First screened internationally in 2015, US film fans will finally get a chance to see animated adventure film Bilal: A New Breed Of Hero in theaters from February 2.

The film, with a cast including Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Suicide Squad), Ian McShane (Deadwood) and China Anne McClain (Descendants 2), is a true story and tells the tale of a young boy, title character, Bilal, who was abducted into slavery, but rose up and freed himself from the horrors he had been subjected to.

The official synopsis reads as follows:

A thousand years ago, one boy with a dream of becoming a great warrior is abducted with his sister and taken to a land far away from home. Thrown into a world where greed and injustice rule all, Bilal finds the courage to raise his voice and make a change. Inspired by true events, this is a story of a real hero who earned his remembrance in time and history.

Having wowed audiences and critics alike at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards and in particular, at The Cannes Film Festival where it won “Best Inspiring Movie”, Bilal is an inspiring film sure to leave those who see it feeling motivated and encouraged to pursue their dreams and ambitions, and stand proud and tall against anyone who tries to hold them back.


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Amy James-Kelly is not only talented but hugely ambitious. Having first come to notable public attention starring in Coronation Street and Jericho, she’s now added the titles of writer, producer and director to her resume thanks to her impressive independent film Last Summer, described as a project “with a history” and one which “addresses current themes and issues.” TITL caught up with Amy to find out more about the production process of the film, the importance of crowd-funding in its creation and what other projects she has in the pipeline.

TITL: Most people will likely know you best for playing Maddie Heath in Coronation Street from 2013-2015, but what exactly made you want to branch out into film-making, producing and directing?

Amy James-Kelly: A lot of my friends have done similar things and because I missed out on the whole going to university experience where a lot of people will do film studies, make their own stuff, that kind of thing and take all that they’ve learned over those years and put them into practice later in life, I didn’t get to do those things.

But I’d heard the story of Last Summer as it was a play my mum had been involved in. This all stemmed from a conversation had with me while she was washing up and she was reminiscing about this play that she did. As she was telling me, I had a mental image of what would later go on to become the last shot of the film. It just kinda happened and I thought ‘I have to do this now.’ It was always something I thought about doing, eventually – having a go at writing, directing and generally film-making – but it wasn’t until that moment that I said to myself that I was definitely going to do it.

TITL: You had a bit of trouble trying to get the backing and the funding for the film. Do you think, given all those problems, now that the film’s done, that you were able to make it at the right time? Do you think Last Summer would have had the same relevance and impact two years ago as it does today?

AJK: I am so glad we did it this time around. The quality’s better – all aspects of the film are better. The script was edited a lot and I feel like by the time Last Summer finally began production, I’d grown as a producer and was more comfortable with that role than I might have been had we tried making this film when we first began looking for backers and funding. I was learning things throughout the whole process, and I’d learnt a lot of lessons from when we first began working on the film before the problems started to arise, which proved immensely beneficial in the long-run. I think it was a blessing in disguise that the film didn’t work out first time round because it has ended up being ten times better.

TITL: How easy or hard was it to bring everyone in terms of the cast and crew back together after the funding and everything fell through first time around?

AJK: I think we managed to get about 50% of the original team back – some were unavailable and a few others simply decided it would be better if we parted ways. I’m really lucky that, myself included, on the team, there are 5 of us that all go to acting school together and we all have a similar interest in producing our own work, acting, writing and everything like that. It’s just really great to see that individuals from acting school, can do and are doing something outside of class to help them grow not only as actors but as people. We all just thought ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’ We got together and we were all throwing around different ideas – it’s been really great having that unit of people who are in the same boat as me, so to speak, and who understand what it is I’m passionate about and why.

In terms of finding the other crew members, that wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. There are loads of Facebook groups around these days where, once approved by the page admins, you can simply put a post up explaining who it is you’re looking for and a little about the project you’re working on, and receive responses from people all over the country, including industry professionals with all their own gear, who are willing to jump on board with you. I think social media is going to launch the next generation of film-makers.

TITL: What would you say your team all brought to the creation of the film?

