Get ready for the British new wave 

It is the biggest film festival in the world. As Cannes kicks off, we speak to the four British directors hoping to scoop the prizes on the Croisette. 

Introduction by Andrew Pulver The Guardian, Wednesday 14 May 2008

Brit hopes at Cannes 2008: Sam Taylor-Wood, Duane Hopkins, Steve McQueen and Thomas Clay 

Cannes likes to return to the same film-makers time after time, but this year none of its established British favourites - Loach, Leigh, Winterbottom and Figgis - has made the cut. Instead, something much more interesting is happening in the festival's lower echelons: four British directors, two of them well-known and two rather less so, have been selected, and while they are all at different stages in their film-making careers, their presence points to a new generation of British cinema beginning to make an impact on the world stage.

That two have emerged from the art world can't be a coincidence. For some years, the YBAs have enthusiastically embraced the medium of film, achieving a kind of breakthrough two years ago when Douglas Gordon's Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait played at Cannes to considerable acclaim. Though there have been a few misfires (Tracey Emin's Hot Spot), a new spirit of radicalism has been unleashed. Both Steve McQueen and Sam Taylor-Wood have made their films under the aegis of Film4: if nothing else, they will have succeeded if they can import the glamour of more idea-based work into their cinema. 

The other two directors have something else in common. Both Thomas Clay and Duane Hopkins know the value of using spectacular photography to underpin stories of moral ambiguity. Clay aroused much hostility with his first film, The Great Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael; his second will hopefully showcase his undoubted film-making abilities. Hopkins is the least known, but his debut Better Things displays tremendous assurance. 

What unites all four film-makers is a commitment to the high-end art film. In a year when Terence Davies, guru of the more recondite end of British cinema, is back in circulation, it's a relief to report that his spiritual heirs are making their voices heard. Cannes deserves our thanks for this, at least. Here are our ones to watch this year.

The bard of beauty and boredom: Duane Hopkins

Of all the Brits in Cannes, Duane Hopkins has had the least help in getting here. A 34-year-old ex-art college student, with just a couple of short films under his belt, Hopkins has come a long way in a short time. He grew up in Chipping Camden in the Cotswolds, and made his first, award-winning short in 2001. Called Field, it set a style and mood that Hopkins has pursued ever since - through a second short (Love Me or Leave Me Alone), and now in his debut feature, Better Things.

Hopkins' method is to combine beautifully measured photography of the rural English landscape with simple, almost rudimentary narratives about the disaffected, disconnected teenagers who live there. Boredom and cruelty dominate their world, a counterpoint to the sublime natural beauty all around them.

Better Things is, as you would expect, considerably more ambitious thematically than Hopkins's short films, delving unapologetically into a heroin and pills subculture that Hopkins says was around him as he grew up. "The two things don't mix in most people's minds," he says. "When you think of heroin, you think of inner cities and economic deprivation - but of course you still have all that in the Cotswolds. It's not the tourist idyll it's made out to be. Every time I came back to the area I would hear that someone I knew had died through hard drug use. Then my little brother started to tell me the same stories. It was happening in his group of friends as well."

Hopkins's cinematic response to all this is one of high-minded aestheticism. He is unashamed in his enthusiasm for what he calls "film in its purest form, just images and sound". "I look at the UK film scene, and think Better Things is quite different - it's not just about straightforward narrative; it's trying to investigate the form and do something challenging and innovative. Film can aspire to the same things as painting; it can move into the abstract."

For him, Lynne Ramsay (Ratcatcher) was the trailblazer - "she's just fantastic" - and he cites a number of other short film-makers and first-feature directors as evidence that something fundamental may be happening. If there is a new generation of British cinema coming to the boil, then Hopkins is very much at its centre.

Andrew Pulver
Source | The Guardian