British TV is learning to love the arts – but it can love them too much

TV’s new passion for the arts should be good news for culture enthusiasts. But are critical voices being drowned out by applause?

In the history of television, the areas of British life that have most regularly complained about the lack – and, in recent times, reduction – of airtime are religion and the arts. But, while bishops may still be bitter, artists now seem to have cause to applaud. This week Channel 4 announced a large increase in its arts programming, just over a month after BBC director general Tony Hall revealed the ambition to put arts “at the heart” of the schedules.

The broadcasters will hope for an unreserved cheer from producers and consumers of culture, but there is reason for concern that the type and tone of coverage being promoted may prove rather more beneficial to the creators of the arts than to those who have to pay to see them.

Channel 4′s new commissions include, for example, Random Acts, a showcase for short films by visual artists and film-makers, which is a collaboration with Arts Council England (Ace), an organisation that also featured in the BBC plans, as co-funder and co-producer of The Space, a website on which, again, brief films will be screened.

These cases of Ace teaming up with TV are examples of the current fashion in cultural broadcasting for “creative partnerships”. The BBC has announced co-productions with institutions including the National Portrait Gallery, Tate Britain and the National Galleries of Scotland. The biannual Manchester international festival will become another “creative partner”, with its director, Alex Poots, becoming one of a number of creative figures who will advise the BBC on its coverage. Sir Nicholas Hytner(National Theatre boss until March next year) has joined the BBC’s board as a non-executive director, with Sir Nicholas Serota, head of Tate, chairing a separate “sounding board” of arts supremos.

The fact that almost all these new projects involve actual or virtual art galleries –

with Channel 4 commissioning, as well as Random Acts, a series on modern

portraiture – has revived complaints about the tendency of arts coverage on

television to favour the visual arts over other disciplines. But while it understandably

annoys literature and theatre, this bias is less ideological than technological: a

picture, sculpture or photograph can be represented on screen more or less as it

looks to a gallery-goer, so the viewer can see exactly what is being discussed. In

contrast, any programme dealing with a book or play is able to give only a hint –

through a brief reading or dramatisation – of the material being featured.

This structural difficulty explains the lack of any dedicated theatre or books

programmes on British TV, a frequent cause of lament from fans of those arts.

Although it should not be forgotten that the most enduring and successful arts

programme of modern times – Melvyn Bragg’s The South Bank Show, which ran on

ITV between 1978 and 2010, and has now been revived by Sky Arts – managed to

cover all of the artistic disciplines in rotation, through interviews or documentaries.

Interviewing and film-making, however, are acts of mediation, and potentially of

criticism. The biggest concern about the new generation of arts shows proposed by

Channel 4 and the BBC is not just the preference for pictorial forms, but that they

seem to offer the TV screen as an annexe to the art gallery, with external curators

having at least as much power as internal producers.

Some pundits have pointed to the apparent paradox that the BBC’s commitment to

more cultural coverage was bracketed by the reduction or removal of long-running

arts programmes. Twenty years after it began as Late Review, The Review Show was

cancelled last month without fanfare, just weeks after Radio 3′s Nightwaves was cut

from four nights to three and renamed Freethinking to reflect a more generally

intellectual rather than specifically artistic brief.

One of the BBC’s senior managers recently told a meeting: “We don’t want arts

programmes that say: ‘Should you see this?’; we want programmes that say: ‘You

should see this.’” This small reversal of words reveals a large and significant shift of

intention.

Over its two decades, the Review studio was known for often witheringly direct

dismissal of the work under discussion; there are still writers and artists whom I

would fear meeting on a dark night after critiques they received on editions I chaired.

Judgment was also a key element of Nightwaves, which would often make a noisy

point about featuring first-night reviews of London theatre productions.

Now, though, there are strong suspicions that broadcasters are less interested in

reviewing plays than in co-producing them: another of the recently announced BBC

initiatives promises to screen “the best of British theatre”. There is a sense of

editorial energy moving, in footballing terms, from the press box to the terraces.

And sporting metaphors are apt. When announcing that the BBC arts brand would be

given greater prominence in the credits of programmes, executives acknowledged

that they were following the example of the sports department, which closes each

transmission with a lingering picture of its logo.

And the arts/sports comparison has frequently been made over the years by

members of the cultural community. “Why can’t television support arts in the way

that it does sport?” curators and artistic directors would plead.

But this analogy is problematic. Although propagandists for more arts on television

often talk of TV “promoting” or “getting behind” sport, the coverage of football in

particular has become progressively more analytical. Pundits on Match of the Day

were encouraged to be more critical of players and referees, while, on Radio 5 Live’s

after-match phone-in 606, it is almost unknown for managers or officials to be

praised.

If arts broadcasting were truly to become more like sport, there would be regular

shows in which punters shouted that “Damien Hirst is a total waste of money,” or

“David Hare was just diabolical tonight”.

There is also, though, another intriguing connection. BBC sport began its policy of

aggressive branding at a time when the corporation was rapidly losing attractions

(cricket, rugby, live football) to rival bidders, especially Sky. So the self-
advertisement was that of a rapidly shrinking man frantically measuring his

remaining height.

In the same way, the pumped-up budgets and publicity for culture at Channel 4 and

the BBC reflect a fear that artists and the big national institutions have alternative

outlets. Digital democracy means that creators and curators can easily make their

work available on-screen without the intervention of TV networks. So provision of

platforms for visual artists – in Random Acts and The Space – can be seen as a hedge

against that trend, while collaborating with the National Portrait Gallery for series

fronted by Grayson Perry (Channel 4) and Simon Schama (BBC) may delay a future

in which the NPG itself produces and distributes such projects.

Live drama already demonstrates television’s loss of a screening monopoly. Last

year’s Globe theatre production of The Duchess of Malfiwas not regarded by most

reviewers as one of the highest achievements of British theatre; and, as its main

design feature was being lit by candles, it does not seem obviously suited to TV

transmission. However, the BBC has chosen to broadcast it.

