Archive for the 'Film' Category

Queen tells off Berlusconi

It’s almost enough to make you a royalist.


Asa Butterfield: star of the Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

Sitting across the sofa from Asa Butterfield it is hard not to feel very young. The 11-year-old star has the uncanny ability, common to so many pre-pubescent boys, of reducing me to my gawky teenage self.

asa-butterfield“So what do you want to ask?” he says, fixing me with his blue eyes. His blithe unawareness as to why I want to talk to him makes every question seem trivial.

We are sitting in the basement kitchen of his home in Islington, north London, while his Mum, slightly confusingly called Jake, cooks dinner. In this homely setting it is hard to imagine him as Bruno, his character in The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, staring through the barbed wire fence into the horror of a Nazi concentration camp.

But Asa is a born actor. Listening to him describe acting in a film about the holocaust, it is hard to believe that director Mark Herman chose him for the part because of his innocence to the subject matter.

“The last scene was horrible; I almost threw up,” he says. “It felt like I was going through it, though nowhere near as bad.” But the role has brought him fame, two nominations for a British Film Award and a London Critics Circle Film Award.

This part is the latest in a long string of parts that would make many grown actors turn green with envy. Asa has been acting since the tender age of seven at the Islington-based Young Actors Theatre, where he got his first part in the 2006 television drama After Thomas, followed by the 2007 children’s comedy Son of Rambow.

He begins work on his next film, The Kid, a true-life story of desecrated childhood, next month. In it, he plays a young boy who suffers terrible abuse at the hands of his mother. “It’s sort of horrific. I’m abused really badly. My mum beats me until she’s too tired to carry on. She breaks my hand in a mangler,” he says earnestly.

I say it must be hard to act in a scene like that and his previous scorn returns: “Well I haven’t done it yet, so we’ll have to see.”

But, as for many child stars before him, Asa has had second thoughts. In an interview with The Times he said that he did not want continue his career on the silver screen. He says it was because of missing his friends and family, who he did not see for the three-months of filming.

But now that he is back at school in Stoke Newington, he has changed his mind: “Seeing as I’ve had loads of press now – well, not that much – and some nominations, I reckon I probably want to be an actor now.”

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In prison my whole life

“Imagine spending a lifetime…waiting, waiting to die”.

These are the words of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a revolutionary journalist and former Black Panther who was sentenced to death for the murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner in 1982.

Described by many as the “voice of the voiceless,” Mumia has remained an outspoken critic of the US political system from the darkness of his prison cell. Over the last 26 years he has written more than 500 columns, published five books and uses his weekly phone calls to record radio broadcasts for Prison Radio.

On Thursday night a documentary about his life and incarceration, In Prison My Whole Life, had its UK premiere. The bar of the Ritzy cinema in Brixton, usually home to a smattering of fashionistas, was buzzing with the clink of wine glasses, earnest conversation and Amnesty workers clutching petitions.

Inside the old theatre hall-turned-cinema, the red velvet chairs were draped with a campaigner’s goody-bag filled with political leaflets and peanuts.

The evening began with a series of readings from the who’s who of British acting talent. Lead by Colin Firth, whose wife Livia produced In Prison, Alan Rickman, Juliette Stevenson and Kelly MacDonald read extracts from A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn, accompanied by performances from Beverly Knight and Ben Barnes.

The film is narrated by William Francome, an American-raised Brit who was born on the day that Mumia was arrested. It opens with his words: “I have been aware of Mumia for as long as I can remember… I am going on a journey to find out about the man who has been in prison my whole life.”

Approaching the case 26 years on, Francome pulls apart the flaws of a trial which Amnesty International described as “in violation of minimum international standards”. What he finds is a catalogue of errors that have been ignored by the legal system, including a racist judge, omitted and tampered evidence and falsified testimonies.

Throughout, Francome himself serves as a concrete reminder of the length of time that Mumia has spent in jail. Yet as the film goes on, what starts as an analysis of a single case opens into a more general critique of racial equality in the US and the vast disparities that still exist today.

From the FBI assassination of Black Panther leaders in the 1970s to the heartrending pictures of the victims of Hurricane Katrina, Francome explores why Mumia has become such an emblematic figure for so many and how much further there is to go before justice becomes truly blind.

Backed by MySpace, In Prison emulates what its director, Marc Evans, described as the “digital documentary style,” a testimony to its humble beginnings as Francome’s personal project. It serves to show, Evans said at the film’s world premiere in Rome last year, that despite “so much media noise”, the “dissenting voice still exists today”.

In Prison My Whole Life is due to be released to DVD in the UK later this year and is showing in London cinemas until the 29th October.

July 2019
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