The Issue of Adapting Tragedy

Netflix’s optioning of the Wild Boars’ rescue from a Thai cave system prompts questions as to how we still make entertainment based on real-life tragedy

As you read these words, Netflix are currently funding a project based on the successful rescue of 12 schoolboys and their coach from a flooding Thai cave network – 2018 the summer story that gripped the world during their full two week ordeal. Yet the fact of the matter is, this film existed in some form from the moment the cave first flickered onto news channels across the globe, thanks to the entertainment world’s instinctual reaction to quantify these events on the big screen.

There are some directors who are drawn to such challenges repeatedly. In late 2018 Paul Greengrass made a film for Netflix (July 22) about the slaying of 77 people on a Norwegian beach in 2011, in addition to his previous works covering United Flight 93 (2006), Bloody Sunday (2002) and the murder of Stephen Lawrence (1999). Similarly, Peter Berg has recently found success making films based on American tragedies. First turning the Boston Marathon bombing and then the Deepwater Horizon disaster into films, both released in 2016 no less.  

Though interestingly, what Berg has on his side that Greengrass doesn’t, is locality. Berg is an American director, directing Americans on American stories – his task is simple, or simple enough. He doesn’t have to answer to anyone or do anything he wouldn’t have done otherwise. In a sense, he is part of the greater story. When making July 22, Greengrass, a Brit, made a point of filming in Norway, as well as hiring Norwegian actors and crew. Did he have to do this? No. But the fact that he did suggests it’s something that looms large when taking on these projects as an outsider, where each move is significantly more calculated. Not so much in terms of accuracy, but in terms of respect and responsibility.

There is a massive industry-wide effort of tying these films to their ethnic or nationalistic core, as stories that really strike at the heart of a nation are seldom taken out of it. The reigns of the aforementioned Netflix project have been handed to John Chu, an Asian American director of blockbuster pedigree, and Nattawut Poonpiriya, an up and coming Thai director. Is this a coincidence? Of course not. But it is interesting that this is something the industry clearly deems necessary to legitimise their efforts. There are no laws dictating how adaptations should be handled – they’re only entertainment – but taking the story away from its people seems to be a huge faux pas, as John Chu tweeted to assure there will be no whitewashing of the cast in his version of the film.

It will be interesting to see how these films handle the death of Saman Kunan, rescue diver and former Thai Navy SEAL who heroically passed away delivering oxygen bottles in the cave system. As the only fatality, Kunan’s death represents the distinction between this being a truly miraculous event infinitely easier to sell, against one where a man lost his life volunteering to save children he did not know. As such, his death is significant and should feature in these films, but to what extent may vary depending on the tone of the films.

Films like Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler, while terrifying and provocative, ruffle fewer feathers because they aren’t rooted in any specific truths. No names or locations need be changed and no families are consulted before release. While censorship may prove an issue for them, they need not deal with anything the average horror studio hasn’t dealt with a thousand times. The safest options for adapting tragedy tend to be documentaries, yet depending how sharp the narrative knife, controversy can still be found. Bowling For Columbine kicked up some significant shit and Going Clear and Leaving Neverland have been two of the most significant films of the last few years.

The public will always have their say, as last year, Irish filmmaker Vincent Lamb found himself on the wrong side of over 260,000 signatures petitioning to have his film about the murder of James Bulger boycotted. Despite this, Detainment, the 30 minute independent film played at Cannes and the Odense Film Festival, won the latter’s 2018 Grand Prix. It has been shown in France, Poland, Greece, Ireland, Denmark, Austria and the US – but crucially not the UK, and streaming it on Amazon Prime, while available elsewhere, is blocked in the UK. Detainment may have received critical acclaim internationally, but domestically it does not even warrant an audience. So shocking is the story even 26 years later, that it is not considered entertaining in the country it is most relevant. 

While Netflix’s adaptation is arguably the biggest scale production about the rescue, Tom Waller’s The Cave has already finished shooting and due for release in November. Once again we find a common thread, as Waller, half Thai, has found himself at the helm of that particular project. These are just two of at least six films currently being overseen by the Thai government, and all of which in some form or another seem to be compensating the families of the children involved. Just as Greengrass donated 10% from United 93’s opening weekend to a victims’ memorial and Spielberg used the profits from Schindler’s List to fund several documentaries on the Holocaust, these films usually have to give something back to be fairly acknowledged. Be that money, profile, or both.  

In light of the recent shootings in El Paso, Gilroy and Dayton, Universal Pictures have decided to shelve The Hunt, a film about strangers being hunted for sport by the rich elite, but in all reality, this is more than likely a temporary measure. Following 9/11, Schwarzenegger’s Collateral Damage was pushed back 4 months, Eli Roth’s Death Wish was pushed back 5 months after the 2017 Las Vegas shooting and Phone Booth was pushed backed 5 months after the Beltway sniper attacks. With that in mind, we will more than likely be able to sit down in a cinema and watch The Hunt with popcorn in hand sometime early next year.

Seemingly the world is yet to see a disaster that it is unwilling to make an adaptation of. The holocaust, Chernobyl, 9/11, Hillsborough, famine, the troubles, the Titanic, the Armenian and Rwandan genocides – all apparently fair game. Plight sells and all it takes is a sufficient amount of time and emotional distance before we are willing to engage with these topics as outright entertainment. In this age of almost instant entertainment the trend is pretty well locked in, but how far it’ll go depends heavily on how we as a society react to these ventures and when we decide that a line has truly been crossed.

Illustration Thomas Durham

Uncharted Territory

Harris Dickinson is one of the most exhilarating actors to emerge in recent years – his leading-man appearance belying a multifaceted talent. For issue 24, we talked to the breakout star of 2017’s Beach Rats about acting inspiration, his desire for uncomfortable work and how to strike a balance

A bright and sunny Sunday in central London. Dickinson and I meet in Green Park. The Houses of Parliament – in crisis, as is usual now – are partly visible through swaying willow trees. We sit on recently mown grass with clusters of daffodils erupting all around. The Andrea Bocelli hit ‘Por Ti Volaré’ is being performed on a Chinese erhu nearby. Dickinson says he feels like we’re in a Haruki Murakami novel.

