Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Winter Solstice 2020: The Wonder-Filled Time of the Year

by Kristen Gould

Happy Winter Solstice 2020! We've made it this far and not long to go till we get a whole new year... 2020 is a little extra special (yes, that too but this is a good thing, we promise), in that this year we have the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter in the sky, creating the phenomena called The Bethlehem Star, which was able to be seen in the US after sunset, as well as a shower of shooting stars (meteor shower) that is due to begin being observed just after midnight.

We won't go into the meteorological phenomena or the debate over what all these might mean, although do look up what Chile could see for the conjunction - wow. Instead, we want to acknowledge the beginning of the Yuletide Season, and, even though it's not suitably cold where we are yet, the beginning of our beloved Winter. (Autumn is a close second, we will admit - nature's paintbrush gets pretty showy in areas that have seasons, and there's nothing quite like it, but that quote below about Winter, explains a lot of why we love this season - plus the mix of dark and light magic potential, combined with the season of traditional storytelling: we are Winter Folk!)
Regarding the beautiful illustration at the head of this post, it was created by Kristen Gould during #FolktaleWeek2020, specifically for the prompt "solstice". While there are snippets of the tale/lore about the Oak King and the Holly King at war appearing during this time of year, we don't see many versions of the whole tale and there is only one (possibly two), picture books available detailing the tale in full to read to children. (Note: at the link an author, reads her story, showing pictures from her children's book - she begins at the 3 minute mark of a recorded live session.) It used to be common to see Oak and Holly Kings referenced symbolically in Christmas postcards, if not taking front and center, but the tale behind these images is largely forgotten. If it weren't for the popularity of the song "The Holly and the Ivy" (which overtly references a medieval Christian symbolism, while echoing an older Celtic belief in the Holly King) it might even be more obscure, so it's wonderful to see, now people are exploring more Solstice celebrations alongside Chritsmas traditions, that folks are discovering and remembering this tale of the changing of the seasons and the exploration of the "enchanted" forces of Nature, and to be creating new and wonderful images. We don't think we have seen the two-halves, or yin-yang, aspect of Holly and Ivy illustrated this way before but it makes such an excellent visual for explaining why the tale survives and has resonance. What's interesting to us, though, is that this War, or struggle, or contest - however it's portrayed - usually between two brothers (sometimes two men, or one man transforming through the year, or twins), rarely is thought about at any time other than when the Holly King is at full strength, ie. the beginning of the Yuletide Season, which is the Winter Solstice. Though the brothers "share" the year, it's only when Winter arrives that this tale is usually told. Perhaps obviously, this harks back to when Winters were more difficult to survive and how it was used as a reminder of hope for when the nights would no longer continue growing colder, but anticipate the arrival of Spring and new life, new growth and easier living.

Here's what Kristen wrote about her illustration:
I chose the ancient Celtic belief in the Holly King (the spirit of winter) and the Oak King (the spirit of summer) as my inspiration. It is said that they are forever entwined in battle with one another as the seasons change each year. There is a duality to this so-called battle, for while they oppose one another, they are still two parts of a whole and work in sync with one another to create the solar and harvest cycles. During the winter, the Holly King reigns, bringing transformation and new birth. The winter solstice is the marked return of the Oak King. On this day, the light is reborn.// I liked the idea of the two spirits being two parts of a whole forever entwined. This one also began as a traditional piece and then very quickly became mostly digital.
Oak King and Holly King - by Anne Stokes
"The light is reborn" is a direct reference to the Winter Solstice having the day with the fewest hours of daylight. Even though the Winter season/Yuletide, has just begun and the coldest days and nights are ahead, the daylight hours now start to get longer (think of the Oak King being reborn right at this time and getting larger and larger), until the longer light finally warms up the world again (in that hemisphere) and the seasons turn toward Spring and Summer. 

Here are some thoughts from writer, poet and artist Nellie Cole on the representation of the two Kings:

The Oak King, often represented as having a crown of oak leaves and acorns and dressed all in green, can be seen as comparable to the figure of The Green Man. The Green Man, like The Oak King, was seen as a figure of fertility, and is most commonly depicted as having a face made from sprouting oak leaves. This image of metamorphosis – from man into tree, or tree into man? – could tie in to the notion that the two Kings are the same being, transforming from one into the other.

