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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Reed Johnson

L.A. Film Festival spotlights human stories from Latin America

June 15, 2012 |  1:26 pm

JUAN-1

After a string of movies about narco gang wars and desperate migrants, the Los Angeles Film Festival is presenting a different side of Latin American cinema: Cuban zombies, Chilean family road trips, Buenos Aires Elvis impersonators and the flying bird men of Veracruz.

That’s not to downplay the direness of the problems sweeping Mexico and neighboring countries, said Hebe Tabachnik, Latin American programmer for the festival, which is sponsored by The Times. But while those epic tragedies dominate newscasts, she said, this year’s slate of about a dozen features and 16 shorts should put audiences “more in contact with the stories of people.”

“When we read so much about the violence, we start forgetting about the human beings. Everybody becomes just a statistic,” said Tabachnik, a native of Argentina. “It’s a different perspective.”

INTERACTIVE: Cheat Sheet - Los Angeles Film Festival

Exhibit A is the allegorical zombie movie “Juan of the Dead,” scheduled to screen Friday night and Monday evening. Written and directed by Alejandro Brugués, the Cuban-Spanish coproduction blends all the de rigueur elements of the flesh-chomping genre with a biting critique of the everyday horrors of Fidel Castro’s Cuba.

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Oscars winners: 'A Separation's' triumph raises hopes for Iran

February 27, 2012 |  8:37 pm

Separation6
Sussan Deyhim still worries that saber-rattling rhetoric could escalate into war between Iran and Israel or the United States.

"There are enough crazy people out there ... that this actually could happen," said the Tehran-born singer-composer, whose film music credits include "The Kite Runner" and "The Stoning of Soraya M."

But Deyhim hopes the success of the Iranian domestic drama "A Separation," which won the best foreign language Oscar on Sunday, and its director's carefully-worded acceptance speech could help ease rising tensions and alter Western perceptions of her homeland.

PHOTOS: Best & Worst | Quotes | Red carpet arrivals | During the show | Backstage

In receiving his Oscar, director Asghar Farhadi offered a plea that "At the time when talk of war, intimidation and aggression is exchanged between politicians, the name of their country, Iran, is spoken here through her glorious culture, a rich and ancient culture that has been hidden under the heavy dust of politics.

"I proudly offer this award to the people of my country, the people who respect all cultures and civilizations and despise hostility and resentment," he added.

Said Deyhim, "He was making it very clear that as people we are very pacifist."

Across Southern California, home to one of the world's largest Persian expatriate communities, other artists voiced similar sentiments. "I think once Americans, they see that and they relate and they understand there is no need for wars and guns," said Andy Madadian, an Armenian Iranian pop singer who has lived in Los Angeles for decades.

A number of Iranian and foreign news reports Monday quoted Iranians voicing pride at their country's first Oscar win. Some Iranian authorities also expressed satisfaction that "A Separation" beat the Israeli film "Footnote," about father-son Talmudic scholars.

But at least for a moment, art may have spoken more loudly than political spin, suggested Aryana Farshad, L.A.-based director of the documentary film "Mystic Iran."

"Every time there is the threat of war, intellectuals, artists, filmmakers always come to the rescue," Farshad said. "The Iranian filmmakers, they're my heroes."

RELATED:

Oscars 2012: Full coverage

'The Artist' is big winner at Academy Awards

'Separation' director says Iranians care about the Oscars

-- Reed Johnson

Photo: "A Separation" director Asghar Farhadi (Iran) holds aloft the Oscar for foreign language film. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times.


Oscars 2012: Despite Halle and Denzel, gold mostly eludes nonwhites

February 24, 2012 |  5:01 pm

Hattie McDaniel

A decade ago, Halle Berry and Denzel Washington made history when they became the first African American performers to win the top acting Oscars in the same year, for "Monster's Ball" (Berry) and "Training Day" (Washington). A third black actor, Will Smith, also was nominated that year, and Sidney Poitier took home a lifetime achievement award. 

"This moment is so much bigger than me," Berry said at the time. "This moment is for Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Diahann Carroll.... This is for every faceless woman who now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened."

But in the decade since, Berry's prediction has been slow to materialize, and a new UCLA study explores some of the underlying reasons why.