He plays with the grass as we talk, and we discuss how the city is different, calmer, at weekends. I ask him if he always imagined being an actor: “I didn’t grow up dreaming of Hollywood,” he replies, “but I did make a lot of little films when I was young [in east London]. Mostly me orchestrating my mates. I never acted in my own stuff but I got a taste of it.” Technology, of course, and the Internet has helped: “I had this show with my friend when I was 11. We would upload weekly videos to YouTube. Spoofs of various other films. Then my own material came after that… short films I’d written. I was somehow completely okay with the idea of asking companies for money to make them. I got 1,500 pounds when I was 15 to make a film. I was hustling, man!”

Dickinson wears PRADA throughout

Now, only a few years on, he is acting in films with 100 million dollar budgets. Talent emerging from acting school or the theatre can be taken up quickly, but this is meteoric. How does he feel about it all? “Things feel good man!” he enthuses. “There have been some overwhelming moments lately… I met Gary Oldman. He’s…” Dickinson pauses for a moment and looks away, as if words aren’t sufficient. “Gary’s very cool. And acting alongside Ralph Fiennes [in part three of the Kingsman series, in production] is a masterclass.”

Dickinson seems adept at maintaining balance in his life, with a calmness that doesn’t feel engineered for an interview setting. “I think my way of dealing with life, in general, is to stay on an even plane. Best to take it as it comes, rather than think about it too much. I just want to continue to explore extreme characters – roles that force me to change, to feel uncomfortable.”

The conversation turns to where he may have acquired this desire for uncomfortable work. Could it be his time training, on weeknights and weekends, over the course of several years, in the Royal Marines’ cadet corps (a profession he very nearly entered)? “I think the cadets helped a bit, perhaps, with self-discipline. But Daniel Day-Lewis is such an inspiration for me here; he’s shaped my idea of what acting is, helped forge my view of the industry… how one behaves in it.” He continues: “I find, with acting, you get to learn with each character, and that comes from uncharted territory, which is humbling. It makes you less selfish; that’s what I love about it. You need to feel what these characters think… to understand their psychologies and characteristics, which feeds into your own life. I think that’s why I go for those roles: that, and the need to push myself.”

Taking on the feelings and thought processes of someone else and living by them is, we agree, quite a peculiar thing. Dickinson is suddenly gripped by how strange his job is: “It’s getting the chance to live life through other people. It’s really quite weird isn’t it! A lot about acting is feeling it; and once you feel it, it’s actually part of you…” He marvels at this apparent magic. “And then you have to shake it off afterwards, other- wise you lose your marbles, and I need those,” he smiles.

It feels like Dickinson could go either way: progressive art-house cinema or Hollywood hero. It’s a wonderful mixture to have; a promise of great range. We talk about how masculinity has changed in movies, from the ’50s teenager to the hardmen of ’80s action films, and I ask him if he thinks things are still changing. “Those films were great for sure – Gene Hackman and Paul Newman being the tough guys; they are amazing actors. But a lot of characters now are being written with much more range, more emotion and depth. Not just for men. I think things are still changing a lot.”

How does he feel about the blockbuster action stuff? “As much as people want escapism, they also want to be immersed in a detailed story. That idea of the hardman just isn’t real anyway. Audiences don’t need a dumbed-down version of the world: It’s complicated. And that’s what I want to be part of.”

Dickinson sometimes tweets his dreams. They often include walk-on parts by directors and other actors, such as one in which he asked Lynne Ramsay for a hug in his local corner shop. “I was on the cusp of tech, so I didn’t grow up on Instagram as such,” he says of the apps that are a fundamental part of kids’ lives today. “My childhood was playing in a forest. I didn’t have a phone until I was 14. I really value that time before the social media explosion. I totally get tech, and use it all the time, but I think it can be really harmful. It’s twisted… social media. You’ve got to strike a balance with it.”

I mention a tweet I read earlier, by Mark Frost – co-writer, with David Lynch, of Twin Peaks – which pointed out that there is a single falcon feather on the moon: An astronaut performed the feather-and-heavy-object-falling-at-the-same-rate test and left the feather behind. It could be there, in the vacuum of space, for millions of years. “That’s incredible man! That’s the amazing thing about the Internet, about social media. All these little bits of information you wouldn’t normally have noticed. It can bring something unexpected to your life,” he says equitably. “I had a dream about David Lynch recently: He rang me while I was skiing. Dreams can be so cinematic.” I venture that some of these dreams may come true, and Dickinson asks, with disarming sincerity, “Do you really think so?”

As we leave the park, I suggest dropping by a nearby restaurant to use their facilities. Approaching the entrance he stops, figuring out faster than me the inappropriateness of my plan; it’s a particularly fancy establishment. He starts to gently mock me: “You can’t just go in there, walk past the diners and use the toilet!” His inner actor kicks in and he animates himself into a proper cockney geezer, arms swinging up and down: “Let me in, yeah? Alright, cheers mate…!”

I see a snapshot of him in full flow: open, funny, confident… a young man at the beginning of an extraordinary journey.

Photography Jack Davison

Styling Rose Forde

Hair and makeup Jody Taylor at Premier Hair and Makeup

Styling assistant Christina Phillips

Photography assistant Maxwell Tomlinson

Set design Gemma Tickle at East Photographic

Set design assistant Leonie Wharton

Production Mini Title

This article is taken from issue 24. To buy the issue or subscribe, click here

Peckhamplex: Social Cinema

The chairman of London’s favourite cinema, Peckhamplex, reflects on community, authenticity and independence

The cinema is a sacred space, for casual and devout worshippers alike. Few, however, inspire the level of devotion as Peckhamplex, London’s most affordable and down-to-earth cinema. Founded in 1994 and two-time winner of Time Out’s Love London awards, its nostalgic bubble-gum interior has authentic sticky floors to match. Where else would you find free charity screenings of Marvel’s Black Panther on the same schedule as a 70mm cut of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey?

Port caught up with the chairman of Peckhamplex, John Reiss, to discuss the responsibility and authenticity that comes with running a thriving independent cinema.

Was does cinema offer the viewer that on-demand tv simply can’t?

