MOVIE MONDAYS: LEG, ARM, HEAD

Late last year, after a Q&A event with the director of Butter on the Latch, Josephine Decker, I met the ingenious Scout Stuart for the first time. Scout is a Manchester based filmmaker whose work I had come across a couple years earlier, unknown to me at the time. At one of the then Cornerhouse's Filmed Up event that showcased short films made by filmmakers in the North West of the UK, I watched the very weird but oddly captivating film, The Pig Child - a film whose script was co-written by Scout.  And now I have the pleasure in giving you a sneak peek at her narrative directorial debut: Leg, Arm, Head.

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Selected to be screened at the 2016 BFI Flare festival (which runs from 16th - 27th March), Leg, Arm, Head is a short film about a dancer who contemplates the notion of movement beyond the constraints of ballet in terms of precision and technique. My knowledge of ballet is limited to the few years I spent at dance school with the dream of becoming a prima ballerina (not fully grasping what that actually meant) which was later quietly destroyed when my weight came into question. However, I never stopped imagining of a world where I could soar across stage-after-stage with an abundance of grace and command the attention of those watching me with perfectly executed grand jetés here and a series of awe-inspiring pirouettes there. Anyway, back to Leg, Arm, Head....

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'Leg, Arm, Head' Trailer (2016) fromScout Stuart on Vimeo.

After watching the film it occurred to me that although very little is said verbally, we, the audience, are still taken on a journey into the angular world of someone that tentatively entertains the idea of fluidity; you definitely get a glimpse of the emotions that the main character is feeling. Being a film that uses dance as a medium of expression you may expect the soundtrack to be centre stage alongside the main characters but funnily enough, for Leg, Arm, Head we are able to appreciate the value and presence of silence and background noise. Starring Hannah BuckleyEtta Fusi and some dancers associated with Yorkshire Dance company, this artistic film is one you should see if you get the chance to (screens at BFI Flare Festival in March) regardless of if you have a history with dance or not. It serves as a reminder that sometimes you just need to loosen up and embrace being be off pointe... yep, I went there. Ha!

Mo x

Find out more: 

Leg, Arm Head | blog || twitter

Scout Stuart | blog || twitter

LIFE EDIT: JANUARY

And just like that January has rushed off yet again leaving us a little breathless and more than ready to wet our feet in the puddles of goals we are yet to reach. January 2016 was a very busy one indeed for me. It was the one where I was extra conscious about my spending habits because as all workers know, January is the longest month when waiting for a visit from pay day. It saw me panicking relentlessly over the mistakes I made at work and at home which seemed to agglomerate and mutate into an ever-draining monster leaving me more forlorn than at peace. It was hard man, not going to lie but here we are, in February; we must be stronger than we think... right?

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If I am completely honest though, January was not all bad. I rediscovered my love and deep appreciation for animation and illustration; found out what I sound like; caught up with a few friends; had an exterminator swing by to investigate my suspicions about there being an extra flatmate (a.k.a. a mouse/rat/light-and-quick-on-its-feet-creature) living with me who wasn't helping with the bills; hung out with the siblings; learnt a handful of new recipes; helped out with a documentary related to female empowerment; and breathed life into my art supply like never before. Last month was tough but it did have its golden moments too.

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I need to make this clear, I cannot draw or paint; a newborn can draw better than me. However, I am having a blast teaching myself how to draw objects and people that resemble the subjects in reality and colour them in using copic markers and watercolour paint. Usually, when I go on YouTube I look for videos that are film related (like this one) or by people I enjoy getting to know better (like this YouTuber) or can clarify a few things (like this video or this one). And when I go on Instagram, my feed is filled mostly with pictures from friends, bloggers I follow (like this lady), amazing IG accounts found randomly on my explore page (like 1924us), a few celebrities whose work I really enjoy (like this one)  and some YouTubers whose content I really like (like this one or this one). Lately, when I go on either of these platforms I actively search for videos or pictures done by animators and illustrators or about these mega cool people and the art form they're into [Warning: Expect more posts about animation and illustration and art in general in the future]. It is so much fun! I have noticed though that I spend more time watching others draw than actually doing it myself so I will let you know at the end of the month if I have changed that.

