Exiled: Making A Political Documentary In An Election Year

In the 1960s, some 2000 British citizens were forcibly removed from their island home of Diego Garcia so that Britain could lease it to America for a military base. Exiled follows the journey of these displaced people to rebuild their lives and fight for their return to their homeland.

In 2009 I started work on the documentary Exiled. I was working for a small production company at the time, so small that it was common to be involved in each project in numerous roles. Only about 5 people worked on the film in production and post-production roles. I was the film’s researcher, production assistant, interviewer, scriptwriter, one of the camera operators and the film’s main editor. I probably put in more hours on the project than the director did, by which I mean to say that I was very close to this film.

It was a formative experience for me. The project introduced me to the power of documentary, giving me a new respect for the form and a huge appreciation for factual storytelling. It also gave me one of my greatest experiences of creating a film for and about a community, allowing me to learn about and interact with amazing and inspirational people whose strength and determination should be an example to all of us. I was already engaged in community filmmaking, but this was my first opportunity to see it working on a wider scale and in a more vital context. It played a huge part in shaping my identity as a filmmaker today. The project also brought about my first real engagement with politics and social issues, helping to inform my value system and political leaning.

I felt extremely passionate about telling the story of the Diego Garcians. My experience of making Exiled, and of meeting and working with the Diego Garcian community living in the UK will always stay with me and I still feel a connection to the community.

I learned a huge amount in my research of the islanders’ plight and knew nothing of the situation before embarking on the project. I ended up with a massive wealth of information and I was horrified by my findings. I was shocked to discover that our country could be responsible for such injustice in recent decades, and that so many of us are completely unaware that it even happened and that the saga is ongoing. The history of the Diego Garcians’ experience is long and complex. I’ve posted a brief summary here.

In the build up to the general election, I’ve been reminiscing about the project, which was completed during the last general election in 2010. As the documentary touched on local, national and international politics, the backdrop of the election began to influence the project more and more in the build up to Election Day as it began to attract interest and scrutiny from politicians. I’ve also been in touch with President Allen Vincatassin to find out how the community have fared since the film was made and what progress they have made with their campaign to return home.

Making A Political Documentary In An Election Year

In the 2010 General Election, Crawley’s seat was a swing seat, having been won by only a tiny margin in 2005. Henry Smith was the Crawley Conservative Parliamentary candidate in the 2005 General Election where he received the highest national swing from Labour to Conservative (over 8.5%) reducing the Labour majority from 6,770 to just 37 – making Crawley the most marginal constituency in the country. The winning Labour candidate, Laura Moffatt, had the number 37 tattooed on her ankle as a reminder of how slim her victory was.

The growing Diego Garcian community in Crawley made up over a thousand new voters in the area, so winning their votes was set to make a huge difference to the outcome of the election in 2010. Laura was retiring as an MP and Henry was taking another run at her seat.

Both politicians were involved in the documentary as both had been greatly involved with the Diego Garcian community – Laura in her role as the MP for Crawley and Henry as the leader of West Sussex County Council at the time of the Diego Garcians’ arrival in Crawley. I met them both and interviewed them about their support for the Diego Garcians. Both seemed genuine and engaged. Both continue to support and work with the Diego Garcian community.

We’d reached out to numerous other members of Parliament, past and present who had been involved in the story or could offer a valuable opinion, but we had no take-up.

In March 2010, David Miliband (then Foreign Secretary) visited Crawley to attend an event for the Diego Garcian community. He was involved in declaring the waters around the Chagos Islands a Marine Protection Area in the interest of conservation. The Diego Garcian Society were optimistic about the plan, considering it as not just a means of protecting their homeland, but a potential opportunity for new jobs in the Chagos and a chance to be more connected to their home.

We originally had permission to film the event for our documentary, but found ourselves turned away by security when we arrived with our cameras. After some negotiation by our hosts on the council we were allowed into the event, but sadly, not with our cameras. When the event ended, however, our Director used the question and answer session to his advantage, introducing himself and our project to David Miliband and asking him in front of the audience if he would agree to a quick interview with us. David agreed. We charged back to the car for our kit, ran back in –almost getting blocked by security once again – and hastily set up an on-the-fly interview.

The original footage of the documentary is no longer in my possession (as Compulsive, and its archives are no longer in existence) but I do have a low-res copy of the interview. The quality is terrible and I didn’t include it in the final cut but I’m still proud that I was able to interview the Foreign Secretary.