AJK: The film would have been completely different if one member of the team hadn’t been a part of it. I’m so lucky to have worked with them all. We had people who are very much industry professionals and some people who are just starting out, all working together towards the same goal and I think that really comes across in the film as well. The professionals brought their experience and the newer individuals brought their enthusiasm – when that came together, it was amazing to watch and be involved in. It was fantastic to see someone who has like 100 film credits pass on their advice to someone who was standing on their first ever set, or show them how to do something a certain way.

TITL: Last Summer was largely crowd-funded – did you expect the reaction and support that it got?

AJK: After what happened first time around, there was always a worry that the same thing would happen again. I kept telling myself that it was going to work and it does stun me, at least once a day, to think that there are people out there who not only put their own money into this project but also sent me messages telling me they were excited to see it, or who had been following my progress. There were people I hadn’t spoken to for years getting in touch to pass on their well-wishes and support and that touched me, it really did. To think that an idea I had as a result of a conversation with my mum was all-but brought to life mostly by people I don’t even know is mind-blowing.

TITL: How big would you say the impact of social media has been in general in terms of how it helped get the film made and its promotion?

AJK: Social media is and has been an invaluable tool to myself and the Last Summer team, as made evident by the crowd-funding campaign launched to help get it made. People have obviously always made films and started their own production companies etc. long before social media existed, and full credit to them because I don’t know how I’d have done it, but I relied on social media a lot; I relied on people sharing news about the film, posting the crowd-funding link and things like that. I had people who donated to the film living in the States, in Sweden – if social media didn’t exist, there’s no way I’d have had the ability to reach them.

TITL: You wrote on your crowd-funding site that a lot of the money donated by individuals around the world would be going to Reuben’s Retreat. Why that charity/organisation in particular?

AJK: I’m an ambassador for the charity and I’m always trying to champion them whenever I can. They’re a group of people very close to my heart. I always try and do something with and for them every year, be it the Manchester 10K or sorting out their stationary cupboard laughs One if the filming locations, Howard Park, is right beside the retreat, and it wasn’t until I was at the retreat one day just helping out, that I went into the park with Nicola, Reuben’s mum, and I just said “Oh my God, this is perfect.” Everything I’d pictured in my head was suddenly visualised right in front of me, and I knew that, if we were going to work so closely to the Retreat, then we had to give them something back. They helped us out so much – they sorted out our catering on the first two days and I felt bad about seeing them help us as much as they did, but the Retreat team just said to me: “We know you’ll always give something back.”

TITL: You held a screening in Manchester – how did that go?

AJK: It was amazing. It was so great to finally show people the finished product – I’d seen it about four million times in various stages of post-production – and that was the first time the majority of people had seen what myself and the team had put our time, energy and passion into creating. I was nervous…I was so scared, and when I stood up to thank everyone, my mind just went completely blank. I had to type something up later and send it to everyone – I have no idea what I ended up saying.

TITL: So what are the plans for the film now? Are you looking to get it out to a few independent or even major film festivals?

AJK: Film festivals are the main aim, yeah, and I’m also wanting to get it onto DVD for people.

TITL: What sort of message do you want people to take from Last Summer, both in terms of the production and the film itself?

AJK: The film itself is hard to say without giving anything away. There is a message with it, but it would give the story away. As for the production, certainly in regards to people who want to do something like this, I think the main message is that they simply need to tell themselves they CAN do it; that it can and WILL happen. Simply convince yourself that nothing can stop you and that the project you’ve been dreaming about will become a reality. It’s as simple as that. Self-confidence, and confidence in others, in the team you’re wanting to and going to work with, is key.

Absolutely anybody can be a part of this industry – actors, producers, directors, writers – they might all come from different walks of life, but when they’re all set on making something a reality, and bringing an idea to life, none of that does or will ever matter. Plus, the feeling you get when you finally achieve your dream and bring your idea to life is amazing.

TITL: Now that Last Summer is out there and your baby has flown the nest, so to speak, what’s next for you?

