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10 Directors to Watch: Clio Barnard Spins Modest Tale into ‘Giant’ Achievement

The British artist follows up her celebrated docu 'The Arbor' with hyper-authentic fable 'The Selfish Giant'

In recent years, some of the boldest cinematic voices from the U.K. have hailed from the world of fine arts. Like her compatriot Steve McQueen, helmer-writer director Clio Barnard is art school-trained and first galvanized attention with short films and installation works.

In her 2002 short “Random Acts of Intimacy,” she recorded real people talking about having sex with strangers in public places and then used actors to lip-synch their testimony against a backdrop of constructed images. This inventive technique also formed the framework for her first feature, “The Arbor.”

The product of extensive research and conceptual daring, “The Arbor” sketches the history of the late Bradford playwright Andrea Dunbar through interviews with her family members, portrayed by actors miming their words, as well as excerpts from Dunbar’s theater pieces. The creative documentary won critical raves as well as numerous festival prizes. “It was a film about a family, a playwright and a place as well as an interrogation of representation,” says Barnard.

She returned to that place — a rough, impoverished housing estate in Yorkshire — for her fiction debut, “The Selfish Giant,” a multi-layered childhood fable about childhood as well as a lyrical essay in with touches of social realism. Dubbed “a ‘Kes’ for the 21st century,” it marks a new helming feat: drawing propulsive and convincing performances from the two non-pro youngsters at the heart of tale.

In addition to adapting Rose Tremain’s bestselling novel “Trespass” for Left Bank and Film4, Barnard is also attached to direct a film version of Polly Stenham’s screen adaptation of her play “Tusk Tusk.”

“Adapting a novel and working with a screenwriter are both new challenges for me,” says Barnard, who was awarded the inaugural Wellcome Trust and BFI Screenwriting Fellowship, which she says “will give me time to explore and develop new ideas that aren’t fully formed yet.”

Stats:
› Age: 48
› Home base: Whistable, England
› Agents: Gersh (U.S.); Matthew Bates (Sayle Screen, U.K.)

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