One reason for this is that the biggest hits of the National, Royal Shakespeare

Company and the West End during that period – such Helen Mirren in The

Audience and David Tennant’s Richard II – were screened in cinemas as part of the

NT Live project pioneered by the National. Those shows neither needed nor wanted

TV. Meanwhile, galleries, including the British Museum and Tate, have started

transmitting guided tours of new exhibitions into cinemas and online.

Perhaps the BBC’s new tranche of “creative partners” could advise on this contest for

content? Or can they? Under a strict reading of the BBC’s conflict of interest rules,

future work produced by either Hytner or Serota should not be reviewed or broadcast

by the BBC.

To invoke again the sporting comparison, it is hard to imagine Manchester United

boss David Moyes being appointed as a non-executive director of the BBC to

supervise football coverage, or West Ham’s Sam Allardyce becoming a “sounding

board” for the makers of Match of the Day.

Several newspaper journalists – including Richard Brooks in the Sunday Times and

the Evening Standard’s Anne McElvoy – have expressed concern that arts television

will become an electronic stage for the UK’s cultural producers rather than a

journalistic scrutineer in the way that it operates towards, say, politics or business.

And the Channel 4 plans seem, on paper, to continue a move from mediation to

presentation.

Certainly, whether or not this was the intention, the cancellation of The Review Show

spares the BBC the difficulty of having to explain to “creative partner” Alex Poots

why Paul Morley or Julie Myerson has just said on television that a production at the

Manchester international festival was a “waste of time”. There is a danger that, in TV

arts coverage, criticism is being downgraded in favour of uncritical jingoism.

Mark Lawson – The Guardian, Saturday 19 April 2014

When the chemistry works – Vince Gilligan and Breaking Bad

Vince Gilligan admits that Breaking Bad may prove to be his career highlight. But with a spin-off now in production, his creative team just keeps on cooking.

‘It is a wonderful time to be working in television,” declares writer Vince Gilligan, as our audience with the man behind arguably the most critically exalted drama of our time – Breaking Bad – begins. ”One of the things that I love about television and, in fact, have always loved about television, is that it is a writers’ medium.”

At a time when the industry’s best writers, directors and, now, actors are drawn to television, Gilligan says the drawcard, especially for writers, is freedom. ”It still takes a village to make a movie and a village to make a TV show, but more often than not, one of the final arbiters of the actions of that village in movies is the director and in television is the writer,” he says.

”Most of the enjoyment and satisfaction that I’ve derived from working in this business has been from working in television as opposed to movies. Plain and simple, I get listened to more by the television business than the movie business.”

The 47-year-old writer-producer of Breaking Bad is heading to Australia as a guest of the Sydney Writers’ Festival. He says he’s not much of a public speaker and he’s honest enough to know exactly what’s on everyone’s mind: ”People want to know how my writers and I went about writing Breaking Bad and how we went about producing it,” he says. ”There’s not a lot of things I’m good at explaining in life, but that’s one thing that comes pretty easily.”

Before Breaking Bad, Gilligan’s credits included The X-Files, its spin-off The Lone Gunmen, and the 2005 reboot of the iconic 1970s horror-detective hybrid, Night Stalker. In fact, The X-Files was Gilligan’s first staff writing gig. As a young writer in Hollywood he found himself in a writers’ room working alongside the show’s creator, Chris Carter, and one of its key creatives, the acclaimed Frank Spotnitz. Most of Gilligan’s credited episodes were collaborations with Spotnitz and John Shiban, who has since gone on to write The Vampire Diaries, Torchwood and Hell on Wheels.

”Chris Carter taught us all how to write for television and how to produce for television,” he says. ”He was an excellent boss and teacher and mentor. John Shiban was very good in the editing room, he was excellent in post-production, and Frank Spotnitz was a wonderful storyteller. Working with those folks and also with Chris for seven years, I learnt an awful lot.”

The experience offered Gilligan the perfect training ground for Breaking Bad, the story of a high-school chemistry teacher, Walter White (Bryan Cranston), who resolves, after a diagnosis of terminal lung cancer, to become a methamphetamine manufacturer in order to secure his family’s finances. Though it dabbles in the crime genre, the execution more closely resembles a western, partly because of the bleak, arid landscape of Albuquerque, New Mexico, where the series was set and filmed.

”I suspect that’s the luckiest I’m ever gonna get career-wise, including the perfect timing of this thing,” Gilligan says, laughing. ”And I don’t take credit for the perfect timing. Sometimes, you’re in the casino and you happen to pull the arm on the slot machine and it comes up three cherries and a bunch of silver coins come out. That’s what it felt like with Breaking Bad from beginning to end.”

Curiously, when the series premiered in 2008 it was not an immediate hit, either commercially or critically. In truth, it was something of a slow burn, accelerating during its second and third season, thanks to DVD sales and the emergence of online platforms such as Netflix, iTunes and Amazon, all of which carried the series. That was when, Gilligan says, ”the smouldering little ember suddenly caught flame”.

In hindsight, he says, ”that was a very good thing and a very healthy thing, because if we had been a so-called hit right out of the box, I was still learning the job”.

”I was learning it for a great number of years after we started. Having the extra pressure right out of the gate of the show being a hit would have been oddly hard to deal with. It would have caused more problems than it would have garnered benefits for us.”

And he is the first to concede the most intangible, and uncontrollable, aspect of crafting a television hit: timing. ”If Breaking Bad had gone on the air six months or a year sooner, or six months or a year later, it might have been a flop and might not have lasted,” he says. ”The timing with the advent of streaming video on demand was just perfect. That’s a technology that really launched us into the stratosphere in a way where if the show had been on a few years before that, we probably would have never really been noticed.”

