Questions with DREADPIRATESITE: The Last Jedi

It is never too early for me to be thinking about the next Star Wars movie. Any guesses on when the first trailer will drop? I’m predicting it will come out with Guardians of the Galaxy volume 2 which means a week before that May 5th release, people will be circulating a leaked version, if I’m correct. The point is that the powers that be over at Disney have centered there marketing campaign on a cloak and dagger-like operation of doling out info, and it works. They give people merely the subtitle of their film, The Last Jedi, and the internet blows up. So at this stage, any Star Wars discussion is going to be pure speculation. Nonetheless, I consulted with Edward Peeler, author behind the DreadPiratesite blog, and, I say this with affection, the nerdiest person I have ever met, about the numerous possibilities that lay open to the Star Wars franchise.

  1. The first film in the new trilogy stuck pretty close to the original’s formula. Where would you like to see the second installment kind of veer off and form its own formula?
    EP: Pretty much anywhere.  I don’t want to be a stick in the mud or a film snob.  I’m looking forward to the next film as much as anybody and I’m hoping I’ll enjoy it.  But if this movies is blatantly the Empire Strikes Back in a new package, I will be a little disappointed. The fans are there. The audience is there.  I think Rogue One is proof that there is room to experiment.  I would like to see a little more world hopping.  Maybe see some worlds from the Expanded Universe that have never been in a film yet or maybe something new and totally alien from what we’ve seen in Star Wars up till now.  A couple of years ago I picked up the original Knights Of The Old Republic Games and this year I picked up the Darth Forces/Jedi Academy games, so any references to those stories would be cool.  If there was a reference to Revan in one of the new movies I would totally fan boy out. Since I’m probably not going to see that, I would like to see Rey, Finn, Poe, Luke, and Chewie bopping from planet to planet, going on an adventure and following up on the plot from Force Awakens.  I don’t really care too much about some of the mysteries they’ve tried to establish.  I don’t really care about Rey’s parents.  Don’t really care about Snoke.  If they’re going to focus on that though I would hope that they continue to draw elements from Heir To The Empire and make this new trilogy about that.  I would confirm that Rey and Kylo are Han and Leia’s Jedi kids and either make this a newer version of that story or explain that those events did occur in Luke, Leia, and Hans’ history.  Either way it would be a great excuse to introduce Grand Admiral Thran into the movie universe and maybe even Mara Jade.
  2. 2. Do you have any ideas for locations that you would like to see featured in the Star Wars universe?
    EP: As I mentioned above anything from Knights Of The Old Republic games or the Dark Forces/Jedi Academy games.  That or stuff we’ve never seen before.  It’s a big universe out there and the Star Trek fan in me wants to see the Jedi do some exploration of strange new worlds.  And while I’m thinking about it, the nerdy whore in me would love to see them go to the Marvel Universe and the Star Trek Universe which they don’t have the rights to!  But it would be awesome!
  3. How much screen time are you anticipating Luke Skywalker getting in the Last Jedi? Do you see him following the Yoda or Obi-Wan character model at all?
    EP: He better have some screen time after that bullshit in the Force Awakens.  Easiest paycheck the man has ever received.  That’s the type of role modern day Bruce Willis lives for.  Show up for a day, do nothing, make millions of dollars, piss off Kevin Smith and Stallone!   I think he’s going to play a prominent role in this film.  He has to.  I think he will follow in the Yoda/Obi-Wan model.  I expect he will be mentoring Rey and teaching her about the force and how to be a Jedi.  I just hope he doesn’t completely follow down that path and wind up dead by the end of the film.  Not only is it because Luke is a beloved character and I don’t want to see him die but I think also at this point it would be cliché.  The Jedi master/mentor character always dies.  Han Solo died this last movie.  Do something different this time.  Throw us a curve ball and don’t kill the mentor character.  Also, if you kill off a character you can’t bring them back for other films and other adventures.  So hopefully he’ll stick around.
  4. The subtitle, The Last Jedi, is rather ominous. It sounds more like the last of a trilogy. Care to speculate on who the title is referring to?
    EP: I think it might refer to Rey.  I think she’s going to become a full Jedi after training with Luke.  This may also confirm my concerns above that they are going to kill Luke off.  Although it might refer to both of them.  At this point, Luke may be the last Jedi in existence until he trains Rey and then she will be the last.
  5. Is Kylo Ren being setup to for a future moment of redemption similar to Vader in Return of the Jedi?
    Yeah, probably.  It’s like Lucas said, “It’s like poetry.  It rhymes.”  They copied the first movie in plot and theme pretty hard so it wouldn’t be surprising if that’s where they went with Kylo.  It’s already been set up with him being a wayward son of Han and Leia.  Han literally died trying to bring his son back from the dark side, and as sympathetic Sith often do he may be experiencing regret or “conflict” with his past choices.  Also, I believe similar themes were explored in Heir To The Empire so the quest for the salvation of the Skywalker kids is probably going to be a big theme in these upcoming films.
  6. What would you like to see happen with Finn? He was seen more as comic relief in the first film.
    I want Finn to pop the fuck out of that coma in the first five minutes of the film and save everybody’s ass.  I thought he was a great fun new character in the Star Wars Universe.  He worked well with whoever he teamed up with whether it was Rey, Poe, BB8, or Han and Chewie.  He was a cool guy to go on adventure with and I want more of him.  I would love to see a possible romance explored with him and Rey or…..maybe him and Poe.  There is  a big push online to make those two a gay couple and although I’m not saying that’s necessarily where they should go, if the writing sells me on it, why not?  It would be a nice nod to Gene Roddenberry who went on record saying if he could have gotten away with making Kirk and Spock gay, he would have done it.  But whether Finn porks Rey or Poe or both, somebody should get laid in the Star Wars Universe.  I am in full agreement with Red Letter Media on this.  Star Wars needs more sex, more passion.  Lucas…..tried to give us a love story in the prequels and failed miserably.  We have never had anything comparable to Han and Leia’s relationship or even the triangle between them and Luke for a long time.  The closest thing we have gotten has been from the Expanded Universe.  Mara Jade and Luke, Revan and Bastila, Kit Fisto and Aayla Secura, all of their romances were explored in video games, novels, and comics.  And I’m sure I’m forgetting others.  Point is we don’t see enough romance in the movies only in other media which says to me it’s worth exploring.  One things for sure whether they make them gay or not, I do want to see more of the bromance between Finn and Poe.  Finn’s the Jay to Poe’s Silent Bob.  The Sam to his Frodo.  The Kirk to his Spock.  Finn and Poe versus the world man!!
