Interview with Keith Sargent, writer, director and producer of ‘Today I Wrote Nothing’

Brighton Rocks International Film Festival is proud to be showcasing ‘Today I Wrote Nothing’ by Keith Sargent, aptly named after the work of the absurdist avant-garde Russian poet, Danill Kharms. By employing his incredible aptitudes in animation, music composition amongst so much more, Sargent has weaved together a beautiful 3-minute experiential film proving that the conception of anything creative can arise out of nowhere. Filmmaker, graphic designer and educator Keith Sargent Sargent was gracious enough to take the time to explain some of the finer components of the film and give us a real glimpse into the mind behind the madness.

‘Today I wrote nothing’ is a mere taste of things to come from Sargent, who has wholeheartedly embraced the backbone of Kharms’ writing and his ability to pause, stop, give up, not be arsed and be playful. The longer piece ‘Fly on Shit’ is awaited with eager anticipation.

You can do things and you can let things happen and make mistakes, which is similar to filmmaking. You have to throw absolutely everything at it so you have a timeline full of shit!

Can you start by telling me a little bit about your film?

It was really something done quickly as part of a larger project which I have been working on for about a year which has 10 different micro-fictions by Daniil Kharms. I was trying to get money to make the extended version and I thought I’ll try Kickstarter. For the campaign I needed to put together a short version or a promo so I used all the stuff I’ve been working on to create ‘Today I Wrote Nothing’. I did it in about two days and ended up really liking it, so I started putting it into film festivals and within a month I had won 4 awards over different festivals. 

What was the overall inspiration behind the film?

I was making a documentary a few years ago in China about steelmaking and that got me into talking to people who were part of that cultural revolution and the big changes through Mao. From 1916 to 1920s and the 1930s, I found you’ve got this really strange time where so many things were going on and there were all these sort of clashes and changes and of course, everything’s 100 years later now.

It is a weird connection but it brought me to Daniil Kharms’ stories. They are absolutely beautiful because they can go nowhere and they can go somewhere or they are just left open ended. Quite a lot of his writing ends with, and that’s what it is. So unpicking that makes me go over the writing and it becomes very easy to put his stories into another context, because they are so open-ended and they have a beautiful translation to them. 

What about Kharm’s writing spoke to you?

He died when he was a mere 36 or 37 and spent 10 years in an asylum in a botched effort to avoid the gulags. He had lots of bizarre affectations such as changing his name, wanting to look like Sherlock with a deerstalker hat and pipe, and he would imitate people walking down the street as well as embracing the absurdity of the situation at the time. He was known for writing children’s books, but apart from that not a lot of his writing was published and it is still hard to find. He would have ideas and 10 pages of notes about that idea. The structure of his writing is very sparse and sometimes ill-conceived, but I love the way it was written. The idea that something doesn’t have to follow convention or complete with a bang – you get it or you don’t get it. I love the mystery and you don’t really know what he is driving at or why and there is no sense of an ending. You can do things and you can let things happen and make mistakes, which is similar to filmmaking. You have to throw absolutely everything at it so you have a timeline full of shit!

So how do you then take these writings and then put them into a film? 

They start off with a flavour. I have a lot of footage taken during lockdown. I live in a dockyard and take my dog for a walk in what we refer to as the wasteland, which is a place that nobody else really goes to with a Tarkovsky feel to it; polluted with scorched earth. There’s lots of wildlife all amongst abandoned ships, boats and rusting hulks – it has a very “end of the world” feel to it. I started by filming myself in that situation in winter with the dog, and I became this sort of Russian sailor (which allowed for the long grey coat) and then I started to take apart his stories and tried to imagine who the characters would be and the linear structure of one character walking through places. If you haven’t got access to loads of money, actors and performers then you have to make them up, which is why so much is animated. It becomes an easier route, but also filled with problems as it’s quite time-consuming – but at least you’ve got control over the actor.

Can you go into more detail on the style of animation in the film?

