Wednesday 27 December 2017

A Monster Calls

I generally don’t see myself as a fan of fantasy films, but once in a while, come across one that is not only enjoyable and well-done but also brilliant and particularly meaningful. A Monster Calls is such a film. It is about a 12-year-old boy named Conor who has a terminally ill mother; one night he receives a visit from a tree-like monster who wants to tell him 3 stories and asks him to tell a 4th story that has to be true—Conor’s recurring nightmare. At the beginning, Conor thinks the monster comes to heal his mother, only to learn that the monster is there to heal him, to help him cope with his mother’s illness and the pain. It is different from many other fantasy films. In El laberinto del fauno for example, another good film (inaccurately known in English as Pan’s Labyrinth), the fantasy world is in a sense parallel to the real world (though its darkness is nothing compared to the evil in the real world); in another sense, it’s a form of escapism, a way of hiding away from reality. In A Monster Calls, in contrast, the fantasy figure (the tree-like monster) teaches the boy about the complexity of human beings and our emotions, about how life is not like a fairytale, with clear-cut heroes and villains; and the monster also forces Conor to confront the truth, and thereby, to cope with pain.
The film has a wisdom and compassion not often found in fantasy films. Highly recommended.

Thursday 21 December 2017

The 10 best things I’ve done in 2017

(chronological, more or less) 
1/ Choosing Adam, my boyfriend
One of the best decisions I’ve ever made. 
2/ Rereading Lolita
Nabokov has always been a tremendous influence on me, but now, because of my environment and the political climate in the West, and because of the rereading of Lolita, Nabokov’s stance and attitude have influenced me even more—against black-and-white thinking, against bad reading, against symbolism, against generalisations, against the disregard for details and nuance, against philistinism and anti-intellectualism. 
3/ Choosing to direct a short documentary 
We meant to make a short documentary called PC Pavarotti, which fell apart because of the unreliable contributor, who perhaps at the start didn’t realise what he got himself into. We had to find another subject, and finally made Nicotine Tales. 1st time directing, I learnt the hard lesson about filmmaking—shit happens, and people can be unreliable. The experience was invaluable. 
4/ Developing an interest in documentaries 
Previously indifferent to documentaries, last semester I watched many great films such as Man on Wire, Searching for Sugar Man, The Imposter, Tickled, Deliver Us From Evil, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, Touching the Void, etc., and discovered the power of documentaries.  
5/ Discovering Krzysztof Kieslowski and Louis Theroux 
Even though Kieslowski is in drama and Theroux is in documentary, these filmmakers have a few things in common—their openness, their non-judgmental approach to characters or subjects, and their humanity. 
(Interestingly, it was Kieslowski who led me back to Ingmar Bergman). 
6/ Taking a trip to Haworth and visiting the Bronte Parsonage Museum 
Haworth is lovely. This was the 1st part of Adam’s birthday present for me, and the 1st time I saw Yorkshire countryside. 
7/ “Rediscovering” Ingmar Bergman and Luis Bunuel; discovering Kenji Mizoguchi; watching Citizen Kane 
I had seen a few films by Bergman and Bunuel before, but it was during this summer that I “rediscovered” them and found them the greatest of directors and auteurs. With their films, I started to like the idea of films as dreams, and to think of films as capable of dealing with the mind, with human consciousness (unlike the common belief that literature is internal and cinema is external). 
I also started watching the films of Mizoguchi, whom I came to prefer to Kurosawa and Ozu. Dispassionate but haunting; tragic but never sentimental.
2017 has been a very important year, because I found these masters and changed my view on cinema, and at the same time, because I directed my 1st film and started to watch films differently (Bergman’s my main influence). 
The single most significant film I watched this year was perhaps Citizen Kane. All kinds of techniques are in there, all the things you need to learn about cinema are in there. Mizoguchi for example is a master of mise-en-scène, but Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane has taught me more about deep focus, staging, and the z-axis, than anything has.  
8/ Travelling to Whitby and going whale-watching 
This was the 2nd part of Adam’s birthday present for me. Imagine how excited I was, as a fan of Moby Dick. 4 hours on a boat, we saw about a dozen whales, I even saw a seal that my bf missed. 
9/ Changing my philosophy about people
After some talks and fights, some disillusionments, and lots of thinking, I realised that curiosity killed the cat, that excessive empathy was harmful and we shouldn’t try to tolerate and wish to understand everything, that I was drawn to people with issues and that was bad for me as well as them, that my philosophy about people was flawed and simplistic. So I changed. 
10/ Having a successful pitch and directing my 1st short film Bird Bitten 
We had a few problems, which is the nature of filmmaking, but I was lucky for having a fantastic cast and crew. Directing is fun, and actually making a film makes me appreciate great films even more. 
I also worked on another film, UV, as 2nd AD. We had 5 different locations, and filmed through the night (till 4-5am), mostly outdoors, in winter (Bird Bitten was shot indoors, during the day). More than expected, I’ve learnt a lot from the experience of working on the 2nd film. 
Overall, (in spite of politics) 2017 has been a great year for me. What about you?
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Monday 11 December 2017

Yes, I'm alive

Long time no see. 
When was the last time I wrote a blog post? That was in September. Busy busy busy. I’ve been directing a short student film, shot in November and now in post-production. The film is called Bird Bitten and will be completed for assessment in January, but we have time to work more on it till the screening in spring. Duration is 5-6 minutes. 
It’s been great, and this time I felt a lot more comfortable and confident, and enjoyed it a lot more, than when directing a short documentary last semester. 
Other than that, there was a pile of other things to do: a directing assessment, an editing assessment, a 300-word dissertation proposal, and a 3000-word essay. Plus a short reflective essay I haven’t started. 
So no time for anything else. The only books I’ve been reading are film books. 
However, after all the talks about being busy, I must announce that I’ve just joined a 2nd film, as 2nd AD, and we’re shooting this week. 
Wish me luck.