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The latest from Janet Awe & friends…

BFI London Film Festival Preview: Indivisible

Posted on by Janet Awe
Angela and Marianna Fontana as Dasy and Viola

Angela and Marianna Fontana as Dasy and Viola

Darkly comic and enchanting, Indivisible (or, “Indivisibli”, in Italian) is the story of beautiful Siamese twin sisters, Dasy and Viola. Joined at the hip, they are exploited by their money-hungry parents who use their disability and angelic singing voices as a novelty crowd-pleaser, raking in money by shamelessly touring them around their Italian city of Naples to perform at local events.

Two sides of the same coin, the girl’s shared capillaries lead to shared sensations – such as one feeling sick when the other eats too many pastries. However, they have decidedly different personalities as well as different ambitions as they turn 18 years old. Janis Joplin-obsessed Dasy, dreams of travelling to Los Angeles, like her idol, and of having friends and of one day making love. Viola, on the other hand, doesn’t like the thought of change and is worried that, if emancipated, Dasy would leave her alone with their parents.

One day they meet a doctor who lambastes their parents, pointing out that the girls don’t share any organs and therefore could have been separated years ago. The possibilities excite Dasy and scare Viola. However, together, they set out to defy their parents and to finally take control of their own lives, encountering some harsh life lessons on the way.

The twins are played with wonderful nuance by real life sisters, Angela and Marianna Fontana, supported brilliantly by distinct, on-point performances from Massimiliano Rossi as the shameless, gambling-addicted father, Peppe; Antonia Truppo as the constantly weed-smoking mother, Titti; and Peppe Servillo as the sleazy local priest.

Antonia Truppo, as Titti, the mother

Antonia Truppo, as Titti, the mother

The beautiful Naples coastline and a marvellous colour palette, juxtaposed with a heavy industrial presence and some stark wasteland, provide a surreal backdrop to the film. Heighted in some scenes to take you to an almost dream-like state, this is a very sweet, sisterly-love story, which examines what it means to be independent.  Written by Nicola Guaglianone, Barbara Petronio and Edoardo De Angelis and directed by Edoardo De Angelis, the wonderfully-measured performances by the sisters will make you both laugh and cry.

Indivisible is a refreshingly different dark comedy. And if your heart-strings aren’t pulled by the end, you really need to get yourself checked out at the doctor.

BFI London Film Festival Previews: Moonlight

Posted on by Janet Awe
Moonlight poster, featuring all three Chirons

Moonlight poster, featuring all three ‘Chiron’s

Moonlight is a cleverly-conceived, beautifully-executed, complex and unexpected film. It follows Chiron – a black kid growing up in Miami, during the 1980s – through three key and very distinct phases of his life: from young boy, through teenage years, to manhood. Set against a powerful musical soundscape and at-times-captivating landscape, a subtle metaphorical language helps connect the three periods and Chiron’s relationships.

An outsider, who is routinely bullied for being awkward and different, with a junkie mother and an absent father, Chiron spends most of his life trying to just disappear. Guidance and some respite from life comes in the unlikely form of the local drug dealer, Juan (played in a wonderfully understated way by Mahershala Ali) who relates to his background and takes him under his wing.  He tries to teach Chiron the importance of finding and being true to yourself, in your own time. But Chiron is swept away by the current of his life, constantly scared of drowning and barely able to catch his breath for long enough to be able to take stock and make a considered decision about the direction he actually wants to swim in.

Despite some extreme violence, Moonlight is a surprisingly sensitive and insightful film. It looks at the impact of addiction, in an unexpected way, whilst also boldly addressing the stigma surrounding homosexuality – a seriously under-addressed issue in black films.

Ashton Sanders, as teenage ChironTouching. Poignant. Beautiful. Violent. Heartbreaking. Throughout most of the film, you just want to crawl into the screen and hug Chiron, to make it all better. Although, there was one particular part at which I wanted to stand up and applaud him.

Though difficult to watch at times, this is a must-see film, with brilliantly-measured performances from all three Chirons – Alex R Hibbert, who plays Chiron as a child; Ashton Sanders, who plays Chiron as a teenager; and Trevante Rhodes, who plays Chiron as a young man – as well as Chiron’s friend, Kevin, played by Jaden Piner (the child), Jharell Jerome (the teenager) and André Holland (the young adult). Special mention must also go to Janelle Monáe, as Juan’s girlfriend, Teresa, and Naomie Harris, as Chiron’s mum, Paula.

