Francesca Rudkin

Francesca Rudkin

Over the last 15 years Francesca Rudkin has been working in the media as a film and music reviewer (NZ Herald, Breakfast TV), a television presenter and producer, and voice over artist. Recently, Francesca joined Rialto Channel as their resident blogger, allowing her to indulge in her love of world cinema. Her next challenge is to convince her young children that being a “Cinephile” is a legitimate profession.

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CHRISTOPHER PRYOR for The Ground We Won

Posted on Wednesday 6/29/2016 June, 2016 by Francesca Rudkin

For a country mad about rugby, very few films have ever been made about it. The Ground We Won is a visually beautiful, moving, funny and confronting documentary that captures a year in the life of the Reporoa rugby team.

It’s the work of director Christopher Pryor and producer Miriam Smith, an award-winning husband and wife filmmaking team, who have this innate ability to capture who we are as New Zealanders on screen. Their films are authentic and allow the subjects to speak for themselves, have a cinematic aesthetic, and say so much more about life in New Zealand than you first realise. The Ground We Won might be a film based around a rugby team, but it’s just as much a film about life on the land, friendship, growing up and male identity.

The Ground We Won premiered in April 2015 during the NZ International Film Festival’s autumn series, and was described as "visually ravishing" (The Herald's Peter Calder), "strikingly beautiful" (Metro) and "pure social-commentary gold" (The Listener).

It truly is a must see.

Director Christopher Pryor kindly took the time to have a chat about the film.  

Rialto: What drew you to Reporoa, and why did you choose a rural setting to explore the culture of rugby?


CP: The project began as an attempt, by us ‘rugby outsiders’, to understand why rugby plays such an important part in New Zealand culture - and more specifically, what part it plays in defining masculinity in our culture. We (’we’ being my filmmaking partner and wife Miriam Smith), felt that is was important to explore this in the rural setting, as opposed to the city, as it’s here that so much of the mythology that surrounds rugby originated. Many of the values and expectations of Rugby (can I say rugby with a capital R?) are linked to those values and expectations of the pioneering farming communities from which the game developed. Being a stark contrast to today’s commercialism of sport, we were very interested to see what, if any, of the mythology could be found alive today.

We happened to be driving through the dairy farming heartland of Reporoa as we were completing our last film (How Far is Heaven), when we saw the Reporoa rugby club from the road. We decided we had to go back and meet the team - which we did. And we weren't disappointed!

Rialto: Three main characters emerge – Peanut, Kelvin and Broomy – when did you know they would be the teammates you’d focus on?


CP: Kelvin and Peanut were among the first of the team members we meet during our research trips, and we knew immediately that these two would be central to the film we wanted to make. One of my first memories of meeting Kelvin was hearing him say, “I always thought someone should make a film about us”. Broomy hadn’t been playing that year, so it wasn’t until we’d began shooting the film that we met him. Of course the whole team were stars in their own right, but we settled on these three largely because, for us, they represented three different ‘stages of manhood’ in our study of masculinity. Peanut being the youngest, has the challenge of proving himself amongst the other men - while Broomy, the ‘life-of-the-party’, is also at the time in his life where he’s taking on more responsibility for the family farm - and Kelvin, one of the most senior players in the team, seeks to pass on his knowledge to the next generation of players.

Rialto: You filmed in Reporoa for a year, how much footage did you shoot and how easy was it crafting it into The Ground We Won?

CP: We ended up with around 200 hours of footage. The general shape of the film came together quickly, but it took ages to refine it (about a year), as the smallest changes could have large consequences to tone, mood and general coherence. The hardest part was, as always, having to exclude all the amazing moments that you’ve captured but don’t belong it the film - heartbreaking stuff!


Rialto: Why did you decide to shoot in black and white?

We decided to shoot the film in black & white for a number of reasons. First of all, it was about evoking a sense of timelessness. What you see unfold in the film, both on the rugby field and on the farm, happens not only in the present moment, but could well have happened decades ago. It’s an allusion to the historical, and also the mythological. Another important reason for filming in black & white was that we wanted to distinguish the film from the flood of rugby related images we all receive on a daily basis in the media. We wanted to look at this subject in a different light, we wanted to communicate to the audience our wishes that they too look at this overly familiar subject from a different perspective. I simply do not think we could have ever made this film in colour.

