JOAN ARMATRADING reminds us why she is one of “The Greats”

Following the intimate conversation we have with JOAN ARMATRADING backstage, prior to the first of her two IndigO2 shows that will close her 2012 UK/Ireland Starlight Tour, we bounce off to the main venue, ready for the live show.

Before the show kicks off, we are treated to a personal statement from Joan, read out by a guy we assume to be one of her crew, introducing the opening act: No. 55 of the 56 local artists hand-picked by Joan as part of her inspired Local Talent initiative. Continue reading JOAN ARMATRADING reminds us why she is one of “The Greats”

YES SIR BOSS Interview

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Yes Sir Boss are a six-piece Bristol-based band that play an original, high-energy, ska-influenced music with a big, brassy sound. We first saw them in the summer, along with Dizraeli and The Small Gods, opening for another of our favourites, Molotov Jukebox. Both bands share a similar sound and their live music is impossible to not move to.

The band released their first album on 8 October, on Joss Stone’s Stone’d label – the West Country songstress features on their forthcoming single Mrs No 1, which will be released in the new year. The album was launched with a gig at the renowned Jazz Cafe in Camden, and it certainly proved that they are one of this country’s most exciting live bands. They may not be a household name yet, but once their infectious rhythms get better known, there’ll be no stopping them. Listen to (and buy) their album on Bandcamp. To find out about their forthcoming shows visit

We caught up with band, or at least half of it – Matthew Sellors (guitar, lead vocals), Tom First (trumpet, keyboards) and Luke Potter (guitar, vocals) before their Jazz Cafe show.



You’re a Bristol band…
Tom: We live there. We’re from all over. I’m from Yorkshire, and these two are from Devon. We met at uni eight years ago, at Dartington College of Arts in Devon and we made the move to Bristol just under five years ago.

Why did you choose Bristol?
Tom: We started in uni and had already developed a bit of a following in Devon, but we wanted to stay in the south west so moved to Bristol because it had good access to Devon and to London, and it’s a really cool city.

Matt: It’s got the south west vibe, and we’re all from Totness, where we met together at university. I think the south west vibe is like no other, it’s really cool and down-to-earth, fun time.

Luke: Also, in Bristol were all these bands that were doing the things we were trying to aspire to. We were just starting, and trying to figure out the kind of music we wanted to do, and this scene was already in existence in Bristol. When we got there, we got loads of help from the bands that were already there.

How much did it influence your music being there?
Luke: At first it was loads because that scene there with all those horn bands and reggae bands. Because it was really buzzing and going off, we fell into that quite easily. As we’ve grown up we’ve definitely tried to push ourselves in a direction.

Matt: From when we all started playing music together the music has evolved a lot, but it’s quite a natural sound that just ended up happening. But bands like Smerins Antisocial Club and Babyhead, who were really cool. First time I saw Babyhead I thought they were absolutely amazing. They were definitely an influence.

Tom: That was one of the really nice things, was the fact those other bands, it wasn’t as if they were rivals. They welcomed us, helped us out and got us gigs. We borrowed their horn players a few times, and become good mates with them all really.

Matt: That whole scene, there’s no arrogance whatsoever. Everyone’s really helpful. We’ve only done a few gigs with Babyhead, but the first time we played with them, which was years ago in Plymouth, and they were really keen on starting a little label and immediately they potentially wanted to do a single with us and sign us to their label. It’s always been like that. Everyone always wants to give each other a leg up.

Tom: The camaraderie thing, that transfers over to the festival scene. We do gigs with both Molotov [Jukebox] and Dizraeli [and the Small Gods], and a whole host of other bands, and they’re all our mates really. You see them at loads of different festivals around the country, and it’s really nice to have those friendships develop through being in bands. Shame it’s not the same within band. (mass laughter)

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It’s always fascinated me how, when bands get together, they gel. How did you guys get together and realise that you had a rapport and wanted to play together?
Luke: Drinking helps. Because we were at Dartington for that long, where we were all studying music, it was very much a case of; if you study law you want to work in law. If you study to be a doctor you want to be a doctor. We studied music so we wanted to play music. While we were at uni it wasn’t particularly realistic thing to think about doing, but as soon as you’re there you think you have a have a go at this. We did, and we haven’t stopped yet, and we’re still alive, and we still like each other.

Aren’t half the band missing?
Tom: They’re locked up in the other room.

Did it really help studying music?
Luke: I don’t think any of us wanted to be composers or teachers or anything like that. I think we all went to uni to get in a band.

Matt: I didn’t go there to get a distinction or burying myself in books. It’s an obscure uni; it’s not a normal one. I’m just like all the other fledgling guitarist wannabes, that was me and I just managed to blague my way into this uni for this degree, and I think it was the same for all of us. We got on to it and all we wanted to do was play music, get pissed and have a good time. And that’s what we did.

So it was like an art school where you do what you want to do and come out with a piece of paper at the end?
Matt: We had three years with no job, in the countryside, studying, playing music and having fun with your mates. It’s like, some people go travelling – we went to uni, dossed around and played music. Luckily, out of it we’ve got a band that’s still playing.

You managed to do it before all the big fees came in?
Luke: I don’t know. I think my student loan is earning about a million pounds a year in interest. It’s never going to get paid off at this rate.

Tom: Now it’s nine grand for a year or three grand a term. That started three years after we started, so we just missed out – luckily. I wouldn’t have gone. If you’re going to start out with 29 grand of guaranteed debt, before any of your living costs.

Matt: Especially if you’re doing music. It’s not like you’re guaranteed a job at the end of it. The only thing you are guaranteed is you can sign on.

Luke: Hey kids, go out and get yourself a guitar, a drinking habit and sign on.

That’s the way musicians used to do it.
Matt: A lot of them went and studied art. John Lennon studied art, Bowie studied art, Freddie Mercury studied art, and then they formed bands and were biding their time.

Back then, the music colleges were only teaching classical music, or if you were lucky, jazz.
Luke: That was the thing about Dartington, it was contemporary in every single sense of the word.