I went to St. Petersburg a few years ago and took photos, but they weren’t really good enough to use so I had to try and evoke the feeling of the city – the regency, the buildings and the Eastern European feel. The only way I could really recreate that was through the 3D software, but it all started with the photographs. I wanted it to be black and white because because I felt it was a great way of unifying all the disparate footage and other elements together. From a practical sense, I could also play with the light and dark and control what is being shown. To use a specific example, the man in a tree with a brain is from Kharm’s writing – he looks up into a tree and sees a man waving, then takes his glasses off to clean them, and without them he can’t see the man. When he puts them back on, however, he sees the guy in the tree shaking a fist at him. I was able to embrace the madness of creating this character.

The voiceover is a perfect choice for the piece. How did you come to work with the accomplished Michael Byrne?

I initially used my own voice but didn’t like the sound of it. As well as being a well-known and great actor, Michael happens to be my neighbour so fortunately for me, we agreed the payment would be made with wine. He isn’t very good at reading out loud as he normally learns his lines, but we found a quiet spot in the basement of his house and started work. I kept on asking him to go through the piece and he was tripping over the Russian names and eventually he started to get quite pissed off with me and the sound worked so well. He started reading faster and faster and you could sense the tension and the annoyance so I pushed him, tried some distraction techniques and started feeding him some lines and it came out wonderfully. He has a beautiful voice and was perfect for this and since my festival run, he is only asking for a small percentage of the glut!

Alongside the direction and everything else, you composed all of the music. How did you put the soundtrack together?

I started by listening to lots of red army music, male choirs, a lot of music from Dr Zhivago on top of some Russian Slavic music, and then it was a case of putting it all together. There are 10 different parts to the full-length film, so there is a lot more but I think ‘Today I Wrote Nothing’ is the most laid-back. It was a lot of fun trying to make it all fit – folk music, Russian armies marching down the street and some sort of religious laments. It all goes back to Tesla – he was able to visualise the entire scope of his inventions, how the machine would work, how the electricity would flow, but the biggest challenge for him was actually putting pen to paper, so he missed out on a lot of patents. Whilst having these visions he would hear music with influences from Turkey, the Middle East while taking in so many more flavours of that time. I tried to do the same with the Russian music and get myself into a transient state to feel it.

What are your hopes for the film? 

For it to be seen, for folks to want to see the longer version, and to introduce the world to Daniil Kharms.

‘Today I Wrote Nothing’ screens at 7.15pm at Fabrica on Saturday the 23rd of July as part of BRIFF’s 15th screening programme. 

Interview with Luke Martin and James Alexander Allen of ‘Edge of Insanity’

Crime fascinates and repels us all at the same time, and detective stories draw us into their dark and complex webs and the characters hidden within. When the chance arose to develop a sequel to a 2016 short ‘The Private Investigator’ by BRIFF alum Alex Lines, writer James Alexander Allen and director Luke Martin joined forces along with the original actor Wayne Liversidge. Using the dark and gritty streets of Brighton as their backdrop, the drama tells the story of a mute private investigator obsessed with murders who is recruited by the police. We are always thrilled to feature films made in Brighton, especially those that leave you wanting more, and ‘Edge of Insanity’ has you questioning every piece of the puzzle whilst keeping a formidable pace and momentum throughout.

How did you come to be working together on this film?

James Allen: After writing the first draft of the script in 2018, and getting Alex Lines’ blessing on it, I began collaborating with Luke as the director. We had so many ideas that the script practically doubled in length, so we had to work hard to trim it back. But this process brought out some beautiful gems, especially from Anne Kavanagh’s character Norma. 

Luke Martin: I had seen the first film, ‘The Private Investigator’ and was extremely impressed with the economical way it was put together. It was evident that it was made with very little budget, only starring Wayne and shot in one location. I’m always impressed when a clever and interesting story can be told with next to no resources. I was approached to get involved with the sequel and I liked a lot of what it contained and felt it had potential, so I agreed to direct the project. I felt there was a great opportunity to expand upon Trevor’s character, and offer a little bit of backstory. One of the things that I liked about ‘The Private Investigator’ was Trevor’s condition. He suffers from aphonia, so he’s mute, and I thought it could be interesting if we could explore that a bit further. After researching into aphonia and discovering that it could potentially be caused by trauma, I saw the opportunity to be creative and carry on telling his story. Has Trevor always had this condition, and if not, what caused it, and when? 

Wayne Liversidge – “Trevor Murphy”

How much did you take from the original script by Alex Lines and how did you find the task of writing a sequel?

