Friday, February 15, 2013

Director Dylan Mohan Gray on his new documentary 'Fire in the Blood'

"What drove me to spend so many years working on Fire in the Blood knowing, even in the worst, loneliest moments, that this would almost certainly be the most important thing I would ever do in my life…" Dylan Mohan Gray, director of Fire in the Blood, which will screen EXCLUSIVELY at the IFI (February 21st - 28th), discusses why he felt he had to make this film and why he is particularly pleased it will screen in Ireland. 

I tend to be a fairly laconic character, but must confess that I was truly thrilled when I heard that the Irish Film Institute would be screening my film, Fire in the Blood, over the course of eight days in February. In fact, I insisted on coming for opening night, because somehow I have long suspected that people in Ireland would, and will, really and truly connect with the story and message of this film. More times than I can count I have met Irish people working on health projects in different parts of Africa, in particular with Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), and have invariably been deeply impressed with the energy, fierce commitment and good humour with which they were fighting the good fight for global public health and basic human rights. A few people have also mentioned to me lately that Ireland is home to Europe’s largest pharmaceutical industry, at least on a per capita basis, and that possibly adds another wrinkle to the great sense of anticipation I feel in bringing this film to audiences in Dublin.

Fire in the Blood has been a nearly six-year journey for me, though its roots go back at least a few more years before that, to an article I read in Sri Lanka back in 2004. Initially I had no intention whatsoever of making a film on this subject, but started reading obsessively about it out of pure curiosity, and soon found myself deeply shocked and angered… first of all because I was ashamed to admit I knew virtually nothing about what was clearly an episode of immense historical significance, and secondly because such scant attention had been paid to it, that no book or film provided a comprehensive account of it, and that the entire story was quickly fading into the mists of time, virtually without a trace.    


Fundamentally, however, what made me see that there was a great film in all this, what caused me to lay awake thinking about it and finally one day to take the fateful decision to try and make it, despite having no expertise in non-fiction, was my enduring fascination with the ins and outs of the story, and more importantly the incredible cast of characters who played key roles in it.  

That is what drove me to spend so many years working on Fire in the Blood  knowing, even in the worst, loneliest moments, that this would almost certainly be the most important thing I would ever do in my life… for me this film has so many fascinating and inspirational aspects which take it far beyond the realm of HIV/AIDS, of global public health, world trade, commerce and even the wider field of human rights.  This is a story about money and power, how we treat one another as human beings, but also how any single one of us can rise above the cynicism and casual inhumanity which surrounds us all the time and decide to change the world for the better, no matter how daunting the adversary. Even after so many years, I still find that idea incredibly uplifting and empowering.    

Dylan Mohan Gray will attend the opening night screening at 18.20 on February 21st and take part in a Q&A. Book now or call the IFI Box Office on 01 679 3477.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Do we really need rom-coms this Valentine's Day?

The annual event that is St Valentine's Day. A day laced with cynicism as the red balloons start to blanket Dublin and every shop is adorned with teddy bears and red hearts. Valentine’s Day conjures up images of the traditional date night: going to the cinema and a bite to eat, or cuddling up and watching a movie with the fire roaring. But does there really need to be a rom-com in there? Here are my top three, anti-Valentine films.....

A handsome New Yorker with a compulsive addiction and a fear of intimacy, this is the bare faced reality of the wounded shunning his past trying to belong to a world that’s slowly destroying him. Evocatively shot and beautifully directed by Steve McQueen, Michael Fassbender gives a raw and compelling performance, turning any romantic notions of the world he inhabits on its head. Definitely more of a second date movie...

Fatal Attraction
Another theme of obsession, this tense thriller can still make a grown man shudder. Happily married man Michael Douglas has a weekend fling with his co-worker (Glenn Close) which goes horribly sour when she refuses to let  the relationship end.  His life quickly turns into a nightmare with a healthy dose of blackmail, stalking, and kidnapping. A good warning for any intendant adulterer/adulteress. Recommended for a night in with some rabbit stew...

Is this a truly modern love story? In honour of the wonderful John C Reilly who did an exclusive Q&A here at the IFI last weekend, Cyrus has to be on the list. Directed by the stalwarts of mumblecore -  Jay and Mark Duplass - this is the story of a divorced  and lonely middle aged man, who on the encouragement of his ex-wife, finds new love with a single mother, only to encounter a rival in the form of her unhinged son Cyrus. Nobody plays the downtrodden but determined romantic like Reilly with such delicacy and humour.