It felt a little suspect for the government to suddenly take more notice of the Diego Garcians so close to the election but the islanders were optimistic and keen to support any initiative that could lead to a return. Unfortunately, the creation of the conservation area was later criticized as a further obstacle to the Diego Garcians’ right to return as the islanders would now find their return posing a threat to the environment as well as international security. The possibility of this being a tactical move by the British government to further deny Diego Garcians access to their homeland was confirmed by Wikileaks. 

Our clients at Crawley Borough Council, had set a screening date for two weeks before the general election and as the day approached things started to get crazy.

Once government entered Purdah, we were contacted by an official at the council who told us that we needed to submit the film to their office for approval before the screening date. They would advise us as to whether we would be allowed to screen the film and explained that we would need to accept any necessary cuts that they recommend or else have the screening banned. We were told that all publicity of the screening was banned. No photos could be taken at the event. A list of all guests at the screening was required, detailing their political bias. No political figures were permitted to speak at the event unless we allowed someone from every party to speak and be given the same amount of time.

Following this, we had requests from the Foreign Office, the local Conservative Party and the local Labour Party to allow them to see the film before the screening and make cuts if they deemed necessary.

We received a complaint from the Shadow Foreign Secretary about not being included in the documentary – the same Minister who refused our repeated requests for an interview months earlier. All kinds of people who had declined to appear in the film were suddenly angry that they’d been excluded. People seemed to be lining up to speak at the screening, all jostling for a chance to attach themselves to the Diego Garcian cause.

When we informed our clients about the situation they said that moving the screening date would constitute a breach of contract so we found ourselves caught between a rock and a hard place. Our film was at risk of being picked apart. All of our contributors had signed release forms. No one had any rights to our footage beside us. Our commitment was to the Diego Garcian people and to telling their story as best we could. Our intention had always been to allow the community to tell their story in their own words. We didn’t want to relinquish control of our film and allow others to dictate how the story would be told. All of a sudden, all sorts of people who weren’t even involved in the film were concerned about how the film could damage their chances in the election.

It was a stressful week but thankfully we reached an agreement with our client about rescheduling the screening until after the election, which put control of the edit firmly back in our hands. As soon as the screening was moved everyone lost interest again. The Shadow Foreign and Commonwealth Office went back to ignoring our emails and no other politicians besides Henry and Laura retained an interest in taking part in the film or attending the screening.

After the screening in May we worked on a longer 60 minute cut of the film for October’s Black History Month. After that we had plans for a feature-length version of the film that we were unable to raise funding for. Our aim would have been to further investigate the right to return and to question the role of the base in light of emerging evidence of it’s use for renditions flights. We had hoped that this final version of the film could take a harder line against the military base and the politicians involved in the expulsion. We wanted to create a campaign film for the islanders that would really question how this could happen and how the islanders could still be denied the right to return home. It’s unfortunate that our funding applications were unsuccessful.

Then the election came. Henry gained the seat he had been campaigning for for so long. He continues to support the Diego Garcian community in Crawley. Laura retired from politics but also continues her support of the Diego Garcians.

With the new coalition government came austerity cuts to arts budgets and youth services. It was a hard time for community filmmaking. Compulsive Productions sadly closed down the following year and with that went any hope of continuing the project, although I still have hopes of returning to the story one day with a follow-up film. The silver lining of my time ending with Compulsive was that it set me on the path to building a business of my own and Exiled remains to this day one of the most exciting and inspirational projects I’ve ever had the pleasure of working on.

Since the making of the film, Allen Vincatassin has been elected President of the Provisional Government of Diego Garcia and the Chagos Islands. I spoke to him last week about how the community is doing and how the campaign has progressed and I’ll be sharing the update in my next post. It’s good news and it could be a step forward.

About the Author:

Evan Wilkinson is a Community Filmmaker based in Brighton. As well as producing videos and community film projects, Evan teaches workshops in filmmaking, script development and animation. For more information please visit: http://evanwilkinson.co.uk

Advertisements

Exiled: The History

What follows is a summary of some of the research I conducted for the documentary Exiled. I am posting it in order to serve as context to the film and to subsequent posts regarding its making.

Diego Garcia is the largest island of the Chagos Archipelago. The islands became British territory in 1815 at the end of the Napoleonic War. Coconuts and coconut oil (copra) were the main industry with most of the islanders involved in working for the coconut plantation.

