Reviews - The Sea
Reviewed By Vaughan Ames
Keswick Film Club has always felt that part of its remit is to support new British films. It is very difficult for would-be filmmakers to get the funds to produce a film at all, and then equally difficult to get a distributor to show the film anywhere in the country; 90% of the independent films released each year are screened at less than 10 cinemas around the UK.
With this in mind, we try to have a weekend each year where we put on two films by first-time UK directors, so they get a chance to be seen. We also invite the directors along to talk to the audience. The other advantage to Keswick is that we only charge entry for one film; a unique opportunity, and a bargain!
This year we struck lucky with two very different films. Mike Tweddle started the day by introducing his film "Damaged Goods", with a TOTAL budget of £5000 (In case this means nothing to you, "Gravity" was made for around £65million!). Our second director, Stephen Brown, had managed to find investors to give him a budget of around £2million for "The Sea". So...why the different amounts, and what does it mean for the results?
Mike Tweddle's film was written and produced by him as well, from an idea he had about 7 years ago. He has spent much time musing before trying to get film actually made, which took him about 2 years – all the while having to continue with his day job to survive. Having failed to get any real backing apart from Kickstarter (an organisation that allows artists to try to get funds from potential fans – YOU could help fund a film), he put his own money into it, called in lots of favours and recruited amateur actors. As he joked, most of the £5K went on drinks in the pub! (In fact most went to paying for a cinematographer and an editor, who both got next to nothing for the total hours they put in)
Stephen Brown, on the other hand, has spent his life working his way up from the bottom in the film industry and has been directing educational and industry shorts (his last job was for Tesco!). He then struck lucky by reading John Banville's book "The Sea" before it won the Man Booker prize. He contacted Banville with a proposed film version which Banville not only liked but agreed to do the screenplay for. Once this was agreed, it was much easier for Brown to get a recognized actor – Ciaran Hinds – to play the main role, who then brought with him other major actors – Charlotte Rampling, Sinead Cusack, Rufus Sewell and Bonnie Wright. All that was left was the money (!) which all this talent made easier to attract too. Brown was up and running...
So to the films themselves; "Damaged Goods" was inspired by the horrific facts behind the dog fighting 'sport'. The RSPCA (who helped Tweddle make sure the film was realistic) estimate that in the UK alone there are around 16000 dogs killed every year...many of which are stolen from their owners, so keep your eye on your dog.
"Damaged Goods" uses this dog fighting as a basis to make a drama about a very damaged family – a drunken father living in a caravan with his two adolescent kids – Zippo and Nelly. Their very bleak world is getting worse and worse and Zippo resorts to burglary to feed them, skipping school most days. The two of them find an almost dead dog, which they restore to health and call 'Carlos' (because he is tough like Carlos Tevez). Zippo has finally found inspiration and love...but his troubles are not to end just yet - both the law and the local thugs get involved when they all realise the dog is an ex-fighter; the law wants to have Carlos put down, the thugs want him to fight again.
This was essentially a family film, so you won't be surprised to know that Zippo and Carlos manage to escape the fighting scene, get the thugs put in prison and rescue the father from his debauched lifestyle; a happy ending for once in a Keswick Film! For £5000 you cannot expect perfection – a director cannot afford too many retakes or different camera angles – but Tweddle has managed to make a surprisingly professional film here. The actors – especially the young kids who came from local schools – were pretty good (though I can't see their Aunt giving up her day job in a hurry...!) and the story was well put together. What I for one found the most amazing, though, was the camera work and continuity. Editing is a hard task when you have lots of takes to choose between, but becomes
a lot harder if you have to get it right first time. There was a very good flow about the film which isn't always visible in low budget movies. On top of this there was a lot of location work where the photography was pretty artistically done and well put together.
Wrapping all this up was a pretty good soundtrack of music by local musicians who I am sure were proud to hear the results. Last but not least, Tweddle even managed a car chase with a crash - the car concerned cost him 250 quid off eBay! Pretty good for £5k, then, and definitely well appreciated by the audience (You will also be pleased to know that what little dog fighting was actually in the film was cleverly edited from shots where only one dog was shown...no dogs were hurt in the making of this film).
So after a break, Stephen Brown's "The Sea" was next up; and the extra funds were instantly obvious. The first scene was some crashing waves and the quality of the picture stood out (Brown has the backing of a distributor so digital production, not DVD, was possible). Soon after we had Ciaran Hinds on the screen, and, again, you can see why good actors earn good money. (Neither of these remarks are criticisms of Tweddle's film, just inevitable facts of life). "The Sea" tells the story of an ageing man who loses his wife to cancer and decides to go back to the sea where he spent his early teenage summers. It is deliberately never too clear what he expects to get out of it except 'to replace one set of bad memories with another'. In a series of flashbacks, mixed very beautifully with shots of both his last weeks with his wife and his experiences at the Sea this time round, we very gradually learn that something awful happened in his past too and, finally, just who the mysterious landlady (Charlotte Rampling) actually is... (The film is not due for release for another 6 months so, just in case you get the chance to see it then, I won't give away the ending! As Brown does have a distributor, it might get back to the Lakes – go and see it if you can).
"The Sea" is a very beautiful film which tries to show people's emotions and thoughts on screen, rather than lots of action; an impossible task, but one which I think he managed very well. Everything looked good - Brown explained that he was lucky with the weather – all the scenes are filmed with natural light and are stunning – but the photography and acting are equally good. Overall it went down well with us here in Keswick. My only thought is I didn't really understand just why the tragedy actually happened in the past...I wonder if the book explains?
So £2m buys you a lot more than £5k; does it get you much less than £65m? Well, based on these films, not really. A lot of the budget goes on the stars, of course – so Tweddle gets amateur actors, Brown gets Ciaran Hinds, £65m buys you George Clooney. Then there is CGI, which both our new guys had to manage without. What IS left for all films, though, is the talent of the Directors, which money doesn’t necessarily buy. Is "Gravity" really a better film than "The Sea" or "Damaged Goods"? Pound for pound, I'd say not, but it's not for me to judge (I thought Gravity was one of the worst films I've ever seen!). What IS true though is that independent films have as much chance of being good as any big budget movie.
Our thanks go to both Mike Tweddle and Stephen Brown for coming to talk to us. Now, I'm off to read Banville's book "The Sea" to try to work out just what happened in the past...
Next week, we are showing another Cannes Palme D'Or nominated film – the Romanian "Beyond the Hills". The cinematography here is supposed to be sublime, so come along and see what you think.
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