  7. Poe Dameron? He didn’t feel as fleshed out as he should have been. Any thoughts on where to go with him?
    Bestest friend of, or boy-toy to, Finn, as noted above.  Aside from that Poe seems like a cool adventurer and ally that we should see more of.  I think we should see him more as a main character, running around, being a part of the team in this next movie and the character will blossom from there.  Beyond that Poe is a great character to explore the Rogue Squadron characters and series with.  We could see adventures specifically with him doing space combat missions in his x-wing with references to Wedge Antilles and the other Rogue Squadron characters.  X-wing and Rogue Squadron are beloved sub-franchise of Star Wars and it would cool to see them come full circle and maybe get their own movie.
  8. The death of Han Solo leaves a large void to be filled. I felt he was still the driving force in terms of charisma in The Force Awakens. Do you see anyone filling that void?
    Luke.  I have a feeling this is going to be Luke’s movie.  If not Luke, we might see more of Chewie.  For my money Chewbacca got the best development in Force Awakens.  When Han died I was right there with him angrily and mournfully blasting Kylo Ren.  He lost his best friend to his friend’s son who he helped raise like his own son.  Also, apparently he had some kind of romance with a Gollum alien with buttholes for eyes which is interesting.  Of course, I’ve always insisted that the Star Wars Holiday Special is canon so I’m just wondering whatever happened to Mala and Lumpy.
  9. Yoda was introduced in The Empire Strikes Back. A successful sequel needs a fresh character to fall in love with. Have you heard about anyone joining the cast that has you excited?
    I kind of try to put myself in sensory deprivation when it comes to new movies I’m excited about.  I like to be surprised.  I did this for Star Trek: Into Darkness and I enjoyed the movie more so because of it.  Apparently I was the only person who didn’t realize Khan was going to be in that movie so when he showed up I was surprised and thrilled. I’ve tried to stay away from learning too much about the new Star Wars movies.  So for me, I’m just going to wait and see and let the movie wow me.  It would be great to see characters from the Expanded Universe that have never had a movie before show up or more classic movie characters.  Or see something cool and totally new.  The one thing I’m really not excited about is Snoke.  He was ok but it feels like the movie really super wanted me to think he was the new awesome mysterious villain, but I haven’t taken the bait, largely because it was blatantly clear that’s what the movie was trying to do.  But who knows maybe they’ll make him awesome in this next film and I’ll think he’s the best ever.
  10. Finally, how do you feel about the tie-ins/spin-off films in between each installment? Did you like Rogue One and are you excited about young Han Solo?
    I love the tie-ins and spin-offs, and I’m excited for more.  I adored Rogue One as can seen in my review of it on my blog here at https://dreadpiratesite.wordpress.com/2017/01/15/star-wars-rogue-one-review/
    Read it.  Enjoy it.  Love it.
    To reiterate some points I made in that blog, as a fan of various franchises, it kind of annoys me that we have to wait years for a new installment in our favorite film franchise only for them to come out and they’re not that good.  Prime example was Ghostbuster 2016 but you could point to others as well.  The Terminator movies come to mind.  It’s frustrating because the audience is there for any number of properties but it feels like the only way you can get Hollywood to make a new movie for an old property is to reboot it.  For example, I liked Kong:  Skull Island but there’s always going to be a part of me that is annoyed that it’s yet another reboot.  And we’re getting tons of movies this year that are remakes and re-imaginings of properties that have come before.  Off the top of my head we have Power Rangers, a new Stephen King’s It, and a live action Ghost In The Shell.  Ghost In The Shell originally WAS A FUCKING MOVIE but it was an anime movie so apparently that doesn’t count.  Now I’m not saying these movies are going to be bad or that it’s bad that we are getting a bunch of reboots in this way.  What annoys me is that the reboot needs to be done in the first place because the audience is there.  It’s always been there.  There are people that love this stuff and will eat it up.  So why haven’t we had more movies in these franchise up until now?  Why hasn’t Hollywood been marketing to us?  So many opportunities and money has been lost by not taking advantage of the fact that many of these series have large and loyal fan-bases.  So personally I like the Marvel method.  I like the fact that Disney and Marvel make their movies like comic books.  They make them good, they have more than one a year, and they tie into each other.  And I like that they are doing this with Star Wars.  Now, like I said in my review a lot of people notably the Red Letter Media guys do not like this method and they seem to feel like it’s becoming a factory and that somehow diminishes the artist quality of filmmaking and these movies will become boring eventually.  I thoroughly disagree, especially since I’ve seen what the alternative is which is the Lucas Prequel era.  No thank you.  Also, I am a firm believer in the Harlem Renaissance method:  there is no reason why art and business can’t work hand in hand with each other.  If done right, you can have a great work of art and a great product at the same time.  The only issue is quality control.  Also, long running series and regular annual movie going experiences have proven to work time and time again.  All you have to do is take a look at the 80s slasher movies.  Every year in the 80s you would get a Nightmare on Elm Street or a
    Friday the 13th or a Halloween and it was something audiences grew to expect and look forward to.  We saw this again more recently with the Saw films.  Now in my personal opinion the Saw films should have never made it past the 3rd chapter but they kept right on trucking every couple of years with four more sequels.  We’re getting an 8th one this year.  Someone’s seeing these things.  Paranormal Activity has the same story.  It works, it’s a proven formula, and as a fan I love it.  Disney, as long as you make them good, keep the Star Wars movies coming.  Give me a Han Solo movie, a Poe Dameron adventure, a crossover with the Avengers that ties into Infinity War somehow. I’m down for it.  I’m excited.  Keep these great movies coming.

