Mar 4, 2014 | No Comments | ByManish Agarwal
Acclaimed Argentine writer-director Lucia Puenzo adapted her own book to make this taut thriller about the hidden identity of the ‘German Doctor’. When a scientist insinuates himself into the lives of a young girl and her Argentine family, they unwittingly begin a relationship with exiled Nazi ‘Angel of Death’ Joseph Mengele.
BARBICAN | CINEMA 1
THURSDAY APRIL 10TH
Our festival editorial manager Manish Agarwal explains why Wakolda is a festival must-see.
Lucía Puenzo lit up the international film festival circuit with her 2007 debut XXY, which won the Critics’ Grand Prize at Cannes (plus several other awards globally) for its portrayal of an intersex teenager’s search for gender identity. Based on her own novel, the Argentine writer-director’s second feature, The Fish Child (2009), mapped the star-crossed romance between two young women from the opposite ends of Buenos Aires’ social spectrum. Puenzo has adapted another self-penned book for its gripping follow-up Wakolda, which rewinds to 1960 to conjure a rarely seen perspective on one of the most troubling chapters in her nation’s history.
Shot with an unerring eye for the vertiginous beauty of the Patagonian landscape, this multilayered drama is being released in some territories as The German Doctor, highlighting its primary antagonist: a rich, outwardly charming middle-aged man (played with mercurial authority by Àlex Brendemühl) who goes by the name Helmut Gregor. The mysterious arrival asks a welcoming family of five if he can follow them on the treacherous desert road to Bariloche, a picturesque settlement by the Andes which was colonized decades previously by immigrants from Germany. Pregnant mother Eva (Natalia Oreiro) was brought up there and is returning with husband Enzo (Diego Peretti) and their burgeoning brood to reopen a lakeside lodge she’s inherited.
Bilingual and expecting twins, Eva converses with the transplant in German, common heritage and his medical expertise winning her over. Enzo only speaks Spanish and is more circumspect, but grudgingly accepts when the titular physician stumps up a wad of cash to become their first guest. A mutual fascination develops between Helmut and the couple’s wide-eyed 12-year-old Lilith (a wonderfully naturalistic Florencia Bado). Small for her age, Lilith is cruelly taunted at her new (German-speaking) school, just at that stage when kids are suddenly, acutely conscious of their bodies, sexuality and social standing. Helmut claims to be versed in genetics and offers to administer hormones to aid the child’s growth. He keeps working himself deeper into the family’s life. Tensions arise. Bonds are tested. Terrible secrets are spilled or withheld.
Meanwhile, the TV news reports Mossad’s sensational capture of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in Buenos Aires. Credible sources suggest that Josef Mengele – the ‘Angel of Death’ at Auschwitz, whose atrocities included conducting genetic experiments on concentration camp prisoners, twins in particular – has also fled to South America. We’re quickly made aware that the Bariloche school librarian Nora Eldoc (a magnetic performance by Elena Roger, better known as a musical theatre star) is actually from Israel. Nora’s on a mission to uncover concealed Germanic identities in Argentina. She’s a true silver screen heroine – the stealthy Nazi hunter – whose clandestine activities a more conventional picture would accentuate. However, one of Wakolda’s many qualities is that it doesn’t insult the viewer’s intelligence by foregrounding this seductive narrative. As befits her covert status, the Israeli agent’s heroics play out quietly. There’s no big reveal, just an inexorable sense of dread. Shamefully, her quarry is hiding in plain sight.
As the movie’s creator explains: “I spent almost a year writing the script of Wakolda, based on my eponymous novel, submerged in the complex reasons which made the Argentinean government open its doors to so many Nazis, even making a law to allow them the use of their real names, while entire towns – like Bariloche – were openly friendly to welcoming them… Why hundreds of Argentinean families became accomplices to these men? What was the reaction of these closed German communities, settled down in Patagonia long before WWII, when Nazism turned into something hideous? More so, what happened to the teenagers raised in these communities when they became aware of the monsters they were living with?”
