MARINA DEL REY, CA — Disney’s first full-time black animator, Floyd Norman, will be receiving a special achievement award from the African American Film Critics Association at its annual awards ceremony in January in Marina Del Rey, the Los Angeles Daily News reported.
Norman, 81, who broke the color barrier in the 1950s, will be receiving the Legendary Animator Award, the group announced this week. Norman has worked on classics such as Sleeping Beauty and The Jungle Book, and, more recently, Pixar’s Monster’s Inc. before retiring, according to the Daily News.
A documentary of his life and works, Floyd Norman: An Animated Life, was released in August.
The African American Film Critics Association awards will be held at the California Yacht Club in Marina Del Rey on Jan. 7, 2017.
Andrzej Wajda the acclaimed Polish director whose films reflected his country’s turbulent history, has died at the age of 90.
Reports in Poland said he died in hospital of lung failure after being put into a medically induced coma in recent days.
Director of films including Kanał, Katyń and the Palme d’Or-winning Man of Iron, Wajda was also awarded an Oscar for lifetime achievement
Wajda, who was awarded an Oscar for lifetime achievement in 2000, became a filmmaker only after being rejected by the army in 1939.
He attended Poland’s renowned Łódź film school after the second world war. His career took flight after winning the jury special prize at the Cannes film festival in 1957 for Kanał (Canal), about the doomed 1944 Warsaw uprising by Polish partisans against the Nazis.
A still from Wajda’s 1957 film, Kanał. (Photo: Allstar/Kingsley-Int)
The award allowed Wajda to make his next film, Popiół i Diament (Ashes and Diamonds) in 1958 and cemented his position in Polish film.
In the 1970s Wajda turned to Polish literature for inspiration for Brzezina (Birch Wood, 1970), Wesele (The Wedding) two years later and Ziemia Obiecana (The Promised Land) in 1974.
At the 1977 Cannes festival, he screened Człowiek z marmuru (Man of Marble), a film critical of communist Poland.
It was followed three years later by Człowiek z żelaza (Man of Iron), focused on the rise of Poland’s anti-communist Solidarity trade union. That film won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1981, even as Poland’s then-communist regime cracked down on Solidarity and imposed martial law.
“The day of the Palme was a very important day in my life, of course. But I was aware that this prize wasn’t just for me. It was also a prize for the Solidarity union,” Wajda said in an interview in 2007.
The filmmaker donated the prestigious award to a Kraków museum, where it remains on display next to his other prizes, including the lifetime achievement Oscar.
The 1981 Palme d’Or saved Wajda from being jailed by the communist regime – a fate that befell many of the director’s friends and colleagues – including Solidarity’s leader, Lech Wałęsa.
Wajda’s opposition to the regime of Poland’s communist leader, general Wojciech Jaruzelski, led him to make films abroad, including Danton (1983) in France, starring Gérard Depardieu.
Eine Liebe in Deutschland (A Love in Germany, 1986) followed in Germany and Wajda’s interpretation of Dostoyevsky’s The Possessed (1998) was shot in France.
After the collapse of communism in Poland in 1989, Wajda returned to the country’s wartime history, focusing on stories suppressed by the communists. Korczak (1990) details the fate of Janusz Korczak, a pre-war Polish-Jewish children’s author and physician who died in the Holocaust.
With Pierścionek z orłem w koronie (The Crowned-Eagle Ring, 1993), Wajda once again turned to the 1944 Warsaw uprising. Wielki Tydzień (Holy Week, 1995) examined the 1943 Warsaw ghetto uprising – the doomed rebellion against the Nazis by Jewish partisans.
One of his last films, Katyń – nominated for an Oscar in 2008 – tells the story of his father, Jakub Wajda, who was one of 22,500 Polish officers killed by the Soviets in 1940 in the Katyn forest. Last year he directed Powidoki, which is Poland’s official entry for this year’s Academy Awards.
Reporting by Ryan Woo; Editing by Paul Tait and Clelia Oziel
BEIJING: Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Partners and Alibaba Pictures Group Ltd, the film unit of Chinese billionaire Jack Ma’s Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, said on Sunday they will co-produce and finance films for global and Chinese audiences.
They will also collaborate on the marketing, distribution and merchandising of Amblin Partner films in China, the companies said in a joint statement.
Amblin Partners creates film, television and digital content under the Amblin Entertainment, DreamWorks Pictures and Participant Media brands.
Big Chinese companies including Dalian Wanda Group Co are looking to bring more Western films and movie-making prowess into China even as they seek to expand their footprint in Hollywood.
China’s masses have the ability to keep Hollywood movies afloat, industry watchers say. They expect China to soon surpass the United States as the world’s biggest movie market.
This year’s ‘Warcraft’, which was a box office flop in the United States, raked in hundreds of millions of dollars in China, making it one of the country’s highest-grossing films of the year.
“Some of the stories I’m hoping Jack and I can tell in this new partnership between Amblin Partners and Alibaba Pictures will be able to bring Chinese-themed stories to the American audience, and we can do co-productions between our company and your company,” Spielberg said at a briefing in Beijing.
