Meet the 2015 Shooting Stars
Jury members Charles Gant (2014) and Damon Wise (2015) share their jury experiences and discuss this year’s new Shooting Stars
Charles Gant: So, Damon, congratulations on your Shooting Stars choices for 2015. My first observation is: four men and six women! Did that to some degree reflect the gender balance of all the submitted candidates you were choosing between? My second observation is: it's nice that you selected a lot of different countries to the ones we picked a year ago. Only the UK, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands are common to the 2014 and 2015 choices. So you have six fresh countries that didn't feature last time.
Damon Wise: Thanks! I have to admit, some of the responsibilities hadn't really dawned on me until we sat down to debate the choices. As the only native English-speaker on the jury I was obviously very much aware of the potential for bias not only towards the UK candidate but also the Scandinavian nominees. Other than that, though, I hadn't really thought of some of the other issues – it was only after I'd chosen my final ten than I thought to ask whether there had to be a particular gender mix (the long list featured 11 men and 14 women). At the end of the process, we did look at the geographical spread, but really just out of curiosity. It didn’t impact on our discussions and choices. That was also the point at which we realised that certain countries weren't represented, or perhaps weren't the heavyweights we were expecting from the outset. We didn’t at all pay attention to which countries were chosen last time. Was that something that you were ever conscious of when you made your selections for 2014?
Charles: I think our submitted candidates last year were pretty evenly mixed regarding gender, and that maybe reflected in our final choice of five men and five women as Shooting Stars. I do recall that we had a really passionate debate about the last spot in the line-up, but it was a choice between three male candidates. We didn't look at the home countries of the previous year's Shooting Stars, either, and paid absolutely no attention to it. I think we were aware that some of the candidates came from countries with more thriving film cultures, and so, understandably, had maybe been given more opportunities to shine. But ultimately as jury members we chose the ten best and most deserving Shooting Stars, and that's all you can do. How did you find the debate about the qualities of the candidates, in terms of both brilliant acting ability, but also that sometimes hard-to-define "star quality"?
Damon: For me, personally, the hardest part was being objective about the actor – by that I mean judging the performance and not the film. I know that seems obvious, but that can be harder than it sounds, especially for a journalist who is used to assessing a film in its entirety, and I would tell any future nominee that a good showreel is a vital part of the selection process – if a film is dealing with a dark or serious subject matter, that quite often determines how much (or little) we get to see of an actor's range. As for "star quality", that wasn't something we really debated – I think we were all agreed that we were looking for actors with impact, people who could hold our attention as well as our gaze. A lot of this came down to instinct – I realised very early on that an actor's charisma onscreen could sometimes outweigh their CV.
Charles: The five-person jury always mixes a critic, a producer, a filmmaker, a casting director and an actor (typically a former Shooting Star), and I was interested in the different perspectives these people brought. We came from all over Europe, and were a mix of men and women, which I believe is always the case. Last time, I would say that our director and casting director were especially invested in the subtleties of performance. For me, also, the clue is in the title, and we are celebrating future film stars showcasing talent to make an impact internationally. Anyway, I want to hear more about this year's Shooting Stars! Maisie Williams I know from Carol Morley's The Falling, and Sven Schelker from Swiss gay docudrama The Circle. So let's start with those two.
Damon: I was slightly concerned about voter etiquette when it came to the UK – should we be allowed to vote for our home territory? (We did all have one.) In Maisie's case there was also Carol Morley's film (The Falling), which tells a very specifically British story, one that's very much about a certain time and place. I decided to abstain from comment and just see what happened. Not only did the jury love the film, a couple were also huge Game Of Thrones fans (she plays the tomboyish Arya Stark), and so Maisie sailed through unanimously. And Sven? Sven is a very good case for spending time on a showreel. His performance in The Circle is very moving, but his charming showreel made us all smile – it gave us an insight into his personality as well as clearer idea of his abilities.
Charles: We had a very strong showing from Scandinavia last year, with Shooting Stars from Sweden, Norway and Denmark, and even our Italian Shooting Star, Miriam Karlkvist, is half-Swedish. Tell me about your selections from Denmark, Finland and Iceland.
Damon: As I was expecting, the Scandinavian nominees were all of a very high standard. The first film I sat down to watch was Itsi Bitsi, which set the bar quite high – it's the true story of Eik Skaløe, a beatnik poet and activist who introduced Denmark to psychedelic rock. Not only is it Joachim Fjelstrup's first leading role, it's his first film full stop – and he's just magnetic. Emmi Parviainen, from Finland, captivated us too, with a performance as a single mother in The Princess Of Egypt that's as heartfelt and real as any that the Dardennes brothers have ever captured. Hera Hilmar, who plays a very different kind of single mother in Life In A Fishbowl, delivered a showreel that not only showcased her rather scary versatility but revealed her terrific command of English too.
Charles: I look forward to discovering these films. I just realised that I have seen quite a few of Hera Hilmar's performances. She has a memorable supporting part in current UK festive comedy Get Santa, with Jim Broadbent and Rafe Spall. She was in Brit indie flick We Are The Freaks, Joe Wright's Anna Karenina and Bill Condon's The Fifth Estate. She has talent representation in the UK, so I am now wondering if she studied there, or is (or was) based in London. Let's continue our sweep through Northern Europe. Tell me about your choices from Germany, Lithuania and the Netherlands.
Damon: To start with Lithuania, Aistė Diržiūtė's performance in The Summer Of Sangaile – which, incidentally has been selected for the first day of next year's Sundance Film Festival – is a good example of what I was talking about earlier. I was so engrossed in the story I had to keep reminding myself to keep my eyes on Aistė, as she plays a significant supporting character who drives the story but isn't necessarily the focus. Aistė has a very easy and disarming charm, as does Abbey Hoes from the Netherlands, who stars in Nena. Both these actors are very young – 23 and 20 respectively – but they possess maturity and deceptively rich emotional depths that really ground their characters in reality. Jannis Niewöhner, from Germany, is possibly our most 'classic' Shooting Star – good-looking, intense, romantic. He really is quite a package.
Charles: Thanks Damon. And finally, what should I look forward to from our Irish and Spanish Shooting Stars?
Damon: On the surface, Ireland’s Moe Dunford would appear to tick some of the same boxes as Jannis – his showreel contains scenes from the TV show Vikings that prove he has a seriously commanding presence, like a missing Hemsworth or Worthington brother. His film Patrick’s Day, however, in which he plays a young Dublin man with mental-health problems, persuaded us that Moe has more in him than action and fantasy roles. Spain’s Natalia De Molina, meanwhile, is probably the most ‘classic’ Shooting star among the girls: she’s very feminine, with a wicked smile and great comic timing. Her film Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed – incidentally, Spain’s foreign-language Oscar hopeful next year – in which she stars alongside Pedro Almodóvar regular Javier Cámara, was the last film I watched, and it was a nice way to sign off. It’s a gentle, bittersweet road movie that left me feeling a lot less anxious about the future than some of the more hard-hitting titles we saw!