History > Documentary films > UK, USA >
Alive Day Memories:
Home from Iraq (2007) (TV)
added 13 April 2008
The Price of War, Front and Center
September 6, 2007
The New York Times
By BILL CARTER
In the HBO documentary “Alive Day Memories” Dawn Halfaker, 27, a former Army
first lieutenant, is sitting in a chair on a stark stage, talking, somewhat
incongruously, to James Gandolfini, the star of “The Sopranos.”
Mr. Gandolfini serves as the interviewer in the film, set to have its premiere
Sunday night at 10:30. It deals with the recovery of American veterans from
devastating injuries inflicted during the war in Iraq.
Ms. Halfaker, whose right arm and shoulder are gone, blasted away by a
rocket-propelled grenade, says she has wondered whether her child, if she ever
has one, will be able truly to love her. And then a look of intense emotion
clouds her face. Ms. Halfaker’s eyes flutter, seemingly looking at some image
far, far away. Finally, after a long pause, Mr. Gandolfini asks quietly, “What
were you just thinking about?”
And Ms. Halfaker tells him: “The reality of, will I be able to raise a kid? I
won’t be able to pick up my son or daughter with two arms.”
Mr. Gandolfini manages to maintain his composure through that and nine other
interviews with disabled veterans. As he put it in a telephone interview: “What
the heck do I know? I never had the experiences these kids had. How much do they
even want to remember?”
For the most part the ex-soldiers in the film — the title refers to the day they
sustained, and survived, their injuries — are willing to share memories of what
happened to them and to talk about their lives. Three of them — Ms. Halfaker;
Jacob Schick, 24, an ex-corporal in the Marines; and John Jones, 29, a former
Marine staff sergeant — said in telephone interviews that they had concluded the
documentary would provide a valuable service. “I just thought it was important
to get my story out,” said Mr. Schick, whose leg was amputated above the knee.
“I want the American people to see this is what it’s like.”
Ms. Halfaker said: “When I first got injured, I wouldn’t talk as much. I didn’t
want to acknowledge the reality of it. But then I saw the value of bringing some
awareness of the things that are going on in Iraq. I think it was a little bit
On the face of it Mr. Gandolfini makes for an unlikely questioner, as he
acknowledged. But his fame, and the familiarity of his character, Tony Soprano,
put the soldiers at ease. Mr. Gandolfini was “really respectful with us,” Mr.
Schick said. “He didn’t want the cameras on him.”
Mr. Gandolfini is barely seen in the film and only occasionally heard. He
insisted on that, Sheila Nevins, the president of HBO’s documentary division,
said. “He played a tough guy on TV, but Jim knows these are the real tough
guys,” she said.
The film sprang from a visit Ms. Nevins and Mr. Gandolfini made to Walter Reed
Army Medical Center in Washington. “He wandered the halls,” Ms. Nevins said.
“Everyone knew him. They’d show him their Purple Hearts. I could see him
internalizing the whole experience.”
At the time HBO was coming up to the premiere of the documentary “Baghdad E.R.,”
which chronicled the extraordinary efforts of military medical personnel and the
lives they were saving. The film was at first widely praised in the military.
But just before a screening in Washington the Pentagon refused to allow military
personnel to appear at the HBO event. Ms. Nevins said she concluded that the
Pentagon had decided it was an antiwar film.
She has no hesitation in declaring herself personally opposed to the war, but
she argued that “Baghdad E.R.” presented military doctors heroically. And in the
visit to Walter Reed, Ms. Nevins saw a follow-up: a look at some of the lives
those doctors saved.
She said all was set for production until military officials stepped in, two
weeks before shooting was to start, and made Walter Reed off limits to the
filmmakers. “There was no explanation why,” Ms. Nevins said.
Of course she suspected similar fears of an antiwar message. And they were not
entirely unwarranted. But Ms. Nevins said she was personally overwhelmed by what
she saw and heard from the veterans. “I didn’t really understand patriotism
until we made this film,” she said.
After losing access to Walter Reed, Ms. Nevins said, “I got to thinking about
how we had the operating theater in the first film. And here we heard all about
the theater of operations. And Jim was kind of an Off Broadway guy.”
Ms. Nevins put all the theater references together and wound up renting a small
downtown performance space in Manhattan, creating an understated theatrical look
for the interviews: a stage, a minimal set of just a couple of chairs, a few
Mr. Gandolfini “didn’t pretend to be a journalist,” Ms. Nevins said. “But in
that moment where Dawn talks about not being able to hold a child, he just
waited, like a good actor in a great scene.”
The soldiers quickly found a comfort level with Mr. Gandolfini. Mr. Jones, who
has two prosthetic legs and feet, had reason to be home with Mr. Gandolfini, for
his lieutenant would project DVDs of “The Sopranos” on a bathroom wall when
stationed in Iraq.
“We began to base ourselves off Tony Soprano and all his gang,” he said. “We’d
talk about the godfather” — his commanding officer — “and the lieutenant would
tell us to go out and put a hit on a guy.”
Mr. Gandolfini said he wanted to do something for the injured vets: “I think
these guys are so ignored.” Not that the experience has made him feel especially
good about his contribution. “If somebody gets hurt, and you take them to the
hospital, should you feel good about it?”
The film includes video shot by insurgents, of whom Mr. Gandolfini said: “You
hear them saying prayers after they blow up a jeep. It makes you want to pick up
a gun and kill somebody.”
The soldiers themselves express a range of feelings, from anger to emotional
distress. They all acknowledge living with constant pain, physical as well as
psychological. One subject, Dexter Pitts, 22, a former Army private, suffers
from post-traumatic stress disorder.
“It’s day to day,” Mr. Jones said. “You’re emotional. You have mood swings. I’ll
get up in the morning, and it’s O.K., and come home really ticked off. You fight
depression.” But he manages to get on ice skates with two prosthetic legs and
skate around Bryant Park in Manhattan with his two young children.
Mr. Schick said: “I’m a Christian guy. I try to deal with it as best as I know
how. Some days you think: Man, what could I have done differently? At the same
time I believe there’s a reason for this. God’s not done with me yet.”