The plantation provided housing for the workers but also gave them permission to build their own houses, which most preferred. There was no monetary system on the island, islanders traded and shared everything. The workers were paid a small wage, which was saved for them until it was enough for a trip to Mauritius. The only thing the islanders really needed money for was clothes, which they would go to Mauritius to buy.

vlcsnap-2015-05-06-18h48m23s763

Diego Garcia became the intended site for a planned US Military Base sometime in the late 50s. During the Cold War, the US was looking for a territory in the Indian Ocean from which to monitor the Soviet Union.

As a result, Mauritius was offered independence on the condition that the country laid no claim to the Chagos Islands. Mauritian Prime Minister Seewoosar Ramgoolam was persuaded to sell the Chagos to Britain for the price of £3 million. Ramgoolam also received a knighthood in the 1965 New Year’s Honors list and it is speculated that this may have been a form of reward for the sale.

The Americans had originally wanted to build a base on the Aldabra Atoll, which had no human inhabitants. However, it was found to be home to the rare Aldabra tortoise. The wildlife lobby ensured that the US plans for Aldabra were dropped.

vlcsnap-2015-05-06-18h49m47s774

The island of Diego Garcia is horseshoe-shaped, making it a natural harbour capable of containing a large US Naval fleet. To the cabinet of Howard Wilson, Diego Garcia seemed a natural second choice for the US Government, who wished the island to be unpopulated for security reasons.

It is implied that American ‘bought’ the island and not the people, and that part of the agreement was that it was Britain’s responsibility to remove the islanders.

The deal was struck and the inhabitants were removed under a lie by the Foreign Office that they were merely migrant workers – “some few Tarzans and Man Fridays that are hopefully being wished on Mauritius.”

Britain proceeded to “maintain the fiction that the inhabitants of the Chagos are not a permanent or semi-permanent population” and began covertly removing the population of the Chagos whilst avoiding the attention of the media. This secrecy continued throughout the following decades with actions such as the UK deliberately under-counting the number of Chagossian residents to play down the scale of the depopulation.

The depopulation process was an underhanded one.

  • Islanders refused right to return – those visiting Mauritius simply not allowed to go home
  • Food supplies cut off – ships no longer sail to Diego Garcia
  • Britain buys out plantations – workers no longer have jobs to support their lives on the island
  • American military arrive and construction of base begins
  • The military tell the islanders that there is a war going on and that they aren’t safe on the island
  • Intimidation and killing of pets – rumours on the island that islanders will be harmed, then all of the islanders’ pets are rounded up and horrifically slaughtered as they are made to watch
  • Evacuation of Diego Garcia – the remaining islanders are moved to Salomon and Peros Banhos islands where they live for 2 years
  • Final removal in 1973 – loaded on to a boat under inhumane conditions and dumped on the docks of Mauritius with no one to meet them

With no one to meet them at the docks islanders were left to wander through the streets of Port Louis looking for family and assistance. The majority of islanders were allowed to take very little on them so most family photos and items of sentimental value are lost forever.

The initial compensation made available to the islanders for their relocation was minimal and was not made available to them until 1978 by which time inflation had rendered it almost worthless. Each islander received approximately £20 each. The islanders struggled to survive an endured a parade of court cases, protests and political debate in order to gain financial assistance. It is not until 1983 that the islanders receive any substantial payment and the 1983 payment only constitutes half of what the UK government had been advised was necessary. The islanders were offered the money on the condition that they signed a contract stating that they would make no further compensation claims and that they would renounce all rights to return to the Chagos Islands. Most of those who signed the contracts did so out of desperation and many who signed could not read and had no idea of what they were agreeing to. To date the US government has taken no financial responsibility for the removal of the islanders.

The islanders were treated as second-class citizens and lived in abject poverty in Port Louis’ slums. They had no electricity or running water. Many of the slum houses lacked doors and windows. The community suffered from problems of crime, drugs and prostitution, which they had not encountered on Diego Garcia. By mid-1975 at least 1 in 40 had died of starvation and disease. Suicides and child deaths were common.

vlcsnap-2015-05-06-18h33m47s378

The islanders had trouble adjusting to modern life in contrast to their simpler lifestyle on the island. They had no money and had to adjust to living in a society based on economy. This also meant that workers were often exploited, as they had no understanding of the value of the money they were being paid.

The Diego Garcians and Chagossians held regular protests to gain justice in Mauritius. Elderly women performed hunger strikes and were beaten by police. A series of legal battles ensued.

