Mike Leigh has been trying to get people to pay attention to Greg Hall’s no-budget debut movie “The Plague” ever since he gave Hall the Katrin Cartlidge Foundation Award for outstanding new talent in 2004.Now Leigh’s efforts are finally paying off. After picking up prizes and critical applause (including an enthusiastic notice from Variety) at various fests over the past two years, “The Plague” is at last getting a U.K. theatrical release Oct. 6 via micro-distrib Wysiwyg Films. Leigh will be guest of honor at the London premiere Oct. 3. “It’s just very refreshing, fresh, anarchic, raw, an urgent bundle of energy,” he says. “It’s funny, violent, confrontational, quite informative and altogether a gas.” Hall was 22 and fresh out of art college when he scraped together £3,500 ($6,000) to shoot “The Plague,” a slice of hardcore urban realism. It follows four friends — two black, one white and one Asian — through one roller-coaster weekend in London, against a soundtrack from cult Brit hip-hop acts for whom Hall previously shot musicvids. When Hall invited 150 of Blighty’s top industryites to a screening in July 2004, only Leigh turned up. “I’ve got my ear to the ground. I knew about it when it was shooting,” Leigh recalls. “I see a lot of short films by young filmmakers, but Greg got it together to do a full-length feature. At times it’s crude, of course, and those of us who have been around the block would say you could get rid of this scene or that scene, but part of its strength is its complete freedom.” Leigh knows something about freedom, having fought successfully all his career to raise coin without a script. “Freedom is something I slogged away at by not compromising,” he says. “But the point about ‘The Plague’ is, because of the access to new technology, you can go out there with digital video and make a feature-length thing for £3,000. That opens up a new kind of freedom that is the future of filmmaking.” The digital revolution is also bringing “The Plague” into theaters. Wysiwyg is booking the movie into the U.K.’s new Digital Screen Network. “We set up Wysiwyg to use digital technology to distribute really good independent films that wouldn’t normally get a release but have an audience,” Wysiwig founder Tom Swanston explains. “It’s about understanding where the films come from, because that’s also where their audience is, and how digital can be used to lower the release cost.” Before Wysiwyg picked it up, “The Plague” was briefly released last year on the Internet. It managed more than 100 downloads at about $7 apiece — negligible in commercial terms, but not much worse than some much higher-profile online releases. When Hall, who is currently making a music movie for the Manchester Intl. Festival, was trying to raise funding for “The Plague,” he approached the U.K. Film Council and was told, “There is no cinemagoing audience for this type of film.” With Leigh as his cheerleader, he now has the chance to prove that wrong. Shortt pulls into “Garage” “Adam and Paul,” the tragicomic odyssey of two hapless Dublin junkies seeking their next fix, was the most exciting movie debut to come out of Ireland for many years, scoring at the local box office as well as with critics. Now director Lenny Abrahamson and writer Mark O’Halloran are about to start shooting their follow-up, “Garage.” Veteran standup Pat Shortt stars as a fresh spin on that Irish stereotype of the village idiot and holy fool, working in a crumbling gas station and searching for love, acceptance and the best place to display his motor oil. Ed Guiney produces, with Andrew Lowe as exec producer, and financing from FilmFour, the Irish Film Board, pubcaster RTE and the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland.
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