You can read more from Edward “Dreadpirate” Peeler at his site http://www.dreadpiratesite.wordpress.com

 

Winter Film Awards 2017- Alex Hardy: An Interview

The sixth annual Winter Film Awards will start on Friday, February 23rd in New York City. The volunteer-led festival will showcase 88 films from around the world competing for 16 awards. I spoke with Alex Hardy, British filmmaker and actor, about his new short film, Soldier Bee. The film stars Shauna MacDonald as an Army vet who returns home from Iraq to contend with Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome.

Walter Howard: I saw that you’ve been an actor for a long time. What brought you to filmmaking, and specifically, directing?

Alex Hardy: I was in a T.V soap here in England, and I came out of Drama school and was lucky enough to go straight into T.V acting. I pretty soon realized that I couldn’t do just acting for my whole life, because it became a job. The writing wasn’t particularly good, because it’s a soap, and I didn’t really get any fulfillment from it. One of the directors there I was friendly with let me see how he planned each scene, and how he used the multi-cameras, and I just became really interested. I’d always written stuff before then, and it all just came to me. I took myself to film school when I was 28.

WH:  How does your new film, Soldier Bee, compare to your previous works in terms of size of production; cast, crew? You’ve done a 7-minute short as well as a 12-minute short documentary. Did it present any unique challenges?

AH: Well I’d done music promos, I’ve done documentaries. I did a short film, which kind of came out of nowhere. Basically, we were given 650 pounds, and we were told to make something out of this. I did a found footage film called Initiation, and it did really well at festivals. It got into BAFTA screenings, and I was really surprised. From that, I did music promos. All pretty low budget. Soldier Bee was the first film that we actually got a good amount of funding for. That led me to be able to work with Shauna MacDonald, who’s a brilliant actress, and just such a great crew. I guess the difference was we just had more things to play with. I’m not sure whether that’s necessarily a good thing, having more money. Sometimes when you have less money, you just make things work.

WH: I heard a director (Robert Rodriguez) say, “when you have less money than you need, it forces you to be more creative.”

AH: It does. I totally agree. You have to be more creative. The trouble is now though, that we watch so much big budget T.V. You look at Netflix, everything is big budget, that now, when you’re making films, you can tell straightaway, oh, that’s really indie. They haven’t got much. But you know, who cares? As long as the story that you’re trying to communicate works, and you get your theme across. And I know you can do that with no money. I’m shooting stuff at the moment. We’re testing out horror ideas. And we have nothing. We borrowed a camera.

