Screen moderated a preview screening of British landmine drama Kajaki: The True Story. Here are the answers from cast, crew and veteran Stu Hale.
The screening was the last of four regional previews, which took place in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds and Bristol, ahead of the film’s exclusive two-week run in all Vue cinemas throughout the UK from Friday (Nov 28).
The Bristol screening was attended by Stu Hale, one of the survivors of the ordeal portrayed in the film in which a troop of British soldiers in Afghanistan became trapped in a minefield.
Also at the screening was actor Ben O’Mahony, co-star Andy Gibbins (who plays ‘Smudge’), director Paul Katis, writer Tom Williams, executive producer Gareth Ellis-Unwin and producer Andrew de Lotbiniere.
Here is the Q&A with the team…
Screen: Stu, it looked like hell to live through. What was it like having to re-live it through film?
Stu Hale: It’s not too bad now, but it still takes me by surprise - even though, of all people, I should know what happens next. It’s quite an accurate reflection on the events.
Watching it wasn’t as tough as I thought it would be. Strangely enough it felt as if I was watching someone else go through the same thing, I didn’t feel it was me.
It did bring back some memories and gave me a new perspective on the events. As you can see, I was off to one flank with Smudge so I didn’t see the full event from an audience perspective. So the film has given me a new perspective on the day’s events.
Screen: Ben, what was your biggest challenge on Kajaki and how did you get through it?
Ben O’Mahony: I still find it quite difficult to watch, particularly with Stu and his family in the room.
I felt daunted by the prospect of playing someone who is so much more brave and noble than I could ever be, paying homage to a person who still exists today.
Getting past that without it being a millstone around my neck - that responsibility to honour something - was the greatest challenge.
Screen: Andy, filming in Jordon looked hot and uncomfortable.
Andy Gibbins: Obviously, it was nowhere near what these guys went through. It was 60 degree heat on some days. Being out there for 12-14 hours a day, it certainly helped to put us in that environment.
But we’re talking a fraction of a percent what these guys did. We weren’t in a studio in London trying to recreate it - and the flies were a bitch.
Screen: Tom, which was the most difficult scene to write?
Tom Williams: I think we found the set up most difficult to get right. Certainly once the events of the day itself kick in there’s a natural momentum to things. There was a technical challenge in introducing everyone in this strategic situation right up front, get some of the character of the guys, different accents, tones of voice, relationships, the various sections of the hill, that was quite tough.
We wrote about 58 different versions of the opening scene which is probably the only one that’s a compression of a few different scenes. Beyond that, it’s a case of taking everything we found and the guys gave us and try and make sense of that.
We started off initially with something more conventional and generic in mind. Once we came across this incident and once we started to pick away at it we discovered that if we were going to tell it right, it would be something altogether more original and set it apart from stuff that had come before. Once we started down that road, the more original it became.
Screen: Andrew, how did you find producing your first major feature?
Andrew de Lotbiniere: The responsibility was to the story. There’s a lot of different films we could have made. But when we were out in Jordan, we knew that we were doing something that could affect a lot of people.
Screen: Gareth, can you talk about the unique distribution model?
Gareth Ellis-Unwin: It’s been really exciting. I had an early conversation with some high-ups at Vue.
The first thing was we had a big premiere up in London where a number of the charities, supporters, cast and crew got that red carpet moment and it was important for us to showcase the start of the commercial life of the film. Veterans spoke and it was amazing
We then hit on the idea that we needed to curry some local support, and what better access point than the fact that Stu comes from Bristol, Stu P comes from Glasgow, Mark and his family were in Edinburgh, Tug and his family are in Leeds, well why don’t we do a roadshow, which was the second level. This is the last night of four and we have had a wonderful experience.
The last one was we needed to put it out across all 81 Vue sites and we achieved that. The film will be released on Friday across 81 sites. I think the first weekend the film will get 1,437 plays, which is phenomenal for a film such as this.
I was able to broker a really good deal whereby normally producers and actors would sit low down on the revenue and we wanted to do something with the charities that was meaningful and the only way to do something meaningful was to strip down the classic way of distributing a film.
What happens is every pound that goes into the box office, there’s a share between Vue and us, and the charities sit at the top of that tree. It’s one of the things I’m most proud about with the film. We as filmmakers have been able to bend our industry to do the right thing.
We sit in our offices in Soho and enjoy the lives we lead because brave men like Stu and his colleagues are prepared to go further than we might. I love the fact we’ve been able to wrangle the industry to generate some proper money for the charities.
Q: Can you talk about the decision to use no music until the end credits?
Paul Katis: Fairly early on, I was pretty convinced I didn’t want a score. It just occurred to me on this one, what would you do with it? Why are you pointing the audience in one direction emotionally and then another direction?
I wouldn’t say I don’t have a soundtrack, I do have a soundtrack. There’s just something more real about every footstep and every buzz of fly and letting the audience experience that with no direction.
As soon as you put a score on, a filmmaker says “Feel like this or that”. I think that the closing credits reveal that this is a really real story. It’s partly where the film gets its strength and you realize how significant the events were.