Next generation Spielbergs at festival

JON WELCH East Anglia may not be Hollywood, but we have a wealth of movie-making talent on our doorstep, if the programme for the Cambridge Film Festival is any indication.

JON WELCH

East Anglia may not be Hollywood, but we have a wealth of movie-making talent on our doorstep, if the programme for a major film festival is any indication. JON WELCH reports.

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If you want to get to the top in your chosen field, sometimes you have to start at the bottom. That advice certainly seems to be paying off for the East Anglian movie-makers whose work will be showcased at the Cambridge Film Festival, which begins this week.

Norwich-based Richard Bracewell, whose debut feature film The Gigolos promises to be one of the highlights of the 10-day festival, used to be a cinema usher.

And Lowestoft-born John Hales, director of short film Poker Face, got his first taste of the movie business when he worked in a video shop, just like Quentin Tarantino.

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Although the festival will be screening movies by top international directors including Luc Besson, Richard Linklater and Terry Gilliam, there are a number of films with strong local links.

The festival's short film programme includes several made under the Digital Shorts scheme, funded by Screen East and the UK Film Council's New Cinema Fund, an initiative that finds and develops emerging film-making talent.

To qualify, each film had to be shot digitally by local filmmakers, cost less than £10,000 and be less than 10 minutes in length. Screen East has produced over 30 films since the scheme was setup in 2001.

Poker Face was shot at locations including Southwold beach, and tells the story of an angel who tries to help a boy perfect an expressionless face, leading him into the world of high stakes poker and a game with maybe the Devil himself.

After working in the video shop, John went on to study drama and film at University of East Anglia where he won both the Drama and Best Director prizes.

He then became a professional actor, establishing Albion Shakespeare Company which became one of the largest touring open-air companies in the UK.

Poker Face is his second short film and stars David “Devilfish” Ulliott, the UK's most famous professional poker player.

Bowling for Doreen is an animated short set in Great Yarmouth, but filmed in a warehouse near Norwich. A comic tale of love and rivalry fought over a bowling green, it features voiceovers by Anne Reid (Dinnerladies) and Philip Jackson (Poirot).

Director Brent Lockley studied fine art and professional broadcasting before beginning a career as a camera operator. Among his recent credits are Hollyoaks and Sky One's Dreamteam.

Queletus stars Katherine Kelly, Becky from Coronation Street, and was shot at a pawnbroker's shop in Lowestoft; Britannia Barracks, Norwich; and Salhouse Broad.

It's a story about duty and destiny: the history of a loaded revolver is revealed through the lives of six volatile handlers.

The Technical Hitch is directed by Jon Dunleavy, who graduated from Norwich School of Art and Design in 2003. It's a satirical take on technological failures, voiced by Robert Lindsay, and was a two-year labour of love for Jon and collaborator Luke Wright, director of award-winning poetry collective aisle16.

Sarah Gibson, shorts film programmer, explains: “This year's local short film selection is an exciting and wonderfully eclectic programme of short dramas, comedies and animation from budding new filmmakers from around the East of England. The range of work is extraordinary and is testimony to the wealth of talent living just around the corner.”

“I get tired of hearing film-makers complaining they have no money, but with digital video readily available to anyone our only limits should be our imaginations - clearly something the film-makers whose work we're screening need to worry about!”

Lack of imagination is

clearly not a problem

afflicting Richard Bracewell, director of The Gigolos.

The film tells the story of a gigolo and his “valet” as they search for love and friendship in the twilight world of the male escort.

Although the film was shot in London, it was produced by Richard from his office in Norwich and edited in the loft of a house near Wymondham.

Richard, 35, moved to Norwich seven years ago with his wife Susie Phillips. Originally from south Norfolk, she designed the costumes for the film.

The couple met while working as ushers at The Clapham Picture House in London. Richard had ambitions to be a film director, and reckoned working in a cinema would be a good start.

“What a great training it was,” he says.

“I didn't go to film school because I had a pretty good idea of the kind of films I wanted to make. I thought the best way to learn was to watch as many films as I could. In between tearing tickets, I read as much as I could about my favourite film-makers.”

He made some short films, and then managed to find work in television as a director and producer, working on shows including The 11 'o' Clock Show, Blind Date and Ruby Wax.

Richard co-wrote the screenplay for The Gigolos with Sacha Tarter and Trevor Sather, who star as gigolo Sacha and valet Trevor respectively.

He explains where the inspiration came from. “You know that song Just A Gigolo? Well, I was walking down the street and I heard it playing on a car radio. I thought, 'That's a good idea for a story'.”

His collaborators also had their own ideas. “I phoned Sacha who was on holiday with a couple of family friends, women in their 50s, and they were giving him the come-on - so he found himself in the position of being a gigolo!”