The Holly King is likewise said to wear a crown of holly leaves and berries, dress in red, and sometimes as being accompanied by eight stags. This of course could arise from the belief that the Kings are aspects of The Horned God. But it also be connected to other figures, such as the Norse god Odin on his eight-legged steed, or Santa Claus and his eight reindeer (before the more modern inclusion of Rudolph). Due to Santa’s patchwork history, it is unlikely he is a direct descendant of The Holly King, despite his resemblances – though this could be another instance of comparative mythology at play.

Kristen Gould's "Solstice", reversed, to better see the Oak King
The dominance of Christmas over other Winter celebrations in the Western world displays an abundance of multi-cultural absorption (and sometimes outright appropriation) of motifs, rituals and practices from other celebrations and religions, (much of it Pagan) so Christmas is a veritable mish-mash of ideas under one narrowly-defined name; something which unfortunately has resulted in misrepresenting many cultures, traditions and people as a result (hence the swing toward the neutral "Happy Holidays"). Whether or not the miraculous-magical Santa/St. Nick and all the associated Christmas trees, gifts, cookies, reindeer, elves, stars, carols and more, come directly (or indirectly) from shared sources (Pagan, Germanic, Celtic, Norwegian and more) or are relatively new, only serves to emphasize the global tendency - perhaps even the "need" - to mark the season with a certain importance in our yearly lives. It reminds us to live, and to keep investing in puposeful living.

The representation of Holly and Ivy has always been an intresting juxtaposition for this concept of living purposefully. Even as Winter gets more severe, there is a strong sign - the lengthening daylight hours - that signals this is a temporary state. Perhaps because of the severity of cold and darkness and the unique challenges of Winter, this almost-magical transformation of seasons is noticed by most everyone, which in turn adds to the awareness of magic and magical possibilities at this time of year. It's a season which promises the possibility of new beginnings.
And it really is magical at this time of year. What began in October with a sense of Other in Halloween/Samhain, continues with different emphasis for a solid three months. We go from thoughts of the supernatural, dealing with our fears and acknowledging our ancestors, to rituals for (ideally) strengthening family bonding through Harvest (and Thanksgiving in the US), to a years-end transformative feast  - full of decorations, dress-ups, special foods, songs and films - that includes charity and gifting to extend the "circle of warmth" to include our fellow man (and often creatures) for holiday/Yule/Christmas celebrations, which then take us into a whole New Year, full of wishes, resolutions (and for this year, the promise of vaccines and the beginning of the end of this hideous pandemic) and resolve that this new year will be nothing like the last one. (PLEASE!) That's a pretty full quarter of the year to be focused on rituals of wonder, Other and magic! 

There really is something transformative about this time of year - even if you hate it. When everyone around you is decorating - even if it's obviously commercial - and people are ritualistically wishing you wellness and joy, there is a communal agreement to make this season unusual, different, and everyone's participation (or active resistance) makes not-normal happen, (decorated trees, twinkling night lights even in the most rundown of places, people giving selflessly to complete strangers, and more - even extreme negative behavior of bah-humbugs are part of the ritual!), which is another way of saying people -together- are making magic possible. Perhaps you won't get to talk to the Jolly Old Elf himself, but it certainly feels like you've been magically deputized by the Spirit of the Season when you pay attention to what your efforts produce. It's a very wonderfully-weird and awesome thing, demonstrating our ability to create Wonder too. This season, if nothing else, reminds you to be aware of the Wonder around you, and the potential of Wonder within you. It is even said that Winter is Wonder Season. 

What could be more fairy tale than that?

Happy Winter Solstice and Wonder Season
from all of us at Once Upon A Blog news headquarters.
Solstice by Kristen Gould
You can find more of Kristen's work on her website Enchanted Studio Co and Instagram - see below

Kristen Gould on the Web:
Instagram: @notkristen

Saturday, December 12, 2020

"Red and the Wolf" Encourages Kids To See Disability Differently, With Positive Representation

Positive representation of disability in literature is something that still needs working on, especially when it comes to children's books. 

The more we normalize positive representation of disability - and the emphasis here is on positive, as well as on representation for disability in general - the more it helps all children accept difference as natural and develop an understanding that encourages inclusivity for many kinds of difference, including those with disabilities. It also helps those who are disabled not only feel seen as normal, included, and represented, but encourages thinking in which disability doesn't have to limit you. 

That's powerful stuff.