Puenzo explores these questions by relating events in hindsight through the eyes of ingenuous Lilith, her sparingly used narration lending additional heft to this unusually extreme tale of innocence lost (further amplified by Warren Ellis’s emotive, electric violin-swept score). Refreshingly, we’re presented with three well-delineated female protagonists, Eva’s parental imperatives and pragmatism bringing her into conflict with outraged spouse Enzo. They share an especially taut exchange about the morality of accepting the so-called medic’s ‘help’ that’s all too horribly believable.
Rather than styling the film as a full tilt thriller, Puenzo has used her imaginative source material to craft an evocative coming-of-age saga entwined with postwar historical fact. Nonetheless, her directorial flair ensures that the story’s inherent dynamism emerges to shocking effect in the final act, irrespective of your prior knowledge about its Nazi principal’s eventual fate. In real life, his ‘desk murderer’ cohort Eichmann was put on trial in Jerusalem, leading to Hannah Arendt’s famous observation about “the banality of evil”. There was nothing banal about Mengele, but Wakolda successfully conveys his evil with implacable shades rather than broad brushstrokes: compare Brendemühl’s steely work with Gregory Peck’s italicized take on the same character in the 1978 blockbuster adaptation of Ira Levin’s speculative fiction The Boys From Brazil.
Incidentally, the movie’s moniker refers to the broken porcelain doll Lilith cherishes at its outset. Wakolda is a handmade toy, assembled with love by her father. As part of his inveiglement, the German doctor convinces the reluctant Enzo that mass production is preferable to making each doll unique and imperfect. So begins a factory-bound subplot which, on paper, is cine-symbolism at its most heavy-handed. Yet it’s a tribute to Lucía Puenzo’s remarkable skill as a filmmaker that this pointed sequence, with its bone-chilling array of blank-faced white heads, resonates as deftly in the moment as her wider themes will linger in your memory.
Jan 20, 2014 | No Comments | ByJo Duncombe
How to create unforgettable female characters
The fastest growing cinema audience is aged 45+. They’re looking for quality films, with great acting and strong characters, as shown by the success of films like Philomena, Gravity and My Week With Marilyn. The female stars of the 1940’s had equal billing with the men, and their dialogue was as filthy, feisty and cutting as their male counterparts, if not more so.
Killer Dialogue brings together a panel of industry experts to look at what makes unforgettable female characters, and how to create them. We’ll also be looking at classic clips from the 1940s, with films such as The Big Sleep, His Girl Friday, The Philadelphia Story and more.
Our panel are:
KAREN KRIZANOVICH (host) Writer, broadcaster and critic.
RACHEL HIRONS Screenwriter and playwright (Powder Room, A Guide To Second Date Sex, Dirty Laundry).
TESS MORRIS Screenwriter and lecturer (Man Up, Beer Goggles, Secret Santa)
AVERIL LEIMON Leadership psychologist, consultant and author (Coaching Women to Lead)
CHARLES GANT Author, journalist and film industry analyst
Sunday, 26 January 2014 from 12:00 to 14:00
SE1 8XT London
BOOK TICKETS VIA EVENTBRITE: HERE
LOCO FILM FESTIVAL RUNS FROM 23RD TO 26TH JAN 2014. FIND OUT MORE HERE.
Killer Dialogue is part of Birds Eye View’s Filmonomics programme, supported by Creative Skillset.
Jan 16, 2014 | No Comments | ByJo Duncombe
We’ve teamed up with the wonderful women of Shoreditch Sisters WI to create Girls on Film Club, a monthly screening club that takes place on the third Monday of the month at The Hoxton Hotel in Shoreditch.
Our first event is on Monday 20th January and will be a screening of Haifaa Al-Mansour’s beautifully subversive film Wadjda, which had its UK premier at our International Women’s Day Gala event last year.
Come and join us for an evening of wine, pop-corn and conversation. The screening will be followed by a special discussion with an industry expert.
6.30pm for 7pm start (time for wine)
Tickets just £10! (including wine)
Address: The Hoxton Hotel Shoreditch
81 Great Eastern Street
EC2A 3HU London
Order tickets via Eventbrite:
The first ever feature from Saudi Arabia, this inspiring and gently subversive film won the Satyajit Ray Foundation Award for 2013. Wadjda’s parents won’t buy her a bicycle, so she determines to raise the money herself. And with her mother distracted by her husband’s plans for a second wife, she has a chance.