“And we can bring more of China to America, and bring some more of America to China.”
Hong Kong-listed Alibaba Pictures has yet to release any films, although the company formerly known as ChinaVision Media Group Ltd has several projects in production.
Alibaba Pictures began investing in Hollywood films in 2015 with its stake in ‘Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation’. It was an investor in this year’s blockbusters ‘Star Trek Beyond’ and ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows’.
Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group paid about US$800 million for a controlling stake in ChinaVision Media in 2014.
Under the terms of the partnership, Alibaba Pictures will also acquire a minority stake in Amblin Partners, which is chaired by Spielberg, the award-winning U.S. movie director and producer.
Dalian Wanda, the conglomerate controlled by China’s richest man Wang Jianlin, is partnering with Sony Pictures under which Wanda will market Sony Pictures’ films and co-finance some upcoming movie releases of Sony Corp’s film unit in China.
In January, Wanda paid US$3.5 billion for a controlling stake in U.S. film studio Legendary Entertainment. The group has also since said it would start co-investing in global blockbusters next year.
“I heard a lot of people say the movie industries are dead. I think that’s a lack of imagination,” Ma said at the briefing. “All the cinemas in the future are going to be changed because of technology. So people will definitely have all kinds of experiences watching movies.” – Reuters
The Love Witch is the second feature film from Anna Biller and it recently received distribution from Oscilloscope Laboratories. Oscilloscope Laboratories is scheduled to release The Love Witch in 35mm in Los Angeles at the Landmark Nuart on November 11th and in New York on November 18th, with additional screenings in select theaters across the country.
Biller’s first feature was Viva(2007), a dramedy musical about two Los Angeles suburbanites who experiment with drugs, sex and bohemia in the 1970’s. Both films are shot in 35mm. Biller wrote, directed and produced The Love Witch and also made many of the props and paintings and is credited with Costuming and Production Design. Biller also devoted time and efforts to the film’s musical score and composition and has quickly become known for using classic and outdated film genres to communicate the feminine role within contemporary culture. Interestingly, with The Love Witch Biller creates a visual style that pays tribute to the Technicolor thrillers of the 1960’s while exploring aspects of female fantasy along with the repercussions of pathological narcissism.
In the film’s opening, blood-red, gothic text provides introductory credits. Soon we see the film’s protagonist Elaine, a stunningly, good-looking young witch, played by the svelte Samantha Robinson, driving in a mint-condition, red mustang convertible from the mid-to-late 1960’s. An inner voice-over narration informs the viewer Elaine is leaving the city (San Francisco) driving into the redwoods where no one will know her. A flashback to the scene of her former husband Jerry’s death and more voice-over indicate Elaine suffered a nervous breakdown after he “left her” and she’s under suspicion.
As Elaine is driving the Mustang convertible in the first scene Biller appears to pay homage to Hitchcock’s Psycho with some nice camera work from cinematographer M. David Mullen with a police cruiser appearing in the rear view mirror coupled with a closeup of an eyeball. Other closeups are provided in this sequence of a Tarot deck and a heart card with swords through it as well as an opened pack of cigarettes. It becomes quite clear Elaine is hell-bent on having a man to love her.
Without much adieu, Elaine moves into a small-town (presumably in or near Eureka, California) and holes up in a three-story, royal purple Victorian home. Her friend Barbara, another witch, played by Jennifer Ingrum, has made available an apartment space within. The apartment décor seemed rather peculiar to the interior decorator, Trish, played by Laura Waddell, who welcomed Elaine and showed her the place. Trish commented she had decorated the apartment with the peculiar color scheme from a soft tarot deck while Barbara and “her students” provided the occult paintings and other similarly styled wiccan décor adornments.
The Love Witch
Biller makes an interesting choice with her filmmaking in the next scene as she makes a leap, or jump cut, to a lavish Victorian Tea Room for Ladies Only after Elaine said she’d only need a moment to freshen up. The costuming and visual colors are alluring and highly feminine complete with a golden-haired harpist maiden and large pastel-colored hats. Here Elaine reveals she has fairy princess fantasies and that all women are just little girls underneath with dreams of a prince carrying them off on a white horse. Trish agrees she has those fantasies too – commenting about how ridiculous it all is. After a slight pause Elaine confides she doesn’t think she’s found her Prince Charming yet. However, she believes she’s discovered the formula as she’s been studying parapsychology and now knows everything there is to know about men.
Her “formula” are spells and potions she conjures up in her apartment. She then proceeds to pick up her unsuspecting male victims, seduce them and leaves them forlorn and hapless. Finally, she at last meets her Prince Charming. However, her overriding and desperate need to be loved drives her to the edge of insanity and to murder.
The Love Witch is a beautifully lush film with its lavish, fetish costuming and meticulous set designs. It also has a 1960’s look and feel despite its contemporary setting and it makes extensive use of high-key lighting as it delves into female culturally defined roles with entrancing scene work. These filmmaking techniques and production design attributes allow Biller to encode feminist ideas within the frames of cinematic aesthetics and visual pleasure. And even though Biller was making a film for women, I can tell you after seeing this film, it’s a film made for men, too, with what could arguably have the longest running female tampon joke. The Love Witch is wholeheartedly recommended and dare I say…. “a film to die for.” It’s intriguing and, in my opinion, it’s fun!