The new book, Red and the Wolf is one of these books, and the project was envisioned - literally - by the charity RNIB (in the UK) to put a spotlight on the lack of positive role models with disability in children's literature and to show how that can be changed.
The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) has put a spin on the classic story of Little Red Riding Hood, by reimagining its central character as a visually impaired little girl who walks with a cane and has a skill for martial arts. The charity hopes that the book, entitled Red and the Wolf, will counter the lack of disabled role-models in children’s books.
Follow Red on her journey to Granny's house and see how she uses her martial arts and mystery-solving skills to overcome the challenges she faces.

The book is aimed at young children, aged 3-7, with the aim of normalizing the representation of disability while making it clear that having a disability doesn't have to limit you, but it's a good case study for re-thinking how we're telling classic tales today. Just like many fairy tale heroes and heroines through the ages, Red Riding Hood has adapted as society needed her to, while remaining recognizable. There's definitely room for many more versions of fairy tales that represent disability in a positive way.
RNIB head of innovation and development, Caroline Beard, said: “Some of our earliest perceptions of the world are shaped by the books we read as children. It is essential that children see disability as natural from an early age, gain an understanding of difference, and can help all children, including those with disabilities, feel included in society.


“We launched Red and the Wolf to refresh a classic story and turn it into something that celebrates difference. We hope that many children will enjoy reading about Red and how she overcomes the barriers she faces.”

..“Obviously, this story is not going to show what the daily reality is for any one child with sight loss, but we can make it something that's ok to talk about.”
We sincerely hope the author, Deborah Fajerman, who was brought on board by the RNIB for Red and the Wolf, will consider adapting other tales for representation, as will other authors. People - and kids especially - of all kinds, need disabled role models too. Red and the Wolf is a big step in the right direction in normalizing this, and we are here for it! 

The book also comes with an audio version for both accessibility and to encourage kids to read along, or to themselves. You can find the book to purchase HERE.

Note: pictures are by children's illustrator Tilly Rand-Bell. Her work is just lovely so be sure to check out her website.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Pst! Disney's Just Announced 100-ish Projects: Here Are the Fairy Tale-Related Ones To Watch For

Not "1001",  just around 100, which is still incredibly huge, but then so is the Disney reach these days with all the recent company acquisitions of the past few years.  Thursday, December 10, was Disney Investor Day so there were project announcements from every entertainment arm of the company, which includes Disney Animation, Pixar,  Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm and Lucasfilm Animation, National Geographic, Disney+, 21st Century Fox, ESPN, Hulu, FX Networks, and of course, the Walt Disney Studios. All the projects are set to air over the next few years, with a good portion of them appearing in 2021.

You can read the sequential tweet-announcements that occurred over 6 hours about "the big ones" (about 50 of them) HERE, but we thought we'd list the higher-profile projects likely to be of most interest to fairy tale and folktale fans (as well as some folklore). Read, there will likely be more but these are expected to cause a buzz.

Raya and the Last Dragon - Disney Feature Animation - March 5, 2021 in theaters and Disney+ (more characters were revealed).

The Handmaid's Tale - returns for Season 4 in 2021 and has also been renewed for Season 5. (The Handmaid's Tale series makes great use of fairy tale motifs, with Red Riding Hood being the most obvious, but the last episode of last season also made heavy and effective visual references to The Pied Piper, Snow White, the Dying Swan some Hansel and Gretel, some Bluebeard, as well as the Exodus story.)

Mandolorian-adjacent series, among them: Ahsoka and Rangers of the New Republic. here are about 10 new Star Wars properties on the way which, if they're hoping to grab the same audience, will include those fairy tale doses that keep appearing in the currently-airing The Mandolorian. (Seriously: errant knight, chosen child, a quest/search, talismans, castles, even dragons - it has a lot. Be on the lookout for scholarship papers being written right now, that will prove it to you!)

Willow - a new original series, based on the film, including Warwick Davies starring. Coming 2022 to Disney+.

Children of Blood and Bone (20th Century Film & Lucasfilm) based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Tomi Adeyemi. (Quote) "This coming-of-age adventure follows a young African girl’s quest to restore magic to her forsaken people, the Maji."

Hocus Pocus 2 - a sequel to the original Halloween classic coming to Disney+.