Tom: The course was basically what you made of it. They wanted you to become you as a musician or artist, and discover what area you wanted to specialise in. Ours was just booze really.

Luke: As long as you could justify it, they didn’t mind. If you could justify why booze was the most important thing at that time and that place it was OK.

Tom: But if you go to a conservatoire then you’re going to play properly. We didn’t.

Did you actually study composition?
Tom: I did. These two did performance. As I said, they allowed you to do whatever you wanted, and they wouldn’t discourage anything.

Matt: As long as you could justify it, that was the key.

It’s the same with art school. You could turn out any old piece of conceptual shit, but as long as you could justify it, they were happy. Saying that, having studied, has it made your music more sophisticated when it comes to writing songs?
Luke: Absolutely.

Matt: It’s a mixed bag really. If I could go back in time and not go to uni, and come back and tell you if it was more sophisticated, I would. I don’t think it does because I didn’t pay very much attention at uni. I think it helped me get where I am, but I don’t think I learned a hell of a lot.

But did it help with arrangements and so on knowing the proper structure…
Luke: I think it helped with musicianship, because there wasn’t a massive amount of people there. When you had to put on a show at the end of the year, which every student had to do, you only had this little pool of musicians to pick from, so everybody played everything. You had a go if you wanted to sing 45 minutes of soul records, and you’d play 45 minutes of soul records. If you had someone how wanted to sing 45 minutes of heavy metal, you’d play 45 minutes of heavy metal, or whatever else. You pick up all these things from other musicians that were around you, and it all rubs off. I guess the musicianship really, really helped. I think that when it comes to us sitting in a room and bashing out a song, you definitely learned.

Tom: You learn collaboration, which they tried to encourage. They teach you to be flexible. There’s six of us and it can be quite hard work when you’re trying to accommodate every single persons opinion within a piece of music.

Luke: But we definitely try.

Tom: And that has been influenced through Dartington.

Luke: We were very lucky to have that. There are a lot of bands out there where one person definitely takes charge. It’s their lot. I don’t think there is any one person in Yes Sir Boss that would stand for that, at all. Because of that, we’re giving and forgiving. Everyone listens and we get there in the end. That’s what you get with the music that we produce, is a real sense of every single person and a flavour of everyone’s personality.

Matt: I always wanted to make sure that everyone had a bit of ownership. If I ever write a song, then people write their own parts. Obviously people can have a bit of guidance along the way and help each other, but everyone can have their own parts. Everyone’s got a piece of it and they can feel a bit of attachment to the song, then everyone believes in it. If you get told exactly what to play, it’s going to be pretty soulless. You’re just being a session musician if you are constantly being told what to play throughout the process of it. That was important to us and it’s why we have quite a democratic approach to writing. It works, and makes us what we are.

As long as your names on the publishing… (mass laughter)
Luke: Even that is totally ridiculous. We tore up the rule book when it came to publishing splits. We’ve shown our partnership agreement to a lot of people and they’re like, “What the fuck is this? Really, you do that?” It’s complicated but it’s fair. It’s completely fair.

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Are you quite independent within the industry?
Luke: We got a deal. Joss [Stone] signed us up a couple of years ago, which has been really helpful in terms of giving us the opportunity to concentrate fully on the band. We all stopped working over two years ago. But she doesn’t interfere creatively. She is encouraging and supportive. She introduced us to an amazing producer, who happened to help us with this album, and he had God knows how much more experience than us. He helped shape it and managed the whole scenario really well, in terms of people and time and the music. He kept us all up like tiny balloons in the times we were there making this record, and he sculpted it into this beautiful thing that we are totally proud of.

Do you think it’s important to have a good producer behind you?
Luke: To have a subjective viewpoint from somebody who knows how to put their ideas and your ideas into practice is so vital.

Tom: And someone you can respect, to the point where they’re telling you not to play something you’re going to question it and obviously respect their opinion. It would be easier to get a mate along and them to say, “Maybe you shouldn’t do this”, but with someone that has that sort of authoritative personality, I think that’s pretty vital to get the best out of you.

Luke: It’s also so difficult when you’re in it because your vision is completely clouded. You’re in it and you’re feeling it; to everyone else, what does it sound like? Until you go home and stick it in your stereo, or put it in you headphones, you don’t actually know what it sounds like. If you’ve got that other pair of ears in there, and they go, “That sounds shit”, you can kick and stamp and scream as much as you want, but he’s probably right.

Are you going on tour to promote the album?
Tom: We’re just trying to push it out there, form ground level to get it to as many ears as we can, then there’s plans for next year to go overseas. To continent: Germany, Holland, Belgium, France and those sorts of countries.

They are very open to UK bands, probably more so than the UK.
Luke: They definitely are. There’s so much going on in England, there’s so many bands every night of the week. They say that 10,000 unsigned bands play in London every week. You go to Europe and they spoil you rotten. It’s very nice.

Would you like to go to the States? Your music would really be appreciated out there. It has quite an American vibe to it.
Luke: It has. It’s influences. It goes back to what we were talking about everyone’s personality in the music, and everyone’s influences of what they grew up on really shines through. A lot us are really into grunge, but also anything that came out of the ’60s and ’70s, the songwriters from the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, everybody’s totally into that. There’s not one of us that doesn’t like The Beatles, The Stones, Bowie or Free, even if they are all English.

Tom: Then there’s the whole soul movement from that era, and I take quite a lot of inspiration from that. The arrangements on a lot of the Motown records are amazing. Smoky Robinson’s fabulous.



Sinead O’Connor at St Pancras Church, London

Sinead is a rebel. Her quest for truth in both the spiritual and political realms are often a matter of public record, as have been some of her more personal tribulations, and these have always been reflected in her music. It seems ages since she did any gigs in London, and certainly a long time since she was headlining in major venues. Last night she brought her rebel music to a very intimate gig in London, as a warm up for her Crazy Baldhead tour happening in the new year (LSO St Luke’s on 17 January, Elgar Room at Royal Albert Hall on 15 February, and Barbican on 27 March. These gigs are to promote her new album How About I Be Me (And You Be You) and the single 4th and Vine (released 28 January 2013).

