Death of A President director Gabriel Range joins forces with the writer and producer of The Last King of Scotland.
Channel 4, in partnership with the UK Film Council, the Film Agency for Wales and Limelight, has commissioned an original feature film, 'I Am Slave' from the makers of The Last King Of Scotland, starring upcoming international talent, Wunmi Mosaku (Moses Jones), Isaach De Bankolé (The Limits of Control, 24, Casino Royale) Lubna Azabal (Occupation, Body of Lies), Igal Naor (The House of Saddam, Green Zone) and Hiam Abbass (The Lemon Tree, The Visitor). Writer Jeremy Brock and producer Andrea Calderwood collaborate for the first time since the Oscar®-winning The Last King of Scotland. Gabriel Range, who developed the powerful script with Jeremy and Andrea, will direct. Inspired by real life events, it is an extraordinary story about one woman's fight for freedom from modern day slavery.
Channel 4 Head of Drama, Camilla Campbell says; "This project continues C4's established reputation for tackling difficult subject matter that sets the agenda. With the writer and producer of the Oscar®- winning Last King of Scotland, as well as the director of Death of a President, this will be an outstanding piece of film-making which will raise challenging and difficult questions."
Lenny Crooks, Head of the UK Film Council's New Cinema Fund, said: "The UK Film Council is pleased to have invested Lottery funding that has helped to make this inspirational feature film possible. It tells a tough human story with care and compassion, and in the strong collaborative hands of Gabriel, Jeremy and Andrea, it will give UK audiences an uncompromising insight into the complexities of Malia's world. With ContentFilm handling international distribution, I look forward to seeing the film reach out to other territories."
Pauline Burt, Chief Executive of the Film Agency for Wales added "we're delighted to be able to facilitate Gabriel Range's work, especially alongside such a talented and proven team. Gabriel is one of the most interesting, inspirational and talented directors to have emerged from Wales recently, and it's particularly rewarding that this project has a truly international relevance and appeal."
In the Nuba Mountains of Sudan, 12 year old Malia is snatched from the arms of her father during a Muharaleen raid on their village. Beaten and sold into slavery, she spends the next six years of her life working for a Sudanese family, then at 18, Malia (Mosaku) is sent to work in London.
The city swiftly becomes as much a prison as the home in which she is kept; hidden in plain sight, Malia's desperate situation goes unnoticed or uncared for by everyone she comes into contact with. Stripped of her passport and living in terror of what might happen to her family in the Sudan should she speak out, Malia is trapped in an unforgiving, alien environment.
Despairing of the life to which she has been condemned, she has to call on all her strength to make a dramatic escape back to Sudan and to the father who never gave up hope she was alive, and who never stopped searching for her.
"The figures for people trafficked into domestic servitude are even more difficult to ascertain, as these people, by definition, work alone or in small groups in residential properties, are scattered and very rarely come to the attention of the UK authorities." Home Affairs Committee report on Human Trafficking in the UK 2009
UK Home Office figures put the number of trafficking victims currently in slavery in this country at 5,000 people. The real life accounts of displaced persons sold into domestic servitude here in the UK were the inspiration for this film.
I AM SLAVE - PRODUCTION NOTES
The nucleus of the idea that was to become 'I Am Slave' first emerged almost eight years ago, when writer Jeremy Brock met a Nuban woman, Mende Nazer. "Her story was extraordinary and inspiring to me," he recalls. "She had been a slave in Khartoum and then taken to London, and had eventually escaped, and was able to tell her story to me."
As well as being struck personally by the nature of her story, Brock was inspired professionally. He approached the producer, Andrea Calderwood, with whom he had worked on 'Mrs Brown' and 'The Last King of Scotland', and together, the two began to research the subject matter. They were shocked by what they learned.
"When we started researching this story, we discovered that around 14,000 people had been abducted into slavery from south Sudan," says Calderwood. "Possibly even more shocking for a British audience, there are up to 5,000 people who are being held as slaves in the UK today, and that's the shocking fact. Whenever I tell people that I'm working on a film about slavery in London, they all assume that it's set 200 years ago. It's happening now, today."
