Monthly Archives: November 2014

Beti and Amare (Ethiopia-Germany-Canada 2014)

Local men approach Beti offering 'protection' against the Italians.

Local men approach Beti offering ‘protection’ against the Italians.

bfi-london-film-festival-2014-title-block-750x680The two young filmmakers behind Beti and Amare were present to introduce and discuss this festival screening at the ICA. Andy Siege performs most of the technical roles and appears himself in a small but crucial role in the film. Pascal Dawson plays ‘Amare’ and generally supports his working partner. Together the two are Kalulu Entertainment and this, their first fiction feature, is a ‘speculative fiction’ set in Ethiopia in 1936.

Andy Siege was born in Kenya to German aid workers and grew up in Africa and Europe, studying film in Canada. In the Q&A he identified as ‘African’. Pascal Dawson was born in Vancouver. The others in the small cast are Ethiopians, both experienced actors and non-professionals. The production budget was just €14,000. This isn’t noticeable in terms of the film overall except possibly with the archive footage of the Italian invasion of Abyssinia (as Ethiopia was known then) in 1936 – which the credits suggest came from the Internet Archive. The film does switch between monochrome and colour and I couldn’t work out why (I did miss part of the introduction, perhaps it was explained then) – but I didn’t find this a problem.

The story is simple. A young woman, ‘Beti’ returns to her home region in Southern Abyssinia hoping to avoid the Italians. She stays with her grandfather in an isolated hut. He then sets off to buy a new goat, leaving the young woman in charge. She discovers that she faces a double challenge. A group of local men on horseback want to ‘protect her’ (and one wants to marry her) and she also fears that the Italians will appear. Then one day at the waterhole she discovers a strange young man, ‘Amare’. Where has he come from? Is he ill? Did he emerge naked from an egg? Is he real or a figment of her imagination? She decides to look after him. When trouble appears there are now two of them to face it together.

This is an imaginative use of familiar genre elements in an African context. African filmmakers struggle with lack of resources and audiences who have been mainly entertained by the crudest forms of Western, Indian and Hong Kong popular cinema. Could a film like this succeed in attracting audiences in Africa? I don’t know, but it does show how a quality production can be achieved on limited resources by filmmakers who have Africa in their hearts and the knowledge and contacts to exploit new technologies efficiently. So far the film has had mainly festival screenings. It will be interesting to see if it gets a wider distribution and if Kalulu can make more films in the same manner. I certainly enjoyed the film and I hope Kalulu succeed in their ambitions.

The official trailer:

The Code (Australia 2014)

Jesse (Ashley Zukerman) attempts to break into an encrypted document

Jesse (Ashley Zukerman) attempts to break into an encrypted document

The Code is an Australian serial narrative in 6 x 60 mins episodes. It combines a mystery with a conspiracy/political thriller/investigative journalism story. The setting is in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) of Canberra and a small town in the bush where a young Aboriginal couple are involved in a car crash. Who caused the crash and how did the couple’s car end up dumped in a quarry with the girl dead and the boy subsequently hospitalised?

The different aspects of what is a familiar genre narrative involve a pair of computer hackers, one of whom is on the autistic spectrum and the other who is the daughter of Iranian refugees. Hacking and decrypting are central to the narrative and several of the data exchanges are represented on screen as text and numerical data ‘floating’ over the image. Jesse (Ashley Zukerman) and Hani (Adele Perovic) have both been previously warned about their activities  by government agencies and Jesse struggles to keep a job and keep away from hacking. He is effectively ‘looked after’ by his elder brother Ned (Dan Spielman), a journalist now working for an internet news site. The main interest for me was the interrelationships between Jesse, Ned and Hani when Ned stumbles across a connection between the car crash in the bush and various machinations in the Australian Prime Minister’s Office – focused on the Deputy Prime Minister who is also Foreign Affairs Minister (and played by David Wenham, the major Hollywood actor in the cast). Ned’s ‘inside source’ is his ex, Sophie, the Head of Communications in the PM’s office.

Aaron Pedersen and Lucy Lawless – underused in the narrative?

Aaron Pedersen and Lucy Lawless – underused in the narrative?

Out in the bush the crash attracts the attention of the local schoolteacher Alex (Lucy Lawless aka Xena: Warrior Princess) and her ex, Tim the local police sergeant (Aaron Pedersen – see Mystery Road). This narrative strand proved a disappointment for me since I thought it wasn’t properly exploited by the writer, the experienced Shelley Birse. Two of the best-known actors in the production were under-used, as was the location.

Overall, however, I thought the serial was well-directed and nicely shot. The Australian Parliament building in ACT was used imaginatively and its design was worked into the credit sequence which also drew on the idea of data exchanges which are being monitored and intercepted. There have been plenty of Australian TV shows on UK TV in the past, but this one made by Playmaker and first shown on the Australian public service channel ABC1 in September seems to mark a change. Playmaker is run by former executives from Fox Australia and my reading of some of the coverage of The Code is that whereas previously Australian productions have been pale imitations of Hollywood imports, this one appears to draw directly on the recent surge of Nordic Noir productions that have had such a major impact in global television trading. As well as the UK, the serial has been sold to the US and to DR in Denmark. The Killing is certainly one of the touchstones for The Code and House of Cards might be another one.

Like many other viewers I was confused by the closing scenes of The Code. If I read the final scene correctly, there was an open ending and something very worrying might be about to happen. Probably I misunderstood, but I’d certainly watch a follow-up. The relationship between Jesse and Ned and then between Jesse and Hani worked very well for me. Putting aside the fantastical conventions of the genre (MacBooks that operate three or four times faster than mine!) I thought the portrayal of Jesse and his struggles with conforming to ‘ordinary’ social interactions was believable and moving rather than just another plot point.

This is the ABC Trailer:

In the UK, the serial should still be on iPlayer and a DVD is out soon from Arrow. The show’s Wikipedia page has details of distribution in other territories.