WH: What do you find rewarding about the short film?

AH: The short film is really tough. I have about four feature films that I’m kind of writing at the moment. I find them so much easier. You have so much more time. So much more space. You don’t get many decent short films. I think you’re getting more of them now a days. What’s rewarding for me is seeing the beginning of the film and wrapping it up at the end. Having a conclusion. If you set something up and end it well, that’s super satisfying. I want to effect people. I want to move them.

 

WH: Often you’ll hear writers say that they create characters and then let the characters determine the story. I imagine that it’s different when creating a short film, and yours had such a definite arc. At the same time, it is a character driven piece. How did you approach expressing Jodie’s story?

AH: So, with music videos, you just kind of write the premise, totally non-character based. With Initiation, totally character based. I wanted to follow one guy, and I wanted to stay with him all the way through. That’s how I wanted to approach Soldier Bee, but actually Soldier Bee was about a male character to begin with. My story idea in the beginning was more horror based. It ended very dark. It was kind of a fantasy. Then I interviewed people with Post-traumatic stress, and I realized I might do them a disservice. I didn’t want to cheapen it I guess. Then I interviewed a female soldier with PTSD, and I hadn’t heard anything about female soldiers suffering from it. When I changed it to a female soldier, it was much more character based. I need to, and I don’t know if it’s because I’m an actor myself, I want to know everything about the character, and the character, as you said, leads the story. I got a girl called Lizzie involved, because I didn’t want it to be a male’s version of a female.  We wrote together, and bounced ideas back and forth. We wrote every possibility with this story. We had Jodie seeing herself in the hotel room. So, there were two Jodies. We had a split personality thing, and then we realized the strongest thing was just seeing this woman put herself in this weird situation and relive what’s happened to her. It was so much more interesting. I also wanted to leave it with hope. I wanted to make people’s eyes open to the fact that these people need help sometimes.

WH: You touched on this a bit. I was curious about your collaboration. Was it something you’ve done before? Writing with someone else?

AH: No. I hadn’t done it at all. It was good. It was really good. Lizzie was a friend of mine. She’s quite young. I met her at film school. I was 28 and she must have been only 18 at that point. The stuff that she was writing was so much better than all of the other people there. Her writing was just awesome. We stayed friends, and then, yeah, I hadn’t done it before, but it worked out really nicely. The main thing, she steered my ideas in the right direction, and hopefully made the lead character believable. More believable than if a guy had written it by himself.

WH: Did the character of Jodie change at all from the page to the screen?

AH: Shauna’s so professional. She took this character and made it her own. I underestimated how stressful it was going to be for her. For instance, when we were shooting the sex scene in the hotel room, I underestimated how intense that was going to be. I underestimated how long Shauna was going to have to stay in character. I underestimated the power of what that character was going through.

WH: In working with your actress, Shauna MacDonald, did you find it difficult conveying a character that I would say doesn’t understand herself, or her own motivations?

AH: Yeah. We talked. She did loads of research. I pointed her in the right direction of people we were talking to when we were writing it. But it is a hard one. The beauty of having an amazing actress-I’ve never worked with such a good professional actress-I just kind of had to lead her to research that I had been doing, and just leave her to it. When we were shooting it, I would offer very tiny little things to her, but in terms of working with such a great character, she did it. I mean it was amazing.

WH: There’s a sense of violence lingering in the picture with the daughter’s drawings, the character of Lars’ brutish demeanor, and then the buildup in the cross-narrative (or flashback, more precisely) of Jodie as a soldier. When violence finally materializes in our present-day narrative, it partly feels inevitable, but, at the same time, it is still very shocking. How did you go about determining the tone of your picture, and then maintaining it?

AH: I mean the tone is, I think that’s one of my strengths is keeping this tone going. It’s a strength, and an issue sometimes to be fair, because as I said, I underestimated how grueling this film would be to watch. Once I’d written out this horror idea, I knew exactly what tone I wanted. Obviously so much of that is helped with the director of photography. The colors and the tone and the odd shots, the way we stayed behind her and focusing on the hair. I wanted her to be disengaged with life. But I think everything helps the tone. It’s the colors, it’s the lighting, it’s the acting, the score.

WH: Early on, we see this theme of the soldier bee appear, innocuously at first with the lawn decoration, later becoming more sinister with the daughter’s drawings. You use a lot of yellow hues during the film, and there’s a fragmented mirror sequence that resembles a honeycomb. What connected this story for you to this precise theme, and, I would say, ominous conception of the soldier bee?

