SPOTLIGHT April 2018: Lynne Ramsey, Glaswegian, Director of YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE

LYNNE RAMSAY HEAD 1Writer/director Lynne Ramsay is yet another confirmation that Scotland is one of the coolest places on the planet for cultivating artists. Ramsay has created a multi-hyphenate career as writer, director, producer, and cinematographer. A number of distinguished film world insiders have called her one of the greatest living filmmakers. As evidenced by her career and loyal fans, it appears that she stands squarely in the middle of those Scots who don’t suffer fools, and for better or worse, dance to their own drums. Continue reading…

SMALL DEATHS AND AUSPICIOUS BEGINNINGS

awfjspotlightsmallsmallGlasgow has brought the world a long list of visual and performing artists, many of whom — like actor Billy Connolly, architect Charles Mackintosh, artist Susan Philipsz, and writer Denise Mina — are known for their strong-willed and freethinking perspectives. Born in that city in 1969, Lynne Ramsay expressed herself through writing and painting, and became so fascinated by photography that she studied it at Napier College in Edinburgh. She continued by expanding her interests and honing her skills at the National Film and Television School in Beaconsfield, England, where she specialized in cinematography. Her experiences in school instilled in her the aesthetic of telling a story less through exposition, and more through the use of bold images accompanied and underscored by the integration of artistic sound design. Always passionate about writing her own material, Ramsay has written or adapted nearly all of the screenplays for her shorts and feature films.

Ramsay’s graduation short, Small Deaths, won the Prix du Jury at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival. The film, intriguingly structured as three vignettes in the life of a young girl, was filmed with non-professional actors who delivered stunning performances under Ramsay’s direction. Small Deaths was a portent of things to come.

Ramsay has repeated her debut feat, not only at Cannes two years later with her short Gasman, but with each of her subsequent projects, all of which have been lauded in festivals around the world. Small Deaths also signaled Ramsay’s ongoing interest in intense subject matter that examines the perspectives of children, often damaged by circumstances and dealing with guilt, grief, and trauma. She studiously avoids cliches and embraces character studies that always reveal something new and unanticipated about the human condition.

A LYRICAL, BLEAK AESTHETIC

lynne ramsey ratcatcher posterRamsay’s debut feature Ratcatcher (1999) was an exploration of Glaswegian working class circumstances during the 1970s, and once again focused on the story of a child in crisis. James, at age 12, deals with overwhelming guilt over accidentally causing a friend’s death. Ratcatcher was relentlessly bleak, but lyrical. In the film, moments of beauty in the midst of despair define Ramsay’s vision to be singularly stylized and gritty, with a growing auteur-like presentation of story. Winning an avalanche of awards — including the Carl Foreman Award for Most Promising Newcomer at the BAFTAs, the Douglas Hickox Award at the British Independent Film Awards, and a nomination for the Un Certain Regard Award at Cannes — the film confirmed Ramsay as an outstanding talent.

On Ratcatcher, Ramsay also signaled her ongoing collaboration with women working in film by hiring female composer Rachel Portman, editor Lucia Zucchetti, production designer Jane Morton, and art director Robina Nicholson.

Morvern Callar (2002) was Ramsay’s first adaptation from another source. It is a film that fully reveals Ramsay’s skill as visual narrator able to capture and express emotion though images as simple as that of an old woman pointing to snow outside her window. It is not, as is the case with all of Ramsay’s filmography, a movie that Hollywood would expect a female filmmaker to make. Witness the scene where Morvern cuts up and disposes of her dead lover’s body.

Samantha Morton in Moevwen Callar

Samantha Morton in Moevwen Callar

With Movern Callar, Ramsay demonstrated that her skills as an artistic storyteller could be applied to Alan Warner’s cult novel with equal impact and success as with material she originated. The film is also a sterling example of the importance of music and sound design as essential elements in Ramsay’s cinematic art. And, again, her work with actors brought Samantha Morton, starring as the anti-heroic young woman who attempts to create a new life out of her boyfriend’s sudden suicide, accolades from Cannes, rave reviews and the British Independent Film Award for Best Actress.

Continuing her explorations into nihilism and emotional deterioration, Ramsay went on to adapt, direct, and produce the critical sensation We Need to Talk about Kevin (2011). Based on the novel by Lionel Shriver, the film is about the experience of a mother, Eva dealing with the aftermath of a school shooting perpetrated by her son. The film brought kudos to the luminous and ever-compelling Tilda Swinton as Eva, and brought greater fame for breakout star Ezra Miller, who played Kevin. We Need to Talk about Kevin was named one of the best films of the year by a number of critics, following was was a rocky road during development and on its path to release.

