Jenny Thompson worked in television production for 20 years as researcher and director with Granada, Thames, Central TV and independent companies, making documentaries, current affairs, arts and children’s programmes.
She was a consultant to Channel 4, making a series of workshops for young programme-makers and organised a conference, ’Children on Screen’, in partnership with the British Film Institute. As Programme Executive for the 1998 World Summit on Television for Children and a consultant to the organisers of the 2004 Summit in Brazil she developed a strong interest in the audio-visual industry in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Jenny has devised and run workshops in collaboration with Pakistan Television (PTV) in 2000 and 2002 on developing and writing children’s drama and has also been a consultant for the Broadcasting Unit of UNICEF. Recently she was also commissioned by the UK government-funded FILMCLUB to advise on international films for children. Since 2002 Jenny has been the Artistic Director of the annual MEDIA-funded European Lab programme, Pygmalion Plus, which specialises in children’s media. She is now directing a new Peforming Arts Labs (LAB) film development programme in India specialising in films for children.
Connection to the British Council?
My first encounter with the British Council (BC) was in 2000 when I ran a workshop on children’s drama production in collaboration with Pakistan TV in Lahore- the first training initiative there focused on production for children. The Council didn’t fund it but the Director at that time, Robert Snell, was extremely supportive and enthusiastic about the idea and arranged for me to meet other staff at the BC to discuss further development of the work. He also organised a wonderful dinner for us to which he invited everyone in Lahore who had an interest in culture for children. Then in 2002 the BC funded a follow-up workshop in Islamabad. More recently they supported the UK contingent involved in the first Indian Children’s Film Lab, an initiative made possible by the new MEDIA International programme, of which I was co-Director for PAL UK with our Indian partner Eleeanora Images. It’s the first time there has been a script development and training programme in India focused on films for children.
Working with PAL and Eleeanora Images I am involved in planning the expansion of the Indian Children’s Film Lab to embrace also television drama and interactive media over the next 3-4 years. The purpose is to identify new talent, provide project, script and professional development for writers and producers as well as attract investment for production and co-production of projects with producers in Europe – all focused on developing media of high quality rooted in Indian culture for children. India has a huge young population and there is such potential and talent there for developing films which address some of the experiences they face growing up in such a rapidly changing society. We also want to invite participation for some of India’s neighbours, including Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
What/who originally turned you onto film?
In the first place I think the BBC. As a child, I was an avid viewer of the many old films they used to show on Saturday and Sunday afternoons and late at night – sadly no more. It’s how I got my film history and education and learned to watch subtitled films without a second thought. It’s a shame the BBC is so frightened of doing this now. My youth and student days also coincided with a wonderful period of European cinema in the 1970s and early 80s and the flowering of talents like Herzog, Olmi, Rosi, Fassbinder, Schlöndorff, Klimov, Angelopoulos…who could not have been turned on by them?
Career high so far?
If we’re talking most pleasurable moments then probably the hours spent in cutting rooms when I made documentaries. I’m still working on the professional high which is to find ways to make some of the wonderful films made for and about children around the world available to audiences here. There ‘s so much great work that never gets distributed in this country.
First job in the film industry?
As you see from the above, I don’t claim to be ‘in’ the film industry. My production experience is from TV. But I guess my first professional brush with the industry was when I worked with PAL to initiate the script development Labs for children’s production in 2000 and we started to invite writers developing features for this audience. Since then I’ve worked in the Labs with writers, directors and producers making films family/children’s films from all over Europe on the EU MEDIA funded Pygmalion programme which PAL has led since 2002.
If I knew then what I know now....
Learn a craft skill first – like camera, editing, art direction. They are wonderful training for moving on to directing and it’s always easier to find work with these skills while you’re waiting to find the money for the next film. If it’s drama you want to do, a proper apprenticeship as a script editor: Understanding the importance of the story and how to work with writers is key to success as a producer I think.
What is your favourite British film?
Apart from almost Powell and Pressburger’s ‘The Red Shoes’, for the sheer brilliance of its script and its unnerving ability to pin down the reality of life in London - Michael Winterbottom’s Wonderland.
If you could have directed/been involved with any film ever made...
Anything by Jean Renoir but preferably ‘La Grande Illusion’ which I think is one of the greatest anti-war films ever made and because it would have been wonderful to watch him working.
First film you remember seeing?
‘Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf’ which my Grandmother took me to when I was about 11, under the misapprehension that it was a film suitable for children! It was a first insight in the darkness of the adult world.
Your favourite line or scene from a film?
Tancredi’s (Alain Delon) first scene in Visconti’s ‘The Leopard’ – brilliant marriage of Nino Rota’s wonderful music with camera movement in that sweep across the terrace and for sheer romance and youthful exuberance of Delon! Always makes me melt.
Best screen kiss?
The one you don’t actually see in ‘East of Eden’ between James Dean and Julie Harris. It’s a longshot of them largely concealed from the audience’s prying eyes under a weeping willow when she runs out to comfort him after his father’s rejection. It’s all the better left to the imagination.
Your favourite screen hero and/or villain?
Impossible question but Orson Welles as Hank Quinlan in ‘Touch of Evil’ covers both hero and villain and he has to figure here somewhere!
Who would play you in a film about your life?
This invites too much hubris for me to take too seriously but if I had to choose then Ingrid Bergman, but as she’s dead then perhaps her daughter Isabella Rosselini – they both have the same qualities of gentle melancholy and profound kindness with a streak of iron quietly woven in. If I could be immortalised like this I would feel fortunate.