James: I remember going through the original film and looking at each location presented and making sure the real life street names were mentioned in dialogue. We’ve been through a couple of revisions over the years but I recall at one point you could almost have blended the two together into one movie! It was my first time developing a script for a movie I knew would be directed by someone else, so that was quite a buzz from a career standpoint.

Can you go into more detail about the development of the script and what you specifically wanted to include?

James: The original version was a lot more sprawling with several subplots. The element that I started with in the very beginning and that I was anxious to maintain was the idea of Trevor and the Cinderella Killer being “two sides of the same coin,” as Sarah Milton’s character describes them. The biggest development when Luke came on board was that the character of Norma the landlady (played by Anne Kavanagh) become far more prominent in the story than the walk-on part she had originally.

Luke: The initial script by James had a bigger focus on a copycat killer, which was an intriguing idea but I felt it took too much centre stage and demanded a more challenging setup.  Personally, I was more interested in the character of Trevor and what drives him. I sat with James and discussed that, and we began working on trimming certain elements and replacing them with more practical, but also more intriguing, elements that tie in with backstory.

Anne Kavanagh – “Norma”

How did you then move from the ideas stage and script into the more practical elements?

Luke: It was always agreed, very early on with the cast and crew, that this production would take a little while. We initially had no budget and agreed that the shoot would take place over various weekends, when everyone was available. This project was always going to be more challenging, as the script demanded we had more characters, more locations etc., compared to ‘Private Investigator’. We initially started shooting a few scenes just with Wayne, and once we had those under our belt, we planned some of the bigger scenes. At that point, we had accumulated a bit of budget, and I started casting for the roles of Claire and Norma.

We shot the film over the course of 4-6 months, post-production, as always, took quite a bit of time and whilst all of the shots were fine, I had quite a bit of work to do to clean up dialogue and add sound effects. Overall the film took around 3 years to fully finish. That is obviously quite a long time to make a short film, but due to schedules, a small budget and my final year in Film School, it took a bit longer. 

Sarah Milton – “Claire Stanwick”

What is your MO in postproduction to attain your final product?

Luke: I begin editing the ending, it sounds odd, but if I can get the ending just right, then the rest falls into place a little. For me, the ending is the most important part of a story, so it has to be strong. Editing is all about rhythm and emotion, and I feel that if I can finetune the ending and make it work, then I can just start working backwards from that point. After that, everything goes out of the window – I watch the film 60 plus times, pull my hair out, and wonder why I got involved in the project in the first place!

There seems to be a fabulously collaborative work ethic between all of you – how do you achieve this and how do you think it helped the film?

James: Wayne and I have worked together a few times since 2016 on numerous short projects and one stage play. I met Luke through this project, and found that the more I got to know him personally, the faster and more efficiently we worked together. I recall we’d take the better part of a day to break a draft at the start of the process, and by the end we were writing fresh drafts in about 15 minutes. It goes to show that this industry is all about relationships.

Luke: I think, first and foremost, we are all friends. That helps massively. Additionally, everyone in the crew has their own passion, whether it be James and his writing or Adam with his music/sound production. So, we already had a bit of a rag tag crew that were willing to spend time in their own field. We didn’t really have to source for additional crew (apart from Jakub, who came on board as DoP). The fact that we are all friends made the shoot as stress free as possible. In the end, we were just having a bit of fun. Some of my favourite films growing up, I’ve looked at them and thought, I bet they had fun making that. I think that can resonate into the film. Also, we had hardly any money.  From my point of view, that takes a bit of pressure off, as whatever you produce, you will be proud that you did it on a less than shoe-string budget. Plus, I think it makes you get more creative, when you know you have financial restrictions.

What do you hope for the film?

Luke: In simple terms, that people watching it find it an interesting story and a good follow up from the first film. It sounds cheesy, but I actually just wanted to do justice and make a film that at the very least, equals the first film. I’ve met Alex (writer and director of ‘Private Investigator’), and he’s such a nice bloke, so I wanted him to be proud of the story we told.  He says he likes it, so hopefully we did a good job.  The way ‘Edge’ finishes, there is potential, I feel, for maybe one more film. In my mind, this is a 3-part story.  In my opinion, I know how Trevor’s story ends, and I think we have been given an opportunity to potentially tell it one more time. Whether it’s me directing or someone else, I will make sure I pass on my thoughts about a final chapter.

