Author Archives: Gill Branston

Showing and studying the film Green

Just wanted to follow-up a post from last year about the wonderful ‘wildlife-as-you’ve-never-seen-it’ film Green, viewable at www.greenthefilm.com and screened recently on Al-Jazeera TV. The research project which led me to discover the film has produced a website which readers of this blog may find useful.

The Al Jazeera screenings led to this article and comments in the Daily Mail.

Good to see both the film being shown more widely, and the decision to circulate the article, and the responses to it, in the Mail.

Activists from SOCP (Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme) carry an injured orangutan away for medical treatment. The dedicated workers aim to save as many of the primates as they can during deforestation.

 

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More Danish delights!

Sidse Babett Knudsen, in her first TV series, plays coalition Prime Minister Birgitte Nyborg.

This is just to add to a chorus of praise for Borgen (Denmark 2010), the BBC4 political-thriller series set within Danish coalition politics. It’s produced by the same company that did The Killing 1 and 2, though the virtuoso combination of both a focused (one killing) and a spiralling set of plot lines over 20 episodes is not repeated here. ‘Borgen’ (‘castle’) is the Danish equivalent of Westminster in the UK – the general term for the centre of government. See the UK trailer on BBC website.

There’s lots of plot buzz about it, especially in blogs (see The Guardian’s) and they are understandably focused on the convincingness of plot lines, which caused controversy for The Killing 1 and 2. What Borgen does well is to mix a ‘glossy’ often thriller-ish narrative form and look with what feels like a properly complicated account of coalition politics involving a woman Prime Minister.

Also involved are journalism, ‘spin’, and familiar gendered issues around the work involved in bringing up a family, work outside the family, and sexism for many modern working women. It has been casually brilliant in its restrained construction of sexual relationships and their aftermath, or the trauma of abortion for the woman who has to take the decision. And its treatment of sexism at the highest levels of negotiation, which a woman in such a post would enter, is likewise restrained: the muttered ‘Mummy’ behind her back as she leaves a discussion with military top brass, for example.

Casting for a kind of glamour in its leads, it plays questions of appearance, for both men but especially women, superbly well. See discussion of Laura Mulvey and others in Representations chapter of MSB5. In particular it keeps complicating our sense of how scenes and imagery of women will go. I loved the high angle shots of a de-glamourised Katrine, tousled rather than infantilised-by-tousle, getting out of bed to answer the (dangerous) call at her door. The jokes, as well as the difficulties, in the sex life of a married, powerful woman with children are done with a light touch. Maybe decades of experience of Scandinavian social-democrat education and equality debates is sedimented here? And the treatment of small-nation dependency, with the hard political questions that raises, as well as the brute force of certain kinds of US power—all this has wide resonance and was superbly constructed in episode 4.

Enough! Glad to hear in this Independent article that a 2nd series has just been shown in Denmark, and a third is due. And a US version, involving the BBC, and aimed to be a kind of successor to The West Wing, is in development.

See also http://www.guardian.co.uk/tv-and-radio/2012/jan/14/borgen-danish-tv-thrillers for an account of ‘the thriller factory’ within Danish public service broadcasting, from which such series emerge. The rules: ‘Commissioners insist on original drama dealing with issues in contemporary society: no remakes, no adaptations.’ I’ve also heard the cold winter evenings in Denmark make the 8pm slot popular.

And finally, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Kinnock for some real world British connections to the first Danish woman Prime Minister—said to have enjoyed the series, broadcast a year before her election victory.

Another tribute to Pete Postlethwaite

Pete Postlethwaite died on January 2nd this year. The tributes to him have been vivid, from those of us who partly valued an actor of unique physical presence– the ‘raw boned’ face and luminous eyes, the physical grace, and an immediately recognisable, deliberate ‘gruff’ and ‘northern’ voice. But he was also an actor who felt his most important film was The Age of Stupid (UK 2009) because it embodied some of his closest political principles. We were lucky to have permission to use photos from this terrific film, arguing and imaging the need to fight disastrous climate change. If you look at the cover of the 5th edition of MSB you’ll see, in the darkest section, Postlethwaite’s face, as the fictional Archivist of a world destroyed by the change, gazing urgently through the brilliantly imagined screen onto which he projects the news images of warning events that went ignored.