AH: I forgot to tell you this, the concept of this came, I was reading my niece’s book, she had a book about bees, and it talked about soldier bees. I read a little bit about them. I read that soldier bees would go rogue and attack their own and other hives. I thought that’s really interesting. I wonder, with PTSD, I wonder if it’s linkable to human activity. That’s actually where the story came from. That bee at the beginning, that lawn decoration was just so random. We saw it in the garden of the house we were shooting in and it had a nail driven through the heart of the bee. I was like, “We have to shoot that.” The yellow hue was the most important thing for me in the hotel room. We hid loads of light and it gave it a sort of ominous bit. Yellow, I read a bit about what colors do to you, and yellow is a danger color. It makes you uneasy. I had the idea for that and then the DP and the set designer followed through with it. They did a great job.

WH: There’s a degree to which your female characters are forced to come to terms with violence.

AH: Yes.

WH: Jodie, obviously, with her experience in Afghanistan. The daughter, with her mother’s wounds corresponding with puberty, and then the prostitute’s witnessing of Lars’ attack. What brought you to this idea?

AH: Once we got our idea, then Lizzie and I went back and forth, we just wrote it how it felt. One thing that I really wanted to make sure we were doing was not putting women in the same box as weak. Always playing love interests.

WH: Do you find it helpful to watch other films in the process of making your own? Are there any films you looked at?

AH:. Definitely. Not so much for the story or the tone, but definitely for the use of camera. I love looking at the use of camera. You know, how did they make me feel this? How did the camera move? The acting. What affects me. I looked at war films. I looked mainly at psychological films. Getting in a character’s head. There’s a specific film called Irreversible. Have you seen it?

WH: Gaspar Noe?

AH: Yeah, there’s a scene in there where a character bashes someone’s head in with a fire extinguisher.

WH: Pretty rough movie.

AH: It’s one of the best movies I’ve ever seen, but I can’t watch it ever again. I did watch the scene where someone’s face got smashed in, and it’s just so colossally violent, but it fits the film. If we were going to have this violent scene, I needed to put people out of their comfort zone, and that’s what we did with the face smashing scene.

WH: Where did you film the Afghanistan sequence? What was that like?

AH: The Afghanistan sequence, we shot in a place called Bedford, which was a quarry. Luckily, we filmed in June, and, yeah, thankfully we had loads of sun. They shoot loads of stuff there. James Bond, I think Casino Royale. Actually, the best thing about that day was the very end. We were just kind of wrapping up. I looked up, and there was an Apache helicopter, I think it was an Apache helicopter, flying over our head. We just managed to put the camera together super quick, and just managed to get this shot of this helicopter flying over, and that’s made it into the film. A little bit of luck.

Winter Film Awards 2017-Amit Biswas: An Interview

The sixth annual Winter Film Awards will start on Friday, February 23rd in New York City. The volunteer-led festival will showcase 88 films from around the world competing for 16 awards. I spoke with one of its participants, filmmaker Amit Ranjan Biswas, competing in the feature film category, for this interview. Biswas, from Calcutta, has worked in a number of different art forms including dance, poetry, and theater. He is also a neuropsychiatrist, working with children, who moved to London, England. The film, Bridge, his debut feature film and a passion project, tells the story of two people, an elderly man (played by Soumitra Chatterjee, a veteran of Indian cinema who has worked in over 200 films including 14 with legendary filmmaker Satyajit Ray) and a young woman (played by Sandhya Mridul), who head to the top of a bridge over the Ganges river to kill themselves. Instead, the two find new life as a bond slowly forms between them.

Walter Howard: Where did the film start? What was the first idea that led to the movie Bridge?

Amit Biswas: Okay. Well, as you probably know from my background, I worked with children with mental health difficulties. I worked with a similar kind of difficulty with people with hopelessness and helplessness every day. So, in fact, in that way, I have no shortage of stories, but I have a filmic vision that I wanted to say a few things that kind of… in a way that leads to a story, the mythology of man’s or hopeless people’s journey that starts and ends with hope. People finding meaning in their life. That was kind of my filmic vision. To do not just medical input or psychological input, but how human kindness and compassion and bonds between two people is everything and all about really. So, I was planning to make this movie for about the last seven years. This was the story I wanted to write. It kind of matches with the vision I wanted to create. I started the film in 2015. It was shot in 2015, but in 2014, started writing about it. Initial format was about the interactions between two people and how things change. That’s kind of the germination of the idea, but one thing I wanted to establish is, I’m very rooted in my culture in Bengal and in Calcutta and in India, in fact. So, the story has to be deeply rooted in my culture, but at the same time, it has to have the power to break boundaries.

WH: You brought up having a filmic vision. I saw that you’ve worked in a number of artistic mediums. How long have you been interested in exploring filmmaking, and expressing yourself through film?