The Little Mermaid - Disney's live-action film based on the Disney animated classic, with Halle Bailey (Ed. - NOT Halle Berry - typo corrected with apologies to the actress! 3-18-21) as Ariel, directed by Rob Marshall (production has yet to restart on this film after stopping due to Covid19, as far as we know, so the release date is currently December 2022).

Pinocchio - live-action movie, based on the Disney animated classic, starring Tom Hanks, directed by Robert Zemeckis, coming to Disney+.

Peter Pan & Wendy - live-action coming to Disney+. Starring Yara Shahidi as Tinkerbell and Jude Law as Captian Hook.

Disenchanted - live-action sequel to Enchanted, coming to Disney+, with Amy Adams returning as Giselle.

Tiana - original animated series by Disney Animation for Disney+ (from the world of the animated feature film The Princess and the Frog). 2022. Tiana as a new princess in a country she's never been to before, with Prince Naveen at her side. Musical series.

Moanaoriginal animated series by Disney Animation for Disney+ (from the world of the feature animated film Moana). 2023 Musical series -drawing on storytelling traditions of Oceania and Polynesia.

Iwájú - (Quoted)"In a first-of-its-kind collaboration, @DisneyAnimation and Pan-African entertainment company Kugali will team up to create an all-new, science fiction series coming to @DisneyPlus in 2022: Iwájú. Check out a first look at visual development art from the series." Not a lot is known about this one yet but with Gigantic having failed to move forward, we expect some fairy tale echoes in this one.

Encanto - Feature Animation, Fall 2021. (Quoted) "Encanto takes you to Colombia, where a magical family live in a magical home. Directed by Byron Howard and Jared Bush, co-directed and co-written by Charise Castro Smith, and music written by Lin-Manuel Miranda."

Turning Red - Pixar short film. (Quoted) "Director of the Academy Award-winning short Bao, Domee Shi, brings us Turning Red. Meet Mei: she experiences the awkwardness of being a teenager, with an added twist: when she gets too excited, she transforms into a giant red panda. Turning Red comes to theaters March 11, 2022"

Untitled Beauty and the Beast, Live-Action Prequel with Gaston and Lefou - 6-part musical live-action limited series, with Luke Evans and Josh Gad reprising their roles, concentrating on the backstory of the two antagonists.  (They have GOT to include some fairy tale notes in this to keep fans happy!) Heading to Disney+. Alan Menken will write new music and songs.

Lots to watch for,

and you know there will be many more things bubbling up too. ;)

Thursday, December 10, 2020

'Lubin, from Chelm' - Hilarious & Delightful Klezmer-styled Re-telling of 'Lazy Jack' Is Storytelling Gold

Illustrations for Lubin, from Chelm by Alisa Snyder for ESO

Need a smile? Do yourself a favor and listen to - and watch - this wonderful storytelling performance of 'Lubin, from Chelm' (a.k.a. the Eglish folktale 'Lazy Jack', relocated to the Ukrainian shtetl).

The English Symphony Orchestra (ESO) is in the middle of recording and airing a series called The Art of Storytelling and this is the second story of five planned for it. It's also become one of the best things we discovered this month!

We know it doesn't sound like it would grab you unless you're already regularly listening to orchestral programs - there's no pixie dust here to hook you - but believe us when we say this story is SO well presented and did we mention hilarious? These guys know what they're doing, no pixie dust needed. The series is called The ART of Storytelling for good reason.

(Think of an updated and somewhat edgier storytelling of the classic "symphonic fairy tale for children", Prokofiev's 'Peter and the Wolf', but with far fewer musical instrument detours and many more puns!)

Here's what ESO's The Art of Storytelling series is about:

ESO’s ‘Art of Storytelling’ project presents world premiere recordings and broadcasts of five exceptional works for narrator and orchestra. From the cheeky humour of the Brothers’ Grimm to the touching tale of Hans Christian Andersen’s Ugly Duckling, and from the Jewish humour of Lubin from Chelm to the ancient Egyptian tale of The Warrior Violinist, this is classic family entertainment for the modern age at its finest, a powerful synthesis of great literature and great music.

When we clicked on the link to take a half-interested look at this version described as "a Klezmer-styled re-telling of the classic English folk tale, 'Lazy Jack'," we expected to scan the site, maybe listen for thirty seconds, then get back to our to-do list. It took far less than that for the iconic Yiddish storytelling to hook us and we listened, smiled, and giggled more than a few times, for the full seventeen minutes! (Sorry to-do list - another time!) 