The decision was made to take the idea to Channel 4. Then-Head-of-Drama Liza Marshall was the next to be taken in by the power of the story, though she was keen to focus the narrative more on London. "She gave us a brief which we were then able to work from, which was to carry the heart of the story further into London, and explore the impact of physical and emotional displacement on a slave girl," says Brock. "Once you're able to say to people 'Look, it's happening in London, it's in suburbia, it's not going on in some strange land that you can't relate to' then the story has much more impact."
As the project began to develop into something more concrete, Brock and Calderwood began to think about who they wanted to direct. Both had been hugely impressed by the work of Gabriel Range, in particular by his recent fictional documentary for More4, 'Death of a President'. Calderwood saw Range's documentary-making background as a bonus rather than a problem. "I've had good experiences before working with directors that go from documentary into drama. For example Jeremy and I had both worked with Kevin Macdonald on 'The Last King of Scotland'. I think that certain documentary makers have a very strong instinct for a story, and I think Gabriel's one of those. He can take a factual situation and find the dramatic story within it. Because 'I Am Slave' is based on a number of historical events, I thought it made sense to work with somebody who understands how to deal with a political context, who's also good at finding out a strong individual story at the heart of that."
"We talked to Gabriel about it, and he loved the story, and had very clear ideas about how he could work with Jeremy to tell a story that's very much told from a London point of view, but connects back to the young woman's experiences in Sudan. So he and Jeremy worked on the script over a period of about 18 months."
From the outset, Range and Brock discovered theirs was a successful partnership. "It was incredibly fruitful. Very symbiotic. Very immediate, very open-hearted," remembers Brock. Which is not to say that the writing process was a straightforward one, as Range testifies. "From Jeremy and Andrea first coming to me with the story, we went through nearly 20 drafts of the script. We did 18 months of writing and rewriting and developing and re-conceiving the idea for it to be a story that was framed very much by this young woman's experience in London. So we went from a linear structure to a film that has quite a complicated time structure."
While Range and Brock were wrestling with the script, Calderwood, as producer, had issues of her own. "Unfortunately we chose probably the worst possible year to do a film as it was a year when there were huge cuts across the industry. But Liza Marshall was very supportive, and got us as much money as she could from Channel 4, which meant we could then go into the process of raising finance from the feature film world, so we went to the UK Film Council, the Film Agency of Wales (Gabriel's Welsh) and put together a classic patchwork of independent film financing to finance the film."
With the script more or less completed, the next step was to cast the film. Not surprisingly, the key role was that of Malia, who appears in almost every scene. When the team saw Wunmi Mosaku for the first time, they realised their search was at an end. "I knew that Wunmi was Malia really the first time we met her," says Range. "I thought she had this extraordinary presence, and she had a very particular quality that the story demanded, which was a sense of dignity and a sense of pride that had not quite been rubbed away by these terrible experiences. She also had an incredible vulnerability, which I think really worked for the film."
Although the script was finished, Brock still had a role to play in proceedings. "A screenwriter has to hand over the reins to the director - it becomes their project, and that's absolutely right. But I was very fortunate that Andrea and Gabriel included me in casting, location and rehearsal. That's when you can make corrections - when you hear your words in the mouth of an actor and you think the syntax needs changing. Being involved in rehearsal allowed me to make those corrections."
Filming took place in London and Kenya, which doubled for Sudan. "I'd looked at various countries to film in instead of Sudan," explains Calderwood, "but Kenya shares a lot of topography with Sudan, and also there's lots of connection between the people in Kenya and Sudan - the tribes have a lot in common with each other. And also I'd had really good experiences working with a Kenyan service company, Blue Sky films, when we were setting up 'The Last King of Scotland', and they also worked on 'The Constant Gardener'. So we knew that it was a very film-friendly place to work. There are quite a few Sudanese refugees in Kenya as well, so we were able to work with some Nubans, who were able to advise us on certain scenes."