Continue reading Sinead O’Connor at St Pancras Church, London

Breaking Glass DVD review

“Video killed the radio star”, and if YouTube’s status as the world’s most popular music player is anything to go by, The Buggles’ 1979 hit song was more prophetic than they could have imagined. At the same time, as punk was becoming the more sophisticated and melodic new wave, an indie film about the music industry was taking shape under producer Dodi Fayed (yes, that one), and featuring upcoming musical star Hazel O’Connor in the lead role.

Continue reading Breaking Glass DVD review

Pepe Deluxé debut London gig

There’s something exciting about finding new music, even if that music isn’t particularly new. This isn’t a case of uncovering some old blues or soul singer from yesteryear. This happens to be a Finnish band making their first appearance in the UK, despite the fact they have been around since 1996, with their albums getting critical acclaim, as well as appearing in award-winning ads for Levi’s and Lee Jeans (but, ironically, not Pepe). They’ve even done remixes for the likes of Tom Jones, Eminem and The Cardigans.

Continue reading Pepe Deluxé debut London gig


Day 6 – and the festival is nearing its end, but that doesn’t mean that the movie quality is waning. Zhang Yang’s FULL CIRCLE is a surprisingly uplifting movie about a group of elderly nursing home residents who run away to attend a televised talent contest. It’s rare to see any films these days about the elderly which are well balanced, acted and scripted, but this is one of the few which succeeds in making us smile, cry and empathise.

Full Circle

It’s been unfairly slated by one particular critic as lacking in the pulling power that he claims a certain Vanessa Redgrave movie otherwise provides – it’s a great shame but no surprise that some are not able to see the film from a more Asian perspective or to relate to its sensibility. Or maybe they just have hearts of stone. Either way, this is a movie well worth watching, and best bring the tissues.

The film’s vast ensemble cast members staggeringly average 80 years of age and includes the director’s own father. It rightfully went on to win a Special Mention award in the Winds of Asia-Middle East section of the festival.

It wouldn’t be Tokyo TIFF without at least one silly comedy starring a host of popular Japanese actors, and this year that would be: TUG OF WAR! (Tsuna Hiitchatta!). Starring various actresses from here and there in the Japanese media industry, the film is a sentimental comedy surrounding the camaraderie of a group of women who pull together to bring Oita city back up off its recession-hit knees through the once-Olympic sport of tug-of-war.

Before the public screening, we’re greeted to an appearance by the cast, including Mao Inoue who plays the lead Chiaki, a city hall PR staff and eventual team captain. She’s supported by prolific actresses Keiko Matsuzaka and Yoko Asaji, also Naomi Nishida, Korean J-pop singer Sonim, former Miss Universe Japan Akiko Chubachi, and Tetsuji Tamayama. Director Nobuo Mizuta also joins, as we’re presented with the giant Okinawan tug-of-war rope shipped in specially for the occasion and rumoured to bring good luck. All are dressed to the nines as they talk about their respective roles, Chubachi’s role a particular talking point as heavy smoker Saori, the actress saying that she got so good at tugging that she was urged by the national team to join. All women (and man) seemed to enjoy the experience and the rare opportunity to flex muscles and dress down.

Inspired by the true story of the all-women’s Oita Cosmo Ladies team who won the world tug-of-war championships 3 times in a row, this is a jaunty movie, not brilliantly made but a welcome bit of fluff to lighten the mood at the often serious Film Festival.

I’ll watch anything with Sigourney Weaver in, so RED LIGHTS was on my hit list. Since seeing Weaver in the flesh at 2009 Tokyo TIFF where exclusive AVATAR footage was premiered, I’ve associated Weaver with the festival. And, my oh my, is she tall and elegant, and still very much emanating the Ripley ballsiness and charm. On the 2009 Green Carpet, as press were screaming “Sigourneeeeeeey!” it took all my self-control not to shout “Ripleeeeeeey!” at the top of my lungs.

Red Lights

Weaver as a psychology professor isn’t a giant leap, but with Robert De Niro as a world-famous psychic, it wasn’t boding well from the start. Weaver and Cillian Murphy rescue proceedings with their usual intensity, but if you want to see De Niro master the ham, this is the film for you. It’s a decent popcorn watch if you like Weaver and Murphy, but it’s tedious at points and could have been so much better with a careful re-edit and script overhaul. Disappointing finish from the director of hit movie BURIED.

TIFF is good at pulling superficially independent but commercially friendly films, but they’re not necessarily always good value for money. SPRING BREAKERS and SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN were good examples of promising yet wasteful additions to the TIFF programme. Buzz has certainly been going round the international circuit for both films, and both star named actors (overrated James Franco in the former, yawn-inducing Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt in the latter) who were admittedly useful in creating hype. However, as with all hype films, the product is far less impressive than the sell.

In concept they could indeed have easily gripped the viewer, but there’s only so much the actors can do with dull scripting, and both were far too dependent on the (lack of) charisma of the lead actors. If I had to choose between which one was the more watchable, I’d say Breakers, simply for its edgy scenario and slick style – it is marginally thought-provoking, although it left me with a sickly feel in the stomach. Yemen is deathly boring but easy on the eyes, so if you want a minimally-offensive popcorn time-filler to fall asleep to, this is the one for you.

<< Back to DAY 5 <<


Day 5 – and I manage to catch G’MOR EVIAN! (=Good morning, everyone!), the new Japanese film starring Kumiko Aso as single-mother and ex-punk-guitarist Aki whose peaceful homelife with daughter Hatsuki (Ayaka Miyoshi) is stirred up by the return of former bandmate Yagu (Yo Oizumi). The adults have a ball, but it’s Hatsuki who finds Yagu and his quirky ways too much to handle.

It’s a simply conceived but brilliantly scripted dramedy, with all key characters lending charm to their roles. Basically a coming-of-age story, where a daughter comes to terms with who her mother has been and is, and who, despite ups and downs, learns to appreciate the love she has in her life. Though sadly bound not to travel much further than Japan, this is a great example of how a simple concept when executed well can be powerful and moving. And it’s fun to see singer-actress-model ANNA TSUCHIYA in a cameo as the flea-market lady.

