Dancing Floor film update

Gethin and Sita on the Dancing Floor
Gethin and Sita on the Dancing Floor

So what’s been going on with the film?  After some successful previews of the pilot, we are now entering a new phase: finding finance for the feature film.  This means:

a crowdfunding campaign

a search for bigger investors

talking to Ffilm Cymru Wales

Jo Eliot (Hay Festival of British Cinema) and Roger Goodman (Llangollen Fringe festival) have joined me to help push this phase forwards.  It is great to have their support.  I am currently looking for someone to help me with the Crowdfunding campaign and other social media.  If you know someone, let me know.

We are planning a big event at Hay Castle on Wednesday September 9 to launch the campaign: there will be music, storytelling, info about the Mabinogion and about the film project, plus food and drink – and a showing of the fifteen-minute pilot film.  We want to invite our local community to get involved (not just in giving money!)- there will be plenty of opportunities for:

extras of all sorts, both Welsh-speaking and non

primary school children who like dancing

young people who want to learn about film

people with film-making or production skills

Please put the date in your diaries and come!  Tickets will be available (£5) from me nearer the time and at the door.

Meanwhile, I will be updating this blog more regularly and building a mailing list of interested people.

“It’s all smoke and mirrors, Mal, cheap magic!”
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Top tips for film-makers from seven new British films

Top tips for film-makers from seven new British films
Comfy seats at Booths
Comfy seats at Booths

 

I spent the weekend cootched up in my favourite seat (middle row, left-hand side, with a nice breeze from the A/C) in Richard Booth’s comfy little cinema in Hay-on-Wye, watching the best new British independent films at the Festival of British Cinema (big thanks to those who set up this event!). I saw seven films, all good: Dark Horse, Leave to Remain, The Falling, Electricity, Still Life, X+Y and finally Dan y Wenallt! Details here, since I am not going to review them all, just ask myself the question: what did I, as an aspiring feature film-maker learn from them?

Agyness Deyn in 'Electricity'

1] Some actors are just so compelling. In Electricity (about Lily, a young woman with epilepsy who goes off to search for her long-lost brother) that’s the beautiful, lanky Agyness Deyn who is completely credible and touching in the role. But you don’t have to be beautiful: in Dan y Wenallt (Welsh language version of Under Milk Wood) Rhys Ifans plays a crusty, milky-eyed Captain Cat with heart-rending poignancy and holds this hallucinatory trip into the murky crab-infested depths of DylanThomasland together brilliantly. X+Y is about an on-the-spectrum boy who loses his dad in a car-crash and becomes a maths champ – nearly. Asa Butterfield projects the lad’s sufferings and struggles with rare subtlety and maturity, making this a most absorbing and rewarding film (except for the syrupy romantic ending!) Eddie Marsan is of course impeccably good in Still Life.

What did I learn from this?   Your main actor has to have that riveting quality, and its usually to do with their eyes.

Asa Butterworth
Asa Butterfield

2] The scenes which made me cry or moved me deeply were: in X+Y when Luke (the excellent Jake Davies),who is much further along the spectrum than our hero, tries to get in with his peers at the maths camp by re-telling the Monty Python dead parrot sketch – with a shrimp. They watch him with sneering or embarrassed faces. Heart-rending. In Electricity it was the moment when the cockney guy Lily has just slept with drops her off from the ambulance after she’s had a fit and melts away without coming in with her. Or was it when her long-lost brother, now irretrievably damaged, smashes up her friend’s flat? In Still Life it was the final scene, which I can’t reveal without spoiling it for you, but it’s a gentle coup de theatre. In Leave to Remain it was when Abdul tries to stuff a whole lamb (which he has nicked) into the oven to cheer up the African girl who reminds him of his mum. Strangely some of the more obviously heart-racking moments in the films did not stir me so much.

So, what did I learn from this?  Emotion is the fuel of a good film but it’s got to feel real, not a wind-upLess is more with emotion in films , and often the best moments are the fruit of a careful build-up and some skilful restraint.

I think the ‘less is more’ rule could be usefully applied to The Falling directed by Carol Morley (who made the wonderfully compassionate Dreams of a Life.) This is about a group of girls afflicted with fainting hysteria and associated emotional/perceptual wobbles in a sixties girl school. It is sensual in a sweatily oppressive way, which is no doubt an intended effect but I longed for a lighter touch and a shorter duration.  The case would have been stronger if not over-stated.

But all in all, these films all have big hearts and strong dramatic power, including the again slightly over-long Dark Horse, a documentary about a valleys community which bands together to buy and raise a race horse. And please don’t miss Dan y Wenallt, which has the cheek and guts to turn away from the Dylan Thomas adulation industry and grab the mood, the characters, the sacred ENGLISH WORDS of Under Milk Wood for its own dark Welsh purposes.  It’s dirty, sexy, funny, tranced-out and deeply Welsh in the way that Gavin and Stacey was. ‘They’re filthy the Welsh’ as Smithy says to his plumbing mate. Fair play, I say, I loved it.

