Category Archives: BFI

‘She Dies Tomorrow’: Amy Seimetz on her timely contagion film

Writer-director Amy Seimetz’s She Dies Tomorrow isn’t the first 2020 release to gain unexpected layers by arriving during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s perhaps the most prescient. A visually vivid absurdist thriller that’s unsettling and darkly funny in equal measure, it concerns Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil), a woman consumed by the notion that she will die tomorrow.

Her’s isn’t a suicidal inclination, rather an unwavering conviction of her imminent demise. She vocalises this belief to her friend Jane (Jane Adams), with Jane then gripped by the same doom-laden anxiety. Jane then talks of her own death tomorrow to her brother (Chris Messina) and his party guests, and an increasing number of characters become ‘infected’ by this emotional contagion, the effects including transcendental visions and varying degrees of either panic or acceptance.

Whether consciously or not, much of the multi-talented Seimetz’s work has concerned mortality in various ways. Her striking first feature as director, Sun Don’t Shine (2012), is a Florida noir that resembles what you might get if Lynne Ramsay adapted a Jim Thompson story – like Ramsay’s Morvern Callar (2002), it involves the attempted discreet disposal of a body. As an actor, Seimetz’s credits include several key horror films of the last decade, from independent breakthrough You’re Next (2011) to studio spine-chillers Alien: Covenant (2017) and Pet Sematary (2019). Her fee for the latter reportedly funded She Dies Tomorrow.

Speaking to us via Zoom, Seimetz discussed the film’s existential dread and eccentricities…

Full interview for the BFI

10 great Scottish youth films

From A Taste of Honey (1961) to Rocks (2019), British cinema has plenty to offer when it comes to films about the young and restless. But of all the nations of the UK, it’s arguably Scotland that has offered the most formal invention and thematic bite – regarding issues of class, wealth gaps and isolation – when it comes to cinematic tales of youth.

Some of Scotland’s greatest filmmakers – Lynne Ramsay and Bill Forsyth among them – got their start with films told from the point of view of troubled kids and gawky teenagers. Directors from further south in the UK, meanwhile, have made some of their best work when journeying north and drawing from young talent.

While the relatively small pool of Scottish teen films leans towards narratives set in or around Edinburgh and Glasgow, you rarely find one that’s indistinguishable from another thanks to the distinctive imprints of their directors. Delinquency is a common thread, but you’re not going to confuse Ken Loach’s Sweet Sixteen (2002) with Peter Mullan’s Neds (2010).

The feature debut of writer-director Ninian Doff, horror-comedy Get Duked! (2019), supported by the BFI Film Fund, sees 4 teenage boys on a highlands trek stalked by wealthy aristocrats hunting them for sport. Not just a foul-mouthed riff on The Most Dangerous Game (1932), the film also has much on its mind about class warfare and the bad hand dealt to Generation Z.

To mark its release on 28 August, exclusive to Amazon Prime Video, here are 10 of the best films about Scottish youth…

Full feature for the BFI

Where to begin with Atom Egoyan

Why this might not seem so easy

Excluding contributions to anthology films, Canada-based auteur Atom Egoyan has nearly 20 feature credits to his name as a director. But Egoyan’s work also extends to theatre, opera, art installations and music. While footage of some of his installations can be found on YouTube, and a number of his shorts have a home among the extras on disc releases of his features, a full portrait of him as an artist working across multiple fields is nigh on impossible to achieve without access to any archives the man himself might have.