AB: Sure. I had been trained since childhood, as you probably saw, as a classical dancer. After coming to the west, one of my ideas is to make bridges between the east and the west, and through dance it was possible. I kind of had collaborated with, you know, people with ballet, contemporary dance for art forms. But it has been very difficult, because another one of my professional journeys has been in medicine, and it has been very hard to continue dancing. Then I had to find another form, and another bigger canvas where I can actually put all the colors in, my psychological insight about life. My understanding of arts through dance and acting and medium. And I had been writing for a long time. Some of my plays had been quite successful in India. So, film was a bigger canvas where you can put all these things together. It’s about seven years back, I had started learning about film and filmmaking from the Raindance Independent Film School in London. Since then it’s almost a film a day for me to watch. I started making short films and documentaries based especially on mental health. But obviously, you don’t become a proper filmmaker unless you make a feature film. So, I had been making myself acquainted with art and science of filmmaking for a while, but the journey I think started while I was kind of making the bridge between science and art through putting things together about seven years back.

WH: In that time, what have you found rewarding about filmmaking?

I believe it is probably one of the most important art forms that can not only move people, that can actually change society. One of my life visions is to bring awareness to the humane kind of things: compassion, kindness, as well as bring awareness to mental health difficulties. To create change in the self and society. So, I believe cinema is an extremely powerful medium. I feel that this is the modern mythology; modern storytelling. Cinematic storytelling is recreating myths that happened millions of years ago, with people sitting around a fire, and we are doing the same things in theaters sitting around strangers with larger than life figures talking to us; transporting us somewhere beyond our reality. In this way Joseph Campbell has been quite influential in my cinematic vision. His Hero’s Journey, heroes having a call. Kind of going through a circle, going deep down in the whale’s belly of difficulties, but coming out with the elixir of life. He’s dying. He’s resurrecting. That kind of Joseph Campbellian vision has influenced many filmmakers including me. That’s why film is a very powerful medium for me to work with. To say things I want to say and to move people. Transform people. It’s a transformative medium, I believe.

WH: Many people such as myself as an American, are familiar with Indian cinema mainly through Bollywood film. I have seen the Apu trilogy, but what’s something that you see that distinguishes East Indian cinema, or what’s something that you treasure?

AB: Bollywood has its own place. It’s not that I don’t see Bollywood films. I do see, but at the same time, I feel there is a very strong passion for arthouse cinema in India. And it started quite a while ago. You know Ray and Ghatak. And I kind of keep myself in that parallel space. Bollywood recreations and the films, the larger-than song and dance movies has its place, because in India, this is recreation. People go into movie theaters and feel transported by larger than life heroes, but perhaps I have to come to a place where it is realistic. It is down to earth. Not just we need to be happy and recreated about. Some Hollywood films are like that. It has its place and value. At the same time, I want to have a cinema, want to see a cinema that tells something about life and we transport ourselves. That is cinema for me.

WH: What was your visual approach for the film? You use a lot of straight-on shots and static camera. How did you go about visually expressing your story?

AB: Yeah, one of the things that was myself and Zoran Veljkovic (DP), we started the journey talking about the film before the script even finished. We knew that this is a process of healing. The base has to be right. We want to move through the film and the place that is right for these people to create healing in themselves and create a similar feeling within the audience. We planned the shots while we were shooting the film, but it has to be with the pain, and the pace, and the vision of the film itself. The Ganges is flowing and flowing and I kind of had to hold that in a way, because that’s the flowing of the life. You might have seen that I had a, the parson’s doing a puja in the Ganges with a lighted candle. That’s what the film demanded from me. That was kind of predetermined.

WH: The recurring motif with the candle, how did that materialize?

AB: The first shot was actually impromptu. What I did in the beginning of the film, the budget was tied and the time was tied, I took half of a day creating a space. A kind of scaffolding of connection within the cast and crew where this journey can take place. We did a very big meeting, talking about not only just the film. We put a candle in between. We had a full circle there together, and we talked about why we’re here. We talked about what is cinema. We talked about spirituality. Zoran said why not start with a shot focusing on the candle. The candle in the beginning and the candle in the middle is very much of a symbolic kind of thing. A symbolic archetypal presence I would say.

WH: Did you write with your actors in mind? You worked with Soumitra Chatterjee in theater.

AB: Yes. Absolutely. He is definitely the one I wanted to do my first film with. We collaborated on various levels. We connect very deeply. He’s kind of been my mentor. The inspiration for my film. I knew what I wanted to create. I saw him throughout my film. Not all of them were in my mind, but Mr. Chatterjee was.

WH: When we finally see Tanima break out of her shell, she covers herself in mud and then wades in the water. Where did this idea come from?

AB: Yes. We toyed with three possible endings. We thought about ending with the kid, because she lost a kid. Then I thought it has to be something more iconic. We toyed with this idea and everybody liked this. I had to go to this point where almost these two people died, and there really almost kind of first dead, but death is not the end. As I said, the Joseph Campbellian journey. There is a resurrection. And resurrection is a very important thing to me. I think for Jesus Christ’s life, his resurrection is more important than his death and crucifixion. So, he has to be resurrected. And the mud of life has to be washed away. And that’s hope. I wanted to have an archetypal scene in the end. There is the image of goddess Khali that comes a number of times, and Khali that represents darkness, that dark energy, but it represents both destruction and creation. Right hand has a sword, and left hand is kind of a blessing. I like this goddess and this darkness is not the end, and when the mud washes off we regain hope and blessings and fulfillment in life.