Tilda Swinton in We Need To Talk About Kevin

Tilda Swinton in We Need To Talk About Kevin

LESSONS LEARNED

The announcement in 2001 that Ramsay would be adapting and directing Alice Sebold’s heartbreaking bestseller The Lovely Bones, which once again examined a young life, death, grief, and guilt, was exciting news for the filmmaker’s growing number of dedicated fans. Ramsay had read the unfinished manuscript, and immediately committed to work on it. Unfortunately, creative differences ensued, and she parted ways with the project, with the finished film becoming a poorly-received release for director Peter Jackson. This was not the last time creative differences led to speed bumps in Ramsey’s otherwise soaring career.

In 2013, she left the helm of Jane Got a Gun, just as filming was to get underway. When speaking about possible repercussions resulting from her walking away from the film, Ramsay said she’d heard someone ask if she’d been ‘on her period.’ She’s indicated that from her perspective, she felt the producers getting farther and farther away from her vision, and reported that she’d been being asked for covering shots, with the intent, she feared, they would do re-edits. There were rumors circulated that Ramsay is difficult to work with, yet throughout her career and in all of her completed projects, she has made lasting friendships with both cast and crew.

The fallout from the Jane Got a Gun debacle led to Ramsay going to Santorini in Greece to recover and regroup, and move forward, both personally and professionally. It was in Santorini that she began writing the adaptation of You Were Never Really Here. The message, if there is one to be delivered via Ramsay’s travails, is not to underestimate a Glaswegian artist. Trifle with them at your peril, as they know their own integrity, and will stand by it.

FEARLESS FILMMAKING

lynne ramsay you were never posterIt took six years from the success of We Need to Talk about Kevin to the release of Ramsay’s new film, You Were Never Really Here, which opens theatrically in the US on April 6, 2018. The film, based on a novella by writer and raconteur Jonathan Ames, is about Joe, a veteran with PTSD, who tracks down and rescues sex trafficked girls. When violence is necessary, as it often is, he uses a ball peen hammer. He lives his days struggling with depression, constant flashbacks, and suicidal ideation. His only moments of joy involve caring for his dementia-suffering mother.

During the process of writing You Were Never Really Here and and preparing for filming, Ramsay imagined and held firm to her ideal casting of Joaquin Phoenix as Joe. Her instincts were right, and the two proved to be a professional match made in cinema heaven. They have much in common. Both director and actor avoid social media, preferring to let their work speak for them. They also appreciate the balance of visuals, music, and character that make up the language of cinema, and see all aspects of filmmaking as collaborative. Pre-release, the film has garnered considerable awards buzz. Although an unfinished version of the film was shown at its Cannes premiere, it was given a seven minute standing ovation and Ramsay won Best Screenplay, with Phoenix winning Best Actor.

LYNNE RAMSAY HEAD 2 W POST

In You Were Never Really Here, Ramsay’s use of sound design and startling visuals continues, both with ever more dramatic effect. In fact, she has said with her next movie, she’d like to start her filmmaking process by creating the sound and music first, and then filming.

WHY WE CHOSE HER

lynne ramsay head closerThere is no question that Ramsay’s no-nonsense, straightforward style and her commitment to maintain her aesthetic and artistic vision would be met differently were she a man. What has to happen now, given the changes taking place in Hollywood, is that she be embraced for the master filmmaker she is, without regard to her gender. With each new project, she proves she is one of the best filmmakers working in the world today. She is interested in doing more studio films, including a superhero movie, but hasn’t gotten those offers. awfjspotlightsmallsmall She has said she could do anything. Movie lovers and cinematic history will be the better for her being able to prove it, in every way and as often as she wants. — Leslie Combemale

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Filmmaker Susan Walter on Preparation, Friendship and ALL I WISH — Nell Minow interviews

susan walterSusan Walter wrote and directed All I Wish, a romantic comedy that takes place on the same day each year, the birthday of Senna (Sharon Stone). Over seven years, we see the ups and downs of Senna’s relationship with her mother (Ellen Burstyn) and sometime boyfriend (Tony Goldwyn) and her sustaining friendships. After graduating from Harvard, she learning filmmaking from the ground up in the DGA Assistant Directors Training Program. She’s worked on television (Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, Melrose Place, Cheers, Caroline in the City) and movies (House Arrest, Alien: Resurrection). All I Wish is her first feature. Here, she talks changing her script to give the lead role to the actress she’d originally wanted to play the mother, and about what she learned as a talent producer who walked actors to and from set for seven years. Continue reading…