Rialto: You self-distributed How Far is Heaven – did you tackle that job again with The Ground We Won? What’s the appeal of self-distribution?

CP: Yes, we self-distributed The Ground We Won in cinemas across New Zealand. You have a tremendous sense of agency by taking this approach, but it’s not for the faint hearted - it involves a huge amount of work and risk, and it all comes just when you’re at your most exhausted (having just completed the film). We honed some skills and gained a lot of experience through self-distributing How Far is Heaven, but it really was thanks to our outstanding publicists at Trigger Marketing & Publicity that the film’s release was the success that is was.

Rialto: What was the response like in Reporoa to the film?


We first screened the film off a little projector to the guys at the Reporoa Rugby Club just before we completed the editing. We were nervous, they were nervous - but the response was wonderful! Which, after all that filming, and all that editing, was a tremendous relief. We just wish we’d recorded that first response, as it would have made for a hilariously entertaining DVD commentary track. We were so pleased that the guys felt we represented them and their world accurately, authentically. That said, there were a few requests for a more X-rated version…

Rialto: Do you and Miriam still regard yourselves as ‘rugby outsiders’, or have you developed a fondness for the game and all it entails?

We are now, of course, huge Reporoa supporters, and can appreciate the game itself much more - particular at the grass-roots level. Personally I have a deeper understanding of what positive contribution the game offers an individual or community - and at the same time seeing where there might be room for some changes.


Rialto: And finally, what fabulous new project are you currently working on?

Though we’re certainly not giving up on documentary, we’re very excited to be working on some scripted-drama projects. We hope to retain something of that bottled-lightning feeling that comes with documentary making, and at the same time knowing what the ending is going to be before we start filming...

The best indie films and documentaries on TV this week.

Posted on Monday 6/27/2016 June, 2016 by Francesca Rudkin

Until midnight Wednesday, Rialto Channel remains unlocked for all SKY Basic Subscribers so you can catch the first episode of the international crime thriller The Last Panthers. The series stars Oscar nominees John Hurt and Samantha Morton, French actor Tahar Rahim (A Prophet) and Croatian actor Goran Bogdan. Recently I had the pleasure of talking to Morton about working on this groundbreaking series and the impact it’s had. You can read that interview here.

And, here are a few picks for the week...

The Last Panthers: Episode 1… Tuesday 28th June, 8.30pm

The Last Panthers is a six part television crime series written by Jack Thorne (This is England) and directed by Johan Renck (Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead).

It tells the real life story of a Serbian criminal gang known as the Pink Panthers, who at the beginning of the millennium terrorized European jewellers with daring daylight robberies, until they mysteriously disappeared a decade later. The series picks up their story in present day Marseilles, when a diamond heist goes terribly wrong, and a 6 year-old girl is killed by a stray bullet in the getaway. It’s a simple but horrifying scene, and warns you of Renck’s approach to portraying the horror of life in the criminal underworld as unflinchingly real, violent and dangerous.

The heist introduces us to a fascinating and diverse group of characters who are all intent on finding the stolen diamonds or solving the murder case. Within each episode, however, subplots reveal the often-tragic personal stories that define the core characters.

There’s Naomi (Morton), a British insurance loss adjuster who previously worked for the UN during the Bosnian war, and her nefarious boss Tom (Hurt) who launch their own investigation into the theft of the diamonds.

In Marseille, French-Algerian cop Khalil, played by Tahar Rahim, in his first television role, attempts to find whoever killed the girl by tracing the murder weapon. It’s an investigation that sees Khalil go head to head with local gun and drug smugglers, including his brother Mokhtar (Kamel Labroudi). 

And at the heart of the story is Serbian gang member Milan (Goran Bogdan), whose actions are driven by a brother in desperate need of expensive surgery.