Again, the film will be screening in Los Angeles at the Landmark Nuart on November 11th and in New York on November 18th, with additional screenings in select theaters across the country. Hope to see you there.
(Press materials provided courtesy of Marina Bailey PR)
Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Three years ago, Quezon City launched its first independent film festival, QCinema, as a platform for young and emerging filmmakers and, according to Mayor Herbert Bautista, to establish the city as a film capital like Bangkok and Hong Kong. The festival opened with three competition films, awarded with ₱500,000 post-production grants each. Over the years, it has expanded into a sprawling international film festival, not only producing some of the most memorable Filipino films in recent years, but opening its slate to Philippine premieres of international films from prestigious film festivals around the world such as Cannes, Locarno, and Berlin.
This year, the lineup includes diverse picks from around the world and a new competition program, “Asian New Wave,” featuring films from young filmmakers around the region.
The main competition slate features seven films from Filipino directors:
Ang Manananggal sa Unit 23B by Prime Cruz stars Ryza Cenon and Martin Del Rosario. The film is about a manananggal who falls in love with a brokenhearted boy.
Baboy Halas: Wailings in the Forest by Davao-based filmmaker Bagane Fiola features a Mindanaoan cast. It tackles the life of one of the last old Manobo families in the mountains of Mindanao and how they cope with some unusual changes in their environment.
Best. Partee. Ever. by first-time filmmaker Howard “HF” Yambao stars JC De Vera as a discreet gay man who spends five years in jail for drug pushing.
Hinulid by Kristian Sendon Cordero stars Nora Aunor as a woman who returns home in Cagbunga, Camarines Sur to bury her son in their village that is watched over by the Tolong Hinulid (Three Dead Christs). The cast is all Bikol.
Patay na si Hesus by Victor Kaiba Villanueva is a Cebuano comedy-drama which stars Jaclyn Jose as Isay, a single mother of a dysfunctional family who learns that her ex-husband, Hesus, has died.
Purgatoryo by Roderick Cabrido is about the death of Ilyong who is killed by the police after he was caught stealing. This sets a chain of events involving the complex relationship of gambling lord, a policeman, a funeral parlor owner, and her two helpers. The film stars Bernardo Bernardo and Arnold Reyes.
Women of the Weeping River by Sheron Dayoc is about Satra, a widow living in Southern Mindanao who befriends an aging woman in the village to help her hold peace talks with a rival family.
The short film competition has eight entries:
Hondo by Aedrian Araojo
If You Leave by Eduardo Dayao
Kung Saan May Naiwan by Joshua Joven and Kaj Palanca
Nang Lumipad ang Batang Agila by Mihk Vergara
Padating by Gabrielle Tayag
Papa’s Shadow by Inshallah Montero
Sayaw sa Butal by Victor Nierva
Viva Viva Escolta by Janus Victoria
The new competition program “Asian Next Wave” features six entries from filmmakers from China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand.
Aside from the competition films, the festival is also screening acclaimed films from international film festivals such as Ken Loach’s Palme D’Or winner I, Daniel Blake, João Pedro Rodrigues’s Locarno winner, The Ornithologist, and the animated film companion to Train to Busan, Seoul Station. Park Chan-wook’s Cannes shocker, The Handmaiden opens the film festival.A focus on acclaimed director Mike De Leon will feature his restored classics, Kakabakaba Ka Ba?,Kung Mangarap Ka’t Magising, and Hindi Nahahati ng Langit. Newly restored films Laurice Guillen’s Kasal? (1980) and Butch Perez’s Haplos (1982) will also premiere.
A screening of the Three Colors trilogy, Red, White, and Blue, will also be held on the 20th death anniversary of the Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieślowski.
The QCinema International Film Festival will be held on October 13 to 22.
*Featured image: Nora Aunor stars in Kristian Sendon Cordero’s Hinulid, a Circle Competition entry in this year’s QCinema International Film Festival. (Photo credit Hinulid Facebook page)
The Taos Shortz Film Fest prides itself on innovative, creative programming and many opportunities for networking…2017 is no exception.
The Taos Shortz Film Fest is looking for films that surpass the normal standard. Exceptional storytelling, films that transport cinemites to an alternative world and culture, creative camera shots and impeccable production. We strive to bring our audience the best of short filmmaking.
Documentaries, animations and experimental films are encouraged.
Films directed and produced by Native Americans are encouraged.
One shot films are encouraged.
Films with a TRT of between 3 and 15 minutes are ideal.