On to more serious matters with France’s THE OTHER SON (Le Fils de l’Autre). On paper it’s a concept that if not handled well could easily have become a train-wreck on the screen. Thankfully, it’s a well-written engaging drama, touching and thought-provoking with excellent acting from the two protagonists Jules Sitruk (Joseph) and Medhi Dehbi (Yacine) with solid support from those playing the family members, particularly prolific French actress Emmanuelle Devos who plays Joseph’s mother.

Going straight to the heart of the human aspect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the drama surrounds the young men’s discovery that they were switched at birth, Joseph brought up in Tel Aviv, Yacine brought up on the West Bank. The news comes especially badly to Bilal, Palestinian blood brother to Joseph. When the men visit each other’s homes, the story expands and we gain a closer insight into the dreams and fears of the suitably contrasted families, with Joseph as the dreamer musician and Yacine as the academic who aspires to become a doctor.

It’s a carefully balanced and respectful portrayal of families who are getting on with life under respectively stressful circumstances, and writer-director Lorraine Lévy does a good job of keeping the narrative going while bringing the best out of the actors. The film went on to win the Tokyo Sakura Grand Prix and Best Director awards at the festival and is a must-see if you’re interested in the topic at hand.

Who can resist the idea of Julianne Moore as a rock star? Not one to flinch at a challenge, Moore drew inspiration from The Kills’ Alison Mosshart, among other female musicians, for her role as the self-centred Susanna in America’s WHAT MAISIE KNEW.

The casting is spot on in this film based loosely on the Henry James novel of the same title. Much talked about after their Toronto premiere, this was a must-see movie at the festival. Steve Coogan, Alexander Skarsgard and Joanna Vanderham provide adequate support to scene-stealing 6-year old actress Onata Aprile as Maisie who is entirely convincing in her role as a delicate soul torn between childhood innocence and life’s harsher realities – pushed and pulled between the adults in her life, and in one heart-rending moment seemingly abandoned by all, the character bitterly suffers the consequences of warring parents.

So much more than a divorce story, the film is a real passion piece for the 2 directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel, who fought long and hard to get the film made. Succeeding in making Susanna a brutal yet sympathetic character, with carefully placed camera shots lingering on Moore’s pained facial expressions at points, it’s easy to see why they refer to Onata as a “gift” with her natural acting talent that allows us to empathise with her pain and confusion balanced with a suitably playful innocence, which creates the necessary intense chemistry between onscreen mother and daughter.

Nobody seems to like themselves very much in this movie, and no character goes without experiencing conflict and pain, but we are at the end left with a feeling of hope for the future after being granted this vivid snapshot into the lives of people who realise they’re a lot more fortunate than at first thought, and divorce becomes a fact of life rather than a ticking time bomb. You can read more about the film in my interview with the directors HERE >>

American documentary SIDE BY SIDE was a fascinating look into the digital v film aspect of filmmaking, although it would probably have been better served as a documentary mini-series than a feature film to allow more time for the debates to be sufficiently covered. Introducing a whole host of interviewees from David Fincher and Chris Nolan to David Lynch and Martin Scorsese, there are some very entertaining and informative moments, but I noticed a very obvious lack of female perspectives which dilutes accessibility and realism, and I’m not convinced that focusing on hyper-commercial directors and cinematographers is necessarily helpful. Maybe the filmmakers think that not enough women can work cameras and therefore can’t comment, sigh…

It is in any case a valuable contribution to the research of film, for what it is. And Keanu Reeves does a good job of sifting through the vast amounts of data and analyses, keeping us engaged as much as he can do. Given proper backing and better direction, there’s no reason why this couldn’t be expanded into a successful series. It’s certainly educational and a critical of-the-time subject matter for all filmmakers.

Some of the press are indeed found sleeping in the screening (undeniably, this is a perfect film for the sleep-deprived reporter), but one particularly shocking moment comes when several male members of Japanese press laugh out loud when the wonderful Lana Wachowski appears on screen, only to desperately stifle their splutterings after it dawns on them that this is Lana, formerly Larry, of the Wachowski brothers. This revealed to me a LOT in terms of the conservative attitude of mainstream press in Japan towards gender and physical appearance, and from an industry point of view I was surprised they didn’t know who she was on sight – which frustrates me even more, because I love Lana! Are most Japanese film critics working with their heads buried in the sand? Most probably, yes.

So, all in all, a pretty informative but sexist experience. And I’d like to see the project further developed if at all possible before digital takes over completely and the debate becomes a thing of the past.

With such a busy day, I’ve been umming and ahhing about going to see American movie STRUTTER, but boy am I glad I do. The film which is buzzing very quietly at Roppongi Hills soon becomes one of my festival favourites.

Beautifully shot in black and white, with a vintage indie flavour not seen enough these days, STRUTTER tells the story of loser musician Brett whose girlfriend and band dump him. Through various comedy scenarios, we find that he is in fact loved and cared for by some quirky characters, and eventually he finds a peace in his messy life. Although not the most challenging of storylines, its charm is in the snappy dialogue, characterisations and careful camera work that keeps our attention throughout. All the supports do a fantastic job, and real-life musician Flannery Lunsford is well cast in the lead role.

