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Thursday, 30 December 2010

One-Horned Horse Put Them Together Again

‘Crawling From Darkness to Find Light

This piece was  first published as Movie Review: Porcelain Unicorn on Blogcritics.

Just when you think you’ve seen enough Holocaust-related Art to last several life-times, along comes a piece which has you begging for more.

Porcelain Unicorn, the winning short in this year’s Tell It Your Way  Parallel Lines film-making contest run by Philips Cinema  was inspired by true war stories and a Joseph Conrad novel.

In barely three minutes  and using only the six set lines of dialogue permitted by the competition rules, American Keegan Wilcox manages to evoke the era’s gratuitous brutality, unexpected kindnesses and great heroism while showing how an early experience may inspire deeds at a later stage in life. Rarely have I been so moved in so short a time by a Holocaust-related film.

The story is of a Hitler Youth member befriending an Anne Frank-type character after finding her in hiding in an otherwise abandoned house. It then portrays how and and why he seeks her out many years after the war has ended.

Wilcox, who has had his own commercial film production company for three years, says:

“I was inspired by my grandfather and his experiences in the war. I wanted to shape that around a classic narrative structure, like the 'hero's journey' from a Joseph Conrad novel. Something where our protagonist must crawl into the darkness to find the light. We all connect to that on a visceral level.”

He could not have chosen a more apt motif for Holocaust survival as the mythical horse is said to be a symbol of endurance, perseverance Unicornand wisdom.

Wilcox’s entry was chosen by the English film director, Sir Ridley Scott who added:

“I chose Porcelain Unicorn to be the winning film as it had a very strong narrative; a very complete story that was well told and executed.”

Below are extracts from an extended interview with Wilcox – whom I’m sure will soon be making mainstream movies we queue to view with the support of many other senior figures in the film industry.

What is your previous experience in the world of film?

The world of film opened up for me at a young age. I've always wanted to be a filmmaker from the time I can remember wanting to be anything. I attended film school in Southern California, had an internship at Silver Pictures, worked as a PA and assistant on feature films (Crank, The Dead Girl, 1408) and became familiar with the industry landscape. I established my own commercial production company in 2007 with a college friend and haven't looked back since. 

What are your ambitions in the world of film?Keegan.Wilcox

I want to bring back the care and craft of classic filmmaking and combine it with the edginess of post-modern realism. So many films nowadays put style before story, feel visually uninspired or rely too much on vaudeville gimmicks. I want to prove that it is possible to create something wholly original, artfully constructed and still make your money back.

What is it that makes you passionate about film?

“It's truly the best way I know how to communicate. If only I could make a film to answer these questions.”

How did you tackle creating this film?

“The short answer: putting out one fire at a time. My partner and I spent a full week just developing ideas, knowing that if we had a good story, the rest would follow suit. We wrote four different scripts and took a tally amongst colleagues on which one they preferred. Once we chose Porcelain Unicorn, we started pre-production by focusing on two of the most important elements: casting and location. We wouldn't do anything else until we had those elements locked down.”

Has anything changed in your life since you entered the contest?

“It's rekindled my desire to focus mostly on narrative work. The voting process also gave me an excuse to get in touch with old friends and industry acquaintances, which rejuvenates the soul.“

How did you deal with the constraints of the contest?

“When writing the script, we told ourselves that every line must have its own special moment or carry its own weight. It was tempting to simply choose a genre we loved - action, sci-fi or horror - but in those stories the six lines would have felt forced or slapped together. Luckily, the story where the lines felt the most natural was the story of choice, which turned out to be a historical drama.”

If you could create a longer film (feature length), what would you do?

“The Forever War. No seriously, I would like to make a film that reinvigorates the science fiction genre and feels relevant to our generation.

Why did you enter the contest?

“We were intrigued by the concept of this contest from the start. I loved the idea of interpreting five lines of dialogue, and I think working within those parameters helped to sharpen our creative focus. We were excited about the idea of showcasing our work through an international brand like Philips. And of course, there was always the looming possibility of having Ridley Scott see and appreciate our film, which was perhaps the most gratifying result of this endeavour.”

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