Kenneth Branagh Loves Freedom of Short Films

Providence Journal, 5 August 2003
by Michael Janusonis
**Thanks, Beck

Kenneth Branagh was on the phone from London recently, very apologetic about not being able to come to Providence to introduce his 23-minute short film, 'Listening', which opens the Rhode Island International Film Festival at the Columbus Theatre tonight.

"It's a big disappointment," said Branagh, who has played everything from 'Henry V' (for which he was nominated for the 1989 best actor and best director Oscar) to self-obsessed Prof. Gilderoy Lockheart in 'Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets'. "Although 'Listening' has been shown all over Europe, I had not seen it played with a big audience before and I was dying to see that. If I do something like this, it's so people will see it. I'm desperate for people to see it and I hope it prods them to talk and argue about it afterward."

Speaking over a wireless phone while being driven around London by a friend on their way to lunch, the 43-year-old actor said he had even cleared his trip with the National Theatre in London where he's starring in David Mamet's 'Edmond' in repertory "so I'm not on every night." The plan was to get on a plane following a performance of the play and arrive in Providence the next day in time for tonight's festival. "They were pretty nervous about that, and, frankly, so was I," he admitted.

But the advantages for him were more compelling. "It's a thrill to get audience responses," Branagh said. "I've heard a lot of good things about the Rhode Island International Film Festival.

"And I wanted to show my new wife the area. I've been there many times." Half a dozen years ago he starred in a film, 'The Proposition' that was made in Boston, "though it didn't go anywhere" and two years ago introduced his own production of 'Love's Labour's Lost' at the opening of the Newport International Film Festival. "I especially love the seafood and driving along the coast. I feel very comfortable in that part of the world."

Unfortunately, however, a film he had committed to earlier suddenly went into production. "And as a result of that, it's tragic, they changed my schedule and so I'm not coming to Rhode Island."

The film is a fantasy called 'Five Children and It'. "The children are sent to stay with their very mad uncle -- me! The 'It' is a sand fairy who grants them one wish a day, but the wish ends at the end of the day. This leads to all sorts of adventures, but it also serves the warning of be careful what you wish for." The sand fairy has been created by Jim Henson's Creature Shop and Branagh said the film "is not without the influence of Harry Potter, but in a good way."

Although Branagh has directed many feature films -- 'Henry V', 'Dead Again', 'Peter's Friends', 'Much Ado About Nothing', 'Mary Shelley's Frankenstein', 'A Midwinter's Tale', 'Hamlet', 'Love's Labour's Lost' -- as well as acting, he has recently branched out into short films. 'Listening', an almost wordless film about a couple who meet at a bucolic retreat where silence is the rule, is his second short film. His first, 'Swan Song' starring John Gielgud, was nominated for an Academy Award a few years ago.

This year for the first time, the short films shown at the Rhode Island International Film Festival qualify for Academy Award consideration. But Branagh said that wasn't the main reason he wanted 'Listening' screened here. "I want an interested audience to see it. It's a film for the festivals. And when the people at the Rhode Island festival saw it, their response was so pleasing I was thrilled. They were fantastically welcoming. When people are so enthusiastic, it's very gratifying."

Branagh said his interest in short films grew out of his love for short stories, which he devours while traveling or waiting on film sets. "The short film frees you because you're not worried about what it's going to do on the first weekend.

"And I wanted to experiment. Most of my films are completely dialogue based. But I wanted to see if I could tell this story in as few words as possible. I wanted to do a film about nuance and atmosphere, a story that was told in the characters' faces and that packed a punch. For me, it was really a releasing thing. I ended up making it because, in a pure sense, I had to make it."

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