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I interview people more often than before and I must say I never once imagined how it must feel being the one answering the questions. Last month I was not interviewed per say but I was asked a question and had my answer recorded. It was bizarre. For my review of the Mighty Heart Theatre company's show 'When I Feel Like Crap' which was a part of HOME's Push 2016 programme, I thought of what I wanted to say, wrote it down, headed to HOME and attempted to verbalise my feelings about the show in order for it to be recorded. I had practised saying said coherent feelings and assumed it would be a breeze. I assumed wrong. My heart was racing, I was all giggly and for the life of me could not understand why I was finding it so hard. But as we all know, I got there in the end. And funnily enough I felt so good afterwards I made a note to try and work on that kind of "interview" a bit more. Maybe create my own personal podcast - that was a joke... I think. Another cool interview-y type thing I did was help out with a documentary that is about how society views women. All I had to do was read an excerpt of a book that captured my attention into a camera. Simple. Except it was not so simple. Well, it was and wasn't. I think I was just baffled by the notion of me doing it in the first place as I am incredibly used to seeing other people on a screen and not myself. But I did it and I did not die of nerves/embarrassment... then again I have not seen the final footage so there is still time? To be fair though, the lovely girls running this project made me feel incredibly comfortable and it went by so quickly I really did have nothing to worry about. They say blogging helps you find your voice and I must add that video and audio recordings can too. And mine sounds astonishingly weird and alien to me.

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Food. Food is awesome especially when gobbled up well. And by well, I mean either sat in front of the TV or with family and friends. I love catching up with friends over food. A couple weeks ago I found myself in town with a couple friends looking at what Home Sense had to offer that day until suddenly the clock struck dinner time and we had to decide where to sate our hunger. We finally ended up in a booth in Frankie & Benny's, a restaurant I had not stepped foot in in years (I even want to go as far as saying over a decade...but I won't...today). Anything with BBQ sauce and I am there -so much for healthier food choices haha. I had the burger and it. was. delicious. However, as I am trying to be more conscious of what it is that I eat every day I am having to flip through the cookbooks that I have for ideas as I am tired of my usual go-to dishes. And what has helped with that is buying cookware and dinnerware and the prospect of working on my food photography. Now, I am by no means a food photographer but the gifted ones whose work are all over my feed have played a part in me deeply appreciating the food I have been blessed with and photographing it. I will keep you posted on how that goes.

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So, that is a snapshot of what went down in January. There were moments where I wanted to quit;where I was found crying on my yoga mat because I had to let go of the extra weight I was carrying everywhere; where I went to bed around 8 pm because I was just so burnt out; where I felt terribly lost and lonely and left in the dark; and many more depressing scenarios. But I am choosing not to dwell on those and sharing some of the lanterns that lit up my path that cold and wet month. I really hope your January this year was a good one, I would love to hear all about it. 

Mo x

MOVIE MONDAYS: ROOM

I am beyond glad I got to see this film at the cinema. I am not one who religiously follows any film award shows be it the BAFTASAcademy Awards or what-not but I definitely think Room needs to win two handfuls of awards because it blew my mind. I mean, although I did have an idea of what to expect based on what Emma Donoghue (the film's screenwriter and author of the book from which this film is based on) had to say about Room at The Hollywood Reporter's Writers Round Table but man did the film have much more to say.

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As far as child actors go, Jacob Tremblay (The Smurfs 2) is definitely one to watch. Jeez! I think he is fantastic in this film; he plays the role of Jack, a young boy with a wild imagination - whose point of view is in the driving seat of Room (most of the time) - in a way that comes across as genuine with regular doses of honest innocence. And as far as actresses go, Brie Larson (TrainwreckThe Spectacular Now21 Jump Street) is one mega talented lady. Her portrayal of Ma, Jack's loving mother is such that I found all her actions immediately justifiable and her state of mind so easily communicated with and without dialogue. She is the definition of raw. Colour me impressed folks. Colour. Me. Impressed.