Directed by Barry Jenkins, who also co-wrote it with Tarell McCraney, with cinematography that moves you effortlessly between intimate or more dream-like states, to urgency or violence, Moonlight will have you gripped throughout and become one of your standout movies of the year.

Prophetic Satire: Constable and PC Savage

Posted on by Janet Awe

Satire has always had an extremely important role to play, in keeping a check on society. Back in the day – way, way before South Park – there were court jesters, employed not merely to entertain but also as comedic “truth tellers”, in the privileged position of being allowed to mock anyone, including the King, to ensure a level of moral restraint. Straddling my university years and beyond, from 1984 – 1996, we had Spitting Image, the piss-taking scourge of public figures, from politicians to popstars. And in the late 70s/early 80s, Rowan Atkinson and Griff Rhys-Jones did this sketch for Not The Nine O’Clock News, called Constable Savage… 

Constable Savage, Not The Nine O'Clock News

Constable Savage, Not The Nine O’Clock  [click to watch]

Who could have known that Atkinson and Griff Rhys-Jones would turn out to be such soothsayers?!

 On 16th September 2016, a genuine policeman – bizarrely, actually called PC Savage – was caught on camera behaving like this…

PC Savage - sadly, a real London police officer

PC Savage – worryingly, he’s a real London police officer [click to watch the full video on a Facebook page]

As it ‘turned out’, it was a case of mistaken identity. The motorist was completely innocent and has now made a formal complaint against PC Savage. With a social media storm kicked off, due to this circulating video, the Metropolitan Police was forced into immediate action and (the) Savage is now on restricted duties, pending an investigation.

However, to add to concerns, on the 19th September, 4Front Media published a second video starring PC Savage, which demonstrates that he has form for stopping black men on Suspicion of Going About Their Business (my technical term, not his…). 24-year-old Kyle Adair-Whyte was pushing his broken down motorbike when he got stopped by PC Savage…

PC Savage: Repeat Offender

PC Savage: Repeat Offender [click to watch]

At 9 minutes, I realise this last video is a bit long (but it’s worth watching for Adair-Whyte’s very fair and balanced account and perspective). If you take the time to watch to the end, you’ll see and understand the frustration often felt by black men in this country. Just because some black men commit crime, doesn’t mean they all do. Can you imagine the outcry if white middle class men got regularly stopped and searched for cocaine, just because white middle class men are known to do it. Or if every MP got stopped for poppers, just because…. well, I’m sure you get my point…

In the video, Adair-Whyte, who works AND studies, says: “You’ve seen a black guy in a jacket pushing a bike that’s slightly broken and you’ve immediately assumed that he’s a criminal… He thinks he has the right to assault me and accuse me of being a thief…which is unfair.”

At the end of the film, Adair-Whyte adds that police need to: “Think twice because you never know the kind of effects your actions are going to have on people and on the community….It’s a constant barrage.. You don’t understand that what you’re doing is detrimental, to the whole of society… You’re police officers and that’s supposed to mean something in this country. You’re supposed to set a benchmark, a standard. And it’s failing.”

Finally, Adair-Whyte explains that: “It makes me feel really bad about myself. I’m trying, I’m working, I’m doing progressive things… To have to stand at the side of the road while five officers take the piss out of me, it makes me think what’s the point.”

My friend, Lara, said of the 30+ year old ‘Constable Savage‘ comedy sketch: “It’s uncanny! How fucked up is the world, how can we have gone so backwards for this to be representative of today’s reality?!”

And I can only agree. The one slither of silver lining is that our police officers don’t carry guns like the trigger-happy Americans. Or the Savages of this world would be trying to justify bloodshed, instead of broken windscreens. However, rest assured that the mental wounds inflicted by officers like Savage run deep.

BFI London Film Festival: A Date For Mad Mary

Posted on by Janet Awe

Screen-Shot-2016-09-20-at-06.48.16Set in Ireland, this very dry comedy sees ‘Mad’ Mary McArdle released from a six-month prison stretch and returned to the home she shares with her Mum and Nan, days before she’s due to be Maid of Honour at her best friend, Charlene’s, wedding.