One reason, he said, was to win this battle. “I’ve got the rest of my life to
beat my enemy,” Mr. Schick said. “Every day I just have to get out of my bed,
and I beat him.”
The Price of War, Front and Center,
Donal MacIntyre's A Very British Gangster
Guardian Films scoops Emmy
Tuesday September 25, 2007
The Guardian Films documentary Baghdad: A Doctor's Story last
night won an International Emmy in New York.
The film depicts life inside Al Yarmouk hospital, one of the
biggest in Baghdad, over the summer of 2006.
It was shot on a handheld camera by Omer Salih, an Iraqi doctor who left the
country earlier this year after winning a Fulbright scholarship to study
journalism at a small town in Indiana.
Although Salih is not seen or heard on the film, his standing as a former
Baghdad emergency room doctor gained him access to the inside of one of
Baghdad's busiest hospitals.
The documentary follows an emergency room doctor who frequently bemoans the fate
of his hospital, a flagship facility built under Saddam Hussein in the late 70s.
Noting that 90% of the hospital's patients are treated for "war injuries", the
doctor declares that Al Yarmouk "is now a field hospital in a civil war", as
well as criticising armed insurgents who enter the hospital.
Guardian Films is a division of Guardian News and Media, the owner of the
Guardian, Observer and the Guardian Unlimited network, which includes
Last night's win also marks a double success for the BBC, which broadcast the
Guardian's documentary on BBC2's This World strand last autumn.
The BBC also won an International News Award last night for its coverage of last
summer's Lebanon conflict.
Helen Boaden, the BBC director of news, said: "Baghdad: A Doctor's Story by
Guardian Films was a brilliant commission by current affairs. It took a lot of
nerve and tremendous bravery on the ground, to deliver this extraordinary and
The film will also be broadcast for the first time this week in the US on the
cable channel HBO.
Founded in 1969, the Emmy awards are distributed by the International Academy of
Television Arts & Sciences, the largest organisation of global broadcasters,
with members from nearly 70 countries and over 400 companies.
Last night's ceremony was the 28th annual event and attracted a host of media
industry executives, journalists and producers.
Guardian Films scoops
Film Takes Us Back 38 Years,
to That First Walk
September 4, 2007
The New York Times
By JOHN SCHWARTZ
They are old men now. That much is obvious from the tight camera shots.
Nonetheless, it is hard to fathom: has it been 38 years since the first of them
set foot on lunar soil?
“In the Shadow of the Moon,” a documentary that premieres this week in New York
and Los Angeles, tells the story of the Apollo program and the race to reach the
moon, as President John F. Kennedy declared in 1962, “before this decade is
out.” And so, on July 20, 1969, we did.
Note the “we.” It is from one of the most powerful, lump-in-the-throat moments
of this exceptional film. Michael Collins, who orbited the moon during the
Apollo 11 mission while Neil A. Armstrong and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr. took their
lunar module down to the surface, said that after the flight, on the
around-the-world tour that NASA sent them on, “Wherever we went, people, instead
of saying, ‘Well, you Americans did it!’ — everywhere, they said, ‘We did it!
We, humankind, we, the human race, we, people, did it!’ ”
His voice breaks slightly in the telling, and he says: “I thought that was a
wonderful thing. Ephemeral, but wonderful.”
The film, by the British director David Sington, has the backing of Ron Howard,
the director of “Apollo 13.” It tells a story that has been told before, of
course, in books and movies like the miniseries “From the Earth to the Moon.”
The stories will be told again in the coming documentary, “The Wonder of it
All,” which takes a similar, in-their-own-words approach, and in others that
will surely arrive as the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing rolls
around the summer after next.
Astronauts make tough reviewers — they tend to prefer accuracy to drama — but
three Apollo astronauts interviewed for this article had praise for Mr.
Alan L. Bean, an astronaut on Apollo 12, said reaching the moon “has
implications for young people, so they see what they can do, what their
generation can do.”
Mr. Bean continued, “This is a nice thing — this is what our generation can do.
What is your generation going to do? It’s got to be better than this. Maybe it
could be an inspiration.”
Harrison H. Schmitt, the geologist astronaut who made the last landing on the
moon in 1972 with Eugene A. Cernan (and who later served a term in the United
States Senate), said, “I’m not a good judge of entertainment filming and
programming; I would do all of that differently, and go broke.”
But, Mr. Schmitt added, he would have liked to see a greater focus on the
scientific benefits of the missions, including advances in geology and the rapid
improvements in existing technologies like microelectronics that were pushed by
In the film, the personalities of the less famous astronauts come through. Mr.
Collins is funny and engaging, and Mr. Cernan is both precise and passionate.
Charles M. Duke Jr. is eloquent in talking about how he felt being the capcom,
or capsule communicator, on Apollo 11, as well as about his experiences on
Apollo 16. Edgar Mitchell, who flew on Apollo 14, speaks with an almost mystical
awe about his flight.
The astronauts also talk about seeing “the whole circle of the Earth” at once,
as Mr. Duke puts it. “That jewel of Earth was just hung, up in the blackness of
space,” he says, holding his hands out, cupped, as if to cradle the sphere.
Will the film appeal to those who did not experience the thrill of having
watched the first steps on the moon live on television? Mr. Aldrin said he hoped
the documentary would catch on. “I am looking for things that are going to
stimulate the American people” to find the value in space exploration, he said,
“the inspirational, the innovational and just the human quest to discover.”
Of the surviving moon walkers, only Mr. Armstrong declined to go on camera. That
is not unusual, since he is known to avoid the spotlight. Mr. Sington exchanged
a few e-mail messages with Mr. Armstrong, who explained, as Mr. Sington
recalled, that “if you want to talk to me about my personal experience, walking
on the moon, you’re missing the point.”
After all, Mr. Armstrong had said, “One small step for a man,” not “one small
step for me,” Mr. Sington recalled. “He represents everybody.”
And so, Mr. Sington said, he came to accept Mr. Armstrong’s decision, and to
have Mr. Armstrong’s as the only face that is not updated. “He’s the one
astronaut who stays young,” he said. “Somehow, to me, that’s satisfying.”
Is there in that, perhaps, a tiny bit of rationalization?
