Luke Hagan, Exeter alumnus reflects on his film debut

Exeter alumnus Luke Hagan studied for an undergraduate degree at the University of Exeter in History and Archaeology (2007) before completing a Masters degree in Film Studies (2008). Luke then went on to work as a freelance filmmaker. All in the Valley is Luke’s first feature film, in which he acted as writer, director, and editor.

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Photograph courtesy of Luke Hagan.

The film was shot between September and December 2012, along with several day’s reshoots and pickups in the summer of 2013. Luke and his team hope that All in the Valley will facilitate their move onto other projects; “All in the Valley was self-funded and the idea from the beginning was to make the best film we could with relatively little money, which we could then show to people and say “imagine what we could achieve with funding.”

Set in Cornwall in 1855, All in the Valley follows Joseph Ballam, a Crimean war veteran who returns home with no money, no job and no prospects. He meets Mr. Lincoln, a wealthy mine owner, who offers him the chance to emigrate to the colony of Van Dieman’s Land. However, in exchange for a new life, Ballam must explore deep into the Cornish landscape in order to hunt down the Tallack brothers, a dangerous gang of thieves, and return the money they have stolen from Lincoln’s company. All in the Valley is an exciting new take on the classic western genre. The film takes the common western themes of migration, wilderness and lawlessness and transports them to Victorian Cornwall – a frontier just as treacherous and wild as the old west.

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Photograph courtesy of Luke Hagan.

Luke was recognised for his work last year, receiving the Best Feature Film accolade at the Cornwall Film Festival. Luke, who is familiar with the Cornish landscape, says that All in the Valley was inspired by its setting; “When we were looking for ideas for a film it dawned on me that we had access to this beautiful and dramatic backdrop.”

He explained that his experiences studying at the University came into use preparing for the film, adding: “Once we had figured that out I called back on my days studying History at Exeter and started doing some research into the history of the Cornish moors, the mining industry and the large scale emigration that took place in the region. The parallels between what I learnt and the traditional narratives of the American western soon became apparent and the rest of the film fell into place.”

Speaking about his experience and future work, Luke said: “We have several ideas that we’re working on at the moment, including other feature films and web based projects. I think our next step will be a short film. Making All in the Valley was a fantastic experience but feature films take a long time to complete so we’d like to do something we can see finished on shorter timescale. We’re hoping to start work on our new project in 2015, and we’ll see where things go from there.”


 

For more information about Luke’s film All in the Valley, please visit his website.

MA International Film Business – Term One

Last term the College of Humanities welcomed its first student cohort on the inaugural MA International Film Business programme at the University of Exeter.

JimW-Mike Leigh 11Chairman of the London Film School (LFS) and multi-award-winning director Mike Leigh with Deputy Vice Chancellor (Education) Professor Nick Kaye. Photo by Jim Wileman.

In an exciting partnership with the London Film School, MA International Film Business students have had the opportunity to explore the filmmaking industry both here in the south-west and the capital, where the students have been studying since January. Co-directed by Angus Finney of the London Film School and Professor Will Higbee at the University of Exeter, the programme provides students with an understanding of the film industry and its practices, key business tools, and an insight into world cinema and the role of film culture.

During their first term, MA International Film Business students were taught by film specialists from the College of Humanities and the Exeter Business School. A number of notable industry experts came to speak to the students. These included film director and producer Don Boyd, British independent producer James MacKay, US/UK film producer Gavrik Losey and Ken Dearsley, Independent Consultant and Partner of the Intellectual Property and Technology group IPT.

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US/UK film producer Gavrik Losey came in last term to speak to students. Photo by Theo Moye

Another industry speaker to visit the University was local filmmaker and pop-up cinema entrepreneur David Salas. David worked with the students to curate their own pop-up cinema event, asking them to prepare and present a series of short films for the general public in the Bill Douglas Museum at the University of Exeter. The six groups of students put on a varied and exciting programme of films, each spanning different genres, styles and languages.

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During the course of this year, we hope to let you know the progress of these students as they embark on their next term of study at the London Film School.