The series is sophisticated and excellently written, and cleverly navigates various plotlines that take us on a grim journey across Europe. With Renck at the helm, The Last Panthers has a moody, cinematic atmosphere and the acting is superb all round. On a slightly quirkier note, one of my colleagues commented The Last Panthers has the best collection of noses ever gathered in a television series. Watch, and you’ll see she’s right on the money.

The Ground We Won  … Wednesday 29th June, 8.30pm

For a country mad about rugby, very few films have ever been made about it. The Ground We Won is a visually beautiful, moving, funny and confronting documentary that captures a year in the life of the Reporoa rugby team. It’s a film about life on the land, friendship, growing up and male identity, and is the work of award-winning husband and wife filmmaking duo Christopher Pryor and Miriam Smith (How Far Is Heaven). The Ground We Won was released last year, and was described as "visually ravishing" (The Herald's Peter Calder), "strikingly beautiful" (Metro) and "pure social-commentary gold" (The Listener). It’s a must see.

Boulevard  … Saturday 2nd July, 8.30pm


This is Robin Williams final screen role and it’s an interesting affair. Written by Douglas Soesbe and directed by Dito Montiel (A Guide to Recognising Your Saints), Boulevard tells the story of Nolan Mack (Williams), a married closeted 60 year old bank clerk who befriends a young street hustler called Leo (Roberto Aguire), and decides its time to come out of the closet. Williams is quiet and almost dour as Nolan, even as his life is being turned upside down, and it’s up to his wife Joy (Kathy Baker) to add some emotion to proceedings as she vents her frustration and anger at what’s unfolding.

There are some nice moments, such as Nolan telling his dying, homophobic father about the moment he realised he was gay as a 12 year old, and some nice ideas, such as you’re never too old to be yourself and find happiness, and yet a sense of sadness prevails, and it’s hard not to be thinking about what might have been going through Williams head during this shoot.

This is a dignified performance from the comedian, and a reminder that he wasn’t just “Robert Ne Niro for nine year olds” who did kids movies, but a versatile actor who could make us feel as much as he could make us laugh.

SAMANTHA MORTON for The Last Panthers

Posted on Friday 6/24/2016 June, 2016 by Francesca Rudkin

Academy award winning actress Samantha Morton stars in The Last Panthers, a raw and gripping six part television series based on the research by French journalist Jérôme Pierrat into the legendary Eastern European gang of diamond thieves known as the Pink Panthers.  

The series written by Jack Thorne (This is England) and directed by Johan Renck (Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead), also stars John Hurt, French actor Tahar Rahim and Croatian actor Goran Bogdan.

Multiple storylines take us across Europe, and travel back and forth in time from the days of the 1995 Balkan conflict to the present, revealing to us a new world of organized crime where traffickers, drug dealers, bankers and war criminals do business together.

The writing and acting is top notch, and it’s a project Samantha Morton is proud to be part of. In the middle of eating her dinner and on the eve of moving house, Morton was more than happy to have a chat with Rialto Channel about The Last Panthers, and the effect the series has had on her.


Rialto: What were your first thoughts when you read the script?

SM: I didn’t read the script, first I met Johan Renck, Peter Carlton [Producer], and Jack Thorne and they kind of talked me through it, because when you read it, imagine there are so many characters and so many different countries and so many plotlines it’s hard work. So it was a matter of understanding it all and seeing if I was Naomi, and kind of how we were all on the same page, and that was just amazing. So, when they sent me the scripts I was absolutely gripped because I’d already had a meeting.

Rialto: It’s such a remarkable and unnerving story based on real events, what’s the reaction been like to the series in Europe?

SM: I think people have been blown away the rawness, and the realness of such a brave story, because ultimately people don’t want to say this stuff. They want Game of Thrones, they want to be in La La Land, they want fantasy – l mean look at all the superhero movies out there. This is as real as it gets.

When you look at the refugee crisis in Europe, when you look at everything to do with what the British military have done all over the world, when you look at British royal colonization and all of that, this is everything come back to haunt them.