After an intense work day, this film is the perfect breath of fresh air, and is well received by press. Rare for a Japanese screening, the audience are in audible fits of laughter, and it certainly strikes a positive chord with the more ‘otaku’ members of the press. After chatting to actress Sara Ashley (Tessa) and co-director Kurt Voss, I realise that STRUTTER was made with a whole lot of love and passion, which endears me even more to the film. You can read more about this encounter in my interview with Sara and Kurt HERE >>

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Day 4 – and we’re charmed by this hard-hitting South Korean film JUVENILE OFFENDER (dir. Kang Yi-kwan) at today’s press screening. Lead actor Seo Young-ju gives a standout performance as the 16-year-old Ji-gu whose absent mother Hyo-seung played by Lee Jung-hyun reappears in his life suddenly after he ends up in a detention center. Continue reading TOKYO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL (TIFF) – Day 4


Day 3 – and I attend the press screening of British 3D animation LIAR’S AUTOBIOGRAPHY: THE UNTRUE STORY OF MONTY PYTHON’S GRAHAM CHAPMAN. With contributions from 14 animation companies, it’s an informative and witty account of Chapman’s life and struggles. Japanese press members are not quite sure where to put their eyes what with giant phalluses wizzing across the screen and comedy sex scenes, and I’m one of very few people in the audience laughing out loud throughout. You can read my interview with BEN TIMLETT, one of the film’s three directors, HERE >> Continue reading TOKYO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL (TIFF) – Day 3


Day 2 of the TOKYO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL (TIFF), and I’m looking forward to catching much talked about documentary JAPAN IN A DAY. It’s very encouraging to see a feature documentary as one of two opening movies at the festival, and I have a feeling that this screening is going to be memorable. Arriving suitably prepared for some very difficult scenes, I still wasn’t expecting this piece to have so much emotive power, spending the larger part of the screening in tears. Continue reading TOKYO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL (TIFF) – Day 2


[tabs tab1=”Intro” tab2=”BACKGROUND” tab3=”THE FILM” tab4=”MESSAGE” count=”4″]

“A Liar’s Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman” featured at the 2012 TOKYO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL (TIFF) in the World Cinema category.

This 3D animated dramedy, loosely based on Chapman’s autobiography, was directed by a triumvirate of directors Bill Jones, Jeff Simpson and Ben Timlett, and produced by London company Bill and Ben Productions. Although not a Python film in essence, it does feature all but one of the remaining Pythons (Idle being absent). Making use of Chapman’s own recorded voice before he passed away from cancer, the film used 14 animation companies, and welcomed collaboration not only from the Pythons but also from the likes of Cameron Diaz cameoing hilariously as Sigmund Freud’s voice.

A rollercoaster of diverse animation styles following extracts from Chapman’s memoirs, the film takes you on a very up and down journey, sometimes tragic and sombre, sometimes laugh-out-loud bonkers.

In the Japanese press screening, everyone for the most part kept very quiet throughout the film, with only myself and one other foreign press member caught several times giggling and spluttering. Loaded with comedy sex scenes, commentaries on homosexuality, and giant phalluses floating around the screen – all in 3D, mind you – it left me wondering how the Japanese were going to receive this one. It turns out that it wasn’t with disgust or disdain that silence prevailed in the theatre, but more a sense of awe which had struck the press population. It certainly kept them all awake – always handy during a film festival.

I meet one of the three directors Ben Timlett at a festival party and get chatting about all things Python and Tokyo. It turns into another great excuse to explore the city and bond with a fellow Brit over tea purchased from a conbini in the wee hours of the morning when nothing else is open. This interview, however, took place in an actual office – well a room with fake walls.



So, tell me how you know your colleague Bill Jones and how you got into film.

Basically, I grew up with Bill jones, who is Terry Jones’ son. We met when we were 4 and we instantly became Bill and Ben, so we were lucky to be surrounded by film, which was influencing us as we grew up. Bill had many au pairs – he was a bit richer than my parents and it was brilliant for my parents to just leave me and my brother (me mostly) with Bill’s au pair. So I spent a lot of time at the Jones’ over the years. And all our families would go on holiday together. So, we’re very close

So it wasn’t an intimidated thought at all to go into film?

It’s hard not to be influenced by it. Bill’s dad feels a bit guilty about that. My brother is an academic, and he’s always more interested in what my brother has to say! No, I’m just being modest… I think in a sense, he feels better about my brother doing something else. And Bill’s sister Sally is an artist, so they did other things. But yeah, Bill and I found our way into film

How important do you think it is to the filmmaking process to have chemistry, not just in friendship, but on the production side of things and when you’re working with people on set?

It’s a really important part of it. There’s a professional etiquette that goes across the whole crew. You don’t necessarily have to ‘click’ but you can get the work done. When you’re working creatively as a creative team, you need to get on, you need to be bringing stuff to it, and be respecting each other.

So, you grew up together and started making films together. What kind of films were you into?

As kids, we grew up making mostly pastiches of stuff like “Alien” and “Predator.”

Ah, YouTube wasn’t around then – what a shame…

Yeah, we were definitely influenced by all that shlock stuff – anything violent with guns, one-liners…

Do you still make any parodies, these days?

No, but our greatest achievement as teenagers was when at 15. We made a film all our mates were in. Just when wheelie bins arrived, we made a film called “Attack of the Wheelie Bins” and it was a huge hit with our mates! We had a big premiere at Bill’s house. I subsequently heard that people had copied it and were showing it in Oxford – someone said they’d seen it at an Oxford film club…

The guy I made that with a guy called Matt Baker actually works for the company HanWay and works for Jeremy Thomas now, so he’s a proper filmmaker – the real deal.

Looking at the films you’ve worked on, you seem to have a real passion for music, but are you more into film these days?

It’s difficult for me to talk about my passion for music. I lucked in to working on a couple of really interesting music documentaries. It was purely just by chance that I got the opportunity to work on them. The reality of it was that the punk stuff was something I learned far more about while making the films, and that was the most exciting thing. It’s not like I thought I knew everything – actually very little in reality, I discovered. It was a brilliant opportunity. That’s the great thing about documentary: if you think you know a lot about it, then you’re probably the wrong person. Sometimes you can really discover a subject and delve deeply into it, without necessarily having to be a world expert.

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Moving on to the subject of Python, it’d be difficult to do all the work you’ve done without having some love of Python, but has doing the TV series and the film led you to discover elements of Python that you hadn’t noticed before?

Absolutely. I can’t really define it. It’s culturally definitely part of Bill, and it’s culturally part of me, throughout our lives. When I started doing the documentary series, I didn’t watch all the original TV series, I tried to stay a little bit separated from it. It’s funny because my editor at the time watched everything and I really wanted to see what she picked out and what stuff appealed to her. And we did that with the other editor as well. Sometimes that’s much more interesting. I had the things I remember and grew up with, but it was much more interesting because she picked things I wouldn’t pick out.