Acclaimed Italian auteur Nanni Moretti finds comedy and pathos in the story of Margherita, a harried film director (Margherita Buy, A Five Star Life) trying to juggle the demands of her latest movie and a personal life in crisis. The star of her film, a charming but hammy American actor (John Turturro) imported for the production, initially presents nothing but headaches and her crew is close to mutiny. Away from the shoot, Margherita tries to hold her life together as her beloved mother’s illness progresses, and her teenage daughter grows ever more distant. Mia Madre premiered in the Main Competition of the 2015 Cannes Film Festival where it won Ecumenical Jury prize while Margherita Buy received the Best Actress prize at Italy’s 2015 Donatello Awards. Characteristically self-reflexive and autobiographical, Moretti’s latest speaks to the poignancy of human transience, how we process loss and how we gain strength through humor.
Mia Madre opens in Los Angeles and New York on August 26th with a national roll-out to follow!
Shots from Mia Madre
“Beautifully observed and delicately balanced…this is Moretti at his interpersonal best; intimate, empathetic and intensely humane.” – Mark Kermode, The Guardian
“Carefully measured and satisfying…the film emerges as a deeply affecting reflection on solitude.” – Ela Bittencourt, Slant Magazine
“Fascinating…a rich and incredibly detailed world.” – Oliver Lyttelton, The Playlist
INTERVIEW WITH DIRECTOR NANNI MORETTI
Is the character played by Margherita Buy in Mia Madre your alter ego?
I never considered playing the main role in this movie myself. I stopped doing that quite a while back, and I’m glad I did. I used to enjoy it, but today I am no longer driven by the fixed idea of wanting to compose my character film after film. I always thought this character would be a woman and a director, and that this woman would be played by Margherita Buy for a very simple reason: a film with Margherita Buy in the leading role would be much better than one with me in the leading role! She’s a much better actor than I am. Margherita carried much of the film’s workload on her shoulders. Out of seventy days of shooting, she was only away one day, and that was for a scene I ended up cutting!
Still, one has the impression that there is a lot of you in this film…
In the scene in front of the Capranichetta movie theater in Rome, during which Margherita’s brother, played by me, asks his sister to break at least one of her two hundred psychological patterns, it was as if I was talking to myself. I always thought that with time I would get used to drawing from the deepest part of me… But on the contrary, the more I move on and continue this way, the more this feeling of malaise arises. This said, the movie is not a personal confession. There are shots and frames, choices, performances – it’s not real life.
How would you define your work? As an autobiography? Autofiction?
Autofiction is a term I really don’t understand. And as for autobiography… All stories are somewhat autobiographical. I was talking about myself when I spoke about the Pope in Habemus Papam (We Have a Pope), played by Michel Piccoli, who felt he was unfit and likewise when I depicted Silvio Orlando’s work and personal stories in Il caimano (The Caiman). More than the wish to measure how much is autobiographical, what matters is to have a personal approach in relation to every single story.
How did you choose John Turturro?
Directors who have made far fewer films than I don’t have any qualms about approaching international stars. But I’m not like that. I called on him because I liked him very much and it seemed to me that his acting style wasn’t naturalistic. But also because we were already acquainted, and he already had a connection with Italy – he has even made a beautiful documentary about Neapolitan music called Passione. John had seen some of my films, which reassured me greatly. I admit that it would have been difficult for me to explain who I am, what I want, what my cinematographic expression is like. He also speaks and understands a little Italian. And he is a film director as well. It’s nice to work with actors who are also directors; it makes it easier to understand one another.
When did you start thinking up the Mia madre screenplay?
I usually allow for a great deal of time between my films. I need to leave behind the psychological and emotional investment of the previous movie. It takes time to recharge my batteries. This time, however, as soon as Habemus Papam (We Have a Pope) was released, I started thinking about my next film. I started writing when the things that I recount in the film happened in my life. And that probably had an influence on the narrative.
How did you come up with the different narrative modes, where dream and reality sometimes intermingle?
It’s important to tell a story in a non-academic manner, to have a narrative which doesn’t limit itself to fulfilling the basics: a narrative which, although familiar with the rules, can do without them. However, it is also important that it rings true within yourself, and also within what you are in the process of telling. You should never have a flat and ordinary relationship with the material you want to present.
I liked the idea that when the audience would see a scene, they wouldn’t immediately understand whether it was a memory, a dream or reality, for they all coexist in Margherita’s character with the same immediacy: her thoughts, her memories of apprehension concerning her mother, the feeling of not being good enough. The narrative time corresponds with Margherita’s various emotional states in which everything coexists with the same urgency. I wanted to recount, from the point of view of a female character, this feeling of not being good enough in relation to her work, her mother, her daughter.
Is this the reason why you wrote it with three women, Chiara Valerio, Gaia Manzini and Valia Santella?
Perhaps, but those aren’t things that you plan or set up in advance. I hardly knew Gaia Manzini and Chiara Valerio. I had met them during a reading. Each one of us was asked to read an extract from a book by Sandro Veronesi. Shortly after, when I decided to start working on this subject, I called them. Valia, on the other hand, is a friend of mine, and we have been working together for a very long time.
What did you imagine would be the film that Margherita was making?
There is a scene that I cut where Margherita says to her daughter: “I’m never in my films,” and her daughter answers: “well, you don’t necessarily have to talk about yourself in your films,” and Margherita replies: “no, not necessarily, but I would like to make films that are more personal.” There it is. I wanted Margherita, overwhelmed by her life and her problems, to make a film that was more political than personal.