The presentation includes the narrator/storyteller, who in this case is Henry Goodman, the ESO playing a soundtrack throughout the story, and delightful little illustrations that, while simple as stand-alones, are wonderful in context.

Here's a trailer to give you a taste, though we must say we think the real opening of the story hooked us much better and wish we could just show you the first couple of minutes to hook you in the same manner we were:

A hilarious re-telling of the traditional English folk tale, Lazy Jack, relocated to the Ukrainian shtetl and brought to life with abundantly witty Yiddish turns of phrase and evocative Klezmer musical stylings by Jewish-American composer David “Yankele” Yang and orchestrated by Kenneth Woods. (ESO)

As we mentioned, Lubin is actually the second story in the series. The first, currently available to view/listen to as well, is 'The Ugly Duckling', and is also wonderfully done, with actor Hugh Bonneville (Paddington, Muppets Most Wanted) as the perfect narrator.

We managed to catch this when it was streaming (for free) on release day and didn't realize it would require being an ESO (English Symphony Orchestra) Digital supporter to view it at a later date, so we apologize for this, but having seen the program we completely believe it to be a most excellent way to spend a £5 monthly donation (yes you can "donate" from the US and other countries, and yes you can cancel anytime). A donation gives you access to all their other digital offerings too, not just The Art of Storytelling, so if you like beautiful music, beautifully conducted and played, it's a great bonus. We've jumped on board the ESO train, at least for the holiday season, so we don't miss any of this magic as well.

The next story in the series is from an Egyptian tale, titled 'The Warrior Violinist'. We're looking forward to it very much!

You can find ESO Digital's The Art of Storytelling series HERE and learn more about Lubin HERE.

Oh - and if you don't know how the tale ends, well, let's just say it will leave with a grin. ;)

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Film: "In the Mirror" Retells Snow White In An Age of Selfies and Social Media

The most frustrating thing about In The Mirror is that we have no idea when we'll be able to see this intriguing retelling of the fairy tale. In this time of a pandemic, with social-distancing and lockdowns, when we are forced to experience much of life outside our homes through a lens, it's very timely to see a fairy tale being retold with this focus. (The film is, however, Latvia's official Academy Awards selection for the coming year, so fingers crossed it will be available for the general public to see somewhere online soon.)

The award-winning, Latvian film director, Laila Pakalnina, who also wrote and produced the film, had the idea of retelling Snow White through the lens - literally - of the selfie, after spending a lot of time getting messages from her distanced daughter and realizing its potential as a very different form for creating a feature film. Pakalnina also realized that using the communication form of social media - while generally thought of as a film and photography medium - is actually very different from film in general and provides a very unique set of technical challenges to create film quality selfie-stylizations, as well as making for a very interesting reflection of current societal values - a theme that dovetails perfectly with Snow White. 

From an interview with Cineuropa:

Cineuropa: How did you start developing In the Mirror?
Laila Pakalniņa:
 At first, I had the idea of exploring selfies as a form. Somehow, my daughter started communicating with me through selfies – she wasn't sending me still portraits, but short video messages. Then I understood there was something to dig into there. But working with mobiles wouldn't have been interesting enough for me. For sure, I knew I needed professional cameras, horizontal framing and, most probably, anamorphic lenses because I like to work on the mise-en-scène, not just on someone's close-up. I realised it was a very interesting form that could be used to communicate and show people the world through a self-portrait. The next idea that came to me was a fairy tale, Snow White. I somehow realised that what this stepmother was talking to was a mirror, so it was already a selfie! I wanted to offer that tool to all of my characters

Using selfie-culture for a narrative is just as much about what the screens capture in the images as it is about what's actually being said in any dialogue, perhaps even more so, and it requires a completely different mindset and approach from regular filmmaking. It's a bold experimental film, playful and contemporary, which requires the audience to give up their usual way of watching movies and to see the story unfold largely via "selfie shots" (think stills/photos as well as short Tik-Tok-length videos) with the actors talking directly to the camera, but even more intimately than one would see in a documentary. In this film, the actors were required to be in contact with the camera (and the Director of Photography), almost hugging it as they delivered their lines or hit their marks, or, for example in the case of running, having the camera attached to them.

