‘Empire of Light’ Beams on Kindness and Acceptance

From Academy Award® winner Sam Mendes (1917, Revolutionary Road, Road to Perdition, Jarhead, American Beauty) comes a uniquely heartwarming film “Empire of Light” starring Olivia Colman, Micheal Ward, Colin Firth and Toby Jones. The film is part of Ayala Malls Cinemas’ A-List Series, a curation of the finest films best experienced on the big screen.

Micheal Ward and Olivia Colman in the film EMPIRE OF LIGHT. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2022 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved

In “Empire of Light,” Mendes has created two characters, Hilary and Stephen, played by Academy Award® winner Olivia Colman (The Favourite, The Lost Daughter) and rising star Micheal Ward. Mendes has woven them into a story exploring some of the ties that bring us together – the music, the movies, and the makeshift families that get us through.

At the beginning of the story, Hilary, played by Olivia Colman, has come out of a mental health episode that has put her on medication. Hilary is a woman living with mental illness, and together, Mendes and Colman bring her to life with sensitivity, nuance, gentleness, and complexity. “Sam is so emotionally engaged,” says Colman. “He understands what kindness is and that it is needed and what she’s going through is not her fault.”

Simultaneously, Ward’s character Stephen must walk through a racist world – but keeps true to himself as he finds an unlikely connection with Hilary, and with the cinema itself. “He’s been rejected by universities and he’s at a crossroads and trying to find himself,” says Ward. “When something like that is taken away from you, you have to find something else that fulfills you. He loves people, loves to connect with music and movies, and he refuses to allow an oppressive society to define who he is.”

“Empire of Light” reunites Mendes with one of his most important collaborators: director of photography Roger Deakins (1917, Blade Runner 2049, Skyfall, The Shawshank Redemption). Deakins also earned his latest Academy Award nomination for this film, making it his 16th-time Oscar®-nomination and with previous wins in cinematography for his works in (Blade Runner 2049, 1917). A career-long user of ARRI cameras, Deakins again relied on Alexa large format cameras and its Signature Prime lenses, but with a key difference from his experience in filming 1917. “On 1917, we basically used one lens, because that was the whole concept of doing the film from one perspective. On this film, we’ve used a wider range of lenses – 35, 40, 47, in that range,” shared Deakins.

Micheal Ward and Olivia Colman in the film EMPIRE OF LIGHT. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2022 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved

Today, the art of film projection has largely passed to digital, Toby Jones brings to life a character of Norman that represents an important part of film history – a projectionist, a character that is part of a time when films were projected by a skilled professional using two machines, with celluloid passing by an arclight, watching for secret signals to switch reels. Because Norman has been projecting films for decades, it was necessary for Jones to master the art. “There’s an element of timing in it, as you switch between projectors, and of careful manipulation – how you hook up the celluloid as it passes through the projector,” shares Jones.

Continues Mendes, ”People talk a lot about shooting on film dying, but for me, the big loss is film projection. The projectionist gives the movie to the audience, and it’s that sense that even if there’s only one person out there in the dark, they know there’s someone up there showing them the film, giving it to them. You talk to the projectionists and for them, they are part of the filmmaker’s world. They see themselves as the last link in the chain.”

“In the middle of lockdown there was a racial reckoning in the world. We were left alone to contemplate how our own racial politics had been formed, and whether we had fallen down in our attempts to make sure the world was evolving. When I wrote the movie there was also another common obsession: we were all worried whether the cinema was going to die, along with live performances. So, all of those things have gone into this movie, and in that regard, it’s quite raw,” Mendes says.

Watch out for more exciting films to be included in the A-LIST SERIES, follow Ayala Malls Cinemas’ social media pages on Facebook and Instagram for updates.

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