National Press Reviews
From a major movie made for millions, we turn to an independent production shot in Liverpool over a number of years as money, equipment and people became available. Director, writer and producer Charles Teton managed to put Dark Summer together against all odds and, although this is a small movie exploring small themes, it bodes well for Teton's future in film. This is basically a love story between a black boxer, Abe (Steve Ako) and white girl Jess (Joeline Garner Joel) who meet at Jess's father's scrap heap. They move in together as Abe concentrates on his hard, physical boxing regime and Jess concentrates on redecorating their flat for the birth of their baby. However, after a miscarriage, it seems all Jess and Abe's dreams start to unravel, leaving them without even the consolation of having each other. Shot in Widescreen Cinemascope with a haunting reggae soundtrack by Augustus Pablo, Dark Summer is really a mood poem - lots of long, long shots of the river Mersey, of Jess painting the nursery and solitary figure of Abe doing training runs, Dark Summer probably needs more of a story, but as a starting point for a new British talent, it's refreshing, to find someone who doesn't believe you need blood, guts, hatred and car chases to sell a movie. - Dee Pilgrim
THE BIG ISSUE
Four years in the making, writer- director Charles Teton's Liverpool set labour of love tells a tale of forbidden love. The picture's summertime heroes are pouty Jess (Joeline Garner Joel) and boxing wannabe Abe (Steve Ako), who set up home undeterred by racism, money worries and foaming -at-the-mouth opposition from Jess's mean-minded Dad. For a time all seems hunky-dory. Abe's boxing is going great guns, the couple's flat is painted in bright new colours and a nursery prepared in readiness for their new arrival. But in true kitchen-sink fashion. There is trouble lurking around the corner. Nudged along by an ambient reggae soundtrack. Teton's film is an evocative piece of work, with sparse flashes of dialogue and lots of lovingly composed shots of grimy, industrialized, Merseyside, But while (Dark Summers) honest, unpretentious nature is initially intriguing, a weary lack of ingenuity eventually slows it down. Teton shows real skill in crafting mood and atmosphere but the film's purposely minimalistic performances are sometimes just too underplayed. - XB
MAYBE IT'S SOMETHING THEY PUT IN THE MERSEY. Or perhaps Liverpool kids just couldn't give a monkey's what their elders, and betters think. Whatever the case, on the silver screen at least. Scouse youth seems to like nothing better than copping off in a manner guaranteed to cause controversy, outrage and, in all likelihood, tragedy to boot. Ten years ago, in Letter To Brezhnev, it was Margi Clarke and co. trying to find a little romance among the Russian fleet. And now comes a Liverpool-set tale of love which crosses not only class but race as well. Abe (Ako) is a promising black amateur, boxer who falls in love with Jess (Joel) while working, at a scrap yard. Unfortunately she is the privately educated boss' daughter, and her father (Darwin) doesn't take too kindly to her fooling around with a hired hand. In order to escape such prejudice, the couple set up home at Abe's flat and, in the course of one long summer, find all their hopes shattered as bad luck and corruption do their damnedest to drive the lovers apart. Okay, so it's a story that wasn't exactly hot off the press in Shakespeare's time. The real problem with this is the fact that first-time director Teton seems more interested in photographing assorted Merseyside locales than filling in his central characters. Thus, for every minute we spend with Jess and Abe at least three are wasted capturing Liverpool landmarks in stationary, if admittedly good-looking, Cinemascope.
Not that the film doesn't have its good points. Both Ako and Joel do the best with what they are given, the boxing sequences are appropriately downbeat and the Augustus Pablo reggae soundtrack is fantastic. But, on the hole, this is very beautiful but, sadly rather dull. - Clark Collis
Ako hits the big screen.
