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Radmila Djurica is your guide to the festival scenes: Sarajevo, Cannes and many more

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Sarajevo Film Festival 2008 - Poppy pops up

Fifth time on Sarajevo Film Festival well known British film director once again proves his visits. Well, he's not a man for celebrity glamour. In life as in his films, he likes to keep things real and he is very English.-“It is a special place and there are number of reasons. Generally I think Sarajevo is a unique kind of place. The festival was born out of extraordinary tragedy and no other festival that I am aware has it. The nature of the city is very energetic and I find it very enriching as I am privileged to be part of it. In a very personal way the second time when I was here during the retrospective of my movies, I came with a two actress-Katrin Cartlidge and Lesley Manville. Katrin was already very popular here because she made “No man’s land” and “Before Rain”. People very much remember her, she spent a few days in Sarajevo walking around town, talking to a young filmmakers. And shed died two weeks later which was an immense tragedy for all of us in London, but it also resonated with everyone here in Sarajevo as well. So that’s another special personal reason. To see festival grow the way I have had the privilege of seeing it, is very interesting. I came here every alternating year from 2000. In the meantime I’ve been making films of course. It is very interesting actually the first couple of times when I was here, there was no carpet and the atmosphere was cozy. And then there was a time when I came I think in 2006 the red carpet was here and other program. And I think “My God what do they do with Sarajevo Film Fest?” But I was wrong. It was terribly patronizing, romantic and naïve point of view. This year I came back again and the festival is really developed and massive. I think the achievement is colossal.”

His new film “Happy Go Lucky” stars Sally Hawkins as Poppy about young woman with spirited attitude about life. When Leigh began his career staging plays back in the 60s, he had a free kind of “happy warm” style that depended on actors involved in order to help build characters and story with improvisation. Leigh also earned a reputation for dealing in dark, gritty subjects, despite humor which often runs through his work. Is it for Leigh tougher making comedy than tragedy? “I don't really think in those terms. To me, life is comedy and tragedy; life is hilarious and terrible rolled into one. I don't think 'I'm doing a comedy now' because it's all the same thing.”

It was only in recently that Leigh finally got a hold of British filmmaking money. “Secrets & Lies”, starring Brenda Blethyn, has got five Oscar nominations in 1997, including Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. And, for Leigh, it was guaranteed money for next projects. In the ten years he has produced five more films, attending the Oscars again in 2005 with drama “Vera Drake”. His latest film, “Happy-Go-Lucky” is a much brighter film featuring Sally Hawkins - an eternal optimist. Leigh here gets rid of the melancholy realism in “Vera Drake” (2004), and does something light, funny and emotional. And then you say, “she is just too happy!” In a world of misery, we are desperate to prove that the nicest person is a suspicious one. This is where Poppy stands alone. Poppy always has something clever and witty to say. Our initial suspicion of her joy gets finally replaced by respect and a desire to join her in her life.

Is this latest “Happy Go Lucky” different from his previous work? “-My natural instinct and job as a director and storyteller is to look at life with all its comedy and tragedy and to look at different things in a different ways. So I don’t really see it as such a big departure from my previous work. However I wanted to make film which is how I call it full anti-miserablism. We are living in a really disastrous period. People around the globe are destroying each other, which is very unhealthy. Poppy is a teacher and nature of their work with children cherishing the future. In my opinion it is not possible to nurture future without being optimistic. So that is what the film is about, on one level. Also I think it’s good to have some fun. Let me put it in another way. Here is a description of Poppy. She is positive, generous, she has some humor and she cares about other people. That is also a description of “Vera Drake”. And that film has lots of warmth, humor but overall context is different. So in a way I do not see “Happy Go Lucky” as a radical departure from my other movies even it is a bit different.”

It seems that in most of his films Leigh has strong female characters. Is that intentional? Well it seems that way. “It is intentionally. I certainly have an agenda, a supplementary one, to make good parts for women in the world cinematography tend to be woman subordinate to men. My experience about in life is that there are strong women around and I wanted to make a place for them in my work. “

 Was it fun to make a film with such an ebullient central character? “Yes, well, I've enjoyed making all my films. I mean, we had a laugh on “Vera Drake”! I always make sure to get people on these films, on both sides of the camera, who've got a big sense of humor, because if you have no sense of humor you can't live, really. If you're not sure what I mean, look at the character of Scott. He has such a hard time because he's got no sense of humor - he's devoid of a sense of humor. We always have fun, but it's always tough, and it was sure as hell tough making this film. One thing you should realize about the driving lesson in this film is that the actors are actually driving the car. The cars were rigged up for the film and they had to drive for real at the same time, so that was kind of tough and a bit hairy at times. But yes, it is a lot of fun, and it's great to go to work every day and think that we're doing a job that at some remote point we'll get paid for and it's enjoyable.”

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