Monday, 15 August 2011

The UK Riots and their effect on UK independent film distribution

The following is a press release by Third Window Films:

Recently London and many other cities in the UK were hit by some of the worst riots in history, leaving 5 people dead, shops destroyed, mass-looting and hundreds of thousands of lives affected.

During these riots the Sony warehouse in Enfield was looted and burnt down. This warehouse was the main stockist for the majority of small to medium sized film and music distribution labels (along with some of the majors) in the UK. Third Window Films, along with Terracotta Distribution, Arrow Films, Network, Peccadillo Pictures, Dogwoof, BFI, Eureka and many more had most, if not all of their stock destroyed. We lost nearly 20,000 units of stock.

This is an undoubted tragedy and nobody is sure yet how this will affect the long-term situation for us and many of these companies, though what we can try to explain is that there will be a massive impact on the short term. While our stock was insured, it was only the number of units destroyed and units which will be replaced in terms of stock credit with Sony. Unfortunately with Sony's minimum top up of 500 units (luckily they've changed from the 1000 as previously required) we will need to pay for all the difference in units replicated against credit. For example as we had more than 10 films which had under 500 units of stock in at the time, we need to pay the difference for all stock below 500 to top it up to the minimum number. While this may only equate to around 3,000-4,000 units, it still means paying that amount at a time when we won't have been generating sales, which is another major problem with the situation...

This other major problem is that with this affecting so many companies, and right leading to the main Q4 campaigns, all other companies that are larger (we are one of the smallest in the UK) will have priority in having their titles replicated and put back into circulation. We should get a couple of our larger titles such as Confessions back into circulation quickly, but it may take a couple months before our catalogue titles get back into circulation, and with no units available for sale anywhere (Amazon is nearly sold out of all films across our whole catalogue) we will lose a massive chunk of our earnings over the next few months. Unfortunately as such a small company we don't have business interruption insurance which covers companies in the event of such situations. Ironically the larger companies have such insurance and yet their stock will be replicated first despite the fact they're covered for the eventual losses, so this will really hit the smaller companies the hardest (as is usually the case).

We will endeavor to get through this situation and plan on keeping our release schedule of 2011 on track. 'Sawako Decides' and 'Quirky Guys and Gals' will still be out October 3rd, though 'Underwater Love' has been moved to November 21st. We can't really plan too far into the future as we're really unsure right now as to how bad this will affect us.

What we ask of you, our fans, is to get the word out about us and other small niche labels like Terracotta Distribution, Arrow Films, Network, etc and get people interested in supporting independent cinema through these hard times. We don't have any new stock to send to stores, but there are still a few copies of our films on places like Amazon, and in high-street stores such as HMV and Fopp, so if there was a title you were thinking about picking up, please go out and buy it now so that we can convince stores that ours are worth restocking sooner rather than later. Alternately, we are trying to make many of our titles available to view online via MUBI so if you want to spread the word through that you can legally watch our titles through your PC or Playstation. 

Thanks for your support and we'll try hard to get through this!

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

SUPER 8, the 1950s in 2011

A mid 20th century film shot at the beginning of the 21st, drawn on the legacy of the 1947 Roswell affair. However, Super 8 is set in 1979, as a newscaster in a television set indicates, a non-obtrusive device which I have recently seen being used in Let Me In and Let the Right One In. 

The beginning of the film is beautifully shot, a close up of a boy's face, Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney), sitting outside his home as his father, Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler), the town deputy sheriff, mourns his dead wife in the reception after the funeral. That spirit is broken when Jackson speedily evicts Louis Dainard (Ron Eldard), Alice's (Elle Fanning) father, a connection is hinted between the two families by this act, we learn more about it much later. The attraction that Joe and Alice feel for each other is fed by the loss of both their mothers, what separates them is the feud between their fathers. 

In this way, Super 8 begins as a close and warm study of a group of early teenagers, intent in producing their own zombie (of course!) super 8 film, Alice being the lady in distress turned zombie, as it happens in life. Elle Fanning immensely enjoying herself walking as an undead. Wait for the rolling credits at the end, as the kids' zombie film is shown in its entirety, you will be rewarded– it shows not only incipient film makers, but also the range of roles that Elle Fanning can play, switching from one to the other as fast as the fluttering of her eyelashes. They go to a disused chemical depot near the railway line to shoot a key night scene between Alice and Martin (Gabriel Basso), directed by another boy, Charles (Riley Griffiths), whilst Cary (Ryan Lee) is behind the camera. I have to say, Elle Fanning's performance as she rehearses an scene for their zombie movie is absolutely superb. Then, a freight train approaches, they hurry up to get their equipment ready as the train roars past them straight into the path of a pick-up which deliberately stood on its way, derailing it. 