The students are due to attend the Berlinale festival, taking place from the 5 – 15 February. If you wish to follow the festival online via Twitter, search for the following hashtags #MAIFB, #Berlinale and #BerlinaleMoments

For more information about the MA International Film Business programme, please visit the College of Humanities website.

Day two at Berlin Film Festival

Dr Will Higbee, Senior Lecturer in French, Director of Programmes (Film) and Deputy Director of the Humanities Graduate School, is currently at the Berlinale, the Berlin International Film Festival.

Part 1: Emerging patterns in distribution and marketing

Another packed day at the Berlinale began with coffee and croissants followed by a lively and very insightful master class from Anna Higgs, Commissioning Executive for Film 4.0, the digital arm of Film 4. The master class formed part of the ‘Making Waves’ workshops, to which I was kindly invited as a guest of the Berlin dbbd and LFS. Anna was the driving force at Film 4.0 behind the A Field in England – director Ben Wheatley’s low budget, psychedelic English civil war thriller. As well as adopting a cinematically original approach to the film’s historical subject, A Field in England was experimental due to its simultaneous release in multiple formats and across multiple digital platforms, as well as being screened (without ad-breaks) in a prime-time Friday night slot on Film 4 in July 2013.

The reason this was such a bold move was that the film’s distribution by-passed the traditional series of windows that see a film rolled out over a period of months from cinemas, to pay-per-view/VOD, to rent and buy on DVD and finally on TV. Defying industry logic that suggested no one would go to the cinema if they could watch the film at home for free, A Field in England actually outperformed expectations for a film of this size across all platforms. After going into a detailed analysis of why this distribution strategy worked for this particular film, Anna then responded to questions about the current state of distribution for low-budget/independent cinema today. Her broad conclusion was that the ‘one size fits all approach’ that has to date dominated distribution strategies (and for the most part benefitted Hollywood) is no longer sustainable in a multi-platform, digital age. Instead, producers need to work with distributors to create a bespoke release strategy for each film, using all the digital means at their disposal to engage audiences. For an example as to how this can be achieved, see the Film 4 Digital Masterclass on A Field in England. http://www.afieldinengland.com/masterclass/

Next it was a quick bus ride across town for a late morning session at the ‘Berlinale Talents’, a programme of activities across six days, organized by the festival to support emerging talent within the European film industry. The session I attended was moderated by Ben Gibson (Director of the London Film School) and saw Danish producer Louise Vesth talk about her work on the latest Lars Von Trier film, Nymphomaniac Pt I, as a case study for exploring questions of strategic branding, bespoke marketing campaigns for individual territories, and using innovative strategies on social media in order to successfully distribute ‘difficult’ films. Though Von Trier’s multimillion dollar production and transnational cast of Hollywood stars and European A-listers, which has generated a stir due to its graphic sexual content and the way that the actors’ bodies were digitally replaced with body doubles, is far removed from Wheatley’s low budget ensemble cast in A Field in England, what the speakers from both sessions shared was an insistence on the need for bespoke distribution strategies in order for more challenging and creative films to find a place in the market.

Part 2 will follow later today!

Will

Find out more about our MA International Film Business.

Day one at the Berlin Film Festival

Dr Will Higbee, Senior Lecturer in French, Director of Programmes (Film) and Deputy Director of the Humanities Graduate School, is currently at the Berlinale, the Berlin International Film Festival.

The end of a very exciting first day at the Berlinale; after sorting out the all-important accreditation badge and trying desperately to pick up tickets for some of the day’s screenings – most tickets for badge holders are snapped up first thing in the morning or booked the day before – I headed off to the Sony Centre for meetings with Ben Gibson, Director of the London Film School (LFS). Here at the Berlinale, the LFS are key collaborators in ‘Making Waves’: a MEDIA funded initiative that brings together students from film schools across Europe to participate in workshops with industry professionals, focusing on emerging strategies in distribution and exhibition.