Part of the power of the film came from his willingness to play the role, which of course made it much easier to market, with an Oscar nominee’s presence on board. An innovative ‘green’ premiere of the film was designed– green carpet, celebs arriving by bike or low power vehicles, solar powered projector etc. Ed Miliband (then the Labour government’s Climate Change Secretary) invited himself to it.  On hearing this Pete Postlethwaite devised the brilliant gesture of writing and signing a pledge which included threatening to give back his OBE to the Queen if Miliband gave the green light to a new coal power station at Kingsnorth. As Franny Armstrong, the director, wrote in her tribute to Postlethwaite in The Guardian (http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2011/jan/03/pete-postlethwaite-age-stupid). ‘The look on Miliband’s face was priceless (click the link for images of this pledge making). ‘But a month later he announced no new coal-fired power station would get government consent unless it could capture and bury 25% of the emissions it produces immediately – and 100% by 2025.’ And she continued

‘Pete was gutted to be unable to attend the UN climate summit in Copenhagen in December 2009, but he dragged himself out of bed to be interviewed on Skype. He told me nothing cheered him up more than people stopping him in the street to explain how they were cutting their carbon.’ He was an inspirational figure both in his acting achievements and in the way he connected them, partly by his choice of roles, to his other attempts to make hope possible rather than despair convincing.

(See http://www.spannerfilms.net/node/49591 for a further illustrated tribute from Franny Armstrong after BBC2 broadcast a tribute programme (January 15th).

The Big Beasts and the Smaller ones

 

The forest from 'Green The Film'

 

 

Went to the excellent Wildscreen Festival of wildlife documentary and environmental films last week (Oct 10th to 14th) at Watershed, Bristol. Lots of industry buzz and fascinating insights from an international range of ‘wild life’ documentary makers and commissioners, including discussions and demonstrations of 3D technology.

Despite the assertions of some speakers that “3D is definitely coming this time—all the big money (Sky and Sony, and a 3D iPad is on the way) . . . is being bet on it”, I learnt that apparently a significant percentage of the population (estimates vary but apparently 12% have problems with binocular vision) are not even able to view 3D. In fact a speaker from the Japanese industry at one session said they were still conducting careful medical research before committing (though a deep recession, given the cost of both makers’ equipment and sets at present may also drive such decisions, in Japan and elsewhere). At present lens changes can take up to an hour, so filming is very slow and expensive, but of course the industry is predicting that costs will soon go down.

In these sessions the excitement of film makers, and the omni-presence of the big money position together made it impossible to point to the tsunami of often toxic waste that will be produced by the necessary changeover to 3D viewing and making equipment. This will probably end up in waste dumps in Indonesia, for example, where kids will pick it over for valuable minerals (see MSB5 Globalisation chapter, and the ‘Ideologies and discourses’ case study on the eco-film The Age of Stupid).

Yet after all this blockbuster technology talk the most astonishing film I saw at the festival was not a ‘blue chip’ documentary – a term used across the festival to refer to very expensive, ‘high quality’ wild life programmes, which arguably rule out much questioning of what is happening to what we call the natural world since the emphasis is understandably on an immaculate kind of spectacle and expertise which will sell globally. The film was not in 3D, nor would it have gained much from being in 3D. I saw it in a tiny screening, almost by mistake. Imagine the pleasure of seeing it then get the Gold Award, as well as an Environmental award at the final ‘Panda’ Awards ceremony, and to learn it has had other prizes.
I don’t want to pre-empt your viewing with my own analysis of how it works its power. It focuses on the fate of one creature in Indonesia. Because it has no major distributor the maker (it was mostly made by one man, with some help on the very restrained soundtrack) has provided it free to download at www.greenthefilm.com . There he writes: ‘My name is Patrick, I am an ordinary citizen dedicated to preventing the destruction of the remaining tropical rainforest on Earth. I do so by making heartfelt films on the forest and the industries destroying it.’ At the final screening he spoke of how he himself does not like to be told what to do, and this maybe accounts for the credit which the viewer is given for intelligence, and for putting images and conclusions together in this film with no narration. This makes for a moving, gentle, very powerful story with the kind of end credits which not many of us have seen before. If you have 48 minutes to spare, sit down and attend to this film, and see if you don’t want to tell others about it.