The kids survive the ensuing mayhem, just, picking up the broken camera and ran away when a rescue party approaches the disaster, a party formed by unusually aggressive military personnel. Next morning, the town has been taken over by the military, as the whole of the train, and its cargo, was run by the air force. Extraordinary things start to happen in the town, people, pets, kitchen equipment, start to disappear, setting the deputy sheriff Lamb against the air force commander in charge of the operation, the sheriff being one of those who evaporated. When the kids develop the film, the continued to run as the debris of the derailment crashed all around it, they find what was the cargo of the train. 

There is an air of nostalgia pervading through the DNA of Super 8, a caring eye cast on an era when adventures happened by kids mounting their bikes and roaming in the world out there, rather than obsessing with their laptops and smart-phones. That nostalgic look is transferred into the tonality of the cinematography, and the environment of small town America in the late 1970s. There is something of E.T. with shades of Alien in its making (it is not surprising that Abrams asked for Spielberg to produce it). 

The kid actors were excellent in portraying that kind of intellectual hunger to know, to find out about the world around us, a desire for adventure, for what is out of the ordinary, that hunger which most of us possessed at that age. I also read it as a homage to the beginning of the careers of film makers all over the world, to the nerds which are at the heart of cinema. 

Super 8's strength lays on the portrayal of the close knit friendship of the kids, clearly the young actors really hit with each other rather well. Elle Fanning, being the more experienced between them, while showing a more controlled performance, is clearly part of the gang in her down to earth way. While J.J.Abrams is very good at setting the tension up to a high level, the film weakness is Abrams's inability to integrate the different layers of its make up in a manner that holds together, particularly the issue of the abuse of power by the military as they take over the town, intent in preserving the secrecy surrounding its cargo at all cost, is brushed aside in the interest of the high octane disaster narrative. There are discrepancies in the plot too, and too many scenes which were added for visual effects, I fear, contributing little to the story. 

However, a good summer adventure film which touches some serious themes in a fun manner, with excellent acting and cinematography. 

Director: JJ Albrams 
Cast: Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler, Joel Courtney


It is 1979 in small town Ohio, a group of kids are filming a zombie film in super 8 when a train crashes with disastrous consequences (of course). The military cordons the area and refuses to say what was the cargo. Soon, mysterious events start to afflict the town... A nostalgic eye cast on the world of childhood. 

By the way, the kids really wrote, cast, produced and shot the super 8 film.


J.J. Abrams

Sunday, 7 August 2011

THE TAQWACORES: a knife slicing the heart of American Muslim youth

Any views I may have had of American, or indeed British, Muslims, especially Muslim youth, were totally smashed into a smudge that slithered down the nearest drain, surrounded by graffiti decorated walls, after having seen The Taqwacores. My poor brain literally short-circuited as it was getting image after image far away from the stereotyped conception of them as being no more than a bunch of Western haters planning terrorist attacks all day long, as they are mostly accused of being by the Western media.

The Taqwacores portrays a group of teens looking for a gap to inhabit between the Qu'ran and popular culture (alcohol may be forbidden in the Qu'ran, but not weed, as a Muslim punk retorts when Umar, a pious man, harangues him), of teens who pray during the day and play punk rock and party hard in the night, of teens who defend that space they have created.

The film opens with Yusef (Bobby Naderi), a young man, an engineering student, staring at a house across the road, an unusual looking building, to say the least. Umar (Nav Mann), the leader of the house, lets him in. We go in with him, the walls are dabbed with Islamic and underground graffiti, and we soon meet his new house mates.

The film is cleverly divided into seasons, a device that allow its director, Ayad Zahra, to reveal this bunch of people in all their flowing diversity along nearly a year to our eyes, as the conversations between Yusef, the evolution of his beliefs constituting the leif motiv that pushes the narrative forward, and the other inhabitants of the house expose, conversations with Umar, a rather more conservative young man, who, nevertheless, evolves as autumn follows summer, and also with a young woman permanently wearing a burka, yet spending her free time in expurgating the Qu'ran of references demeaning women and their sexuality, a feminist burka wearing girl who does not mind to fall on her knees for a blow job.

