Tag Archives: Danny Leigh

A MOON FOR MY FATHER, DANNY LEIGH

Broadcaster and writer (The Guardian, Financial Times) Danny Leigh went to visit filmmakers Mania Akbari and Douglas White to uncover the process of making and the audience reactions of their latest documentary film A Moon For My Father. The conversation is affectionately structured like the film itself, an exploratory and reflective exchange between Douglas and Mania and their journey of life’s biggest cornerstones; family, change, love and death.

This piece has been commissioned as part of Curate, our project that makes distinctive independent films available to community cinemas with extra support and insider interviews. This piece is available as a PDF download for you to use an extra resource for your screenings of the film, such as programme notes and for marketing purposes.

 

79 minutes is all the time it takes for A Moon For My Father to say a thousand extraordinary things. Co-directed by Mania Akbari and Douglas White, the film is about exile and migration, isolation and family, trauma and recovery, censorship and childhood, about the fracture of Iranian society and the joy of human connection, surgery, sculpture, birth, death and everything in between.

Akbari will be familiar to European audiences both as an actor – her roles included starring in Abbas Kiarostami’s landmark Ten – and a director. Behind the camera she carries with her like a diary, her best known work in the UK is Life May Be, the two-sided essay film she made with Mark Cousins after leaving Iran for London in 2012 – but that project is just part of a much wider body of work.

Like Life May Be, A Moon For My Father is built around ‘letters’ sent in the form of narrated short films. This time the other correspondent is sculptor White. Her film with Cousins was an exchange of ideas between two filmmakers from places of conflict – Northern Ireland for Mark, for Mania the Iran from which she was forced to flee under threat of persecution. A Moon For My Father is something subtly different, a project that began purely as two artists again trading ideas but then shifted shape.

Our conversation is presented in keeping with the structure of film:

Mania: When the film begins in December 2013, my camera was close to me all the time as it always is, like my child. I’m filming every day, not necessarily for a specific project, but filming the reality of life, the moments that aren’t really present in the mise en scene of the cinema. My process is filming all the time. And most of the time, I’m making films from the ‘rubbish’ – the moments many people would think were nothing. I don’t believe that the story is far from me. The story is here [points at herself]. You just put a camera on it.

Douglas: When we first met Mania came to my studio, and she hadn’t been in Britain long at that time so her English was more basic. But there was an obviously a very strong connection that took place. Subsequently I came to understand that was obviously interpersonal too, but she also reacted very strongly to my work.

The film became a document of the years to come – years that included Mania’s ongoing exile, her adjustment to life in the UK and decision to reconstruct her breasts after the double mastectomy she underwent in the early 2000s while being treated for cancer. For Douglas, the experience was stranger still, new ground for a sculptor who had essentially never picked up a camera before meeting Mania, and who early in the process, used it to capture a moment of deep personal meaning – his father’s funeral.

As the film evolved, themes grew. Rhymes appeared between art and life, as with the earliest scenes of the sculpted “palm trees” Douglas made from the rubber of discarded tyres and the latex used in Mania’s reconstructive surgery.

Mania: For me, the palm trees were a reminder of Iran. Like all Douglas’ scultpures, they have a conversation with you, and the palm trees spoke to me very clearly.

Douglas: That whole piece of work existed before the film, but Mania seeing it and her response blew me away. Here was something I’d created as a Western artist as a comment on colonialism, coexisting with the memories of a seven year old girl in Iran. We both found that this very interesting little gem.

Mania: The sculptures connected deeply with my sense of myself in a way that was totally crazy. So the first letter just came out of me wanting to talk to him as an artist.

Douglas: I got the first letter within weeks of us meeting, and then a few emails in Mania’s poetic broken English. At that point you couldn’t communicate fully in English with her, but at the same time I got this incredible window into her actual voice, this beautiful, poetic Farsi that she made the first films in. So I received this edited, subtitled vimeo link and that was the beginning of it.