It effectively uses the stark contrast (and fairy tale appropriate) colors of black and white, all while the actors deliver their dialogue as directly to the audience as anything ever done before. There's no doubt the audience is being made to feel uncomfortable on purpose, with the high stylization, but it underscores the story it's telling so very well.

From the Cineuropa interview, again, essentially commenting on how black and white is a great shorthand for retelling a fairy tale in film:

What about the choice of filming it in black and white?
Usually, when you film in black and white, it's easier to organise framing, as it's not that chaotic. We weren't looking for an easy way to do things, though. But this is a fairy tale, and black and white leaves the viewers some room for fantasy. I believe that when you watch something shot in black and white, perhaps you see it as it is for the first few minutes, but then you can unleash your imagination and see the colours.

Take a look at the trailer - and remember: there will be selfies! (it takes a bit of an adjustment on first viewing):

Pakalnina also chose to set her contemporary take in a gym, of all places, which, at first, sounds absurd, until you begin to realize all the implications of fitness, body image, youth-obsessed culture, and our continual preoccupation with self-image now that smartphones and social media are central to much of society. The cast she chose is full of athletes, dancers, body-builders, extreme sports players, and other non-professionals, all making for a "carnivalesque" atmosphere. Snow White herself is played by Elza Leimane, a renowned prima-ballerina in Latvia, something Pakalina says (in her Q&A for the film festival) was invaluable in having to take her challenging and very unusual direction for this approach to filming.

In The Mirror is billed as a darkly comic fable, which has shown to make for lively screenings at festivals. Here are some notes from reviewer Stephen Dalton at The Hollywood Reporter, who attended the Black Nights Festival in Tallinn, a.k.a. PÖFF24 (which we assume was social distanced, considering all the interviews and presentations were done via zoom and similar tech - something Pakalina commented on as being oddly appropriate and on theme when being interviewed!):

Smartly using a 200-year-old folklore story to satirize the narcissism and body fascism of our social media-saturated age, it consistently breaks the fourth wall in witty and inventive ways.

... this Latvian-Lithuanian film (Ed. - created with English subtitles) is mostly shot on agile hand-held cameras and clothed in lustrous monochrome visuals. Even if the storytelling is disjointed at times, In the Mirror never looks less than ravishing, while kinetic editing and a pulsing techno score help to keep energy levels at a maximum.

This foray into fairy tales is not the first for filmmaker Pakalnina. The summary on the PÖFF24 festival film site explains a little more of her approach to combining tales with social commentary:

Fairy-tales are stories which we are told as children and which we recognise in all sorts of characters around us as adults.

With her creative works which determinedly experiment with the language of film and the narrative, director and screenwriter Laila Pakalniņa has become renowned both at film festivals far away and right here at PÖFF last year with her documentary "The Spoon". Her film "The Shoe" intertwined fairy-tales with social criticism at Cannes as early as in 1998. After "Cinderella", she this time takes on "Snow White" We can all remember the evil stepmother whose sinister nature manifested in boundless self-admiration as she demanded daily praise from her reflection? Today, people talk to their reflection regularly multiple times more than the evil stepmother ever did throughout the entire fairy-tale.

...In this story, everyone talks to their reflection, which playfully comes from the perspective of the viewer. What does a person who only looks at himself see and what goes unnoticed on the background of all that? "In the Mirror" proposes answers at a high artistic level, while also daring to use the piquancy of absurd humour.

 And expanding a little on how the filmmaking style reflects the tale, in the review from THR:

Pakalnina and her cinematographer Gints Berzins consistently conjure up arrestingly surreal images: a team of strongmen lugging a burning car through a blizzard, a man asleep under a giant rock, the underside of a squirrel perched on a glass roof. Even when they make scant narrative sense, these quirky tableaux serve as dreamlike symbols in the spirit of Fellini, David Lynch or Sally Potter. Berzins also makes dynamic use of depth of field, shifting dramatic emphasis by switching from crisp to blurry focus. But most of the film's striking close-ups were actually shot by the actors themselves using digital cameras mounted on a custom “selfie stick,” a bold new kind of collective collaboration. 