AJK: Off the back of Last Summer, people who worked with me on that, or who have just caught wind of the film, have got in touch asking if we can collaborate, and that to me is really, really exciting as I never expected it to happen. I honestly thought that this would just be a little thing that I did, and obviously, I always wanted the kind of reception that it’s had, but I never expected that people would love it as much as they have and to get the reaction and response that it did at the screening in Manchester.

I’ve also had messages from people in my acting classes getting in touch saying ‘It’s so cool to see someone from class doing something…let’s do something together.’ As for what’s next, I’m in the early research stages of a short film I’m currently doing with a friend of mine and I’m producing a short film that one of the guys on the team is doing.

TITL: What do you say to people out there who think actors and actresses should stick to those specific roles, rather than branching out into producing and directing as you have?

AJK: I think that’s really blinkered. This industry is so accessible and everyone works so closely together. It’s so easy to have an interest in another aspect of being on set, and just networking or picking up the skills and knowledge you need to give those aspects a go. If you have an idea and you want to turn it into something, need it be a play, a film…whatever – there is nothing to stop you. I think directors can try acting, actors can try directing…anyone can try anything and no-one should be able to or want to stop them from doing that.

TITL: Now that you’ve found your producing/directing feet with Last Summer, can you see yourself going back to TV in the near future?

AJK: I’m currently working on Harlan Coben’s Safe with Red Productions for Netflix. I think acting is always going to be my first love – I eat, sleep and breathe it and I get a really big geeky kick out of it, but I’m definitely going to continue making projects like this – I’d start one again tomorrow.

To keep up to date with Amy James-Kelly, follow her on Twitter. Header photo credit: Lee Johnson Photography.


Perhaps best known for playing Dogsy in The Sopranos, Kevin Interdonato has been winning over fans and critics alike thanks to his latest role in the film Bad Frank. Influenced by the likes of Sylvester Stallone and Daniel Day Lewis, Kevin chatted to ThisIsTheLatest about first auditions, his former career in the military and his thoughts on social media.

TITL: As a former soldier, at what point in your life did you start seriously considering as a career path?

Kevin Interdonato: I began studying when I was 20. I bounced around college classes after high school and was a little lost at that time in my life. I joined the Army National Guard when I was a senior in high school, and I enjoyed those years serving. It gave me the freedom to pursue my passion in this business, play with tanks and shoot weapons at the same time. I made many lifelong friends in the military.

TITL: Can you remember your first audition? What advice would you give those about to have theirs?

KI: Yes I actually do. It was for a student film at Montclair University and I think my mom still has that laying around somewhere – I should go blow the dust off it and have a good laugh at myself! My advice is to be yourself, and make the role yours. It’s so intimidating, the audition process – still is. But if you direct 100% of your focus on the reader and audience and NOT worry about yourself, then you’ll always be safe.

TITL: In terms of influences, which actors do you most look up to?

KI: There are too many to list. I respect an actor’s talent, and I also admire the career of others – the choices and how they handle their business. Mark Wahlberg and Sylvester Stallone are machines. Those guys are always working, creating projects and jobs for people, and it’s inspiring. From Sean Penn, Daniel Day Lewis, John Cazale, to Vera Farmiga, Barry Pepper, Giovanni Ribisi…my list of influences goes on and on.

TITL: How if at all do your National Guard days impact the roles you take on?

KI: Not much really. I know how to handle myself for a military role more than most, but I find myself not sticking to that aspect of my life because it binds me. I’m not free for anything that comes my way if I think of my time as a soldier. It’s robotic, systematic…and those are aspects of my being that I disregard for my work…unless a role calls for it.

TITL: You’re perhaps best known for playing Dogsy in Season 4 of The Sopranos. What impact did having a role on such a hugely popular show have on your career in terms of auditions/work offers?

KI: Believe it or not, not much. I didn’t have an agent at the time, so I wasn’t being handled as maybe I should have been. It was a great thing that happened, and the novelty of it was wonderful. Who didn’t want to get on that show at the time, you know? I really enjoyed it too. But the career thereafter came from hard work and persistence.

