Producer Isabelle Stead’s latest film, Son of Babylon, recently was awarded the Amnesty International Film Prize and Peace Film Award at the Berlin International Film Festival 2010.
Isabelle, nickname ‘Izzy’, has been working in the film industry for nearly ten years. Her career began in London and then later she moved to Los Angeles where she developed her career further. She is now working on producing several documentaries and a feature film titled Train Station.
Your connection to the British Council?
The British Council selected me as the UK’s ‘Producer on the Move’ for European Film Promotion in Cannes. I really got a great deal from the experience and from meeting up with Europe’s most up and coming producers. I really appreciate what the British Council has done for me and recognise the importance this will have on my career; I’m look forward to doing more with the BC in the future.
Your current projects?
I’m in post-production with two feature length documentaries: Digging toThe Past – about the mass gravesites in Iraq, which is in conjunction with our IRAQ’S MISSING PERSON’S organisation, that Mohamed Al-Daradji, the director of Son of Babylon and I founded through the film. The other documentary is House for Sale about an orphanage on the brink of closure. We are also in development with Train Station a feature film to be shot in Iraq. The film is a dark love story about a female suicide bomber and we are in even earlier stages of development with our first feature that will be shot in Yorkshire.
What/who originally turned you on to film?
Once a year, from the age of three usually for my birthday present my auntie would buy me a ticket to enter the cinema. I would get so excited and always wished to know how they made the film.
Career high so far?
The experience of sitting in the chairs in one of the famous Berlin film festival cinemas, with the little boy Yassir, Ahmed from our film Son of Babylon. Yassir came from a small village in Northern Iraq; he had never been to the cinema in his life and had never seen the snow and never been outside his country – he experience it all on this day. I watched him laugh and cry and get angry with me and the director for showing him on the big screen in his underpants as his grandma in the scene washes him. After 4 years of working hard, day and night 24/7, for this young boy to have this experience and see himself on the big screen, experiencing cinema and then for the film to be rewarded with the Amnesty Prize and Peace Prize – this has to be one of the biggest career highs I and the director have had or will ever experience.
Your first job in the film industry?
I was applying from the age of 9 to the film studios in America to take me on but it wasn’t until the age of 18 when Smoke and Mirrors, a vfx house in London, offered me a job as a runner.
If I knew then what I know now…
That I would love working in independent films dealing with social issues that try to change the lives and ideas of people, then I wouldn’t have needed to work in Los Angeles and could have worked anywhere in the world and in any language to tell the stories and make the film I am doing now.
Favourite British film?
Whistle Down The Wind or Educating Rita.
If you could have directed/been involved with any film ever made, which one would it be?
A Thousand Splendid Suns. It’s the best book I have ever read (I understand it is in-development with the studios). As soon as I read this book I wanted to bring this story alive in it’s truest sense, keeping the film and it’s characters integrity and cultural richness alive by shooting it in Afghanistan with real Afghan women – it would be my dream to take this project on and do the writer and Afghanistan justice to make sure it was not watered down by the Hollywood system.
First film you remember seeing?
E.T . I was three and it was the first time I had ever been to the cinema.
Favourite line or scene from a film?
Dustin Hoffman in Kramer vs. Kramer – when father and son learn to cook.
Favourite screen kiss?
The Colour of Paradise – It’s an Iranian film about a little blind boy. After his father’s failed attempts to keep him in a Tehran blind school over the summer holidays, a homesick boy happily returns to his village to see his sisters and grandmother. His grandmother kisses him all over his face with great affection and we sense how much she has missed him – beautiful.
Favourite screen hero and/or villain?
Hero: Ali the little boy from another Iranian Film Children of Heaven who does all he can to get his sister a pair of shoes – bless him.
Villain: Javier Bardem as psychopathic stone cold killer Anton Chigurhin in No Country for Old Men.
Who would play you in the film about your life?
Penelope Cruz, she’s passionate and a little crazy like me.