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LA CHANA — Review by Jennifer Merin

la chana posterCapturing all of the passion and personal expression that permeates flamenco and illuminates the dance form’s most engaging performers, Lucija Stojevic’s La Chana profiles the career and artistry of Antonia Santiago Amador, the hugely popular flamenco goddess revered by dance afficiandos for her force of nature spirit and extraordinary footwork. The great La Chana’s career peaked during the late 1960s, just before she inexplicably shunned her celebrity and mysteriously vanished from the dance world. Continue reading…

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Celebrating Women Cinematographers — Nikki Baughan reports

Rachel Morrison made history this year by becoming the first woman to be nominated for the best cinematography Oscar, for her raw, immersive work on Dee Rees’ Mudbound (2017). But that stellar achievement is something of a double-edged sword. It’s possible to be thrilled by her success, while also remaining frustrated that she’s the first woman to be so honoured by the Academy and that gender representation across all industry sectors remains so shameful. While the statistics are enduringly disheartening, women have been working tirelessly behind the camera since the earliest days of movies. So perhaps it’s time to replace that lament of ‘Where are the women?’ with a battle cry of ‘Here are the women’, to recognise and celebrate inclusivity were it exists, and to demand more of it. Continue reading….

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Ted Geohegan on Showing Respect in MOHAWK — Hope Madden interviews (Exclusive Guest Post)

Filmmaker Ted Geoghegan has been making horror movies since 2001 when he began writing primarily low-budget European horror. His award winning 2015 break out film. We Are Still Here, a haunted house tale starring beloved genre staple Barbara Crampton, marked him as a director worth attention. He leveraged that success to tell a story he’d been mulling for years, a genre hybrid that breaks new ground called Mohawk. Continue reading on THE FEMALE GAZE

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THE WEEK IN WOMEN: Inclusion is the 2018 Oscars theme, but Frances McDormand calls for more — Brandy McDonnell reports

Film Frances McDormandFrances McDormand undoubtedly sent people rushing to their Google search bars when she capped her Oscar acceptance with “two words: ‘inclusion rider.’” Most people are at least somewhat familiar with riders, which are provisional clauses in contracts, and an inclusion rider would be put into actors and other film workers’ contracts to ensure gender and racial equality in the hiring for the project. McDormand’s pointed comment epitomizes the overall theme of the 2018 Oscars, at which presenters and award winners continually made demands for inclusion and diversity, as well as equal opportunity and representation industry-wide. Continue reading on THE WEEK IN WOMEN.

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From The AWFJ Archive: MoMA’s Sally Potter Retrospective – Jennifer Merin comments

Let’s praise Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) curator Sally Berger for putting together a remarkable and well-deserved retrospective (July 7 to 24) of the films and video of Sally Potter, the brilliant British feminist moviemaker with a genuinely unique and fascinating vision.
Potter‘s films are never easy escapes, and she’s often had mixed reviews, but as director, writer, actress, dancer, choreographer and composer, Potter is a rare entity: the complete cinematic artist. She invites you to profound emotional insights and transports you to uncharted realms of imagination and intellect. Continue reading…

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Daniela Vega and Sebastien Lelio on A FANTASTIC WOMAN — Jessica Zack interviews

daniela vega crossed legsIn conversation with Daniela Vega, it becomes understandable why the word “natural” comes up repeatedly. Her appearance may be fabulously stylish, but it’s clear that one of her motivating beliefs, in her own life as well as in her mesmerizing portrayal of Marina in A Fantastic Woman, is that “some things, some rights, are so universal, so natural, they shouldn’t even be questioned.” Continue reading…

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SPOTLIGHT February 2018: Daniela Vega, Star of A FANTASTIC WOMAN, Chile’s Oscar Contender

daniela vega head glamawfjspotlightsmallsmallTrailblazers whose groundbreaking accomplishments change the world, clearing the way for those who follow in their footsteps, are often reluctant to draw attention to themselves. Their motivation is simply to be allowed to be themselves. So it is with Daniela Vega, the first openly transgender actress and model in Chile, and star of the Oscar-nominated A Fantastic Woman. Continue reading…

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Annette Bening on Being Gloria Grahame — Joanna Schneller interviews

In Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, Annette Bening tackles the scandalous film noir starlet. Crazy casting? After sitting down with Bening, it makes a lot of sense. Continue reading

