IFH 456: From Indie Docs to the Last King of Scotland with Oscar® Winner Kevin Macdonald

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On the show, today is academy award-winning documentary and film director, and producer, Kevin Macdonald. He is one of few directors who dance the line of film and documentary seamlessly. He directed documentaries like Whitney (2018), crowdsourced documentary - Life in a Day (2011), Marley (2012), among others. He is famously known for his 2006 drama film, The Last King of Scotland, starring Oscar winning best actor, Forest Whitaker. Kevin has made a huge name for himself and his work over his 27 years in the industry - dabbling in commercials, films and documentaries. As a boy, his granddad, Emeric Pressburger who was a legendary filmmaker in the 1940s lit his passion for filmmaking. When his grandfather passed, Kevin wrote a biography in 1994 about his grandad’s life journey, titled, ‘ The Life and Death of a Screenwriter’, which he later made into a documentary ‘The Making of an Englishman’ (1995). This was the start to him becoming a documentary maker. In 1999 he directed the Box office hit and Oscar-winning documentary, One Day in September, which is about the 1972 Munich Olympic Games massacre, featuring a lengthy interview with Jamal Al-Gashey, the last known survivor of the Munich terrorists. This project catapulted his career big time. He then made the adventure-docudrama, Touching the Void, another critically acclaimed film that won Best British Film at the 2003 BAFTA. The true story of two climbers and their perilous journey up the west face of Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes in 1985. Kevin’s directorial debut on a film was the Oscar® winning, The Last King of Scotland. It is an adaptation of Giles Foden's 1998 novel by the same title. This historical drama which also carries a political thriller genre received riveting reviews and performed exceptionally - both commercially and critically. Forest Whitaker's performance stole the show and earned him an Oscar for Best Actor. This $6million budget film grossed $48.4million at the Box Office and has an 87% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The story details the brutal reign of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin as seen through the eyes of his personal physician. James McAvoy stars as the doctor who slowly realizes that he is trapped in an inescapable nightmare, and Forest Whitaker assumes the role of the notorious despot. In commemoration of Youtube’s fifth anniversary, Macdonald was hired to direct and produce the very unique film, the Life in a Day (2011) documentary. It was crowdsourced from 80,000 Youtubers and regular people all over the world sharing their life in one day. The film serves as a time capsule to show future generations what it was like to be alive on July 24, 2010. The completed film debuted at Sundance in early 2011 In February of this year, Kevin's latest film, The Mauritanian was released in the US. He explains in this interview that it was a very difficult subject matter to tackle. The entire movie was shot in two locations. Both in South Africa and in Mauritania. The Mauritanian is a suspense legal-drama based on the 2015 memoir Guantánamo Diary by Mohamedou Ould Salahi, a true story of Salahi's experience of being held for fourteen years without charge in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. The film stars Jodie Foster, Tahar Rahim, Shailene Woodley, and Benedict Cumberbatch. You going to really enjoy this conversation. We dig into the nitty-gritty of documentary structuring, tales of directing huge movie stars, and navigating the Hollywood machine. Enjoy my conversation with Kevin Macdonald.

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