But before the heat of Africa, there was the cold of an unusually frozen London to contend with. "As chance would have it we filmed all the scenes in Willesden during the cold snap of December 2009 and January 2010," says Range. "The snow really helped us, because you couldn't get a greater contrast between wintry London and Sudan." One key scene involved having Malia run barefoot through the snowy streets. "It took some persuading to get Wunmi to take her shoes off to run barefoot through the snow at the end of the film. But it was such a striking image. So I found myself taking my own boots off to convince her she wasn't going to die of exposure."
The snow may not have been entirely welcome for Mosaku, but for the film, it was fortunate indeed. "The moment I saw the rushes, when you look at it cut together, the contrast is so sharp between the heat of Africa and this extraordinary frozen landscape that she's running through in London," says Brock. "It invites the most poignant comparisons with her frozen state of mind. It was a fantastic piece of serendipity that poor Gabriel and Andrea had to shoot in subzero temperatures."
After 14 days of shooting in London, the project moved to Kenya, for another 15 days of filming. For Calderwood, who has filmed extensively on the continent, it was another overwhelmingly positive experience: "I love filming in Africa - I find it an incredibly film-friendly continent to work in. People are very positive about filming there, they're very pleased that you're bringing the production there, and people really want to be engaged with the film. People are very willing to help and go that extra mile. If they can't help they'll introduce you to someone who can, and you can get plugged into a network of people who are keen to get involved."
Range was struck by the camaraderie among cast and crew. "A lot of the film was shot in the Rift Valley - it was incredibly hot, incredibly dusty, and we worked very long hours. But it was a very special experience filming out there. We lived in the Rift Valley in a little tented city, and everyone out there is just living and breathing the film. So it felt like an incredible privilege to work with a crew who were so focused and so committed to the film."
Filming was intense, in terms of schedule, but also because many of those involved in the film were themselves refugees and victims of violence. It was a sobering reminder of the factual basis of the story. "When we filmed the raid, it was an incredibly intense day," Calderwood remembers. "It took us all day to film it, into the night. The South African special effects and stunt crew had to leave the next morning, so there was a real pressure to get it right. We had incredible horsemen from the Kenyan mounted police there. We had a number of extras there who had been involved in scenes of violence and had had to leave their homes. Seeing a village burning down, and people having to flee from armed horsemen, you again realise that you're recreating something that was a real experience for lots of people."
This simple fact, that the film represents a reality for many thousands of people, is at once an inspiration and a burden for the film-makers. Range, Calderwood and Brock all speak of the responsibility of getting the story right, of doing justice to those who have experienced violence, displacement and enslavement, and are still experiencing it today. However, Brock is quick to point out that it is not enough merely to tell an important story. "When you're telling stories that have huge moral import, it's very important to remember that you have to tell a good story as well. It's not enough to say how important it is."
All are understandably delighted with the resulting film, which succeeds in telling a powerful and important story while packing a suspenseful and emotional punch. Eight years on from the moment a meeting inspired Brock to tell this story, what does he hope the film's legacy will be?
"Ideally for there to be a debate that reaches beyond the media, and becomes a political debate about the issues raised, so that as a consequence of whatever small part this might play in the debate, there is then action. Because that's what's needed. It's important that it's discussed, and it doesn't go away."
FACT SHEET ON DOMESTIC SLAVERY FROM ANTI-SLAVERY INTERNATIONAL
In Britain it is estimated that one in 10 households already employ some form of domestic help and in 2009 around 15,000 domestic workers visas were granted in the UK. While the hidden nature of domestic work means that it is impossible to give an exact figure on the numbers in slavery, the Home Affairs Select Committee estimate 5,000 people have been trafficked into slavery in the UK, which includes 4,000 for forced prostitution and a further 1,000 for forced labour, including domestic slavery. Read more
WUNMI MOSAKU INTERVIEW
If you haven't heard the name Wunmi Mosaku before, take note: you'll be hearing it a lot more in the future. Mosaku, who graduated from RADA in 2007, already has a string of high-profile stage and TV projects behind her, and was named by Screen International as a star of tomorrow in 2009. As if to prove such optimistic portents right, soon afterwards she landed her first screen lead role, in Channel 4's new feature-length drama, I Am Slave. Read more
GABRIEL RANGE (Director)
Gabriel Range is a producer and director from Wales. He worked as a journalist in the UK and Spain before moving into television documentary. His first drama was THE GREAT DOME ROBBERY for Granada Television in 2002. This was followed in 2003 by THE DAY BRITAIN STOPPED for BBC2, for which he was nominated for a BAFTA for Best New Director.