I think that everything in the Balkans, the United Nations did nothing, really. I mean what does that stand for now? I’m embarrassed and humiliated when I think a lot of actors are very kind of proud and they want to be on the UN peace keeping mission or whatever for women or this that and the next thing, but ultimately … it is a shambles. An utterly impartial bollocks – it drives me crackers.

At the moment the refugee crisis that we’re having here and the fact people don’t want to let them in and look after them and help them, these are problems we’re created in past that are coming back to bite us in the bum. I think that we need to be there for people, support people and help people, and we’re not.

Rialto: The Last Panthers does feel like a wake up call, which is one of the reasons the series is so chilling.  

SM: It is entertainment, but also Jack Throne is an incredibly clever writer in the fact that he’s saying ‘yes this is real’ but look at what we’re doing everywhere else and look at the consequences of our actions. For me playing Naomi, and playing someone over a 20-year period and a woman also whose  past isn’t ruled by being a wife or a girlfriend or a mother or a sister, I’m just me. I’m literally this character that exists because she has a right to be there because of who she is, not who she is to someone else… She’s interesting in the fact that she is the kind of protagonist, the kind of part that is normally given to men.  

Rialto: You play an insurance loss adjuster – did you know what they did before this role?

SM: Yes I did… but I didn’t realise the lengths that they went to and I didn’t realise that they operated in their own bubble and their own world, and I found that fascinating.

Rialto: We meet Naomi at various ages and stages of her life – which stage did you find the most challenging?

SM: The present. Naomi lives in the past, but in the present. So I found that really hard playing someone who is almost like a ghost, some who has suffered post traumatic stress really because what happened to her in the 90s that she didn’t have any therapy or help for, and that pushed her towards alcoholism and coldness and living in a world that ultimately she has to control because of past events.


Rialto: Films and TV series aren’t shot in order – was it tricky keeping track of where Naomi was at, what information has already been revealed and what was still to be implied?

SM: What we did shoot that was incredible, was we shot in location sequence, so that helped me massively. So the London stuff was all when she was older and we shot that mostly in sequence. So actually, [thanks to] Johan Renck and Peter Carlton, I was very privileged and lucky that I went in that sequence, and my past that we shot in Serbia and Montenegro, we shot in sequence pretty much so I was blessed. It was like a dream job. You hear of some actors in some jobs and on the first day you’re doing that last scene of the film and there was none of that. Johan was as much as humanly possible as supportive of the actors as he could be, because it was all about keeping it real... there’s a lot of authenticity there.

Rialto: There’s a sense that authenticity was the priority for everyone involved in this project.

SM: We didn’t make this thinking we wanted to please anybody, we made it with an agenda of truth and we don’t apologise for that. We made it with the best integrity in terms of this is what this is about, and not everybody is going to love it and not everybody is going to like it and it’s not going to answer questions for everybody, but what it is, is a piece of morality and take it or leave it, and I feel very proud of everyone for that.

Rialto: Often TV series have several directors at the helm but with such a complex story such as this, you can see the impact of having Johan at the helm throughout.

SM: Yes, it’s rare. Before this I hadn’t done television for over 20 years. I’ve done television I’m very proud of, but again I had loads of different directors. This is Johan’s voice, this is his message – it’s also not just that, it’s his look - he has a very definitely Johan Renck look going on and that’s his identity as a filmmaker and that was a privilege to be a part of. 

Rialto: Do you think there’s a chance we might see Naomi again?

SM: I don’t know, I don’t think so, but I don’t know. I know they’re not writing any more at the moment or doing anymore at the moment but I could be wrong. I think this story is what it is and it’s an individual story but if they decided Naomi had other things to do I would play her again in a heartbeat. But I don’t see that on the table right now. Sometimes in life things are what they are, and you have to say goodbye.

Rialto: How much fun was it working with John Hurt who plays your boss Tom?


SM: Gosh he’s a hero of mine and I was a mixture of excited and nervous. He is a gentleman, he was kind, he was passionate, and he was tough on the writer and the director to get it right. Gosh he was a revelation. He’s been around a very long time and I love watching him work, I will remember it forever.

Rialto: The series features a very international cast, what was it like working with Goran Bogdan.