Mr. Sington laughed. “If he’d said, ‘Yes, I’ll do an interview,’ I’d have been
delighted,” he said.
Film Takes Us Back 38
Years, to That First Walk, NYT, 4.9.2007,
A movie knocking Michael Moore?
Nothing new about that.
But, reports Matthew Hays,
this one is made by two leftwingers
- and it's made
him very angry
Thursday August 23, 2007
Film-makers Debbie Melnyk and Rick Caine repeat the same
mantra to anyone who presses them about their latest film and their political
leanings. No, they insist, they are not rightwing, pro-Bush Republicans. If
anything, they are "leftwing progressives". But perhaps the questions aren't
surprising, given that in their film Manufacturing Dissent, the Toronto-based
team takes on Michael Moore, the most commercially successful documentary
film-maker in history, and question not only his character and work habits, but
whether he has a cavalier attitude towards documentary ethics.
With Roger & Me, Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11,
Moore has emerged as a maker of documentary blockbusters, with his features
routinely taking in well over $100m (£50m) worldwide. And while challenging
Moore in documentary form is not a new thing - past efforts include Michael
Moore Hates America and Celsius 41.11, two anti-Moore screeds that toured the
festival circuit to mixed reviews - these earlier projects were created by
film-makers with a decidedly rightwing bent, and thus their attacks could easily
be dismissed as ideological bile. Michael Moore Hates America, Michael Wilson's
2004 documentary feature, echoes Manufacturing Dissent, in that both films
include the desperate, frustrated quest by the film-makers to get Moore to sit
down for an interview. But any similarities between the other Moore refuseniks
Melnyk and Caine have been making investigative documentaries for years and
attest to being enthusiastic admirers of Moore's - until they decided to make a
film about him. Manufacturing Dissent arrives at an intriguing moment for Moore:
his new film Sicko - an attack on America's ailing healthcare system - is
screening to overwhelmingly positive reviews, with even the rightwing Fox News
granting it a thumbs up. But there's something sick about Moore's own
fact-bending film-making techniques, at least according to Manufacturing
The idea to profile Moore came after Melnyk and Caine made Citizen Black, a 2004
feature-length examination of Conrad Black. That film, which toured the festival
circuit and was ultimately broadcast on BBC's Storyville, was filmed just as
Black's fiscal fortunes began to unravel and as he was ousted as chairman of the
publishing company Hollinger. "We had made a film about someone whose politics
were very at odds with our own," says Melnyk, "and felt like someone closer to
our outlook might be good for a change."
At first, Melnyk and Caine got some funding from a Canadian TV station and
assumed their documentary would be a standard biography of Moore. They agreed
with Moore's stance on the American-led invasion of Iraq and felt that he had
been gutsy to make the antiwar speech he delivered at the 2003 Oscar ceremony,
where he accepted the best documentary award for Bowling for Columbine. They
were aware that Moore had become the personification of widespread repulsion
with President George W Bush and his foreign policy, especially since Fahrenheit
9/11 - Moore's assault on the president's post-9/11 policies - which took the
Palme D'Or at Cannes in 2004.
But Melnyk and Caine found themselves taking a page or two out of the Moore
film-making book as they continued their research. Like the frustrated quest for
an interview with General Motors' CEO Roger Smith in Moore's 1989 debut feature
Roger & Me, Melnyk and Caine decided to structure their film around their
efforts to get Moore to sit down and answer a number of troubling questions.
Roger & Me drew critical praise for melding the personal and the political,
using Moore's apparently down-to-earth persona to draw audiences in to the
film's larger theme: that of corporate malfeasance and indifference. The film's
central conceit was that Smith was such a heartless, appalling person, he simply
would not give a frustrated Moore the time of day, let alone an interview. (The
unsuccessful interview search has become a staple of Moore's films, a recurring
stunt in which he and a small film crew show up at a company's headquarters,
only to be told by exasperated receptionists and security staff that since they
don't have an appointment, an interview will not be possible.)
Melnyk and Caine's quest becomes eerily familiar to anyone who has watched a
Moore film, with security guards and even Moore's sister being fiercely
protective of the film-maker. Melnyk says the research process felt a "little
like losing our virginity". Suddenly, a man they had admired for years was
taking on a new and sometimes unpleasant dimension. As they pursue their
interview, they go over a series of charges against Moore, some about his
character and work habits, others about his attitude towards documentary film
ethics. The result is an occasionally disturbing portrait, though at times
rather scattered. At times, former co-workers and journalists appear to suggest
that Moore is egomaniacal and self- aggrandising; others make charges far more
serious, contending that Moore often injects his non-fiction films with
decidedly fictionalised segments.
Some of the interview subjects are former acquaintances or colleagues of Moore,
who offer up negative anecdotes about the man. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the
activist and former independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader is not wild
about Moore - the film-maker supported Nader's 2000 presidential bid but then
supported Kerry in 2004, criticising Nader for enabling Bush's victory. Nader
argues that Moore is confused, a man led astray by people in Hollywood.
Some of the talking heads even suggest that Moore may have wanted two terms of
Bush, given that he has now made millions by tapping into anti-Bush sentiments.
If Gore or Kerry had been elected, they argue, Moore would have had far less to
attack and probably would have a much diminished career.
But what is most troubling are the insinuations that Moore has fabricated things
to fit his larger ideological framework. In Roger & Me, one memorable TV news
clip indicated that a town hall meeting in Flint, Michigan, organised by the ABC
News programme Nightline, had to be shut down after their satellite truck was
stolen by an unemployed resident. The problem? "This never happened," contends
Caine. "Nightline never planned a programme there, and a truck was not stolen.
The clip was fabricated." If this is true, it marks a serious breach of
documentary film-making principles.
