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tv   HAR Dtalk  BBC News  November 8, 2021 4:30am-5:00am GMT

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sudanese security forces have fired tear gas at multiple pro—democracy protests in the capital, khartoum. they have also been dismantling barricades that had been erected and set on fire by protesters. the demonstrators had called for two days of civil disobedience to protest against last month's coup. the rappers travis scott and drake are being sued over friday's stampede at the astroworld music festival in the us city of houston in which eight people were killed. prosecutors in texas have filed lawsuits on behalf of relatives against both artists. the stampede happened while scott was performing. the us will shortly reopen its land and air borders to travellers from much of the world. visitors who are fully vaccinated against covid—19 will be allowed to enter the country after a 20 month ban, imposed by former president donald trump in march last year.
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now on bbc news it's hardtalk with stephen sackur. welcome to hardtalk. i'm stephen sackur. what do we go to the cinema for? well, for many, the answer seems to be escape. what other explanation could there be for the seemingly endless supply of franchise—friendly superhero films? my guest today makes films based on an entirely different premise. forfive decades, acclaimed british director mike leigh has told stories about believable characters facing very human dilemmas. they are painstakingly put together and not always easy to watch. is the demand for his kind of artistic vision dwindling?
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mike leigh, welcome to hardtalk. it's very nice to be here. it is great to have you here. we've all lived through difficult times thanks to the covid pandemic. in these, of all times, do you buy into this notion that escapism is a key motivation that gets people to the cinema? well, people want to escape, but people also want to be stimulated. so, i think the false notion is that there is either escapist material or there's boring stuff that isn't escapist, and therefore nobody wants to watch it. i think that's rubbish, basically. my experience over a long time is that people want to be stimulated. no film, no piece of entertainment is any use if it's not actually entertaining, as far as i'm
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concerned, and i make serious films that are also comic as well. i mean, comedy is very much part of what it's all about. alfred hitchcock once said that a woman who spends all day washing and cleaning and ironing does not want to go go to the movies and watch a film about a woman who spends all day washing and cleaning and ironing, and iflatly disagree with alfred hitchcock. my experience is that people, for a good deal of the time, if that's what you give them, are stimulated by being able to relate to what's happening in a movie. but obviously, there are serious movies and there are trivial movies. there's good movies and bad movies. you know, there's always the case for a wide and varied diet, but there's absolutely no question in many people's view, and certainly my experience, that films that are at heart serious and hold a mirror up
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to life are worth it. do you think it's harder to do it that way, to look deep within "ordinary life" to find the entertaining, the important, the funny, than it is to actually spend loads of money, create imaginary worlds? well, that's a slightly complicated and mixed—up question! the question as to whether it's harder — i mean, look, anybody that creates anything, and that includes movies, is an artist of some sort, and what you're motivated to do comes from how you respond to the material. i mean, my natural instinct — and has been all my life, if you like — is to look at the real world and want to make stories out of it. now, of course there are people whose starting point isn't actually the real world as such, and there's some great work made by people where it's all in their heads or all in their imagination
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or all in their sense of fantasy or whatever that might be. the question of the amount of money that's thrown at things is a whole different matter. we'll get to that later because money is important in the mechanics are making films. yeah. let's stick with just the pure idea of what works, what makes for interesting content. i'm just very interested to know, in this time of pandemic when social distancing has made your sort of work very difficult, whether you've looked at how we've all lived and thought, "you know what? "there's some fascinating... "i really want to make a film about something related "to the pandemic." well, that's quite a difficult one. certainly, as the pandemic has progressed in the last 18 months, getting on for two years, certainly what's happened to me is my — and this has happened to everybody — my perception of the ordinary world, of the ordinary business of how we live, has started to shift, because how we live
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has changed. so, it's inevitable that one starts to think about pandemic—age material. you can't help it, basically. so, yes, that is a very strong possibility. people watching and listening to this around the world, some will be very familiar with your work, and i think we're talking about 14 feature films — if i'm not wrong, but then a host of other tv dramas and of course the plays that you've written as well — some will know the work very well, some will not. would it be fair, if we are generalising, would it be fair to say you have always been fascinated by a close—focus look at the social and economic class complexities of this country that you were born in and live in? yes, absolutely. and apart from a film i made in northern ireland, which is called four days injuly, which is a different