TITL: Who or what ultimately drew you to Bad Frank and what would you say the films’ unique selling point is?

KI: I was approached by the director and producer early on, before the script was finished. When they were telling me about the character and story which wasn’t fully fleshed out yet, I just had a gut feeling about Frank. Something clicked – I felt like I could tap into him, and I was in.

I think the sell of the film is how the film captured the reality of the man, and the extreme lengths he goes to. People like seeing people ‘snap’. But I tried to play Frank as honestly as possible to justify all his behaviors, and let people believe that this could be a reality.

TITL: The film has some pretty big names attached to it including Tom Sizemore and Ray Mancini. What was it like working alongside them and what would you say each brought to the film?

KI: Sizemore is a great guy. He was there long days, rolling around in the mud and rain at 2am, and was all about it! It was inspiring for everyone to watch him perform, and come in like a pro.

Boom – Mancini – is a wonderful man; everybody loves him. He played my father in the film with such conviction and sensitivity, plus we look alike. We were really lucky to have him.

TITL: Bad Frank has won several best film and best actor accolades at events and festivals on both sides of the Atlantic. Does praise like that mean much to you or are you more the kind of actor who is more concerned about taking pride in their work and the roles they choose, despite what critics might say about it?

KI: It’s funny. I’ve heard some great theories about Bad Frank from critics, and gotten the same – sometimes better – insight on the film from regular movie-goers. So I take it all in my stride, the good and bad, and leave it at that. Everyone’s got their right to an opinion, and so be it. Fortunately most of the press and reviews for Bad Frank have been pretty damn good so I’m happy that people are responding well to it.

And yeah, you hit it on the head. It’s all about the movie and the role for me, and I tend to stay focused in that world. The accolades are wonderful and humbling, but my focus stays with moving forward and doing the best I can. It’s always about the movie.

TITL: Can you recall the nicest and worst things a fan or critic has said about your work?

KI: Not really. I lucked out by not getting my ass handed to me, from the ones I’ve seen anyway. It’s nice to hear that reviewers were receptive to my work. But I am open to all, I always want to improve, and welcome feedback.

TITL: The film is one of a growing number of successful indie films in recent years. What do you think it is about independent movies that has suddenly caught everyone’s attention?

KI: Bad Frank blowing up is a combination of a good movie, and smart guerrilla marketing. There was really NO money for either, in comparison to other films. I think those 2 qualities are crucial, if you don’t have the benefit of having stars in your film. People want to see GOOD movies, period, and because of the VOD platforms, little films like Bad Frank can stand up there right next to the big studio films.

TITL: How do you feel about social media, both personally and professionally? Do you think it’s been a positive tool for the industry or have you seen down-sides to it as well?

KI: Well I miss the days of handling boredom by reading a book or throwing on some good tunes. The ability to keep in touch with old friends and family is very important to me, as well as giving fans a direct gateway to say hello – and vice-versa. Keeping up with news, getting good laughs at funny videos – it’s not that big of a deal anymore and I’ve accepted it, but I do find myself weaning off and remembering ‘life’ lately.

For the industry, it’s made its way into entertainment as the tangible source for relativity and popularity per movie or person, and it’s not going anywhere for those reasons alone. I used to view it as a necessary evil… now it’s just necessary.

TITL: What’s next for you? Are there any upcoming projects you can tell me about?

KI: Thanks for asking, yes. Dirty Dead Con Men will be out in this winter. It’s a cool film I also produced and wrote. I think fans are really going to enjoy it. Peter Dobson’s Asbury Park will be filming this October, very lucky to have been cast in this epic alongside Joe Pesci and other greats. This one’s a game-changer for many; I can’t wait for it myself.

TITL: Finally then, what’s your ultimate goal in life, both as an actor and an individual? What would you like to have achieved 5-10 years from now and what would you like your legacy to be?

KI: As an actor; to be the best, and be able to say I always gave my all. To be in movies that stick with people for a long time. Personally…I guess I just want to make my old man proud.

For more information and to keep up-to-date with Kevin Interdonato, follow him on Twitter.