Shauna Lyons
Public Affairs & Marketing Director

Lucky for us, all three of these titles are available in the IFI Filmshop, so after your Valentine’s dinner at the IFI CafĂ© Bar, grab yourself a copy and leave Sleepless in Seattle for another day.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Last Men Standing

With so many movies being shot on digital these days, is it the end for film cameras? New documentary Side by Side, produced by Keanu Reeves, investigates the history, process and workflow of both digital and photochemical film creation. We talked to Paul Markey, IFI Projectionist, about the importance of grainy 35mmm film, old-school projectors and the future of cinema exhibition.   

Side by Side, screening from February 15th - 21st at the IFI

What’s so special about 35mm? Don’t we all care for quality and convenience these days? 

It’s not as cut and dried as you would imagine. 35mm and, more specifically, all its flaws became the universal cinema aesthetic these last hundred years. ‘Flaws’, such as graininess, can now be instantly corrected by digital conversion – in the case of old films, or never exist at all – in the case of new movies shot digitally. I think we are in a time of evolution in what is regarded as a quality picture. Many old films have been converted to digital with awful results – scrubbed of their grain and all slick and shiny. Even new movies, shot and released digitally, can suffer certain blandness when the final picture ends up on screen. So what defines a ‘quality’ image is in flux and has never been more in the eye of the beholder.

Becoming a projectionist doesn’t sound like an obvious career choice. Why did you choose this job? 

My father instilled in me a love of movies, so it's in my blood. Retired now, he worked as a Stand In and assistant to actors (he was Daniel Day Lewis' assistant on My Left Foot and got kicked in the face by Sean Connery during The Great Train Robbery). I supposed that's been my indirect root to show business!  I hate popcorn, but I like to write and am a bit of a night owl so I found a home in projection booths.  Plus ultimately, it’s the projectionist not the director, who has final cut!

Are all projectionists obsessed with cinema – you must have seen hundreds if not thousands of films?

The biggest surprise I found when first working in a cinema was that most people weren't film fanatics.  It was just a job. This is true of many projectionists, or they might be tech-heads and like working with the equipment.  For me it is all about the films. Embedded in that is a drive to put the picture on screen in the correct ratio - many cinemas take a very flippant approach to this, especially when it comes to trailers - and decent sound levels (harder than you think!). After serving time in a multiplex for 10 years, I realised that one's taste can become polluted and standards systematically lowered.  One has to strike a balance between the fast food of movies and the nourishment of film.  I love all genres and all types.  Some of my all-time favourites would be:  O Lucky Man, Subway, Yeopgi Girl, Sons of the Desert, Police Story, California Split, Mr. Vampire.

Working in the projection room, you’re watching the audiences’ backs from above. Any memorable stories to tell or any anecdotes from the dark side to share? 

Adults tend not to look up at where the light is coming from, but kids do all the time.  Over the years I've seen fights break out, been blinded by laser-pens, seen whole screens thrashed by thugs (on the opening night of the Veronica Guerin movie, the audience cheered and clapped when she was shot and wrecked the screen when the credits rolled). Oh, and the ratio of Irish male pattern-baldness remains about 3 to 1!  Don't get me started on cell phones...

The IFI is the only cinema in the country screening films in all possible formats – from Digibeta, DVD, Blu-ray and DCP, to 8, 16, 35 or 70mm. Why is it so important to maintain all these different forms of projection?

‘Grainy film’, as I mentioned at the start, is a flaw that is now an aesthetic element of the film picture.  This debate continues to rage as film stock is converted to DCPs and Blu-ray. The grain can be easily removed, but should it?  Also as regards digital, there is still little future-proofing.  I could easily lace up and project a film print struck 50 years ago, but decades from now will hard drives, servers and file compression be the same?  Nope.  It’s a big problem facing digital preservation.  In the short term we've gained a lot.  Many films are being restored and distributed widely thanks to the cost-effectiveness of digital cinema but we face big questions in the long term.  Our Blu-ray players and servers require regular updating as the file structure software changes, or they cease to function.  The lumbering film projectors, with a dash of oil and a bit of care, have been turning for years and will, at least in the IFI, continue to do so.

Side by Side is opening from February 15th – 21st, EXCLUSIVELY at the IFI. There will be a special screening of The Last Projectionist on February 16th (14.30) & 17th (16.20).