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culture, and a play that i made in australia at the end of the �*80s, all my work has been set in this country. and it's my natural habitat and, yes, absolutely. would you characterise this as political? you take on very political subjects, but i wonder if you're fuelled by... well, i suppose to be blunt, anger, a political form of anger. well, here's the thing. i don't make films that say, "think this." i don't. polemics. i don't. all of my films, even my last film, which was the most, the only obviously political film. the peterloo. peterloo. which to those who don't know, the peterloo, the title comes from this democratic movement
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in the early 19th century, which in the northern city of manchester led to thousands of people who wanted a greater voice in british society gathering in a public place and then being moaned down essentially by police on horseback. by government forces. but even that film, political though it obviously is, in the end leaves the audience to consider, to ponder, to reflect on, to discuss. and all of my other films are, in that sense, political with a small p. they're implicitly political because i make films that look at how we live our lives. but they're not polemics. you asked me whether my films are motivated by anger. to some degree, you could say that, but also motivated by compassion and by care about how we live, how we relate, how we survive
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in all of those things. you get inside people's lives, inside their houses, the secrets that lie behind front doors and suburban streets, and that raises the question of how do you know that these are truly authentic? i mean, you are the son of a doctor. yes. a professional in manchester. you portray lives that are much poorer than a life you've ever known. can you be truly authentic in your portrayal? first of all, across the span of films i've made, some of them are indeed about working class life, some of them are about middle—class life and some of them are about what we call posh people. people are people and that's the key to it. as to my knowledge or understanding, i think if you're any good at the job of an artist, you can and should empathise with and understand everything
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and everybody, and i try and do that. but there is something of a preoccupation in our culture with "lived experience" and in the special authenticity that comes with having lived the life that you present in your art, whatever form it may take. do you have that? two things, well, three things, if you like. i live in the real world, i don't live in a vacuum. the second thing is, yes my dad was a doctor in the very working—class area of salford. i went to local schools. i know that world very well and, yes, we were middle class people in a working class area. i've been around, etc. the third thing is, the work that we do, no matter what the subject matter — and that includes films like mr turner about turner the painter, or the first period film
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we made called topsy turvy about the theatrical world in the 1880s of gilbert and sullivan. whatever we do, including the films about working—class life, we spend a very long time — and i say "we" — myself the actors, and everybody else involved researching and understanding, so we know exactly what we're dealing with. i want to talk about the way you work with actors. your films are driven by the degree to which your actors can make believable their characters. how deep they can immerse themselves in character. how do you get them to that level of immersion? the first thing to be said about that is that i work with what we would call character actors, which is to say people that don't just play themselves, actors who not motivated by ego or narcissism. you mean they're not
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hollywood stars? that's also true. no disrespect to all hollywood stars. but british character actors who really are good at, brilliant at, want to play and portray real people out there in the street. are you saying that the star names, the hollywood stars, aren't capable of doing that. i didn't say that. that's why i immediately, when you introduced the subject of hollywood stars, i put a slight motivation on it. i'm not really bothered about criticising or castigating. i don't want to criticise anybody, ijust wonder if you feel when actors reach that level of celebrity, and maybe it's something to do with looks and the degree they become a brand, that makes it impossible for them to do the sort of work you want. to some degree that's true,
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but i would say that there are hollywood stars that are great character after his. but i'm not really in the business of working with american hollywood stars because we have an incredible resource of brilliant british actors. but in the style of yours where you gather the core group together for weeks and weeks of rehearsals. months. months of rehearsal, improvisation, discussion before filming even begins. and as i understand it, often in the beginning, you don't have a script, a plot, you as a team work yes. are there some actors who you take on who then just aren't suitable? very, very seldom. it's happened a tiny, tiny handful of times over a large number of projects over decades. it's very rare. it's partly because i'm rigorous and how i set
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the actors. we have complicated audition processes and so on. sound kind of scary. well, people that do it and are good at it love it, and the more they love it, the better they are at it. but that's true of many skills. there are some fantastic actors who are fantastically good at being real in a heightened way. but doesn't always need to be actors? there are some directors that draw people from what you talk about real life, but who have no acting experience at all because they want that extra level of authenticity. that's arriving by a different route. i best work with professional actors, sophisticated actors who understand the processes of acting.