In the press conference scene, a journalist asks her: “In such a delicate moment for our society, do you think that your film will succeed in appealing to the country’s conscience?” Margherita starts to give a formatted answer: “Well, today, the public itself is demanding a different kind of commitment…” But her voice slowly fades and we can hear what she is really thinking: “Yes, of course it’s the role of cinema, but why have I been making repeatedly the same things for years and years? Everybody thinks that I have the knack of understanding what is going on, of interpreting reality. But I don’t understand anything anymore.”
I wanted the sturdiness and assertiveness of her film to be in absolute opposition with her emotional state; with what she’s experiencing and how she perceives herself. I wanted there to be a discrepancy between her very structured film and the very delicate moment she is going through.
How did you address the theme of mourning?
In La stanza del figlio (The Son’s Room), I was exorcising a fear. Here, I am referring to an experience that many people share. The death of one’s mother is an important rite of passage in life, and I wanted to recount it without being sadistic whatsoever towards the audience. This said, when you make a film, you are deeply engrossed in what you are doing: you work on the dialogue, the direction, the editing and as a result the theme you are treating doesn’t strike you with the full extent of its impact. Even when the feeling is very strong, I tend to think that the director doesn’t let himself be fully affected by it.
Is it more difficult to shoot, think through and recount a story like this one compared with other films?
No, I don’t think so. There was just a moment during the writing process when I decided to reread the journal I kept during the course of my mother’s illness. I did it because I thought that perhaps our exchanges, those lines could add weight and help the scenes between Margherita and her mother to ring true. In fact, the rereading of these journals was painful.
What else did you read or what did you watch in preparation for Mia madre?
During intense working periods and during a film shoot, I accumulate an array of things. When I finished shooting Mia Madre, I realized that I hadn’t had the time to review the books and the films that I had believed I should read or watch again because they broached the subject of pain, loss or death. It was a great relief for me to understand that I didn’t need them anymore. I saw Woody Allen’s Another Woman again but I didn’t watch Haneke’s Armour, which was on my desk. And especially, I didn’t read Roland Barthes. After my mother’s death, a woman I’m friendly with, offered me Journal de deuil (Mourning Diary), which Barthes had written right after his mother’s death. She told me that it had helped her. I opened a page at random, I read two lines, which felt like a stab in my heart, and I closed it. At the end of the film shoot I took the book off my desk and put it up on the shelf. Fortunately, I no longer felt the need to delve into grief.
The mother is played by an actress who is not known in France, Giulia Lazzarini.
This actress from the Piccolo Teatro de Strehler has a background which is very different from mine, and meeting her was a delightful experience. Not only was she able to understand me, and enter into my film, but, and I haven’t the faintest idea how, she also thoroughly understood my mother.
Your mother was a professor…
She taught for thirty-three years at the Visconti High School in Rome: literature in the middle school, then during the last years, Greek and Latin in the high school. At least one person every week would tell me that she was their teacher. Sometimes, there are people who also had my father as a professor at the University (he was a professor of Greek epigraphy). Many of her former students would come to see her years after passing their baccalaureate. I never had with any of my professors the kind of relationship she had with her students. I’m going to confess something that is a little painful, and which upsets me a bit, but I’ll say it: after my mother’s death, through the things that her former students told me, I had the feeling that something very important about her as a person had entirely escaped me, something that her former students had been able to grasp and share with me. Something essential.
What have you learned making this film?
I can answer this question very specifically. I feel exactly as I did during my first film shoot – the same anxiety, the same confusion, the same utter lack of confidence. I don’t think it’s this way for everybody. I believe for many people with experience, their knowledge of the profession and a certain detachment counts. I, on the other hand, have this very clear impression: it always feels as though I am making my first film. This time, it was with even more anxiety. There are people who say it is my most personal film; perhaps that is the reason why. But I just don’t know.
I can say, however, that I have learned something along the way. I’m nicer to the actors, I’m more willing to stand by their side; I stick up for them. And what else have I learned…well indeed, there’s something I learned very quickly: the fact that when a film comes out, it no longer fully belongs to you. The public sees it, transforms it. There are things that have escaped you entirely that the public picks up, reveals and sheds a light upon…
“I want to see the actor next to the character.” This is one of Margherita’s lines that she often repeats to her actors.
It’s something I say all the time. I don’t know whether the actors understand it, but in the end, I’m able to get what I had in mind out of them.
(This interview has been compiled from questions asked in various interviews given by Nanni Moretti to the Italian press in April 2015. Press materials provided by http://www.musicbox.com)
The Orchard is proud to announce the US release of DEMON, Polish director Marcin Wrona’s eerie, richly atmospheric and clever take on the Jewish legend of the dybbuk. Acclaimed at several festivals including New Directors/New Films, the Toronto Film Festival, and Austin Fantastic Fest where it won the Award for Best Horror Feature, DEMON is scheduled to open in New York and Los Angeles on Friday, September 9th followed by a national release.
