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July 17, 2014

Half of a Yellow Sun's Urbane Outfitter

Costume Designer Jo Katsaras Brings the Vibrant Style of 1960s Nigeria to the Big Screen

“I stumbled across 6,000 1960s pieces that had never been worn and still had their price tags about 18 months before I landed the script,” notes Jo Katsaras, the Emmy-nominated costume designer responsible for the richly-hued wardrobe seen in today’s clip, taken from the film adaptation of Half of a Yellow Sun. “I bought the entire lot, trusting that this was not an accidental find.” Presented with a starry leading cast, including a pixie-haired Thandie Newton, and Chiwetel Ejiofor, fresh from the success of 12 Years a Slave, Katsaras’s ensembles play an integral role in director Biyi Bandele's story of socio-political turmoil in 1960s Nigeria (first told in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s award-winning 2007 novel of the same name). “Thandie’s style developed with her journey, circumstances and life choices,” says the South Africa-based costumier, who brought a discerning eye to a wardrobe as epic in scale as the tale, which ranges from the glamorous echelons of Lagos high society to the bedraggled ravages of civil war. “Creating a character for me is about taking everything into account: social status, personality, location, education, moral fiber and, of course, political and cultural influences,” adds Katsaras, whose other credits include HBO’s The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency and Mary and Martha. “A costume shouldn’t look like a costume, it should look like something that is part of someone’s wardrobe.”

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Spotlight

The Place Beyond the River Kei

Documenting the Contrasting Beauty of Nelson Mandela's Birthplace on the Eve of His Funeral

Few places remain as remote or magnificent as the Transkei, the boyhood home of the late anti-apartheid icon and beloved father figure of South Africa, Nelson Mandela. Photographer and filmmaker Laurence Ellis, who has shot for i-D, Vogue and Art Review, pays tribute to the remote outpost in today’s lyrical short. Inspired by the power and optimism of an image he was once shown of a local boy on horseback, Ellis drove two days from Cape Town to reach the rural Xhosa village where horseracing celebrations were already underway. “Even the name Transkei, which translates to ‘place beyond the River Kei,’ has a kind of wonder to it; a slightly fairy tale quality,” he says. Lead by young villagers, Ellis meandered its winding pastures dotted with brightly-colored thatched roof rondavels, and descended rutty tracks to ancient wave-battered monoliths with unassuming names, like The Hole in the Wall. “It has a contrast that in a way sums up a lot about South Africa,” adds the director. “You sense there’s a lot of hardship, but there’s this incredible beauty that goes with it.” 

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Spotlight

Teenage Dreams

Director Matt Wolf's History of Adolescent Rebellion Tells the Tale of the Original It Girl

BAFTA award-winning actor Ben Whishaw narrates the story of elegantly wasted 1920s socialite Brenda Dean Paul in today’s excerpts from Matt Wolf’s new documentary, Teenage. Taking cues from cult punk biographer Jon Savage’s whistle-stop social history of the same name, the director was attracted to the story of Paul, played by Leah Hennessey, for its modern resonances. “She seems like a Lindsay Lohan figure,” he says of the aristocrat who was considered one of the 'Bright Young Things' alongside Evelyn Waugh and Cecil Beaton. “The public loved to hate her. She was wealthy, famous for being famous, and the paparazzi were obsessed with her.” Though the film features still photographs of Paul and its other subjects—including proto-punk Tommie Scheel, who held illegal swing jazz parties in Nazi Germany—very little footage of these characters exists today, so Wolf filled in the blanks himself. “I didn’t really have a choice but to shoot my own archival footage,” says the filmmaker whose previous documentaries explored the lives of late avant-garde artists Arthur Russell and Joe Brainard. “We used old hand-crank 16mm film cameras, made duplicates of prints and then hand-scratched and transferred them to create layers of degradation.” The feature also includes narration from Jena Malone, Jason Schwartzman as executive producer and an original soundtrack from Deerhunter’s soulful Bradford Cox. “There is a nostalgic quality to Bradford’s music but it’s a totally new sound,” says Wolf. “Those are the film’s artistic goals: to use material from the past but remix it in a way that feels contemporary.”

Teenage is in cinemas January 24 in the UK via Soda Pictures and March 14 in the US via Oscilloscope.

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