STEVE AKO could be the next John Conteh; He has the speed, the looks, the accent and, most importantly, he can act. He can also fight a bit. Ako, 24, is the star of Dark, Summer, an independent British film which opens tonight at the Prince Charles cinema, Leicester Square. But before making his screen debut as young boxer Abe Wilson, Ako was a promising amateur in his native Liverpool. He now hopes to play his idol Conteh in a major television drama. "I had to stop boxing, because a cut or broken nose would have wrecked the film schedule," said Ako. "I still get the urge to fight, but I want to concentrate on acting." The boxing scenes, both in the gym and in the ring, are impressive. The action is harsh, and makes the inane trash usually passed off as boxing drama look like farce. Dark Summer is cliche-free and the punches hurt. Charles Teton, who wrote, produced and directed Dark Summer, prepared for the boxing scenes by watching amateur fighters, while studiously avoiding films. "I didn't want close-ups of punches or slow motion so I stayed away from Rocky and Raging Bull," said Teton whose film cost Pound 45,000. Ako's father, also called Steve, and his uncle Ray, were professional boxers and contemporaries of Conteh. His uncle is former world featherweight champion, Hogan Kid Bassey. "My father has seen the movie and told me it reminds him of when he was a fighter," said Ako, There is a picture of his uncle Hogan on the wall by his bed throughout the film. "I want the Conteh role as there are so many similarities between us. He was a guy who came from nothing and reached a high. Acting is like boxing, you must give one hundred percent and that is what John did," continued Ako, who broke his nose during a fight sequence, "In the movie Abe treats boxing like a hobby and it was important for him to work because I didn't want it to look like all black people have to box - I have kept my job as a steel fabricator in Wigan," added Ako, who away from the cameras, acts like a typical fighter. Conteh was a natural too.
Steve Ako.. . an actor and also a fighter. - Steve Bunce
THE GUARDIAN SPECIAL ISSUE
Charles Teton's Dark Summer, which he produced and wrote as well as directed, is a first feature shot with a spare but eloquent style, mostly in Liverpool where the city's Economics Initiative Unit helped with finance. It tells the story of a young black amateur boxer (Steve Ako) who, while working as a mechanic on a scrap metal site, meets and takes up with the white daughter of the boss (Joeline Garner Joel). Dad is not best pleased and the lad is sacked. But he goes to live with the girl, gets her pregnant and attempts to start a new life with her. At the beginning of the film, we see him beaten for an area amateur championship and towards the end his first professional fight goes the wrong way too. And so gradually does their relationship. It Is almost as if fate has conspired against this simple, nice pair of innocents in a guilty world. The film accomplishes its sad tale almost as if spying on reality at various odd moments. It eschews narrative drive in favour of a slowly deepening sense of the way things often are. Only Augustus Pablo's reggae soundtrack animates it. Despite the difficulties put in front of your average patient viewer, who may well wonder why the film is so painfully slow without looking under its surface, Teton is very clearly a film-maker to watch. Whether many will watch Dark Summer is more open to question. - Derek Malcolm
THE JEWISH CHRONICLE
The seedy and squalid inner-city Liverpool that is the setting for Dark Summer (12, Prince Charles) is far removed from the suburban coziness of "Brookside," and yet the film's story line is altogether less lurid. Little happens, except for meeting and parting, love and death, all played in low-key. This independent film, a first feature written, directed and produced by Charles Teton, recounts one summer in the lives of young lovers Jess (Joeline Garner-Joel), who is white and middle class, and Abe (Steve Ako), black and working-class. While he trains as a boxer and looks for a job, she prepares the nursery for their coming baby. Then follow a miscarriage, and the breakdown of their relationship. The film is really a fragment, muted in style and sparing of dialogue, and yet it has a tenderness and delicacy that augur well for the futures of all concerned. - Pamela Melnikoff
THE LIVERPOOL SCENE
It seems ever since Colin Welland's unprophetic statement after Chariots Of Fire, the British film industry has been in dire trouble. In recent months the media has tied create a young British Brat Pack of filmmakers. One problem, most of them have no talent. 'To succeed in the film industry you need 50% bullshit and 50% talent, the British New Wave are half way there.'
If the British film industry is to be saved (and that's a very big if) it's going to be down to one man.
The film maker in question is Charles Teton.
