Connery’s animated “Sir Billi” premieres in Sonoma

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Sir Billi

Sir Billi

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.”

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