” Chile, the early 1970s. A violent far-right nationalist group is looking to overthrow Allende’s government. Amid the fervour of crime and conspiracy, group members Inés, her husband Justo and their best friend Gerardo pull off a political crime that changes the course of history. The shadow of betrayal kept them apart for 40 years until Gerardo decides to jumpstart the nationalist cause of his youth.
Now, Inés is powerful businesswoman with a reputation to protect. As the police monitor Gerardo and his growing home arsenal, she will do whatever it takes to keep him from revealing her dangerous political and sexual past.”
The scenario of Andres Wood’s latest film ‘Araña’ (Spider) for 20th Century Fox Chile.
It’s our third collaboration (Machuca 2004, The Good Life, 2008) and this time, Andres asked me to be Creative Consultant. The premier international screening of Araña is at the Toronto festival (TIFF) on 6 September and its European premiere at the the San Sebastian festival on 24 September. Sorry I cannot be there to see it but I wish Andres all the best of luck for for the film in the “Latin Horizons’ competition.
The days of white western hauteur, sense of superiority and entitlement to speak with authority about and on behalf of just about everybody else are coming to an end. But the situation is not clear-cut.
There was controversy in the sixties when the Free Cinema middle-class directors (Tony Richardson, Karel Reisz, Lindsay Anderson) made films about working-class subjects: A Taste of Honey, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, This Sporting Life and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. The screenwriters, however, were all working-class, at the top of their game: Shelagh Delaney, Alan Sillitoe and David Storey. Collaboration was key.
Or take Algerian public investment in The Battle of Algiers (1966). This account of epic struggle and the creation of a nation was directed by Gillo Pontecorvo and co-written with Franco Solinas, both Italians. India, too, backed an outsider to tell the story of one of its founders: Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi, was part funded by the Indian Film Development Corporation. Also, significantly, Jack Lang, France’s minister of culture, approved Andrzej Wajda, the great Polish director, to direct Danton, a historical figure and the voice of the French Revolution.
Creatively, the line should not be drawn between the outsider’s or the insider’s view – the line should be blurred or even fractured so as to surprise and illuminate. The watchword is authenticity – difficult to define but easier to recognise.
After Tebbit became our boss at the NFFC, we sat on our hands while we waited for him to decide what to do with us. When government, any government, announces a review, the outcome is either ‘deep-sea diving boots’ or ‘the blindfolds’. In the interim, Tebbit appointed two new members to the Board. I was curious as to how he would react to the NFFC’s exceptional support of Babylon, which had been backed when Labour was in office a few months earlier. I did not have to wait long. I was summoned to meet a panjandrum from the elite of the civil service to learn our fate. We met in his office in a Georgian terrace house. The room had a high ceiling, tall doors, long windows and pale green wallpaper. It was more an eighteenth century salon than an office. He was courteous, offered me coffee and asked a few questions. Then he got down to business. It was to be the ‘diving boots’, to slow us down. Our budget would be cut. (I did wonder whether they wanted us to fail so that they could close the shop. If that was the aim, we were not cooperative – an NFFC-backed film participated at the Cannes Festival every year I was there and the Corporation put up 60% of the budget of £200,000 for Gregory’ Girl, which, it is reported, has grossed £25 million.) As I put my hand on the door handle to leave, he piped up behind me: ‘Mr Hassan, I take it you are going to back radical films and the like.’
Maybe he was thinking of Babylon. Or the films I had backed at the BFI.
‘Shouldn’t I?’ I asked.
‘Did I say you shouldn’t?’ he said.
‘No, you didn’t. I’ll remember that,’ I said.
I went back to my office and prepared for a siege. The next two films were David Gladwell’s adaptation of Doris Lessing’s novel Memoirs of a Survivor, scripted by Kerry Crabbe, and Bill Forsyth’s Gregory’s Girl. I did not see Babylon as a stand-alone film. Together, all three films were about young people in a changing world: hostile in one, shattered in another, and the last apparently normal but actually heralding a new era.. ‘Gregory’s girl’ might be Dorothy the girl footballer, Gregory’s ideal, but two others also make a claim Gregory’s young sister, Madeline, and Susan, the girl who (quite literally) brings him down to earth. The three girls are the dynamic centre. Artists see today but also see tomorrow coming.
