Apr 20 2012 by Johnathon Menzies, Stirling Observer Friday
STARS Sir Sean Connery and Dame Shirley Bassey have praised a West Stirlingshire film-maker’s work following a glittering movie premiere in California.
The British showbiz legends are two of a clutch of high-profile celebrities associated with Sir Billi, directed by Killearn resident Sascha Hartmann.
Mr Hartmann’s movie – the first full-length animated feature film to be produced entirely in Scotland – had its first international screening at the 15th annual Sonoma International Film Festival in San Francisco last Saturday.
Expanded to a feature-length CGI film from a 2006 short concept, the film has been described as a roller-coaster adventure about the race to save the last beaver in Scotland, led by Sir Billi – a character voiced by Oscar-winner Sir Sean.
The project was very much a family affair as director Sascha’s wife, Tessa, wrote the screenplay and the Hartmann sisters – Tessie and teen singing starlet Talia Storm – both voiced characters.
Talia performed at the premiere and will also take to the stage on June 10 as she’s set to open the highly-anticipated, 6900-capacity, concert by Sir Elton John at the Falkirk Stadium.
Mr Hartmann, who also composed the film’s title track ‘Guardian of the Highlands’, said: “It was great to see the excitement and emotions that filled the Sebastiani Theatre, because this is what film-making is all about – conveying emotion and engaging the audience. The incredible reaction was testament that our journey was all worth it.”
Dame Shirley performed ‘Guardian of the Highlands’ on the film’s score and also treated the 500-strong VIP gala dinner guests to a rendition at the weekend.
After flying to the States with the Hartmann family, Dame Shirley said: “I think Sascha did a wonderful job and I am thrilled to be part of it. It has a very distinctive look, which is great, and Sean’s voice is just magnificent – I especially love all the subtle Bond nuances. I get very emotional at the end of the film – there was a tear in my eye again at the premiere.”
James Bond icon Sir Sean has reportedly been heavily involved in the making of the film since its inception and was inspired to take on the lead role after being contacted by the husband and wife production team.
“I’m excited to be a part of this incredible film and Scotland’s first animated feature,” he said.
“Sir Billi is truly a first class film, with an exceptional cast, and is sure to delight audiences of all ages. There’s an incredible amount of work that goes into animated productions and I am delighted that Sascha and his team have completed what has been a labour of love. I am thrilled with the final cut.”
Sir Sean, who is not travelling at the moment, called the Hartmanns to wish them good luck on the film’s international screening.
Tessa Hartmann said: “We have two very important octogenarians who couldn’t make the long trip – Sir Sean, who has been like a father figure to us throughout this whole process, and my own father, John Fortune-Fraser, who served as producer on the project and been a guiding light and mentor throughout these seven years.
“We are eternally grateful for their support. I must say, despite their ages, both men have a wicked sense humour which didn’t fail when they called to wish us good luck.”
Other actors involved in the film include Tony Award-winner and X-Men star Alan Cumming and Chewin’ the Fat duo Ford Kiernan and Greg Hemphill, among several others.
Academy Award-nominated Scottish composer Patrick Doyle, who has worked on the Harry Potter franchise, said he was proud to describe Sir Billi as “among his best work to date”.