‘Edge of Insanity’ screens at 4.30 – 6.00 pm on Friday the 22nd of July 2022 at Rialto Theatre as part of BRIFF’s 3rd screening programme where we will also be presenting a Q&A with the filmmakers.

Interview with Darcy Vanhinsbergh & Alex Lawton from ‘Cold Water’

Who amongst us cannot claim to have whiled away the hours watching others around us going about their daily lives? Darcy Vanhinsbergh, whose background lays predominately in front of the camera, used the forced moments of contemplation driven by the pandemic to consider the people he has been observing, their intricate social dynamics and what they were doing in life, and took to writing. He is centre stage in the production of Brighton-based ‘Cold Water’ as writer, director and performer, and has masterfully crafted a balanced and nuanced portrayal of two very different people whose lives converge under mundane circumstances. When Alex Lawton, whose skills cross production, cinematography and editing, reached out to Vanhinsbergh about working together, ‘Cold Water’ started to bloom. The film addresses the real and terrifying issues of addiction and control, but rather than reveling in the darkness, it shows us that you really don’t know what – or who is around the next proverbial corner. 

“I guess it became an exploration of how imperfect we all are.” 

Where did the inspiration come from to explore two such unique characters?

Darcy: Alex had approached me about working together on a short and I was concurrently talking about ideas with my partner. We got on to the people we knew, friends and work colleagues, our strange interactions and imperfections. Some really interesting stories came up, and it kind of inspired me to base a story around an amalgamation of people I knew, including myself. I guess it became an exploration of how imperfect we all are. 

Alex: I worked with Darcy as the lead role in 2017 on a short film which I produced and directed called Winter Hill. During production I got to know Darcy and I realised that he was much more than an actor – I’ve worked with plenty of actors in the past and generally from my experience an actor will turn up, deliver their performance and go home, whereas Darcy invested himself much more into the overall story-line, script and the project as a whole. This left an impression on me and when I was looking to collaborate with a writer/director on my next short narrative project, despite him being an actor first and foremost, Darcy was the first person I reached out to.

Why did you feel the need to cut down the script and how long did it take you until you felt comfortable enough with it to start filming?

Darcy: As a film writer I’m constantly trying to work on showing rather than telling. I think when you overuse dialogue it becomes indulgent and you can very easily fall into traps. I’m happy with it, but I still feel it’s over-written. I’d like to get a lot more visually creative on our next project. It took at least 4 months before I felt we were getting somewhere. 

Vikash Bhai – “Rajesh”

When did Alex get involved in the writing of the script and how did the creative relationship work between the two of you?

Alex: Whenever Darcy finished working on the latest version of the script he would send it over for me to take a look. From my perspective, as the DOP and camera operator, I was just as focused on how we were going to shoot the scenes vs the overall storyline, so it definitely helped having both of us constantly discussing each re-write and being able to bounce ideas off each other. I remember early on one of the challenges we faced was how we were going to shoot the scenes which involved the actors actually being in the sea. We toyed with a couple of ideas; underwater cameras, hiring a boat, but neither were really an option considering budget restrictions and also the limited time which we had at our disposal to shoot the film. In the end we both felt capturing as much as possible from the drone would be the best way forward. That’s the great thing about shooting with drones, it can get you to spots which are otherwise very tricky or even impossible to film from.

Vikash and Siobhan are engaging and credible in their roles, how did you go about the casting process?

Darcy: I did a show together with Vikash in London. I knew he wasn’t just sharp-witted and funny but had the depth of character to play Raj. It’s a complicated role and we spoke a lot on the phone about addiction and positive outlets, and he just got it. We are all addicted to something and searching for a release. It’s a very human experience. I casted Siobhan through my agent. I was looking for someone fierce yet vulnerable to play Dannie, and after I looked at her reel I was dead set on casting her. She did a self tape of one of the scenes for us and that was it. We spoke on the phone and I could tell she knew what was required. It’s a draining role, but she totally owned it and went to those uncomfortable places. 

Siobhan Bevan – “Dannie”

How did you then work with the actors on the character development to find the freedom in the text?

