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Split Focus #2

Posted March 3rd, 2008 by Ben

Well I’m delighted to say that following the success of the first Split Focus event at the BFI we’ve been allowed back for a second bite of the cherry…

For those who’ve not been paying attention, Split Focus is a new programme of screenings Shooting People are putting on in an attempt to give a platform to proven talent. For some time now I’ve been trying to find the best films being made by members of the Shooting People community. My aim has always been to support the films that reach an audience and give the rest of us something to aspire to. However, since I’m mainly looking at first or second films by new directors I’ve often found myself coming across films that aren’t perfect, films that don’t really stand up on their own, but which never the less excite me and clearly demonstrate that their creators are gifted and grappling with some amazing ideas.

To put it another way, to make a single amazing film always requires a degree of good fortune; to make four or five films less than perfect films that never the less stretch the imagination and delight the senses takes a gifted and dedicated director. So, with thanks to the BFI, we’ve started putting on showcases for some of the more delightful and dedicated filmmakers who are using Shooting People to get their work made and seen. This time round our focus falls on Daniel Cormack and Kara Miller.

Whilst last time I chose two filmmakers with very differing styles, this programme brings together two directors with a shared love of simple, powerful story telling. Drama is a very dirty word at the moment, usually being used to conjure a certain humdrum quietude which is far from compelling. What I love about Daniel’s film “Amelia and Michael” or Kara’s “Elephant Palm Tree”, is that both demonstrate the directors’ ability to set the simplest of scenes on fire. These films are dramas, short plays which bring you for a moment into the lives of strangers and peel back the layers, revealing, showing but never telling. If you don’t watch a lot of films then these are the sort of films you imagine get made all the time; if, like me, you watch far too many films you begin to appreciate the subtle skill and grace that makes something as simple as two people talking over breakfast so electrifying.

What is also so refreshing about these films is that it is only when watched together that you realise quite how much work Daniel and Kara are putting in. Like swans, the furious paddling is going on under the surface and rather than having your attention constantly drawn to the fact that you are watching the work of a director, all the focus is given to the story, to the characters, to the emotion, to the things that engage on the basic human level.

For this show Daniel is returning to the BFI for the second time in as many months, having already had one retrospective there this year, as part of the Disability Film Festival. His epilepsy meant that he couldn’t watch TV as a child and consequently spent his childhood in the cinema. It is unsurprising then to find that he has turned into a classicist, his films full of all the hallmarks of someone with an innate understanding and love of cinema in the truest sense of the term. Though his first film “Amelia & Michael” is, I think, still his most successful, my favourite is “A Fitting Tribute” where he takes what other directors would shape into a glib film with a twist and injects it full of pathos. What he’s done is not complicated, he’s just shown the story, the characters and indeed the audience the respect that they deserve.

Similarly, Kara’s background writing for both the radio and the stage helps explain the skill and care she uses to craft her characters and dialogue. However if her most visually accomplished film “Elephant Palm Tree” strains at the edges of theatricality, then her follow-up, my favourite of hers “How To Make Friends” shows her heading off in a much looser and more cinematic style. She is a great writer, but here she lets her directorial side take over and the results are delightful.

Lastly, the other thing that unites these directors is their shared ability to find great actors and allow them to give great performances. Anthony Head, Natasha Powell, Tamsin Grieg, Dudley Sutton, Dona Croll, the truly immense George Harris and the ever rising star Tom Nelstrop all give of their best in this collection of films and that is, with apologises for the pun, indeed a fitting tribute to the talents of directors Daniel Cormack and Kara Miller.

The event is at 6pm on Monday March 10th at the BFI Studio, part of the shiny new bit of what use to be called the NFT. Both Daniel and Kara will be there and will be chatting after the screening about the way they work and what they’re working on next.

It is FREE entry, but obviously we’re limited by space and judging by last time you need to RSVP to Jo to make sure you can get in.

You can find out more about Daniel Cormack from his website www.actaeonfilms.com

And more about Kara Miller from her website www.arawakfilms.com

And there is a facebook page for the event with pictures and everything here..

  1. Charlie Phillips

    Good line-up again Ben. You’ve chosen some really cool underground indie filmmakers, I’m impressed.

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