Finally, in 2002 the UK Parliament enacted legislation giving all Chagossians the right to obtain full British citizenship. For years the Diego Garcians were restricted as British Indian Ocean Territory citizens, British citizens with no rights to live in the UK.

vlcsnap-2015-05-06-18h29m05s612

On the 16th September 2002, Allen Vincatassin arrives in the UK at Gatwick Airport with a group of 18 other Diego Garcians. Allen declares at customs that he is a destitute British citizen in need of assistance. The local council accommodated the islanders in the Airport Travelodge under the National Assistance Act of 1948. They spent 3 days and nights waiting at the hotel for a decision on their circumstances. They were then moved to a Premier Inn in Crawley. They spent a total of 5 months living in hotels as they started to build their new lives.

A second group of islanders arrived in March 2003. In April 2003 the press reported that Allen was urging Diego Garcians in Mauritius to come to the UK. “My vision for the community is that we come here – the first thing to do is to work to get finances, to be removed from poverty – and then to go back to Diego Garcia.”

In 2004 two more groups (approx 70 people) arrived in October sparking headlines. There was a negative perception of asylum seekers that was incorrectly applied to the islanders when they first arrived. The local media slowly explained the situation and the people gained a greater understanding.

At the time of making the documentary, approximately 2000 Diego Garcians were living in Crawley. Many were working and their children were in education. Members of the community were taking positive steps to rebuild their lives but some were struggling with language barriers and cultural differences. Some had been met with hostility from Crawley residents.

vlcsnap-2015-05-06-18h45m26s587

With help from local MP Laura Moffatt, the Diego Garcians managed to broker a deal to allow small groups to visit the island under constant escort from the American Military. The Diego Garcians continue to campaign for their right to return home to their island.

The film was made as part of The Road To Crawley Project, a Heritage Lottery project designed to collate a social history of Crawley residents.

About the Author:

Evan Wilkinson is a Community Filmmaker based in Brighton. As well as producing videos and community film projects, Evan teaches workshops in filmmaking, script development and animation. For more information please visit: http://evanwilkinson.co.uk

Exiled: Production Info

Exiled

Exiled is a documentary that I made with Compulsive Productions in 2010. It tells the story of the islanders from Diego Garcia; some 2000 British citizens who were forcibly removed from their island in the sixties so that Britain could lease it to America for a military base. The film follows the journey of the displaced people to rebuild their lives and fight for their return to their homeland.

The film explores the history of the Diego Garcians’ forced removal from their island, their experiences in the slums of Mauritius, and their journey to the UK where they struggle to build new lives and continue to battle for their rights.

The film features interviews with members of the Diego Garcian community who reflect on life on the island and give eyewitness accounts of the expulsion and the shocking conditions they endured on their journey to Mauritius. The islanders recount their struggle to survive in the slums of Mauritius when they were denied resettlement money and left to languish in poverty.

Roughly two thirds of the Diego Garcian islanders now live in Crawley after using all of their available resources to make the journey to the UK. Life for the islanders has improved but their culture and lives have been inexorably altered by the expulsion and the scars of this experience are still visible. Now the islanders struggle to overcome language barriers and integrate into British society despite racial tensions and violent oppositions within the town.

Our team worked hard to become trusted and accepted by the Diego Garcian community living in Crawley over a period of months. We conducted several interviews with residents before deciding on the community figures that would tell the story of the exile.

We spoke to Allen Vincatassin, leader of the Diego Garcian community in Crawley who led the islanders in their move to the UK. Allen is a spokesperson for the community and campaigns politically for their rights. He provides valuable support for community members settling in the UK and has also been instrumental in the recent government initiative to declare the Chagos Archipelago a Marine Protected Area for the future conservation of marine life.

Since the making of this film, Allen has been elected president of the Provisional Government of Diego Garcia and the Chagos Islands.

Allen’s late grandfather, Michel Vincatassin famously took legal action against the British Government for their treatment of the islanders and faced bitter opposition until his death. Michel’s son, Simon, told us the story of his father’s campaign and the poltical tensions it created. Sadly, Simon has now passed away so this footage shows him in his final days.

We interviewed Selmour Chery, an elderly man who reminisced about his life on the island and how a visit to Mauritius left him stranded with no home and no job when he was told he was not allowed to return to his home.

We spoke to Selmour’s sister, Saji Alexis, an inspiring woman who led the people in protest against their dire living conditions and lack of support in Mauritius. Despite being beaten by the police and thrown into jail, Saji continued to protest and lead hunger strikes until the Diego Garcians were finally granted British passports and full UK citizenship rights.

