Liberian documentary maker Zubin Cooper has wrapped up his first Cannes Film Festival appearance, having starred in ‘The Last Face’, a movie that spans four countries, Liberia, Sierra Leone, South Sudan and South Africa. Having joined the project as an advisor, Zubin ended up making his acting debut in the role of ‘Dr. Mousa.’
Written by Erin Dignam, directed by 2-time Oscar award winner Sean Penn and shot entirely in South Africa, the story spans some 13 years, starting with the current crisis in Sudan at a U.N. mission base, where for the first time in its history, the organization allowed an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp to be contained within the base. It then flashes back to the civil wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia in 2003 where Dr. Miguel Leon (Javier Bardem) and Dr. Wren Petersen (Charlize Theron) first meet and fall in love, and intermingle this with Wren’s current day work at the U.N in Geneva and where they rekindle their love affair.
The movie is about the intimacy of the relationship between two people, amidst the chaos and terror of what was going on at the time.
“Cooper was identified as a valuable advisor to the production,” said the producers of the film. “The Liberian national had worked directly with the U.N. military mission and other international NGOs in that country during its peace transition, and later worked on the Discovery Channel’s 2003 documentary: Liberian Civil War.
“Having seen the best and the worst of Liberia, Cooper was able to give a first-hand account of the war and offer the filmmakers vital guidance from accents and places, down to detail of license plates to wardrobe.”
The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, France. During the press conference about the film, the cast was asked how easy it was to act surrounded by such a reality, considering that some scenes in the film were shot like a documentary. South African actress, Charlize Theron, said working with ace
English cinematographer Barry Ackroyd, whose ability to “melt into the environment… made it very easy for the actors. We had several cameras rolling at a time and it was strange. You never really felt like there was a camera crew or camera department… or anything like that. I felt like we were all just on this kind of hike through the jungle together and maybe that is what documentary film making is – I don’t know, I can’t say that from personal experience. But it… made for a very effortless shoot.”
“It was surreal at times – it would give you flashbacks,” said Cooper, responding to the same question. “Becasue the sheer brutality, the gruesomeness, the feel of it, the atmosphere was so dark and heavy. And to see… everybody adapting to that without ever having lived that reality, it was surreal. But that’s what gives the movie the weight and tenor that makes it so haunting and realistic that, when you see it, it will touch your soul.”
Zubin Cooper is a media professional and is an avid follower and proponent of African culture and its impact on new media. A self-proclaimed bon vivant, born in Monrovia, Liberia and currently living in Monrovia, Liberia, not far from the beach, Zubin has lived in the US, Spain, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo and visited many other African and European nations. Zubin is currently involved in the running of omuahtee AFRICA media, an African Media company and in the execution of different projects. He’s filmed, co-produced and participated in many projects most centered on his beloved continent in the West African sub-region. He believes that media professionals, journalists and filmmakers are modern day Griots; living historians and storytellers with a duty torecord and share what they see, hear and believe.
The motion picture “The Last Face” is brought to the screen by a group of filmmakers and actors who coincidentally all happen to be humanitarians in their own right and unquestionably this resonance was their motivation to work with very the difficult material.
It is not a didactic documentary, or war story. At the center of this mayhem is the extraordinary love of two individuals that have made their lives a career in humanizing the human condition, and how they keep their love alive in the atrocities that their work takes them to.
Well, at least that’s from the directors and producers’ point of view.
Hollywood went abuzz on twitter over the weekend during the film premiere, however, dismissing the film for focusing more on the romantic aspect of the story than the real humanitarian issues that the film claimed to champion.
Owen Gleiberman, Chief Film Critic of the Variety newspaper, a very influential entertainment publication in Hollyood, faulted Penn for spending so much time on the love story between Theron and Bardem. “No matter how ‘well-meaning’ a director may be,” he said, “there’s something inherently eye-rolling about being asked to care about the tragedy of African children through the POV of two lovelorn glamour pusses.”
“The Last Face – Lots of powerful images, but Sean Penn cannot direct at all. So cheesy, laughably bad, utter trash. Seriously awful, awful,” said Alex Billington (@firstshowing) said on Twitter.
When asked at the press conference about the poor reviews the film received, Penn said, “I stand by the film as it is, and everyone is going to be entitled to their response. I’ve finished the film so it’s not a discussion I’d be of value to,” adding, “I am surrounded at this table by performances that I’d pay to see 100 times.”
Commenting on his experience shooting the film from a prepared statement, Cooper said, “To all of you who have liked, shared and otherwise embraced and expanded my joy and sense of the moment. Thank you from the bottom of my heart and soul. It is due to the inherent greatness and indomitable spirit of Liberia, West Africa, Africa and humanity that we can assume a common sense of accomplishment and pride. I may be a cast member of the film, ‘The Last face,’ but I stand in the gap as a representative for us all.”
He also thanked “a great director and visionary filmmaker,” Mr. Sean Penn, for offering him a wonderful opportunity and being a good friend. Zubin said Penn showed faith, understanding and vision in not just casting him, but in his direction and portrayal of the story. “The testimony of which is what I believe is a film true to its subject matter in tenor and form, beautifully shot and conceived,” he added.
“I also thank Ms. Charlize Theron for being what she is and doing what she does best – being arguably the greatest actress of her generation and a wonderful caring human being. Mr. Javier Bardem, a great actor, man and just an all around nice guy. Jean Reno, who I’ve idolized for so many years, an actor’s actor; a thespian of renowned and great talent.”
He went on to thank the rest of the cast and crew of the film.