It also allowed the series to mature properly, without the bruising attention drawn to a blockbuster. ”We weren’t an ant under a magnifying glass, as it were, at least in those early days, and that made that period of growth and learning much more

tolerable and much more civilised.”

During the show’s shelf life – 62 episodes broadcast between January 20, 2008, and

September 29, 2013 – it also rewrote the playbook on finishing a television series.

Barely a decade earlier it was the norm for shows to be axed late in their lives during

summer hiatus, leaving the story threads untied. But as writers stepped into the

centre of the room, more emphasis was placed on allowing shows to deliver closure

on characters and stories.

Notably, Gilligan’s choices were met with wide affection – a dramatic contrast to,

say, Dexter, which drew heavy criticism from its fans during its final season. And for

the creator now, almost a year after Breaking Bad concluded, he has no regrets. ”I

feel very at peace and serene about the ending of Breaking Bad,” he says. ”I felt a

huge amount of pressure to end this thing right, more creative pressure than I’ve ever

felt … ”

The final 16 episodes, he says, took a toll on the writing team as they struggled to dot

every i and cross every t.

”We agonised over getting those episodes right, getting them ‘perfect’, even where, in

point of fact, there is no such thing as perfect. The pressure to get it right, and more

importantly to not let down the audience, was intense.”

Far worse, he says, would have been staying on the air, and outlasting the show’s

welcome. ”It was better to go out boldly and a little early … but go down in a ball of

fire,” he says. ”The worst thing for Breaking Bad in my mind would have been to go

on too long and slowly sputter out creatively. Better to go out a meteor than fade out

into the night slowly.”

Besides, there is now Better Call Saul – the highly anticipated spin-off

featuring Breaking Bad’s unorthodox criminal lawyer – to think about.

”It’s a wonderful opportunity and we’re very excited about it,” says Gilligan. He isn’t

giving much away, except to say that the writing team is working on the fourth and

fifth episodes of the show’s first 10-episode season. ”We’re trying to create the show

with the same tools and skill sets and same working methods that we used

on Breaking Bad, and hopefully we can catch lightning in a bottle again,” he says. ”If

we don’t, it won’t be for lack of trying.”

But if Breaking Bad proves to be Gilligan’s best work ever, then that’s OK, too.

”I keep telling myself if I never come close to those heights again, so long as I do the

best I’m capable of and do work that I’m proud of, then so be it. If nothing ever

tops Breaking Bad, then so be it. I was lucky to have it. I give myself that pep-talk a

great many times; have given it to myself; will continue to give it to myself.”

Michael Idato – Tribal Mind – April 19, 2014

Jonah from Tonga will come out on ABC iView before traditional TV

All six episodes of Chris Lilley’s comedy will go on the catch-up service days before  TV broadcast in an online first

Chris Lilley’s new comedy series, Jonah from Tonga, will be made available on the ABC’s catch-up TV service iView before being broadcast on ABC1, a first for Australian broadcasters. BBC Three, a co-broadcaster of Jonah, will also offer the entire series on the BBC iPlayer first. All six episodes of the comedy about Jonah Takalua who was expelled from the fictional Summer Heights High, will be on iView for what the ABC has described as “binge viewing” on the weekend of 2 May. It will be broadcast traditionally on TV from 7 May on Wednesday nights.

Putting a program online first flies in the face of the conventional path taken by the networks because an online viewing doesn’t count towards the TV ratings, which determine whether a program has been successful or not. But the appetite of younger viewers to consume shows all in one sitting is growing and binge viewing may create buzz around the first broadcast, in particular on social media.

Lilley’s last series, Ja’mie: Private School Girl, was not a major ratings success for ABC1 but did very well on iView and has garnered the actor a nomination for most popular actor in the TV Week Logie Awards next month. Producer Laura Waters of Princess Pictures said: “Jonah from Tonga is a thrilling series, coming out in the most thrilling era of television. Chris and I will always put the fan’s experience first. We’re so excited that people can choose their own way of getting involved with Jonah.”

The ABC’s iView is the most successful catch-up service in Australia, with 15m monthly program plays. The ABC’s head of online and multiplatform, Arul Baskaran, said: “We’re firm believers in innovation and improving how technology can deliver outstanding Australian content to audiences no matter where they’re watching, and we’re thrilled to now offer binge viewing of a highly anticipated show from one of Australia’s most respected comedic talents.”

Amanda Meade – theguardian.com, Thursday 17 April 2014

Around The Block starring Christina Ricci won’t have a conventional cinema release

In the face of box office challenges, an Australian film looks to new release methods.

Around the Block with Christina Ricci will get limited cinema screenings before a fast release to video on demand and DVD.

Convinced the traditional method of releasing most Australian films in cinemas is failing, producer Brian Rosen is rolling the dice with an adventurous plan to launch the Christina Ricci-Jack Thompson drama Around The Block.

The former chief executive of the Film Finance Corporation, forerunner to Screen Australia, has abandoned a conventional cinema season to self-fund a round of ”special event” screenings in June followed by a fast release on video-on-demand (VOD) and DVD just a month later. Rather than a traditional cinema season of up to 20 cinemas, Rosen is staking $200,000 in advertising to tap the potential of iTunes, Foxtel, BigPond, Apple TV and other similar services.

Director Sarah Spillane’s gritty debut film, which has Ricci as an American teacher who introduces Shakespeare to the Aboriginal students at Redfern High School, had an encouraging reception at the Toronto International Film Festival last September.

Shot in Sydney on a $2 million budget, it also stars Hunter Page-Lochard (The Sapphires) as a student from a troubled family who wants to be an actor and Thompson as the school’s headmaster.

Rosen says the market has ”dramatically changed” since another film dealing with contemporary indigenous life, Samson & Delilah, took $3.2 million in cinemas five years ago. In specialty cinemas, such as the Palace and Dendy chains and independents, Australian films have to compete with an increasing number of mainstream movies, festivals and screenings of theatre, opera and ballet productions.