Trevor, meanwhile, had just returned from Japan where he encountered the phenomenon of “host bars”: venues where independent, single, career-minded women go to meet men.

The trio managed to recruit some big-name actresses for the film: Susannah York, Anna Massey, Sian Phillips and Angela Pleasance.

“They were so fantastic - they were just amazing,” says Richard, who admits he had to turn on the charm in order to get the stars on board.

“At first they didn't want to do it, so we started plaguing their agents with calls. Then Sacha, Trevor and I took them all to lunch separately - we were like gigolos ourselves!”

Their persistence paid off, and the actresses agreed to appear in the film. “They felt this was a bit different,” says Richard.

“We listened to them: all had something to add to the characters.”

Richard describes the film as a dark comedy. “It's much closer to something like Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Office than anything else,” he says.

The film received its world premiere at the American Film Institute's Los Angeles International Film Festival in November, where it was a hit.

“It was so surreal: an LA audience - very film literate - and me from Norwich thinking 'Is this going to work?'”

The film was also screened at Cannes in May and a UK distribution deal has now been signed.

“When you are making your first film and don't have much support, you do it all yourself,” says Richard.

“We knew we had to tell this story, so we raised the finance ourselves and found all the locations ourselves. Then we edited it and started doing all the sales ourselves. Then you realise you are making a film in the middle of all this.”

Is Richard pleased with the film? “I'm a bit of a perfectionist,” he says.

“I don't think you're ever totally pleased: there are always things you would re-shoot and edit. I'm now able to put it all to bed. It's a film I really want people to see.”

For his next film, a thriller called Cuckoo, Richard hopes to persuade the cast to come and shoot in Norfolk. “If the story's strong enough it doesn't matter where you are,” he says.

Matt Daniels is another director whose debut feature film will be screened at the festival. Matt, 31, grew up in Carlton Colville and went to schools in Blundeston, Gisleham and Beccles.

“I've always loved movies, and when I was a kid I particularly loved science fiction. I've always been creating stories and wanted people to be affected by them.”

As a boy he would make tapes, inspired by The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy radio series, and later dabbled in film-making and video editing at Beccles High School.

“Then I forgot about it and got on with my life,” he says.

Matt went to university in Swansea and married at 21. “You have responsibilities and a family to look after, so I went and worked for a big IT company as a programmer - about the least creative thing you can do!”

But surprisingly, he got his break as a film-maker when he was asked to video a PR event. “I convinced them to let me have a day at home editing it. They liked it so much they said 'Take as much time as you like to complete it'.”

Matt set himself a goal of shooting a feature film by the time he was 30. He succeeded, and the result, Powerless, can be seen at the festival.

The idea for the film, co-written with his brother-in-law Seth Wilkins, came from a running joke. “My mother-in-law kept saying 'What are you going to do for work when all the power runs out?' I started thinking 'What would we do?'”

The film looks at one family's struggle following power cuts caused by a terrorist attack.

It was made on a tiny budget, although contractual obligations prevent Matt from revealing exactly how tiny. One of the ways he raised finance was by selling associate producer credits via eBay.

The film was shot in Pembrokeshire, London and Shropshire, where Matt now lives. “It was a fairly small crew - mostly people that I knew. All told there were about 20 to 25, including cast.”

The film stars Matt's wife Esther's brothers and sisters. “When you watch what's going on you get this sense of reality you don't have in other movies. There's a sibling chemistry,” says Matt.

He wasn't held back by his lack of film training. “Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson never completed film school, but they are both people who started messing round, making movies when they were kids. I aspire to be the kind of person they are. There's a lot of heart and soul in what they do.”

Powerless has been sold to US distributors and will be released there shortly. A UK release will follow.

“I'm very pleased. It's beyond our wildest dreams how the film turned out and how successful it's been,” says Matt.

“I loved doing it. I did what I felt was right and that made the whole thing really enjoyable. It was really hard work.

“This has enabled me to go on and do what I want to do. I'm shooting my second film this coming August.”

Called The Way To Dance, it's described as a drama comedy with a romantic edge.

Matt says: “If you really want something enough then you can do it. Sometimes people want things now - our society says 'buy now, pay later' - and they think the future's going to fall into their laps.

“But life is about work: it doesn't matter how much talent you have, you still have to work for it. If you really want something, start now - don't let the dream disappear. It's something I have wanted to do since I was a kid and it's taken me a very long time.

“I'm still not there yet. My film has been successful and will probably make some good money but I have got bigger aspirations.”

The 26th Cambridge Film Festival runs from today to Sunday, July 16. For a full programme, visit www.cambridgefilmfestival.org.uk

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