 7, 8 and 9 at 6:30pm is Krupp--A German Family (Carlo Rola, 2009). On December 14 at 6:30pm is The Miracle of Berlin (Roland Suso Richter, 2008). One more in January.
The Goethe Institute also takes part in the Washington Jewish Film Festival, see below.
National Air and Space Museum
On December 10 at 6:00pm is the Bahcall Lecture: Astrobiology and the Search for Life Beyond Earth with a presentation of the film Blue Planet. Dr. Sara Seager discusses the most promising places for life beyond Earth. Call 202-633-2398 for reservations.
National Geographic Society
On December 5 and 7 from 3pm-7pm is "Film Warriors", recent indigenous short films from Australia, a filmmaker discussion with Pauline Clague and reception. Titles include Bourke Boy (Adrian Wills), Maralinga (Pauline Clague), When Colin Met Joyce (Rima Tamou), Green Bush (Warwick Thornton), My Brother Vinnie (Steven McGregor), Crocodile Dreaming (Darlene Johnson) and others. The screenings are held at the Katzen Arts Center, 4400 Massachusetts Ave., NW.
The French Embassy takes part in the 20th Annual Washington Jewish Film Festival.
The Japan Information and Culture Center
On December 16 at 7:00pm is Hachi: A Dog’s Tale (Lasse Hallstrom, 2009), held at the Freer Gallery. Visit the website for reservation information.
As part of the "Big" exhibit, the Archives will show Shrek (2001) on December 12 at noon.
As part of the "Czech Lions" series is Who’s Afraid of the Wolf? (Maria Procházková, 2008) on December 9 at 8:00pm. This month's French Cinematheque film is Please Please Me (Emmanuel Mouret, 2009) on December 16 at 8:00pm. The Avalon is also a participant in the 20th Annual Washington Jewish Film Festival.
Anacostia Community Museum
Against the Odds: The Artists of the Harlem Renaissance (Amber Edwards, 1994) is a film about black artists of the 1920s and 1930s; the documentary is followed by a discussion on December 8 at 10:30am. Call 202-633-4844 for reservations.