We spoke to Marie-Ange Modliar who was among the last islanders to be removed in inhumane conditions aboard the over-crowed ship, Noordvaer, and Myleene, a community worker, who teaches Diego culture to the new generation of Diego Garcians. Myleene and Marie-Ange visited the island together last year as the first Diego Garcian women to return since the expulsion.

Also interviewed are the former head of West Sussex County Council, Henry Smith, who recounts his experiences of providing welfare support for the 2000 islanders who arrived at Gatwick Airport as destitute British citizens and the former MP for Crawley, Laura Moffatt, who campaigned for the Foreign Office to allow the islanders visits to their homeland.

At the time of making the film, the US military base on Diego Garcia housed over 4000 military personnel. The base had proved a site of strategic importance for the US military in their recent actions against Afghanistan and Iraq. The Diego Garcian population are still banned from returning home. The American military have stated in the past that their presence on the island would pose a threat to international security.

The island’s ‘lease’ comes to an end in 2016 and will need to be renegotiated. The islanders are still campaigning for their right to return to their home.

About the Author:

Evan Wilkinson is a Community Filmmaker based in Brighton. As well as producing videos and community film projects, Evan teaches workshops in filmmaking, script development and animation. For more information please visit: http://evanwilkinson.co.uk

Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron Review

avengers-age-of-ultron-art-poster-133238

*Warning – this review may contain spoilers for earlier films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.*

Marvel’s superhero team-up event is back for round two and comes out of the gate fighting. A strong opening action set piece joins all of the team mid-action fighting established villains Hydra; clearly Joss Whedon knows what we’re all here for. The scene’s quick fire succession of quips and arse-kicking sets the pace of the film. This movie is fast, sometimes too fast, performing a cinematic sleight of hand to make sure we don’t question too much while we enjoy the thrill ride.

The biggest question for me was – how did we get to here?

Iron Man 3 saw Tony Stark destroy all of his Iron Man suits, but here he is battling Hydra with his buddies. Captain America: The Winter Soldier saw S.H.I.E.L.D. ripped apart by Hydra and no longer trusted by the American public. Marvel’s TV series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. sees S.H.I.E.L.D.’s work continue undercover as a necessity, with S.H.I.E.L.D. agents essentially becoming outlaws.

Clearly, some sort of time jump has occurred and I can understand the filmmakers not wanting to spend costly narrative time assembling the Avengers all over again, but a little explanation wouldn’t have gone amiss. After all, Stark tower now has a gigantic ‘A’ on the side and is serving as a very visible Avengers HQ, which doesn’t really follow neatly from the subterfuge of The Winter Soldier. It feels as if a lot of the more interesting developments of earlier franchise instalments have been cast aside.

It’s understandable that a few details need to be streamlined for the sake of expediency. The Avengers’ biggest selling point is also its biggest threat – there are a lot of superheroes in it. That’s a lot of characters to give time to, a lot of franchise properties that come with their own fans and expectations. Each hero needs screen time, a hero moment, a fully developed character, a progression from their last appearance and a plotline outside of the action. Add to that the weight of some villains and new faces, returning secondary characters and all of the various plot ‘beats’ to hit to provide an action movie experience as well as plant the seeds for future installments and you have a lot to shoehorn in. As you can guess, this leads to some rushed story developments, and the occasional exposition dump, particularly when it comes to the twins who suffer the most from the film’s lack of breathing space.

That’s not to say that the film doesn’t deliver. It’s a superhero movie and on that front it gets the job done. The action is exhilarating with great fight choreography and special effects. There’s a lot of fun to be had here. When the script isn’t weighed down by back-story it provides a lot of laughs and for the most part presents us with three dimensional, flawed characters with differing opinions and viewpoints.

Stark

Tony Stark continues his streak as the Avengers’ own Peter Venkman, winding up Captain America in particular and possibly laying some groundwork for the upcoming Captain America: Civil War. Creating Ultron in his quest to perfect artificial intelligence, Stark unleashes a monster upon the world that proves to be a formidable opponent for the team.

Black Widow softens and gives up some information about her mysterious past. I have mixed feelings about her character’s use in the film and I may need a follow up post to explore the intricacies of the issues at play. With all of Joss Whedon’s recent talk about sexism elsewhere in the industry, I was surprised to see Black Widow relegated to the roles of love interest (thereby becoming a character defined by her relationship to a man) and a hostage (unable to free herself and instead having to wait for the men to locate and rescue her). Black Widow is a tough and secretive character, it is a logical progression to grant her a softer side, it’s just unfortunate that that needs to cloud her status and agency within the film. The superhero genre is a boy’s club and as one of the few prominent female characters in the MCU, Black Widow carries the burden of representation.