SM: He’s a sweetie. I found it really humbling actually to work with people who aren’t full of bollocks. Movie stars – I can’t bear that kind of that movie star vibe and the politics on set. Look I’m from Nottingham in England and we’re very real if you like, and I hate the crap that’s in the industry that’s about ego and power and games that people play, and it was so refreshing. I loved every minute of it because it was all about the work and not about who you are. Goran is amazingly talented but humble in listening to Johan and taking direction – he was amazing.

I didn’t have much to do with Tahar, but again when I had a scene with him I was, gosh this is just insane. He’s all about the work and all about the truth. He’s a huge star in France and I was so nervous that he might be a diva or a movie star and he wasn’t. He’s just incredibly talented and kind and ready to experiment, and it was refreshing having spent ten years in Hollywood.

Rialto: David Bowie wrote the amazing title track to the series – did you ever meet him?

SM: I didn’t, but I went to a concert in Madison Square Garden. When he was doing the music obviously we didn’t know he was sick, and he’d seen The Last Panthers and the fact that he’d given it his blessing - even thinking about it makes me emotional - he must have seen something in this film that we saw in it, and it’s like getting a seal of approval.


The Last Panthers kicks off on Tuesday 28th June, 8.30pm on Rialto Channel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



The best indie films and documentaries on TV this week

Posted on Monday 6/20/2016 June, 2016 by Francesca Rudkin

This week on Rialto Channel catch the brand new French spy thriller series The Bureau, and there's a box set on Sunday of This is England ’90.  

Walt Disney: Part 1… Thursday 23rd June, 8.30pm


This two part documentary series looks at the life and career of one of the most loved creators of all time; Walt Disney. Filled with expert talking heads and fabulous archive footage this in depth documentary looks at Disney’s childhood, early films and the creation of Mickey Mouse, and Disneyland. It’s a documentary that can be shared with your kids, and a wonderful reminder of what a visionary Walt Disney was. Catch Part 2 on Thursday 30th June at 8.30pm.

The Bureau: Series 1, Episode 1 … Friday 24th June, 8.30pm


Recently we’ve seen an increase in television networks committing huge budgets to cinematic programming, producing television series with a high quality of writing, production and casting, and the French television industry is no different. Following on from The Returned, Braquo and up coming Netflix production Marseille is espionage drama The Bureau. Staring film actors Mathieu Kassovitz and Jean-Pierre Darroussin, The Bureau follows secret agent Malotru (Kassovitz) who is abruptly brought back to Paris after working undercover for in Syria for 6 years. Once back home there’s little time to readjust to ‘normal life’ as Malotru deals with the sudden disappearance of another undercover agent, and prepares a new recruit for a mission in Iran. The first episode introduces us to all the players, and by the time the second episode is finished there’s plenty of engaging subplots in play. It’s no surprise The Bureau won Best TV Series from the French Syndicate of Cinema Critics earlier in the year.

The One I Love … Saturday 25th June, 8.30pm


This relationship drama is the debut feature film from American author Charlie McDowell, and tells the story of a couple (Elizabeth Moss and Mark Duplass) on the brink of divorce who on the advice of their marriage counselor (Ted Danson) head off on a weekend retreat to save their relationship. It’s a smartly written script by Charlie McDowell (son of actress Mary Steenburgen) who is known for his witty twitter feed and the book it produced Dear Girls Above Me, and it’s filled with astute observations about relationships, as well as an unexpected surreal twist. Apart from a brief appearance by Danson, Moss and Duplass (who also produced the film) are the only two people in the film, and for the most part, do an excellent job holding our attention. However, The One I Love gets a little bit too clever for it’s own good at times, and McDowell’s characters are far from endearing – even after 90 minutes.

This is England ’90… Sunday 26th June - all four episodes from 5.50pm


Created by screenwriter and director Shane Meadows. Since the original feature film was released in 2006, there have been three television series documenting the lives of a group of working class friends from Sheffield. The film kicked off in 1983, and this final episode wraps up the lives of Lol, Milky, Woody and the rest of their mates in the 90s as the rave culture emerges on the British music scene. While there are no plans to make any more television series, Meadows was recently reported as saying he wouldn’t mind bookending the This is England saga with another feature film. In the meantime, get nostalgic and enjoy what quite possibly will be the last of this motley crew.

