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Page last updated at 09:15 GMT, Tuesday, 9 February 2010
Peter Strickland celebrates win at British Film Awards
by Linda Serck and Emma Midgley
BBC Berkshire reporter

Peter Strickland
Peter Strickland honed his film skills at Reading's Progress Theatre

Reading's links to stars of the silver screen such as Kate Winslet and Ricky Gervais are well known.

Now an independent film director from Reading has scooped a prestigious prize at the London Evening Standard British Film Awards.

Peter Strickland's Katalin Varga is his first feature film and was made entirely independently over four years, costing less than 30,000 euros to make.

Peter Strickland said he was 'suprised'to win the award.

He said: "I think it's just great for anyone doing DIY film because so many of us feel so helpless when we can't get funding.

"It's just really really good to be recognised for doing something outside the system. It's just been great. Just to see your work in the cinema is enough."

So how does an first-time director come out of nowhere to win 'Best Newcomer'?

"There hasn't been a single year between 1992 and 2008 in which I wasn't involved in some form of theatre, film or music," says the 36-year-old.

"It was a 'nowhere' in the sense that I and a small group of friends were completely invisible to the establishment.

"We made our work available and everything we've done is still out there if people care to look for it.

"But the doors we knocked on were always closed.

"This 'nowhere' was a very real and exciting place where lots of work got done; not all of it good, but all relevant to what is happening now."

Early Influences

Peter was first inspired by the world of cinema when in 1990 he saw David Lynch's Eraserhead in the cinema. It changed his life.

"I was just a 16-year-old kid from Reading and this strange, beautiful piece of atmosphere absolutely set me alight," he remembers.

"It was such a strong, intense experience, especially with the industrial hiss and clank of the soundtrack."

Peter went on to study fine arts and in 1996 founded the musique-culinary group The Sonic Catering Band in 1996 with friends from Reading, releasing several records and performing live throughout Europe.

Progress Theatre

He honed his directing skills at Reading's amateur Progress Theatre.

"I learnt much about directing by taking small roles in plays and working my way up to directing my own adaptation of Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis," he says.

"Afterwards, making short films and stupid mistakes in the process was a big education. I learnt that to work quickly with have as few people on set as possible."

His film Katalin Varga is a far cry from life in Reading.

A scene from Katalin Varga
The film Katalin Varga is set on the themes of revenge and redemption

Filmed in Transylvania, the film follows Katalin Varga when she is banished from her village. She is left with no other choice than to set out on a quest to find the real father of her son, Orbán.

Katalin and Orbán travel through the Carpathians where she decides to reopen a sinister chapter from her past and take revenge.

The hunt leads her to a place where she prayed 11 years prior she would never set foot in again.

Revenge and redemption

"For Katalin Varga I wanted to write around very traditional themes of revenge and redemption," says Peter, who moved to Hungary while making the film.

"The subject of revenge runs so deep in society and is full of contradictions.

"Personal revenge is by law a crime whereas political revenge is sanctioned. And it's one of the few crimes that we can all understand.

"Revenge brings on counter-revenge and where do you go from there?"

It's filmed in Romanian, though the country itself has nothing to do with the story, says Peter.

"For me, this film represents a movie Transylvania - not in the Dracula sense," he says.

"But everything is heightened - the goat bells, crickets, wind et cetera. It's a conglomeration of what I felt as an outsider."

He adds: "Everything about this film is about being an outsider. Katalin's character, my English status, and the fact that we were outside the film industry fighting to do something on our own terms.

"That energy - and sometimes desperation - is there and I'm quite proud that we communicated that.

"If people find the film sympathetic to Romanian or Transylvanian life, I'm incredibly flattered. But I would never be so presumptuous to say we are making a Romanian film."

Peter Strickland has also won a Silver Bear award for Outstanding Artistic Contribution at the Berlin Film Festival and the European Discovery of the Year award at the European Film Awards in 2009.

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