Oscars 2012: Cheat Sheet | Key Scenes | Pundit's picks | Ballot

Titled "Not Quite a Breakthrough: The Oscars and Actors of Color, 2002-2012," the study was sponsored by the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy, UC Berkeley School of Law and the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center.Oscar voters study

Drawing a parallel between 2002 and 2012, the report notes in its opening paragraph that this year's Oscar nominees include two black women, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, as well as the Mexican actor Demián Bichir. The authors go on to observe that from 2002 through 2012, "almost 20 percent of nominees were people of color," a "notable increase" over the 9% of Oscar nominees in the top categories who were people of color between 1990 and 2000.

That's the good news. However, the study further observes that:

• All lead actress winners since 2002 have been white.
• No winner in any acting category during the last 10 years has been Latino, Asian
American or Native American.
• Oscar winners and nominees of color make fewer movies per year after their
nominations than their white peers do.
• Oscar winners and nominees of color are more likely than their white peers to
work in television, which is considered lower-status work.
• Oscar winners and nominees of color are less likely than their white peers to
receive subsequent nominations.

It's questionable whether television still is regarded as "lower-status work" than film, given the critical praise that's been heaped on ambitious, high-quality TV series such as "The Wire," "Treme" and "The Sopranos."

More complex is the question of why Oscar distribution tends to favor white over nonwhite actors. As a recent L.A. Times story documented, the membership of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is indeed overwhelmingly white (94%) and male (77%). But the poor showing of nonwhite actors during Oscar season also simply reflects the under-representation of nonwhite actors in Hollywood films as a whole.

As L.A.Times reporter Lorenza Munoz wrote in a prescient March 2002 story about Washington and Berry's Oscar triumph, when individual nonwhite actors win Oscars they're unlikely to open doors for other nonwhites. That's because today's bottom-line-driven Hollywood studio industry is increasingly reliant on the international market, "where having minorities and women in starring roles is considered a detriment, particularly in action blockbusters," Munoz wrote.

Munoz's story went on to quote James Ulmer, author of "James Ulmer's Hollywood Hot List," which tracks actors' global marketability. "None of this is going to change the fact that you cannot package or sell [a movie] to the world market today with a black woman," Ulmer said of Berry and Washington's achievement. "I don't see [the Oscar win] as changing an industry where white male actors drive the train of the international marketplace." Those comments seem just as applicable, or more, today.

But, as the UCLA study's authors also observe, the issue isn't just the infrequency of nonwhite actors earning Oscar nominations and wins. It's also the limited types of roles for which nonwhite actors do  get nominated for Oscars. For example, they write, the Oscars still tend to reward black females not for playing women like Berry's tough, complex, erotically charged character in "Monster's Ball," but for roles that conform to old Hollywood racial stereotypes of black women "who are sassy, full-figured, maternal, or non-sexual."

"In short," the report asserts, "Hollywood has required black female Oscar nominees and winners to resemble Hattie McDaniel more than Halle Berry."

RELATED:

After the Big Night, is change realistic?

Oscar voters overwhelmingly white, male

Oscar voters aren't always who you might think

-- Reed Johnson

Photo: Hattie McDaniel became the first African American female to win the supporting actress Oscar, playing Scarlett O'Hara's Mammy in "Gone With the Wind." Credit: Marc Wanamaker / Bison Archives


Oscars: Documentarians probe death penalty, inequality, new academy rules

January 24, 2012 |  3:17 pm

Documentary

Murder, the death penalty, urban poverty, radical environmentalism and the steep price paid by troops fighting the Afghanistan war are among the thorny topics probed by this year's Oscar nominees for  documentary. But there's another nettlesome subject that many documentary makers are pondering lately: new rules affecting how the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences chooses documentaries for Oscar consideration.

The rules, which were made public a couple of weeks ago and would take effect in 2013, include a requirement that documentary films must be reviewed by the Los Angeles Times or New York Times to be eligible for Oscar consideration. The academy says will help cut the growing number of films submitted for Oscars that air on television but may play in only one movie theater for one week (a theatrical run of at least one week is mandatory).

"I'm deeply troubled by these rule changes," said Joe Berlinger, nominated this year with Bruce Sinofsky for their film "Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory," about the controversial murder convictions and later release of the so-called West Memphis 3. "The review aspect and the one-week run, I think, is deeply flawed."

PHOTOS: Oscar nominees react

Another change is that all 157 members of the documentary branch of the academy will now vote to select the nominees for documentary and the winner will be determined by the academy's entire voting membership of 5,783. Previously, only those academy members who had viewed all the nominated documentaries in a theatrical setting were allowed to vote for the winner.