How would you explain to people not in the know what made Python so groundbreaking, and it represented a unique period of British comedy history?

It’s the fact that it’s just so silly at times – that can appeal to anyone. That’s why Benny Hill is a huge success in so many different countries. What the Python’s managed to is to inject some very clever intellectual, political views in some ways. In fact it was apolitical, not political, but they managed to make a point with it and that is the hardest thing of all. If you can make people laugh until they cry and make a point, you’re doing something exceptional. I think “Life of Brian” is the greatest achievement of that. But the only other film which I love that much that makes a point is “Trading Places” because it has a point to make but it was so funny and so clever. I think it’s the hardest thing to do, and they pulled it off.

Your new film “A Liar’s Autobiography” based on Graham Chapman’s memoirs is already raising some eyebrows even among the press. In the production process, was there ever a moment when you felt the film had gone too far?

I wanted to push it! The moment it went too far was when my wife censored it. She’d had enough. When she watched a version in animatic form where the composers John Greswell and Christopher Taylor had done their temp version of “Sit On My Face” for the scene we scripted where the moustachioed cleaner bursts into the room and sings, he sang in their version “Sit on my face, baby Jesus,” and my wife being a Catholic said, “That’s it!” So we gave her a credit on the film as “religious advisor.”

So that was your moral line at that point!

It got a 15 rating in the UK. What people don’t realise is it’s a box-ticking exercise and actually there isn’t that much if you do the box-ticking. It also got an R rating in America. It’s funny, I had a big debate with an American who said it would only get NC17 and that we’d never be able to get it as an R, but I said, “Listen: it’s just box-ticking.” And it got an R rating. Maybe it’s just how it makes you feel at the end of it!

I love how Cameron Diaz is the voice of Sigmund Freud. She has a big passion for Python, but how did this come about?

We had the idea of having a gratuitous guest star arrive in the voice of Sigmund Freud, and I thought wouldn’t it be funny if it was Al Pacino, but then Bill reminded me that Cameron wanted to do the TV series but the schedules didn’t meet. So we wrote her an email and she said yes!

That’s really impressive. And how did the Americans react when you told them you got Cameron Diaz?

They were happy! She was great and she really threw herself into it. She got the joke, and I love it throwing off the audience.

Getting to the production side of the film, you had to coordinate a lot of animation for the film.

My animation producer is Justin Weyers, who’s a small Australian who doesn’t sleep – and that came into great effect when he was dealing with the film. He was just amazing, because not only was he having to deal with the fact that all these companies use different processes, he was also effectively training them to make their work in 3D. He was just incredible, the amount of work he put in. And then I remember him telling us he wanted to do a section. He was overseeing all the companies for us, but then he also wanted himself to do a part of the film, so he did “Biggles.” I think it almost killed him – he took on too much, he admitted it. He’s incredibly talented.

What would you say to the Japanese audiences who may possibly feel overwhelmed by the visual content?

Well, I’ve watched some anime that is more overwhelming than this! I’d be very interested to see how it squares up against what I remember watching as a kid…

And what would you say to fans of Python who will see this film?

The first thing to remember is that this is not a Python film, it’s a Graham Chapman film – it’s his writing, his performance, his narration. And I think the main thing is to just sit back and enjoy it.

And there’s a lot to learn about him through the film as well, about his alcoholism and homosexuality…

It’s all in there, in a sense. He’s constantly trying to self-psychoanalyse himself. That’s all the Freud stuff, and that’s why the psychiatrist keeps turning up at the end. He’s basically struggling to work out who he is, and I think he did his whole life. And there are certain things which are just props to avoid people finding out.

There are different layers in the film, definitely…

Yes, just like there were different layers to him. His pipe was a layer – it was a way of avoiding being asked difficult questions, of looking intelligent.

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What message of advice would you pass on to filmmakers based on your experience?

In my limited experience, I’d say keep making stuff, don’t sit in your bedroom for 2 or 3 years writing your greatest screenplay, keep making shorts, keep doing things, keep editing – it’s the only way to learn.

People I’ve seen who’ve really grown into filmmakers are the ones who just every year do 2 or 3 things whether they’re small or big, on their own dime sometimes. And try not to get caught up in finding funding for your short or that nonsense – just try to do 2 or 3 things a year. And collaborate as well.




TOKYO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 25th anniversary – opening day

TOKYO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL otherwise affectionately known as TIFF (not to be confused with Toronto TIFF) celebrated its 25th year in October 2012.

What I love about this annual event is not only the incredible commitment with which it is run and the quality and rich selection of films, but more than anything it’s the warm atmosphere and community spirit that fills the traditionally austere Roppongi Hills during the festival. Staff are courteous and welcoming and it remains one of the most positive experiences I’ve ever had in the country. Continue reading TOKYO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 25th anniversary – opening day


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“What Maisie Knew” is an American film featuring in the 2012 competition section of TOKYO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL (TIFF). Alongside the stellar lineup of Julianne Moore (“Susanna”), Alexander Skarsgard (“Lincoln”), Steve Coogan (“Beale”) and Joanna Vanderham (“Margo”), the eponymous Maisie is played by then 6-year-old Onata Aprile who is immensely talented and highly watchable with her natural flair for acting.

Reviewed positively at Toronto International Film Festival, this was a film on my hit list, if only to witness ‘Julianne Moore – the rock star.’ What greeted me was an astonishingly delicate and rich story of a young girl growing up while her divorced parents simultaneously tear each other apart, each on a collision course of self-destruction, in the process forgetting about the child and anyone else in their path. Based loosely on the Henry James novel of the same title (originating in 1897), it’s a beautifully crafted piece, generously giving screen time to all central characters, while sufficiently mindful of retaining the point of view of the perpetually ignored Maisie who with very little dialogue manages to steal the show effortlessly with great subtlety of expression and intensity of presence. There’s a real onscreen battle between Moore and Aprile as mother and daughter struggle to connect even in the intimate scenes with only the two of them, the filmmakers throwing us right from the start into the crater of the parents’ dysfunctional relationship of convenience in order to lay the groundwork for the push-pull relationship between mother and daughter.