Avengers-Age-of-Ultron-Black-Widow-and-Hulk

Hulk broods, pines and repeats his usual “Hulk smash, Banner feel bad” refrain. There’s a sense that Hulk’s smashing will have wider ramifications for the MCU going forwards, but two movies in, Ruffalo’s Banner already feels like he’s stuck on repeat.

Hawkeye

After drawing the short straw in Avengers Assemble, Hawkeye gets some much needed character work. He’s the only Avengers team member not to have appeared in any MCU films outside of the Avengers, and we know little about him. Gaining a background humanizes Hawkeye and raises the stakes for him. In the final act, Renner gets a great speech about being the guy with no superpowers and his vulnerability enables us to respect his courage. The film is quick to play on our affection for the character though and is a bit heavy handed in toying with our expectations of what will happen to him now that he has something to lose.

Beefcake

I’ve saved the beefcakes for last in my character round-ups as they actually have the least going on in terms of subplots. Captain America argues with Tony a lot and Thor takes a bath. It’s appropriate for these two characters to take a bit of a back seat as they’ve had the room to grow in their own headlining franchises. Cap’s work here serves to lay the groundwork for his upcoming movie and Thor’s bath time discovery sets him up for the mission that will inevitably continue in Thor: Ragnarok and clearly plants the seeds for Avengers: Infinity War.

As for the new faces –

ultron

Ultron serves as a menacing villain and one who presents a more tangible threat than whatever it was Loki was trying to achieve in Assemble.

Twins

Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver have a lot to accomplish in a short space of time, with an arc that feels a little rushed and contorted but is improved by their believable emotional bond. Elizabeth Olsen in particular delivers a raw emotional performance that makes her character stand out as an exciting addition to the MCU.

Red-Dwarf-Kryten-2-590x350

The Vision is introduced in a messy scramble of a scene. His character is a hard sell. He is one of the most fantastical additions to the Earth-based Marvel adventures in origin and appearance (he’s kind of like a bright red Kryten) but Paul Bettany’s charm and presence make him likeable.

The film ends with some potential new Avengers in training, which could be interesting (and necessary) heading into Phase Three. There are also some characters hinting at goodbyes (a few of the actors’ contracts will be up for renegotiation soon) so a period of change is on the horizon. This is reportedly Joss Whedon’s last movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. After having a key role in developing many of Marvel’s recent outputs it will be interesting to see what impact his departure will have. I’d be happy to see a bit of a change in tone in order to keep things fresh.

Overall, Age of Ultron is a great adventure and a fantastic episode in Marvel’s grand superhero soap opera. Marvel Studios is at the top of it’s game for slick, shiny action set pieces with jaw dropping stunts and special effects. The non-stop pace of the film is exhilarating, jumping from one action sequence to the next and taking in a number of international locations along the way but this relentless speed means that the script suffers from a lack of breathing room. Some of the character introductions and plotlines lack subtlety and sometimes the sheer number of players onscreen can make scenes feel jumbled. There’s so much to fit into the film’s running time that the strain is often evident. I rarely feel that a film could benefit from being longer, but in this case I’d be willing to bet that the film’s extended cut for home release will be a smoother, more coherent version.

In its final act the film benefits from a greater emphasis on saving lives amidst the fighting, a concern that seemed lacking in Avengers Assemble‘s Battle of New York. There are also hints of a more empathetic appreciation of the consequences of city crushing superhero smackdowns. My betting is that Captain America: Civil War will see a rising level of animosity towards superheroes and the collateral damage of their heroics.

 

About the Author:

Evan Wilkinson is a Community Filmmaker based in Brighton. As well as producing videos and community film projects, Evan teaches workshops in filmmaking, script development and animation. For more information please visit: http://evanwilkinson.co.uk

Why we Need to Write Weaker Female Characters

Interesting discussion of female roles in film. I totally agree – “strong” women (as we know them on film) can be just as two dimensional and often serve as male wish fulfilment.

Tales from the Cutting Room Floor

Why we Struggle to Write Good Parts for Women ☛

I had a discussion online the other day with actress Alice Lowe about the portrayal of women on screen. The place of women in the film industry, on-screen and off, is something of a hot topic following the woeful under-representation of women at this year’s Oscars.