Newly arrived from England to marry his fiancée Zaneta (Agnieszk Zulewska, Chemo), Peter (Israeli actor Itay Tiran, Lebanon) has been given a gift of her family’s ramshackle country house in rural Poland. It’s a total fixer-upper, and while inspecting the premises on the eve of the wedding, he falls into a pile of human remains. The ceremony proceeds, but strange things begin to happen…During the wild reception, Peter begins to come undone, and a dybbuk, the iconic ancient figure from Jewish folklore, takes a toehold in this present-day celebration-for a very particular reason, as it turns out. Based on noted Polish writer Piotr Rowicki’s play Adherence, DEMON is the final work by Marcin Wrona, who died just as DEMON was set to premiere in Poland, is part absurdist comedy, part love story-that scares, amuses, and charms in equal measure.
Marcin Wrona was born in Tarnow, Poland in 1973 and studied film at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow. He directed several features for television, as well as the theatrical features My Flesh, My Blood and The Christening, which were selected for the Toronto and San Sebastian Film Festivals.
“Demon” enthralls as an atmospheric ghost story with a cheeky undercurrent of absurdist humor.” — Joe Leydon, Variety
“..a unique take on the Jewish legend of the Dybbuk that feels both deeply rooted in cultural nightmares and refreshingly new…“Demon” is stylish and clever from its concept..but it’s the execution that really matters. There’s a great energy to the piece, from the framing of the visual compositions, to the eerie atmosphere created by the lights hanging from the ceiling of what looks like a barn. There’s fantastic costume design as well as a lead performance that engages on every level.” — Brian Tallerico, Rogerebert.com
“A darkly humorous reworking of “The Dybbuk,” with a deftly realized switch that turns that familiar tale of love from beyond the grave into a parable of Polish anti-Semitism in the post-war era…. a black comedy in the vein of “The Exterminating Angel.” — George Robinson, The Jewish Week
A CONVERSATION WITH DEMON PRODUCER OLGA SZYMANSKA How does DEMON fit into Marcin’s body of work? Are there similar themes or motifs that run through his three features? Marcin’s idea was to make a trilogy, and DEMON is the final installment of this trilogy, with MY FLESH, MY BLOOD (2009) and THE CHRISTENING (2010) being the first and second. All of his movies contain similar themes and motifs, including growing up, the nature of evil and the fate or destiny each protagonist must cope with in each story. None of Marcin’s films contained a happy ending. MY FLESH, MY BLOOD’s protagonist is a boxer who discovers he will die soon following a savage blow to his head. He wants to leave something in the world, which is a child. THE CHRISTENING is the story of a gangster who’s been sentenced to death by the Mafia. He’s coping with his feelings for his family during his seven remaining days alive, during which time he asks his best friend to take care of his family when he’s gone. The theme of family and destiny — the idea that you can’t cheat death — rings strongest in these two works. DEMON’s protagonist, Piotr, is fated to reveal the truth about the film’s mysterious setting after becoming possessed by a ghostly figure, and it also features a fatal ending. All three works feature rituals of some sort, from christenings to weddings. What are the roots of DEMON and what drew Marcin towards this specific story? It’s based on a play called The Clinging, but the only thing that remains from that story is the names of the characters and the phenomenon of the dybbuk (from Jewish folklore). It’s a very theatrical piece so it took some time to transform the story elements to movie language in the screenplay. Marcin and the co-writer Pawel Maslona rewrote almost everything and made the story their own.
What was Marcin’s specific interest in the traditional ghost story of the dybbuk?
It’s a story that has almost been forgotten in Poland. The Dybbuk was a play written by Shimon Ansky in 1914 and then made into a film by Michal Waszynski in 1937 right before he tried to launch a career in Hollywood. It was the first Yiddish-Hasidic movie made in Poland and it’s considered the Hasidic Romeo & Juliet. The protagonist in the play — who is possessed by the dybbuk (a malicious colonizing spirit) — wants to reveal an uncomfortable truth about the past, and Marcin found that concept exciting. We had seen the play together and both of us thought it would make a good movie. At that point, we had decided to launch a production company together. Our first thought was that it would be easy to translate into film because it was set in a single location. But we wound up doing a lot of research into the history of the story, not to mention Jewish-Polish history in general. If you read the studies on the dybbuk, those who became possessed by the spirit find themselves unable to speak. It originated in a very orthodox society of Jews, so it was the idea of this voice that could never have been heard which was longing to be heard. We thought it would be interesting to take the character of Piotr in our story and tell something specific through the demon that possessed him.
This is a unique co-production with Israel — how did this affect the story in any way?
Marcin’s previous movie, THE CHRISTENING, was screened at the Haifa Film Festival, where we met our future co-producer Marek Rosenbaum. We had seen (lead actor) Itay Tiran in a few movies and thought he could play characters from anywhere, because he has a universal look about him — like he could hail from Israel or Poland or elsewhere. He’s a great actor with a big theatrical background, but he’s been in movies like LEBANON, AFTERTHOUGHT and THE DEBT as well.
He’s required to give a very physical performance in this movie. Can you describe how Marcin worked with Itay Tiran to obtain such a raw, affective performance?