If Manufacturing Dissent does come close to a smoking gun, it is in the
film-makers' contention that Moore did actually get an extended interview with
Roger Smith, undermining the central premise of Roger & Me. Melnyk and Caine
back up their claim by including an interview with Smith, who discusses being
interviewed by Moore for Roger & Me. While promoting Sicko, Moore was questioned
about this claim, and said: "Anybody who says that is a fucking liar. If I'd
gotten an interview with him, why wouldn't I put it in the film? Any exchange
with Roger Smith would have been valuable." Moore goes on to say that the
interview he got with Smith took place years before he made the film and that
his fruitless efforts to get another interview with Smith as depicted in the
final cut are genuine. But Caine and Melnyk stand by their assertions, providing
evidence in print and in testimonials that contend that Moore spoke with Smith
during the period he claims he could not get an interview with the CEO. Moore
did not return requests from the Guardian for an interview about his response to
Even if Caine and Melnyk's worst-case assessments of Moore are true, there are
some who would argue that they should still leave the man alone. They point out
that Moore has been an important critic of Bush and the Iraq war, during a
period when the American media seemed to cower at offering any real and thorough
counterpoint to the Bush administration and its policies. Indeed, many now argue
that the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq is as much about the failure of
American journalists to do their jobs as it is about sabre-rattling on the part
of the military, and that Moore emerged as one of the rare, valiant voices of
dissent. In other words, if a few facts get trodden on or overlooked, Moore's
hyperbolic style should be forgiven, as he is pointing to crucial truths.
"I disagree completely," says Caine. "Documentary film-makers and journalists
must operate on a basic premise: we should expose lies, not make them. By
distorting things, Moore is actually hurting the left and handing the right a
huge club to wield. Once people see that he's distorted so many things, it
allows them to dismiss the entire argument." Melnyk and Caine are backed up by
respected documentary film-makers in Manufacturing Dissent, including Albert
Maysles (Gimme Shelter, Grey Gardens) and Errol Morris (The Fog of War), both of
whom express their reservations about Moore's tactics. Maysles even goes so far
as to suggest that Moore might actually hate America.
And while Melnyk and Caine don't manage to get a lengthy, sit-down interview
with Moore, they do meet up with him at one point. Melnyk asks Moore if there
might be a point when they could conduct a longer interview; Moore responds that
he is too busy on his current publicity tour - which seems a believable answer.
The meeting effectively keeps the Moore mystique alive. He praises Melnyk for
being Canadian, and then offers her a hug, one that is executed uncomfortably
before his handlers shuffle him along. Given Melnyk and Caine's filmography, it
prompts an obligatory question: who was easier to deal with as a subject, Black
or Moore? "Actually, Conrad Black was really quite gracious and polite. He was
much easier to deal with than Michael Moore."
Manufacturing Dissent screens tonight
nd tomorrow at the Edinburgh film
It is released on DVD in October.
Under attack, G,
Donal MacIntyre's A Very British Gangster
A mob is
on how Donal MacIntyre
became a gangland auteur
August 3, 2007
When Donal MacIntyre's documentary A Very British Gangster was shown on Five
last year, TV critics didn't bother to review it. How very wrong they were.
Little did they know that the film is a masterpiece or, as they say in France,
un chef d'oeuvre
directorial debut has this year not only been nominated for a grand jury prize
at Robert Redford's Sundance film festival, but also recently won the top prize
at the Festival du film Policiers (the Detective film festival) in Cognac,
France - an award previously given to such highly regarded film-makers as Larry
Clark, Danny Boyle, Carl Franklin and Curtis Hanson.
And now, in the Paris Métro, there are posters for "un film de Donal MacIntyre",
advertising the cinematic release of A Very British Gangster. In France, it
seems, they talk about him in the same breath as Scorsese, and the hard-man
investigative journalist has become an auteur - even if here he is known chiefly
as the man who exposes putative bad men and has taken over the mantle of the
human punchbag of documentary makers, Roger Cook.
The film follows three years in the life of Manchester gangster Dominic Noonan,
who spent 22 of his 37 years in prison - and at the end of the film, returns to
jail on firearms offences. Noonan, who gave MacIntyre total access to his life,
is a captivating if repellent subject, a bull-necked Manc hoodlum, an openly
gay, gobby gangster from Irish Catholic stock, a man who changed his name by
deed poll to Lattlay Fottfoy, an acronym for the family motto: "Look after those
that look after you, fuck off those that fuck off you."
So what is the 97-minute film's appeal? According to Libération's Bruno Icher:
"No fiction in the world could succeed in putting such a shocking collection of
sinister mugs on screen." The Hollywood Reporter's James Greenberg writes: "From
his girth to his fondness for family, Manchester mob boss Dominic Noonan could
be Tony Soprano's English cousin." Foreign critics compared Noonan to earlier
British screen gangsters - Bob Hoskins in The Long Good Friday, Vinnie Jones in
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, though not Brian Conley in Circus.
Noonan started as a Hacienda bouncer who decided to fight back against gangs who
muscled in to the club. He cut the head off a rival gangster's dog and placed it
on the pool table of his pub, threatening to return later with a human head if
the gang activity at the Hacienda carried on. The film traces the rest of his
career: a biography of kidnappings, tortures, alleged murders, drug deals, arms
possessions, jail time. It includes Noonan's claim, accompanied by a mirthlessly
De Niro-like smile, to have gone straight.
"This is a gangster movie, first and foremost," says MacIntyre. "All the
universal gangster themes are there - death, family, revenge, and innocence.
There are murders, funerals, trials and acquittals, but in this instance all the
actors, the set and the consequences are very real. It's a movie disguised as a
The doc, though, has its pretensions. There are ambitious crane shots over
Manchester roofscapes and fanciful montages (thanks no doubt to editor Sally
Hilton) as often as not to a song by Oasis. There's even a sequence in which
Noonan and his crew walk down the street to the accompaniment of the George
Baker Selection's Little Green Bag a la Reservoir Dogs.
"A Very British Gangster is a very watchable movie," writes Variety critic John
Anderson, "one that explores an oft-exploited mob milieu and busts some of its
fictional bubbles." Maybe. In Britain, though, MacIntyre is not an auteur yet.
Brief encounters, G, 3.8.2007,
and skilled cameraman
at the heart of the British documentary genre
Hopkinson, who has died aged 87, was a cameraman, heart and soul. He witnessed
the birth and, in his view, the demise, of the documentary film genre within
which he was to work, not only as a cameraman, but as a director and reporter.