Mania: Language is never just language. It’s history, culture, connection. As I created the films, I wanted to find a new language, an art language between myself and Douglas. Art is not with me and not with you. Art is between us. And I like dialogue. I don’t like monologues.

Douglas: Making the films became this beautiful pressure. As a sculptor you spend your life dealing with very personal subjects, but always at a physical remove. And here I wanted to reply in keeping with what Mania was doing, with the camera, even though it was the first time I’d really used one properly.

On screen, political censorship overlaps with personal history. Mania shows us Iranian photographs where body parts have been blacked out in such a way as to inadvertently draw the eye to them – “the censored becomes the focal point.” In the UK, she made a connection with the scars of her previous surgery. But everything can be remade, the film says.

Concrete electricity boxes in the streets of Tehran were stood on by protestors until the government built angled metal barriers on top – over which the protestors duly put wooden viewing platforms. “A collaborative sculpture project,” Mania drily calls it in the film.

Mania: I saw there was a connection between the way the Iranian government censors photographs, making us so aware of what is missing and the surgery I experienced. I came to the UK from a country where the government took control over the bodies of women. Now I could change my own body and make a new body.

Douglas: I was learning more and more from Mania about the film history and cultural history of Iran, which could feel intimidating. I think sometimes I felt that I needed to reply in what now seems this quite earnest manner, but it came from a sincere desire to communicate with her. There’s a Farsi expression that Mania uses, which is ‘what comes from the heart goes to the heart’, and that was what was happening.

Mania: There is a sequence in the film where I talk about my family and childhood in Iran while on screen you are seeing people on the London Underground. The Underground is a fascinating location to me. It brings to one place different people with different passports, languages, ideas, from different classes, of different ages, and they’re moving together. And some of them are reading, or kissing, some talking, fighting, touching, some alone and quiet. But everyone is living at once in the present and in their memory. And I find that when I’m on the Underground I can’t control my memory, and finally there is this incredible moment when past and present can run together.

Douglas: There is always such nervousness about portraits of dying, so to just straightforwardly put some of my dad’s funeral on camera felt pretty revelatory to me. And then of course there’s this connection between dying and birth that comes organically in the film.

Changing physical reality can be an act of resistance – and a taking hold of fate. Off-camera, Mania and Douglas became a couple in the course of making the film. And then another transformation began – Mania undergoing IVF treatment, having previously been told her cancer treatment would make it impossible to have a child.

So it felt fitting that when the three of us met on a cold London afternoon to discuss the film, there were actually four of us – Mania and Douglas’ son Robin with us too, every bit as intelligent, likeable and endlessly curious as his parents.

Mania: Part of why I wanted to have a baby was because I didn’t have a root in this country. And when I was 28, the doctors in Iran cut my breasts and told me I couldn’t get pregnant again and then I made the breasts and there was a pregnancy. It was a dialogue between science, technology and art, involving my acceptance that I change my identity. Every injection changed my body and I accepted that transformation.

Douglas: That was obviously a very hard period for Mania with the IVF and the surgery, so the period between the films at that point was also the longest. But once Robin was born, there was a real desire to pull this material together. Also by then she hadn’t made a film for four or five years, which for her is challenging in itself.

Mania: In hospitals you always see the divide between private and personal collapse. Some women I know didn’t even want their partners to see them having their IVF injections, let alone filming it. They said Oh God Mania, you’re so brave. I’m not brave. My government tried to hide so many aspects of people’s lives, and so my intention is that all of these things should be seen. I never felt that there was anything in the film that was too personal. I don’t believe that we have a personal life! Because everything connects us to other people – and everything is recorded. Everything is data. I think we like to believe we have a private or personal life but we do not.

Douglas: The level of intimacy in the film could make me hugely uncomfortable! But having seen Mania’s work I knew from the beginning that if I was going to do this, it was the nature of it. And as an artist, what I’ve learned is that when feel the ground is really unsteady beneath you, that’s a sign you’re on the right path.

