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What makes a great film?

By Græme Gordon, Executive Director, Praxity

With the prestigious OSCAR film awards 2016 buzz still resonating throughout various media channels, it's hard for anyone to have missed the big winners of the evening. All of this got me thinking about what is it I love about films, what I believe makes them great and how this relates to my approach to life in general.

A few weeks ago I spent the evening watching the 69th British Academy Film Awards (or BAFTA's as they are commonly known), as always the competition was stiff with another great year of excellent films having been released. The film 'The Revenant' won out this time around, scooping up Best Film, Leading Actor as well as best Cinematography and Sound. Having seen it, I can't argue that it is brilliant, however, on a personal level, it didn't do much for me as a film; 'Bridge of Spies', also nominated for an Oscar & a BAFTA, on the other hand, was far more emotive and I felt it was perfectly underplayed; with Mark Rylance winning a well-deserved award for Supporting Actor. 'Bridge of Spies' is based on real events. It's tense, understated and notably touching, for me it was a more valuable and rewarding viewing experience. Another fantastic recent film, in my opinion, is 'The Martian'. Throughout this film I was always “certain” the main character would survive, but the way in which it was been played out is ingenious and tense. All of these films showcase great artistic quality in their respective genres, and I would watch them again. However, there are many films classed as 'great', like ‘The Revenant’, which I may watch once but have no urge to watch again.

So what films have I watched, and continue to watch repeatedly, without ever losing interest; and what is it that makes me want to watch them again? 

Well, my absolute favourite film is 'Field of Dreams', a fantasy-drama about a farmer who after hearing voices is inspired to build a baseball diamond in the middle of his cornfield, and the late, great Shoeless Joe Jackson comes back to play the game he was once banned from playing. Then, the farmer, played by Ken Costner, goes on a journey of self-discovery and it's a lovely philosophical story exploring human emotion and interaction.

Another brilliant film, in my opinion, is 'Remember the Titans' with Denzil Washington, as it's a very poignant film and incredibly emotional. It's set in a high school in Virginia back in the 70's and focuses on a newly appointed African-American coach and his high school football team who come together for their first season as a racially integrated unit. Additionally, like Bridge of Spies it is based closely on real events, and that adds to the drama.

Other films which I rate highly and can watch over and over include 'Sleepless in Seattle', 'You've Got Mail', 'When Harry Met Sally' (tissues & Meg Ryan) and of course not forgetting the 'Star Wars' Episodes (Episodes IV to VX, of course). For me it’s about true entertainment, emotion and a connection to a story: unlike the pabulum we see a lot of on TV nowadays. Maybe that’s why I hate horror movies?

Shakespeare plays, arguably the ‘Block-Busters’ of their day, are another passion of mine, which explore emotions, like film, but these emotions are always pushed to extremities. 

For the last 20 years I have been involved in annual, large-scale, outdoor productions of Shakespearian plays and again I never tire of the stories, whether it be 'The Comedy of Errors', a farcical series of unlikely scenarios with great word play and mistaken identities, or the intense tragedy of 'Romeo and Juliet', star crossed lovers where everything that could have possibly gone wrong, did. 

The great thing about these stories, I’d suggest, is that, again, everybody can relate to them on some level and empathise with the characters; it's the same connection that we have which makes films great.

Bringing things back to “real-life”, I believe we should have an emotional tie to virtually everything we take part in, to make the experience more ‘beneficial’. You shouldn't be in a job which doesn't positively affect your emotions, in the same way that you wouldn't repeatedly watch a film you found boring. Of course, in the work environment you’ll always come across setbacks or mundane tasks, but you have to just 'DIN' (do it now), or, as I tell my team, NIKE (Just Do It), keep things going and make a difference.