Alice Lowe demonstrates that Sara Lund doesn’t have the monopoly on knitwear.

Alice was talking about the screenplay for The Theory of Everything, in which Felicity Jones’s character was given little to do but provide moral support for the male lead, and ask questions that allowed him to provide learned exposition. This is the sort of thing that is massively unrewarding for the actress; Alice commented that too many parts for women are “struts or sluts”.

Statistics back her up – a recent report by the Center for the Study of Women in…

View original post 1,141 more words

15 Movie Mums for Mother’s Day

It’s Mother’s Day tomorrow, so I’m taking a look at some of cinema’s most iconic mothers, both good and bad.

Manuela, All About My Mother

Directed by Pedro Almodovar 1999

After the tragic loss of her son, single mother Manuela takes a journey to reconnect with her past. Manuela’s maternal instinct seems to extend to all she meets as she supports, protects, nurses and advises the friends that she encounters.

Almodóvar dedicated this film “To all actresses who have played actresses. To all women who act. To men who act and become women. To all the people who want to be mothers. To my mother.”

Mrs Voorhees, Friday the 13th

Directed by Sean S. Cunningham 1980

“Kill her, Mommy! Kill her!”

Jason is the iconic killer of the Friday the 13th franchise but it was his mother who was the first to start killing off promiscuous teens at Camp Crystal Lake. Not even Kevin Bacon is safe from this revenge-seeking Mum.

M’Lynn Eatenton, Steel Magnolias or Sally Field in EVERYTHING

Directed by Herbert Ross 1989

Hollywood’s Mum Sally Field has made a career out of playing mothers on the big and small screen, so many that this list could have been entirely populated with them – Norma Rae, Celeste in Soapdish, Betty in Not Without My Daughter, Miranda in Mrs Doubtfire and Forest Gump’s mum to name a few.

Beverly Sutphin, Serial Mom

Directed by John Waters 1994

“Beverly, I’ve read all about this. Is it menopause?”

Katheen Turner relishes in the role of deranged suburban housewife and serial killer Beverly, in John Waters’ black comedy. Beverly wants everything in life to be perfect, she’s just prepared to go a little further than most to uphold her idea of family values.

Peg Boggs, Edward Scissorhands

Directed by Tim Burton 1990

Peg is the sweet Avon lady who discovers Edward and brings him home in Burton’s dark fairytale. Dianne Wiest gives a spectacular performance in the role and her character, the first we meet in the film, serves as the perfect introduction to the world of the film and helps to establish its quirky tone.

Sarah Connor, Terminator 2: Judgement Day

Directed by James Cameron 1991

Sarah Connor is the ultimate lioness, fiercely doing all she can to protect her son and the fate of the world. Her evolution from the first film to the second is a major transformation from damsel in distress to warrior woman, also making her one of the most iconic female characters in science fiction cinema. She might not be the warmest of mothers but you’d want her in your corner in a crisis.

Norma Bates, Psycho

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock 1960

“A boy’s best friend is his mother.”

Mrs Bates is one of the most iconic movie mothers of all time and she’s not even in the film save for a few brief shots of her corpse. Such is her influence over Norman that her presence extends beyond the grave and has a grip over the entire film. Norma’s twisted relationship with her son inspired several sequels and a recent TV series.

Renee LeBlanc, Tarnation

Directed by Jonathan Cahouette 2003

Jonathan Cahouette’s autobiographical documentary details his difficult relationship with his mentally ill mother, Renee. The film made headlines in 2003 for being made for a budget of $218 using iMovie. It pieces together a collage of home video footage, performances, answer phone messages and video diaries. This challenging documentary depicts an unconventional mother and son relationship that is raw and powerful.

Mildred Pierce, Mildred Pierce

Directed by Michael Curtiz 1945

Joan Crawford plays long-suffering mother Mildred Pierce, who is unappreciated by her selfish daughter in this classic film noir. After separating from her first husband Mildred finds work to support the middle-classed lifestyle her children are accustomed to, particularly pretentious Veda, who is ashamed of her mother’s working status. Mildred does everything she can for her family but her wealth-obsessed daughter is eventually her undoing.

Mildred’s drive to be an independent woman is admirable in a time when women’s roles were in flux after the war, although it is unfortunate that this desire seems to ultimately be punished. The film noir genre was built from the uncertainty of this period as well as a deeply paranoid suspicion of women. Veda fulfils the femme fatale role here, but we are at least aligned with Mildred and sympathetic to her fate.