Darcy: Once the script was learnt and I knew they had a firm grasp of the scene, I just asked them to relax, fuck it, have fun! At that point, it’s about what the actors are experiencing, and capturing that magic moment when they experience something new. So I told them to forget it as such, it’s a framework more than a script. Of course we weren’t completely improvising and they largely stuck to the script, but they started to pepper it with interjections that I would never have thought of writing. This approach takes the anxiety out of the situation and further develops the characters on screen. 

Do you have any plans to work together in the future?

Darcy: Yes! I hope Alex wants to work with me again ha. I already have the next project bubbling away. It’s got to be funded this time though, so we have to do a lot of work to get that secured. 

Alex: My favourite aspect of the process has always been collaborating with like-minded people on the front line of independent filmmaking, and despite some of the inevitable challenges that we faced along the way, we’re both really happy with the end product all things considered. In the early days of ‘Cold Water‘ we both decided to see how things panned out, testing the waters if you like, with a view to potentially doing more in the future. So yes, I’m sure when the time is right, we’ll collaborate again.

‘Cold Water’ screens at 7.15 – 8.15pm on Sunday the 24th of July 2022 at Fabrica as part of BRIFF’s 16th screening programme.

In Review: ‘The Tree’ by Oliver Blair

“Film is like a battleground,” quips the director Samuel Fuller in Godard’s ‘Pierrot le fou’. “There’s love, hate, action, violence, death… in one word: emotion.”

We get emotion – as well as a dose of love, hate and death – in ‘The Tree’, whose two characters – siblings James (Joel Morris) and Yasmin (Hayley Thomas) do fierce battle with one another in this superb dark comedy and family drama.

‘James’ played by Joel Morris

“I’m no good at this shit!” yells a fag-brandishing, rough-shaven James at his sister, proffering a bag of oranges.

“You’re a fucking prick … This isn’t sorry. This is guilt. These are guilt oranges. And you know what, James, they’re not even oranges, they’re FUCKING SATSUMAS!”

Shout, shout, let it all out! There is an incredibly raw and cathartic quality to the slanging match between the siblings, who are furious with one another in the wake of their father’s death. James failed to turn up to the probate meeting, leaving his sister to take care of the formalities. The high-octane exchange, expertly framed in closeup, exudes raw anger. The performances are electrifying; not for one moment unbelievable.

‘Yasmin’ played by Hayley Thomas

The satsumas get squashed, the anger subsides, and the pair get to work unpacking their dad’s belongings out of a decrepit burger van. The dialogue dances around the elephant in the van as they try on their mum’s cancer wigs, joke about willy dances and reminisce about times gone by. We learn that James’ restaurant business has failed because a lady fell through the restaurant floor and needed lifting out with a crane. Yasmin was seriously ill recently and worries about her son.

As they unpack boxes of wigs, getting covered in, we are expertly led towards the film’s reveal. Despite the clues, we still share the siblings’ shock when they uncover a hidden facet of their macho father’s sexual identity, yet it is done in such a way that it doesn’t detract from the real focus of this drama: the siblings’ own journey of self-discovery.

“You said it yourself,” says Yasmin from her car. “You’ve lost touch with your roots. If you’re looking for a bigger sign to do something, it’s not coming.” Her final “love ya” is a tender moment indeed.

The film casually references two films about duos: ‘Some Like It Hot’ (the name of the burger van) and ‘In Bruges’ (mentioned in the dialogue). Both movies have a lot of heart but are essentially comedies. While certainly funny, the place and situation explored in ‘The Tree’ is far more evocative of serious drama – ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ springs to mind. It’s a rare thing for a film to deftly tread the fine line between comedy and tragedy, but ‘The Tree’ pulls it off masterfully, producing a moment of pure pathos.

Writer & Director Oliver Blair

Oliver Blair has made some further strong choices in this directorial debut. He clearly writes about what he knows, setting the film close to his hometown at the borders of Nottinghamshire at Derbyshire border. It’s the sort of place where the louder you swear at someone, the more you know they love you, and where it’s still a big deal for an older, married man to have nonbinary gender. He did well to stick to one set, putting all his eggs, so to speak, into coaxing stellar performances from the talented Joel Morris and Hayley Thomas. All you need to make a great film, to paraphrase Godard, “is a burger van and some siblings.”