Dir Haifaa Al Mansour, Saudi Arabia / Germany, 2012, 93 min
‘Boundary- pushing cinema in all the best ways’ Telegraph
Jan 15, 2014 | No Comments | ByBirds Eye View
The Sundance Film Festival has evolved to become one of the most recognised and important global festivals and operates as part of the Sundance Institute. Renowned for advancing the work of storytellers its mission is to discover and develop independent artists and audiences across the globe.
At the heart of any festival lies a committed and passionate team and ROSIE WONG is a senior manager in the Industry Office. Birds Eye View’s Kate Gerova caught up with Rosie ahead of the Sundance Film Festival’s 2014 edition, which runs from Jan 16-26, Park City, Utah.
KG: For those of us, sadly, not fortunate enough to attend the Sundance Festival can you give us an overview of what happens in the delegate office? And when does the business of the festival start?
RW: The Sundance Industry Office (aka SIO to most people) handles all industry people that attend the festival who work directly in some capacity in the independent film arena. This year, that’s a little over 1300 industry delegates. Prior to the Festival, we handle SIO member registration (which begins in August) which gives our members a chance to purchase SIO passes and/or ticket packages for the upcoming Festival. At the Festival, we handle a myriad of things, from pass/package pick up, to on-site ticketing, and general customer service for our SIO members. We have an office and a lounge that we keep open throughout the Festival for the exclusive use of our SIO members. Typically, most people arrive the day before or the first day of the Festival (we call the first day of the festival Day One) and stay either the first half or the whole duration (10 days).
It seems part of your personal remit is to really understand the industry and assist the filmmaker. How do you achieve that?
One of our top priorities in the SIO is to help our filmmakers (some of whom are attending a major film festival for the first time) reach the widest possible industry audience for their film. A lot of this is done by maintaining strong relationships with sales agents, both domestic and international, and ensuring they have tickets they need (we sell Sales Agent allocations of tickets specifically for the sales agents of our Festival films). Additionally, we are always available to our Festival filmmakers to answer any questions they may have regarding sales agents. A lot of times a Festival filmmaker has never had to hire a sales agent, or they don’t know what a sales agent does. I try my best to guide and advise them in the most impartial way possible, so that I’m not telling them which specific sales agent to go with but I give them the tools (i.e. films the agent has represented in the past) to help them make the decision that’s best for them and their film.
You were also a short film producer. Do you have any instructive memories of what it was like to be starting out and calling in favours?
Back when I was producing short films, I was still at film school at UCLA, so I was very, very inexperienced. I probably didn’t know enough people who actually worked in the business that I could ask for favours! It wasn’t until I got to Sundance that I learned a lot more about the indie side of film and most importantly the business aspect of it.
Did you grow up as a film buff? I know a lot of people in the film industry who ‘fell’ into it and it’s the best thing that could have happened to them. Did you always know that you were going to work in film and/or have an idea of the role you’d take?
I actually was a late bloomer when it came to film. I loved books as a kid and read everything I could get my hands on growing up. After graduating with my degree in Literature, my goal was to get my Phd and be a Shakespeare professor! So quite far an aspiration from where I actually have ended up in my career. But my first job after graduation was in the UCLA Film, Theatre, and TV School, and that’s where I got my feet wet in the film world. I started working on student productions and pretty soon, I realized I loved it and might as well apply to film school myself! Ten years later, I have no regrets, but I still think being a Shakespeare professor could be a viable plan B if I decided to ever leave the business.
Do you think it is harder for people to ‘fall’ into the industry now? What is your advice for getting on and getting paid work?
