Friday, 5 July 2013

04 July 2013

6am my time, grey outside. Talking to Australian radio – 3pm their time & sunny. No wonder I get confused. Life would be so much easier if you didn’t have to sleep. I have to ring New Zealand now, then LA….I am rapidly losing touch with what time or day it is in little ol’ Brighton. I only got back last night from a thoroughly exhausting but highly productive four days filming in Warsaw (for In Search of Chopin).

So it feels time to share some thoughts…. Our biggest project remains of course EXHIBITION. Our second film in the brand went out last week. Munch from Oslo has been very well received by audiences although some of our cinema partners have yet to screen so we don’t have a full picture. It takes years to build a loyal audience, as NT Live now have, but we’re clearly moving in the right direction. The problem is always going to be press & publicity – trying to connect with folk who have hundreds of other ‘products’ all chasing for their attention. We only have 162 Likes on our facebook page – we need to get into the thousands. The galleries in Oslo have expressed their delight with the film which is nice – and has led to new (and major) galleries coming to us. That’s great – and quite right too! It’s our idea. It’s only three years since everyone was looking at me in amazement at the very idea of putting an exhibition in a cinema – not any more. The paintings by Munch looked absolutely fabulous on the big screen and difficult and expensive though it was I am thrilled we chose that exhibition to cover. Now we’re busy on Vermeer – and really that should be a blockbuster. What a painter! And there is this myth that there’s little to say about him or his work as we don’t have many records. Well, a bit of detective work and actually one can say an enormous amount. I start editing the biographical films in a couple of weeks and can’t wait. Having been lucky enough to film the 4 Vermeers at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC and then the 5 Vermeers at the Met in New York a couple of weeks ago, I know just how remarkable his art is. So that’s very exciting. Plus we’re advanced in the planning to film 4 or 5 more major galleries & exhibitions next year.

As always it’s the funding that slows us down… We’re trying a Kickstarter crowd-funding appeal but that’s not working out. And talks with possible brand sponsors continue without resolution. On the other hand, we have more and more cinemas coming on to the network. And DVD sales of Manet are strong. I saw a guy gave the Tate £10m yesterday…I wish he’d thought of us instead! It was exciting though to be in Warsaw yesterday knowing that Munch would be shown there. Also last week working with Leif Ove Andsnes in Bergen and knowing Munch would be shown there too. Then, as I said, in the USA a few days before that and Munch would be there too. Global really does mean global. I hope my In Search of Chopin gets the same distribution.

The past few days in Warsaw have provided so much material – I did six extensive interviews with Polish experts and that added so much colour and understanding to the story. Plus a lot of hiking around with my camera gear to get location footage – some of which I have never seen in any film on Chopin. By the way, I have to say I very nearly missed the flight out. I had top leave home at 4am on Sunday and then foolishly realised I was low on fuel. I stopped to fill up and for the first time ever I put a Petrol pump in to my Diesel car. It fitted but wouldn’t start: then I noticed my error. It didn’t start because the attendant had, by pure chance, dashed out for two minutes at that very moment and the pumps need the attendant to turn on. What a stroke of fortune. Once I got to Warsaw, it was a heck of a schedule – non-stop dawn to dusk but I have cracked the all-important early years now. Be under no illusuions, he was not made in Paris– he was pretty much fully formed when he left Warsaw as a young man. Our image of Warsaw is so stuck on the images of 1944 & 1945 that we forget what it used to be like…one of those great cities like Dresden, Prague, Berlin, St Peterburg and so on. All being well, I can get to editing the film in the Autumn.

One last thing: I must end by paying tribute to an Australian documentary director that has died.Dennis O’Rourke was an inspiration to me and many others – and is a great loss to the industry. Here’s a extract from an unfinished book (that I hope to publish one day) about my time in Afghanistan where I bizarrely first met Dennis on my first night in Kabul:


The guesthouse was called Everest and the two young Afghan owners, who had immediately seen an opportunity to make some money in post-war Kabul, were very welcoming. Some tea, toast and boiled eggs were placed on a table decorated with plastic roses in a cup of water. Nearby, gripped by music videos on the satellite TV, sat Iranian traders, a Pakistani journalist and, most remarkably, another film-maker. His name was Dennis O’Rourke and, to steal a line from the film Casablanca, ‘of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world’, what a coincidence that he was here! For, in some ways, it was his influence that had brought me to Kabul in the first place. The feeling that I needed to change the way I made films had been creeping up on me throughout the 1990s. I loved making films for the BBC, Channel 4 and the Discovery Channel but this was unquestionably the start of a ‘dumbing down’. Meanwhile, stories from outside the UK were frowned upon; reality strands were the new ‘must-watch, water-cooler’ TV. ‘Big Brother’ was a massive success and I remember how joyful its commissioning editors were. In private they told me that the worse the housemates behaved the happier they were. Personally, I was fed up with it. I didn't want to make series about British shopping centres and airports and ignore the other 200-plus countries in the world. As I was beginning to ponder just how to change things, I visited the Sheffield Documentary Festival. There I ignored the many sessions dealing with what commissioning editors were looking for; instead I sat for three days watching feature documentary after feature documentary. This was before Michael Moore came along and changed everything by making Fahrenheit 9/11. That film took more than $100m at the box office and, in doing so, opened up all sorts of doors. At this time, the very word‘documentary’ was dirty to distributors and exhibitors. Few wanted them. And yet here in a dark cinema in Sheffield, I was seeing film after film where the film-makers clearly had felt compelled, no matter what, to make the films they wanted to make. One film in particular made a real impression on me. It was Dennis O’Rourke’s Cunnamulla. What most impressed me was that he had shot it on his own with a small new Sony camera called the PD150. Now, when the history of film-making is written, a whole chapter ought to be dedicated to this piece of technology. This small camera changed everything. Costing only £4000, fully kitted out, these cameras were designed by Sony, apparently for the corporate market. But they made them so well that professional film-makers snapped them up – no longer did we need an expensive crew costing thousands a day – now, if you were a director who knew how to use a camera, you could pack all you needed in one case and hop on a plane. The only hurdle was your own indecision. People have asked if it was hard to get into Afghanistan? No, it was easy. I caught a plane to Islamabad then another to Kabul. I then caught a taxi and checked into a hotel where, bizarrely, I had bumped into O'Rourke. Dennis was there making his own film – eventually called Landmines: A Love Story. We chatted over a beer and it was rather comforting that Dennis wasn’t really sure what his film was to be about – the premise was to look at stories concerning landmines in three different countries. In the end, it was focussed entirely on Afghanistan. Here was a big-time, well-known director also on his own in a difficult city searching for a city. If I had admired him before I admired him even more now. To cap it all – and cementing my unequivocal support for the man ever since – he gave me the last beer in his fridge. That says it all.

1 comment:

Aaron said...

So Chopin is your next composer? I would LOVE to see a good, solid documentary about Wagner and Tchaikovsky. I dont see too many good ones out there about those two.