Marcin didn’t want to use any special effects in the movie — he wanted to rely solely on actors. All the rehearsals for the wedding dance scene, where the dybbuk takes possession of Piotr, took a long time, even before the actual shooting took place. Two choreographers rehearsed it with the actors, then another choreographer came in, who worked for the Jewish Theater in Warsaw as well as a pantomime group. The third choreographer worked with Itay directly, instructing him how to breathe and how to use the muscles and tension in his body to make the possession look more effective. Physical demands aside, Itay was already very well prepared for DEMON. For our first meeting in Warsaw a few years ago, he arrived with photographs from a version of The Dybbuk play, which had been produced in Tel Aviv in the ’50s. So he was already fascinated with the dance at the heart of that performance.
The movie is constructed around a Polish wedding. Can you explain why weddings are so prominent in his work?
In his first feature, MY FLESH, MY BLOOD, there is a wedding in the final scene, so he was no stranger to having weddings in his movies. He was very interested in rituals in general — which are important to Polish people in general because we are a predominantly Catholic country and so much of daily life revolves around ritual here. Marcin was not Catholic, but the idea with the wedding in DEMON is to show a glimpse of Polish society, showing different people in different roles, and how those roles change over the course over the wedding.
DEMON features a unique island-like setting. Where exactly did you film?
Marcin knew exactly how he wanted the house and the location to look. Our production designer, Anna Wunderlich, would go out on scouting missions and return with pictures, but nothing was right. We were so disappointed with what we saw that we decided to build our own sets. Two or three weeks before a final decision was supposed to be made on locations, she came back from the Malopolska region near Krakow with this terrific location near a town called Bochnia featuring an abandoned house from the early 20th century. It sat on a river with an old shed next to it, and no neighboring structures in its vicinity. The only structure the art department fabricated was the shed used in the wedding sequence — the existing house was how they found it, and how it appeared in the movie. All the mist and fog you see in the movie is also natural because our set was so close to the river.
Digging is a recurring motif in the story. The story plays out near a construction site, and human remains are discovered early in the story. What is the significance of so much digging in DEMON?
It’s a reflection of the past — the notion of unearthing the past or digging in the dirt and finding something unknown or scary, but the digging is more metaphoric than anything else.
What do you think were some of Marcin’s most potent gifts as a filmmaker?
He was very good with actors. He discovered some of the biggest Polish actors of his generation and many of them appear in DEMON, including Tomasz Schuchardt The actor who plays the brother in law won Best Actor at the Polish Film Festival for his work in Marcin’s previous film, THE CHRISTENING. And Agnieska Zulewska, our lead actress, appears in her first major starring role in this film. He rehearsed with actors a lot before going on set and he always gave them freedom — he trusted them immensely, so there was always a strong element of collaboration on his sets. On the visual side, he had a long relationship with his cinematographer, Pawel Flis, who shot all three of his features. Each of them is different from one another visually.
Why do you think Marcin and Pawel worked together so well as Director and Cinematographer?
They were very good friends in school, for one thing. They made Marcin’s first short together, “Magnet Man,” which screened at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2002. They shared a cinematic language and worked together very well together, which precluded them from having to talk much about what they wanted to do. They just did it and it worked.
What would you say is the overall visual style of DEMON?
Marcin and Pawel wanted it to look like old photographs from the early 20th century, and the costumes in the movie also look like they came from eras past. Although the movie is set in the 21st century, you get the sense from watching DEMON that it could be set during any time. They wanted it to look universal, as though it existed both in and out of time.
What were some of your own duties on this production — and what were some of the biggest challenges for you as a producer on DEMON?
I was involved with the project from the beginning — Marcin and I had seen The Dybbuk play together and we wanted to turn it into a movie. I read each version of the script he wrote, and helped organize the budget. I also helped with pre-production. During the shoot itself, the production manager took over and I came back to the game when shooting wrapped. Marcin and I were a couple, so I didn’t want to interfere during the 22-day shoot, which was a challenge in itself because we were mainly shooting at night during early October, amid heavy rains and low temperatures.
Why do you think ghost stories are so powerful cinematically? And what did this particular ghost story have for you that made it stand out from a crowded pack?
I think people like to be scared, but DEMON cuts much deeper than a conventional scary movie — the ghost story in this case is used as a way to soften heavy subject matter for the viewer. It’s a movie about erasing the past, forgetting about who we are and where we come from, who we lived with, and how we are all essentially strangers to one another. Piotr is an outsider or “other” — and in this case the movie tracks how much we are separated by our differences, or remain intolerant in the face of otherness. Marcin wanted to play with different genres in this movie, incorporating elements of horror, comedy, thriller, melodrama, while at the same time expressing something thematically important about the past in general.
An interesting part of this story is the collision of science, religion, family and industry (in the form of the patriarch) — it contributes to the tension of the story in an interesting way…
Marcin and the screenwriter wanted to bring out this element in the story — it’s something they brought to the existing Dybbuk legend. They wanted to show a wide section of society, including different people from all walks of life. None of the characters stay the same over the course of DEMON — the doctor comes to believe in ghosts, the priest becomes more atheistic, etc. They change roles, their viewpoints shift.