Rhys Ifans in Dan y Wenallt
Rhys Ifans in Dan y Wenallt

Whose dream is this anyway?

This time of year, between Christmas and New Year, always feels like a limbo-land to me, a not-one-thing-or-the-other time when you don’t have to do anything specific, and be busy like the rest of the year.  It was while I was idly riffling through some old files that I found an exercise book containing notes from a course I attended in 1995, 18 years ago.  (It was an interesting course, called ‘Traditions in Transit’.)Image

Anyway, in the exercise book I came across a dream of which I had no recollection at all.  I usually remember my ”big’ significant dreams, but not this one.  I wondered if maybe it was not mine, but why, then, did I write it down?  If it had belonged to someone else, I would surely have noted that.  Here is the dream, and, if it is yours, not mine, forgive me for printing it here. 

A storm is breaking over a city, with lightning flashes and terrible vehement cracks of thunder.  I am watching this with some awe when the scene switches: I am aware of a being, a presence with no physical attributes, and, at the same time there comes an image of a cave with boulders at its mouth and the being says “if you were able to take these away, the earth would spin twice as fast and you could find the Holy City”.

I move some of the smaller boulders and peer over them.  I see into a cave, wet, luminescent red and yellow on the walls.  This is a scary place.  There’s something here I don’t like – I want to put the boulders back but I shan’t.

The trickle of water turns into a torrent.  I feel both excited and afraid.  I wonder what it is I’ve done – have I done right?  Should I have moved all of the boulders, or none at all?  The voice of the being: “drink the water!”.  I drink.  The voice: “greater strength is required.”  I think: maybe I need a dragon.

Next I’m in a high place, trapped on a ledge – it’s a place where great forces meet and clash.  I can see dragons flying but they do not see me and I don’t know how to call them.  Then I feel the hot breath of one red, fiery dragon passing close by and I leap onto his back.  He is my dragon and we know each other well.  I hang onto his big, red pulsing neck and he speaks to me.

“I am the dragon.  There’s a part of me I didn’t know.  It’s ineffectual.  I fly and I fly with this ‘thing’ on my back.”

“Dragon, dragon, do you remember the beginning of the world?”

“I remember a place of old time.  There was a city of great men.  It’s whereabouts have been forgotten.  But it exists within the dragon world.”

“Do you want to go there, dragon?  Do you know the way?”

“The way is by your desire.”

“Then we will fly there on the wings of my desire.  I will go there now.”

That was the dream.  Looking back, I can say that quite a lot of it has come to pass, if we take the boulders as a kind of kundabuffer (see Gurdjieff’s Beelzebub), the water a symbol for kundalini or chi, and the dragon as ….well as a source of power and transportation through the worlds.  And today, as water pours off the hill at Brechfa, I remember last year when the water was spilling over the road and into my gate (as in photo above), and I was terrified of being flooded.  I would stand at the window watching the rain and cry, wishing desperately for it to stop. 

We are all scared of being flooded, and it is true that if you practice meditation or other related activities the boulders willl begin to shift and the ‘waters’ to surge and flow.  Maybe you have jumps of perception, or moments when you see nothingness, or the world disappears.  Maybe you have a sense of the great men and women of the Holy City (something much bigger than just a Judaeo-Christian thing, by the way).  Maybe you have a glimpse of what is behind the mask of reality, behind the sound of the running water or the swooping birds or the sales shoppers returning fagged-out on the tube.  And maybe it is very scary indeed, to have all you know swept away in an instant.  It doesn’t happen normally  because we don’t truly see, we just flash up photographs of what we have seen before.  We just repeat our old patterns, so that no insight, no illumination or revelation can break through.

Which is why this year, for my one New Year’s resolution, I have decided to follow the advice of a wise Welshman who once said to me: “you’re not living, you’re repeating!”  I’ve been pondering what he meant for years and now I think I know, so from tomorrow: I will live and not repeat!

 

‘What remains’ versus ‘Top of the Lake’ – no contest!

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The closing scenes of What Remains on BBC 1 last night left me gasping with disbelief while also gulping with spasms of laughter, a painful combination.  Various people staggered around covered in blood, having been whacked with bags of ice, died at their own hand or been pranged with a bow and arrow.   I had given the 4-part murder a chance of coming good and was watching the last episode on my new 32″ Smart TV (previously had a teeny tele).  Now I was seething with frustration and disgust.  Even in razor-sharp HD, I didn’t care a damn for any of the characters – each one was barely 2-dimensional.  The baddies were bad all the way through, except when they were bland.  The goodies (the old cop, played by Threlfell and the young pregnant woman) were just….good.  So when most of them met a gory end, I didn’t mind at all.  The plot was complex and clunky, but, when characterisation is thin, plot chicanery doesn’t work.   There were some good actors in there, but they had nothing much to act on.