Francesca’s Picks for the Week

Posted on Monday 6/13/2016 June, 2016 by Francesca Rudkin

When you think of Ryan Reynolds, mainstream movies such as The Proposal or The Green Lantern come to mind, and yet this Canadian actor has an impressive list of indie films to his name as well. The Nines, Paper Man and Buried are just a few, as well as 2014’s The Voices, directed by Marjane Satrapi. Both Buried and The Voices are Black List films, meaning before they were produced, their scripts made it on to a list that recognises the year's most-liked unproduced screenplays as voted on by film executives and industry insiders. According to the blcklst.com website, “The Black List is where filmmakers find great material to make films and great material finds filmmakers to make them.” It’s also home to Scott Myers' screenwriting blog Go Into The Story, which is very much worth a read if you’ve got the time.

Francesca’s Picks for the Week

Posted on Friday 6/3/2016 June, 2016 by Francesca Rudkin

Tennis fans can take a break from Roland Garros this week and immerse themselves in the fascinating documentary Althea about one of the game’s great players, Althea Gibson. A moving and inspirational story, the film documents her life and career, including the many obstacles she had to overcome to become the number one female tennis player in the world. Catch Althea this Wednesday evening at 8.30pm in Rialto Presenters: Sports Stories introduced by Willie Los’e

Here are my highlights for the week. 

Rialto Presenters - Willie Los’e

Posted on Wednesday 6/1/2016 June, 2016 by Francesca Rudkin


The series Rialto Presenters continues on Wednesday evenings throughout June, and this month former Tongan Rugby International, Auckland and North Harbour player, sports broadcaster and commentator Willie Los’e introduces a diverse collection of sports documentaries. 

The Sports Stories series begins with fish out of water story We Must Go (Wednesday 1st June, 8.30pm), a film that documents the journey of American Bob Bradley who takes on the job of coaching the Egyptian National Soccer team as they fight to reach the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

Francesca’s Picks for the Week

Posted on Monday 5/30/2016 May, 2016 by Francesca Rudkin


Rialto Channel’s A Celebration of Cannes wraps up with this week with two must see films; Swedish satirical comedy Force Majeure and excellent coming of age drama Girlhood. As sad as it is to see May come to an end, there’s plenty on offer throughout June to look forward to including the much lauded television shows This is England ’90 and The Last Panthers starirng Samantha Morton and John Hurt. Also throughout June, Willie Los’e presents a collection of sports documentaries including the fabulous New Zealand documentary The Ground We Won.  

And, here are my highlights for the week.

Francesca’s Picks for the Week

Posted on Monday 5/23/2016 May, 2016 by Francesca Rudkin



Well the 2016 Cannes Film Festival has come to a close with British director Ken Loach winning the Palme d’Or for the second time in his career with his social drama I, Daniel Blake. The film tells the story of an ailing carpenter’s struggle against the bureaucracy of the healthcare system and was well received at the festival. French Canadian director Xavier Dolan (Mommy) took home the Grand Prize for his film It’s Only The End Of The World. The film tells the story of a writer who returns home to tell his father he is dying, and it received mixed reviews in Cannes making it one of the more controversial winners this year. Another British director, Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank, Red Road) took home third prize, the Jury Prize for her film American Honey

Here’s a full list of this years winners. 

Francesca’s Picks for the Week

Posted on Monday 5/16/2016 May, 2016 by Francesca Rudkin



One week into the 2016 Cannes Film Festival and the premiere of Woody Allen’s new film Cafe Society has been overshadowed by allegations of sexual assault, Julia Roberts scandalously walked barefoot on the red carpet, and George Clooney has taken every opportunity to denounce Donald Trump. In amongst all the scandal, politicking and fashion, there have been some great films on show too! Check out Indiewire’s excellent coverage of the Cannes Film Festival at www.indiewire.com

Here are my picks for the week. 

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