”It’s always been tough for Australian films but now it’s really, really, really tough,” Rosen says. ”The traditional [model] of theatrical [release] then DVD, then pay television is broken. It doesn’t work for us. Anybody who invests in Australian film is losing money on that model, unless it does major sales overseas.”

While The Railway Man and Wolf Creek 2 have had strong results opening in more than 200 of the country’s 2000-odd cinemas in recent months, other Australian films have struggled to get a decent release. Rosen backed away from a conventional release for Around The Block when cinema operators baulked at a faster-than-normal release on VOD and DVD. ”We said we’ll lose money if we do it in a traditional way and only go out in 10 or 20 screens. We have to try this other model. If we ever want to see any real money back from this film, we need to make it available to people whichever way they want to get it.”

Around The Block will follow The Turning in having special event screenings that include Q&A sessions with the director and cast – minus Ricci – at half a dozen cinemas around the country. ”We’re having to four-wall the movie ourselves,” Rosen says. ”So we’re paying to put it into cinemas, have an audience come to it and build up the word-of-mouth.” The film reaches cinemas on June 16 and, after an advertising campaign, it will go out to the home entertainment audience on July 16.

”We’ve decided that instead of spending to promote the theatrical release, we’re going to spend to promote the VOD and DVD release.”

Rosen says research and the reception at festivals suggests the film has an audience, especially among women aged 35-plus and young people who are more likely to download than go to cinemas. ”We’re saying let’s see if we advertise in that VOD space, can we get 100,000 or 200,000 people to download it? If they do that and a download on iTunes is $7.99, suddenly you’ve got $1.5 million, which is a good result.”

Garry Maddox – SMH – April 17, 2014

Docklands studios Melbourne makes it to 10 years

Rod Allan, chief executive of Docklands Studios Melbourne. ‘The studio is being used more widely, and that was the ideal a few years ago’.

EVEN by the standards of the forever fluky film industry, the young life of Docklands Studios Melbourne has been rocky. However, after two name changes, a change of ownership, a government bailout and much gnashing of teeth, the purpose-built film and television studio that sits in the windswept shadow of the Bolte Bridge has this month made it to its 10th anniversary.

“The 10 years is an opportunity worth celebrating,” says studio chief executive Rod Allan. “A lot of production has come through here in the last 10 years, international and domestic.”

The mere survival of the complex is worth celebrating. The Docklands studio hasn’t had it quite as easy as its two peers.

Sydney’s Fox Studios Australia has survived a downturn in the number of international film productions coming to Australia by hosting Hollywood films fuelled by Australian talent and the 40 per cent producer offset — ¬including Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, Stuart Beattie’s I, Frankenstein and currently Alex Proyas’s Gods of Egypt —and a steady flow of TV talent shows, including The Voice.

Meanwhile, the Gold Coast’s Village Roadshow Studios has plugged away with steady production including The Railway Man and Bait, a valuable water tank and a solid community of film services.

But Docklands struggled for years after the initial fanfare by the Bracks Labor state government in 2001 of a grand public-private partnership that would bring Hollywood to Melbourne.

The reality was Hollywood brought the occasional film to Docklands — such as Spike Jonze’s Where The Wild Things Are (Allan’s favourite during his time at the studio), thriller The Killer Elite, with Robert De Niro, and the Nicolas Cage vehicle Ghost Rider— but not at a sustainable rate.

Estimates that the studio would generate $100 million in film production every year and deliver “lasting economic and cultural benefits’’ were wildly optimistic. As it happened, the studio ¬recorded successive multimillion-dollar losses and, in 2008, Victoria was forced to take control, at a further cost of $15m, after shareholders withdrew.

Those days appear to be past after the studio, and government, realised Hollywood would not be enough. “Originally, the focus was much more international,” Allan says. “In the last five years, we’ve had to maintain that focus, but at the same time make sure the studio is available to the domestic market. I think we’ve done that quite successfully.”

A deal with the Nine Network ensures one studio is well used at all times, hosting programs -including The Footy Show and Millionaire Hot Seat.

Network Seven uses the studio for its local drama Winners & Losers and Slide Show and, before that, Australia’s Got Talent. As well, smaller Australian films — including horror remake Patrick, Kath & Kimdrella and, most recently, David Parker’s comedy drama with Noah Taylor, The Menkoff Method — have been able to afford space at Docklands.

“Certainly, the high Australian dollar has made it very difficult to attract production under the location offset, which we refer to as footloose productions,” Allan says.

“That’s an aspect of the market that has definitely slowed, which is why we and Ausfilm continue to lobby the government to increase the location offset to 30 per cent. “Currently, the 15 per cent incentive (plus usually a mixture of state government incentives) is not enough to be competitive globally,’’ he says.

The global success of The Lego Movie, produced in Sydney by Australian digital studio Animal Logic for Warner Bros and Village Roadshow, has helped generate interest, particularly with the lift in PDV (post-production, digital and visual effect) Incentive to 30 per cent. The Lego Movie used that incentive. “At 30 per cent, we’d still have to compete with everyone else, but that 30 per cent would make us competitive again,” Richards says.

Michael Bodey – The Australian – April 16, 2014

Cannes 2014 lineup: ‘A mouth-watering selection’

The Guardian’s film critic, Peter Bradshaw, gets his teeth into a Cannes programme that includes new films from David Cronenberg, Olivier Assayas and Ken Loach

The announcement of the Cannes competition list is an event that becomes more tinglingly tense and exciting every year. These are the films that will, for good or ill, dominate world cinema conversation in the coming 12 months. They’re an alternative canon to the English-language “awards season” movies that emerge after Venice and Toronto in the autumn. With films by big-hitters including Cronenberg, Godard, Hazanavicius, Ceylan and the Dardenne brothers, this is likely to be the case once again.

