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History > Documentary films


UK, USA > 2006-2007




Alive Day Memories:

Home from Iraq (2007) (TV) poster


added 13 April 2008















The Price of War, Front and Center


September 6, 2007
The New York Times


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 therapeutic.”

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 lights.

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, NYT, 6.9.2007,


















Donal MacIntyre's A Very British Gangster


added 27.8.2007















Guardian Films scoops Emmy


Tuesday September 25, 2007
Ben Dowell


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 MediaGuardian.co.uk.

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 memorable film."

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 Emmy,
G, 25.9.2007,






Film Takes Us Back 38 Years,

to That First Walk


September 4, 2007
The New York Times


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. Sington’s work.

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 the program.

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,






Under attack

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
Matthew Hays


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 end there.

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 Dissent.

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 Manufacturing Dissent.

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 festival.

It is released on DVD in October.

Under attack, G, 23.8.2007,

















Donal MacIntyre's A Very British Gangster


addd 27.8.2007
















Brief encounters

A mob is framed

Stuart Jeffries on how Donal MacIntyre
became a gangland auteur


Friday August 3, 2007
Stuart Jeffries

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

MacIntyre's 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 documentary."

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,







Peter Hopkinson

Idealistic and skilled cameraman
at the heart of the British documentary genre


Friday July 27, 2007
Peter Hore


Peter 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 (1942).

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 Europe.

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 camera".

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,

















added 1.9.2007















Press views:

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.


Published: 2007/05/19
16:37:15 GMT
BBC News


VARIETY Alissa Simon

[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.

Its tone alternates between comedy and outrage, as it compares the US system of care to other countries.

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.


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 confrontations.

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 bone-marrow transplant).

Together, they will have many moviegoers angry enough to gouge holes in their armrests.


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 News, 19.5.2007, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/6673039.stm






The fun, the filth and the fury

Julien Temple whittled down 54,000 minutes
of home-movie footage
to create the ultimate Glastonbury movie.
You can practically taste the mud,
says Patrick Barkham


Friday March 24, 2006
Patrick Barkham

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?"

Previous 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 smiles."

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 life."

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 over time."

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 together."

· Glastonbury is released on April 14

The fun, the filth and the fury, G, 24.3.2007,






Rolling ...

Scorsese to direct

documentary on the Stones

No expense spared
as veteran auteur puts unstoppable rockers
under the lens


Thursday 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.

This week 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

GoodFellas, 1990

In GoodFellas, Gimme Shelter provides the perfect paranoiac soundtrack to the bizarre behaviour of cocaine-addled Henry Hill (Ray Liotta)

Casino, 1995

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,
G, 2.11.2006,






Film review

Spike Lee's

sonorous, heartrending reflection

on an American tragedy

When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts

Venice Film Festival


Saturday September 2, 2006
Peter Bradshaw


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.

Anti-Bush 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
on an American tragedy,
G, 2.9.2006,










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