Mania: What is really painful to me is that people in Iran cannot see the film. Iranians outside Iran can see it, but otherwise in Iran itself it is banned. But the film reflects myself too because in many ways I’ve come to enjoy the dance that comes with having one leg here in the UK and another forever in Iran. The response to the film from British people has been really interesting. Iranian people move very quickly to sharing aspects of their lives, and I know in the UK that isn’t so popular!

Douglas: Showing the film to audiences has been this whole other fascinating part of the process. It often seems to provoke really intense reactions – so you’re not just seeing the breadth of the response but the depth of it too.

Mania: Which is what cinema is.

2017 FILM SOCIETY OF THE YEAR AWARDS

Saturday 11 November marked the 48th Film Society of the Year Awards. Film societies, community cinemas and friends from across the UK and beyond gathered at the Showroom Cinema in Sheffield for the ceremony, which took place during the 2017 Community Cinema Conference.

Presented by Cinema For All Chief Executive Deborah Parker and writer and broadcaster Danny Leigh, this year’s awards celebrated some outstanding and exciting community cinema groups and individuals.

Some high quality images of the event can be found here:

We’re very happy for you to use the images in any press or publicity – please credit Cinema For All/ Peter Martin.

More to come soon!

EXCITING PROGRAMME UPDATES

2017 Community Cinema Conference and Film Society of the Year Awards

Eventbrite - Community Cinema Conference and Film Society of the Year Awards 2017

Download the draft programme (timings subject to change)

10-12 November, Showroom Workstation and The Void, Sheffield Hallam University
Join Cinema For All in Sheffield on 10-12 November for the UK’s biggest gathering of film societies, community cinemas, village screens and film clubs for a weekend-long celebration of volunteer-led cinema! This year’s theme is Your Audience and You – we’ll be really delving into important issues such as building taste, marketing and publicity, audience research and reactions, reaching young people and making risky film choices.

WHAT’S ON

KEYNOTE

We are absolutely delighted that Amitava Ghosh from Jamshedpur, India, representing the Federation of Film Societies of India will be joining us to talk about their experiences of film society life on the Indian subcontinent.

WORKSHOPS, SESSIONS AND MASTERCLASSES

FRIDAY

  • We welcome you to Sheffield with a feminist fresh look atGentlemen Prefer Blondes and an F Rating Masterclass from Rebecca Ellis from Little White Lies. Followed by complimentary wine and nibbles at Fusion Organic Café.

SATURDAY

  • Session 1: Young Audiences and How to Find Them – a forum and Q&A session featuring a group of 16-30 year olds, all at varying levels of engagement with community cinema. Really want to know why you have been unable to attract younger audiences? This is your chance to ask them! Led by Mikaela Smith of Showroom Cinema.
  • Session 2: Enriching and Growing Your Audience – a panel session exploring how community cinema organisers have been reaching out to new audiences through community connections, dementia friendly activities and specialised film choices. Led by Deborah Parker and featuring Kat Smith of Lost in Film. More panellists TBC.
  • Session 3: The Film Discovery Masterclass with Danny Leigh – our patron Danny Leigh joins us to walk us through a selection of film education activities and how to introduce them to your audience.

SUNDAY

  • Session 4: Knowing Your Audience Better – a panel session exploring audience research and engagement, featuring both community cinema organisers and audience members! Led by Gemma Bird, Vice Chair of Cinema For All and featuring Elizabeth Costello of Leigh Film Society. More panellists TBC.
  • The Cinema For All AGM – meet the trustees and team
  • Session 5: A Marketing and Social Media Masterclass with Jaq Chell and Abi Standish – an extended version of our popular coaching session. Learn how to really connect with your audience as well as expanding to reach new people.

+ Bookable fundraising one-to-ones with Katherine Seller of People’s Postcode Lottery (more info about how to book coming soon).

FILM PREVIEWS
A selection of upcoming titles from the Cinema For All Booking Scheme, including shorts, docs and the best in world cinema.