It was the
war that put a camera in Hopkinson's hands. He had been working at Denham
studios in Buckinghamshire, having graduated from clapper boy to camera
assistant, when he was called up. He was about to go overseas in December 1941,
when he was whisked into the army's new Film and Photographic unit.
Assigned to what was then Persia, he filmed war materials being transported into
the Soviet Union by rail. He dined on caviar, which, even on a sergeant's pay,
he could afford. His footage, meanwhile, ended up in the documentary Via Persia
Then came north Africa, and the Western Desert, a place he described as "fit
only for war". Hopkinson was one of the cameramen contributing to Desert Victory
(1943), which charted the defeat of Rommel's Afrika Korps.
Ordered to dig in, Hopkinson "scraped a shallow rough out of the unyielding
ground" where he "fell asleep more than an hour in the midst of the inferno" as
the New Zealand unit he was following assaulted the German defences.
Characteristically he remembered the lighting effect as "an ammunition truck
disintegrated in a blaze of exploding light, revealing our nakedness on the
exposed desert all the more".
He was in Italy from 1943 to 1945."I lived in a large drain near Cassino and in
a princely villa on the outskirts of Naples. I filmed a Jewish wedding in a
concentration camp. I saw one of my fellow cameramen killed. I came to love
Italy and in the middle of it all, I became an officer, if not a gentleman." His
boss was Captain Alan Whicker, and much of his footage appeared in the
television documentary Whicker's War (2004).
Attached to George Jellicoe's Special Boat Service, Hopkinson took part in raids
with Yugoslav partisans and in the liberation of Greece. Jellicoe pressed on to
Athens, where he entered the city on a bicycle with Hopkinson behind, filming
from the roof of "a very old and decrepit motor bus". At the hotel Grande
Bretagne, Hopkinson was summoned to the steps to assure the population that the
British were back: celebrations, when the crowds showered him with "scent,
fruit, flowers, rose petals and kisses", followed.
In the war's aftermath, he made a film for the United Nations Relief and
Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) about the Soviet Union, in the wake of its
tragically costly victory over Germany. In Minsk, he focused on the 30,000
orphans who relied on UNRRA to survive. Out of that work came employment in 1946
with the American newsreel The March of Time, which had the then huge budget of
$50,000 for each report. Hopkinson was assigned to India, directing, reporting
and filming through the bloody partition of 1947 and for the first 18 months of
India and Pakistan's independence. In 1949, he filmed the fall of Chiang
Kai-shek's nationalists and the communist takeover of China.
Hopkinson was born in Harrow and educated at Harrow school. When the local
Coliseum - where he saw Fritz Lang's 1927 silent movie Metropolis - converted to
sound, he acquired, and filled his bedroom, with its silent movie projector. He
spent his pocket money on old film and, at 16, he became a clapper boy, on
George Formby comedies at Ealing. Laid off, he quickly moved to Alexander
Korda's Denham studios "determined to be the best clapper boy ever". He worked
there with the Hollywood director King Vidor on his 1938 adaptation of AJ
Cronin's The Citadel.
Hopkinson had never been entirely happy with The March of Time, but in 1950,
after failing to find work with the ailing Crown Film Unit - which the new
Conservative government would axe in 1952 - he continued with the US newsreel.
When The March of Time was terminated in 1951, he continued to work, for a
while, with Louis de Rochemont, the prime mover behind that series. In 1954 he
was nominated by the Overseas Press Club of America for "the best photographic
reporting from abroad on foreign affairs". In 1955 he made, with John Halas, To
Open the World to the Nations: Suez, about the canal for de Rochemont, which won
a diploma of merit at the Edinburgh film festival.
On the Unilever-sponsored African Awakening (1962), looking at post-colonial
Ghana, Nigeria and Sierra Leone, he worked with Wole Soyinka, the Nobel
prizewinning writer. The film went on to win Unesco's Kalinga prize. In 1964
came his profile of contemporary Britain, Today in Britain. Sponsored by the
Central Office of Information, it recieved a special award from the Council of
Producing as well as directing, Hopkinson made a series of films on natural
resources. Time for Tin (1973) received a Gold Camera award at the US industrial
film and video festival. Sponsored by Unesco, he directed a series about world
population pressures, including A Matter of Families (1974). For his series on
Britain from 1930 to 1960, A Quality of Life (1985), Hopkinson received the
British Film Institute's 1986 award for archival achievement.
In 1989 Hopkinson was delighted to be asked by Channel 4 to return to the Soviet
Union to film again the orphans he had met and befriended more than 40 years
before. Orphans of Minsk was televised in 1990. For the BBC's 1995 celebration
of the centenary of cinema, he wrote, produced and directed Power Behind the
Image, an account of how Britain used the moving image to tell its own story in
the 20th century.
Hopkinson was aware of the pernicious possibilities of film, regretting how,
from the 1898 Spanish-American war onwards, it had been used for propaganda. His
1992 Ernest Lindgren memorial lecture to the National Film and Television
Archive focused on the uses, and abuses, of archive film.
He was fascinated by what he called documentary truth, but he was both romantic
about the medium in which he worked, and an idealist, and many of his films
carried a moral message. Though some of his later subjects were prosaic, he gave
everything the same care and attention. He planned his films in his head, long
before any shooting took place, and abhorred "spraying an event with a movie
In Split Focus (1969) was a first instalment of his intended autobiography. He
had set out to describe the development of the television documentary from its
origins as cinema newsreel, but it turned into a moving personal statement of
his philosophy and involvement in the world which he had sought to capture and
reconcile on camera. Hopkinson continued his autobiography in The Screen of
Change, which has just found a publisher.
In 1994 Hopkinson settled at the Cinema and Television Benevolent Fund's
retirement home in Wokingham. His second wife, Margaret Baskerville, survives
him, with his two stepsons.
· Peter Richard Gunton Hopkinson, cameraman and film-maker,
born June 27 1920;
died June 28 2007
Peter Hopkinson, G, 27.7.2007,
Michael Moore's Sicko
Documentary-maker Michael Moore's
new film Sicko
has become one of the most talked-about productions
at the Cannes Film Festival.
Here is a round-up of what the early reviews say.