There’s a place for both, but for the social experience, cinema is excellent. An audience produces live feedback to what you are watching and we’re social animals, going out is part of the experience. That’s one of the reasons we’ve kept the price low at £4.99. It’s probably the most affordable cinema in London, so that you can visit regularly and families can come without it breaking the bank. As a result, we have a diverse and growing audience, in a good week with blockbuster films we’re welcoming 10,000 through the door. There are people who’ve had their first date here and they’re coming back with their grandchildren! For many, it’s like going home.

How does it feel to have been voted the Most Loved Local Cinema in London in the 2018 Time Out Love London Awards?  

We’ve had a couple of awards from Time Out over the years, but what matters above all to us is that they are voted for by the readers. It’s very encouraging.  

How can Peckham grow and develop, whilst resisting gentrification that potentially harms long-time locals?

I’ve been involved in Peckham for the past 14 years and I don’t feel it’s changed a huge amount – apart from the cost of housing. The wonderful thing about it is that it’s always been mixed. I think ‘gentrification’ is often a politically motivated word and a balance can be determined by planning policy – there’s room for modern and traditional activities to live side by side in Southwark. It’s a big enough area. 

Why is being independent important?

Having an independent shareholder board means we can be very responsive to the local and wider market, which can be difficult when you’re a big chain. We can be flexible about programming, it means we can make the decision to give space to a one-off special screening or for a charity fundraiser with no fuss.

What joint work do you undertake with the council and residents? 

We regularly participate with the community, whether that’s helping to launch the local newspaper Peckham Peculiar, supporting the Peckham Coal Line project, the South London Gallery, or the annual Peckham Festival. We won’t do anything that takes a religious or political slant though – we’re firmly neutral. For our contribution to the community and, unusually for a commercial business, we were awarded by London Borough of Southwark their Honorary Liberty of the Neighbourhood of the Old Metropolitan Borough of Camberwell – we were chuffed to bits!

Why is affordable cinema so important?

At the end of the day, we’re a commercial business, we have to make a profit but we want to be fair to people walking through the door, and also to our employees. So unlike certain cinemas, we pay everybody at least the London living wage and give bonuses several times a year. There are people who have worked here since the very beginning and we want to share the success. 

What does the future hold for the Peckhamplex? 

We have a lease of over 75 years left to run and our understanding with the council is that if they demolish the building, they would relocate us in the local area, knowing that we’re an important social contributor. The board has big plans over the coming years, expanding the foyer, putting more screens in upstairs so we can show films for longer and introduce even more variety. We want to keep our style comfortable and welcoming – we’re not trying to be Curzon or Everyman. We expect to carry on as long as possible. I’m no spring chicken, but I’ll make sure it keeps running. I love the place.

What was the best film you saw in the cinema recently?

Cold War by Pawel Pawlikowski. Very atmospheric.

Revisiting Peckham’s Radical Health Experiment 

Thomas Bolger speaks to multimedia artist Ilona Sagar about her latest exhibition Correspondence O, which focuses on the revolutionary Pioneer Health Centre in south London

Still from Correspondence O, Ilona Sagar 2017

Established in Peckham in 1926, the Pioneer Health Centre was a bold experiment in social connection, preventative medicine and local governance. For over 24 years, working-class citizens of the south London borough paid a shilling a week to be a part of a body greater than the sum of its parts, signing up to a research program that sought to track the relationship between social and physical health.

The centre’s transition from a Socialist reverie to gated community, as it is now, has uncomfortable parallels to an increasingly fraught and privatised NHS. Returning to the site and the principals with which it was founded, multimedia artist Ilona Sagar’s moving installation, Correspondence O, explores this historical microcosm while asking urgent questions about our current public healthcare system.

Here, I spoke to Sagar about the legacy of the Peckham Experiment, the status of community and social welfare today, and the future of the NHS. 

Still from Correspondence O, Ilona Sagar 2017

Why was the Pioneer Health Centre such a revolutionary model and how did the project come about? 

A while ago I came across the building through a friend and was drawn to its iconic architecture, but I was unware of its loaded history. I started to look at the architect Owen William’s designs in the RIBA collection and realised that I had only scratched the surface of a complex archive.

‘The Peckham Experiment’ was at the forefront of a dramatic shift in the public perception of health, yet its significance has been historically overlooked. Biologists George Scott Williamson and Innes Hope Pearse established it privately in 1926, long before the foundation of the NHS in 1948. The Pioneer Centre came out of a time of social experimentation and optimistic change, citing similar projects such as the fresh air movement. It promised wide, airy, huge-windowed spaces where people could play, exercise, and be observed and recorded. Built around principles of self-organisation, local empowerment and a holistic focus on social connection as fundamental to health, the learning from the Peckham Experiment is as relevant today as it was then.

Still from Correspondence O, Ilona Sagar 2017

How important was collaboration for this project?

There is an overwhelmingly comprehensive body of archival material and primary resources surrounding the work of the Peckham Experiment. They appear in a fragmented way across several archives, community groups, charitable foundations and within the building itself. 

The first material I came across was at the Wellcome Trust archives, where I found a series of very unusual black and white silent films. The lack of an experienced camera operator and the method used to transpose the material to archive results in films which are a disjointed mesh of body parts, glass, water, rope, architecture, small moments of interactions and activities. Through accident they almost appear as a structuralist film rather than a medical document. I was struck by how much these films resonated with contemporary editing methods. So this footage became a key overarching structure for Correspondence O, reflected in a rhythmically edited sequence of rapidly changing events and bound by the layered use of sound design and voice-over.

Correspondence O is not simply a historical account, it is a darkly speculative installation that examines our uneasy and increasingly precarious relationship to public health, labour and wellbeing. During a site visit at the Pioneer Centre, by chance I met Tom Bell, an architectural surveyor, and James Hardy, a personal trainer, who are both residents of the centre today. Their professions became emblematic material components of the film, echoing the legacy of the Peckham Experiment. 

Still from Correspondence O, Ilona Sagar 2017

Could we see this sort of self-organised, locally empowered social-health centre in the future as an antidote to the status quo? What is the tension between public and private in the work?  

The inspiring yet unsustainable ideologies established by biological and social reform groups like the Peckham Experiment has in many ways shaped our expectations of public resources. The failed big society agenda and neoliberal localism have redefined notions of the common good. Correspondence O is not a didactic illustration of the current political climate. I didn’t want the work to become a worthy polemic, but through the film and exhibition, open up a dialogue with my audience and offer a space for discussion. 

