GFF 2010: Family Ties
I’m Glad My Mother is Alive is one of those films which has critics jumping out of their seat but unfortunately has failed to create the same impact at the box office. Nathan Miller, who directed the film alongside his father (the established French filmmaker) Claude Miller doesn’t contribute this to a fault on the audience’s part however, but instead thinks the filmmakers missed a trick in marketing the film. Having just come from a screening of North by Northwest when I speak to him, Miller highlights the need for a clever campaign strategy by pointing to the success of directors like Hitchcock and Spielberg, who excelled both at promoting their films as well as the actual filmmaking. Yet one of the delights of film festivals is the chance to discover hidden gems which are unlikely to make the headlines (or even get a distribution) and I’m Glad My Mother is Alive is just one of those.
The film tells the story of a troubled boy, who is adopted at a young age, yet is constantly drawn to seeking out the love of his real mother. It is based on real events and has been applauded for its convincing and non-judgemental portrayal of the characters. This commitment to realism can be compared to Belgian duo The Dardenne Brothers (who Miller cites as one inspiration) but also the legendary American director Cassavetes. The latter was especially influential in deciding how to use music in the film, “We looked at one Cassavetes film, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, because of the music – in all the film there is only one moment with dramatic music, and we copied that for this movie. In most of the film we didn’t want to use music”.
Such references hint at some of the loftier influences that have made their mark on both family members, Claude Miller in his early career worked closely with some of the greatest of the French New Wave directors and one imagines that such experience has filtered down from father to son. Whilst I’m Glad My Mother is Alive is credited as being directed by both, Claude Miller in fact took more of a back seat role for the film. “My father stopped the test [shoot] in the middle and he made a very nice decision: he said, ‘it will never work how we thought it would, so you have to do everything. I will be there during the shoot but I will never speak to anyone but you.’” And so they created a set-up where Nathan Miller helmed the film and Claude Miller was a constant presence, collaborating closely with his son. The decision paid off and the result is an impressive accomplishment. Successful marketing strategy or not, the film has wowed critics and impressed those cinema-goers who bucked the trend and bought a ticket, now Glasgow film fans can do the same.