During the course of the morning, I met Lizzie Francke, Senior Development & Production Executive at the BFI’s Film Fund and executive producer of André Singer’s documentary Night Will Fall (2013). Singer’s film, which is being premiered at the Berlinale, explores a ‘missing’ film by Alfred Hitchcock. In 1945, Hitchcock was approached to edit a documentary on German wartime atrocities, based on the footage of the recently liberated concentration camps shot by British and Soviet film units. Legend has it that when Hitchcock first saw the footage from the camps that would form the basis for his documentary, he was so traumatised that he stayed away from Pinewood Studios for a week. Singer’s documentary explores the political reasons why this sobering and at times distressing documentary was quickly shelved and retraces the story of the unfinished film that became known as the ‘missing Hitchcock’.

In the afternoon I moved on with colleagues from the LFS to the European Film Market: the business end of the Berlinale. This is one of the places that students on our MA International Film Business will visit on their field trip to the festival next year and is an excellent introduction to the importance of the international festival as a key hub for producers, distributors and exhibitors. The visit to the European Film Market will allow our students to begin to see how what they are learning on the MA is applied to the real world of the international film business. It will also provide them with unique and exciting networking opportunities with producers, directors and industry executives, as well as the chance to make professional contacts that could prove useful for final dissertation projects.

Finally, I went to my first film of the Berlinale, Casse / Scrapyard (2013) by a young French director called Nadège Trebal (a director whom I must admit I’d not heard of before today). The film is an observational documentary that takes place in a scrapyard on the outskirts of Marseilles, where people search for car parts to repair cars. I was intrigued by how the director would treat the film’s quirky subject matter and dutifully queued with other festival-goers at the Cinemax, hoping to snap up one of the few remaining tickets to the screening. There was no way, I told myself, that I was going to let my first day at the Berlinale pass without seeing one of the films selected for the festival. My patience in line was rewarded with a highly original, beautifully shot and totally engrossing documentary. At times, Trebal’s approach to the subjects of her film made me think of the work by the legendary French director Agnès Varda, for the way that it respectfully gave space and a voice to members of French society who are too-often marginalized, while creating cinematic beauty from something as mundane as removing the spark plugs from a car engine. The film also offered an eloquent statement on experiences of immigration and integration in France by simply allowing its working-class (and for the most part immigrant) protagonists the space to tell their stories while working in the scrapyard. Trebal seems to have a rare talent for opening up a genuine dialogue with those before the camera, and responded in an equally generous fashion to questions after the screening. In the end the Q&A ran for almost 45 minutes – a clear indication of the enthusiasm for the film amongst the audience. The unexpected find of the festival? Maybe I’m letting a fantastic end to my first day at the Berlinale impair my critical judgment. (I don’t think so). I’m certainly looking forward to seeing where this talented young French filmmaker goes next.

Will

Find out more about our MA International Film Business.

The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum for historians

This post was originally posted on the blog for the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, University of Exeter.

Emily Vine

I’m currently researching items in the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum collection which could be of particular use to historians. I’ve come across a wide range of material which extends far beyond what you might expect to find in a museum of cinema, and have tried to identify how such items could be relevant to a broader range of historical themes and approaches than may be immediately obvious.

I began by looking at the collection of stereoscope cards; cards with two slightly different photographs printed next to each other, which when viewed through a stereoscope create a 3D image. Although they are held in the museum for their association with the development of the moving image, the pictures themselves comprise a wide range of subjects and have historical value beyond cinema or cultural history. I’ve been particularly focusing on a set of stereo cards depicting colonial life in India in the early 1900s, and also several sets which depict scenes from the First World War. The images of India are interesting because they were produced by a British company to demonstrate the ‘positive’ impact of colonial rule, and portray an extremely generalised and condescending view of Indian people. The images of the First World War were also intended to be viewed by the British public and consequently present a nationalistic view of the achievements of the British army; glorifying the events of the trenches and emphasising the bravery and camaraderie of the soldiers.
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I then moved on to look through a large number of nineteenth century guidebooks, social histories and periodicals which provide invaluable insights into Victorian life. They are part of the collection because they make reference to popular culture through the mention of cinemas, music halls or peep shows, but they contain a wealth of other information which would be very useful primary source material for social historians. Henry Mayhew’s four volume work London Labour and the London Poor proved to be an extremely valuable source of both statistical and anecdotal information about the lives of the working classes, with particular emphasis upon the ‘underworld’: the criminals, prostitutes, and street beggars upon which much of our conceptions of the ‘bleak’ Victorian age are based. The collection of London guidebooks proved to be equally as informative; providing a wealth of information about popular tourist sites, admission prices, public transport, popular recreation and leisure activities, and important public buildings and institutions, as well as maps of London as it once looked.