[It is] an entertaining and affecting dissection of the American healthcare
industry that documents how it benefits the few at the expense of the many.
alternates between comedy and outrage, as it compares the US system of care to
Employing his trademark personal narration and David vs Goliath approach, Moore
enlivens what is, in essence, a depressing subject by wrapping it in irony and
injecting levity wherever possible.
SCREEN DAILY Lee Marshall
Michael Moore's passionate, bullying, gag-laced approach to the "j'accuse"
documentary worked a treat in Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11 - and it
works even better in Sicko.
Moore doesn't change his methods - he still plays to the gallery, and fingered
corporate or government culprits are still given little or no right to reply.
This time round, Moore simply chooses an easier target.
It may not be subtle, but it makes for great, heart-on-sleeve cinema.
FOX NEWS Roger Friedman
Film-maker Michael Moore's brilliant and uplifting new documentary deals with
the failings of the US healthcare system, both real and perceived.
But this time around, the controversial documentarian seems to be letting the
subject matter do the talking, and in the process shows a new maturity.
Unlike many of his previous films, Sicko works because in this one there are no
EMPIRE Damon Wise
Michael Moore's new documentary Sicko unspooled to a VERY warm reception.
Kicking off with the obligatory swipe at Bush, Sicko is a more mellow film than
we're used to seeing from the less-lardy-than-usual firebrand.
Perhaps a little too obvious targeted at a domestic audience (Moore says "we" a
lot when he means "we Americans"), it offers his take on the American healthcare
system and how lives and limbs are being lost in pursuit of profit.
TIME MAGAZINE Jeffrey Kluger
The movie is double-barreled Moore, a mix of familiar numbers (47 million
uninsured Americans, the ever rising cost of care) and chilling moments (the
18-month-old baby who dies of a seizure when she's denied emergency-room access,
the husband and father with kidney cancer whose insurer won't pay for a
Together, they will have many moviegoers angry enough to gouge holes in their
CINEMATICAL James Rocchi
Is he a journalist or an entertainer? A fact-finding seeker of truth or a
deadpan comedian of the socially absurd? Are his arguments constructed to make a
point or get a laugh?
I don't think I'm the only person who watches Moore's films and wishes they had
more clarity and less hilarity.
It's that tone - of selfless self-celebration, of public altruism, of snide
sensitivity - that undercuts a lot of Moore's work, and it undermines Sicko.
Press views: Michael Moore's Sicko, BBC
the filth and the fury
Temple whittled down 54,000 minutes
of home-movie footage to create the ultimate
You can practically taste the mud,
says Patrick Barkham
March 24, 2006
Slosh, slosh, slosh is the melody. It is not Radiohead, or the Levellers, or
even Toots and the Maytals who open Julien Temple's epic new film about the
Glastonbury festival, but the sound of walking through liquid mud. Or excrement.
Glastonbury, the movie, starts as it means to go on, suffused in the real
experiences of ordinary festivalgoers. As Michael Eavis, the farmer who founded
and still runs the bewilderingly vast, weird, pungent, musical gathering in the
Vale of Avalon, remarks: "It's not real is it? It can't be real can it?"
attempts to capture the craziness of the festival have fallen flat, perhaps
because Glastonbury is all so unreal. This time, Temple, who made the classic
Sex Pistol films The Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle and The Filth and the Fury,
issued plea after plea for amateur videos taken by punters at the festival.
Deluged with 54,000 minutes of footage, he whittled it down to 128 that knit
together an uncompromising tale of Glastonbury that comes as close to touching,
hearing and feeling it as possible. It's accompanied by plenty of Temple's own
camerawork, and BBC coverage of legendary performances (from the Chemical
Brothers to Coldplay and Morrissey to the English National Opera). But the real
stars are the tribes of festivalgoers - travellers, entertainers, drunkards,
revellers, lads, girls, goths and trendies: everyone who picked up a video
camera when they shouldn't.
The intoxicating swirl of images is sometimes predictable. Women in purple march
across a field chanting "we are at one with the infinite sun". Bearded chaps
evoke the "vibrations from the ground". An enormous bong with horns and jawbones
taped to it is passed round. A fire-juggler sets himself alight. There is a
recitation of a Lord's Prayer to alcoholic beverages ("As we forgive those who
toss glasses against us"). A bemused man asks: "Is that music out there or in my
head?" But much of the amateur footage is far more evocative and intimate than
any mounted camera swooping on stage. Footage from more than 40 festivalgoers
perfectly capture life in the tent cities that are likened to a medieval army by
Billy Bragg. They also nail the Glastonbury mornings: the debris, the mist, the
twitter of birds and insane giggling under canvas.
One of the funniest moments in the film was provided by a 24-year-old charity
fundraiser from Birmingham. Adam Gallacher travelled down with a gang of mates
in 2004. "It's a thing that started as a joke between me and my friends - a
below the head slap-off after everyone's had a few drinks," he explains. "We
were in the stone circle and two of my best friends did it as a joke. Because of
where we were, quite an audience gathered around." Gallacher, who read about
Glastonbury's appeal for amateur footage in the Guardian, says his friends still
don't believe his shots are part of a proper film. "They won't until they see
themselves in the cinema," he says. Two more of Gallacher's Glastonbury moments
also made the final cut - a friend staggers around tents before appearing to
fall asleep standing up, while someone else stands in a maze of tents trying to
find his friends by shouting into his mobile phone.
The film follows the contours of a long weekend at the festival. Little snippets
of a classic Glastonbury girl - intrepid, with blonde dreadlocks - recur during
the loose narrative. Mike O'Neill, 38, a surveyor from Bristol, took the shots
in 2003, when he recorded his weekend with his Australian girlfriend, Sarah. In
blink-and-you'll-miss-it cuts, Temple traces their journey through the festival.