Writer/director/producer/cinematographer/editor of the low budget Liverpool based film, Dark Summer. One of the reasons this country doesn't have a film industry, is because people just sit around waiting for the call from the BFI, Channel 4 or British Screen. All that is changing as there is an exciting development in the rise of the new generation of British filmmakers. Spurred on by the examples of American credit-card auteurs like Spike Lee and Robert Rodriguez, and by the home grown success of Richard Stanley and Stephen Frears, Charles Teton is grasping the nettle and going for it himself. The thing you must remember, there is no British film industry, only a pool of industrious British film makers. Dark Summer was conceived in 1987 as the personal images of photographer Charles Teton. Produced as an totally independent feature, it was shot and edited entirely in Liverpool with a totally dedicated cast and crew solely from the Merseyside area. "It's a pretty pessimistic, bleak film," says Teton. "Abe and Jess come out the other end of their relationship totally wiped out. I suppose it's really about lost innocence. The two characters became more innocent while we were making the film, because that's where the two actors - both complete newcomers - to ok them. The film ended up being a sort of mix between some of my own personal experiences and some of the actors'." Shooting on a low budget was appealing to Teton, it meant financial constraints, it didn't mean artistic compromises. "it gave us a lot more freedom," says the 31 year old director. "We had a very small crew and were able to go out at dawn and dusk to shoot, which with a large production would have hiked up the cost." Charles Teton moved to Liverpool in late 80's and has been here ever since, "Liverpool is a beautiful city with some wonderful landmarks," says the director. "If I believed everything I'd heard about the city before I came here, I would have expected a crime-ridden, depressed, grimy, disgusting city. But I've encountered nothing but people with a really good attitude. We've had help all the way down the line here, even from the people in the street. I don't think even Letter To Brezhnev or Blonde Fist did it justice. I tried to make the city a third character in the film, using its difficult buildings to reflect the ups and downs of the central relationship." So does Charles Teton have any advice for young Independent guerrilla filmmakers "The only way you can do it is to shoot the film and worry about the money afterwards. It took a year to put the project together, a couple of years to film and another plucking up the courage not to worry about failure but to get out there and do it." Liverpool city council put in Pound 3,000, North West Arts another Pound 2,000 and companies like Rank and Agfa gave 'unconditional support'. The 400 extras for the 85 minute film worked on the basis of deferred payment. "People say it's impossible to get an independent film off the ground, but I can honestly say that no one we knocked up turned us away," said Teton. I'll leave the last word to Charles Teton, the only true independent guerrilla film maker in Britain, "Martin Scorsese once said in an interview about John Cassavettes 'When you say just pick up a camera and shoot a movie, you have to understand that means you're crazy. When you pick up that camera and look through and start shooting, something happens, like a drug and you've got to keep going and you start borrowing money, begging - till you have your movie.' Four years after first starting Dark Summer, a year of preproduction, one location vehicle lost in the River Mersey, eighteen months filming at weekends, an Arri 2c blimped camera, sixteen stitches, a totally dedicated Liverpool cast and crew, 400 extras, a three year driving ban, the support of companies like Afga-Gavaert, Rank Film Laboratories, Zonal, Sammy's, Cinequip and the North West Arts Board, six months editing, suspected ulcers, the remaining rushes used as junk spacing, no budget, Clive Chin's original reggae track and a completed feature film in full Cinemascope ratio - I'm beginning to understand what he means."
"The only way you con do it is to shoot the film and worry about the money afterwards. It took a year to put the project together, a couple of years to film and another plucking up the courage not to worry about failure but to get out there and do it."
Some films just sit up and beg to be mocked, but I hope Charles Teton's Dark Summer, a first feature produced, written and directed by this brave British film maker, doesn't get too much of a manhandling from the assembled throng of cynics who make up the critical fraternity.
It's a bleak little parable about a young black boxer who falls for a white girl, gets into trouble with her father, goes to live with her happily but faces despondency when the baby she is carrying has to be aborted and the relationship is virtually destroyed as a consequence. Added to that, Abe loses the amateur title he fights for and then, after turning professional, looks to have an uncertain future there too. The Film is quietly eloquent, with very sparing dialogue and a photographic, style that specializes in long, often almost mute takes. It is rather like the diary of a very ordinary life that looks hopeful and then goes wrong.