The National film Finance Corporation was closed down in 1985, to be replaced, sequentially, by British Screen, The Films Council and The British Film Institute…
In May 1973, just after the release of Lindsay Anderson’s O Lucky Man, London University Audio Visual (LUAV) filmed a conversation/interview with Lindsay Anderson and me. O Lucky Man was the focus of the interview, which was part of an LUAV planned series of interviews with leading figures of the time. The results would be kept in a kind of time capsule and would not be released until fifty or a hundred years later. The project was abandoned early on.
Mamoun was discussing the early steps of working in cinema with a young colleague and she asked him how he started in the industry.
Mamoun realised that he had never spoken about his first completed work: The Meeting, made in 1964.
As Mamoun’s first experiments in directing and writing were very dialogue heavy, he felt that he should try to create a piece that had no dialogue at all – as an exercise. The exercise became something else.
The finished film went to Oberhausen in 1965 where it was well received and won a prize. It was reviewed at length in Cahiers du Cinema and as part of the review of the Oberhausen festival in Positif. Both publications are recognised as the two most important film journals in France.
United Artists distributed the film in in Europe as a short feature.
Cast and Crew
Peter Suschitzky has become a renowned International cinematographer.
Dave King became an illustrious documentary and fiction senior editor at the BBC.
Cleo Boman is aSwedish actor who has worked in theatre and film and is now a director with the Mittiprickteatern, one of the oldest free theatres in Sweden.
John Stokes decided against joining the British film industry, to our considerable loss, and has worked as an artist/designer and also as a theatre designer and actor at the Maddermarket Theatre in Norwich. I thank him for traveling on a train in handcuffs (which we had to return to the local police station which had lent them to us).
One of Mamoun’s hands is also in the film….
The extract revue by Bernard Cohn in Positif No. 70 from the Oberhausen Film Festival 1965 (Le Tour Du Monde en 144 heures) is translated here:
The Meeting by Mamoun Hassan is one of the most beautiful films of this festival. It’s subject – in a deserted railway station a woman is waiting. She is anxious and her anxiety increases as time passes. An express train rushing through the station at top speed adds to her state of anxiety. A few minutes later a small suburban train slowly comes to a halt. The woman runs towards a carriage door at which a man has appeared. A series of wonderful linked mixes shows them embracing. Suddenly, we see that the man is in handcuffs. He is pulled back roughly by a hand from the corridor. The train whistles and starts to move away, then disappears round a bend in the track. The woman remains alone on the platform and then leaves, back towards the town, where she disappears.
Mamoun Hassan has succeeded in creating a world in which the feelings of solitude and sadness – but also of joy and love – become tangible. Hassan has filmed these grey, sad, tragic settings, these lost characters, with astonishing sensitivity and rigour.
Three of the most compelling films about childhood and adolescence – ever made – released for the first time on DVD by BFI.
Bill Douglas has always been appreciated in France but the enthusiastic response of the cinephile media to the DVD release two weeks ago of the Trilogy shows that his status is now higher than ever. He is spoken of as in the ‘pantheon’ of British directors.
It is particularly gratifying to read a glowing tribute to Bill’s work by Thomas Sotinel in Le Monde*. His piece also recognises the role the British Film Institute played in helping the young Scot get his first feature film off the ground in the early 1970’s – and contains a reference link to an account on this very website: Bill Douglas – his ain man – (as published by Sight and Sound in 1991)
It is my greatest regret that after I commissioned Bill to write a screenplay adaptation of James’ Hogg’s 19th Century Classic, Confessions of a Justified Sinner, no funding was forthcoming to make what I believe was a personal and inspired adaptation. I stand by what I said in the article more than 20 years ago:
I hope that when the film is made — and it will be — I can, in my mind at least, make peace with him.
Mamoun has just returned from the FILMS FROM THE SOUTH festival in OSLO
where he accompanied his close friend, co-writer and producer colleague
the leading South American director ANDRES WOOD to showings of his three
Machuca 2004 CHILE Dir. Andres Wood,(co-writer and co-producer Mamoun
Hassan) La Buena Vida 2008 CHILE Dir. Andres Wood (co-writer and co-producer
Mamoun Hassan) Violeta Went to Heaven 2011 CHILE Dir. Andres Wood
Andres’ latest work VIOLETA WENT TO HEAVEN took the World Cinema Jury
Prize at SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2012 and is appearing at this week’s BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL and will be on theatrical release in North America