WH: The sun in the distance hanging over the Bridge is a striking image. Did you write the script with that image in mind or did it come afterwards?

AB: Yes, and that is important. The bridge was in my mind. The house this was shot in is my wife’s ancestral house. This is basically my in-laws’ house. I’ve kind of been there, walked around a number of times to conceptualize the rooms before even I started writing, partly because of the money and the budget. We had to use one location. This house is very near to the Ganges. It’s about 5 minutes. The bridge is a very iconic bridge, before Indian independence. It’s been there since British times. So, the bridge and the house were there from the beginning.

WH: You’ve said on your website that Bridge was made on a shoe string budget. Yet you’ve made a feature length film, canvasing past and present. What was that process like?

AB: The last seven years, I have been looking for money everywhere really. Both the East and the West. Independent cinema has a very limited kind of, people don’t want to finance and produce this kind of cinema. So, it has been a very difficult journey. In India, I couldn’t find money. In the west, it was difficult. So, end of the day, I tell myself, I have an inner calling. I have to make this, and I can’t just go into a deathbed saying what if. I had to break my pension fund. I had to self-finance. It was my retirement money, that I put in. But it was still not enough. I had to work and put money in. Bridge has come in stages. After the shooting had been done, for 28 days I had to wait until I got the money for editing. Post production like DI which was done in India. A lot of people came up and helped. I have been quite blessed.

 

You can find more information on Biswas’ website http://bridgethefilm.com/

-Walter Howard

Bond Girls: An Interview

James Bond made his silver screen debut in 1962 played by a then unknown Sean Connery. Connery became a benchmark in a franchise that continued with last year’s 24th entry, Spectre. The conventions of a Bond film are a never ending source of joy for many, but they can also be a source of eye rolls and head shakes for some. Perhaps the most popular convention of the Bond films is “Bond Girls.” I sat down with Emily Deering Crosby, a Ph.D. candidate in Communication and instructor in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies, to discuss “Bond Girls” and their function in these films.

The Bond Franchise is over fifty years old. It’s in its sixth decade. Outside of the Bond Franchise, in western culture, how has the representation of women changed over this time?

Emily Deering Crosby: You have some significant things happening in the 1960s where women were starting to recognize how media was portraying them in particular dehumanized ways- as props, as figures-never really a part of the plotline, but more so props to the male protagonist. And with more recognition of equal rights, gender representation, racial representation, you get a lot more diversity and you get the upswing of genres like Blaxploitation films, but with that comes recognizable backlash in some forms of representation. And women in media today, you see a lot more potential in T.V than you do in movies, because the movie industry is very much geared toward young white men, 18 to sometimes 25 or 34, so you see a lot of the highest grossing films fulfilling that need. So like this year the top films were Furious 7, the Age of Ultron, American Sniper, and so many of them are sequels. There just recycling these same narratives that really resonate with young men, because they’re the ones who are predominantly going to these movies. So it’s very consumer driven. You can think about it that way. There’s not as much room for women to star or write their own movies, produce their own movies, but you are seeing huge franchises that are changing that, like Hunger Games.

What stands out to you about the Bond Girls in what you’ve seen?

I find the camerawork of the Bond Franchise fascinating because it is routinely from the point of view of Bond, or pictures of Bond sexualizing the women. You never get the point of view of the Bond Girl, so she just becomes the object of our visual gaze. And more so in the earlier ones, I find the the issue of consent very interesting, because sometimes we get this notion of no means yes with women and Bond is so enchanting. That offers confusing narratives in regarding romantic exchange between men and women, especially when we have the powerful main character of James Bond who sort of represents the euro-centric or even anglocentric take what you want, it’s yours. You’re entitled to it.

That’s why I think the character of M in the most recent films has been fantastic, because she’s sort of an asexual female who’s a maternal figure but also a leader, so I think she offers a lot of complexity that we don’t get to see very much in film.

I can’t remember which film it was (Live and Let Die*), but there’s one with Roger Moore where he tricks a female character using a stacked deck in to sleeping with him. I don’t know if that would pass today.

Exactly. There’s kind of this notion that the Bond Girls were sort of all body, no brains. Kind of ditzy. When talking with a student who’s read the books, he actually said that he took a picture of a passage in Casino Royale. It was talking about Vesper and how she needs to stay with the pots and pans. She’s going to slow me down. It’s embarrassing that they would send a woman for a man’s job. And really hurtful and sexist remarks that hopefully you see don’t fly today. But there’s sometimes that engrained bias that why on earth would they send a woman to do a man’s job. And you see repercussions of that in the business world where people don’t take contract negotiations as seriously when a woman is sent to do it. Oh, they must not value me as a potential partner because they’ve sent a woman, when it’s in fact, they’ve sent their top person. It just happens to be a woman.