Berlinger said he supported that change but has other concerns about the way the new procedures were implemented. "I think what has upset some people is that these rules were enacted" without "a larger discussion" taking place among documentary branch members, he said.

Besides "Paradise Lost," the other documentary nominees are Wim Wenders and Gian-Piero Ringel's "Pina," about German avant-garde dance director Pina Bausch; "Hell and Back Again" by Danfung Dennis and Mike Lerner, about the dangers that U.S. troops face both in Afghanistan and on the home front; "If a Tree Falls:" A Story of the Earth Liberation Front" by Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman, about the radical environmental group; and "Undefeated," about an under-privileged urban high school football team, by T.J. Martin, Dan Lindsay and Richard Middlemas.

RELATED:

Documented, but is it real?

'Which Way Home' tracks child migrants' dangerous journeys

Film academy changes rules for documentary Oscar

— Reed Johnson

Photo: Filmmakers Joe Berlinger (left) and Bruce Sinofsky (right) pose with former inmate and West Memphis Three member Jason Baldwin as they hold copies of the Commerical Appeal newspaper with a headline "3 Walk Free," in a scene from the documentary "Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory." Credit: Jonathan Silberberg / Associated Press / HBO.


Oscar nominations 2012: Life keeps getting 'Better' for Demián Bichir

January 24, 2012 | 12:02 pm

 

Demian bichir

For Demián Bichir, star of "A Better Life," life keeps getting better and better.

The Mexican actor, best known to U.S. audiences as the wily Tijuana sheriff Esteban Reyes on Showtime's "Weeds," on Tuesday received an Oscar lead actor nomination to match the Screen Actors Guild nomination in the same category that he picked up several weeks ago.

"It was a great sign, and I think it was a gift," Bichir said of the SAG recognition. The Oscar nod, he said, "is really beyond any imagination."

PHOTOS: Oscar top nominees

In Chris Weitz's drama, Bichir plays a hard-working East L.A. gardener, an undocumented immigrant who’s doggedly pursuing the American dream while struggling to raise his teenage son. Bichir himself  immigrated to the United States some 20 years ago to pursue English-language roles. He already was an established Mexican film and television leading man when he crossed the border to work in New York and Hollywood.

Bichir is one of only a handful of Mexican actors and actresses to have scored Oscar nominations, including Anthony Quinn for "Zorba the Greek" (1964) and Salma Hayek for Julie Taymor's 2002 bio-pic "Frida" about painter Frida Kahlo.

"There always are good roles for Latinos. Unfortunately, most of them are part cliche and characters that are just too obvious for any Latino actor to play," such as gangsters, drug dealers, thieves and prostitutes, Bichir said.

Despite the obvious relevancy of its subject matter to Mexican audiences, "A Better Life" has not been widely distributed in Mexico. "As weird as it sounds, a lot of people don't know about the film in Mexico," he said. 

But Tuesday morning, the Mexican media were on the phone en masse besieging Bichir. Could it get any better?

RELATED:

A playful spirit

Movie Review: 'A Better Life'

SAG Awards: Demian Bichir on his surprise nomination

 -- Reed Johnson

Photo: Demián Bichir in "A Better Life." Credit: Summit Entertainment


Golden Globes: Woody Allen's producer sister on 'Midnight in Paris'

December 15, 2011 | 12:05 pm

Midnight in Paris
 
If she sounded a little more neurotic and a lot less feminine over the phone, Letty Aronson might be able to pass in a pinch for her more famous sibling, Woody Allen. She's just as sharp, funny and, well, New Yawker-ish as her brother, who picked up two Golden Globe nominations Thursday, for best director and best screenwriter of a motion picture, for his comic drama, "Midnight in Paris." The movie also was nominated in the category of best motion picture comedy or musical, and its star Owen Wilson received a nomination for best actor in a comedy or musical. Here's what Aronson, whom Allen has called "a first-rate producer" of his movies, told 24 Frames' Reed Johnson on Allen's, and her own, behalf.

PHOTOS: Golden Globe top nominees

"Midnight In Paris," in which a writer time-travels to 1930s Paris, has been running since this summer. Why do you think it caught on?

I think people identify with the fantasy of some other time and some other place being so much better than their own lives. And I think it doesn't hurt that it's so beautiful in Paris.

Your brother's career seems to have been re-energized in recent years by getting out of Manhattan now and then and shooting in London, Barcelona, Paris and Rome.