Instead of a warm welcome from the childhood friend she adores and the night on the town that she was desperately looking forward, Mary finds that things have drastically changed. Charlene is no longer her lairy, track-suited side-kick. Instead she’s become a fully-polished and fully-evolved Bridezilla. When the long-awaited celebration of her freedom never arrives and Mary gradually realises that her best mate is embarrassed of her, she determines to prove that she’s as good as everyone else by finding herself a +1 for the wedding. However, her lack of social skills, insecurities, bad temper and quick tongue derail her attempts to navigate the complexities of dating.  And when she’s faced with some uncomfortable truths she’s forced to re-evaluate what and who she really wants from her life and find a place for herself in the new social set up that she’s returned to.

Written by Colin and Darren Thornton and directed by Darren Thornton, this great comedy has some wonderful female roles, brilliantly cast, and played by women who handle the dialogue superbly. As well as a star turn by Seána Kerslake, as Mad Mary herself, it includes Barbara Brennan as the miserable Nan, delivering some beautifully-cutting lines.

BFI London Film Festival Previews: Chasing Asylum

Posted on by Janet Awe

Poster for Chasing Asylum

Poster for Chasing Asylum

It’s with good reason that this documentary is described as The Film The Australian Government Doesn’t Want You To See. It’s a heart-breaking, anger-inducing look at the Australian government’s tough immigration policy – which completely flouts the UN’s 1951 Refugee Convention that Australia signed up to, agreeing to accept refugees fleeing persecution.

Since as early as 2001, successive Australian PMs and ministers have taken a brutally-hard line, making it clear that refugees are not welcome and developing a strategy to stop the arrival of boats.

As of July 2013 this has been mercilessly reinforced by a blanket policy blocking any boats from landing in Australia. Print and television ads drive home the point, telling refugees that they will NOT reach Australia. Instead, they are rerouted to off-shore ‘indefinite detention’ centres on the remote Republic of Nauru or Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island, both in the middle of the pacific ocean. At the time of filming, there were 2,175 asylum seekers and refugees housed there.  And the policy is not one of care for these poor people, who are fleeing war and persecution, but of deterrent. The aim is to ensure that living conditions are so bad the refugees warn others from their homelands not to come.

The film opens with the voice of an asylum seeker, explaining that he’d heard  Australia was a safe country.  A calm country, without war. And a place that respected refugees and immigrants.  How wrong he was.

The film features interviews with junior support staff, social workers, mental health officials and a senior security guard (who has been threatened for speaking out), as well as lots of covertly-filmed footage, as cameras and journalists aren’t allowed in the Nauru or Manus centres.

We see first hand that the centres are manned by staff who are completely ill-equipped to deal with the situation – many of those interviewed on camera were young people, ranging from students to factory workers, who had answered an ad of the Salvation Army’s Facebook page and signed up to what they thought would be an exotic adventure.  Literally a few days later, they found themselves dumped in the middle of Nauru, with no training and tasked with stopping the desperate refugees from self-harming. To add to the tension, physical, mental and/or sexual abuse by the security guards is rife. At least one inmate was murdered by security guards and locals, plus numerous inmates have killed themselves or tried. The centres are wretched, with inadequate shelter, insufficient clothing and unsanitary conditions. And with ‘indefinite detention’ offering no end in sight – so worse than a prison sentence, mentally – it is said to take about six weeks to break the refugees, before they lose hope. Unsurprisingly, those that aren’t already traumatised from whatever experience they were escaping from in their homeland, are likely to soon develop mental health issues.

The Australian Government's Campaign Poster

The Australian Government’s Campaign Poster

One of the worrying aspects – and there are so many to choose from – is the number of children detained on these islands. Australia is the only country in the world to keep children in ‘indefinite detention centres’. Not only do they suffer from gravely inadequate learning, playing and personal development facilities, they may now also have parents who are deteriorating and thus unable to support or protect them. The sexualised behaviours of even some of the youngest ones points to the abuse that is taking place.

Yet, despite the number of sexual assaults reported – without any investigations – from 1st July 2015, whistle-blowers now face two years in jail. This includes nurses, doctors and social workers, as well as reports on sexual abuse.