The formidable Russian director Andrei Zvyagintsev will be there with his Leviathan and from Mauritania, Abderrahmane Sissako will represents new African cinema with Timbuktu. However, some will be disappointed not to see the new movies from Terrence Malick, Emir Kusturica, Fatih Akin and Roy Andersson. (It is possible that Andersson’s film, gloriously entitled A Pigeon Sat on the Branch Reflecting on Existence, will be put into selection later this month.)

So the veteran titans of British progressive cinema, Mike Leigh and Ken Loach, are once again facing off for the Palme D’Or, something to cause some patriotic pride in the ranks of the British industry, though perhaps some twinges of secret exasperation about quite so much emphasis being put on these names. It is Thierry Frémaux’s seventh year completely in charge of the festival as “general delegate”, and he has reinforced the mighty predominance of Cannes, not least with his shrewd development of its Un Certain Regard sidebar as a repository of movies that would well be headliners at rival festivals – thus pretty much doubling its selection prerogative.

This newspaper takes an even keener interest in Cannes than usual, having recently awarded it our best festival prize in the inaugural Guardian Film Awards. Festival president Gilles Jacob elegantly and whimsically offered us his thoughts on the choice of Cannes: “The spirit blows where it pleases, as my master Robert Bresson said, and everyone does as he pleases.”

It is certainly a big year for the big British players. Ken Loach (a Palme winner in 2006 for The Wind That Shakes The Barley), is the Cannes equivalent of a “made guy”, much loved and admired by both Frémaux and Jacob. In fact, Frémaux offered some pointed remarks at the press conference about British directors being unappreciated in their native lands. Loach’s film this year, Jimmy’s Hall, is another collaboration with screenwriter Paul Laverty, and is understood to be his final fiction feature: a drama centred on Ireland’s red scare of the 1930s, and the communist challenge to the Catholic church’s censorship.

Mike Leigh is a director who does not have quite the freehold on Cannes enjoyed by Loach. Notoriously, the festival rejected Vera Drake in 2004, although the film went on to win the Golden Lion at Venice. This year, however, Leigh has been accepted for Mr Turner, a look at the life of the painter JMW Turner, with Timothy Spall in the leading role.

The third British film-maker in the official selection is Andrew Hulme, the former editor on movies such as Control and The American, who is making a directorial debut in the Un Certain Regard lineup with Snow in Paradise, a tough character study about violence and religion.

And speaking of titans, no discussion of this year’s festival could be complete without mentioning that never-sleeping giant of French cinema history, Jean-Luc Godard, returning to Cannes at the age of 83 with his new film, dauntingly entitled Farewell to Language. Godard is the great, implacably cantankerous and difficult warrior from the new wave generation, one that still makes its mark at Cannes. (One screening theatre, the Bazin, is named after the great new wave-era critic André Bazin, and the “next-day” catchup screenings are called les séances de lendemain, playfully referring to Truffaut’s famous phrase “the cinema of tomorrow”).

Godard is always being written off as a spent force. And yet his last Cannes movie, Film Socialisme, featuring loftily cerebral critiques of capitalist society, happened to be filmed partly on board the cruise ship Costa Concordia. This was later to become a spectacular wreck, fatally lacking in manoeuvrability, because it had been built on a huge scale to maximise profit. So perhaps Godard is still a film-maker with serendipity on his side, not yet out of touch with the zeitgeist.

This year was trailed as a festival that has paid greater attention to women film-makers, an issue for which it has been fiercely criticised in the past. In competition is Japanese director Naomi Kawase’s Still the Water, an emotional drama about a teen boy and a girl on the southern Japanese island of Amami. Alice Rohrwacher’s The Miracles, also in competition, is an Italian movie with Monica Bellucci: a 14-year-old’s life is turned upside down when a young German criminal shows up on a rehab programme. Elsewhere, Austrian director Jessica Hausner is in the UCR list with her movie Amour Fou, a period drama inspired by Heinrich von Kleist.

Two Days, One Night, by the double Palme-winning Belgian directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, features a very starry lead actor: Marion Cotillard as Sandra, a woman who has the weekend to convince her colleagues to give up their bonuses so she can keep her job. It sounds like a more mainstream film than is usual for these directors, and set in a higher social stratum than usual. Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Winter Sleep, coming it at a mighty three-and-a-quarter hours, will be keenly anticipated, again set in Anatolia.

Ryan Gosling has been the most glamorous of figures at Cannes in recent years, acting in movies by Nicolas Winding Refn. Now he arrives with his own film as director, in the Un Certain Regard section: Lost River, about a family living in a small town of the same name, involving a single mother and a troubled teenage boy, and starring Christina Hendricks and Saoirse Ronan. Sure to be a hot ticket.

Maps to The Stars by David Cronenberg is a competition movie avowedly about that most superficially attractive but difficult and elusive subject: celebrity and our current infatuation with it. It is written by Bruce Wagner (author of the excoriating I’m Losing You) and all about a dynastic Hollywood family, deeply embedded and dysfunctionally addicted to the culture of celebrity in Los Angeles. It will of course be interesting to see if the movie can analyse celebrity without being in some way hampered or compromised by the whole business.

Bennett Miller, director of Capote and Moneyball, comes to the Cannes competition with Foxcatcher, an intriguing-sounding movie about the wrestling champions Mark and Dave Schultz (played by Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo) and the family tragedy they endured. Steve Carell is boldly cast in a very serious role. Miller showed himself to be a brilliant chronicler of US sport in Moneyball and Cannes delegates will be very keen to see how this new film plays out.

The other alpha-male of US cinema, as far as Cannes 2014 is concerned, is Tommy Lee Jones who is on the Croisette with The Homesman, a frontier tale about a tense journey from Nebraska to Iowa. Jones, whose The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada was respectfully received in Cannes in 2005, is a Hollywood star whose professional personality as an auteur has very much been nurtured in Cannes.