Political populism, identity politics and fundamentalism have distracted us from the privatisation of public life. Silently the definition of public interest and welfare have been rewritten, leaving us with an increasingly private and economically driven health sector, redefining health as a consumer asset rather than as an innate human right.

Still from Correspondence O, Ilona Sagar 2017

AI can now diagnose scans for cancer with incredible accuracy and at a fraction of the cost compared to human doctors – could emerging technologies like AI be the thing that saves the NHS?

There are amazing innovations in health and care using advance forms of human-computer interactions and assistive technologies, and I have no doubt that they will have a positive and lasting impact on our health in the future. Yet I have concerns about how private health companies shape our access to these technologies. Algorithms, neural networks and data forests are increasingly trusted and relied on to manage all aspects of our everyday activities. In recent years we have seen a surge of innovation in the commercial sector for products that allow users to self-manage their health and wellbeing without outside human intervention. Internationally we are seeing governments trialling new E-health initiatives in a desperate bid to solve growing structural and fiscal challenges within public health provision. 

I am deeply troubled by the contraction of companies such as Babylon Health Care, who are currently piloting the ‘GP in Hand’ digital app for the NHS. The app promises ‘efficiency’ to take pressure off an over-stretched NHS. Yet it features ‘queue-jumps’ and faster testing pay bands, piggy backing us into a ACA style system. Although there is a substantial commentary surrounding the gamification and quantifying of our health, labour and wellbeing, there has been sparse empirical analysis. 

Courtesy of the Wellcome Collection and Pioneer Health Foundation

Do you think the British public will eventually reject privatisation in their healthcare system?

I would like to think we have a power to resist, but whether we have a choice to reject the privatisation that is already legislated for is difficult to assess. Evidence of the silent shift to a US style system of insurance is embedded in the announcement by Jeremy Hunt of the launch of “accountable care organisations”. It is a system of health management directly transplanted from the US that bring private, corporate health interests deep into the structure of public welfare. Aspects of privatisation are very much in the public interest, yet corporate partnerships remain opaque and little known to the general public. 75 years after the Beveridge report, we are further than ever before from the founding notions of social insurance. We should take every opportunity to question and challenge policy and increasing health inequalities. Once it’s gone, its gone. 

Correspondence O runs at the South London Gallery until the 25th February. A panel discussion with Owen Hatherley, Nina Wakeford, Lisa Curtice and Ilona Sagar takes place at 6pm on 25th February. For more information click here.

Julian Rosefeldt: An Artist’s Manifesto

Port speaks to director and artist Julian Rosefeldt about his film Manifesto, a meditation on modern artistic manifestos in which Cate Blanchett plays 13 different characters

FLUXUS / MERZ / PERFORMANCE, Manifesto © Julian Rosefeldt

Julian Rosefeldt’s Manifesto, a feature length film derived from an art installation of the same same name, is a tough sell on paper. The film is divided into thirteen sections, each with a different main character played by Cate Blanchett (a la I’m Not There, in which Bob Dylan is embodied by six actors, including Blanchett) who recite excerpts from over fifty individual manifestos of art, from Dada to Dogma 95. Alongside a touring exhibition of the sections simultaneously projected onto separate screens in an overwhelming sensory soundscape, the more conventionally structured film of Manifesto, in which the sections are stitched together into a 90 minute feature, premiered at Sundance Festival in January, and has its general UK release later this month.

SURREALISM / SPATIALISM, Manifesto © Julian Rosefeldt

What relevance do these artistic credos, some of which are approaching their centenary, have for people not in the art world? “The art world is a bit of a closed circle,” explains writer, director and producer Julian Rosefeldt from his home in Berlin. “We’re imprisoned in a white cube where we always speak with people who don’t necessarily have to be convinced, because they agree with everything we have to say already. We consider these important issues, but we don’t talk to the right people about them.”

STRIDENTISM / CREATIONISM, Manifesto © Julian Rosefeldt

In different hands, this cerebral mixture could easily have produced quite a dry film: one to be cautiously admired, rather than enjoyed. Yet, Rosefeldt and Blanchett pull off the impressive feat of making these scholarly manifestos digestible, comprehensible and almost conversational.  In Blanchett’s portrayal of a dizzying range of characters – including a homeless man, a single mother and a ballet choreographer – century old texts written almost exclusively by dead, white men, go through a certain democratisation. “I wanted to depict a kaleidoscope of society,” Rosefeldt says.

SITUATIONISM, Manifesto © Julian Rosefeldt

The film is also tonally diverse. The second section features a wild-eyed homeless man, screaming through a microphone with only a post-apocalyptic wasteland to act as witness. This is immediately followed by a stockbroker extolling the virtues of speed and technology that complicated the Futurist movement with overtly Fascist overtones. In Manifesto’s most arresting sequence, Blanchett presides over a Dadaesque funeral mourning (and simultaneously celebrating) the death of art. This scene was filmed in the dying light of a brief winter afternoon in Berlin, Blanchett nailing the eviscerating speech in just one or two takes.

DADAISM, Manifesto © Julian Rosefeldt

This palpable sense of unease and impending catastrophe is punctured by scenes of surprising comedy, such as sculptor Claes Oldenburg’s ‘I Am For An Art’ recited with reverence by a Southern mother saying grace. “I am for an art that is political-erotical-mystical, that does something other than sit on its ass in a museum,” she intones solemnly, her three children and husband (played by Blanchett’s actual family) propped up on steepled fingers around a rapidly cooling Sunday roast.

SURREALISM / SPATIALISM, Manifesto © Julian Rosefeldt

The dashes of humour in the film often arise from such ironic distance between text and situation. A manifesto of conceptual art, parroted by an aggressively made-up, Elnett-haired parody of a Fox News reporter, cannily raises the spectre of fake news: “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. All of current art is fake.”

CONCEPTUAL ART / MINIMALISM, Manifesto © Julian Rosefeldt

Bar the opening lines from the Communist Manifesto, the texts are artistically apolitical – though between the lines such declarations are always political. “In Q&As after the screenings, people again and again refer to the political circumstances of today”, Rosefeldt explains. “When the first Futurist manifesto was published on the front page of Le Figaro in 1909, it acted as a kind of an ignition, a spark, that infected a lot of artistic manifestos at the time. We are living in a moment that is, in a way, comparable to the tension felt between the wars. The world is upside down and people read in those manifestos a kind of call for action, or an anti-populist call.”