Most importantly, his new house mates introduce him to the Taqwacores, a hardcore Muslim punk rock scene that is only known in the West, in the United States. As enlightening was also the exchange between Yusef and Lynn (Anne Leighton), a young American Catholic educated white woman flapping around the house, who prays to God, whatever the name of that God is, a conversation that shows how Yusef's beliefs, the ideology of his religion, wrecks the humanity of a beautiful yet sexual relationship she tries to initiate with him.

The house itself is another character in The Taqwacores, a house that looked like a squat, a mosque during the day, a den for outrageous parties at night, parties including a gay Muslim, the already mentioned sex obsessed burka wearing feminist girl, much to the disgust of their strict Muslim visitors, a visit ending in tragedy.

The Taqwacores documents a visceral clash between the desire to live, to sing, to rock, to be wild, with the stern face of a closed ideology, an interpretation of the Qu'ran intents in shackling the flow of life. Pious recitations versus loud punk songs coming out of the guts. A clash which lays wide open, all the bloodied metaphorical entrails hanging out,the deep divisions within American Muslim youth.

The hand held camera work visually conveys the immediacy and fragility of the story, while hard punk rock delights the ears. However, this is not a flawless film. Paradoxically, the raw edges here and there from the visceral shooting is a strength.

Punk versus the Qu'ran.

The Taqwacores was filmed in Buffalo, New York, with a Red camera, with support from the Sundance Institute, on a low budget. As such, it is a true independent film.

Directed by Eyad Zahra
Based on the novel by Michael Muhammad Knight
Distributed by Network Releasing 

THE TAQWACORES (15) is set to open at UK cinemas on 12th August at Empire Leicester Square, Ritzy Brixton plus key cities.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

“The Tree of Life”, narcissistic drivel or masterpiece?

Terrence Malick's long awaited The Tree of Life has finally arrived to my local cinema, and I was deeply disappointed.

I see it, simply and mostly, as propaganda for some spurious pseudo religious, spiritual and philosophical ideology, a long section of it being imagery that some would call beautiful, which I thought that were ultimately banal, images which have become cliched by overuse, the cinematic equivalent of coffee table books. Frankly, I nearly fell asleep during that long section. I am aware that there has been a debate in the United States about slow cinema. The Tree of Life is not slow cinema, is just plainly banal. It wears its colours from the very beginning, with the declaration that life goes either the way of nature, or the way of grace. Excuse me, but the world is much more complex than that.

Once I got through this pseudo-philosophical section, characterized by banal and meaningless images, I am aware that I am repeating myself here, a story of disappointment came through, a story that opposes Jack (Sean Penn) with his stern, at times brutal, father (Brad Pitt), growing up in suburbia land in Mid America in the 50s. However, very little has been added to the exploration of the conflicts harbouring behind the white clap boarded homes of the American Dream. A man, Jack, wandering through tower blocks and middle America searching for meaning in his life? Sofia Coppola did this much better in her Golden Lion awarded Somewhere.

Adding a voice over full of pseudo philosophical drivel and banal imagery does not make a film better, this is the lesson of The Tree of Life. It is the kind of work that gives arthouse cinema a bad name.

As an afterthought, I had to see that the performances by the children are superb, Malick was able to enter into a childhood world.

Malick's Badlands is still one of my favourite films of all times. I don't think I will see his next one, as I do not want to be disappointed by a master fallen from grace. The Tree of Life masterpiece is not.

Director: Terrence Malick
Cast: Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain

The long awaited latest from Terrence Malick, the acclaimed director of such classic films as Badlands, Days Of Heaven and The Thin Red Line, is finally here.

The Tree Of Life is the impressionistic story of a Midwestern family in the 1950’s. The film follows the life journey of the eldest son, Jack, through the innocence of childhood to his disillusioned adult years as he tries to reconcile a complicated relationship with his father (Brad Pitt). Jack (played as an adult by Sean Penn) finds himself a lost soul in the modern world, seeking answers to the origins and meaning of life while questioning the existence of faith. Through Malick’s signature imagery, we see how both brute nature and spiritual grace shape not only our lives as individuals and families, but all life.

Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Venue: UK wide

Still and trailer © 20th Century Fox