While the self-consciousness of festivalgoers caught on film is noticeably
greater in the media-saturated 21st century than in the footage from the 1970s,
amateur film-makers like O'Neill capture a rare spontaneity and intimacy among
their camera-familiar friends. O'Neill remembers dancing to a DJ in the Glade
all night. "It was a night to remember like no other. I filmed all round the
crowd and they weren't looking at the camera. You couldn't create that
atmosphere in a movie. As far as you could see, people's faces were glowing with
Shortly after the 2003 festival, O'Neill split from Sarah, who returned to
Australia. The thought of watching his first love on film does not sadden him
too much. "You've got some key points in your life. That footage is not about
the short term. It's to be looked at by my grandkids and they can go, 'Blimey
grandad, you're not supposed to be doing that.' I filmed it all to capture a
moment that can't be captured in any other way. Shortly after Glastonbury, I
sold my camera. When we split up, there was nothing worthwhile to film in my
Amateur footage is best at seizing the spirit of Glastonbury, according to Max
Heywood, 36, a marketing consultant from the City. After he and his friend Ray
Howe made video diaries of their lads' holidays, Howe brought his camera to the
festival a few years back. "I've had so much fun at Glastonbury over the years
and for my friends and I to have our names in the credits at the end is really
exciting," says Heywood. "It's like you're a Victorian explorer, travelling to
another world. You drive down smaller and smaller lanes, you're in the middle of
the most fantastic countryside and suddenly there it is. It is so far from
modern life it's like a medieval fair. You come back from Glastonbury and you
feel like you've been away for a fortnight."
Babylon (as David Gray sings), Eden, Arcadia, Albion: anything as loved and
idealised as the festival is also fought over. As one hippie says, Glastonbury
has always been an "interface between a loving vibe and a resentful one". The
film crackles with the energy and anger of travellers as the Thatcher
administration cracked down on their peace convoys and the smack of firm
government penetrated Glastonbury. In 1985, police brutally closed down the
solstice celebrations at Stonehenge, sending thousands of travellers into the
arms of Eavis. While the farmer provided refuge, in later years tensions mounted
between travellers, crashers and other festivalgoers.
Battles over money, control and the travellers emerge in footage from the 1980s.
Joe Rush, founder of the Mutoid Waste Company, a collective of itinerant artists
and free-party fiends who helped give Glastonbury its edgy feel, shot its wilder
fringe - or heart. "We were the only ones who could get away with filming the
travellers, because we were mates," he says. Aside from the "car henge"
sculptures he and the Mutoids built when not driving their "skull truck", he
recorded his tense relationship with Eavis. In one of the most striking scenes,
Rush confronts the founder outside Worthy Farm after the 1987 festival and asks
to be paid. "You're so fucking unreliable," Eavis tells him. "We gave you the
best show you've had for years," Rush barks back. We've fed you and put you up
for six weeks, Eavis argues. Rush demands "£10 for everyone here". The
unflappable farmer loses his temper. "Would I have survived 17 years if I had
been a cunt?" he says, stomping inside. It was an out-of-character outburst for
the Methodist. "At the end of the day, Eavis is a farmer and farmers can be
notoriously tight," Rush laughs during a far more amicable exchange filmed by
Michael's daughter, Emily, after last year's festival. The 1987 stand-off was,
Rush now says, a squabble over a few hundred quid. "We've always been very
volatile, me and Michael," he says. "But we've developed a good relationship
The film does not duck parts of the modern festival that make many idealists
uncomfortable. Some amateur film-makers contribute footage of their attempts to
storm the fence. Blurry security shots show scuffles with crashers. There are
also images of the growing corporate presence that reflect festivalgoers'
increasing desire to consume: queues for a cash machine and jugglers no longer
hurling fire but spinning bottles of vodka in the Smirnoff bar. And the modern
sound of Glastonbury: the trill of the mobile phone. "It's a sanitised
caricature of what it was in some ways," says one old-timer.
Rush admits the intrusion of CCTV and cash machines is sad but says that the
giant security fence, the focus of such discontent among many festival
old-timers, is a necessary evil. "Glastonbury has grown to reflect changing
times. On the one hand, the fence going up has spoiled things, but there were so
many scallywags coming down and selling dodgy drugs and robbing everybody. You
can see in the film the reasons why the fence came up."
Rush still hopes the movie will inspire a new generation, weaned on corporate
festivals. "Because the free party festival thing has died out, there is a whole
generation who don't know what it was all about. Now all they know is MTV and
advertising companies hanging on to whatever is half-genuine. The film will show
them the potential - what can be done by a lot of funny people working
· Glastonbury is released on April 14
The fun, the filth and the fury, G, 24.3.2007,
Scorsese to direct
documentary on the Stones
as veteran auteur puts unstoppable rockers
under the lens
November 2, 2006
Mark Brown, arts correspondent
He is one of the world's most revered film directors, and they are probably the
world's biggest band. Martin Scorsese is now going to give the same treatment to
the Rolling Stones that he has given to Bob Dylan, and a host of acclaimed
Hollywood movies before that.
Scorsese began filming the band for a documentary movie due out in cinemas next
year, and the director has surrounded himself with some of the industry's best
names in cinematography, documentary film-making and camerawork.
The Stones are on the New York leg of their Bigger Bang world tour, and were
filmed at one their smallest venues, the art deco Beacon Theatre, by Scorsese
last night and on Sunday night. Footage from the concerts is expected form the
main part of the film, along with behind-the-scenes moments, interviews and
historical footage of the band.
How the finished product will turn out, probably only Scorsese, 64, really
knows. Nobody connected to the project will yet talk about it publicly.
On Sunday night though, it was impossible to hide the fact that it was
happening. Some fans complained that they could not see properly because of the
array of cameras and booms around the theatre, which seats only 2,800 people - a
tiny amount for a Stones gig.
Appropriately, it was quite a night to choose. Sunday was Bill Clinton's 60th
birthday and the Stones show was essentially a celebration for him, although as
Keith Richards told the ex-president: "Once you have as many birthdays, you
don't pay attention to them."
And it was quite a show, from the opening number of Start Me Up to the closing
Jumping Jack Flash and Satisfaction. On stage with the Stones were Jack White of
the White Stripes and Christina Aguilera. One of Clinton's guests was Vaclev
Havel. It has been estimated that Scorsese and his crew will shoot more than
half a million feet of film at the Beacon gigs, and, according to the industry
magazine Screen International, the director is using award-winning directors of
photography. Among the top names are Mitch Amundsen of Mission Impossible 3,
Stuart Dryburgh of The Piano, and Robert Elswit of Good Night And Good Luck.