Now, I know ‘dark’ is fashionable and I don’t mind ‘dark’ because I was a sincere admirer of Top of the Lake’ which got about as dark as you can get – no, the problem is, I think, that the power-possessors in British TV  just don’t get why we viewers  admire the Scandi-noirs and the TOTL and The Wire so much, why we enjoy them so much.  We like them because we are given time to get to know the characters, we are not rushed.  And the characters, especially in the wonderful Wire are deep, contradictory, surprising, both dark and light, like real human beings are.  When Tui is saved in TOTL, when the young black snitch is executed by his best friend in The Wire, when the PM’s marriage collapses in Borgen, we really care. We weep, we rejoice, we recognise that something worthwhile is being said about human nature.  But us Brits seem to have lost the ability to reflect the truth about human nature in our dramas.  Instead we do bland and sentimental on the one hand (New Tricks?) and  horror movies masquerading as serious drama (What Remains) on the other.  We seem to be scared of depth.  There is something worrying and decadent about this and I am depressed not to be proud of British drama.  See, the end of TOTL, where Robin edges into the paedophiles’ cellar, gun in one hand and mobile phone videoing in the other, her erstwhile boss expiring from gun wound outside the door, is as horrific and bloody as you can get, and yet, I could watch it again and again because I care about Robin, about the kids and even about her evil boss, Al.  That’s the alchemy of a great drama.

TOP OF THE LAKE – violence, abuse and hatred – why we love it.

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I really loved Top of the Lake.  Yes, it had flaws, inconsistencies, threads which never got tied up, but it was intense, shocking and haunting. I could not get the brutal ending out of my mind.  But I felt throughout in safe hands with Jane Campion and her co-writer, Gerard Lee .  As Linda Grant commented on Twitter, it was a joy to watch a detective series with no pornographically blood-spattered or mutilated corpses of women in it.  Campion has wondered, in an interview, why she, as a ‘sort of Buddhist’, ends up making films about violence and hatred.  Well, the truth is that these are the big bugbears of life on earth, and, if we can’t sort them out soon, we have a short future.

But can we sort them out?  Trouble is, they are so attractive!  I love to get angry, especially righteously angry.  It makes me feel powerful and alive.  Here’s a story: there was a man who decided to hate me.  He had done wrong to a friend of mine when she was vulnerable and, in defending her, I got involved and he included me in his hatred.  I am not used to being hated – I am sure people often find me annoying or irritating but I don’t arouse much actual hate, so  to feel his piercing eyes on me one day when I was sitting innocently watching a film, was an unpleasant and uncanny experience.

I started to fantasize about what I would do if I met him in the street.  I imagined the contemptuous words I would speak, how I would be unafraid to slap his face or give him a push.  The one day, as I approached the door of my favourite coffee shop,there he was waiting in the queue. I paused: could I trust myself not to go in there and smack him?    I could easily end up in the local co-shop, with a charge of GBH.  I turned round and went home.

It was only when I discussed this with a few friends that I realised how serious it was and saw that I needed to sort myself out.  Sure, this guy was a pathetic idiot, but I was using him to arouse and indulge all my own latent anger (I have Glaswegian roots and have hit people in the past, sorry Gita).  I sat and thought it out: how would I react if I met him, how could I respond without getting snagged up in the anger-hatred cycle?  It took me ages to think of a strategy: I realised all I could say was ‘let’s put it behind us’, and, if he would not, I would have to walk away.  How dull, how unsatisfying, how undramatic.  How right.

I noticed, reading some reviews of Top of the Lake, that there were some pretty vicious comments about it from readers: people spitting venom about a series which they had hardly watched.  Why?  Surely the normal thing, if you don’t like a programme, is to switch it off?  But no, these folk had to get their punch in and maybe the fact that Jane Campion is a woman, a feminist and a truth-teller was what really got their goats.  I hope so – oops, there I go, indulging again.

