“Sir Billi,” the first full-length animated feature to be produced entirely in Scotland, will get its first international screening April 13 at the 15th annual Sonoma International Film Festival.
“We are thrilled to host the U.S. premiere of Sir Billi, featuring the powerfully dynamic voice of Sir Sean Connery. Tessa and Sascha Hartmann have produced a highly entertaining, family-oriented film that sizzles with fun, non-stop action and an awesome title track sung by Dame Shirley Bassey, which was composed by Sascha. Bring on the Scots!” said festival director Kevin McNeely.
The Hartmanns, the husband-and-wife duo who produced Sir Billi, will arrive in the United States for the film’s premiere.
“We chose the Sonoma International Film Festival because it’s a festival with a difference, where the personal approach by the organizers gives one a feeling of passion and consideration, where every independent film they select is important,” said Tessa Hartmann.
Screened in the festival’s marquee theatre — the 1930s Renaissance-style Sebastiani Theatre — the film will screen at 5 p.m. April 13. Festival passes are available now, and individual film tickets will be available for purchase after April 2. Tickets and passes can be purchased by visiting SonomaFilmFest.org or calling the box office at (707) 206‑4484.
Sascha Hartmann directed Sir Billi from a screenplay written by his wife, based on an original story they developed together. John Fraser is producer, with Connery serving as executive producer.
“Ours could be perceived as a ‘David and Goliath’ adventure in market terms but where else is one to start if venturing into animation? Shoot for the top with the talent and simply deliver something that the audience responds to. We are the epitome of the underdog! The underdog that with firm resolve, persistence and tenacity created something that is close to being called miraculous — a finished film,’ said Sascha Hartmann.
Expanded to a feature length CGI film from a 2006 short concept, this is a roller-coaster adventure about the race to save the last beaver in Scotland, led by Sir Billi and voiced by Academy Award winner Connery. Sir Billi is a vet by profession, skateboarder by passion and grandfather by love. He is joined by Tony Award winner Alan Cumming (The Good Wife), who voices Gordon, a goat and Sir Billi’s confidante.
Connery has been heavily involved in the making of the film since its inception and eagerly agreed to take on the lead role of Sir Billi after being contacted by the husband-and wife-producing team.
“I’m excited to be a part of this incredible film and Scotland’s first animated feature,” said Connery. “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 labor of love. I am thrilled with the final cut!”
Academy Award-nominated Scottish composer Patrick Doyle (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Sense and Sensibility”, created the film’s music score and also lends his voice as a key character in the film.
“Sir Billi’s endearing multi-generational family story and cliff-hanger action spikes in the storyline provided me with just the right elements to compose a score I’m proud to say is among my best work to date,” said Doyle. “My goal was to shine a light on the soul of this colorful cast of loveble characters through the power of music.”
“Being a part of Sir Billi meant so much because animation has always been a fascination of mine especially because I am from Scotland and know all of the areas where the film is based,” said Doyle. “The fresh look of Sir Billi and its original storyline gave me all the inspiration needed to create some of the best composition work I feel I’ve done.”
British singing legend Bassey also joined the project to perform the title track “Guardian of the Highlands,” marking the first time that Connery and Bassey have worked together since the 1971 James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever. Bassey was also seen last summer on the red carpet at the Scottish Fashion Awards escorted by the film’s director, Sascha Hartmann. She was wearing a couture gown in the Sir Billi tartan, which was designed by Scots designer Graeme Black.
Scotland’s first full-length animated feature also showcases the voice acting talents of Miriam Margolyes (Harry Potter, Romeo & Juliet), Alex Norton (Pirates of the Caribbean, Taggart), Ford Kiernan (Chewin’ the Fat, The Last Great Wilderness), Barbara Rafferty (The Wicker Man, River City), Greg Hemphill (Still Game, Chewin the Fat), Kieron Elliot (How to Train Your Dragon), Ruby Wax, John Amabile, Larry Sullivan, Chris Jai Alex and NYC night queen Amy Sacco.
Said Sascha Hartmann: “To get this film made and completed has really been a true labor of love. We received a good studio offer to go to Los Angeles about three years ago with a deal that was pretty exciting, but we decided to remain in Scotland, keep creative control and produce a truly Scottish product! Granted it’s taken longer than we expected and we had to raise more finance, which was challenging, but this is an expensive business and it has to be done right. Fortunately, animation stories are timeless, and so there are no restrictions on them. Thanks to the support of our producer and mentor John (Fraser) we made it.
“Sir Sean has been incredible too. We have worked hand in hand with him for over six years. From day one we knew Sir Sean was perfect for the role of Sir Billi — being a true Scottish hero and also a grandfather himself. No matter how many times I hear his legendary voice on the film, it still gives me a thrill!” said Hartmann.
Said Fraser, a Scottish industrialist: “We’re well aware how competitive this market sector is with the heavyweight animation studios out there — I guess you could call it a ‘David and Goliath’ adventure, but we believe we have produced an end product that is something to be proud of as independent film makers. At the end of the day, this film was produced and made in Scotland, because that’s what we believe in. Investing in local creative talent, jobs and ultimately investing in a Scottish film industry. Sascha and his team couldn’t have worked any harder so the rest is in the hands of the gods, as they say.”
Said Cumming: “I think it is amazing that they have persevered so long and hard to get this project made in Scotland, when there was absolutely no precedent for anything like this there. Their enthusiasm was so great, and I’m very predisposed to doing Scottish things. Though neither [Sir Sean nor I] live in our home country, we feel very connected to it.”