FLUXUS / MERZ / PERFORMANCE, Manifesto © Julian Rosefeldt

Audaciously, Rosefeldt combines manifestos from decades apart in the same section, bringing Wassily Kandinsky (1912) and Barnett Newman (1948) into conversation. “Of course, it’s quite disrespectful towards the original writing,” Rosefeldt says bluntly. “Within these circles there is as much contradiction as agreement. But in art, as in history and fashion, everything repeats itself. Ideas come up, disappear for a while, and then forty years later have their rebirth.”

FILM, Manifesto © Julian Rosefeldt

In the last section, in which the manifestos of cinema’s auteurs including the Dogma 95 duo Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg are coalesced into a lesson, the lively contradiction between different authors is more explicit. Through Blanchett’s earnest teacher, the director Jim Jarmusch writes “Nothing is original” on the blackboard and instructs a class of ten year olds to “Steal from anywhere”; a sentiment that the firmly tongue-in-cheek Dogma manifesto contradicts in the next sentence. “That’s a bit how I remember school,” Rosefeldt chuckles. “From the same person, you get both complete bullshit, and things that actually make sense.”

Manifesto: Live From Tate Modern takes place across the UK on Wed 15 November. Manifesto goes on general release on 24 November. See for full details.

Instant Stories: Wim Wenders’s Polaroids

Clare Grafik, curator of a new exhibition of Wim Wenders’s photographs, talks to Port about the director’s creative vision, connections between art and technology, and the Polaroid aesthetic

Valley of the Gods, Utah, 1977, Courtesy Wim Wenders Foundation

When Clare Grafik, the head of exhibitions at the Photographers’ Gallery, discovered that the Wim Wenders foundation had recently unearthed boxes of Polaroids that had been untouched for thirty years, she was immediately inspired. “If we work with an artist who is already well known, we’re interested in asking what part of their oeuvre is less familiar. I remember thinking, ‘I don’t even know what the Polaroids are like, but I want them.’”

Wim Wenders, the celebrated director of Paris, Texas (1984), is best-known as a filmmaker, though his photographs of large-scale, panoramic landscapes have also been widely exhibited. For Grafik, Wenders’s unassuming collection of Polaroids, amassed over nearly twenty years, represented a completely new direction for the artist. “He’s such a polymath, his creative vision is so versatile. It’s very unusual, I think, to be able to move between different mediums…  I think he’s genuinely carved out quite an individual voice in each.” 

On the Road to New England, 1972, Courtesy Wim Wenders Foundation

In the intimate gallery space hosting Instant Stories: Wim Wenders’ Polaroids, over 200 photographs have been subtly framed on the walls, grouped under poetic, evocative titles: ‘Alice in Instant Wonderland’, ‘A Man Named Dashiell’, ‘Looking For America’. “For Wim, the process of collating the images moved from being a visual to quite a diaristic experience,” explains Grafik, and the chapter headings dictated the structure of the exhibition. ‘Alice’, for example, refers to Wenders’s early film, Alice in the Cities (1974), about the wanderings of a young European man in America, who becomes obsessed with photographing the strange things he sees.

Dennis Hopper, Courtesy Wim Wenders Foundation

Shortly before filming Alice, Wenders was given a prototype of the Polaroid SX70 which would become so prominent in the film. Making the film was also Wenders’s first experience of America; he had arrived, like many Europeans, with preconceived ideas of the landscape. The exhibition section ‘Looking for America’ depicts Wenders’s outsider’s gaze, taken to an extreme as he scouted for locations. The section details his “disappointment at not finding what he had in his mind”, Grafik says. This disillusion was, however, a key part of the process. “What I enjoy about Wim is that he’s got a centre of gravity to his vision, which allows for those cracks in the iconography. He’s in no way an idealist about these things.”

By an unknown photographer, 1971, Courtesy Wim Wenders Foundation

Wenders considered the restrictions and informality of the Polaroid – it’s limited technological abilities, and inability to take panoramic pictures – to be a breath of fresh air. “The way people treated the Polaroid wasn’t burdened with history in the same way as a medium format camera, there was no expectation that you would create great art works with it, unlike film,” Grafik explains. “The idea that Polaroid was like a toy, was really freeing for him.” 

New York Parade, 1972, Courtesy Wim Wenders Foundation

Printed on a wall in the exhibition is an excerpt written by Wenders from Instant Stories, the book published by Thames & Hudson which accompanies the exhibition.

It was a little magic act each time – nothing more, nothing less.

I don’t think I’m romanticising when I allege

that Polaroids were the last outburst of a time

when we had certainty, not only in images.

We had nothing but confidence in things, period.

Self Portrait, 1975, Courtesy Wim Wenders Foundation

After 1984, Wenders returned to shooting with film. The Polaroid had served its purpose. What made him decide to just stop? I wonder. Grafik pauses. “I think for Wim, there was a period when Polaroid did just what he needed it to do,” she says thoughtfully. “It provided exactly what he needed at that point, and then it just didn’t work for him any more. At some point technology moves on and continuing it would seem somehow a conceit.” 

Sydney, Courtesy Wim Wenders Foundation

Wenders may not have considered his off-the-cuff images as art at the time they were produced yet, since then, as an art form the Polaroid has been wholly legitimised. Will photography considered equally ephemeral in 2017, such as selfies on Instagram, feature in exhibitions thirty years from now? “That’s a massive question!” Grafik laughs. “It’s open as to whether the taking of imagery now functions in the same way as photographs taken in the 70s were. There’s the practical question of archiving: how these images are archived, whether they even should be. It’s hard to say what will exist thirty years from now, what visual culture will mean to us.”