It's all so taciturn and sparing in it's drama that you sometimes have to guess what is going through the minds of Steve Ako as the boxer and Joeline Garner Joel as his girl (both good). But though it's actual drama is limited and sometimes limiting, the whole thing carries with it a truthful and believable atmosphere and very few false notes indeed. Dark Summer may be more of a calling card movie, than one which will get all that many people to watch it. But if it is, I hope people who matter in the business will see in Teton a newcomer of considerable promise who not only has a real eye but is also determined to seek out present realities in an original and daring way. - Derek Malcolm
Dark Summer should attract attention to it's 32-year-old British maker, Charles Teton, who raised the money, and wrote, produced, directed, edited and photographed this Widescreen movie on Liverpool locations. The story centres on Abe (Steve Ako), a workng-class black, who embarks on an affair with his racist boss's daughter and ends up a triple loser - first he's sacked from his labouring job in a scrap yard then the girl walks out on him, and finally he takes a bad beating in his first fight as a professional boxer. Teton suggests a connection between the boy's defeated life and the despair of present-day Merseyside, and the movie proceeds through a succession of strikingly composed Cinemascope montages of the post industrial landscape across which Abe passes. The camera never moves and Teton deliberately refrains from making dynamic use of space. He doesn't even go into the boxing ring. Abe appears to inhabit a social vacuum and even the attractive reggae music eventually becomes monotonous. But there is enterprise and promise here, and one looks forward to Teton's next movie. - Philip French
Charting the course of an interracial affair between black Liverpudlian boxer Abe (Steve Ako) and Jess (Joeline Garner Joel), the daughter of his scrap yard boss, this promising independent feature from director/producer/writer/editor Charles Teton looks very, impressive considering its sub Pig Farmer budget, and has the courage to go it's own stylized way among the recent crop of other D.I.Y British features so desperate to tap into the mainstream.
THE FILM REVIEW MAGAZINE
Life, love and loss in Liverpool.
Abe Wilson (Steve Ako) is a young, black mechanic who falls in love with Jess Sheppard (Joeline Garner-Joel), his boss's young, Caucasian daughter. When their affair is discovered, Jess decides to rebel against her overprotective father and move in with Abe. Although fortune initially favours the young couple, a sudden tragedy strikes at the heart of their relationship and brings the season to a dark end. Originally envisaged as a moving photo album, Dark Summer evokes the feeling of flicking through some one else's holiday snaps. The all-too-brief episodic glimpses into the Liverpudlian lovers' lives prevent us, however, from ever getting close to them: we never get to know them, to feel for them, or to care for them. Beautifully shot in Widescreen Cinemascope and boasting all impressive score by Jamaican reggae star Augustus Pablo, Dark Summer is an unpretentious, uncompromising offering. - David Bassom
Charles Teton's Dark Summer is the tale of two innocents in search of happiness.
When it comes to low budget film-making Charles Teton can probably claim to be the UK's answer to Robert Rodriguez. Although, not quite as cash-strapped as El Mariachi which at $7,000 (Pounds 4,860) his now entered film folklore. Teton's feature debut, Dark Summer cost a mere Pounds 8,000 to shoot Add a few more grand on post-production and the total cost was just over 40,000. And like the precocious Rodriguez, Teton didn't find financial constraints meant artistic compromises. "It gave us a lot more freedom." says the 31-year old director. "We had a very small crew and were able to go out at dawn and dusk to shoot, which with a large production would have hiked up the cost." Dark Summer is set over one summer in Liverpool and is the tale of two innocents. Abe (Steve Ako), a black, guy from the wrong side of the track, meets Jess (Joeline Garner-Joel) the daughter, of his well-to-do employer. They fall in love, she gets pregnant and, despite the protests of her father, they set up a home. They asked for the moon and, for a brief moment, got it. But happiness is elusive and when Jess miscarries things fall apart. "It is a pretty pessimistic, bleak film," says Teton. "Abe and Jess come out the other end of their relationship totally wiped out. I suppose it's really about lost innocence. The two characters became more innocent while we were making the film, because that's where the two actors both complete newcomers took them. The film ended up being a sort of mix between some of my own personal experiences and some of the actors." He describes the film's style as pretty Iaid-back" but was given the ultimate compliment by Roger Shannon, ex-director of the Birmingham, Film Festival, who now heads up the Moving Image Development Agency in Liverpool. "Roger said it looked like a French movie that really made me hippy," says Teton.
