Reflections on the Dinard Film Festival, Part 1 (It’s a Jumper)
Audiences loved the film at the Dinard Film Festival. We had big queues, we had great applause, we had laughter, tears and word-of-mouth. All the things you dream of. We had people come back and watch it again. We were screened more times than any other film – five times. We were given evening slots in the bigger venues, which would suggest the festival programmers knew we’d be a crowd pleaser. So why has this film been ignored by the film industry? Why doesn’t it get into other film festivals? Why wasn’t this film in the competition in Dinard?
Stephen Dillane had the answer. I’d come to the awards ceremony to meet up with the P+Sons gang on the last night. It was a big tent affair with 100s of guests in evening attire. The champagne was flowing. I didn’t go to it because P+Sons wasn’t in competition. We’d given them a ‘wonderful film’ (the artistic director’s words, not mine) but there was going to be zero recognition for it. I also had a friend over from Guernsey to see it. I see him once every two years. A lawyer with no interest in film or art. We could talk about normal things – kids, marriage, work, anxiety and hope. So I gave my awards dinner ticket to a film critic called Lisa – who was a friend of Uncle Spiros (the lovely Georges Corraface). She was delighted. I was relieved.
“So do you know why your film is being ignored?” Stephen Dillane said in a fine silver grey suit, tie casually loosened, top button undone. I was cradling a glass of something fizzy, sweet and pink in my contrasting underdressed state of check shirt, jeans and corduroy jacket. I looked like a gate crasher. I was a gate crasher. My father would be horrified. Around us the buzz of a film festival awards dinner was coming to an end.
“Yeah. Of course I do.” I declared. When you make your own film you get into a habit of knowing everything or pretending to know everything about everything. It’s expected of you.
“Go on then…” Stephen nudged. He’d be a lethal poker player. You can’t lie to him.
I paused. I stumbled. I sighed. I didn’t know at all. I simply have no idea. I’ve got theories and some wouldn’t be out of place on a 9/11 conspiracy website. But mostly, I have no idea.
“Ah…” said Stephen with a mix of knowingness and sympathy.
“Well, what is it?”
“The thing is.” And then a pause. The pause you create when you want to establish a simple but overwhelming truth that has been dancing around the room without being noticed.
“The film’s not cool”. Another beat to let that truth sink in. “It’s like a big red jumper. It’s warm and lovely to wear but it’s not cool.”
Stephen said this standing up, actually doing a physical impression of a big red jumper by stretching out his hands and looking around at the glamorous surroundings of the awards dinner as if he was a big red jumper seeking approval from the film business and being ignored. And even as he did this, he was being ignored.
That was it. He was right. My film is a cosy red jumper (the one you would secretly love to wear and don’t) and it’s at a party surrounded by cool leather coats with stylish, slightly emaciated people in sunglasses (even though it’s indoors) and slicked back hair. It’s Mr Bean at a party being thrown by Andy Warhol. And no one wants to stand next to him (although Warhol would! Warhol would! That’s another blog!) This explains so much. To the film business, it looks naïve, innocent and uncool. Uncool to the cool dark shaded (and extremly brilliant) Elliot Grove at the Raindance Film Festival, uncool to the cool slick rebel Mark Kermode at the BBC, and uncool to the fashionable, edgy, Alice at Bankside Films who walked out of an industry screening earlier in the year after just 15 minutes. She stormed out as if I had done something unspeakable. I really thought I’d made a terrible film.
But now, in the presence of Stephen Dillane, the rejection made sense. We were uncool to the cool (and clearly highly intelligent) Isobel at the BFI who has been invited to see this film countless times and still hasn’t seen it (even though she had five chances at Dinard alone). I only ever wanted advice from the British Film Institute – not money, the thing that most people want. But perhaps they just don’t have the time.
To the cool people of the film business – the one that is dark, edgy and cool – this film is a red jumper. Dillane was right.
When the artistic director of the festival was quizzed on why P+Sons wasn’t in the competition – as many people felt it was the best film there, the answer he gave was that P+Sons wasn’t ‘original’. It didn’t do anything ‘new’. It would be like having Mama Mia in the competition. And, as we all know, Mama Mia is a massive fluffy jumper with tinsel and Meryl Streep.
I was flattered. But Mama Mia was made for around £50m. I made mine for less than one fiftieth of that amount. I wrote it, directed it, financed it. I made the poster, built the website and with my post production supervisor hat I’ve even overseen the deliverables. I’ve been the courier (dropping DVDs around London), put out the teasers on Youtube, written the blog and I’m currently negotiating the music licenses. I had to convince an established cast of actors to take a leap of faith and work with a first time director with no previous experience on a PACT contract which described the film as ‘extremely low budget’. I convinced a hardened film crew to follow me and take that leap of faith. A professional team that have worked with everyone – from Kubrick to Madonna (and everyone between them). My film may not be cool but as indie film makers go – I’m cool. I meet plenty of people who say ‘I wish there were more people like you in the business’ but the business says the opposite. I’m seen with suspicion – a spinner of warm woolly jumpers.
