The Crime of the Century

Whenever Dylan Mohan Gray, the director of Fire in the Blood, is asked what the film is about, these are the words he uses: “the crime of the century.” This impressive and highly-engrossing film tells the story of big pharma, patent law, and how profit is placed before human life.
The film tells the story of the struggle to enable access to medicine for AIDS victims in Sub-Saharan Africa, who were still dying in their millions for many years after antiretroviral drugs had transformed HIV into a treatable condition in the West. 10 million or more people died preventable deaths as a direct result of Western pharmaceutical companies and governments blocking access to affordable, available generic medicine.

The documentary puts a human face on the issue, with many memorable contributions both from well-known names and from ordinary Africans affected by the virus. HIV-positive Human rights activist Zackie Achmat refused to take antiretroviral treatment, despite rapidly failing health, until the South African government publicly funded the medicines for all. Yusuf Hamied, the chairman of Indian generic drug company CIPLA, turned the tide when he offered to supply the AIDS drugs for less than $1 a day to developing countries, and to share the technological knowledge necessary for production. Lisa Kalolo, a South-African child faced a bleak future, but thanks to ART she is now attending school and living a normal life.

However, although the AIDS situation appears to be solved, we are warned that those currently taking “first-line” ARVs will, in the future, have to change to more complex ARVs which are not, and are unlikely to be, available in generic form. Director Dylan Mohan Gray also points out that AIDS in the developing world is only part of the scandal of big pharma and patent regulation: almost 50% of Americans are unable to afford their prescriptions, and approximately 33% of deaths worldwide each year are caused by treatable and preventable diseases. This situation looks set to disimprove significantly as American and European trade measures continue to cut off the supply of affordable drugs from India.

This is an important film about a significant matter which is of relevance to anyone. The implications for the world from this issue are wide ranging, and it almost feels as if Fire in the Blood should just be the first of a series of documentaries that explores the future of access to affordable medicine. This affects us all. Please watch this film.

For more information, or to find a screening near you, visit http://www.fireintheblood.com.

Mary Tynan

i-qMS6qQK

A Tale of two Cities

Good Vibrations and Spike Island at the London Film Festival

I had great plans for the London film festival, with many press screenings marked out on my diary.  Unfortunately timing was against me, as it turned out to be a very busy period in my other two jobs (acting and teaching), and apart from “A Liar’s Autobiography,” which got cancelled (read the article here), I actually only ended up at two screenings.  But they were good ones.

Good Vibrations

My regular readers (if there are such people) will be aware that I enjoy a bit of music from the 1980s, so I was in a positive frame of mind when I turned up to see Good Vibrations – The Story of Terri Hooley.

For every Richard Branson, there are probably hundreds of Terri Hooleys.  Known as the Godfather of Ulster Punk, Terri was the owner of Good Vibrations record shop and label, was responsible for discovering the Undertones, and encouraged punk and alternative music to flourish during a dark time in Northern Ireland’s history.  I imagine that there were people like him in towns and cities all over the UK and Ireland during the 70s and 80s; running record shops, managing and/or playing in bands, and organising events.  Do these people ever make a profit in the long run or do their charming mix of naivety and idealism work against them in the end?  Good Vibrations never released a top 40 record, and Terri sold the rights to “Teenage Kicks” for £500 and a signed photo of The Shangri Las (which he never got.)  But that isn’t the point, as this film shows: Terri Hooley made a lot of people very happy, which was in itself no mean feat in Belfast at the height of the troubles.

This was a highly enjoyable film from start to finish.  Richard Dormer made an excellent Terri, and I particularly enjoyed Jodie Whittaker’s performance as his wife.  It’s hard to pick out anyone else as cast lists are not given out at press screening, but everyone performed very well.  It would have been nice to have a few more female characters – maybe some girls who hung around the record shop for instance – but apart from that I completely loved it.  One particularly memorable scene is when an RUC officer is hassling a girl in a bar for suspected underage drinking and Terri comes over and tells him he’d like to report a civil war.  Scenes like these show the bravery of the character as well as the naivety and idealism.

Of course, being a film about music, the soundtrack is a major part of the experience.  Set in a fertile time for Northern Irish music, the tracks chosen add to the energy and exuberance of the story, as obviously does the setting with its air of menace just under the surface.

Go and see this if you’re interested in music, Belfast, or just plain enjoy a good film.

Spike Island

Good Vibrations is a true story about a real man, with a real record shop/label, and the punk scene in Belfast, whereas Spike Island, my second choice of film, is a coming of age drama set in Manchester in the 1990s with the music of the Stone Roses providing more of a secondary theme.  As such it worked well, and the soundtrack (a mix of the Roses and the characters own band, Shadow Caster) added greatly to the ambience and power of the film.  The characters did seem to blend into each other a bit at points, and some of what could have been more potent moments could have been better explained (I was never sure why one boy joined the army for instance).  Having more female characters would have added more variety, and this film does not have the excuse of being a true story as a reason for not doing so.  Teenagers since the 1960s or 1970s onwards generally tend to hang around in groups of both sexes (I did) and the whole male bonding theme seemed to me a little old-fashioned.

That said, the music really lifts everything up, and the festival atmosphere of Spike Island and young love is captured perfectly (leaving aside the dubious morality of deserting your father on his deathbed to go to a Stone Roses concert that you don’t even have tickets for!)

Once again, I am hampered by a lack of a cast list, however everyone concerned gave a very competent performance, with Emilia Clarke standing out in particular.

Go and see this film if you enjoy a good coming of age drama with an excellent soundtrack, or want to recapture your youth!

Mary Tynan

A Liar’s Autobiography

Anyone who knows me reasonably well will be aware of my penchant for Python (almost to the point of annoyance sometimes to those who don’t share my sense of humour), so, as you can imagine, I was looking forward to this film enormously.  Unfortunately, I am still looking forward to it!  Due to technical hitches with both the 3D and 2D versions, the press screening failed to take place at the allotted time, and the press conference went ahead with the majority of journalists present (myself included) not having seen the film.  Which could be described as just a little bit silly …..

Director Bill Jones described Graham Chapman’s memorial service as the first time he got drunk, and spoke of the film as a way of celebrating Chapman’s life and achievements.  Terry Jones spoke of Graham as a complex individual who didn’t really understand himself and who was looking for who he was.  Michael Palin described the film as a homage to Graham, and confirmed that it was as close to a Python reunion as we were ever likely to get.  Both spoke of Graham’s sense of stillness, and described him as their leading actor.  As the press hadn’t seen the film yet, a lot of the questions from the floor were more generally about the Python oeuvre than specifically about the film in question, which led to some interesting reminiscing such as Terry Jones describing smuggling the tapes of Series I out of the BBC to copy on a Phillips VCR before they were destroyed.

The screening has been rescheduled for 4pm this afternoon, but unfortunately one of my other jobs prevents my attending (plug for The Castle at the Lord Stanley in Camden, opening tonight:) but I can tell you that the film uses audio recordings of Graham’s reading of his book, subtitled The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman, combined with different styles of animation to reflect the different styles of humour, with fourteen different animation studios being involved in the production.  Not having seen it yet, I cannot give an informed opinion as to it’s watchability, but with John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Michael Palin and Terry Jones all involved (Terry Jones plays Graham’s mother, apparently), not to mention the late Graham Chapman (as himself) I know I definitely will be giving it a viewing as soon as I get the chance.

And now for something completely different.

A Liar’s Autobiography is showing tonight at 9pm at Leiceister Square Empire and on Friday at VUE West End at 3pm as part of the London Film Festival.

Mary Tynan