Those unfamiliar with the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum may be surprised at the extensive amount of pre-cinema material within the collection. Amongst much else there are numerous maps of Exeter and London from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, satirical / political cartoons, ephemera relating to panoramas, and a large number of eighteenth century prints, including my personal favourite, a print of a Hogarth engraving of Southwark fair.
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The appeal of these items extends far beyond their original association with the development of the moving image; they are artefacts which would be of great interest to social, cultural, political and even military historians.
Film magazines such as The Pictures and The Picturegoer are extremely useful for providing an insight into popular culture, leisure activities and social aspiration in the twentieth century. They demonstrate what a key role film played in the lives of ordinary people; both how film reflected social concerns and current affairs, and also how people reacted to film and aspired to have or be what was depicted on the big screen. They are invaluable resources for social or cultural historians, and those looking at concepts of gender, class, consumerism and leisure. The adverts in these magazines are particularly interesting; they are often targeted at particular ideals of masculinity and femininity which tells us much about societal norms. From a modern perspective it’s interesting to note how little celebrity magazines have progressed in a hundred years; when looking through the oldest film magazines of 1911 you can still recognise the early obsession with the beauty of film stars, and tips on how readers can look or behave like their idols.

Other interesting periodicals in the collection include Cassell’s Popular Educator and Living London. Cassell’s Popular Educator is a periodical containing miscellaneous articles of general knowledge; it was created in 1852 to allow the working classes, and those with limited access to formal education, to instruct themselves on a range of subjects, and consequently better themselves. It contains articles on English, History, Philosophy, Languages, Business and Commerce, Art, Music, Science, Mathematics, and was called by one commentator “a school, a library and a university.” Living London is an illustrated periodical with miscellaneous articles and stories about life in London at the turn of the century; giving an invaluable insight into a diverse range of social and cultural practices.
I found it interesting looking through the large collection of publicity programmes for documentary film showings and lantern slide lectures. They demonstrate how cinema and the moving image were used to inform as well as entertain, particularly by presenting to the audience images of a place or event they would otherwise never have access to. The subject matters of these documentary films and lantern slide lectures vary greatly, but they are often concerned with ‘exotic’ countries, far corners of the British Empire, the royal family or the First World War. The way in which these subjects were presented to the British public, or were considered worthy of widespread public attention, tells us much about conceptions of national identity, and attitudes towards racial or cultural difference.

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This project has emphasised that the usefulness and interest of the collection extends far beyond its primary purpose as a centre for the history of cinema. My research has focused upon items which would be particularly useful to history students, but the artefacts in the collection are relevant to a wide range of subjects and approaches. As part of this project I’ve updated many descriptions in the museum’s online catalogue athttp://billdouglas.ex.ac.uk/eve/search.asp , so that many items should be more easily searchable through the use of broader keywords such as “British Empire” or “First World War”. The full list of items I’ve identified and made notes on should be distributed around the history department, and also be made accessible to history students via ELE. This list includes items which are directly relevant to a number of undergraduate history modules, as well as items which could be valuable primary sources for research projects such as Doing History or dissertations. I hope that this will make more students aware of the wide range of resources available to them at the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum and also make it easier for them to search and access the collection.

The Search for Beauty: Italian Women on Screen

This post was originally posted on the blog for the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, University of Exeter.