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because there's more to it thanjust being real in the moment and the drama. the more you arrive that with creating a back story, doing all sorts of work so when you get to that moment, it really is more than rock—solid. it's complicated, and for my sort of work, it demands as i say sophisticated professional actors. i don't think there is any other director who works quite like you do, and it's worked. you've won acclaim and awards all over the world, but particularly in europe. you've won the top award at cannes, the baftas in the united kingdom, and yet it still seems you feel very much like an outsider in the film industry, and i'm wondering why after all that. to some degree, the notion that i'm an outsider in the film industry is more to do with
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whatjournalists have said. i mean, i am an outsider in the sense that... anybody with the money backing a film by me is more desperately threatening prospect than when you see a script and know where the cast is. there's a level of trust you're demanding. you are saying "give me a few million pounds, "but i'm not going to tell you about my films." absolutely, and over the years, that's what happened. only one of two things has happened. they said go for it, here's the money, or they've told us to get lost. i don't wish to be rude, but what i appear to see right now is that more of the money men and women and the film business are telling you to get lost. correct. why? good question.
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i'm here to ask them, you're here to answer. i don't know. maybe someone should phone in. i don't mean to be brutal, is it because for example your last film, which i know you were proud of, it cost a lot of money by your standards because it had a big cast. lots of crowd scenes, 200 actors at one point or another, it cost the best part of 18 million us dollars and it took at the box office less than 2 million. yes, that may have something to do with it, and that's the price we pay. to be honest, i think it's more about the climate, the current climate, but i don't know. i would prefer to pass on that one. when you say the climate, i'm not entirely sure what you mean. in the film industry. there's a hunger. i mean, there's a hunger for obviously commercial stuff, and in that sense, i don't qualify. mike leigh has to ask
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himself a question. is he prepared to bend a little bit? are you prepared to perhaps tailor what you do a little more to what the commercial people in the film business want? i think the answer to that question is it's less a matter of... no, i'm not prepared to do that because i think audiences for my work like what that is. and they want to see that. but they might like something that is different. yes, but here's the thing. i don't know how many of my films you've actually seen. i'm a geezer, so i've seen quite a few. you will know that they considerably. they're not all the same. they all have siblings they have sibling characteristics. but they do vary considerably. at one end of the spectrum, you have comedy like abigail's party
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and nuts in may. at the other end, you've got films like naked. even that film, which is being rereleased commercially, in the cinemas by bfi, has got humour in it. it's about lots of things. so, no, in terms of what you're really asking in terms of what i want to make... either that or bend a little bit on what you said earlier about the kinds of actors you work with. you work with brilliant actors, there's no question that people like timothy spall, who you've made at least half a dozen movies with, are brilliant actors, but they did not movies with, are brilliant actors, but they are maybe not on the top of the billboard to get the kinds of people who are into your movies that haven't traditionally seen a mike leigh movie.
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that may be right, but i don't think... i've seen the logic, but it doesn't really wash. it's not really what it's about. how bleak are you? i just wonder if you're feeling particularly bleak to the point where you're close to giving up, because this is a quote from an updated version of a book leon lee, you are quoted as saying, "my unscripted films, just not commercial, fair enough." "that's the way it is these days. "it is just a shock after half a century to discover "that the game is up, the joke is over and the curtain "is probably coming down." i think i should be allowed a little hyperbole. laughter i'm not bleak and i'm not giving up. i in fact, i don't remember saying that, but i know i did. it's in the book. i'm not at all pessimistic, to be honest.
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a broader question about the culture. there's a lot of discussion and i have it with different artists in different media at the moment about the culture we live in, the focus on identity, representation, offence causing and how to respond to that. whether the art needs to provide safe spaces to people. rather than challenge and threaten them. do you feel our 21st century culture is somewhat confused about what art is for and how it should be seen? well, i certainly am extremely cautious about box ticking. what to you is box ticking? box ticking is... we all agree about diversity, there's no question about that, but if you do things for the wrong reasons — and that includes what we were talking about a few minutes ago, about hollywood stores.