In 2005 he set up his own company Borough Films, through which he produced and directed DEATH OF A PRESIDENT. The film won the International Critics Prize at Toronto in 2006, and the 2006 International EMMY.
Through his company, now known as Altered Image, Gabriel has developed a slate of film and television projects with Channel4, Film4, UKFC, the Film Agency of Wales, Irish Film Board, Paramount and National Geographic Films.
JEREMY BROCK (Writer)
Jeremy's adaptation of EAGLE OF THE NINTH (Focus Features) for producer Duncan Kenworthy and director Kevin MacDonald will be released in September 2010, and he is now working on TRUE CRIMES, a true story inspired by an article in the New Yorker, THE ATTACK, which are both for Focus Features and THE SPARE for Daybreak Pictures, with Peter Kosminsky attached to direct.
Jeremy co-wrote THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND (Film Four/DNA/Slate/Cowboy) starring James McAvoy, Forest Whitaker and Gilliam Anderson. The script was awarded the BAFTA for Best Adapted Screenplay (2007).
Jeremy's first film as Writer/Director - DRIVING LESSONS - produced by Julia Chasman (RubberTreePlant) and Ed Pressman (ContentFilm) - opened at the Edinburgh Film Festival in 2006 starring Julie Walters, Laura Linney and Rupert Grint.
DRIVING LESSONS was awarded the Special Jury Prize; the Russian Film Critics award; the Audience Award and Best Actress (Julie Walters) at the Moscow International Film Festival 2006.
He recently teamed up with Ecosse Films once again on the feature film adaptation of BRIDESHEAD REVISITED directed by Julian Jarrold and starring Ben Whishaw, Matthew Goode, Hayley Atwell, Emma Thompson and Michael Gambon.
Jeremy's first feature film, MRS BROWN was screened in the Un Certain Regard section of the 1997 Cannes Festival to great acclaim. Produced by Ecosse Films for the BBC and directed by John Madden, it was acquired for theatrical release by Miramax. Jeremy won The Evening Standard Best Screenplay Award, and the film was nominated for two Oscars and eight BAFTA Awards including Best Film and Best Original Screenplay. Judi Dench won BAFTA Best Actress Award for her extraordinary role as Queen Victoria.
CHARLOTTE GRAY, which Jeremy adapted from the Sebastian Faulkes novel for Ecosse Films and Film Four, was directed by Gillian Armstrong starring Cate Blanchett (who described hers as "the best part written for an actress in the past twenty years"), Billy Crudup and Michael Gambon and was released in 2001.
Jeremy's career began in 1985 with a play IN TIMES LIKE THESE which premiered at the Bristol Old Vic with Greta Scacchi and Tim Woodward in the lead roles. He also adapted Dickens' OLIVER TWIST directed by Phyllida Lloyd at the Bristol Old Vic in 1990. He went on to co-create (with Paul Unwin) the UK's most successful long-running drama series, CASUALTY, which has recently spun-off into simultaneous BBC1 series HOLBY CITY. His major BBC1 television drama series, PLOTLANDS screened in 1997. His Central Films production THE WIDOWMAKER, directed by John Madden, was nominated for a BAFTA award. In August 1993, the critically acclaimed 15: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF PHILIP KNIGHT - winner best single drama Prix Europa - was broadcast on primetime ITV, a Yorkshire Television production for director Peter Kosminsky.
THE ART OF ORIGINAL FILMMAKING