As far as mainstream French cinema goes, the big contender is Olivier Assayas, a critic turned director in the high French tradition. Sils Maria is a fascinating-sounding tale, with something of All About Eve, about a veteran actor (played by Juliette Binoche), who finds herself coming into contact with a young pretender (Chloë Grace Moretz), who plays the role she once made famous in a remake.

Is there a more remarkable wunderkind at Cannes 2014 than the 25-year-old Québécois Xavier Dolan, making his competition debut with Mommy, his fifth feature film as director. I have been sceptical about Dolan in the past, but his last feature Tom At The Farm was terrifically good and this is another must-see.

Michel Hazanavicus is a French director whose fortunes were co-created by Cannes and the great American mogul Harvey Weinstein. In 2011, Weinstein (a true Cannes habitué) came to see Hazanavicius’s silent-movie pastiche The Artist, fell in love with it, and the rest is Oscar history. Now Hazanavicius comes to Cannes with a tough, serious film, The Search, again starring his wife Bérénice Bejo as a woman who forms an emotional attachment to a young boy in war-scarred Chechnya.

It is, as ever, a mouthwatering selection.

theguardian.com, Thursday 17 April 2014

Two Australian Films To Premiere At Festival De Cannes

The 67th Festival de Cannes has announced that two Australian feature films have been invited in Official Selection at the prestigious film festival next month. David Michôd’s highly anticipated second feature, The Rover, will have its world premiere Out of Competition, and Charlie’s Country, from revered Australian filmmaker Rolf de Heer, has been selected for Un Certain Regard.

Screen Australia CEO Graeme Mason said, “This is an honour for two remarkable Australian filmmakers – a veteran and a tremendous next generation storyteller. It is wonderful to see both being celebrated by one of the leading film festivals of the world, Cannes, and well-deserved recognition to both.”

This is David Michôd’s first invitation to the prominent film festival, for his thriller The Rover. David’s well-received debut feature, Animal Kingdom, received 36 awards including the Grand Jury Prize, World Cinema: Dramatic at Sundance Film Festival, a first for an Australian film, and received a prestigious Academy Award® nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (Jacki Weaver).

The Rover producer Liz Watts said, “David and everyone involved with The Rover are thrilled by its world premiere at the highly prestigious Cannes Film Festival – it’s truly an honour to screen there, and a wonderful start to the movie’s journey to audiences all over the world.”

The Rover is set ten years after the downfall of the western economic system, when society is in decline, the rule of law has disintegrated and life is cheap. Eric is a cold and angry drifter who has left everything and everyone behind. When his car is stolen by a gang of desperate desert hustlers, Eric embarks on a ruthless mission to track them down. Along the way he is forced into an unlikely relationship with Rey, a naïve and injured gang member.

Writer, producer, and director David Michôd will be joined by The Rover lead cast including Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson, along with producers Liz Watts and David Linde.

The Rover was made with financial support from Screen Australia, the South Australian Film Corporation and Screen NSW, and was produced by Porchlight Films in association with Lava Bear Films.

Returning to Cannes for the fourth time, Rolf de Heer has previously received two Palme d’Or nominations, for The Quiet Room and Dance Me to My Song, and won the Special Jury Prize, Un Certain Regard for Ten Canoes. Charlie’s Country is the long-awaited third film in Rolf’s unofficial trilogy and longstanding collaboration with Aboriginal Australian screen icon David Gulpilil, beginning with The Tracker in 2002 and followed by Ten Canoes in 2006.

Rolf said of his return to the festival, “As a great celebration of cinema, the Cannes Film Festival has historically been a wonderful launching pad into the world market for films I’ve directed. I’m consequently very pleased that Charlie’s Country has been selected, because it means the film will be seen.”

Charlie’s Country was developed, written, produced and directed by Rolf, who will attend the film’s international premiere in Cannes accompanied by co-developer/lead actor David Gulpilil, actor/producer Peter Djigirr and executive producer Sue Murray.

The story centres on the character of Charlie, played by David Gulpilil, who decides to make a stand following the new invasion of his Aboriginal community… and finds he still has a long way to fall.

Charlie’s Country is a co-production between Vertigo Productions and Bula’bula Arts Aboriginal Corporation, produced by Nils Erik Nielsen, Peter Djigirr and Rolf de Heer. The film is presented by Screen Australia and Domenico Procacci and produced in association with the South Australian Film Corporation, Larrakia Nation Aboriginal Corporation and Adelaide Film Festival.

David and Rolf will join eminent Sydney-based filmmaker Jane Campion, who will preside over the jury of the 67th Festival de Cannes, and is the only female filmmaker to have ever received Cannes’ top award, the Palme d’Or, which she won for The Piano in 1993. The Australian presence will be further emphasised with attendance by Nicole Kidman for her film Grace of Monaco, which is scheduled to open the festival, and Sam Holst, who has been selected for the Cannes Cinéfondation Résidence in Paris.

CHARLIE’S COUNTRY

Production Companies: Vertigo Productions, Bula’bula Arts Aboriginal Corporation

Devised by: David Gulpilil, Rolf de Heer

Writer/Director: Rolf de Heer

Producers: Nils Erik Nielsen, Rolf de Heer, Peter Djigirr

Executive Producers: Domenico Procacci, Bryce Menzies, Sue Murray, Troy Lum,

Peter McMahon

Australian Distributor: Entertainment One Films Australiahttp://au.eonefilms.com

Cast: David Gulpilil, Peter Djigirr, Luke Ford, Jennifer Budukpuduk, Peter

Minygululu, Bojana Novakovic

Synopsis: With the new invasion of his Aboriginal community in full swing, Charlie

decides to make a stand… and finds he still has a long way to fall.