With its minuscule budget cobbled together, from North West Arts, Liverpool City Council, various sponsorship and Teton's own savings, the film was shot on and off over a year, with the cast and tiny crew (Teton himself is billed as producer, cinematographer and editor as well as writer director) snatching moments before and after work to rehearse, set-up, shoot and move on. Unusually, Teton opted to shoot on Cinemascope, giving, the film the sort of broad sweep usually associated with epics by David Lean and not a no-budget feature set in Liverpool. "Liverpool is a beautiful city with some wonderful landmarks," says the director. "If I believed every thing, I'd heard about the city before I came here, I would have expected a crime-ridden, depressed, grimy, disgusting city. But I've encountered nothing but people with a really, good attitude. We've had help all the way down the line here, even from the people in the street. I don't think even Letter To Brezhnev or Blonde Fist did it justice. I tried to make the city a third character in the film, using its different buildings to reflect the up's and downs of the central relationship." Teton grew up amid the leafy suburbs of Surrey, but found the place too costly smug, for his taste. After leaving school at 17 he escaped to Paris, where he worked as photographer's assistant to some leading fashion snappers, including Sarah Moon. But when fashion photography lost its appeal "I found it very limiting. It was all surface gloss and they didn't like you introducing realism into an image," he says. He upped and offed to Italy, spending three years "having a great time", again within the photographic world. After another peripatetic period, which included a stint as a sous-chef in Florida, he moved to Liverpool in the late 1980's, and has been there ever since. But his feet are itching, again, and his next film - an adaptation of Georges Bataille's exploration of sexual obsession, The Story Of The Eye may take him back to France. Teton sees little cause for optimism within today's unsympathetic political climate. In his opinion, the film industry owes its precarious survival to the service companies providing thousands of pounds' worth of equipment on very generous terms. "We couldn't have done It without the support of all the companies that provided us with equipment," says Teton. "Those are the ones who believe in the British film industry." - Patricia Dobson
Awkward British, low-budget film with signs of promise.
Dark Summer, the week's second film made in Britain, is a different kettle of fish. it was shot on the streets and shores of Merseyside over four years at a final cost of some Pound 40,000 a sum that would scarcely pay for De Niro's make-up consultant or personal trainer.
If Dark Summer was the masterpiece of the week I could spiral off into a nice polemic about Hollywood money versus British imagination. Unfortunately, Charles Teton's first feature is too awkward and flimsy to fit the bill. An experienced cameraman, Teton wears his art on his sleeve, and relies heavily on word less shots to convey his skeletal story about two young people's thwarted relationship. Steam gushes from industrial structures. The sky glowers. The pregnant heroine, newly hitched to an amateur boxer, prepares the nursery with one white undercoat, and a yellow topcoat. Alas, it takes more than pretty images to generate a narrative. Perhaps aware of his own limitations and the inexperience of actors Joeline Garner Joel and Steve Ako, Teton stays aloof from the drama. Even the plot's pivot, a miscarriage, is positioned off screen. Although blissfully short, and peppered with foot tapping reggae, Dark Summer is unsatisfactory. But we must look to the future, and Teton deserves to have one. - Geoff Brown
ARTS PROFILE PAGE
Rising stars in the arts firmament CHARLES TETON.
Profession: Film director
Calling card: Dark Summer, a visually expressive first feature about two young Liverpool lovers, recklessly shot in Cinemascope and made for some Pound 40,000. A one-man-band kind of movie: Teton directed, produced, wrote the script, served as lighting cameraman and editor. Just opened at the Prince Charles cinema, London, where it stays for a minimum of one week and a maximum of three; then to other independent cinemas.
Film school background, I expect?: No, no. Leant on the job. Began as a camera assistant in advertising, and moved up to shoot mostly for fashion companies, spending three years in Milan and experimenting with what he calls "social realism". Tried to get into the film industry in Dublin. A closed shop. Then assisted Marcus Thompson making a black-and-white movie in Surrey called Malevolence. More low-budget work followed, as Assistant Editor, Sound Recordist and Lighting Cameraman.
So how come this feature?: "I wanted to tell this personal story about a failed relationship and lost innocence, and I had to jump in there and do it. I didn't approach the BFI for money. I went to the North West Arts Board for completion funds, but I really wanted to succeed or fail on my own. From idea to completion, it took four years including One year of pre-production, 18 months of filming at weekends with an Arri 2C blimped camera, six months editing, a case of suspected ulcers, a three-year driving ban. one location vehicle lost in the Mersey, and 16 stitches. An immense learning curve."
Any experience directing actors before?: Not really. But since the main actors, Joeline Garner Joel and Steve Ako, had not any real acting experience, the playing field, you might say, was level. "I wanted people who would be receptive, and wouldn't make their characters theatrical."
Why Cinemascope, and why the lingering shots of skies and beaches: "Liverpool is seen a lot of the time in a negative light. But I think it's often beautiful, when the light is skimming off the sea, for instance." Has Liverpool been grateful? "As everywhere, the reaction's been mixed Having leant so much making it, now I can't watch the film; there are so many things I want to change. Still, I think people should allow film-makers a margin of error on their first feature." - Geoff Brown