Carlo Nero is a film writer and director, known for The Fever (2004), Uninvited (1999) and Larry’s Visit (1996). He is part of an impressive acting family being the son of Franco Nero and Vanessa Redgrave, with Liam Neeson as his brother-in-law. Jack Stuchbury spoke to him about the redeveloped Twickenham Studios, Dissent Projects and the British Film Industry.
“It’s fantastic to be working at Twickenham Studios” says Carlo Nero. “Twickenham is becoming a hub for film-makers, it’s great to be here”. He is dressed in matching khaki chinos and a sleeveless sweater, accompanied by a smart white shirt and with a strong moustache. An archetypal film look; it isn’t too contrary to imagine him in a director’s chair with megaphone in hand directing a classic.
Nero’s links to this time period in British Film are strong. He tells me “I’ve got a strong family connection with the studios. My Grandfather Michael Redgrave was an actor in The Stars Look Down which was filmed here at Twickenham”. The film follows a young man empowering himself to support miners against mine owners. This theme of taking on hegemonic power has gone full circle in Nero’s current work at the recently redeveloped studios.
He currently Co-directs under the name Dissent Projects, with his mother Vanessa Redgrave (who is no stranger to tackling issues head on, famously using her 1978 Oscar award of Best Supporting Actress to make a speech against fascism). He says the project is about “connecting people with ideas.” Nero’s career to date has seen numerous ideas explored through different mediums. Most notably, he directed the 2004 HBO film, The Fever, which followed a London sophisticate’s realisation of the stark contrast between the consumerism of her contemporaries and economic exploitation of the developing world. Similarly, he directed The Call Out, a ‘Playhouse presents’ TV drama covering the subject of the loneliness in older women. His productions are about taking on issues and presenting them to an audience.
With this in mind, I ask Nero to describe himself to me and he searches for the right words. “I like to think of myself as a social entrepreneur, my work is about campaigning and raising awareness”. I take this as a cue to probe into Nero’s current project. Bosnia Rising is a documentary telling the story of workers at a detergent factory. After the owners of the factory begin stripping the company of assets and letting workers go, the workers decide to occupy the factory to stop this from happening. He tells me “the factory workers face insurmountable odds and the film shows a British economist visiting them to explain an alternative economic model that can get them and the rest of the country’s many unemployed out of their crisis.”
Nero continues, “there is a widespread privatisation program that isn’t creating any visible benefits to the people of Bosnia” and that “a few people have been enriched immensely with 85 people owning the lion’s share of the country’s wealth”. This triggers an attempt in my mind to find parallels between privatisation abroad and at home, most notably with the NHS. I wonder briefly what would have to be done to the NHS to spark similar occupations. He continues “I want to make people aware of what is happening in Bosnia. The factory is symbolic of the situation nationwide. Worker’s are undertaking occupations without any kind of social or financial benefit. It’s a terrible situation and the scale of these protests are unprecedented”. I find it hard not to agree that the situation sounds desperate. Nero finishes “The aim is to raise awareness of the issues involved so we’ll be arranging some UK screenings soon”.
“Does Dissent Projects cover domestic and international issues?” I ask. “We’re covering domestically and internationally. We’ve done a documentary on land taxation called Killing Fields in the UK. It’s an issue close to my heart, but I think the issues we cover are far reaching and go beyond the confines of national boundaries”.
Acutely aware of the fact that documentaries can be laden with bias and curious about the project politically I politely suggest that “Dissent Projects could be interpreted as a provocative name” and am thoroughly and earnestly disproved. “There is an official line to follow but this doesn’t work for everyone. There has to be dissenting voices in order to maintain people’s basic freedoms”. I struggle to disagree on this point. Nero explains that his documentaries are “less journalistic” and more “advocacy orientated with dramatic sensibility to help viewers understand the issues, sometimes you just have to present what is at stake and what can be done to resolve this”.
Nero continues confidently “The name didn’t come out of nowhere actually, I did a documentary on Dissidents in Russia named Russia/ Chechnya : Voices of Dissent. These people put their head above the parapet and spoke out amid a background of political suppression and they were really quite inspirational characters”.
I felt like the subject of Dissent Projects had been covered now and wanted to know if Nero had any views on privatisation in the British Film industry. “Having produced films yourself, have you noticed any differences since the abolition of the UK Film Council?” I ask. “To be quite honest, the new body (British Film Institute) is working for me and I would say that the BFI are vital to British film-making”. He pauses. I press him on how the “types of productions have changed” to which he replies carefully, “I would like to see more controversial pictures being made. I’m not against commercial film-making. It would just be good to see exploration into more issues without being partisan”.
Knowing that Nero’s TV Drama, The Call Out starred Stephen Graham who also worked on This is England (a UKFC production) I asked how it was working with an actor of his calibre. He replies that “it was a pleasure and a privilege to work with him. Stephen connected with the role immediately, he got the finer details and implemented the character in his performance”. ” Are you looking to do more TV in the future?” I ask. “I’m not closing the door to anything. Documentaries allow a deeper understanding of subject and drama doesn’t allow this, but, I’ve done drama before and I love drama. I’m certainly not closing the door to anything. You should never say never!”
He continues “We’re looking at approaching more commercial channels and seeing what we can do.” I take a final slurp of my coffee sensing that the interview has drawn to a natural end and that Nero has a busy day ahead. We shake hands and exchange polite goodbyes. As I leave towards St. Margaret’s train station through the hustle and bustle of ‘TW1’s’ car park, I find myself fascinated at what Dissent Projects could achieve in the future.
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