News Column

Still walking in the sunshine: hit directors Max and Dania return with follow-up film: The team behind indie hit StreetDance may not be critical darlings, but financially they rank among Britain's top film-makers.

June 29, 2014

Vanessa Thorpe



Which British film directors can be relied upon to really pull in the crowds? Seasoned film-goers might put Sam Mendes, currently preparing his second Bond outing, on top of the pack, with perhaps his fellow Oscar-winner Steve McQueen or Joe Wright, the man behind Atonement, both also in the running. But when it comes to the kind of bankable hit that will make a big impact on both playground culture and the family market, the duo known to the industry simply as "Max and Dania" are streets ahead.

Max Giwa and Dania Pasquini are the little-known directing team behind the blockbusting youth hit StreetDance 3D, which made an astonishing pounds 2.49m on its opening weekend in 2010. Last week they proved they are still committed to the idea of bringing feelgood musicals to British audiences with the opening of their latest, Walking on Sunshine, which stars Gemma Arterton's younger sister, Hannah, along with Katy Brand, singer Leona Lewis, Greg Wise and Annabel Scholey.

"It is unashamedly young and fun and all about fabulous holidays with your girlfriends and falling in love," said Pasquini. "It's about them discovering true love, but it is also a love triangle as they have both met this same amazing guy."

Their first StreetDance film, which told the story of a creative collision between a group of hip-hop dancers and a ballet troupe, was the highest-grossing independent British film of its year, eventually bringing in pounds 11.8m. To date it is still the only non-US 3D film to open at no 1 position at the British box office.

"I was very surprised by the reaction to StreetDance," said Giwa. "It was one of those films you know everyone is going to compare to American films, because they have done this kind of thing so well so many times before. But we did it in a very British way, and in 3D, and it was our first film. So although I was very surprised it resonated in such a way with so many British kids, I think they can see themselves in it."

Another part of the commercial success of StreetDance, Giwa suspects, was that the screenplay, written by Jane English, appealed equally to girls and boys.

The fact that business partners Pasquini and Giwa remain the unsung heroes of the British film industry, quietly making more from their audiences than critical film successes such as Philomena, The Iron Lady, Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa and Kick-Ass, is partly their own fault. They do not yet have an agent and admit they have moved swiftly from one film to another without trying to build a public profile.

"We are in a very curious scenario at the moment," said Giwa. "We are getting scripts sent directly to us from everywhere. But we haven't put ourselves out there."

Pasquini said: "We met when we were both working for different production companies, making commercials. Max was a director and I was a PA and a runner. A good 20 years ago now we teamed up to make a video, but we always knew we wanted to move towards making feature films."

Pasquini's love of musicals is the result of her childhood habit of watching Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers films on television. Giwa said he became interested in film-making from a similarly early age. "I am originally from Africa, but I grew up in north-west London and when I was a kid my mother would take me to the cinema and leave me there while she was doing the shopping," he said. "My passion for it has just grown from there. I was intrigued about film-making, so I took photography further at school and then started working as a runner making commercials."

The success of StreetDance and its sequel, which together grossed more than the rival US Step Up franchises, meant that in 2012 the directors were asked to make a film for the Cultural Olympiad, alongside Mike Leigh, Lynne Ramsey and Asif Kapadia. The result was What If, a modern reimagining of Rudyard Kipling's poem If.

When they cast Arterton in her screen debut for their new musical Walking on Sunshine, they did not realise she had a famous sister. "I was talking to Hannah at the casting and I thought she totally got what the film was all about. And she was so sweet and genuine," said Giwa. "I rang up Dania and said we had found our leading lady." The decision to cast Greg Wise, the husband of Emma Thompson, as a suave former lover was also instantaneous, the directors said.

The musical, set in Puglia, Italy, has been compared to the Abba jukebox hit Mamma Mia! and features a succession of 1980s hit songs, from Madonna's Holiday to Human League's Don't You Want Me. The budget however, according to Giwa, was not much bigger than for the first StreetDance. "It was still independent film-making in the UK, after all," said Pasquini.

Captions:

Leona Lewis and Hannah Arterton in Max and Dania's new musical, Walking on Sunshine.

Dania Pasquini and Max Giwa: 'We always knew we wanted to move towards feature films.'


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Source: Observer (UK)


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