No joking: Ben Stiller directs gritty prison drama

You have the freedom to tell these kind of stories on TV and work in a way that is not just about bringing huge audiences to the theaters, said Ben Stiller. (Reuters)
Updated 16 October 2018
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No joking: Ben Stiller directs gritty prison drama

  • Stiller puts on his auteur hat to tell the gritty and fascinating tale of a woman who helped two murderers escape from an upstate New York jail near the Canadian border
  • Stiller, whose films have grossed nearly $3 billion (2.5 billion euros), said it would have been impossible to “do all the nuances of (prison) reality in two hours” on the big screen

CANNES, France: Hollywood star Ben Stiller put away his clown face Monday to premiere his directorial debut in Cannes, a stranger-than-fiction prison-break drama that is based on a true story.
The American actor best known for the “Zoolander” and “Night at the Museum” films directed all eight episodes of “Escape at Dannemora,” the first of which was screened at MIPCOM, the world’s top television and entertainment showcase in the French Riviera resort.
With a stellar cast that includes Benicio del Toro, Patricia Arquette and Paul Dano, Stiller puts on his auteur hat to tell the gritty and fascinating tale of a woman who helped two murderers escape from an upstate New York jail near the Canadian border.
Their 2015 break-out from the Clinton Correctional Facility at Dannemora riveted America.
The interest grew still more intense when it became clear that middle-aged female supervisor in the jail, Tilly Mitchell, was having sex with both men and was smuggling hacksaw blades and burger meat into them.
Stiller, whose films have grossed nearly $3 billion (2.5 billion euros), said it would have been impossible to “do all the nuances of (prison) reality in two hours” on the big screen.
“You wouldn’t have been able to tell the stories of all the characters... or have the chance to lay out their world and build the tension,” he said after the screening.
“Television is now the place where you can make the kind of movies we are not making anymore,” he added.
Imagine, he argued, trying to get over the reality of Mitchell working with a lone guard in a room “full of 40 murderers and rapists, each with a pair of shears, working for 35 cents an hour” for an outside company that was making a fat profit on all their backs.
Stiller spent nearly two years working on “Escape at Dannemora,” visiting the surviving escaper David Sweat for five hours and shooting in the prison yards where he plotted the break with the Machiavellian Richard Matt, a talented painter who wrapped other inmates and prison guards round his finger.
He said the script was based on the anti-corruption report written by New York inspector general Catherine Leahy Scott, which Stiller said “read like a novel.”
“It is hard not to identify with the protagonist in a prison escape, but we wanted to show who they were as people and why they were in jail,” Stiller added.
“You have the freedom to tell these kind of stories on TV and work in a way that is not just about bringing huge audiences to the theaters,” said the 52-year-old actor.
“It is the kind of story that I have wanted to tell but I’ve never done until now.”
The first episode of “Escape at Dannemora” will go out on Showtime in the US on November 18.


World-famous Italian opera house debuts in Kingdom

Updated 15 June 2019
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World-famous Italian opera house debuts in Kingdom

  • Organized by the Saudi Culture Ministry, “An Italian Opera Journey” took place at the King Fahad Cultural Center
  • Only registration was required to attend the free event, which sold out almost instantly

RIYADH: Residents in Riyadh were treated on Friday to some of the best that Italian opera had to offer, with a performance by the symphony orchestra of the Teatro Alla Scala Academy, which made its debut in Saudi Arabia.
One of the most famous opera houses in the world, dating back almost 250 years, the academy offers world-class training in all disciplines of symphony, opera and ballet, under the supervision of famous musicians.
Organized by the Saudi Culture Ministry, “An Italian Opera Journey” took place at the King Fahad Cultural Center.
Only registration was required to attend the free event, which sold out almost instantly, with 3,000 music lovers, artists and poets enjoying an hour of beautiful tributes to classical music.
The show opened with a surprise performance of the Kingdom’s national anthem by Saudi opera singer Sawsan Al-Bahiti, who received a standing ovation for her rendition.
Al-Bahiti was invited by the ministry to perform at the event as part of its efforts to showcase national talents.
The orchestra was conducted by maestro Pietro Mianetti, and featured performances by soprano Francisca Manzo and tenor Ricardo Della Sciucca.
Some of the most iconic pieces from 19th-century Italian opera were performed. At the end of the show, a standing ovation led to an encore.
Deputy Culture Minister Hamed Fayez took to Twitter to express how much he enjoyed the evening.
“A beautiful night spent with the esteemed La Scala opera at the King Fahad Cultural Center in Riyadh, amidst a wonderful crowd, with an exceptional performance from our Italian guests,” he tweeted, posting photos.
The performance is one of the ministry’s efforts to attract high-quality artistic events that enrich the Saudi cultural landscape and enhance quality of life.
The Kingdom’s first opera house will be built in Jeddah, and is scheduled for completion in 2022. The institution aims to become the new home of a Saudi residence orchestra.
The Kingdom has also seen the opening of a music institute by famed Egyptian violinist Mahmoud Sorour, with a second music institute in the works.