And whilst the film is not cool enough for most film festivals – which would explain our omission at Edinburgh, Raindance and now the BFI London Film Festival, the film, lacking Meryl Streep and ABBA, also has the additional perception issue of not having enough commercial weight to survive on the landing of your local Cineplex popcorn retailer. Which is understandable but it could also be a mistake because the film is popular with audiences. Let me put that in black and white. Audiences love this film. I’m not saying that because I have a vested interest. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. There was a point, the Alice from Bankside moment, when I thought I’d made a terrible film. But those who take a slice of this, will make money. It’s not cool but it’s going to make people rich. And then it will be cool for all the wrong reasons. And I will become uncool, also for all the wrong reasons.
I understand the need for a certain kind of cinema in affluent times. A certain art – in music and literature. The past 50 years have been affluent and self-indulgent, deceitful and self-deluded. But that’s what we are finding out almost daily – in the mainstream now. I understand the need for an indie film festival in these times. We needed, for the past 50 years, a means by which that affluence and self-deception could be punctured by something that was real, anguished, gritty and truthful. We needed people to champion those films because we needed an alternative voice – lest we all drown. We needed to see how this rotten world actually made us feel. Because the rotten world had managed to convince its people it wasn’t rotten at all with its sugar-coated Hollywood staple. Films that said nothing to ‘me about my life’. We needed something to challenge the Studio machine that churned out these self-deceptions in the form of hegemonistic-supporting blockbusters. That’s why we needed the festivals and the indie film makers and most importantly those ‘cool’ edgy films. Without becoming Noam Chomsky, I understand why we need a certain kind of film that has proved very popular at film festivals.
But that world is dead. As dead as the Euro in the pockets of a Greek. As dead as the image of Jimmy Saville – the man who made children’s dreams come true – only to be revealed as an abuser of the same young people. We’ve had revelations about Hillsborough, Libor, drug cartel money laundering at banks, phone hacking at newspapers… It goes on and on. And the revelations are more shocking and brutal and cynical than we could ever have imagined. This is the New Age that has been talked about in prophecies. It is the death of lies. And the death of lies knows no bounds – spurred on by Twitter and Facebook and Youtube – the social media genie that is exploding the world as we thought we knew it. It’s so much harder to deceive now. It’s impossible. The power structures that have held this world in place are crumbling and the people at the top are panicking. Those films that challenged the system were right. Even if the films weren’t ‘popular’ – they had an important role to play. They were a glimmer of hope, even if the world’s that some of these films painted were hopeless.
I think, but I could be very wrong… I think I’ve made a film that’s very difficult to define. It appears on the surface to be too commercial looking for a festival and appears to be not commercial enough for the Cineplex. But it might… it might just be… given the evidence of Dinard… it might be that Papadopoulos & Sons is a good film that resonates with a broad audience because it taps into what is happening now. It’s about a family who lose everything and have to find each other. It’s about a family who have to come together during a crisis.
I didn’t set out to puncture the sugary coated world because the world is now punctured. It’s broken. This parrot is no more. The sugar coating is peeling away. And the happy ending in my film is about something else that we don’t often see in a Cineplex film – that sometimes you can lose everything but find something greater that isn’t material, or ego based, but something that is heart centred. It’s not about winning. It’s about losing and finding something better. It’s not an original story, at all. I think it’s a very old story that’s been forgotten. It’s an old story that became unfashionable.
What films can do, in these times, is bring people together, with a sense of community and they can offer hope. We need it. I need it. That’s what P+Sons does. I’ve seen it. And whilst I did so much to bring the film together, the very elements I brought together have nothing to do with me. I’ve been more of an editor, selecting those elements and throwing them into the oven – the themes, the actors, the production, the lines, the images, the music. I feel I’ve done everything making this film and nothing at all. And so I never feel like taking credit for it.
I am convinced that the very forces of ‘cool’ write off this film before they’ve even considered it because they think it’s part of the sugar coating they are rightly trying to puncture. And the commercial forces can’t put this in a box to sell (as it doesn’t have Meryl Streep). But this film isn’t sugar coating. And the film isn’t doing that to audiences. The shifting reality of our world and it’s uncertain economic future is quite frightening. Therefore, the need to see that hopelessness played out on our big screens in the form of a festival indie film has less relevance now. Just look at the audiences. Look how turned off they are by the grim worlds presented by some festivals. They are out of sync. As out of sync as the sugar-coated studio films looking to support the dying system around us. That old dialectic is dead. When will the artistic directors and studio execs realise this? Soon, I think. Economics will force them to realise. To both the indie film festival and the film studio people P+Sons is ‘charming’ and an irrelevance. But perhaps both have yet to wake up to just how much the world has changed in the last 12 months and what films will resonate with today’s audiences.