In September 2015, after a damning report into these off-shore centres, the Australian government agreed to a one-off intake 12,000 Syrian refugees. On the very same day, Australia began more airstrikes on Syria.

Watch this and weep. Weep for those poor asylum seekers and refugees. Most of all, weep for humanity and some people’s ability to not only let things like this happen but to try to justify them. But do watch this if you get the chance.  There’s really no excuse for us turning a blind eye to the atrocities going on around us and in Chasing Asylum, Academy Award-winning director-producer Eva Orner opens our eyes wide to what’s going on.

 

Things to Distract Yourself With When You Should Be Studying: No. 37

Posted on by Janet Awe

I’ve been studying for three years now. First, I did my masters in screenwriting – two years, part time, at Birbeck College, University of London. The end of that, in October 2014, overlapped with the start of my post-graduate diploma in script development, at the National Film & Television School.  I feel very privileged to have been able to do these amazing courses. I really do. However, it’s taken its toll and now I can’t wait for it to be over. My final (massive) assignment is due on 30th November – three days time – so last weekend and for the next few days, I’m under self-imposed house arrest, trying to get it finished.

It’s clearly taken its toll. I’ve just received an email alerting me that the post I made last weekend – while my friends were all having fun at a birthday – has now gone live.

Screen Shot 2015-11-27 at 05.28.54

 

I can’t stop reading it. It has literally got me crying with laughter… I’m such a knob. But what another great distraction.

AMY: Documentary + Q&A with Director, Asif Kapadia

Posted on by Janet Awe
Posters outside the Rio Cinema, London

Posters outside the Rio Cinema, London

I feel like my heart has been broken, just a little bit, this evening.

Asif Kapadia’s two hour documentary about the singer, Amy Whinehouse, who died aged only 27, is a wonderfully personal and extremely moving portrait of a young woman, desperate FOR love and desperate TO love, whose internal demons were stoked by the trappings of her success: from the mind-blowing media attention, and the pressure on her to perform, to the money and fame-hungry hangers-on.

A mentally unstable young woman with a long-standing eating disorder and substance abuse issues, who was trying to regain her health and some normality, when her body finally gave up.

Much of Amy’s story is told through her two best friends who had known her since childhood, as well as through Nicky Shymansky, who discovered her when he was a 19 year-old wannabe A&R guy and she was just 16. Fascinating, and unexpected, insights also come from hip-hop artists Yasiin Bey, and Amy’s beloved producer, Salaam Remi, both of whom she was close to. These authentic voices and knowledge of ‘the real Amy’ and what she truly wanted in life reinforce the tragedy of her latter years and her early demise.

In the Q&A session after the screening, Asif revealed that he didn’t want to make this film, initially. In 2010, he’d released his first documentary, Senna, about the racing driver, which had taken him five years to make. The following year, in 2011, Amy died. Living in Kentish Town at the time, he’d witnessed some of the media circus that surrounded her in nearby Camden, but he’d never seen her sing and knew nothing about her other than the headlines.

When approached by Amy’s record company, Universal, a year after her death, to do a documentary about her, he thought it was far too soon, and slightly distasteful, to be thinking of that. So, he turned them down.

But Universal’s proposal had piqued Asif’s interest, so he started quietly doing some research on his own, thinking it would be a slow burn, if it came off at all. The more he learnt, the more fascinated he became. When researching Senna, it had felt like the driver’s life was full of light.  Everyone would talk about him with joy. However, with Amy, it was very different. Her memory was surrounded by darkness and suspicion. People didn’t want to talk. It was as though they’d all taken a vow of silence over her.

Asif was intrigued. He agreed to do the film, Universal happily granted his request of full access to her catalogue and her family were completely supportive.  He spent months hanging out with people, gaining their trust. Gradually, they opened up to him.  At first no-one wanted to be on camera, so he would audio record conversations in a darkened studio and hope that the person speaking would sign the release form at the end. For this reason, the film is full of voiceovers from those sessions. As people relaxed around him, eventually they started admitting that they had home videos, answer phone messages, or notes from Amy, that Asif could check out. This includes her mother and a friend who had parts of Amy’s diary that they’d been hiding from the hangers-on, and which they eventually let him use.

In another film, all this might feel intrusive. Here, it doesn’t.