Joan Crawford, Mommie Dearest

Directed by Frank Perry 1981

We can’t talk about Joan Crawford without taking a look at this camp classic. Based on the tell-all memoir by Christina Crawford, the film details the emotional and physical abuse Christina suffered from her unhinged adoptive mother. While the details of the film are shocking, the heightened melodrama is so over the top that the film is unintentionally comedic.

Rosemary Woodhouse, Rosemary’s Baby

Directed by Roman Polanski 1968

Roman Polanski’s chilling horror film depicts Rosemary’s unsettling journey to motherhood. Rosemary is surrounded by people who control her body by sedating her, raping her, impregnating her and forcing drinks, food and instructions on her for the sake of the baby. Rosemary’s anxiety builds as she suffers through the difficult pregnancy. Her attempts to rebel against these overbearing forces prove futile, however, as her own maternal instincts compel her to accept and protect her child, even though he is the antichrist.

This excellent blog post by Erin Fenner explains why “Rosemary’s Baby is a horror about being a woman.”

Edith “Big Edie” Ewing Bouvier Beale, Grey Gardens

Directed by Albert & David Maysles, Ellen Hovde & Muffie Meyer 1975

The Maysles brothers pioneered the ‘fly on the wall’ documentary style, trying to have as little influence on their documentary subjects as possible in order to present them naturally. In Grey Gardens they turn their camera to two socialites living in a rundown house in the Hamptons. Although her daughter, Little Edie, became the real breakout star of the film, Big Edie still holds her own. The complex relationship between these two eccentric women is loving, co-dependent and at times resentful, but ultimately united and protective.

Sadly, Albert Maysles died this month, but his films have a respected place in cinematic history, particularly this cult classic.

Ellen Ripley & The Alien Queen, Aliens

Directed by James Cameron 1986

Ripley is one of the most iconic female characters in science fiction cinema (along with Sarah Connor, mentioned earlier) and one of the most popular. In this sequel to Alien, Ripley’s character undergoes a transformation in her developing role as adoptive mother to rescued Newt. This relationship brought a new dimension to Ripley’s character, showing her as tough and strong but with the capacity to also be caring and soft. It also gave her someone to protect at all costs. The film (and the Alien series as a whole) is full of imagery to do with impregnation and birth trauma. It is fitting then that this film also debuts the Alien Queen, the most monstrous mother figure ever committed to screen. These two movie mothers face off at the end of the movie in an epic battle, each fighting for the survival of their young.

Godzilla, Godzilla

Directed by Roland Emmerich 1998

Yes, this film is terrible – let’s get that out of the way first.

I was a giant-lizard loving 14 year old when this movie came out and I was totally onboard for this one at the time.  I’ll bet some of you are asking – isn’t Godzilla male? Yes, he is (although apparently it’s up for debate)  although in Emmerich’s universally panned take on the character, Matthew Broderick’s scientist discovered that Godzilla was reproducing asexually and had layed a motherload of Godzuki eggs inside Madison Square Gardens. That’s right – Godzilla’s a Mum.

Who are your favourite Movie Mums? Let me know on Twitter.

My Favourite Films by Female Directors

It’s International Women’s Day and today I’m celebrating women in film.

These are some of my favourite films by female directors:

Wadjda (Haigaa al-Mansour, 2012)
Wadjda wants a bike, but girls can’t ride bikes. This film sensitively captures the frustration and determination of a young girl who refuses to accept that being a girl should keep her from what she wants in life.
Clueless (Amy Heckerling, 1995)
This iconic teen movie is endlessly quotable and set the standard for the genre.
Whale Rider (Niki Caro, 2002)
Another inspirational tale of a young girl blazing a trail to prove her worth in a male-dominated culture.
Me And You And Everyone We Know (Miranda July, 2005)
I LOVE Miranda July. She has such a unique yet relatable perspective.
Waitress (Adrienne Shelly, 2007)
An unwanted pregnancy leads a downtrodden waitress to re-evaluate her life and realise that she deserves a lot more. And the pies… oh god, the pies.
Winter’s Bone (Debra Granik, 2010)
A young woman searches for her wayward father and struggles to raise her younger brother and sister in his absence. Jennifer Lawrence’s star-making performance put her on the map.
Paris Is Burning (Jennie Livingston, 1991)
Jennie Livingston’s landmark documentary is a dignified and respectful exploration of New York drag culture, gay life on the margins contrasted with the ideals of 1980s America.