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Source: A24 Films

Lenny Abrahamson (FrankWhat Richard DidAdam &Paul) was sat in the director's chair for the production of this film adaptation of Emma Donoghue's book, Room, and boy did he, Emma and the entire crew do a great job in telling this story. Room is a harrowingly heart-warming tale of a mother and son who, within a confined space, find the capacity to love, grow and see beyond their confinement giving it the illusion that it really is bigger on the inside. The film begins in a way that immediately sucks out the noise, calls out your inner child and fills you with child-like wonder and it ends in a similar fashion. The cinematography allows us too to feel like this 10' x 10' room is larger than it actually is and the film score, with its perfect dynamic rhythm, guides us fondly from scene to scene. I REALLY like this film. I mean, yes of course the situation Jack and Ma are in is not one I wish on anyone, however, the manner in which their story is told is both eloquent and powerful.

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Source: A24 Films

Room is a film you should watch if you are looking for something to watch. Period. Now, you may know already how I feel about film trailers (basically, that the art of creating good film trailers is dying) but the only negative thing I have to say about something associated with Room is that the trailer gives away FAR TOO MUCH (!). So instead of watching the trailer, just know this:I am yet to meet someone who hated it. Okay, fair enough I do not know that many people but from the reviews I've read and heard I have not seen or heard a bad thing about the film. If you have seen Room I would love to hear your thoughts on it, positive or positive.

Mo x

AND THAT'S MY STORY: BEN HOPKINS, FILMMAKER

I have been intrigued to find out more about the creators behind projects that I have been fortunate enough to see and/ or hear for a long time now so I've decided to do something about it. And That's My Story is a series on this blog that shares with you a bit about the creators and talent I've met along the way and their journey towards fulfilling their dreams; it will run for as long as I can find people who are willing to share their story. Today, I would like to introduce you to Ben Hopkins.

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I met Ben briefly after the screening of his film Hasret(Yearning) last week Monday and asked if he would mind taking part in this series. He kindly agreed to answer some questions about what filmmaking means to him, his preferred camera kit and his latest film. Enjoy!

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Still from Hasret (Yearning)  //Source: Photo Courtesy of HOME

HELLO BEN! WAS BEING A FILMMAKER ALWAYS IN THE CARDS FOR YOU? AND WHICH CAME FIRST, YOUR NEED TO TELL A STORY WITH WORDS OR VISUALLY?

No, but I wanted to be a writer since I was 8 or 9.  I was about 16 when my school made a deal with the local repertory cinema (they still existed then, back in the 80s), that we could get tickets for 50p for screenings before 5pm weekdays. I took up the offer and went to see some films – films I had no idea existed (until then I had just seen the usual Hollywood films – Star Wars, Indiana Jones etc). In the first week I saw movies by directors like FelliniHerzog, Godard. Very soon I was hooked, and my ambitions changed from writing towards film-making.

WHAT ARE TYPCAL DAYS FOR YOU AS A SCREENWRITER AND DIRECTOR DURING PRE-PRODUCTION, PRODUCTION AND POST-PRODUCTION STAGES OF A PROJECT?

Since my son was born, I work in an office – I used to work at home. Now I cycle 15 minutes to my office to start work around 9am. At 1pm I cycle home and have lunch with my wife, and then a nap (all writers deserve a nap). Then I cycle back for 3pm, work until 6 or 6.30pm and then cycle back home to play with my son and put him to  bed. As you can see the life of a professional writer is much like many other office job… you just need to put in the hours. But there’s one advantage: I am my own boss.

Post production is much the same – we edited HASRET in my office on rented equipment – it’s a lot cheaper than hiring a room in some expensive post-production facility.

But pre-production and production are of course radically different. You can be working any hours at all, often shooting all night and coming home at dawn, drinking my first glass of wine as my son is having his breakfast… And whilst researching and preparing a film like HASRET we were just walking miles and miles through all the neighbourhoods of Istanbul where tourists and foreign visitors never or rarely go, stopping anyone who seemed interesting and talking with them, entering doorways that looked mysterious or seemed somehow promising… and it’s through these long walks, talking with whoever you come across, that you meet a huge range of people that in a normal life or in a normal job you would never meet.