Instant Stories: Wim Wenders’ Polaroids, will be showing at The Photographers’ Gallery until 11 February 2018

Interview: Arnaud Valois

Port meets the reluctant actor whose understated talent owes as much to a passion for holistic therapy as it does to stage school

Arnaud Valois wears Saint Laurent AW17 throughout

In the 1980s, the gay community was being mercilessly decimated by a disease that the straight world was doing its best to turn a blind eye to, but there was a boisterous hotbed of active Parisian resistance which had other ideas. It’s this loose panoply of lovers, friends and rebels, forming the core of the activist group Act-Up, that acclaimed director Robin Campillo has brought to the big screen in the searing, personal and sometimes dreamlike fresco, 120 Beats per Minute. The film marks a return to the public eye for reluctant acting talent Arnaud Valois. Although he chooses not to define himself as an actor, his fragile yet powerful screen presence sublimely communicates the tragedy and beauty of a love that rages against both the machine and the dying of the light.

In the film – which has been lauded for its candid, unapologetic portrayal of gay sexuality, alongside the fervent activism of one of the most important movements of the ’80s – Valois plays Nathan, the HIV-negative lover of HIV-positive Act-Up firebrand Sean (a role played with startling verve by Nahuel Pérez Biscayart). “We are very lucky in Europe to have people who fought for us, struggling for rights of all kinds – but we need to be vigilant,” Valois tells Port over an intimate coffee in the Marais. “It’s very important to stay aware.” When did Valois become aware of Act-Up’s activism? “I was watching TV one morning with my family and said, ‘Oh, what is that?’” he says, with a smile. “Act-Up had put a condom on the obelisk in the Place de la Concorde. They also organised a big TV show in the ’90s called Sidaction, and it was on all the six main channels.”

Sidaction remains one of the most respected and successful charity organisations raising awareness of HIV and AIDS. It’s an interesting prospect for an actor to portray a docu-fiction version of recent history, especially when, to some degree, that actor’s psychogeography has been personally affected by the related events. How much did those memories shape Valois’s approach to his reticent and quietly sensitive character? “Robin said to us, ‘Please, don’t go too much on documentation or read, like, 20 books on the period. Trust me and trust yourselves. You are young people, so put your imagination in action and let’s work together.’” Given that Campillo is a seasoned Moroccan-French director whose own story and talent is steeped in the history of gay counterculture – as was shown in his 2013 classic Eastern Boys – one can only assume that such trust comes easily. “Absolutely. It was easy and comfortable to work with someone who likes telling his own story,” continues Valois. “It was interesting. The other thing is that he is a really good acting director. He has such a powerful vision of what he wants, so for an actor it’s quite easy. You need to learn your lines and be focused.”

Valois is somewhat playing down his exceptional talent. His propensity for switching mood with an endearing, nuanced grace is stunning, and perhaps somewhat surprising given that he turned his back on acting for a decade after graduating from drama school. “I don’t have two personalities, but there are maybe two sides to myself,” he says. “One is attracted by strong, powerful emotions and the other is driven by soft- ness and peace and calm. I don’t really consider myself to be an actor. I play a part in this movie – which I’m very proud of – but it feels strange for me. I see myself as a massage therapist and sophrologist who sometimes makes films.”

Sophrology is a relaxation technique, combining small movements and deep breathing to help control emotions and fears, and Valois’s commitment to the practice took him away from acting for a number of years. “I studied acting at Cours Florent for two years when I was 20 and was discovered by a casting director for my first movie, Charlie Says by Nicole Garcia. I started an acting career but it wasn’t what I expected,” he says. “I wanted to realise myself in another way. I wanted to be active, to do something with my life, so I went to study in Thailand. It was a personal journey, and then it became about other people – to heal people, first of all you have to heal yourself.” So how did it come to pass that his journey of self-actualisation should witness a return to the screen at all? “This casting director I used to work with 10 years ago called me and said, ‘I’ve got a project for you: Are you still an actor?’ I said no, not at all. But once she explained to me about the politics and historical side of what 120 BPM was, I said okay, I’ll give it a try…”

For Valois, ‘giving it a try’ means excelling in the communication of an extreme and tortuous emotional journey; perhaps his detailed understanding of the body, required for him to work as a practitioner of sophrology, underpins the utterly unique physicality he communicates as an actor. “European people usually separate head and body, but with Asian people their head and the body go together. So learning sophrology, which is a combination of head and body, helped me to redefine my vision of the human identity,” he says. “In France, we are very intellectual and it’s all about the brain. Robin Campillo is an exception because he considers the body and the head together. It’s very important for him, the way you move, the way you act, the way you position yourself on the screen…”

There is an intense physicality about Valois’s performance in 120 Beats per Minute that has been well documented in the press. The sensuality that pours through the screen doubtlessly owes a debt to his devoted practice as a therapist. “It has had a really big impact,” he explains. “When I receive clients at my studio as a therapist, I’m in a particular mode that requires being in empathy with people. I think when you’re an actor you need to be in empathy with your character and partners, so there is a similarity,” he continues. “It also helped me a lot after the filming to refocus, to get back to my life and not stay too much in the fiction of the movie.”

So are we to expect another prolonged retreat from the screen for the therapist-cum-actor, or can we hope to see him on film again soon? “I have an agent and we’re reading scripts together, so hopefully we’ll find an interesting one,” he says, thoughtfully. “I would like to do a biopic, something inspired by a real person – learning about someone and trying to not do an imitation, but instead creating another life for the character,” he says, before a pause. “It was such an intense and magnificent experience to make this film, and I was not really hoping for a return to acting. It would be interesting to do again, but I know this was a unique adventure.” We can only look forward to his next move, knowing that whatever it is, it will be deeply considered and profoundly authentic.

Words John-Paul Pryor
Styling Dan May
Photography Arnaud Pyvka
Clothes Saint Laurent AW17

This is an extract from issue 21 of Port, out now. To buy or subscribe, click here.

The Vision of Dries Van Noten

An intimate documentary directed by Reiner Holzemer follows a year in the life of the Belgian designer as he reveals the creative process behind four collections

Dries Van Noten selecting fabrics in his studio in Antwerp

Dries Van Noten is one of the most unassuming figures in fashion. In an industry which otherwise moves at an impossible pace, he is a thinking, feeling designer, and for more than 25 years, he has remained independent in the face of fashion’s runaway globalisation. 

Despite his relatively low profile, Van Noten is a veteran designer and celebrated his 100th show in March this year. A master of print, pattern and texture, he emerged from Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts in the early ‘80s as part of a group of designers including Walter van Beirendonck and Ann Demeulemeester, often referred to collectively as the Antwerp Six. Since launching his namesake label in 1986, he has become widely respected as a designer who has forged his own path.