Asif describes listening to Amy’s CDs whilst driving and being struck by her lyrics. So, he put them centre stage in the film, up on the screen. They provide a heartbreaking timeline and insight into the various stages of Amy’s life.

 

Asif Kapadia, on the left (honest!)

Asif Kapadia, on the left (honest!)

Asif admits that the three years spent making the film took their toll. The last two years was spent editing the extensive amount of footage gathered, with his team. The year before that was spent talking to people around the world who knew Amy. He says that those interviews felt like therapy sessions. Everyone – from good friends, to journalists – seemed to feel burdened by guilt about Amy and everyone would end the interview crying. There seemed to be a universal (no pun intended) awareness that Amy was often pushed too far, despite being unstable – by those who claimed to love her, as well as by those that supposedly worked for or with her. Pressured into performing, or hounded by the media, at times when what she really needed was to stop everything and be looked after.

A lot has been written about this film. On the back of that, I did wonder if I was being just another voyeur. But I’m really, really glad that I’ve seen it. It’s easy to dismiss it as ‘not telling us anything new’ (as one woman said to Asif in the Q&A afterwards – which was a bit rude, I thought, but hey… ), but I disagree. When Amy passed away, people were shocked but not surprised and 99% assumed it was from a drug overdose.

Sadly, we’d forgotten the Amy that came before the crack and smack. This film brings that young girl back to life. Amy wrote her first album, Frank, when she was just 16/17 years old. And Back To Black when she was in her early twenties. When you see those early, amateur video clips, hear her sing and read her lyrics, you can’t help but be struck by the amazing natural talent that this intelligent and funny young girl from North London possessed.

Perhaps the saddest thing is that no single thing caused Amy’s demise. A perfect storm of bad decisions – many of which were inflicted on her by those around, who should have been protecting her, but some made by herself. Rather than trying to point the finger, or blame anyone, Asif and his team have allowed history to speak for itself and in doing so, have made what feels like a really truthful film.

I highly recommend it.

Seen at the Rio Cinema in Dalston, East London, as part of the fabulous East End Film Festival.

Alan Rusbridger Steps Down from The Guardian, After 20 Years

Posted on by Janet Awe
The Guardian's Masthead Tribute

The Guardian’s Masthead Today Pays Tribute To Its Spectacled Leader

Today, Alan Rusbridger, steps down after 20 years’ of amazing service as editor of the world-respected, Pulitzer Prize-winning Guardian newspaper. He took over the reigns in 1995, after initially joining in 1979, leaving for a short stint then returning for good, to launch the Weekend magazine in 1988, followed by the paper’s G2 section in 1992.

In my mind, without The Guardian, the British newspaper landscape would have been a very sorry place over those years. Simplistically, we would have been left with a choice between Murdoch-owned propaganda machines (The Times and The Sun), the appropriately-nicknamed ‘ToryGraph’ (the Daily Telegraph), or a constant diet of salacious celebrity tittle-tattle (Daily Mail or Daily Express, anyone?), with an un-engaging sprinkling of economics in between (the Financial Times).

The Guardian not only brings us honest and fair reporting, covering the issues that matter, it truly champions the people of this country and beyond. Not for PR currency, but because it genuinely cares about the issues that should be affecting us all, whether through our first hand suffering, or emotionally and ethically, through the suffering we witness in others.

I’ve seen Alan speak on a few occasions and I have always been struck by his compassion and integrity. Invaluable qualities that, for a lesser man, may have diminished over the years as his influence and success increased. Yet, he has stayed consistently true to his ethics, leading his team in a way that reflects that, even down to the management and overall direction of the paper. Democratically run, the Guardian team chose Alan’s successor, Katherine Viner, by group vote.  Similarly, they sat down in a room together one lunch time to debate and mutually agree on who the paper would support in the recent election.

Foolishly, despite not actually knowing Alan (and despite the fact that he’s not dead, just retiring from The Guardian..), I really do feel like I’m saying goodbye to an old friend. To me he embodies the spirit and the values of The Guardian, both of which I admire greatly. So, whilst I’m happy for him and look forward to seeing what he does next, I know he will be missed.

Read Alan’s goodbye to his readers.

Alan Rusbridger's Farwell

Alan Rusbridger’s Farwell