So those are the two very different sides of my work – a rather controlled, even dull, office job… that every now and then is completely transformed into an adventure, an exploration of the hidden corners of life on this planet. It’s a very satisfying combination.

Still from Hasret (Yearning) // Source: Photo Courtesy of HOME

IS IT EASIER TO DIRECT A PROJECT YOU'VE WRITTEN THE SCRIPT FOR? WOULD YOU SAY YOU PREFER DIRECTING A FILM BASED ON YOUR OWN SCRIPT OR SOMEONE ELSE'S?

I’ve never directed someone else’s work, so I don’t really know!

WHEN FILMING, WHAT CAMERA GEAR DO YOU LEAN MORE TOWARDS? 

It depends entirely on the film. With HASRET we were shooting much of it hand-held on busy streets, or in rather dodgy neighbourhoods at night time, so we wanted to be as inconspicuous as possible. For this reason we chose the “Black Magic Pocket” 16mm chip camera for these scenes – as the camera is just as big as your hand, like a normal stills camera. As a result no one really realised we were shooting a film, which really helped us blend in. For the more touristic, “normal” scenes, and for interviews, we used the more professional/standard Sony F55 camera, for its higher resolution. If I were shooting a fiction film with great actors, I would aim to get an Alexa or some other top-range camera. As I say, it all depends on the film you’re making…

HOW DID THE IDEA FOR "HASRET" COME ABOUT? AND DOES THE FILM BEAR ANY RESEMBLANCE TO WHAT YOU ORIGINALLY THOUGHT IT WAS GOING TO BE? 

[Ben kindly sent me a document titled 'HASRET: An Introduction' detailing the answer to this question; here is an excerpt]

"In the mid 2000s, I had a brief, enthusiastic discussion with Thierry Garrel, then head of documentary at ARTE France, about my plan to make a film about the writer W.G. Sebald. Garrel was excited by the idea, and turned out to be as much a fan of the German writer as I was myself. We shared our impressions of his work, and agreed that it was only a matter of time before Sebald’s particular blend of fact and fiction would find its way into documentary film-making. Indeed, we both expressed surprise that his intoxicating, unusual mix of historical research and dreamlike invention had not really yet found its echo in cinema. Garrel left his job shortly after our meeting, and I never made my film about Sebald. But the ideas that we had discussed in the meeting remained in my thoughts.

For instance, around the same kind of time (2006), some director friends and I discussed an idea to make a portmanteau film about London: Andrew Kötting would do South London, John Hardwick, East London, Vito Rocco West London, and I would make a segment about North London, where I grew up and spent most of my life. Immediately I thought along Sebaldian lines – a mix of objective, factual observations of North London, plus “my” fictions about the place. My fictional interventions in the truth of North London would take a much more absurd, comic, even silly form than W.G. Sebald’s ever would (the tone of Sebald’s work, albeit at times wryly comic, is predominantly melancholy): my London humour is irrepressible… and so the fictions I would use to blur the fact-fiction barrier would have taken a rather comedic tone.

The London portmanteau film remained an idea between film-making friends, and we never took it further. However  remembered the idea when I was asked to submit a short film idea for a portmanteau film about Istanbul in 2009, when Istanbul was about to be European Capital of Culture. By then I had left the UK and was living in Istanbul. Again I turned to the approach of mixing factual observation of the city with my own personal fictions – in this case my magical sensations about the Cats of the old European centre – I felt that the cats of Istanbul were not real, normal cats, but some kind of magical, divine spirits.

