Scottish filmmaker Kevin MacDonald (Last King of Scotland, Touching the Void) visited Glasgow Film Festival this week to discuss his career in filmmaking. The talk was part of the University of Aberdeen’s series of interviews entitled The Director’s Cut, which was on the road this week as part of the festival. Janice Forsyth conducted the interview on behalf of BBC Radio Scotland, where the interview will be broadcast later this week.
Tracing the trajectory of MacDonald’s career, Forsyth began the talk by introducing his 1999 feature-length documentary, One Day in September, which received an Academy Award for Best Documentary. His second documentary, Touching the Void, moved into fiction with the use of actors and reconstructions of true events. He described the intensity of shooting in Peru and the Alps, and the challenges they confronted. Moving on to discuss his first feature film, The Last King of Scotland, he described the process of finding actors, and his loyalty to James McAvoy paying off. Less enamoured with Forrest Whittaker, he described Whittaker’s method acting which, one surmises, was on the brink of going native.
MacDonald’s most recent film State of Play was released a year ago. Based on the television show of the same name, it stars Russell Crowe, Hellen Mirren, and Rachel McAdams as reporters of a sinking newspaper firm. MacDonald spoke about Brad Pitt’s initial interest in the project, the process of adapting the film, and his disagreements with Brad Pitt and eventual casting of Russell Crowe and, “making it up as we went along”.
His latest film was only briefly touched upon. Eagle of the Ninth, now in post-production, is the story of a Roman centurion who arrives in Scotland to solve the mystery of his father’s death in Scotland. Shot in Scotland, not far from MacDonald’s hometown, it stars a number of Scottish, English, and Irish actors. The Romans, in a twist of cunning filmmaking, are played by Americans (rather than the typical imperialist English, he supposes).
MacDonald also discussed the heritage of filmmaking in his family. His brother, Andrew, is a successful film producer. Their grandfather was the Hungarian-born filmmaker Emeric Pressburger, half of the legendary British filmmaking duo Powell & Pressburger, who created such post-war, British New Wave classics as The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp and A Matter of Life and Death. Although Kevin MacDonald’s films appear to be more well-known than his name, he has proven himself as a remarkable Scottish filmmaker. From his feature-length documentaries to his more recent feature films, his penchant for potent situations and intense emotion makes his films utterly enthralling.
Eagle of the Ninth is set for UK release in September.
To listen to the condensed interview, tune into BBC Radio Scotland’s The Movie Café this Thursday, 4th March, at 1.15pm. It will also be available to watch on BBC iPlayer.