In terms of content, something that may potentially put off newcomers to Egoyan’s work are the hermetic worlds in which many of them, particularly his early string of features, operate. Intense emotions are repressed and human interaction is often communicated through transmitted images. Before Exotica (1994) and the twice Oscar-nominated The Sweet Hereafter (1997) brought him wider recognition and commercial success, Egoyan, alongside fellow Canadian David Cronenberg, was one of North American cinema’s key chroniclers of life in the developing video age, where the nature of human relationships radically altered in the wake of technology’s expanding role in our lives. Bureaucracy and other power structures also tend to isolate characters in his films. They are about alienation and so can be alienating…

Full feature for the BFI

GFF20 vs. COVID-19: four takeaways from Glasgow Film Festival 2020

This year’s Glasgow Film Festival constantly faced the prospect of major disruption amidst the global outbreak of COVID-19, as major overseas events, most notably SXSW, fell to advance cancellations while this year’s GFF was still taking place. The organisers managed to pull off a complete edition before the axe fell, with the Scottish government now scaling back public gatherings in the days since its closing night. The virus has now been assigned pandemic status, and even more spring festivals in the UK and globally have since indefinitely postponed before any government intervention, including TribecaBelfast and the now independent Glasgow Short Film Festival

Full feature for Sight & Sound

Five Bruce Springsteen songs and how they influenced my drag-racing drama ‘Run’

Following Shell (2012) and Iona (2015), Run sees writer-director Scott Graham return to exploring characters in another relatively isolated Scottish community, this time his own hometown of Fraserburgh, a fishing town in the country’s far northeast. “I’m never sure how people from my home town are going to feel about it,” Graham says. “I think they would be the first to recognise it’s not an easy place to live.”

Speaking to us at the Glasgow Film Festival, where Run had a Scottish premiere a few weeks before its UK-wide release, Graham mentions a few audience members had travelled down from Fraserburgh to see the film early: “They seemed to really like it. They were very complimentary to the cast on the work they’d done on the local dialect.”

A feature-length expansion of one of Graham’s earlier shorts, Run is rooted in both the specificities of its Scottish setting and certain anxieties informed by American culture. It explores the malaise of thirtysomething Finnie (Mark Stanley), who has an increasingly fraught relationship with his two sons and wife Katie (Amy Manson), who was his teenage sweetheart – the pair have tattoos quoting Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born to Run’…

Full interview for the BFI

10 things to see at the Glasgow Film Festival 2020

Glasgow Film Festival returns for its 16th edition in 2020, running from 26 February to 8 March. For the first time in GFF’s history, the opening and closing gala films are both directed by women filmmakers, with the closing night falling on International Women’s Day.

Based on Caitlin Moran’s semi-autobiographical novel, festival closer How to Build a Girl stars Booksmart’s Beanie Feldstein as a young working-class woman becoming a music critic. It’s to be the first theatrically released feature in more than 20 years from English director Coky Giedroyc (Stella Does Tricks), who has worked on recent TV favourites like The Hour and Harlots. French director Alice Winocour will open the festival with her latest, Proxima, in which Eva Green plays an astronaut and mother preparing for a year-long space mission.

On International Women’s Day, every film screened that day will be either directed or written by a woman or featuring a female lead. Women directors are also the subject of Mark Cousins’ 14-hour documentary Women Make Film: A New Road Movie through Cinema, which will be shown in five instalments. Overlooked gems from the past from directors Joan Micklin Silver, Larisa Shepitko, Euzhan Palcy and more will screen in support.

With nine world premieres, 10 European premieres, 102 UK premieres and 39 Scottish premieres to choose from, as well as retrospectives, talks and immersive events, choosing tickets wisely can be difficult. Here are 10 highlights from across this year’s bumper programme…

Full feature for the BFI

Atom Egoyan: How we made ‘Exotica’ – 25th anniversary

Misleadingly marketed as an erotic thriller by Miramax, Exotica proved a notable box-office success for a Canadian film when it was released a quarter of a century ago. It was a commercial breakthrough for its Cairo-born writer-director Atom Egoyan, following well-regarded arthouse titles such as Speaking Parts (1989) and The Adjuster (1991). Nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes and recipient of eight Genie awards (Canada’s equivalent of the Oscars), Egoyan’s film remains one of Canadian cinema’s most enduring and influential titles, and – along with The Sweet Hereafter (1997) – the director’s most highly regarded feature.