This Istanbul portmanteau film was never made. I remember feeling a sense of regret about both the unmade London film and the unmade Istanbul film. I felt I had come across a very interesting way of making a city portrait; a mixture of objective truth and absurdist, personal fiction. When I saw Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg I was at first a bit troubled – (that Guy had had a similar idea and got there first) – but then it reinforced me in my wish to make such a film.  I became convinced that I had to make a “personal” film again; a film that came very much from my idiosyncratic view of the world – my last film PAZAR – BİR TİCARET MASALI (2008) was a relatively traditional, objective, Realist work, and my next film WELCOME TO KARASTAN (2014) was not my original idea (the idea for the film came from (Pawel Pawlikowski) … it now felt like ages since I had made my last “personal” films – the idiosyncratic fiction THE NINE LIVES OF TOMAS KATZ (1999), and the playful documentary 37 USES FOR A DEAD SHEEP (2005). Having, with TOMAS KATZ, already made a film about London, I decided to concentrate my ideas on my new home town: Istanbul. In doing so I knew I was entering a long tradition of poetry, music, books and films about this much-written-about city. My guide through this complex tradition was my wife Ceylan Ünal Hopkins, whose contribution to the project from its beginnings is recognised in her co-writing credit; (for a non-Turkish, recent Istanbul inhabitant like me to create an Istanbul portrait like HASRET without Ceylan’s help, would have been difficult, if not impossible.)"

Still from Hasret (Yearning) // Photo courtesy of HOME

WHAT WERE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES YOU ENCOUNTERED WHILST FILMING AND PROMOTING "HASRET"?

Filming it was quite easy, as I had a great crew and a committed production behind us. We had fun together, and the crew had to act as well, which they enjoyed. I hope the fun we had is somehow visible on screen.

But it’s been very difficult getting the film out there. I’m relatively “known” as a film-maker in Turkey and Germany, and to an extent also in the UK, but there are large swathes of the globe where my work is pretty much unknown.

So, as a non-famous film-maker, with an unusual and not-easily-label-able film, and a film without any famous people or celebrities in it, and no actors, and not about Major Issues of Today … it is REALLY difficult to get it shown anywhere. I’m afraid to say the film was rejected by pretty much all the festivals we sent it to.

So, it’s sad but true, the main challenge is getting the film SEEN by anyone at all!

Still from Hasret (Yearning)// Photo courtesy of HOME

YOU'VE WORKED ON FEATURES, SHORTS, DOCUMENTARIES AND HAVE WRITTEN NOVELS. ARE THERE OTHER FORMS OF STORYTELLING THAT YOU ARE INTERESTED IN EXPLORING AND IF SO, WHICH FORM ARE YOU LIKELY TO TRY NEXT?

Jeez, that’s enough already, innit? I’ll be very happy if I can finish my present novel (I hope this year) and make my next film (I hope next year). It’s a struggle to get anything made these days, and I’ll be really happy if I can continue as I am, just about making a living as an artist who does his own work just as he likes it. That’s already an achievement, I think.

But who knows. Maybe I’ll write a play some time soon ☺

IT APPEARS THAT THE PLETHORA OF RICH STORIES DIFFERENT COUNTRIES HAVE TO TELL IS SOMETHING THAT CATCHES YOUR ATTENTION. WHAT'S THE NEXT COUNTRY YOU PLAN ON GETTING TO KNOW ON A DEEPER LEVEL?

Turkey is such a complicated, conflicted and rich place, it’s taken up most of my energy and attention in the last decade. Maybe I need to look at somewhere more peaceful and simple… like Norway. Or Liechtenstein..

AND LASTLY, CAN YOU PLEASE SHARE 5 FILMS THAT HAVE LEFT A LASTING IMPRESSION ON YOU?

Off the top of my head, here are five of my favourite films:

Sunrise by Murnau

Barry Lyndon by Kubrick

Team America: World Police by Trey Parker

The Innocents by Jack Clayton

Edvard Munch by Peter Watkins

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I would like to take this chance to thank Ben once again for taking the time to answer my questions; to find out more about Ben and when his films will be screened, you can check out his website.I'm sure you all know this by now but learning a thing or two about filmmaking is my idea of fun. And if you are anything like me you'd have found what he had to say informative and interesting. I hope you are all having a lovely and fun day my friends. Until next time!

Mo x