It doesn’t happen often that I get invited to preview a children’s film. When I was offered an exclusive preview of the new British indie children’s film A Dozen Summers by British-Canadian film director and actor Kenton Hall, I was a tiny bit suspicious. And I remained suspicious until a few minutes into the film when it transforms from what looks to develop into a sugar-coated fantasy adventure children’s film into a witty and original film that happily breaks with traditional cinema rules. It got even better when I saw my friend, director and actor (and east London neighbour) Sarah Warren appear as one of the main characters! It’s such a strange little world at times.
The film starts off with a voice-over by Colin Baker, to me a man with a nice voice, but to many others the sixth incarnation of Doctor Who. While he introduces the story of two young girls, 12-year old twins Daisy and Maisie (played by Hero and Scarlet Hall, the director’s daughters) step in and decide to hijack The Narrator’s film. What follows is an insight in their daily lives in which they deal with all the problems modern Western teenage girls deal with: family life, friendship, first loves, bullies and life ambitions. While children will relate to this coming-of-age story, vividly told by Daisy and Maisie, adults will enjoy this funny film as well, whether they have children or not. I watched the film together with my husband and assumed we wouldn’t be the intended target audience as we don’t have kids, but the many clever cinema jokes (the girls employ tricks as montage and voice-over to convey their story) and obscure film references made this film definitely worth watching it. The twins have a fantastic on-screen presence and all characters have incredibly funny lines. A Dozen Summers proves that we don’t need big budgets and an overload of special effects to make a touching and highly entertaining children’s film.
A Dozen Summers opens at the Phoenix Cinema in Leicester on Friday 21 August and there are plans for more nationwide cinema screenings. Do go see it and support independent British cinema, but most of all to support Scarlet & Hero Hall, Kenton Hall, Sarah Warren and the rest of the crew!
Director Kenton Hall kindly agreed to answer a few questions about the film. Scroll down to read the interview!
Did you have your daughters [Hero and Scarlet] in mind when writing the script?
I certainly did in terms of writing the characters, and they consulted on the film from the very beginning, although I didn’t necessarily knew at the time that they would end up playing the characters. When they screen-tested for it – it’s a heavy responsibility carrying a movie, I needed to know that they were ready for it – it became obvious that they were the right girls for the parts and then it would be even more fun to work on it together.
You cast your own daughters to play your on-screen daughters Maisie and Daisy. Did your close relationship prove to make the production process easier or more difficult?
I’ve spoken to them a lot about this. We are very close in real life, but I think it simply gave me a short-hand in how to direct them. You need to build those relationships with any actor with whom you work, I just had a 12-year head start this time. I think the only shift was them realising that for the duration of the shoot, Dad wasn’t the right person to ask for a glass of milk. We had a good time, and they led the acting team. I was very proud of how welcoming they were to new actors, children and adults alike, who came on to the set.
Do Hero and Scarlet have any serious acting ambitions or was this film a one-off fun experience for them?
They’d both acted at school and, despite my protestations that I needed them to get jobs that would enable them to look after me in my dotage, they both had aspirations towards performing. I know Scarlet, in particular, is very set on continuing her acting career. She likes playing the emotional stuff much more than her sister. Hero has many ambitions. At the moment she’d like to be a doctor half of the time and an actor half of the time. She does love being on-set. I have a feeling, based on her ideas, that she might overtake me as writer/director one day. But, as long as they find something that brings them joy, the way this does for me, I’m happy. Plus, as I say, dotage.
It’s very sweet to see Hero Hall in the end credits for costume design. How did this come about?
Hero is always full of ideas. And if she ever asks to tell you one of them, buckle in for a full couple of hours, with drawings. And tangents. It’s amazing. In this instance, I happened to mention to her that we needed a fictional school for the film. She came up with the initial designs for the “Lavender High” uniforms, which were then turned into those beautiful badges by Elisabeth Fowler. I think Hero may have been more proud of that credit than anything.
This film is quite an unusual children’s films as it contains many film references that wouldn’t mean anything to children, or even the average adult for that matter. Is this film therefore aimed towards a certain audience?
There’s two reasons for this. One, I always knew – as a parent who has suffered through many, many awful children’s films – that the film needed to work on a lot of levels. Like Doctor Who. Or The Simpsons. There are jokes in there for everyone and jokes that are layered to work in different ways for different age groups. Two, kids are smart. They are aware of much more than they get credit for. If they don’t get a specific reference, they understand the iconography, they laugh because they’ve seen the style. The Bergman joke is a good example [see below]. Adults get the reference. Kids get the joke about all the “boring” black-and-white classics that their parents try to make them watch.
How many film references are there? I lost count after a certain point
I have literally no idea. My favourite ones are the most subtle ones, which were sometimes added as nods to my favourite films, or films whose tone I wanted to invoke. My two favourite references were added late in shooting. One involves a typewriter, which we found in the house in which we were shooting and sparked an extra joke. The other, very subtle one, involves invoking the name of a South American country, which is a nod to a film for which John McCourt – fellow writer and the bass player from ist – and I share a mutual passion. Answers on a postcard to the usual address.
It’s quite unusual for a low-budget indie film to have an original score throughout the entire film. Can you tell us a bit more about the film score?
I knew from the beginning that for the tone of the film to work, for it to invoke all of the cinematic references, that it needed to have an original score. Also, I’m a musician, so music in film is a passion of mine. I got the band of which I was part, ist, back together to write and record two new songs, plus I’d written the silly songs throughout and the song “A Dozen Summers” for the credits. But I knew I needed someone who really understood score to tackle the main body of the music. Enter Andrew Stamp, who had been following the progression of the film and offered his services. I sent him the barest idea of the opening and the demo he sent back was already perfect. He’s a genius. No other word for it. He just instinctively understands the relationship between music and film. And his music is beautiful. I had a brilliant time working with him. And I will do again, without a doubt. As should everyone else.
Do you have any favourite film scores?
I’m a massive John Williams fan. Anything he writes is fine by me. The late James Horner was a terrible loss. Also, I have a real, deep down, affection for Vangelis’ score for Blade Runner. Child of the 80’s, what can I tell you? More recently, Brian Reitzell, for film and TV, does some extraordinary and unique work.
Both you and Sarah, who plays your ex-wife, are Canadian. Had you worked together already in Canada or was it a mere coincidence that you happened to make a film in the UK together?
I met Sarah in the UK, when she was casting for her feature film, M.L.E. [a comedy about an actress turned spy], which is doing exceptionally well on the festival circuit at the moment. Her character was Canadian, so she was looking for other Canadian actors. From the moment I first made her laugh in the audition, I knew that I wanted to work with her. It’s an extraordinary laugh and you will go to extraordinary lengths to make it happen again, which is good for a comic actor. I ended up playing a small part in M.L.E. and enjoyed it so much, she was the first person I approached for A Dozen Summers. We’ll be doing more together. We’ve forged a Canadian alliance to take-over British Comedy. Not a hostile takeover, we’re Canadian. A polite takeover.
A Dozen Summers opens on Friday 21 August at the Phoenix Cinema in Leicester. There are daily screenings till Monday 24 August. More UK cinema dates to follow.
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