Set primarily around the fictional Exotica strip club in Toronto, the non-linear narrative – in which Egoyan withholds many of the specifics of characters’ relationships until the very end – concerns the intertwining lives of Francis (Bruce Greenwood), a tax auditor; Christina (Mia Kirshner), a young dancer; Eric (Elias Koteas), the club’s DJ; Thomas (Don McKellar), a pet shop owner; and Zoe (Arsinée Khanjian), the club’s pregnant owner.

Exotica is largely about loss, mourning and the effects they have on human connections; how people’s attempts to cope with extreme, often concealed grief manifest in outwardly disturbing personal rituals. The final scenes are among the most emotionally cathartic of 1990s cinema, drastically reconfiguring your understanding of previous events, while also opening up many unsettling questions. Far from a shallow puzzle narrative, the film’s power only grows with repeat viewings.

With 2019 marking the film’s 25th anniversary, I spoke to Atom Egoyan about Exotica’s production and legacy while he was at this year’s BFI London Film Festival to give a career talk and support his new film, Guest of Honour. Our conversation spoils one narrative reveal from Exotica’s finale…

Full interview for the BFI

‘Judy & Punch’: Mirrah Foulkes gives the puppet-show a 21st-century twist

“I feel like it changes all the time. You’d think I’d have a roll-off-the-tongue synopsis by now, wouldn’t you?”

Australian writer-director Mirrah Foulkes has just been asked how she’s describing her tonally peculiar debut feature, Judy & Punch, not long before its bow in UK cinemas nationwide. “I guess I’m describing it as a dark and twisted 17th-century fable about puppeteers that’s very unexpected and hopefully not like anything you’ve seen before. I was really excited by the boldness of it.”

Judy & Punch doesn’t draw much from the historical origins of the traditional Punch and Judy puppet show, with Foulkes instead using the narrative of the show as a point of departure for a new tale, one re-imagining what might happen if Punch’s wife Judy were to not take his violent impulses in quite so submissive a fashion…

Full interview for the BFI

‘Ad Astra’ director James Gray’s American masterpiece… and why UK audiences never saw it

Until going up the jungle in The Lost City of Z (2016) and now into deep space with Ad Astra, the films of American director James Gray – from Little Odessa (1994) to Two Lovers (2008) – all told stories of New York, with many focusing on immigrant families. His 2013 ode to classical melodrama, The Immigrant, was the culmination of that interest.

Set in 1921, it sees Polish immigrant Ewa (Marion Cotillard) tricked into a life of Manhattan burlesque and prostitution as she tries to fund the release of her ill sister, who has been confined to Ellis Island. She also finds herself caught in a toxic love triangle between Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix), the charmer pimp who got her there, and his chivalrous magician cousin, Emil (Jeremy Renner).

Featuring contenders for Cotillard and Renner’s career-best performances, reliably magnetic work from Phoenix, and cinematography from Darius Khondji that simultaneously evokes 19th-century painting, silent cinema and the 70s highpoints of Godfather cinematographer Gordon Willis, The Immigrant is a beautiful and devastating slow-burn drama. Its closing act, particularly the lingering final shot, must count among the finest American filmmaking of this decade.

So, why was the film never released in the UK?

Full feature for the BFI

Between London, Lagos and Lincolnshire: Shola Amoo on ‘The Last Tree’

British writer-director Shola Amoo’s second feature, The Last Tree, is a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age film set in the early 2000s. It centres on a young boy named Femi of Nigerian descent who’s being fostered by a white parent, Mary (Denise Black), in Lincolnshire. As Amoo explains: “The story starts when his biological mum (Gbemisola Ikumelo) picks him up, takes him to south London to live with her, and we follow his trials and tribulations as he tries to find his identity within a new culture in a multicultural London.”

“There are elements of the film taken from my life,” Amoo says of his connection to the narrative, which charts the journey of Femi into his teens. “The rest is amalgamated with other experiences I’ve heard around foster care, and friends who’ve dealt with this idea of double-consciousness: being of one community and living within another. It’s all woven together.” That sense of struggling with the values and culture of an unfamiliar community also extends to Femi’s experiences of visiting Lagos, where his biological father lives…

Full interview for the BFI