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Andrea Arnold on “Red Road”

Andrea Arnold on “Red Road” (photo)

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Andrea Arnold holds herself together remarkably well for someone who was out until 8am the night before (or is that morning of?). When I caught up with the UK-born Oscar-winner (for 2003 short “Wasp”) in New York, she was coming off a marathon night of celebrating with the other filmmakers of the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s prestigious New Directors/New Films festival — her debut, “Red Road,” was one of the bigger entries in this year’s line-up. The title refers to a looming cluster of slablike housing projects on the outskirts of Glasgow. Jackie (Kate Dickie) works as a CCTV operator, monitoring an array of closed circuit security cameras around the city and alerting the police when needed — until one night, when she spots a man she recognizes on screen. After tracking him for days, she traces him to the Red Road flats and finds a way to insert herself into his life for reasons that only gradually become clear.

“Red Road” is the first entry in the Advance Party trio, a planned set of three films from three first-time directors (Morag Mackinnon and Mikkel Norgaard round out the group) following a prescribed set of rules: the films must be set in Scotland and they must make use of a group of predefined characters. If this sounds a little…Danish, well, the project was conceived by filmmakers Lone Scherfig and Anders Thomas Jensen (who will serve as executive producers on each of the films) after a conversation with Dogme95 deity Lars von Trier. I spoke with Arnold about surveillance and working within the rules.

I’d read that some international journalists assumed that the CCTV station [in which Jackie, the main character, works] was your own invention.

When I was at Cannes, I had a lot of interviews where people didn’t believe that the whole CCTV was a reality. There were people from all over the world interviewing you, and there are lots of countries that don’t have those kinds of surveillance systems. They thought it was some kind of science fiction idea.

There is a bit of that look to it. Is the station in the film based on what the actual stations look like?

That’s a real place! That really exists, that place. They had a section on one end that they only used on special occasions — it wasn’t somewhere monitoring the city. We were able to use that area and fill the screens with our images. That place genuinely exists.

So with the characters, how much were you given, and how much did you build out yourself?

I can give you an example — Clyde [Tony Curran] was described as out of prison on early release for good behavior; he was 35; women liked him; he was guilty; and he hung out with his old prison friends. And I got most of those things in the film — they’re there. April [Natalie Press], who’s the girl who lives in the flat with Clyde, was given quite a brief description. She was described as being shy, never initiating the conversation. She’s a newcomer and in every film she’s arriving in that place, so I had her arriving with her bags from London.

She had a whole story that didn’t end up making the film. It was tempting to go off in directions once you got to know the characters — you wanted to have a film with each of them. I could have done a film with her, or with Stevie [Martin Compston]… You didn’t have to include all the elements — within those restraints, if something didn’t appeal to you, you just left it. There’s something about Jackie — I connected her and Clyde up almost immediately. I felt that they had to get together because something in her description and something in his made me feel that they were connected. So I did work that out from what I was given.

And each film in the series starts over fresh?

There won’t be anything carrying on from my film — it will be a different universe, [the other two directors] will do whatever they want with the characters. That was something we decided together. If we wanted to, we could have made a trilogy, but I think that would have been much harder work — we’d have to really really collaborate. We decided it would be more freeing and we’d be able to make more individual films if we didn’t make a trilogy.

As you went first, did you get more say over the casting? I know you’ve worked with Natalie Press before, in “Wasp.”

I’d like to think not, but the fact that my film was more developed meant that I knew what I was looking for. All of us, by accident, picked different characters as our leads — I picked Jackie and Clyde, Morag has Alfred, who’s the father-in-law, and Mikkel has April and Stevie — so we decided we’d give each other preference or at least say who’d we like for those roles. I think people thought we’d be really competitive over the casting but we weren’t we were really supportive of each other.

How did you end up finding the Red Road flats? They’re a remarkable location, and it seems like they shape the film in their own way — did you write the story around them, or vice versa?

No, the story started first. I knew that [Jackie] would be looking for [Clyde], and he had to live somewhere. I looked at places where they house ex-prisoners, and I drove around Glasgow and saw them and was very struck by them, and was able to incorporate them into the script. I wanted the place where she first goes to see him to be impenetrable, and they are impenetrable to start. And I wanted, as she got closer, for her to see the humanity in the place, because they look pretty oppressive from the distance, but when you get in closer you see the kids, you see all the people — there’s a lot of people living there — and it’s not what you think. There’s a little bit of that in the film, perhaps not so much as I would have liked.

What’s happening with them now?

They’re going to get pulled down. I felt annoyed with myself, because when they were looking for a title, I couldn’t think of anything — it needs to come organically for me, a title, it needs to really feel right, but the financiers needed it for their documents. I had to think of something, so I said “Why don’t we call it ‘Red Road’?” And it stuck. I didn’t really think about what it meant to call a film by the place in which it’s [set]. I didn’t mean for it to be so deliberately connected to that area — I’m not trying to say “This is Red Road.” I wished I’d changed the title, because people do live there, and the film is showing a certain perspective. I think it was not right, but it’s too late now.

What have the reactions been like from people who’ve lived there?

A lot of the people who were in the film lived around there in the flats, and they all came to the premiere, and I’ve only had positive feedback. But — they were all in the film, they felt like a part of it. I haven’t had any feedback from someone who hasn’t been involved in the film.

Almost half of the film is taken up by the main character’s involvement in surveillance before she actually engages in the narrative — in terms of films like “Rear Window,” did you feel like your film is a reference or an update?

I didn’t think about those films at all — I’d seen “Rear Window” a long time ago, but hadn’t had it in my brain until the editor mentioned it while we were editing. When I saw it, there were some amazing [correspondences] — this woman in the cafe… though I guess if you’re looking out the window at a bunch of people living across the road, there are going to be a lot of similarities in what everybody sees, because life is life.

So what are your thoughts on CCTV? Invasive? Effective?

I deliberately made the decision to be ambivalent in the film — just to show it, not take a stance, because I thought that would interfere with the story. I didn’t want to be heavy-handed with my feelings about it. I thought showing it is interesting in itself, and a lot of people won’t know about it, so they’ll be able at the end of it to think, well, what do I think about this — is this okay or not okay, and what does this mean for my life?

“Red Road” opens in New York and LA on April 13th (official site).

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

Uncle-Buck

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…