CELEBRATING!
Do not miss the highlight of the weekend, the Film Society of the Year Awards and after party. We’ll be putting on some delicious evening food and dancing ’til midnight! If you want to just join us for the awards, tickets are only £5 – which includes all refreshments and access to the after party!

By meeting other film societies we felt part of something much bigger and that our efforts are appreciated and recognised more widely.” – Lost In Film

Average ticket price for the whole weekend is just £85 (Member rate) – all lunches, morning refreshments and evening nibbles are included! We are very grateful to our event supporters and sponsors for helping us subsidise our ticket price and offer you even more than ever before! Their support helps us reduce the average cost of a weekend pass by a massive 50%.

We’re also happy to introduce a new discounted ticket for students and under 26s which is just £65.

Eventbrite - Community Cinema Conference and Film Society of the Year Awards 2017

EVEN MORE!

  • delicious lunches on Saturday and Sunday by our good friends Homemade by Thelma’s
  • evening nibbles on Friday night
  • evening pizza party on Saturday night (courtesy of our generous sponsors Octagon Films)
  • morning refreshments
  • access to the awards after-party on Saturday night, where you can dance, chat, drink and nibble with us until midnight (drinks courtesy of our generous supporters Magic Rock)

*day passes are available on request

Cinema For All operates a Safe Spaces policy at all our events.

BURSARIES
If you are a member of your local Film Hub, you may apply to them for a bursary towards the cost of the conference. To find out who your local Hub is and to get in touch visit:http://cinemaforall.org.uk/about-cinema-for-all/partners/film-audience-network/

ACCOMMODATION
To book a room for just £69 per night at the Jury’s Inn, head to https://www.jurysinns.com and pop in the offer code CINEMA1011.

SUPPORTERS
The Community Cinema Conference and Film Society of the Year Awards are supported by Filmbankmedia, MPLC, Sheffield Hallam University, Cinegi, Magic Rock, Octagon Films and with the support of the BFI, awarding funds from The National Lottery. More supporters TBC

 

CINEMA FOR ALL WELCOME DANNY LEIGH AS PATRON

Film is a joy, but it’s only half as much of a pleasure without a cinema to watch it in – and the cinema is nothing without an audience.”  – Danny Leigh

We are thrilled to announce that Danny Leigh has become a Patron of Cinema For All and we couldn’t be more delighted and proud to have him join us.

Danny is an author, writer and broadcaster, writing regularly about film for The Guardian and Financial Times and is a resident film critic on BBC’s Film 2017. It is clear through Danny’s career that he loves film and his opening speeches at the 2014 and 2016 Film Society of the Year Awards demonstrated that his passion for film extends to cinemas themselves and the audiences watching them. Danny spoke with exuberance about the impressive work achieved by volunteer-led cinemas in reaching out, connecting and welcoming audiences to enjoy films together as a shared experience.

As a charity, it is important for us to have the help of like-minded, creative and encouraging individuals to help spread the word about Cinema For All and community cinema and more importantly to help us achieve the very goal our name states – cinema for all. It is with great joy and gratitude that we welcome Danny as a Patron of Cinema For All and we look forward to working alongside him in the future.

We recently spoke to Danny about his relationship with Cinema For All, community cinema and some of his favourite cinema experiences.

Tell us a little bit about your relationship with Cinema for All

I’ve been a supporter of Cinema For All for a long time, so I was delighted when Deborah and Jaq got in touch and asked me along to help present awards at the 2014 conference. There was some regrettable dancing on my part that year, which I remain apologetic about, but remarkably I was asked back and since then I’ve done some more award-giving as well as film presenting, and it’s always a pleasure. That first year I found myself telling anyone who would listen that Cinema For All were my favourite cinema chain in the world, and I haven’t changed my mind. 

How important are community cinemas and film societies?

As a film lover and someone who tries to be aware of the world beyond movies too, I think community cinemas and film societies are vital, and only becoming more so. Giving people the chance to share in a collective storytelling experience is important in itself – but helping create hubs in communities at a time when we risk drifting off into ever lonelier isolation stuck in front of Netflix is a real public service. 