I guess when you're in a foreign place you're forced to look at things a little differently. And he loves all these places.

Which does he generally like more, writing or directing?

I would guess he enjoys the writing more than the directing, but he would never not direct his films. I would guess the writing is more pleasurable so he can stay home and write in his bed.

Seriously, he writes in bed?

Continue reading »

Golden Globes: Elton John, Trent Reznor among music nominees

December 15, 2011 | 11:31 am

Lady Gaga and Sir Elton John

It's the symphonic war horses versus the rock 'n' rollers, both with and without tattoos (dragon or otherwise), in the competition for the Golden Globes' music categories.

In the contest for best original motion picture score, five-time Oscar winner John Williams ("War Horse") will square off against another multiple Oscar winner, Howard Shore ("Hugo"). They'll be joined in the category by the tag team of Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor and past Oscar winner Atticus Ross ("The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"); Ludovic Bource ("The Artist"); and Polish-born Abel Korzeniowski, who composed the score for "W.E.," the Madonna-directed historical film about the man who wouldn't be king of England, Edward VIII, and the woman he chose over the throne, Wallis Simpson.

"We're incredibly flattered to receive a Golden Globe nomination for our work on 'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,' " said Reznor, who personally eschews tattoos in favor of bulging biceps, in a statement. "We spent the last year immersed in this project contributing to [director] David Fincher's vision and in awe of the talented group of people he assembled to make this film. Atticus and I would like to thank the members of the Hollywood Foreign Press for this gracious acknowledgement of our work."

PHOTOS: Golden Globe top nominees

Shore said "Hugo's" setting -- 1930s Paris, with time travel back to the late 19th century -- is one of music's richest eras. His score for Martin Scorsese's effervescent fable of childhood innocence absorbs classical influences stretching from the late Romantic period to early Modernism. Not coincidentally, the film's time frame overlaps with the period when movies were transitioning to the sound era from the silent era -- which, Shore points out, was never really silent because many non-talkies were performed with live musical accompaniment.

"The film is a beautiful dream, and working on it was a labor of love," said Shore, whose other credits include the films in "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy and Scorsese's "The Departed" and "The Aviator."

Different time periods also collide in Korzeniowski's score for "W.E." whose pop diva director wanted the music to have a contemporary, deliberately anachronistic feel that would help audiences relate to the star-crossed royal Brits -- just as if they were modern celebs like, well, Madonna.

FULL COVERAGE: Golden Globes

"Madonna specifically asked me not to try to write a period piece," Korzeniowski said. "One of the most jarring moments in this approach is when we have the Sex Pistols and Wallis and Edward dance to this music. I know it doesn't make sense from the historical point of view, but at the same time it's something we can relate to. It's the celebrity craze."

Madonna picked up a best original song nomination herself, with co-writers Julie Frost and Jimmy Harry, for "Masterpiece" from "W.E." The other entrants in that category are Elton John and Bernie Taupin for "Hello Hello" from "Gnomeo & Juliet"; Chris Cornell for "The Keeper" from "Machine Gun Preacher"; composer Brian Byrne and lyricist Glenn Close for "Lay Your Head Down," from "Albert Nobbs";  and Mary J. Blige, Thomas Newman, Harvey Mason Jr. and Damon Thomas for "The Living Proof" from "The Help."

Cornell, the guitarist and searing lead singer for rock bands Soundgarden and Audioslave, said that in writing "The Keeper," "I sort of put myself in the shoes" of Sam Childers, the biker-turned-maverick-evangelist-do-gooder who helped Sudanese children, played in the movie by Gerard Butler. "If he [Childers] were Woody Guthrie, what sort of song would he write for these children?" Cornell asked himself. "For me it's personal because of the content of the song and its message. There are children living in this world that might not make it through the night."

John faced a very different challenge in writing a tune that drives the whimsical action in the animated film. The scene, involving a key encounter in a greenhouse between the diminutive characters voiced by James McAvoy and Emily Blunt, was shifted around a few times in the story sequence, so the John-Taupin song had to shift a bit too in order to properly express what was going on.

"This one was a little tricky to place," John said.

John was joined in singing the signature tune by Lady Gaga. "With Gaga on it, that gives it a real kind of modern sound," he said.

Hardly a newbie at award shows, John said he was looking forward to attending the Globes. "The Golden Globes have always been the fun thing to do," he said. "You bump into people you'd love to meet."

