From Joyland to the Corner Office

Tribeca-bound producer on Cannes winner and the joy of storytelling

by Richard Mowe

Saim Sadiq’s Joyland which won the jury prize in Un Certain Regard
Saim Sadiq’s Joyland which won the jury prize in Un Certain Regard Photo: Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival
Still basking in the aftermath of reflected Cannes Film Festival glory, producer Oliver Ridge looks like the cat that scooped the cream.

He’s over the moon that he played his part in helping emerging director Saim Sadiq win the jury prize in the Un Certain Regard section for Joyland, the first Pakistani film to make the official selection at the French festival. It tells of a traditional family cast asunder when the youngest son joins an erotic dance group and falls in love with its trans starlet.

The project came to him via a producer on another film he was involved in two years ago Body Brokers, directed by John Swab, about the pharmaceutical companies who thrive on helping addicts to kick the habit. “One of the producers on that film was talking so enthusiastically and passionately about another film she was involved in I thought I had got to read the script. She gave it to me and I read it and found it so delicate and romantic. And then I watched a short film that the film-maker had done and that convinced me it was something I wanted to support and that he was a film-maker I wanted to work with.” Sadiq’s short film Darling was the first Pakistani film to premiere at the Venice Film Festival where it won the award for Best Short Film in 2019.

'It is a bit of a cliché - but we all dream of competing in Cannes,' producer Oliver Ridge just before the screening of Joyland in Un Certain Regard
'It is a bit of a cliché - but we all dream of competing in Cannes,' producer Oliver Ridge just before the screening of Joyland in Un Certain Regard Photo: Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival
He added that “the outpouring of love towards the new film and the prize has been incredible - for Pakistan and the trans-community.” He believes that its success and attention in Cannes “could open the door for a whole lot more film-makers, and give the industry in Pakistan the ability to have a real moment.”

Ridge noted that the country has one of the top ten populations in the world and therefore has the potential audience numbers to support. “And the infrastructure is there and improving. It could become a major player.”

Because Pakistani society is restrictive in nature he wasn’t allowed to attend the shoot in person due to “security risks.” He suggested: “We were having to lie a bit about what we were doing and what we were shooting. It was the repressive state of things that drew me to the project: the idea of expressing yourself and being able to love the person you love.

"The fact that these filmmakers wanted to tell this story and had to sneak around at times was so rock ’n’ roll. Watching the director burst into tears after an eight minute standing ovation in Cannes was unbelievable. Rolling Stone magazine in India did an exposé on our trans-actor and I am enjoying watching them have their moment. Our lead has a real future ahead of them.”

Ridge has barely had time to recover from the Cannes experience than he’s off to Tribeca Film Festival in New York where another film he has helped to produce Corner Office has its premiere tomorrow (June 9). Mad Men’s Jon Hamm takes the lead role of a bureaucrat who finds an empty office space and starts working there. The weird element emerges when he finds out that the office doesn’t actually exist on the building’s floor plan - and he has to fight to keep the space he has created for himself.

Mad Men’s Jon Hamm stars in Corner Office at Tribeca Film Festival
Mad Men’s Jon Hamm stars in Corner Office at Tribeca Film Festival Photo: Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival
“The two films could not be more different. Corner Office is a dark comedy with Jon Hamm in a very different kind of role than those with which he might normally be associated. And what I didn’t expect before I started work with him is that off set he can be extremely funny.”

Ridge who graduated from the Drama Centre acting school in London where notable alumni include Tom Hardy, Colin Firth, and Pierce Brosnan, currently is developing a feature he hopes to direct. Synthetic is a science-fiction love story. At the moment he’s deciding between options to film in up-state New York or in Kentucky with a start date slated towards the end of the year.

Although he appreciates that there is “no experience quite like watching a film in the cinema” he has nothing against the Netflix streaming model. “There is an energy to watching a film with an audience as I found out in Cannes when I saw Joyland for the first time on the big screen. Some of my first films did get a cinema release but they were not properly marketed and ended up being buried. With streaming you just get in to so many homes. A lot of people were hungry for content during Covid, but now they do seem to want to get out.”

Ridge loves being involved in the creative side of film-making. He said: “What I want going forward is to be a producer and a financier and to be able to support interesting and diverse projects and up and coming talent,. But I also want to nurture my own stuff. That’s what I dreamed of doing as a kid was telling my own stories.”

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