Grazia Guila Gigante, Emily King, Isabel Davies and Sophie Adams

Whilst studying an Italian film module which focused on the representation of beauty in contemporary cinema, we developed a personal interest in the culture and history behind popular Italian film stars. We relished the opportunity to explore this further through the research and compilation of our exhibition at the Bill Douglas Centre, focusing our research on the glamourous era of the 1950s and 60s.  Whilst our module had given us an excellent introduction to Italian contemporary film, researching at The Bill Douglas Centre provided us with a unique opportunity to discover primary sources firsthand. We had access to an extensive selection of extra-textual material, ranging from artists’ sketches to popular magazines of the time, with a vast array of material showcasing both the on-screen and off-screen personas of famous film stars of this era.

In an interview with Barbara Walters Sophia Loren affirms:  ‘I’m not Italian, I’m Neapolitan! it’s another thing’. The question of national and regional and class identity is particularly interesting when analysing the ‘maggiorata’ phenomenon from an Italian point of view. The bodies of Sophia Loren and Lollobrigida are not only stereotypically Italian they are ‘napoletani’ and ‘romani’.  Sophia Loren and Lollobrigida both played roles that enhanced these regional characteristics, emphasizing not only their physicality but also their accents. Their pin up bodies were regularly placed and shot in agricultural environments, around fields and rivers, as were other Italian female stars of the period.  During our research in the Bill Douglas centre we have seen how this was the case, as seen in this iconic image from “Bitter Rice”.

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Their social upbringings are also significant; most of the beloved 1950s actresses came from a poorer background, usually rural. Audiences experienced a glamorizing portrayal of the lower classes. A great number of people now saw, with these women, a representation of their values and customs on screen. The depiction of the lower classes interested the Neo-realism movement too, but with a different focus, with contrasting aims. Films starring these beautiful women were usually comedies, comedies that did not have an explicit primary interest in social comment and critique.  But it would be wrong to think that Italian actresses of the 1950s engaged only with light comedy roles.  In La Ciociara Sophia Loren demonstrates that she was also an established actress.

Milky Way Single Woman_1We also focused on the film industry’s heightened fascination on the female body and its sexualisation. As we have seen in films of this period that we watched as part of our module, there was a very conscious effort from directors and the stars themselves to draw attention to the ever popular ‘maggiorata fisica’ and this in itself drew large audiences. This refers to the exaggerated female shape with voluptuous curves that was the common throughout the film stars of this period. From the fetishistic stockings of Silvana Mangano in ‘Riso Amaro’ to the corseted costumes of Sophia Loren in ‘La Bella Mugnaia’, the female shape started to take a starring role in Italian cinema and this was apparent in most of the sources we found as the media exploited these women’s shapes and rarely printed an image without a hint of Loren or Lollobridgida’s famous busts.

We also explored the cultivation of Loren’s image as a film star and her transition from sex symbol to maternal figure. In the 1950’s and 60’s the notion of paparazzi was still a relatively new phenomenon, and thus the film stars could still control more easily the image of themselves that was portrayed in the mass media.

Looking more closely at Sophia Loren, her exuberance and vitality were positive aspects for which she was admired but she also developed a maternal appeal over the course of her career as we discovered through several interviews with her in magazines of the time. As she already strongly embodied femininity with her overtly feminine physique, being a mother was another form of femininity which she could portray.

The transition of her image from sex symbol to an actress of substance and a maternal figure can be largely attributed to her aforementioned role as Cesira in Two Women or ‘La Ciociara’  in 1960. It was interesting to put the images next to each other in the exhibition and see the juxtaposition between her well put-together beauty of many of the star portraits and the more dishevelled portrayal of her in the film.

Two Women Loren

This role greatly contributed to the cultivation of a more robust image of Loren which ensured that she would be remembered not just for her beauty but for her skills as an actress too.

Overall, this experience was extremely rewarding as it gave us the chance to build upon our knowledge of the films that we have studied through the use of invaluable artefacts contemporary to the era. The Bill Douglas centre gave us the opportunity to access relevant sources that allowed us to delve deeper into the personal lives of these Italian film stars and their representation in English and American press. This provided us with an alternative viewpoint to that which we had already explored in class, and a more extensive grasp of this dynamic topic, which we felt lent itself excellently to a visual exhibition.