In a new documentary directed by Reiner Holzemer – whose past films include portraits of artists and photographers such as David Lynch and Juergen Teller – the Belgian designer gives rare access to his home and work life. Over the course of a year, Dries documents the makings of four collections, from his studio in Antwerp to backstage at his fashion shows in Paris. In doing so, it offers a glimpse into the world of “one of fashion’s most cerebral designers”, as The New York Times has described him.

Dries Van Noten with Jürgen Sailer, head of men’s design in his studio in Antwerp

Holzemer, himself a relative newcomer to the inner workings of the fashion industry, met Van Noten while filming his 2011 documentary on Juergen Teller. Immediately taken with the designer’s intuitive approach, it took the German filmmaker three years to convince a camera-shy Van Noten to be the subject of his next film. While the designer had outright turned down the proposals of other directors, Holzemer was spurred on by the fact that he never said no. Twice a year, they would meet at Van Noten’s shows and each time, Holzemer would ask again.

“I think what encouraged him, or interested him in my work, was that I was not coming from the fashion world,” Holzemer explains. “I wasn’t a fashion filmmaker and he saw some of my films as portraits of artists, and I think he liked that approach.” After this prolonged game of cat and mouse, Van Noten agreed to open up his work and home to Holzemer and a small crew.

Dries Van Noten with Jürgen Sailer, head of men’s design in his studio in Antwerp

Holzemer’s genuine affection for Van Noten comes across in conversation and his respect for designer is more than apparent in his portrayal. Fashion documentaries often capitalise on moments of drama and the frenzy of the eleventh hour, but Holzemer cites examples such as The September Issue and Dior and I as precisely the type of fashion film he wasn’t looking to make. With Dries, he insists he wasn’t interested in playing up to the same stereotypes; the appeal was the person, not the industry. 

An important aspect of the film is its depiction of Van Noten’s life in Antwerp, where he continues to live with his long-term partner, Patrick Vangeluwe, and his dog, Harry. The choice not to live in Paris, where his collections are shown, is a considered one. “There’s less distraction and he can really concentrate on his work,” says Holzemer. “It’s important for him to live his own rhythm, to live in his own world. And that’s why he’s always creating something new and unexpected.”

Dries Van Noten in his garden in Lier, picking flowers for the house

In Dries, Van Noten touches on what he calls the “rat race” of fashion. Speaking of the immense pressure placed on designers today, many of whom are tasked with producing a growing number of mid-season collections, Holzemer says, “In a way he’s an exception and in the same way he’s typical, I think.” Yet, while contemporaries might produce in excess of eight collections a year, Van Noten has refused to compromise the quality of his ideas.

“When he designs something, when it’s too beautiful, he adds something distracting or something ugly to make it more interesting, and that’s an ongoing process all the time,” Holzemer explains of his process. “I found that Dries doesn’t draw. He works like a sculptor, working with the fabrics on a live model, more a less. That was very hard for him to show – how he works – because he was always a little bit afraid of showing something that was not perfect, and might even look a little banal in the eye of the audience.”

As seen through the eyes of Holzemer, the designer’s high-profile admirers, and Van Noten himself, what comes together is a portrait of a man who strives to bring the same artfulness to all areas of his life. “Do you think people like Dries are disappearing in the world today?” Holzemer asks Iris Apfel as the documentary draws to a close. “Not disappearing, darling – they’ve disappeared,” she says. “He’s a treasure and has to be treated as such.”

Dries Van Noten working on a collar for the Men’s Winter 2016 collection

Dries, directed by Reiner Holzemer, is out now on DVD 

Defining Moments: Robert De Niro & McCaul Lombardi

A new film campaign by Ermenegildo Zegna sees actors McCaul Lombardi and Robert De Niro come together to consider the moments that made their careers

McCaul Lombardi and Robert De Niro in Ermenegildo Zegna's 'Defining Moments' SS17 campaign
McCaul Lombardi and Robert De Niro in Ermenegildo Zegna’s ‘Defining Moments’ SS17 campaign

Ermenegildo Zegna’s SS17 video campaign opens with two actors riding a convertible in downtown Los Angeles. One is an Academy Award-winning veteran, with a career spanning over almost half a century and a filmography including Goodfellas, Raging Bull Taxi Driver. The other is a relative newcomer, earning his big break in 2016 with Andrea Arnold’s free-spirited drama American Honey.

Created by director Francesco Carrozzini, the three-minute long Defining Moments sees Robert De Niro and McCaul Lombardi reminisce about some of the key turning points in their lives and careers in cinema; McCaul Lombardi remembers the period he spent living in his car, while De Niro shares memories of working with Marlon Brando.

“I always tell people don’t be afraid to take a chance, for a part or something else,” says Robert De Niro, imparting some simple advice for making your way in Hollywood. “Even if it looks like you won’t get it…If you don’t go, you’ll never know.”

Additional text Sanjeeva Suresh

Spacey & Gyllenhaal: the first shot

PORT travels to Hollywood to meet Kevin Spacey and Maggie Gyllenhaal, who discuss their roles as mentors in Jameson’s First Shot competition for budding directors

From left: Kat Wood, Kevin Spacey, Jason Perini, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Cameron Thrower and Dana Brunetti – Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Jameson / Pernod Ricard
From left: Kat Wood, Kevin Spacey, Jason Perini, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Cameron Thrower and Dana Brunetti – Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Jameson / Pernod Ricard

When I arrive at Paramount Studios, Maggie Gyllenhaal is sitting in her trailer as crowds gathers outside the iconic Bronson Gate, waiting for the premiere to start. It’s a familiar environment for the 38-year-old Hollywood actress, whose filmography includes a swathe of blockbusters – Dark Knight and Crazy Heart – and modern cult classics, such as Donnie Darko and Lenny Abrahamson’s Frank. But for the three young directors sitting opposite her, this is unfamiliar territory.

As joint winners of Jameson First Shot 2016 Cameron Thrower (USA), Kat Wood (UK) and Australian Jason Perini (Australia) are at the beginning of an exciting road. Now in its fifth year, the competition is a collaborative project between the whiskey brand and Spacey’s Trigger Street Productions, and provides a platform for budding writer-directors to bring their scripts (strictly limited to 5–7 pages long) to the silver screen.

