There follows a guest post from Anthony Davis, reflecting on his Skype conversation with Magali Pettier, director/producer/cinematographer of ADDICTED TO SHEEP which screens at the Arts Picturehouse on Sunday 30 August. The screening will be followed by a Q&A.
ADDICTED TO SHEEP premiered at Sheffield Documentary Festival (“Doc Fest”), where it had two scheduled screenings. Both sold out (thus around 430 seats), so a third screening was put on.
In this connection, Magali talked about how, in the further role of the film’s producer, she had needed to generate publicity – she had known, with so many offerings at Doc Fest, that she simply had to attract her audience. However, hearing her talk, one could sense that the pragmatism had been a little in conflict with her personal aesthetic (which is patent in how her footage looks). As she said, though, there was no point in making the film and not getting people to watch.
It is no surprise to learn that Jan Cawood, who, after filming, came on board as co-producer to help position the film, has a background in PR and marketing : at one point, one could hardly move around Sheffield without encountering a set-up of a sheep-pen ! (Not real sheep, but models clothed in sheep’s clothing.) She readily agrees that the means were not (on one level) representative of the mood and content of the film, but (on another) they are utterly organic, because the sheep’s clothing was wool that had been shorn from the flock featured on screen. (Never mind Shaun the Sheep – currently occupying at least as many sites as Gromit before him, in and around Bristol [shauninthecity.org.uk] – with this real connection to the natural world !)
In talking to Magali, it became apparent that, despite the proximity of the film’s setting to Sheffield (Teesdale, part of the North Pennines), the local media actively needed interesting in Addicted to Sheep, by these means (and others). All of which, as well as ‘shepherding’ (dare one say !) her cast, sounded like hard work, which had severely restricted her Doc Festing – she watched one other documentary ! Can complacent broadcasters and press nowadays generally make the talent come to them ? When Magali had been at Doc/Fest before, she had been doing something similar : making a pitch to start this film.
“A beautiful, timeless, unhurried, affectionate film”
Having moved on from the intensity of a busy early June, in what local lad Michael Palin – during the closing event at Doc/Fest – called God’s own City, Magali now approaches the significance of a London premiere. She well knows that she now needs to make another sort of pitch : not to a film-festival crowd, which, by definition with Doc Fest, saw documentaries (and needed guiding to hers), but to the paying public at large.
To phrases of approval such as A beautiful, timeless, unhurried, affectionate film [from director Patrick Collerton] (which have been garnered for the film’s attractive poster), Magali hopes to add channels of communication such as the buzz that Q&As can generate. And then, of course, the domino effect of word-of-mouth recommendation, which can build, from screening to screening, into a second (or even third) week in the cinema.
If, that is, everyone who watches documentaries gathers, from friends, critics, or even friend / critics, that they must see the film, and not wait to do so on a television, laptop, tablet, or smartphone. Here, as Magali is well aware, the visual impact of this intensely physical location may be her trump card in the game of Film Release Week.
She says that the place, and what it means, is what drew Tom and Kay, with their two daughters and son, to farm there. Without its needing to be stated, Magali has made that evident in the way that the film coheres, and utterly unlike a prettified piece of token cinematography that wows when the film itself does not. (Naming no names of feature films, saved from worse reviews by the glories of where they were made…)
All that, though, remains to be seen. But one can be in that process, and see for one’s self. Screen 3 at The Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge, on Sunday 30 August at 9.00 p.m. is part of where the influence takes place : if the film succeeds in reaching you, you can reach others and urge them to see it.