When I got my start in the business (and this was back in 2001), it was pretty widely accepted that the best way to move up was to get an internship/assistant position somewhere, do a god job, and then you could use that job as a springboard to becoming a junior executive. Nowadays I feel like that isn’t the case, as that model doesn’t happen as often anymore, and I’m not sure why that is the case. I do feel, however, that new technologies in filmmaking has been the great equalizer. It used to be that making a film was quite expensive (renting the camera, buying the film stock, etc.), but with advances in digital cameras and filmmaking, it’s become much easier for a filmmaker to make a film, because the cost isn’t as prohibitive. Anyone can buy a digital camera and make their film for a lot less than it used to cost (and they can edit it themselves on their own computer), which I think is great because the technology doesn’t discourage anyone from making a film because they can’t afford it.
We met last year in Cannes because we were on a panel together discussing women in film. Famously, in 2013 half of Sundance Narrative Competition was female directors, which is a big deal compared to a lot of other internationally recognised film festivals. After all your dealings with filmmakers over the years, what one bit of advice would you give to women in particular?
I have to say that the best piece of advice I have for women filmmakers (which was discussed on the panel we were on together) is to not complain about being a woman filmmaker and how hard it is, and get out there and follow your dream/passion. I think too much attention is paid to the negative aspects of being a woman filmmaker and the challenges they face, and not enough on the positive. Which is there are many women out there who want to make films and let their voices be heard and we all need to support that and support each other.
You can read more about the Sundance programme here.
BEV top picks for those lucky enough to make it over to Park City include:
Maya Forbes’ new family based drama Infinitely Polar Bear
Kat Candler’s Hellion
…and producer and friend of BEV Mia Bays’ latest project Lilting
Jan 9, 2014 | No Comments | ByBirds Eye View
Hardly a week passes when I don’t hear about a female [insert creative profession here] trailblazer who has just been ‘rediscovered’ and is posthumously reclaiming her place in our collective consciousness and in history. (Last week’s is photojournalist Gerda Taro).
There are plenty of historic and present inspiring female role models out there, we just don’t know about enough of them.
At the end of last year, when quite an array of depressing best-of-2013 overviews and lists came out, I realised that I had a very different experience to most. My list looks more like eight female directors and only two men. Nine times out of ten the film I most recently saw was by female director. If you ask me about a strong, positive, female lead, I could name you several.
It’s not that I don’t appreciate male directors, it’s just that I don’t see many films directed by men anymore.
Since I began programming the Festival, I see the exact opposite of what most cinema goers do – the hidden gems that seldom get a broader public platform. I’m on the hunt for scripts signed by a woman, and dutifully scowl at endless male-only lists of directors, juries and ‘best of’ lists.
However, the films I see often don’t cross over to the UK cinema screen, and it’s true that to see women directors’ work, you sometimes have to work a little bit harder. (Birds Eye View came to exist exactly for this reason: because we were missing out on half of the population’s stories.)
So this is my New Year’s suggestion to you, if reducing gender gaps and the representation of women on screen is important to you: put your money where you mouth is and enable, support, promote female directors. Here are some specific suggestions:
1. If you work in the film industry, you could read and sign the excellent equality charter from Le Deuxieme Regard (French lobbying group made up of female film producers and sales agents to promote women in the film industry). You could follow Geena Davis’ two simple steps to making sure your film has more equal gender representation.
2. If you are a female filmmaker – be visible. Share your learning. Become a mentor.
3. If you love film – be a savvy consumer of it. Go to see films directed by women in the first weekend of their release, thereby helping ensure it stays on screen longer. Organise an outing to the cinema. Tell people about women directed films you’ve seen and enjoyed. Use social media to spread the word. Make that effort, and travel to see filmmakers you want to support.
4. Whoever you are – get involved and support female filmmakers to tell the stories they want to tell – there are some fantastic crowdfunding campaigns currently live including Oonagh Kearney’s The Wake, Iva Radivojevic’s Evaporating Borders, and Karen Guthrie’s The Closer We Get.
Happy New Year from the BEV team!
Let’s make 2014 the year where we starting doing, rather than just talking about it.
Dec 11, 2013 | No Comments | ByYasmeen Khan
Opening in UK cinemas this Friday, Fill The Void is the feature debut by American Israeli filmmaker Rama Burshtein. Although it’s set in a place where cinema rarely ventures – namely Tel Avi’s Haredi community – this remarkable drama has universal resonance, as Yasmeen Khan explains… Read the full story