❉ Eerie and mystical short film to be screened at The Aesthetica Short Film Festival 2019.
The Cunning Man, a mystical short film created, written and produced by Ali Cook and directed by Zoë Dobson, has been selected to be screened at The Aesthetica Short Film Festival (6-10 November). The award-winning film stars Simon Armstrong (Game of Thrones), Ian Kelly (Harry Potter & Deathly Hallows Part I & II) and Ali Cook (BAFTA award winning Kajaki).
The Cunning Man is a short film inspired by John Harries (1785-1839), a physician and ‘Cunning Man’ – a healer who uses folklore magic. The film tells the story of an elderly and mysterious farmer who drifts through the Welsh valleys collecting dead animals.Refusing the services of the local abattoir’s collector, what he has in store for these creatures is beyond anyone’s imagination. An enchanted tale in the face of callous greed.
The film tells the story of an elderly and mysterious farmer who drifts through the Welsh valleys collecting dead animals. Refusing the services of the local abattoir’s collector, what he has in store for these creatures is beyond anyone’s imagination.
“I’ve been a professional magician for twenty years and when a magic show is done really well, it gives the audience a sense of astonishment and a feeling of wonder. I wanted to transfer that same feeling of wonder from a live show to a film,” says the project’s creator Ali Cook.
The film that Screen Mayhem rated Five Stars and calls “oddly charming with great performances” has recently begun its festival circuit, already winning Best Film at the Exit 6 Film Festival and Best Director at the Detroit Shetown Women’s Film Festival and the New Renaissance Film Festival. It has also been selected to screen at renowned Latin-American film festival Morbido, BAFTA-qualifying festivals Norwich Film Festival and will be competing for the prestigious Melies d’Argent award at Abertoir, the International Horror Festival of Wales.
From Zoë Dobson (director) and Ali Cook (actor, writer and producer), The Cunning Man is an enchanted tale in the face of callous greed. The film poses questions such as “Should animals be treated as a commodity?”
In contrast, The Knackerman deals in, and profits from, death; collecting carcasses to take to government-approved incinerators. A farmer has to pay up to £400 per carcass, making The Knackerman’s job a lucrative albeit macabre one. To him, all animals have a price on their backs.
The book displayed in the opening credits is John Harries’ real book of spells (courtesy of the National Library of Wales). The occult symbol and ritual featured in the film were also taken directly from his book.
Interview with the film’s creator Ali Cook
Ali Cook is best known for playing Sgt. Paul McMellon in the BAFTA nominated Kajaki which won the Producer of The Year Award at the 2015 BIFA awards.
His TV career started on the Channel 5 sketch series, The Jerry@ Trick Show, with comedians Jerry Sadowitz and Phil Nichol. Andrew Newman, then Head of Comedy at Five, spotted Cook during tapings which led to him writing and starring in seven of his own series for Channel 4, Channel 5 & Sky1.
His series Dirty Tricks, on Channel 4, was nominated for a British Comedy Award. Recent TV credits include: Mr Selfridge (ITV1), Emmerdale (ITV1) and The ABC Murders (BBC1).
Ali is currently starring alongside Katherine Parkinson in the political satire How to Fake a War, directed by Rudolph Herzog, produced by Film and Music Entertainment. Recently, he rewrote the thriller Get Lucky for Universal, the West End show Impossible for JHP and an adaptation of Cassandra at the Wedding by Dorothy Baker for FAME.
Ali grew up working in his mother’s new age bookstore in Yorkshire – this unusual background led him to create his unique voice which combines the history of religion with humour as seen in The Cunning Man.
What inspires you as a filmmaker, writer, actor and producer?
I’ve been a professional Magician for twenty years and when a magic show is done really well, it gives the audience a sense of astonishment and a feeling of wonder. I wanted to try and transfer that same feeling of wonder from a live show to film.
I have a love for the history of magic and often write stories based on real English folklore and magic.
Where did the idea of “The Cunning Man” come from?
My collaborator Zoë Dobson said – I have an image of a mysterious man, walking down a country lane, holding a dead dog… Why?
I instantly thought he could be a Cunning Man – a Cunning Man is an old English name for a local doctor who would use conventional medicine and folklore magic on both humans and animals.
Why is telling this story so important to you and why are you the best person to tell it?
We both grew up on a farm and the death of innocent animals is something you become familiar with. It is forever brutal and often hard to reconcile. Creating our own ‘Cunning Man’ Afran Harries, gave us the opportunity to play at being a wizard: to do the ‘impossible’.
What was the most challenging part of making this film?
Trying to encourage live pigs, sheep and chickens to walk into frame!!! It was hilarious. The special effects were a combination of real time secrets and careful use of tiny bits of CGI. We also used a lot of taxidermy.
What was the most memorable situation you faced during production?
Probably working with the bulldog ‘Buster’, quite simply the cutest animal of all time. Except he would randomly fall asleep a second after we started rolling!
You wore many hats during production: Writer, Producer, Actor and Executive Producer. How was that experience like?
It was great in pre-production but thank god I got producer Ross Williams on board by the time we were filming as there is a lot of work when working with animals.
The main advantage about being across everything is that there were no errors on the day and we had a very streamlined and happy team.
You have been playing at a variety of film festivals ranging from mainstream to genre events. How have the audiences responded to The Cunning Man so far?
It gets a wide variety of responses and it plays well with an art house audience and a genre audience. It feels like a horror film but the ending is beyond what anyone expects. In particular there is one moment right at the end that makes the audience gasp.
What’s next for you? Would you like to say a few words about your next film? What stage are you at?
Yes, I’ve written a feature film, a folk horror called The Grimoire – it’s about a mysterious and real book on witchcraft written in medieval England.
Anything else you would like to share?
People keep asking how did you bring the flies back to life? Well it’s a magician’s secret and real time magic effect but a magician can never reveal his secrets…
❉ ‘The Cunning Man’ was co-produced by Ross Williams (producer of The Last Storm, long listed for Best Documentary Short at the Oscars) and features an original soundtrack by Lol Hammond and Duncan Forbes. SIt has been selected to screen at BAFTA qualifying festivals Aesthetica Short Film Festival and Norwich Film Festival and will be competing for the prestigious Melies d’Argent award at Abertoir, the International Horror Festival of Wales.
❉ News source: ChicArt Public Relations.
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