What for you was the most compelling aspect of making DEMON?
The idea of making this movie so different from Marcin’s other works was very exciting to me — to blend so many genres in one movie made the form intriguing and challenging. We also haven’t seen The Dybbuk story on screen in many years in Poland, so that was another compelling factor. The story itself is an important reminder that the Jewish and Polish cultures co-existed for hundreds of years together — but in this era we remember very little about the two cultures co-mingling. Polish Romanticism was one of the most important periods in our national literature, and a lot of writers during that period were interested in Jewish mysticism. The fusion of Romanticism and mysticism appealed to me in particular.
What do you think DEMON is trying to say, thematically?
It’s very much a story about the past, but it’s also about how we are living today — how it’s difficult for an outsider to come in and infiltrate a very small section of society, Polish or otherwise. People are not very open in Poland in terms of not wanting immigrants or “the other” living in their neighborhoods, so the story very much reflects contemporary values and mores.
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
Pawel Flis / Director of Photography ―The visual idea for this film was that we shoot it like old photographs, we wanted the shots to look like stills and tell the story using wide lenses and make the shots look wide. We didn’t want the camera to move a lot. I like to keep a very small distance between the actor and the camera, but at the same time the camera is an observer, it doesn’t interfere. We used one Alexa camera only, it’s my first film on this digital camera and I was so amazed at how it works with the picture, I loved it! You can take out so much from it in post –production too and as Marcin said, the scenes look like they were shot for a Western.‖
Zuza Hencz / Post Production Mgr. ―I wanted the time and place of the film to be universal. Twentieth century, somewhere in Poland, without being precise‖ said Marcin Wrona.―The film was meant to draw us back to classic cinema. I wanted to make it look traditional in composition and not to have any special effects or super modern technologies used. A lot of photographic style, as if someone with great taste had been taking photos (static takes) from the wedding. Finding the perfect location, where 90% of the shooting was supposed to take place was extremely hard. Together with Anna Wunderlich – our production designer- we drove through three different regions of Poland for three months, based on our own knowledge and also photo albums with old monuments. Unfortunately most of the buildings we found were either in a sorry state or renovated in a very kitschy way. What was equally hard was finding the space of the house that was needed for us to fit a whole wedding. After about two and a half months we stopped looking for a house and we found a great place where we could build it instead. And then totally out of the blue we found the perfect place – a house from 1890 with a huge barn from back then. Renovating the entire thing cost us a lot of money and work but gave the film a unique character and made the entire team feel special working for months in the mud and rain.
The Look of the Film
In March of 2015 the filmmakers consulted with Justine Wright, renowned editor and recipient of the European Film Award for Best Editor on the film “Locke.‖ DEMON was one of a very few projects invited to take part in editing workshops, organized by the European Film Academy and the Polish Film Academy. The event consisted of a lecture by Ms. Wright and then individual consultations with authors of selected projects, which gave Marcin Wrona and Piotr Kmiecik, the editor, a rare opportunity to enhance the film. Justine’s remarks were included in the final cut.
‖The editing of “Demon” began two weeks after we finished shooting and with small breaks it took five months,‖ Marcin Wrona said. ―The whole process of working on the picture and the sound began right after we had the first version of the film edited. In sound it gave the creators wider possibilities of thinking through the concept of how they wanted to use it in the film.
We edited within the frame and shot with wide lenses to make the scenes look wide in picture. The camera was not supposed to move a lot. As we shot the film and saw how beautiful the production set was and the great costumes the actors had and the choreography they used we knew that it was impossible to keep the camera still. So we changed our original idea so that the film would become better.
I like when the camera is very close to the actor but at the same time it must be just an observer from aside. We shot the film on one camera only – on Alexa, it’s my first film on digital and I am fascinated by this equipment. The picture that it gives, the possibilities that it gives in post-production, the lenses make everything look soft, as if in a Western movie.‖
“As an actor I always look for projects that are authentic, truthful and of course interesting‖ says Itay Tiran, (who portrays the lead character ―Python‖). ―I feel that DEMON is all the above. It’s an incredible opportunity for an actor to be able to play two characters in one and to be working on such a well written screenplay. Of course it’s also a story that I particularly cherish because, as with many people coming from Israel, it’s important to me on a very personal mystical level.
It’s a complicated character to play, from the beginning Python is a multi-layered person. He comes to Poland because of love, but as it turns out he’s got a mission to complete, and becomes much more about him finding his roots, than about his bride to be. We worked very hard to express the dybbuk inside his body in a very unconventional way. We worked with choreographers and therapists to get the credible effect. Any actor would be thrilled to get a character like that to play.”
Official selection: New Directors/New Films (2016 Film Society of Lincoln Center and MoMA)
Official selection: Toronto International Film Festival, Vanguard Section, 2015
Winner: Austin Fantastic Fest, Best Horror Feature, 2015
Winner: Haifa Film Festival, Tobias Spencer Award, 2015