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Filmmaker Alice Foulcher on Collaboration, Multitasking, Fame and THAT’S NOT ME — Interview by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas (Exclusive)

alice foulcher white shirtThat’s Not Me, the Australian independent comedy that premiered at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, and won audiences awards at both the Sydney Film Festival and Melbourne International Film Festival, was made with an extraordinarily low budget of $45,000 by filmmakers Gregory Erdstein and Alice Foulcher. Receiving rave reviews from The Guardian and Time Out, the self-funded comedy seems to exemplify a trend in Australian cinema, where creatives are finding alternate ways of making movies outside the orthodox framework of notoriously genre-shy formal, institutionalized funding bodies. The local and international acclaim for Foulcher and Erdstein’s breakout film promises the creative couple a bright future, and Foulcher here takes time to discuss the background of That’s Not Me, her feelings about the film industry in Australia, collaboration, fame and future work. Continue reading…

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Donald Sutherland on THE LEISURE SEEKER and Other Matters — Johanna Schneller interviews

Donald Sutherland won’t be seeing his new film, The Leisure Seeker. He sees very few of his films. His characters don’t want him to. Continue reading…

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Aaron Sorkin chats MOLLY’S GAME and First Time Directing — Interview by Jessica Zack

Aaron Sorkin knows that anytime a writer or actor decides to step behind the camera for the first time, the first question is usually whether directing has always been his or her dream. So the Academy Award-winning screenwriter (“The Social Network”) and playwright (“A Few Good Men”) sat down for a recent interview with a preemptive response at the ready. Continue reading…

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SPOTLIGHT January 2018: Mattie Do, Lao Filmmaker, Oscar Contender for DEAREST SISTER

awfjspotlightsmallsmallmattie do buddhistFilmmaker Mattie Do’s very name signifies a series of impressive firsts: Lao’s first woman director and helmer of the first Lao movies to play at international film festivals, and more recently, her latest film Dearest Sister (Nong hak) became the first from the country to be submitted to The Oscars’ Best Foreign Language category. Continue reading…

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Eleanor Coppola on PARIS CAN WAIT and Doing Things Her Way –Interview by Jessica Zack

Eleanor Coppola admits she had some fun playing with the line between autobiography and fiction while writing the screenplay for “Paris Can Wait,” her new romantic road-trip movie which is also — remarkably, at age 81 — her narrative feature directorial debut.Continue reading…

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Filmmaker Margaret Betts on NOVITIATE — Interview by Kristen Page-Kirby

Novitiate” is a love story about a girl in a relationship with a guy who just doesn’t seem to be paying much attention to her. It’s a fairly typical tale, except the girl is a 17-year-old nun in training and the guy is God. In the drama, opening Friday, Cathleen (played by Margaret Qualley) enters the (fictional) convent of the Sisters of Blessed Rose in 1964. She begins her journey toward becoming a nun with a one-year stint as a postulant, getting used to the daily routine of the convent. That’s followed by two years as a novitiate, when she is expected to make herself worthy of the habit. Overseeing her journey is the Reverend Mother (Oscar winner Melissa Leo), who rules her convent with a terrifying power — a power she feels is threatened by the ongoing Second Vatican Council, which is making substantial changes regarding the role of nuns in the Roman Catholic Church. Continue reading…

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Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman on LOVING VINCENT — Interview by Leslie Combemale

Loving Vincent is the first fully oil painted feature film. The brainchild of two filmmakers who have worked in animation, special effects, and live action, the film breaks new ground, while being visually stunning and driving a story about the last few weeks in the life an artist who died penniless but is now one of the most famous in history. All the characters in the film are performed by real actors, either on special sets or in front of green screens, and their work is combined with computer animation and painted animation. There are over sixty-five thousand frames in the film, and at the end of each shot, they were left with the painting of the last frame of the shot. There are eight hundred and ninety-eight shots in the film. Continue reading…

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Filmmaker Petra Volpe on THE DIVINE ORDER and Women’s Rights — Jessica Zack interviews

Filmmaker Petra Volpe’s engaging film, The Divine Order, is a box office hit in Switzerland and is the Swiss foreign-film entry to the 2018 Academy Awards/ The film was inspired by the fact that as the U.S. was convulsing with cultural change during the late ’60s, not only had women’s lib not made it to the small Alpine nation, but Swiss women wouldn’t have the right to vote in national elections until 1971. Continue reading…

