Member Profile | FocusFeatures.com
People in Film | Kevin MacDonald
Posted December 14, 2010 to photo album "People in Film | Kevin MacDonald"
The Eagle director Kevin MacDonald, whether doing historical epics or Oscar-winning documentaries, has a keen sense of what is real.
Kevin Macdonald | Keeping the Drama Real
Following his two acclaimed feature documentaries, Macdonald chose as his first fiction film The Last King of Scotland, the fictional story of a young Scottish doctor who becomes Idi Amin's personal physician during the last years of the Ugandan dictator's regime. Based on a novel by Giles Foden that Macdonald read earlier while working at the U.K. publishing house, Faber and Faber, the film offered standout rules to two strong actors (James McAvoy as Dr. Nicholas Garrigan and Forrest Whittaker as Idi Amin), and a great character-based way of exploring an often-mythologized chapter of African history. It was also something of a crucible for Macdonald, who chose against shooting in a country with a real filmmaking infrastructure (like South Africa) in favor of the verisimilitude of lensing in Uganda itself. Until Macdonald's film, the country had never produced a feature, so the director and his team traveled with 40 technicians who trained a small army of Ugandans in the practices of moviemaking. And, just as it was for his doctor protagonist, the trip to Uganda was something of a consciousness-raising experience for Macdonald too. He told IO Film, "There are now undoubtedly human rights abuses going on under the new regime. That was one of things that I found quite disturbing in a way, I suppose, about making the film there. You arrive [to find] incredibly friendly people, an incredibly friendly country, the government giving you all the help you want, and it’s immensely peaceful and calm in the sense that there’s no crime really to speak of…. And gradually as you start to make the film, you start to hear, well, maybe not everything is as it seems.” The Last King of Scotland won BAFTAs for Best British Film, Best Actor (Whitaker), and, for Peter Morgan and Jeremy Brock, Best Adapted Screenplay. Whitaker was also nominated for an Oscar, and his performance was generally hailed by critics, including Salon’s Stephanie Zacharek, who wrote, “This is a wonderful, horrifying performance: Whitaker doesn't take the easy way out by playing Amin as a killer clown, a treacherous buffoon. Amin might have been crazy, but Whitaker -- at the beginning of the movie, though not the end -- teases out threads of believable sanity and charisma. This is how dictators get away with murder: by wielding personal charm like a mace.”