RELATED:

2012 Golden Globes nominees

Golden Globes: Cable shows dominate TV nominations

Golden Globes: Sony leads with 22 noms, Weinstein second with 12

-- Reed Johnson

Photo: Lady Gaga and Sir Elton John perform together May 13, 2010, in New York. John's song "Hello Hello" features Lady Gaga and is nominated for a Golden Globe. Credit: Jason DeCrow / Associated Press


SAG Awards: Demian Bichir on his surprise nomination

December 14, 2011 | 10:55 am

Demian_bichir

In the film “A Better Life,” Mexican actor Demián Bichir stars as an East L.A. gardener, an undocumented immigrant who’s doggedly pursuing the American dream. On Wednesday, Bichir, who immigrated to the United States some 20 years ago to pursue English-language roles, earned a piece of his own personal American dream when he was named one of five best actor nominees for a SAG Award.

He and Jean Dujardin (“The Artist”) are the least familiar names in a group that also consists of George Clooney, Leonard DiCaprio and Brad Pitt. 

After years spent washing dishes in New York restaurants and doing other menial jobs while studying English and trying to land minor film roles to break into Hollywood, Bichir said that receiving SAG’s recognition was “amazing, incredible and fantastic.”

“This is my fellow peers voting, and that makes me immensely proud,” said Bichir, who hails from a prominent Mexican theater family and began performing on stage as a child before graduating to lead roles in translations of Shakespeare and Chekhov.

Bichir, 48, already was a Mexican film and television star when he moved across the border. Relocating meant leaving behind not only his family but a comfortable career. His breakthrough Spanish-language film role came in “Sexo, pudor y lagrimas” (Sex, Shame and Tears), a 1999 war-of-the-sexes ensemble comedy that’s one of Mexico's highest-grossing films. “When I decided to leave Mexico, pretty much everyone thought I was crazy,” he said.

He’s best known to stateside viewers as the ethically challenged Tijuana mayor Esteban Reyes opposite Mary-Louise Parker on Showtime’s “Weeds”; and for tackling the part of Fidel Castro in “Che” (2008), Steven Soderbergh’s two-part bio-pic about Cuban-Argentine revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara.

He also starred at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood in a 2008 production of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan’s drama “By the Waters of Babylon,” about a Cuban novelist obliged to become a manual laborer after migrating to Texas.

Although “A Better Life” touches on the red-hot political topic of illegal immigration, the film is essentially a domestic drama about gardener Carlos Galindo’s efforts to raise his teenage son and keep him out of gangs while earning a living landscaping lawns and hoisting himself up palm trees with an electric trimmer. Bichir, who’s bilingual, communicates in the film in Spanish and halting English.

Director Chris Weitz said he wanted to cast Bichir after seeing his “Che” performance. Although the filmmakers were under pressure to recruit a more prominent Spanish-speaking star, such as Javier Bardem or Benicio del Toro, Weitz and his producers were intent on casting a Mexican actor as the lead.

To connect with Bichir, Weitz – who was then preparing to direct the “New Moon” film of the Twilight Saga -- invited him to read for the part of a vampire lord in that film. 

“He did a great reading,” Weitz said, but “I think there was some confusion in his mind about whether he was playing a vampire or a vampire who likes to climb trees.”

Christian McLaughlin, a producer of “A Better Life,” said that Bichir’s achievement was to convey Carlos’ inner thoughts and struggles with minimal dialogue. Because he’s illegal, Carlos “has to keep his head down” and be as anonymous as possible, McLaughlin said. Bichir “has to communicate a lot with his face and eyes without being passive.”

“It’s so powerful because it’s so understated,” agreed Stacey Lubliner, another of the movie’s producers.

Bichir remains relatively unknown to mainstream U.S. movie-goers. “A Better Life,” although well-reviewed by critics, earned a modest $1.8 million at the box office when it was released in June. Next up for Bichir: an appearance in Oliver Stone’s upcoming crime thriller “Savages,” and a Mexico City stage adaptation of “Swimming With Sharks.” (He plays the role pioneered by Kevin Spacey; the play is directed by Bichir’s brother.)

When he eats breakfast at his favorite West Hollywood diner, Bichir seldom draws stares from other customers. But waiters and busboys always chat with him in Spanish, and the actor always treats them like old friends. This year, some of them have shared their impressions of his character in “A Better Life.”