THE ROVER

Production Companies Porchlight Films Pty Ltd in association with Lava Bear Films

LLC

Writer/Director: David Michôd

Producers: Liz Watts, David Linde, David Michôd

Executive Producers: Tory Metzger, Adam Rymer, Vincent Sheehan, Anita Sheehan,

Nina Stevenson, Glen Basner, Allison Cohen

Cast: Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson, Scoot McNairy, David Field, Anthony Hayes,

Gillian Jones, Susan Prior

International Sales: FilmNation Entertainment

Australian Distributor: Village Roadshow

Synopsis: Ten years after a collapse of the western economic system, Australia’s

mineral resources have drawn the desperate and dangerous to its shores. With

society in decline, the rule of law has disintegrated and life is cheap. Eric (Guy

Pearce) is a cold and angry drifter who has left everything and everyone behind.

When his car – his last possession – is stolen by a gang of desperate desert hustlers,

Eric embarks on a ruthless mission to track them down. Along the way he is forced

into an unlikely relationship with Rey (Robert Pattinson), a naïve and injured

younger brother of gang member Henry (Scoot McNairy), who has left Rey behind in

the bloody aftermath of the gang’s most recent robbery. From the acclaimed director

of Animal Kingdom.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/TheRoverMovie

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheRoverMovie

Screen Australia – Thursday 17 April 2014

Selective cuts to the national memory

THE slashing of more than 10 per cent of the National Film and Sound Archive’s
staff has passed with relatively little comment outside Canberra.

Last week, Michael Loebenstein, chief executive of the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, announced “a new business model and structure for the organisation” following a six-month review and consultation process.

Twenty-eight of the archive’s staff of 206 are expected to go. Loebenstein later told ABC666 Canberra that the NFSA “is not being dismantled, it’s moving forward”. He tells Reel Time: “The two key messages are we need to be able to live sustainably within our means and be able to build skills and capacities to engage in the digital environment. Existing programs such as screenings at Canberra’s Arc Cinema, exhibitions and the touring film festivals will be gradually replaced by new programs, with an increased focus on online delivery.”

He adds: “We’re not going to abolish the idea of a screening in front of a live audience” but there will be fewer screenings in Canberra as the NFSA aims to “see how we can serve the whole national footprint”.

Friends of NFSA president Ray Edmondson tell Reel Time: “It’s not a very responsible way to deal with the national memory.” He thought Loebenstein had previously “done a good job under difficult circumstances” but “the reality is all the cultural organisations have been cut year after year by the efficiency dividends. There’s no fat in them.”

Loebenstein’s statement to staff said the institution needed “to adapt the way we do business to take better advantage of technology and of our relationships with partners in industry and the community”. Essentially, the focus will be a push into the online environment and away from physical screenings and programs.

Michael Bodey – The Australian – April 16, 2014

Aussie writer secures US agent, manager

Australian writer Justine Juel Gillmer has signed with major US talent agency WME (Blake Fronstin) and with Jeff Silver’s 4th Floor Management.

Gillmer’s pilot Wanted has been optioned by ITV Studios US Group and Deb Spera and Maria Grasso of One-Two Punch Productions, who, along with Gillmer, will executive produce the series.

Set in 1874, the drama follows three women – an assassin, a grifter and a healer – who become entwined in the web of a criminal conspiracy stretching across America’s Wild West.

“The producing team, as well as Justine’s reps, are currently working to solidify the package and are in contact with a select group of buyers,” said Keith Sweitzer, the literary manager and producer who represents Gillmer in Australia and is among the producers attached to Wanted.

Gillmer is writing one episode for each of the second series of Playmaker Media’s Love Child and FremantleMedia Australia’s Wonderland.

She started writing for TV in 2005 after graduating from AFTRS with a Masters in Screenwriting.

Her credits include episodes of Packed to the Rafters, McLeod’s Daughters, Crownies, Mako-Island of Secrets and In Your Dreams.

She was script producer on SLR Productions’ Sam Fox: Extreme Adventures, a children’s series based on the popular action adventure books by Justin D’Ath.

Gillmer is also developing Vault, a feature film with Mike Wiluan of Infinite Studios, Singapore, described as a pan-Asian period action pic involving a Singaporean heist that goes wrong and the ancient myth of the deadly Langsuir.

By Don Groves

IF magazine  Tue 15/04/2014

10 viewing trends for 2014 that will change the way we watch TV

From Twitter’s ‘social soundtrack’ to self-made YouTube stars and Amazon turning future viewers into commissioners: the latest in interactive television trends

Israeli show Rising Star separates singers from the studio audience by a wall, which rises as viewers vote using the show’s official app.

The MIPTV conference in Cannes is where the television industry gathers to buy and sell shows, while debating the changing attitudes of broadcasters and producers, the shifting habits of viewers and the disruption coming from new technologies. This year’s show was a mixture of stars – traditional celebrities, but also fresh-faced YouTubers with audiences in the millions – and strong opinions about how we’re watching TV now, and how this may change in the years ahead.

1 Twitter wants to be the ‘social soundtrack’ for TV social networks

Twitter and Facebook are competing to become the online watercooler where people discuss their favourite shows. Twitter’s pitch – as made by chief media scientist Deb Roy – is that it is a “synchronised social soundtrack for whatever is happening in the moment, as a shared experience”.

During this year’s Oscars, 5 million people sent 19m tweets that were seen by 37 million people – including Ellen DeGeneres’s famous selfie. Meanwhile, a single episode of The X Factor in the UK last year tempted 1.2 million Brits to tweet. Roy also suggested that Twitter buzz could fuel new kinds of shows. “The opportunity is in the hands of storytellers in how to tap into this new creative storytelling … to look to the data, and to really go and pioneer potentially whole new genres.”

2 YouTube and rivals are creating new stars and starry shows

Could the next Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones come from YouTube? It’s not a ridiculous thought: there are growing numbers of sharp, witty and well-scripted dramas being made for online viewing – and not just on YouTube, with Hulu, Amazon, Xbox and (most famously) Netflix all commissioning. Britain also has a growing cadre of young YouTube stars reaching mass audiences. Twins Finn and Jack Harries are good examples: their JacksGap YouTube channel has 3.4 million subscribers, with their latest show documenting a rickshaw ride across India.