The film reportedly follows the fairy tale narrative fairly closely but it's more how it's told that surprises and makes it fresh, rather than how the plot is modernized. Here's an example of how the tale is told via Cineuropa:

Overall, the piece works on two levels. On the one hand, it arouses the viewer’s curiosity to find out how certain aspects of the original fairy tale will be staged (and manipulated) within the bizarre characters’ world; on the other, it prompts an obvious reflection on the pervasive role of smartphones in our life, ready to document every single moment (even a successful round of burpees), to ramp up our levels of narcissism and to make our emotions appear more spectacular. In this respect, one of the initial scenes – the one set at the funeral following Snow White’s mother’s passing – is a good example of said dichotomy, as we see the father filming his own despair with the coffin in the background, followed by a number of relatives and acquaintances approaching him one after another and almost glad to be in the frame.

The Q&A with the filmmaker (spoken in English for PÖFF) is definitely worth a watch. Pakalnina explains her inspiration and challenges in creating a film this way, which is unusual at least, and possibly groundbreaking, and provides much food for thought. It certainly makes us want to hunt down her previous reworking of a fairy tale in The Shoe*. Scroll to the bottom of the Festival page and hit the play button under the Q&A with the filmmaker (right above the social media icon links). 

(For extra-interested fairy tale film-buffs and filmmakers among our readers, click HERE for a brief, but informative, behind-the-scenes peek at the filmmaking on Instagram. We also recommend reading the rest of the Cineuropa interview for specific filmmaking techniques used for the "selfie-aesthetics".)

Good news for US audiences: Los Angeles-based Oration Films signed up world sales rights ahead of the film's Tallinn premiere. We'll be keeping an eye out for this one!

DVD with English subtitles available for purchase in the US! Summary of the film HERE along with an interesting interview with Writer-Director Laila Pakalnina, and her very different Cinderella.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Gaiman's "The Sleeper and the Spindle" Gets A Holiday Radio Play Adaptation (Broadcasting Dec 26, 2020)

Where:  BBC Radio 4 is the station you'll want to tune in to - available anywhere in the world with internet access! (check the link)

When: December 26, 2020 from 3-4pm GMT for the permiere (Boxing Day, for all those that celebrate it), though it does appear it will be available to listen to after as well - BBC Radio 4 to confirm.

Who: Here's all the info on everyone involved from BBC Radio 4, as well as their brief synopsis in case you haven't read The Sleeper and the Spindle yet. (If you haven't, you may want to get on that... it's won a whole slew of awards for good reason. Plus Chris Riddle's GORGEOUS illustrative work is just *chef's kiss*!):

Neil Gaiman’s perfect Christmas-time fairy tale, brought to life by award-winning dramatist Katie Hims. Starring Penelope Wilton, Gwendoline Christie and Ralph Ineson as well as Neil Gaiman himself.

The Sleeper and the Spindle is a new tale drawing on traditional folk stories, interweaving Snow White and Sleeping Beauty in an enchanting drama that puts the women firmly centre stage.

In her mountain kingdom, a soldier-Queen prepares for her wedding day. Three dwarves, guardians from her childhood, race towards her. They were coming for the celebration, but they also bring news of a sleeping sickness sweeping the land. As a girl she survived her own long, magical sleep, so she throws on her armour, straps on her sword and rides into the heart of this new plague to try to find its source and save her people. The magical sleep is spreading from a castle deep in the forest. There, our heroine discovers a beautiful sleeping girl, and a very, very old woman, forever awake…. But when the Queen wakes the princess in the traditional way, she discovers that all is not as it seems. Ultimately, she comes to understand that she really can make her own choices, and follow the path to her own happy ending.


Written by Neil Gaiman
Adapted by Katie Hims
Directed and Produced by Allegra McIlroy

Recorded remotely by Sharon Hughes and John Benton
Sound Design by Sharon Hughes

The Sleeper and the Spindle was a BBC Audio North Production

Dame Penelope Wilton ….. The Narrator/The Old Woman
Gwendoline Christie ….. The Queen
Neil Gaiman ….. The Home Secretary
Ralph Ineson ….. The First Dwarf
Stefan Adegbola ….. The Second Dwarf
Ian Dunnett Jnr ….. The Third Dwarf/The Prince/ The Tinker/The Woodcutter
Cecilia Appiah ….. The Pot Girl/ The Young Girl/ The Mother
Emma Handy ….. The Maid/The Other Woman/ The Stepmother
Roger Ringrose ….. The Father/The Innkeeper/ The Bandit
Milton Dighton ….. The Child

As a little bonus, here's a behind-the-scenes video of Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddle talking about how the book began and their collaboration on The Sleeper and the Spindle. You're in for a treat. Enjoy!