“They say, ‘That’s my dad’s story, that’s my uncle’s story, that’s my family’s story,’ " Bichir said. “And it touches everyone’s hearts.”

RELATED:

Movie Review: 'A Better Life'

'A Better Life's' Demian Bichir: Time for his moment in Oscar spotlight 

SAG Awards: Demián Bichir, Armie Hammer among surprise nominees

-- Reed Johnson

Photo: Demian Bichir in "A Better Life." Credit: Merrick Morton/Summit Entertainment


'Moneyball' author Michael Lewis: Brad Pitt hit a homer

November 11, 2011 | 12:31 pm

Brad Pitt

Michael Lewis, journalist and author of bestselling books including "Liar's Poker," "The Blind Side" and "The Big Short," specializes in writing about money and economics through a scrim of righteous anger and ironic humor. He digs into the quirks of the stock market and paints vivid portraits of the Wall Street sharks and feckless politicians who nearly busted the global economy.

With his book "Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game," published in 2003, Lewis turned his razor-sharp reportorial eye on baseball, specifically Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane and his unorthodox strategy of stocking his team with low-paid, undervalued players who had the ability to get on base rather than with coddled millionaire superstars. Director Bennett Miller's film adaptation, starring Brad Pitt as Beane, is one of this fall's best-reviewed movies.

24 Frames' Reed Johnson spoke with Lewis about the big-screen version of "Moneyball" during a recent L.A. stopover to promote his latest book, "Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World." He shared his thoughts on the likelihood of "Moneyball" finding its way to the screen, Pitt's starring turn and the strange similarities between misvaluing players in Major League Baseball and misvaluing assets on Wall Street.

"The book ['Moneyball'] comes out in ’03. And that point I had, I don’t know, three or four books and half a dozen magazine articles bought or optioned by the movie business, including 'Liar’s Poker,' where Warner Bros. had spent several million dollars trying to get a script. And so from my point of view, the movie business was this machine for taking my stuff, paying me money for it but then burying it. And this one, if you had asked me to rank, in order of promise, movie promise, the books that had been bought up to that point, books and magazine articles, there are half a dozen that were clearly much more suited to turn into movies than 'Moneyball.' So I thought it was just another one.

"I told Billy Beane this, I said –- because he was worried, he didn’t really want a movie made -- I said, 'Don’t worry, they’ll never make it.' And the way it works is every 18 months or something they have to re-up the option. Every 18 months they’d call and a check would come in the mail, and Billy Beane would get a check. And he’d say, 'This is great, you’re right, they’re never going to make it, and they just send us checks every 18 months!' And he said, 'How long does it last?' and I said, 'Until they give up. And eventually they’re gonna give up.' And then the thing all of a sudden went live. All of a sudden it was clear that they weren’t fooling around.

Continue reading »

'The Lady': Re-creating 15 years of house arrest [Video]

November 10, 2011 |  2:10 pm

The Lady

When Luc Besson was making "The Lady," his bio-pic about Burmese dissident and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, he couldn't just set up his camera on a studio backlot and start rolling.  

Much of the drama takes place at the home outside Yangon (Rangoon) where Suu Kyi, played in the film by Michelle Yeoh, was held under house arrest for nearly 15 years. To replicate the exact look and feel of her domestic prison, Besson relied on Google Maps images, eyewitness recollections and whatever else he could find.

Shooting primarily in Thailand, the filmmakers knew it was crucial for their movie to look and sound as authentic as possible: from the stirring words that Suu Kyi has used in defending democracy, to the classical music that was played when her son accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on her behalf in Stockholm. (For the record, it was Pachelbel's "Canon in D.")

Yeoh, who was born in Malaysia and speaks English, Cantonese and Mandarin, even went so far as mastering enough Burmese to be able to deliver one of Suu Kyi's key speeches in her native tongue. 

Here's an exerpt from the filmmakers' conversation last week with The Envelope at the Arclight theater in Sherman Oaks.

RELATED:

Screenwriter Kamen is taken with director Besson

'The Lady': Luc Besson, Michelle Yeoh on Myanmar's Suu Kyi

'The Lady': Luc Besson's film about Myanmar's Suu Kyi was risky business

-- Reed Johnson

Photo: Luc Besson, left, Michelle Yeoh, David Thewlis and Virginie Besson-Silla at the Rome Film Festival. Credit: Claudio Peri / European Pressphoto Agency


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