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Joan Chen at the International Film Festival & Awards Macao — Gill Pringle interviews

joan chenA female filmmaking pioneer, Chinese-born actress Joan Chen broke both race and gender barriers when she directed the May-November romance, Autumn in New York. Released in 2000, the well received film starred Richard Gere and Winona Ryder. Chen mentions taking strength from her female support teamm including editor Ruby Yang and casting directors Sheila Jaffe and Georgeanne Walken. “I didn’t think of myself as breaking down any doors at the time. I think I was so innocent. I didn’t think about my role as a woman film-maker. It seemed very simple to me – I saw a story I really wanted to tell and was determined to tell it. I was fearless. I’m still surprised there aren’t many more female directors,” muses Chen, 56, when AWFJ catches up with her at the International Film Festival & Awards Macao. Continue reading…

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Story Supervisor Jason Katz on Creating COCO — Interview by Leslie Combemale

The new Pixar film Coco speaks about ancestral ties, remembrance, and celebration. It is a story that follows young musician Miguel on his journey into the Land of the Dead to solve a family mystery, embrace his passion for music, and create his own destiny. I interviewed Story Supervisor Jason Katz, who has had a hand in nearly every Pixar release since Toy Story, including being co-story supervisor for Finding Nemo and Ratatouille. He has been involved in building Coco from the beginning, and talks here about his perspective on leading the story department as his mentor Joe Ranft would have done, what inspired him in developing the film, and how Coco is much more about life, remembrance, and his grandmother Florence, than about death. Continue reading…

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SPOTLIGHT December, 2017: Angelina Jolie, Humanitarian Filmmaker

awfjspotlightsmallsmall
angelina with handWith award season already in full thrust, SPOTLIGHT asks: Has there ever been an A-list actress who has – in the prime of her career – choosen to promote not herself, but two films that tell stories about third world countries?

The actress doesn’t even play a role in either film, but opts instead to produce The Breadwinner, an animated story about a young Afghan girl who dresses as a boy in order to feed her family in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, and to direct First They Killed My Father, an unflinching child’s view on the Khmer Rouge’s deadly rule in Cambodia.Continue reading…

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Belize International Film Festival 2017 — Gill Pringle reports

belize ffNow in its 12th year, the Belize International Film Festival has enjoyed growing success with every year, thanks to its founder and festival director Suzette Zayden. A Belizean native, her original goal with BIFF was to put Belize on the film map but also to engender connectivity between her fellow countrymen through film. Continue reading…

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Jacob Tremblay on Preparing for WONDER — Interview by Sandie Angulo Chen

Child actor Jacob Tremblay hadn’t read “Wonder” when he got a call about playing the lead role in the movie based on the 2012 middle-grade bestseller. But after he got to know the character — Auggie Pullman, a 10-year-old whose face looks different from that of most kids — Jacob didn’t need convincing. “The thing that mostly drew me to wanting to do the part of Auggie is the message. I thought it was very important,” the 11-year-old actor says. Continue reading…

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THE WEEK IN WOMEN: Varda and Tomlin Honored, Nowlin Plays PTSD Woman Vet, Sexual Harassment Help Line Set

Legendary French filmmaker Agnes Varda, now age 89, receives an honorary Oscar in Hollywood, while The Society of Voice Arts & Sciences has bestowed upon Lily Tomlin the Voice Arts Icon Award, presented at New York’s Lincoln Center. Actress Kate Nowlin weighs in on what it’s like to play a war veteran suffering from PTSD in Blood Stripe, which she also co-scripted. The tsunami of stories out sexual harassment continues to sweep through the entertainment industry and Women in Film Los Angeles is launching a sexual harassment hot line to help those who have suffered unwanted sexual attention for decades to overcome the trauma. Read details on THE WEEK IN WOMEN.

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Claire Ferguson Talks Storytelling, Trauma and Team Work in DESTINATION UNKNOWN –Jennifer Merin interviews

Claire FergusonIn Destination Unknown, British documentary filmmaker Claire Ferguson’s interviews with Holocaust survivors captures on film the most intimate and painful memories of traumas experienced in the Nazi death camps and the ongoing suffering they have caused throughout the victims’ lives. The survivors’ vivid descriptions are supported by archival footage. The combination of current testimony from surviving elders with images of what they lived through is absolutely devastating. Destination Unknown is an important addition to the canon of Holocaust films. Read what filmmaker Claire Ferguson has to say about making the film and the responsibilities of documentary filmmakers. Continue reading on CINEMA CITIZEN

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