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Tuesday, 11/12/2013

The President

Interview with jury president Suri Krishnamma

The President

In 1986 you presented one of your first films at the Munich International Festival of Film Schools. Anything stick in your mind from that time?
Munich was like a gateway to another world for me. It was the first time I'd presented a film at a festival and to share that experience with students from so many different countries and cultures was enlightening. I remember the Polish students and their work in particular - and how they used metaphor to challenge repression and austerity. The door to a new world opened and I eagerly and willingly entered. Socialising with these new friends opened up other new experiences. I remember waking up to a blanket of snow covering the city - the view from my window like something from a fairy story. On another occasion I accepted a vodka-shot challenge from one of our new Polish friends.

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Suri Krishnamma as a student

And what about the screening of your short film "Mohammed's Daughter"?
Nothing can really describe the sensation in my stomach when nerves, excitement and fear finally collided with the after-effects of the previous night. I was proud of my work and enjoyed seeing it in a movie theatre for the first time. When the credits rolled I didn't know what the audience made of it, sitting as they did in respectful silence throughout. At this point I assumed the worse. 'I don't think they liked it' I said quietly to a fellow student. 'I think they did' he replied. Then I heard the applause and turned as my name rolled onto the screen and I was faced with a standing ovation, beaming smiles, one or two in tears. It was the first time I seriously thought I might just be able to make a career out of this …

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MOHAMMED'S DAUGHTER

Did the festival have any significant impact on your work and /or career?
I think it was Munich that convinced me I could become a filmmaker. Seeing the reaction to something you've made (especially when you were also the originator of the work - in my case writing the screenplay together with my sister and based on her own experiences) and from such a diverse audience encouraged me to believe that I could tell stories that would travel.

Since then you've directed films of all kinds - theatrical feature films, documentaries, TV-movies and series, short films, music videos. Do filmmakers nowadays have to have such a broad range to survive?
I made a decision early on that if I felt a story was worth telling I'd try to tell it, whatever the medium. I also recognized that some stories are better suited to some formats than to others. I made a four-hour drama ('A Respectable Trade') and a six-hour drama ('The Cazalets') both for the BBC. These dramas can't be told easily for a cinematic audience due to their length, hence the mini-series format. And television drama in the UK seems to thrive where our film industry often struggles - so the quality of television as well as the director's visual influence can be just as high if not higher in many instances. So I've never made a conscious career move in terms of which medium I work in - just followed the stories.

What are you currently working on?
I'm simultaneously developing a number of feature films and one documentary while also lecturing in Film and Moving Image Production at Norwich University of the Arts in the UK. Currently in development are 'Being Hamlet', 'Something Great' (the story of how Ray Foulk lured Bob Dylan back onto the world's stage on the Isle of Wight, 1969), 'Megan's Game' (a romantic thriller from the novel by Tony Drury, set for production early next year), 'The Sullivan Conspiracy' (a political conspiracy drama) and 'Bobby' (a documentary about Bobby Moore, the only Englishman ever to lift the football World Cup in 1966). Looked at one way I'm in the exciting phase between projects where new ideas are formed and the thrill of new ventures with new hopes and new horizons are played out. Looked at another way it's development hell. Either way I'm reminded of what Woody Allen once said: "If you want to make god laugh tell him your future plans"!

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How does it feel to come back to this festival as its jury president?
This is a great honour for me. I am thrilled, excited and humbled. I'm looking forward to sitting in the dark to watch all the student films with the same excitement and anticipation I felt when I was a student. It's a privilege to look at the world through someone else's lense so I look forward to that. An influential lecturer once said to me when I was a student that he asked himself two simple questions after watching a film: does anything happen and do I care. If you can answer yes to both it means the film works. Then it's about searching for moments of real individuality, where you sense the voice of the filmmaker where something real, something original and truthful is being communicated. I don't think I'm afraid of anything (although I will definitely avoid any late night vodka challenges this time). I just hope it snows.

The title of your Masterclass in Munich will be "The Outsider". Can you give us a little taste?
I'm going to take you on a short walk through my work over the years, using clips from my films and television dramas as resting posts. It'll be a kind of snapshot of who I am and explore some of the issues and characters that are of most interest to me. It's called 'The Outsider' because that's a theme I gravitate towards, something I often (mostly subconsciously) find myself exploring, particularly in my most personal work. People find themselves on the 'outside' of mainstream society for all kinds of reasons - sometimes by choice because they feel society restricts them - but more often not by choice. Some because of cultural differences or prejudices, some because of disabilities (physical and psychological), some because of emotional isolation due to loss and so on. There's probably an outsider in all of us at some level so I thought I'd share some of my own particular insights.
(Masterclass "The Outsider", Thursday, November 21, HFF Audimaxx, free entry)

You'll also be showing your first feature, "A Man of No Importance" (1994) at a special screening. Why, out of all the films you've made, this one?
I chose 'A Man of No Importance' because it is a film that captures the essence of what it is to be an outsider. It's set in Ireland in the 1960's and tells the story of Alfie Byrne (Albert Finney), a Dublin bus conductor who decides to put on a production of Oscar Wilde's 'Salome' in his local church hall. But Alfie, attracted to his bus driver who he calls 'Bosie', finds himself living in a world that cannot understand him because he professes the 'love that dare not speak it's name' in a culture where homosexuality is illegal. As my first film I was blessed with an extraordinary ensemble of the very best British and Irish acting talent at the time and it's a film I will always be deeply proud of.
( The President's Screening, Samstag, 23. November, Filmmuseum München)

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A MAN OF NO IMPORTANCE with Albert Finney

If a genie granted you just one wish - what would you change about the film business?
If I could have one wish I'd make Johnny Depp my best friend. If the genie was feeling generous and granted me the extra two wishes that normally come with genies I'd mention that Orson Welles once said that filmmaking was 98% hustling and 2% actually making the film. So my second wish would be to shift that balance so filmmakers wouldn't need to fight so hard just to be heard. I'm not saying it should be easy - I just wish the battles weren't so idiotic at times. My final wish would be for the genie to return all the time I've spent reading bad scripts.

What would you advise an aspiring and promising film student trying to get into the business?
There isn't a particular door with a hidden key or secret password (and if there is I've certainly never found it). If you need (rather than 'want') to be a filmmaker then do it - use your own eyes to tell your story from your heart and through your own distinctive lense. Avoid clichés and derivation. Those who are showing their work in Munich have already taken their first step. That's a big deal. What you have to do is keep doing that. Keep making films and keep showing them. The Internet may be a curse in some ways but it's an extraordinary gift in others - it's a free and easy to use distribution outlet right there at your fingertips. Another bit of advice (and this is a creative tip not a business one) is make sure you understand acting and acting talent. Too many young filmmakers fall over because, although they've got everything else right, they've forgotten the importance of casting. It's half your work to get the right talent in front of the camera and it's the single biggest weakness in student work in particular. Finally, the best things in life are still made by hand. By that I mean don't get seduced by digital effects. Use those tools, of course, but remember that good story-telling starts on the page. A good screenplay has a good structure. Cast it well and then all you have to do then, as David Mamet once said, is stay awake on set and you have your movie.

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Screening DARK TOURIST, Filmfest 2012