CFI Member Screenings: Early Man, Last Men in Aleppo and Journey’s End

Ever notice a long line in front of the Rafael, circling around the block, and wonder what all those people are cued up for? You might be seeing CFI Members lined up to catch a special Free Member Screening, just one of the many great benefits received for supporting the mission and programs of the California Film Institute.

In the past month, CFI hosted two Member Screenings with special guests in attendance. On Monday, February 12, the Rafael presented a family-friendly screening of Early Man, from Aardman Animation Studios. Aardman is well known for their endearing and witty feature films composed entirely from painstaking stop-motion animation. Their most popular titles include Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run and Shaun The Sheep Movie. Early Man is their latest creation, focusing on the adventures of Dug and his tribe of Stone Age cavemen who find themselves unceremoniously thrust into the Bronze Age. Their peaceful way of life is threatened, but learning the ancient game of ‘football’ may position them for victory. Featuring the vocal talents of Eddie Redmayne, Maisie Williams, Tom Hiddleston and many more, Early Man is sure to be another crowd pleasing success for Aardman.

Following the screening, our CFI Member audience was treated to a Q&A moderated by Rafael Director of Programming Richard Peterson with director Nick Park and lead animators Will Becher and Merlin Crossingham, who brought along model figures of the main characters from the movie. The trio volleyed questions from members of the audience, including many young spectators, and invited curious minds to the stage to check out the figures. Park and crew discussed many aspects of their very specific style of filmmaking, from what composes the hair and fabric of their models, to how expressions are rendered, to the length of time it takes to shoot a single scene. Audience members were delighted with the opportunity to meet these world-class animators and discuss their celebrated work first hand.

On Wednesday, February 14, the Rafael hosted another Member Screening of the Academy Award-nominated documentary feature Last Men in Aleppo, with director Feras Fayyad in attendance. Last Men documents the dedicated Syrian volunteer rescue workers known as The White Helmets as they work day in and day out to respond to the ceaseless struggle in the streets of Aleppo, where war is now the normal state of affairs for the citizens of this embattled country. Last Men won the World Documentary Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 2017, and is the first Syrian produced and directed film to be nominated for an Academy Award. Audience members took in the richly crafted and emotionally challenging documentary and participated in a lively and frank discussion with Fayyad after the screening, moderated by DocLands Director of Programming Joni Cooper.

The conversation ranged from political questions about why the Syrian war began, to more personal questions about how Fayyad was able to deal with the horrific scenes he witnessed in Aleppo while filming. He expressed that Khaled Omar Harrah, a White Helmet and one of the main subjects in the film, was a great comfort to him, demonstrating enormous emotional strength as well as playfulness and good nature. Fayyad addressed many political issues and shared his perspective on the Syrian war, while emphasizing that he is in no way a politician himself, nor does he consider himself fully aware of all the political intricacies of the war. Fayyad stated that as a filmmaker he primarily wished to present the Syrian revolution as the ultimate fight for freedom of expression and spoke about his own imprisonment for creating art and films in a part of the world that prohibits any form of creative expression.

Fayyad eloquently expressed the difficulty of being a Syrian that had escaped, as well as the guilt he has experienced. When asked about why some Syrians have chosen to stay in Aleppo, Fayyad explained that a lot of Syrians feel unable to leave for many reasons including their love for their country and the fear of their families being separated once they have passed the border. Fayyad discussed the unfortunate news that Kareem Abeed, the producer of the film and Mahmoud Al-Hatter, the founder of the White Helmets, both Syrian refugees, will not be allowed into the US to attend the Academy Awards and represent the film, due to the Syrian refugee ban. The Academy Awards recently released a statement expressing solidarity with Fayyad and Abeed.

The audience was enthralled by the powerful impact of Fayyad’s compelling film and the post-film Q&A provided a platform for compassionate discussion surrounding the tragic circumstances of the Syrian people today.

Both of these Member Screenings exhibit the range of experiences available to CFI Members throughout the year, made even more compelling by the participation of the visiting filmmakers, eager to discuss their projects and craft. In addition to this great benefit, Members receive discounts year-round on all Rafael programs, as well as at DocLands Documentary Film Festival and the Mill Valley Film Festival.

The next screening scheduled for CFI Members will be March 13 for the upcoming British film Journey’s End, starring Sam Claflin, Asa Butterfield, Paul Bettany, Tom Sturridge and Toby Jones, directed by Saul Dibb (The Duchess), and based on the 1928 play by R.C. Sheriff. The film provides a glimpse into the experiences of the officers of a British Army infantry company in World War I. This film marks the fifth time the popular story has been adapted for the screen since 1930. Reviews coming out of the film’s screening as part of the Special Presentations section at the 2017 Toronto Film Festival have been overwhelmingly positive, and CFI Members will be among the first to catch this moving, gritty account of disillusioned, yet resolved soldiers stationed in a dugout in Northern France in 1918, awaiting their orders, and ultimately, their fate. Dennis Harvey at Variety magazine praises Journey’s End for retaining “it s poignancy in illustrating how no war casualty is merely a statistic.”

The California Film Institute believes that film has the power to inspire, educate, entertain and create conversation. We strive to provide these opportunities for our members with each Member Screening.

To find out more about CFI Membership, visit
Questions? Contact Membership at [email protected] or 415-526-5869

Photo credits: Early Man, CFI Staff; Last Men In Aleppo, Bill Johnston, Jr.