The Crystal Palace, Doctor Death and Miss Norris

My friend, Mollie, says she is going to start a ‘Death Cafe’.  You eat cake, talk about death, and drink pleasant beverages, but no alcohol.  Apparently they are spreading like wildfire, and Mollie seems a good person to be in charge, since she has had many a brush with Dr Death in her life, and seems to have less fear of him than most of us.  Having just been sun-bathing on a grave in my graveyard, I know my own attitude to be more ambivalent: on the one hand I feel death to be the end (I have always felt that the people in my Welsh graves would have been so exhausted from a life of toil on the farm that blot-out would be a relief) whilst on the other, I often sense the presence of dead people in my life – in dreams, thoughts and funny feelings while at certain places.  Before I bought the chapel I felt sure that the people in the graveyard wanted me to have it.  When a friend announced that her boyfriend was interested in buying it, I retorted: ‘oh no, they want a woman!’

Anyway, as I drift towards old age myself, I think about death a lot more, and today I was remembering an old lady I used to visit in my youth.  Her name was ‘Miss Norris’ – in those days 17 years olds would not have addressed 80-somethings by their first names.  My school had a project whereby sixth-formers could volunteer to befriend a lonely old person.  Miss N and I liked each other.  She lived near the Crystal Palace in South London, or rather near where it had once stood.  This impressed me from the start, since I already had a romantic feeling about the place.  She told me she had been to school there, had even played the violin in an orchestra there.  But, although she watched it burn down, in great dismay, on that terrible day in 1936, she was not actually in it.  The smoke hung around for days after, she said. Furthermore, she had been an independent woman from the start, flying around the countryside in the sidecar of her brother’s motor-bike and not bothering to get married.  She had a career too of course, though now I cannot remember what.

Now in her eighties, her eyesight was failing and she would make me very strong tea in grubby cups.  I drank the tea of course, and ate the cakes, but made myself a mental note to clean my cups properly when I got old.  However nowadays, when my glasses are not to be found, I fail to notice the cobwebs and dirty windows in my own house, so am obviously going the same way as Miss N already.

The last time I saw her I was about to go off to university.  She confided in me that ‘they’ (the doctor maybe, since she appeared to have no family) wanted her to go into a home, since her poor eyesight was making life dangerous for her.  ‘Do you think I should?’ she asked. ‘Oh no!’ I instantly replied, appalled at the thought of my heroine being constrained and controlled in such a place.  When I came home after my first term, ‘they’ told me that she had walked out into the road without seeing a bus coming and fallen under its wheels. She died soon after in hospital.  With all the conceit of an 18 year old, my sorrow was shot through with guilt:  was I to blame?  Of course I was not – she only wanted me to confirm her own instinct.   I often think of her, and what she taught me about being old.

And the Crystal Palace?  Later in life, it gained a mystical, even metaphysical importance for me – you can read about that in Becoming the Enchanter if you want – but I am not going there now since this post is in honour of Miss Norris, her inspiring life and her intelligently engineered death.

The Horror of Pobol y Cwm

I am a faithful admirer of the Welsh language soap, Pobol y Cwm, shown daily on S4C, but this week’s episodes are reaching a  level of bloody melodrama which is trying even my forgiving eye – and stomach.  It is hard not to snigger as the wonderfully saturnine Richard Lynch (who plays reforming bad boy, Garry Monk) starts dragging the corpse of his rival, Kevin (Iwan Roberts) into hiding as the police buzz at the door and partner, Sheryl (Lisa Victoria), who has clocked Kev with an iron (because he raped her the day before) has hysterics. The actors must be having a hard time taking all this seriously.  And this strand is being woven in with another about Macs (Rhys Bidder), raped by a nasty psycho, and now revealed to have Hepatitis B, possibly infecting half the cwm, with whom he has, for one weird reason or another, had sex.

It has made me think about why all soaps seem to go down this particular drain eventually. East Enders is unwatchable now because of it.  It is a degeneration of the storytelling which can make soaps so entertaining into something daft and even a bit pornographic.  I don’t mind the dark themes – after all human life is full of suffering and we all lose what we love, often as a result of our own bad behaviour – and in some ways soaps are more truthful about our lives than romantic comedies or thrillers. But there are limits!  Or rather, there are ways of developing stories without resorting always to the same old melodramatic tropes.  I just dread watching tonight’s episode: supposing Kev starts banging in the boot of the car he’s been dumped in, and comes back to life to wreak terrible revenge?  I don’t think I can face it.

I have a suggestion for the PyC production team: bring in a new character, a mysterious Tibetan Buddhist (plenty of them in Wales) who wants to set up a Buddhist centre in the village, and transform all their rage into equanimity by teaching them to meditate.  The village divides into those who like the idea and those who are against the thought of non-Welsh-speaking immigrants arrogantly displacing the power of the chapel.  One of the local girls falls for the lama and he resists the temptation for only so long, and then….oh hang on I am going down the same old road myself!  Conflict, battles, hatred, murder, remorse, misery, loss and suffering.  It’s true: equanimity just doesn’t cut the mustard when it comes to gripping drama.  And of course I will watch, just to see how bad it can get.