This is kind of a facetious question, but do you see anything in the Bond Girls beyond the superficial?

In the more recent installments with Daniel Craig, I see a lot more, but more so in the Vesper character the most because she’s a part of the narrative, and she’s not just the damsel in distress trope which we see in the two most recent ones Skyfall and Quantum of Solace. You see these ambiguously racialized women, whether they’re South American, Eastern European, it’s not very clear, but he has to save them because they’re beautiful, sexy. The character Moneypenny (Skyfall) is a little more complex because she is clearly a black women who has agency. Who has a role within the narrative, but still it’s not something that’s as developed as it could be. There’s a lot of potential in the recent ones, but still the audience knows what it’s getting with James Bond.

I remember my first experience watching a Bond film. It was Goldfinger. I remember there was a particularly suspenseful scene where you have your damsel in distress in a situation where I’m wondering how Bond can possibly save her, and he just doesn’t. He fails to save her and then moves on. I remember this being shocking to me. What is the appeal of this aspect of Bond?

I think in general, action films promote life as very expendable. It’s more shocking to us because we are so familiar with the damsel in distress notion that he’s going to have to save her and sometimes, he recognizes the sort of fleeting timeline of life and he just walks away from it. And I think that’s why sometimes James Bond is very relatable and likeable, because he’s a flawed guy. He has sort of a darkness to him. He’s ruthless.

I’d like to talk about a few specific Bond Girls: first Pussy Galore, a lesbian converted by Bond.

Of course. I think it hopefully shows our progress in regards to rights for the LGBT plus community. In regards to lesbians don’t just need a good man for them to arbitrarily change teams, but that it’s a larger issue than that. But you have to think, who benefits from that narrative? Potentially men watching the film who think, oh, all lesbians need is a man. They haven’t met the right man yet. Or lesbianism is okay as long as it serves men in a fetishized notion of sexual performance. I think that’s really tough. But they’re also constrained by their context of history. What year was that?

63.

63. So you know that’s before even really the second wave of feminism and notions of LGBTQ rights even were on the docket. It’s just kind of a limitation of its time.

Halle Berry as Jinx in Die Another Day. She talks about the role as being empowering.

I think Halle Berry fills a very unique role just in contemporary pop culture where she’s able to diversify the visual of a movie where unfortunately, she’s black but not too black, and many scholars talk about how to traverse that very difficult line between racial representation and assimilation. And I do think there are empowering elements of her portrayal and I think it’s great that she herself found it empowering. But her famous scene walking out of the water is a great teaching tool in regarding the male gaze because I as an audience member may not have that perspective. But I’m encouraged to look at her first as this sexual being and then maybe as an empowered agent or empowered figure later.

Eva Green as Vesper in her introductory scene is sized up by Bond which we’re used to, but then she returns the favor.

It’s very reciprocal (her relationship with Bond) which you don’t see often because she introduced in a way where she’s his intellectual equal, or at least a sparring partner which shows nuance to her beyond just her looks. But then you argue, she’s the first women to be really an intellectual equal, is that why he falls in love with her? Is she only represented in respectful ways because he loves her where if he were to find her expendable, maybe we wouldn’t get to hear her speak?

How do you feel about the term Bond Girls?

I think historically girls is a term to dismiss women’s potential. It’s infantilizing, but when you look at 1990s feminism and the riot girl movement, you see the recycling of the term girl as a form of empowerment. So like rebel girl, guerilla girls, the way they’re taking a term that was historically used to dismiss women and reappropriating it into a powerful term. But historically girls has not been the best term for grown women.

What do you see happening with the names given to the female characters in Bond films? They are always at least exotic, and often pretty ridiculous. Anya Onatopp, Dr. Goodhead, Pussy Galore.

I think that shows the origins of the pornification of media. By pornification I mean how we can turn seemingly respectable, important figures into nothing more than fetishized objects for men. And even when Sheeler and Anderson in their 2013 book Woman President talk about the pornification of women in politics, where you’re taking some of the most powerful, arguably hardworking and educated women on the planet and really looking at them through the lens of porn and how ubiquitous it’s become. You know the porn industry is bigger the Amazon, bigger than google combined. It’s huge. So James Bond was the first franchise to introduce that in not so subtle ways.

Growing up watching Bond, I feel like I’ve allowed myself to be kind of a hypocrite watching these movies because there is a lot about Bond that I would despise in a real person, and yet there’s also a part of me that would like to be Bond. Is this something you’ve thought about at all, or examined?

Absolutely. I think that any cultural critic or media critic struggles with this notion of I understand there are so many problematic things about this narrative, but I also find it really entertaining. I do hope that the Bond Franchise is listening to contemporary issues in regarding representation and taking that into account.

-Walter Howard