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Odd couple: Damien O‘Donnell and Ayub Khan-Din on the set of East Is East

Journey to the East

East Is East was the crowd pleaser of this year's Edinburgh International Film Festival. Director DAMIEN O'DONNELL and writer AYUB KHAN-DIN tell The List Why. Words: Miles Fielder

I first watched [fast Is [Just in a cinema auditorium

full of filth critics. a notoriously cynical breed of

filmgoer. At the end they gave the film a virtttally unheard of spontaneous standing ovation. The second time I watched [fast ls East was during the Iidinburgh International Film Festival last August. The public reaction was similar. only tnore ecstatic. [fast [3‘ [fast is a real crowd pleaser. A film about the fight against tradition imposed by the tyrannical father of an eccentric. I—inglish-I’akistani fatnin living in Salford in the 70s. it‘s as moving as it is hilarious.

'We didn‘t know we'd got the balance right.‘ says Damien ()‘Donnell. the young Irish director whose talent was spotted at an [Edinburgh screening of his award~winning short film. 'l'ltirrv-I’ii'e Aside. ‘When I started to make this film it was a comedy; when I

started to shoot the film it was serious drama. A lot of

the humour disappeared in the editing process and only reappeared when we started having test screenings.’

‘The story is universal.’ says Ayub Khan-Din. who adapted his own semi-autobiographical play for the screen. 'People who have seen the play and the film say they go through all the same emotions: they laugh

‘When I started to make this film it was a comedy; when I started to shoot the film it was serious drama.’ Damien O’Donnell

and cry and laugh and cry again. When the play first opened in Birmingham the response was incredible. We‘ve since had letters from all over Iiurope saying my father behaved like that. my mother behaved like that. Now. it‘s the same with the film.‘

O’Donnell and Khan—Din are an odd couple: a short filmmaker with no knowledge of the Pakistani community and a playwright/actor dealing with his own childhood. 'I was completely ignorant of the subjects.‘ O'Donnell jokes. 'so I brought all that ignorance to bear on the film. At the end of the day it’s about a family and that‘s what I was able to latch onto. But I had a walking library in Ayub: it‘s his life. his experiences. I felt that was a safety net for me..

‘My mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's when she was in her Stis.‘ explains Khan-Din. ‘As it progressed. part of tny life disappeared. I wanted to try and capture aspects of that. It wasn‘t until I left drama school stamped with the invisible mark. Black Actor. that I started to think about my identity. the reasons why my dad behaved the way he did: that all came together with the play.‘

Stage and screen are two very different mediums. 'I‘t‘ansferring the play from one to the other must have been a tricky business. ‘I have to complement Ayub.’ says O'Donnell. ‘He had a play in the West Iind that was successful in its own right. bttt he was completely open about changes. We were telling the satne story: we weren’t committing the play to film. That allowed us to chop and change dialogue. cut out scenes. In the play the character George lthe father] wasn't sympathetic. I didn‘t want to make a film about a monster. You needed to be aware he had his reasons and they were valid. It‘s too easy otherwise: he‘s a fucking bastard. let‘s sort him out. You don‘t want to jump to immediate conclusions. It was also important not to have closure: the ending‘s optimistic. you don't know what‘s going to happen next. Life goes on.'

East Is East opens Fri 5 Nov. See review, page 26.

preview FILM

Rough cuts

Lights, camera, action . . .

THE GLASGOW BASED film Drifting has won the Best Film award at the Manhattan Short Film Festival, selected from over 450 entries by jurors including Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon. Drifting is directed by Martin Brierley from a screenplay by Aileen Ritchie, who has just completed her first feature for Uberto Pasolini. Brierley and his producer Bruce Williamson have received film stock and equipment worth upwards of £100,000 towards their first feature. Brierley and Williamson are currently sifting through a pile of New York based scripts.

DNA FILMS AND Black Coral Productions have announced a new screenwriting initiative, ’first draft: Focus On Talent 3’, which will provide black and Asian writers with the opportunity to develop feature length screenplays. The new initiative follows last year's ’first draft' venture with which producers Andrew Macdonald and Duncan Kenworthy's DNA and Scottish Screen targeted Scottish writers. Macdonald commented: 'At DNA we put a lot of emphasis on developing new scriptwriting talent. Initiatives like this one enable us to support new writers at grass roots level.’

Entrants are required to submit a treatment outlining the idea for a feature film together with a sample scene. The five winners will receive £1500 each and the opportunity to work with an experienced script editor over a six month period. The closing date for submissions is Fri 28 Jan 2000. For further information and an application form call Black Coral on 0181 520 2881 or send an SAE to: first draft: Focus On Talent 3, 2nd floor, 241 High Street, Walthamstow, London E17 78H.

SHARING STORIES ‘99 gets underway 12—14 November at a new venue; Dynamic Earth. Under the supervision of new director Ros Borland, the international co- production conference will focus solely on television this year. Highlights of the conference include a Script Factory reading of Jimmy McGovern's new drama, LIAM and Cyberpitch, which provides producers with an opportunity to pitch their projects for three £5,000 development money prizes.

Award winner: Drifting

4—18 Nov I999 THE UST 23