It’s not every day that you see a film so sensitively shot and perfectly cast. Although Moore has been praised and dismissed in equal measure for her portrayal of the rock star mum, she smashes the part, capitalising on every look, gesture and line, successfully balancing herself between the obnoxious adrenalin-junkie creative and the damaged soul who has found a way to bury her feelings for her daughter and everyone else, at least until the final stage of the movie. Skarsgard is perfect as the doting Lincoln who takes Maisie under his wing, an unconscious act which sparks fireworks with his controlling rockstar wife, as is Scottish actress Vanderham who plays the naïve but well-meaning nanny. Coogan can do no wrong as the enigmatic father who continues to break Maisie’s heart with empty promises but who gives way to the more vibrant and morally-driven characters as the story moves on.

What is particularly delightful is how the camera focuses less and less on the adults and shifts more towards the child’s perspective during the course of the film, so that by the time we reach a critical point in the mother-daughter relationship, we are fully engaged and rooting for Maisie to find whatever safe way possible for her to survive and not wholly lose her innocence.

Praised in the press conference by the co-directors, Aprile turned out to be an actress of great natural initiative and sensitivity. Over the period of the 7-week shoot, she barely had time off, the directors referring to her as a “gift” given her positive attitude and high energy.

Meeting Scott and David at a TIFF party, we get chatting immediately about Tokyo and the film. They have a real passion for Japan, and it turns out that Scott once lived in Shiga back in high school and still speaks Japanese. After some jaunting around the city including a trip up the landmark Tokyo Tower, we manage to take some time out for some serious film talk.



So how did you get into film?

SCOTT: David was first a friend of my sister Kelly. After he finished his architecture degree, he was trying to decide what to do with his life and took art classes, then met Kelly. We became pals – he would be round the house during holiday times and vice versa.

DAVID: Then I went off to do an MFA at the Rhode Island School of Design. Scott started grad school at Berkeley, where he was doing Japanese film studies in the Rhetoric Department. When I was finishing my degree and he was finishing his MA, we were both feeling a bit at a loose end and cooked up the idea of making a short film. And Kelly has designed all our work apart from “Uncertainty” and still works with us. We’re self-taught filmmakers – we taught ourselves how to do it and just figured out our own process together, which is the reason why we share the credits. We’re more technical than a lot of directors, I think because there weren’t pipelines for us to fit in. We had to learn it a little bit more from the ground up.

SCOTT: We’re more technical in a more rudimentary way in that we started out making 16mm films, we learned the craft of building a film and what all the jobs are on set by having to do everything ourselves.

Do you think the way you learned your craft has made you better directors?

SCOTT: I think we both think it helps us do our job.

DAVID: Every director knows how to do all the things that we do. There’s just the anxiety of not being connected to any community. We were based in the San Francisco bay area for a long time and there’s not much of a filmmaking community there – there’s a documentary community, but we didn’t wind up having any filmmaking friends living there, so it felt very isolating.

SCOTT: I think that’s why people go to film school – they come out of school with a whole bunch of filmmaking friends, but we didn’t have that, we just had each other.

But you’ve worked on a lot of projects, even so…

SCOTT: It really depends on your perspective. If you look at what we wished we’d done, we feel like big failures!

DAVID: I mean, the many movies we spent years on that didn’t come into fruition…

SCOTT: Or you look at someone with a really productive career, like Michael Winterbottom or Steven Soderbergh who really crank out material, we look at those careers with a lot of envy…

DAVID: Money, money, money…

That’s a big factor…

SCOTT: Always

Did that ever put you off from going into features? Did you ever have moments of panic?

SCOTT: It always seems like you can’t make it happen. Even when you’re on set, you always feel like it’s about to fall apart. It’s a very precarious business.

In those moments, how do you reassure each other?

SCOTT: I don’t know if we have a routine, but that’s one of the times when it’s really helpful to have each other because things get really dicey a lot. On this film in particular, all the way through production and post, we had huge problems.

DAVID: We had huge hurdles to overcome. On this movie, it’s unthinkable to have gone through what we had to go through on our own – it would have been awful. It’s interesting, Scott often talks about filmmaking being collaborative, but a directing job is a very forward-motion job. You have to be vulnerable to another person in a particular kind of way, you have to be willing to let go of things.

Scott and I made a rule early on in our work together which has really helped us through, which was that if we had a problem or differing opinions about a particular thing we were trying to do and we’d spent enough time talking it through but were still disagreeing, we would never play tit for tat and we would always look for a third way – and we hold to that really strictly. Probably 8 out of 10 times, the third route is the better route than either of the original ideas. We just have to both be able to believe in it, so in those moments, you have to let go of something. And there have been some moments where each of us don’t want to let go of that, but we don’t even think about it anymore.

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So you guys clearly have a chemistry. In terms of this film, there’s a sense of chemistry going on even on the screen. How important is chemistry not just on the production side but on the set, working with the actors?

SCOTT: It’s huge – it’s everything. I know there are times when actors hate each other and manage to portray love – they’re actors and they’re good at faking things. But especially with a movie like this, when you’re working with a 6-year-old girl, a lot of what you’re seeing has to be honest. Alexander Skarsgard made a point of bonding with Onata Aprile who plays Maisie, because we all knew that relationship was the emotional core of the movie and it needed that kind of trust and connection – what you’re seeing is very honest.

Similarly, in our previous film “Uncertainty,” we spent a month rehearsing with Joe Gordon-Levitt and Lynn Collins, the 2 actors in that film. It was an improvisational film, so they had to learn to trust each other and understand each other’s history as people who have known each other for a long time would. We spent a month rehearsing with them just to build a relationship.

You mentioned in the press conference that Julianne Moore joined the project quite late in the day and it’s normally difficult to create chemistry on set when that happens, but that she’s so professional and talented that she was right there and ready engage straight away…

SCOTT: And maybe one nice thing about her character in this situation is that she was the person who people are afraid of – her daughter’s afraid of her, her boyfriend’s afraid of her, her husband’s afraid of her, the nanny’s afraid of her – so the fact that she was an intimidating presence worked as an advantage for us.