The man Scorsese is using to work on the backstage footage is a legend in his
own right. Albert Maysles was, with his brother David, behind the landmark
documentary Gimme Shelter about the Rolling Stones' free concert at Altamont
Speedway in December 1969.
The Stones played in front of 300,000 people but what began as a flower-power
love-in soon became a near riot and one person was stabbed to death. The
Hollywood Reporter called it "a stunning film, a sensational piece of
film-making, a landmark". Nearly 40 years later Maysles, now 79, is once again
working on what many believe will be another landmark Stones film.
All four Stones, Mick Jagger, Ronnie Wood, Charlie Watts and Richards, are
executive producers and Paramount has bought the North American distribution
rights, while Fortissimo Films has international rights.
In 1978, Scorsese directed the concert film The Last Waltz, commemorating the
farewell gig of the Band.
Nick James, editor of the British Film Institute's Sight and Sound magazine,
said the rollcall of top cameramen on the new film was amazing. "It's quite
amazing that you can get all those people in the same place at the same time.
But then people turn up for Martin Scorsese, he has the reputation."
James said Scorsese had recently shown his talent as a documentary maker with
his Bob Dylan epic No Direction Home, shown in the UK in the BBC2 Arena series.
It focused on Dylan's early years between 1960 and 1966.
James added: "It managed to invest a narrative into the history of him going
nuts on tour. Whether there is that kind narrative opportunity with the Rolling
Stones I don't know. But I'm relishing the thought of it. I'm hoping it will be
weighted to their early years."
Scorsese is being hotly tipped to end the embarrassment of being an Oscar
bridesmaid with his latest movie, The Departed. Like Alfred Hitchcock and Robert
Altman he has been nominated five times, but has yet to win.
Scorsese is not the only movie legend to turn cinematic documentary maker. At
Cannes this year Sydney Pollack, director of such movies as Tootsie and Out of
Africa, premiered his documentary about the architect Frank Gehry. However,
Pollack carried his own camera.
With the big-screen success of Michael Moore and Al Gore's An Inconvenient
Truth, James said, there was a real appetite for documentary in the cinema at
the moment. "It may be that they're harder to find on the TV at the moment. But
there is a real hunger for less mediated information."
Soundtracks: Mean street sounds
Mean Streets, 1973
Scorsese's violent portrait of 70s Little Italy opens with the swaggering Johnny
Boy (Robert de Niro) arriving in a bar with a slick new suit and hat. The
Rolling Stones' Jumpin' Jack Flash plays as he makes his head-turning entrance
In GoodFellas, Gimme Shelter provides the perfect paranoiac soundtrack to the
bizarre behaviour of cocaine-addled Henry Hill (Ray Liotta)
Sharon Stone won acclaim in her role as Ginger, an ambitious but unstable Strip
hustler whose introduction is made with the accompaniment of the Rolling Stones'
Heart of Stone.
The Departed, 2006
Scorsese's ice-cool tale of mob corruption and violence in Boston was partly
inspired by the Hong Kong movie Internal Affairs. The film opens with Gimme
Shelter wailing in the background.
Rolling ... Scorsese to direct documentary on the Stones,
sonorous, heartrending reflection
on an American tragedy
Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts
September 2, 2006
Festivalgoers at Venice, or anywhere else, are unused to having their
attention-span tested by a four-hour documentary, especially when the screenings
are subject to delay, as this one was, for mysterious "technical reasons". But
Spike Lee's history of the Katrina disaster in New Orleans, sonorously-named
When The Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, commanded everyone's attention -
and even opened a few tear ducts.
sentiments triggered the traditional approving whoops: the unhappy US president
is now the pantomime villain for all European film festivals with a doc or two
on the menu. But Lee's movie was notable for how measured its judgments were,
and even ventured some politically incorrect views about the city itself.
Spike Lee has some introductory archive footage and photos of New Orleans, but
mainly his film juxtaposes heartrending shots of the wreckage with interviews,
talking to politicians and New Orleans residents, most of them even more angry
about the debacle, one year on, than they were at the time.
The furthest up the political food-chain Lee gets is talking to the city's
embattled mayor, the defensive Louisiana state governor, and the now contrite
police chief who went on TV and whipped up a storm by exaggerating the looting
problem his men faced. The awful truth, as so many testified, was that Katrina
was an act of man, not God: New Orleans was only hit by wind and tempest for a
relatively short time.
But later the inadequately maintained levees, or flood walls, broke and a city
below sea level was catastrophically submerged. A president anxiously focused on
the "war on terror" was all too slow to respond, apparently unable to decide if
conspicuous federal intervention would make him look strong or weak. Days
passed, and TV pictures of starving, dying Americans made the US look like a
third world country - or perhaps, arguably, disclosed the third world country
that America secretly keeps in its closet.
Media sophisticates commenting on Katrina at the time were squeamish about
citing the race factor, but one person noted the elephant in the flooded living
room. Lee shows the classic clip of pop star Kanye West going on TV, apparently
for an innocuous charity broadcast and breaking with the script to say: "The
president doesn't care about black people." Next to him, comedy star Mike Myers
flinches and half-turns to him, for a fraction of a second appearing mutely to
implore West to qualify the statement in some way, clearly panicking at being
associated with these views. An unmissable moment of celeb-career anxiety.
Lee also revives the wince-making memory of Barbara Bush, former First Lady and
current First Mom, who gave a notorious interview, superciliously claiming that
evacuees moved out to prosperous Texas - many parted from their families - were
actually getting a nice break.
Mrs Bush disgraced herself, yet Lee boldly declares that plenty of evacuees in
Texas and Utah found that there was more for them there in terms of education
and jobs than in New Orleans - and maybe they were being loyal to a place that
was holding them back.
It is a movie which, for non-US audiences, is a little reticent in explaining
what a levee is, how it is built, how it gets damaged.
And I could have done with more of a strategic overview of when and how
floodwaters entered the city. But this is a heartfelt movie, a documentary
unafraid to spread itself across its vast subject matter, and a fierce
denunciation of the arrogant political classes, still in denial about one of the
biggest tragedies in American history.
· Peter Bradshaw is the Guardian's film critic
Spike Lee's sonorous, heartrending reflection
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