What do you think is special about seeing a film as part of an audience?

Film is a joy, but it’s only half as much of a pleasure without a cinema to watch it in – and the cinema is nothing without an audience. Film takes flight in the shared emotion, when we gasp with fear or roar with laughter, or just share being lost in a moment. When we strip out the audience from our experience of films, we abandon something very precious. 

Tell us about one of your favourite moments as an audience member.

1984, Ghostbusters, one of the big Leicester Square cinemas – I was 12 and I think I can still hear the rest of the crowd now. And then twice in the last year I’ve been reminded of the power of an audience – a screening of I, Daniel Blake where the atmosphere in the room was enraged and electric, and another watching Get Out, where again it felt like watching that film in that cinema with this bunch of strangers was the most important place to be in the world. (I’d also throw in seeing La Haine, where the whole cinema felt like it was rocking around me, and The White Ribbon, with a packed house in pristine pin-drop silence). 

What are your hopes for the future of community cinema?

I think the advent of digital has made laying hands on films and getting them on screen a much more straightforward process, and allowed programmers to revel in the breadth of international film. One of the things I really admire above community cinema in theory and Cinema For All in practise is the way the DIY spirit of the film society dovetails so perfectly with a sense of adventure in the films that are screened. And I think there’s only going to be more and more people drawn inexorably to both. 

Deborah Parker, Chief Executive of Cinema For All, on welcoming Danny as Patron: ‘I couldn’t be happier to welcome Danny as a Patron. He has been incredibly supportive of our work and really gets who we are and what we, as well as our members, are achieving for communities across the UK. I am excited to continue working with Danny in his new role as Patron and I’m sure our members will be thrilled at this new development too.’

With thanks to our student volunteer from the University of Sheffield, Linnea Pettersson.

Community Cinema Conference Programme

The 2016 Community Cinema Conference Programme is here!

We’re thrilled to present the 2016 Community Cinema Conference programme! This year’s conference is packed with Booking Scheme film previews, excellent panels, a welcome screening with Ashley Clark and of course the Film Society of the Year awards, co-presented by Danny Leigh!

See what exciting things we have in store!

Download the Community Cinema  Conference Brochure

In reflection of our 70th anniversary celebrations, the theme of this year’s conference is Community Cinema Heroes – the past, present and future of volunteer-led cinema. Through sessions and workshops we’ll be exploring the importance of individual volunteers, their impact on communities and how we can ensure the future of community cinema by being at the heart of the social and cultural lives of the people they serve.

Remember, you can apply to your local Film Hub for a bursary to help you attend the Community Cinema Conference.

Book now to join us for a brilliant weekend celebrating, championing and supporting community-led cinema!

See you soon!

Birthday Messages – Cinema For All Turns 70

On Friday 15 April, Cinema For All turned 70! We announced this special occasion on our website and social media accounts, with information on how people can get involved and celebrate with us.

We received some lovely birthday messages from film societies, community cinemas and organisations via social media. It was heartwarming to see others celebrating this special milestone for our organisation.

From April 2016 to April 2017 we will be marking our 70th anniversary with a campaign to encourage people throughout the UK to take a trip to their nearest community cinema, film society, film club or pop-up. One way you can do this, is with a birthday video message that also tells people about your community cinema or film society! This can be short and as DIY or professional as you like. Once you have made your video, upload it to your social media accounts using the hashtag #cinemaforall and we will share it via the national Cinema For All  social media accounts. Alternatively, you can email it to us: abi@cinemaforall.org.uk and we’ll upload it to our YouTube account.

Here are some of the wonderful birthday video messages we’ve received so far:

Happy Birthday to Cinema For All. At seventy years old you are still in your prime. It is important that you keep going- you remind us that cinema is more than popcorn and blockbusters. Here’s to the next seventy!” – Ken Loach, Patron of Cinema For All.

 

 

Monico Movies CFA 70 from Harley William Jones on Vimeo.

 

Thank you for all the birthday well wishes!