And you said she didn’t have much time to bond with Onata?

DAVID: And they didn’t ever really bond especially. I mean, Julie liked Onata and Onata liked Julie but that wasn’t a relationship. And it was interesting because it kind of followed from the film – she loves her daughter but in a way she loves herself a little bit more.

I mean, she’s not a deplorable character – I was actually wondered how far you would push it with her character, if you’d have her throwing things, if there would be a slap…

DAVID: The script and the material that got shot actually took her a couple of steps further than is in the movie, but we started feeling like we were losing credibility with the character, that people were just going to reject her, that we were going too far, that she just seemed like an unbelievable character.

SCOTT: And it’s important for the balance of the movie that you do see she intends to be a good mother but she’s just not really capable of it, that she does love her daughter, and her daughter loves her. There’s a strong bond between them, but it’s just not that maternal.

I guess if you made her too difficult a person, then you can’t understand why Maisie’s conflicted – you needed to have her somehow likeable…

DAVID: The movie’s full of those little moments like that. In the scene when she gets taken home by the waitress when Lincoln isn’t at the restaurant, when she parts the curtain and the waitress comes over, as written, Maisie is supposed to have more of a breakdown. But as talented as Onata is, being able to emote like that, like bursting into tears and being upset, isn’t really realistic. So we played with that scene quite a bit in terms of shooting. And in the end when we were cutting it, that was another scene where if we go too far with it, the audience is going to reject all the adults’ complicity in the story at that point and not accept the redemption that happens at the end of the film. You’d want to call in child services because it’s gone too far.

The scene towards the end between Julianne and Onata, where the light bulb goes off in Susanna and she realises she’s gone too far and that her daughter’s afraid of her, you’ve commented that a lot of the magic of that scene was thanks to Onata’s acting talent…

DAVID: We rewrote that scene at the eleventh hour with Julie, because we weren’t happy with the way it was scripted initially. Scott and I had played with it on our own, but the three of us sat down and started thinking about what to do with the scene. It was Julie’s idea to concretise this idea of fear and to make it about fear. We loved that idea, so went with it and cobbled together the dialogue part of it. To me, the dialogue is sort of unimportant beyond that very idea. Onata thought in that scene that she should become more emotional, so when we were shooting it, trying to get her to simply react physically to Julie was kind of the trick on the night, and that is the kind of thing Onata is quite good at.

We go to Onata twice when Susanna comes back to her: there’s a slightly wider shot and there’s a slightly closer shot – and in the slightly closer shot, Onata moves about just 2 or 3 inches and Susanna asks her, “Are you afraid of me?” and then we cut back to Maisie. There’s literally just a small movement, and actually that sells the entire thing. In everything we’ve done, nothing has ever been quite that subtle and had quite that huge an emotional effect.

SCOTT: It was to explain what it is that Susanna sees that allows her to turn – what she can see in what Maisie’s doing that will affect her emotionally so that she can then change her course.

Was Julie channelling any musicians for her role?

DAVID: We actually brought Alison Mosshart from The Kills to the table. Julie sings 2 of their songs. Alison was the stylistic benchmark – but she’s younger than Julie…

SCOTT: …and she’s not a mother… I’m sure if she were, she’d be a great mother! She’s really, really nice. Julie didn’t base the character on Alison’s personality… Before we started shooting, we took Julie, Alexander and Steve Coogan to a Kills concert – they happened to be coming to New York at just the right time. Julie watched her onstage, then I think they became pals.

Julianne Moore as a rock star – it’s a great idea. You could have really pushed it in terms of her homelife with the smoking and drinking, but again you seemed cautious not to go too far…

SCOTT: You want people to be able to connect enough.

DAVID: And we also wanted the rock star stuff to be the background that it is. We’re super allergic to the fakeness of that kind of stuff in movies – we really wanted it to feel authentic, to feel like it’s just the background of their lives.

The title of the movie comes from the title of the Henry James novel, but what do you feel the title refers to in this film version, in your own minds?

SCOTT: I guess just in a superficial way, it’s the structure of the storytelling – the scenes you see are Maisie’s experience and that’s the limit of our presentation of these events. You see what Maisie knew in the situation, that’s what makes up the story.

DAVID: I’m not sure the tense is exactly right for our movie. It’s more right for James because it takes place over a much longer period of time. In our film, it’s more like what Maisie “sees.” But it was the idea of trying to convey the experience of the kid that caught our attention in terms of wanting to do it – it’s less about the story and more about the experience.

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Do you have a message for independent filmmakers who want to learn the filmmaking craft from the ground up as you did?

SCOTT: I’m afraid we’re in no position to give advice – I wish we were!

Anything you wish you’d known when you started out?

DAVID: This sounds so clichéd, but when we were starting out, I really appreciated hearing filmmakers like Coppola and Scorsese talk about their young days – they’d say the most important thing was simply to make the work and find a way to make things. And I still think that’s the most salient advice you can give someone: Don’t keep thinking about things, actually go out and make them.

SCOTT: And that’s still advice we have to give ourselves all the time: If you’re making films because you like the result, it’s a really frustrating business or pastime, but if you’re making films because you like the process of what that is, then it’s a really exciting thing to be doing.




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American movie STRUTTER turned out to be one of the sleeper hits of TOKYO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL (TIFF) 2012. Brought to us by LA-based ALLISON ANDERS and KURT VOSS (“Border Radio,” “Sugar Town”), the film took the press by surprise with its crisp black-and-white look, funky music, quirky characters, and hilariously awkward moments featuring lead character Brett played by real-life musician Flannery Lunsford, around whom the core of the storyline was built. Continue reading KURT VOSS & SARA ASHLEY INTERVIEW


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Here at TOKYO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL (TIFF) 2012, we meet up with HEATHER WAHLQUIST, co-writer of and lead actress in YELLOW an American movie co-written and directed by Nick Cassavetes (“The Notebook,” “My Sister’s Keeper,” “John Q”), also starring Sienna Miller and Ray Liotta and a host of other names. Continue reading HEATHER WAHLQUIST INTERVIEW