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who you put into movies. the important thing is that everything has to be done for the right reasons and with integrity, and in a serious way. it's very, very... i repeat what i said earlier. it's very possible to get confused about what it is about as far as i'm concerned. it is about entertainment. all sorts of things to say on all sorts of different levels about lives and people and how we live and also is entertaining. but moore has changed in cultural attitudes, but mores has changed and cultural attitudes change. and you mentioned the film
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naked which is being released. there are scenes in that film that are very difficult to watch. there are rape scenes and there is a character who is clearly a rapist in the movie. some women have found that difficult to take and don't like that movie and say that it offends them. what is your response to that? do you look back at some of your movies and think you wouldn't have made that today? well, if i do feel that i wouldn't make naked today, it awas made nearly 30 years ago, it isn't for that reason. it's merely that we move on anyway. to be honest, if i really felt that about naked, we wouldn't have done a restoration and it wouldn't be going out on the re—released right now. i don't think that. the important thing about the rapist, and there is one in naked, is he is not the central character. he is actually there is much
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as anything to upset the notion that the central character is a misogynist, which he isn't. it's a complex film, so i think these things... we have to be careful because not everything is black and white. final thought. you made it pretty clear to me that film—making for you is ongoing. there is no way, even if you struggle to get the money, you're packing it in. that the real point. struggling is struggling, but that doesn't mean the battle is over. simple as that! filmmaking is an important part of our cultural. i've been involved with young film—makers and there's all sorts of things happening which are incredibly exciting and by no means is that in any shape orform obvious old —fashioned commercial stuff. people are doing all sorts of things with this magical medium. i agree. that's a lovely way to end.
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thank you very much for being on hardtalk. thank you. thanks a lot. hello. after a bright and blustery sunday, lighter winds for monday morning mean it will feel colder out there. in fact, the start of monday looks to be the coldest part of the week ahead but the milder air isn't too far away from coming back with these set of weather fronts about to move in from the atlantic with thicker cloud and some patchy rain, heading into westernmost parts of the uk to begin the day, especially into northern ireland. where skies have stayed clear for long enough overnight across eastern scotland and eastern england, this is where temperatures will have fallen low enough with those light winds for a touch of frost. any early sunshine isn't going to last too long here as cloud increases.
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the rain from northern ireland will then gradually move across scotland as the day goes on, heaviest in the west, into north west england and wales — though much of the midlands, eastern and southern england, will stay largely dry during daylight hours. the milder air lifting the temperature in belfast to 15 degrees. still feeling quite chilly into eastern parts of england with the cloud increasing after that frosty start — around 10 degrees in norwich. further outbreaks of rain overnight and into tuesday through northern ireland and scotland, pushing into parts of northern england. it will be a much milder night overnight and into tuesday — double—figure temperatures for many of the larger town and city centres as we start the day. this weather front is only very slowly edging southwards on tuesday, so from it there'll be cloud and some outbreaks of rain into northern england and wales, eventually pushing into parts of the midlands and south west england. east anglia and the south—east, will stay largely dry — a few hazy, sunny spells. a brighter day in scotland and northern ireland, albeit a few showery bursts of rain spreading their way southwards during the day, and temperatures are definitely on the mild side of average, and that's where they're going to stay for the rest of the week. this weather front is still around into wednesday — in fact, there will be another pulse of energy
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running along it. it looks as if that will bring some outbreaks of rain into parts of wales and england on wednesday. a bright day in scotland and northern ireland. there will be a few showers just edging towards north—west scotland during the day. and again, those temperatures, for the most part, are into double figures. again, that's where they are going to stay for the rest of the week. a fair amount of cloud around, some sunny spells here and there, and another set of atlantic weather fronts beginning to take some rain southwards from scotland and northern ireland into wales and england as we head towards the end of the week. bye— bye.
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this is bbc news. i'm sally bundock with the latest headlines for viewers in the uk and around the world. an emergency debate in the british parliament, as the government comes under fire over allegations of sleaze and corruption. after more than 18 months, america finally re—opens its doors to welcome fully—vaccinated visitors to the country. chanting. security forces fire tear gas at protesters in sudan, as the demonstrators call for a return of civilian rule. and 70 members of an italian crime family are sentenced in the county's biggest mafia trial in decades.

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