“I’m a product of someone believing in me early on, giving me opportunities, putting me under their wing, nurturing me – so to now be in a place in my life where I can do this sort of thing is so important to me,” Spacey tells me, on the eve of the premiere. “I’m so proud of what they’ve done and the films they’ve made.”

Besides benefitting from the mentorship of Spacey, now 57, and the use of a Hollywood-standard production team, each winner was able to cast Gyllenhaal as the lead in their films. Starting in 2012 with Spacey filling the main role, the First Shot series has seen Willem Defoe (2013), Uma Thurman (2014) and Adrien Brody (2015) all take centre stage. All actors essentially ‘went in blind’, as the winning scripts wouldn’t be picked until after they’d signed up. But this didn’t deter Gyllenhaal, who instead saw an opportunity to work with emerging talent.

“When they asked me [to do First Shot], they sent across a few of the previous films that had been made and I thought they were really good,” Gyllenhaal explains. “I just thought, ‘what a cool way to do something generous’.”

“I’m incredibly grateful to Maggie. Normally, an actor knows a script and a director [beforehand], and they make a judgement about whether they’re going to do something based on that,” Spacey says. “But we’ve asked them to not only to take that leap of faith with one movie, but to take a leap of faith with three.

“The fact that the actors have done this every year is really valuable,” he adds, “because it sends a message that it’s important for the film industry to be really cognisant.”

The three winning shorts — Home by Wood, Beauty Mark by Thrower and The New Empress by Perini — all show a level of filmmaking experience and storytelling prowess well beyond the years of their respective directors. Given that nearly 20,000 scripts were submitted to the competition, I was curious to find what it was about these three that caught the judges’ eyes.

Home by Kat Wood sees Gyllenhaal take on a somber role as Ruth – a homeless woman who has been living in a tent on a beach (for reasons that are never explained to the viewer) until it is destroyed as part of a prank by passers by. A good Samaritan soon comes to her aid, but has trouble convincing Gyllenhaal’s character to accept a generous offer.

Home was very different to the other two projects – I was immediately drawn to the script,” Gyllenhaal says. “It was the simplest in terms of shooting; when there’s a simplicity to the story, and space in it to express many things, I can give it a piece of myself.”

“I’ve never directed anything before, so to go from being a screenwriter for a few years to directing my first film with an Academy Award-nominated actress and working with such talented people was absolutely amazing,” Wood says, before revealing that she’s just been giving funding by Creative England to fund her first feature-length.

“It was great to be able to talk to Maggie about her ideas for the character’s backstory,” Wood says. “I found it really rewarding just to be able to have that collaboration.”

Eccentric in its plot and playful in its execution, The New Empress by Perini is the light relief among the three productions, and reveals a promosing comedic writing talent in the young Australian actor-turned-director. It opens with Gyllenhaal’s character, Olive, being dumped in a kitsch Asian restaurant, and the viewer can’t help but feel sorry for her. The oddly matched pair soon realise they’ve lost their wallets and can’t pay the bill, but after some quick thinking on Olive’s part they manage to get away with it. The night then spirals into a bizarre freeloading tour across town, before she elopes with an even more unlikely partner.

“I picked [Perini’s] script out of the 20 shortlisted because it was so unconventional,” says Gyllenhaal, “I hadn’t read anything like it before.”

“I was intimidated before meeting Maggie, and anxious about it, because how could you not be?,” Perini says. “But very quickly she was so open and warm, and really friendly towards me, so I felt confident that I could collaborate with her on this.”

“The thing I learned most by watching her was what a freakishly good actor she is. She brought new and interesting things to each take, while being really true to what I had written,” he adds.

“This experience has been so positive, and people have been so kind and generous, and I’ve worked with such talented people, it’s made me think I’d love to be able to do this for the rest of my life.”

Creator of Beauty Mark, Cameron Thrower, is undoubtedly the most experienced out of the trio, having spent several years making indie films. But winning the Jameson First Shot competition afforded him the opportunity to work with a professional crew and to finally realise the film he “wanted to make.”

The short sees Gyllenhaal play Valerie Williams, a door-to-door cosmetics saleswoman, who changes one customer’s life forever by helping them reveal a side of them they’ve been concealing. Perhaps the most polished of the three shorts, Thrower’s script is expertly brought to life by Gyllenhaal and her co-star, Connor O’Farrell.

“Maggie was so professional, I learned so much from her,” Thrower tells me. “I feel like she treats big blockbusters that same way she treated each of our three films. She just wanted them to be the best that they can be.”

“In my experience, the most experienced and the most talented directors I’ve worked with are also, without exception, the most collaborative,” says Gyllenhaal. “The people who are least collaborative are the ones who are scared.”

“One of the things that was so nice about working with all of these directors was that it was a collaborative experience,” she adds, “and that is a mark of confidence, I think, in all of them.”

Posters for the winning films of Jameson's First Shot Short Film Competition sit alongside the green carpet at Paramount Pictures Studios – Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Jameson / Pernod Ricard
Posters for the winning films of Jameson’s First Shot Short Film Competition sit alongside the green carpet at Paramount Pictures Studios – Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Jameson / Pernod Ricard

When asking the winners if they had any words of advice for those hopefuls considering entering Jameson First Shot next year, there was a common thread among their responses: be willing to take risks and don’t let rejection deter you.

“All they can say is no, and then you enter next year,” says Wood. “I was shortlisted in 2015, but I thought I’d try again. You’ve just got to keep going, it doesn’t matter if you get rejected.”

Despite their own stardom and Hollywood success, it’s encouraging to see that the importance of grassroots competitions like this is not lost on Gyllenhaal or Spacey, who seem happy to shoulder the responsibility of mentoring the new wave of directors and screenwriters.

“It’s not that [the three directors] just won the money to make their movies,” says Gyllenhaal, “it’s that they won the interaction with people who have been doing this for a long time and have that experience.”

“We have to support emerging talent, trailblazing filmmakers, the next generation, because not enough of it is done,” Spacey tells me, “so I’m very happy that we’re able to do this.”

“We’ve had filmmakers that did our films and then before you know it, they were getting their first feature produced and supported in their own country,” he concludes. “We hope it’s a leg up. And the beginning of what will be a very fruitful career for them.”