Gamer Joseph Garrett has 2.3 million subscribers – many of them kids – for his Stampylonghead channel, with its daily videos of a virtual cat exploring the Minecraft game. He’s now spinning off a new education channel.

3 Jerry Springer was inevitable, just like social media

Jerry Springer delivered a robust defence of his chatshow genre’s effects on society. “This concept that television has influenced human behaviour and the destruction of society is garbage. We had a Holocaust before anyone had a television set,” he said.

Springer sought to put his show into historical context. “What is happening in the social media was inevitable. The coming of my show 23 years ago was inevitable. What we are witnessing is the democratisation of culture,” he said.

“For thousands of years it was people sitting in an audience watching something happen on a stage, on a screen, on a ball-field. It was the audience and then the performers. Now, literally, the audience are the ones that are entertaining.” And not just when throwing chairs.

4 Amazon is turning viewers into commissioners

Amazon’s Studios division funds pilots and full series of TV shows for adults and children, then makes them available through its Prime subscription service – with brooding crime drama Bosch the latest show to be unveiled.

It’s Amazon’s commissioning process that’s most interesting: it funds a pilot, puts it online and then waits to see how its customers rate and review the episode before deciding whether to commission a full series. “It is oddly Marxist in its idea, but it’s a very smart business model,” saidBosch star Titus Welliver. “What you’re doing is empowering the people.”

Amazon’s Roy Price said show producers get over their “initial trepidation” rapidly. “At the end of the day we’re in a commercial art form, we’re not exchanging private haikus,” he said. “You want to get your work out there in front of millions of viewers and see what they think.”

5 Kids are causing the biggest changes in TV

The average six- to 14-year-old in the UK still spends 10.4 hours a week watching linear TV, according to research firm Dubit. But the growth of tablets is startling: the percentage of children with access to a tablet at home has surged from 20% in 2012 to 51% in 2013 and 84% now.

Angry Birds maker Rovio is one of the companies capitalising on this: it has quietly built its own kids’ TV network within its mobile games, generating billions of views for shows by other companies – including Fraggle Rock – as well as its own cartoons. Meanwhile, British startup Hopster has an app blending shows with educational games. “For the first time this new, alternative ‘first screen’ is going to establish a relationship of equals with the TV,” said Hopster founder Nicholas Walters.

6 Kim Cattrall is flying the flag for older women

Sex and the City star Kim Cattrall’s latest TV role focuses on a woman coming to terms with the ageing process. She had sharp words for broadcasting bosses who she feels are discriminating against female writers and actors.

“I believe that women my age have very much to say, and unfortunately this business doesn’t recognise that, most of the time,” said Cattrall, adding that “the pressure to stay young, be young, bubbly, nubile, is suffocating”. She also suggested that TV had a long way to go in its roles for older women. “They don’t really know what to do with me. I don’t want to play someone’s wife and become a joke about plastic surgery.”

7 Interactive TV shows are more than just a novelty

Transmedia – telling a story across different devices and platforms – has been around a long time as a concept. But there are more and more interesting examples.

Fort McMoney is a Canadian web project focusing on environmental issues, using a mixture of video and gameplay. “The game is a tool to debate,” said director David Dufresne. “A lot of people came for the game, and they stayed for the subject.”

Another Canadian project, State of Syn, is a sci-fi show that lives on various devices. “It’s a series, it’s an app, it’s a Google Glass game and it’s a social experience,” said producer Jay Bennett. Meanwhile, Australian crime drama Secrets & Lies gives fans clues through social networks and social TV app Zeebox, to help them solve the crimes.

8 Vice isn’t as hip as you might think

Critics often label magazine-turned-media-network Vice as a haven for insufferable hipsters. Actually, it’s emerging as an important voice for the teens and twentysomethings who feel ill-served by traditional channels.

Vice’s latest online channel is the food-focused Munchies, but the company is also tackling hard news. “People say young people aren’t interested in the news around them. It’s bullshit,” said chief creative officer Eddy Moretti. “Our audience was telling us, ‘no, we want news, we want long-form, we want documentaries’,” added CEO Shane Smith.

Here, too, environmental activism is to the fore, with a new show calledToxic about climate change. “We can’t just have stick-your-head-in-the-sand shit any more. We have to say something. We have to say ‘if we don’t do something about the environment, we’re fucked’,” said Smith. “And if we don’t say that in media, then shame on us.”

9 The second screen is changing talent and game shows

TV talent shows have had viewers voting with their phones for a long time. The next generation of formats takes that further. Israeli show Rising Star, which is now being adapted around the world, separates singers from the studio audience by a video wall, which rises only when enough viewers have voted using the show’s app.

Elsewhere, American Idol has been allowing viewers to vote from Google’s search engine in its latest series. “We are doing two times the average number of votes we did the previous year, and almost half of them are coming from Google,” said Olivier Delfosse of producer FremantleMedia.

10 Monkey Tennis is alive, well, and being pitched in 2014

The spirit of Alan Partridge’s famously strange pitches for new TV shows lives on in 2014. Among shows being pitched at MIPTV were Host in the Box, where a presenter is shipped to a mystery location in a box, and has to survive; Rocco to the Rescue, where former porn star Rocco Siffredi helps people in need of “sexual healing”; and Adam Looking for Eve, a dating show where prematched contestants meet on a tropical island. Nude.

Babe Magnet is like Blind Date if the female contestants could reject unsuitable men with a giant magnet; The Shower is a music talent show where contestants sing in an on-stage shower whose temperature is controlled by the audience’s app votes; and Dolphins With the Starspairs celebrities with dolphins for a weekly performance.

None of these formats has been made up.

Stuart Dredge – The Observer, Sunday 13 April 2014