‘The Tree’ screens at 12pm on the 23rd of July at Rialto Theatre as part of BRIFF 6th screening session.

In Review: ‘Hold Me, Don’t Touch Me’ by Adrian Todd Zuniga

“It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances,” quipped Oscar Wilde. This adage is certainly borne out in writer-director Adrian Todd Zuniga’s thought-provoking and memorable film, ‘Hold Me, Don’t Touch Me.’

Grief-stricken Aidy, played by Anniwaa Buachie

It is a winter evening in London. Aidy, a Black British woman (Anniwaa Buachie), has not turned up to a grief counselling session and is wandering the narrow streets, lost in melancholy. She enters a pub, orders a whisky and takes a lonely seat. She ignores the bartender’s half-hearted attempt to be kind by giving her fries (“the kitchen made a mistake … going to go in the bin otherwise”). It isn’t long before Stella (Tessa Bonham Jones) rocks up to Aidy’s table. Blonde, wearing a red polka dot dress, she announces that she has come to cheer Aidy up.

“Manic pixie dream girl” Stella, played by Tessa Bonham Jones

“I’m not here,” protests Aidy – at a loss for words.

Stella prattles on about her favourite ghost movies while helping herself to the fries. Aidy tries in vain to extradite herself, but Stella insists she should stay.

“I’m all about ‘do good, be remembered fondly,’” as she whittles through a list of pop culture do-gooders.

Treating Aidy like an adoring girlfriend clinging to her every word, she typifies the “manic pixie dream girl”: vapid, self-absorbed, entitled – and in this context, unwanted. Aidy can barely look at the crass intruder. When she finally snaps, we share her outrage with conviction.

What do you get out of this? To go round hounding people? Egging them on until they fucking burst!”

Stella flinches, mumbles an apology, gets up and collapses to the floor. A leaflet marked “The Dying Process” falls out of her pocket. Aidy helps her sit down and fetches her water.

“I might have brain cancer,” is her all-too-English way of revealing that she is dying. “I’m way too vain to have all my hair fall out,” is her jokey way of saying that she only has weeks to live.

In asking her about her condition, contemplating this young woman’s “terrible” fate and trying to make her feel better, Aidy is momentarily taken out of her solipsistic grief. Other people have problems and pain too. Eager for a moment of levity, they both eat fries and agree that they are awful. The ensuing laughter belies a profound moment; Aidy has taken her first small step on her journey towards dealing with her grief. Stella has achieved her goal in helping her after all.

The camera pulls back, and a wide shot reveals the two women face-to-face, no longer isolated at the far sides of the frame as they were during the opening sequence. They are bound by a shared understanding of the fleetingly beautiful nature of life.

Adrian Todd Zuniga, who hails from America, reminds us that London is often best seen from outwards looking in. We could easily imagine this as part of an anthology about life in the city, such as Robert Altman’s tribute to Los Angeles, ‘Short Cuts’ (1993). The film also goes to show that people and situations are rarely, if ever, black and white, and that superficial stock characters can be given life in imaginative and emotive ways.

Writer & Director Adrian Todd Zuniga

One senses too that Zuniga has an in-depth understanding of “complicated grief” and the way it makes us isolate ourselves. He is also the author of a novel ‘Collision Theory’ in which the protagonist must deal with a suicide he has witnessed.

“When my mother passed away 11 years ago, it was a seismic event in my life,” he writes. “One that caused me to put up barriers as a way to hold on to the pain. Creating this film helped me pull down walls in relation to my mother’s passing.”

We feel sure this film can also help viewers pull down some of their walls.

‘Hold Me, Don’t Touch Me’ screens at 4.30 – 7.30 pm on 24th July 2022 at Rialto Theatre as part of BRIFF’s 14th screening programme.

Interview with Robert Dee, Director of ‘The Devil’s Harvest’

A fascination with horror is often considered macabre and perhaps slightly misaligned, but by combining his passion for the genre with a diverse career and a well-chosen MA, Robert Dee brings us his visceral short ‘The Devil’s Harvest.’ The film offers a haunted dive into identity and childhood trauma. Whilst exploring themes some might feel are better left alone, Dee delves back into his youthful discovery of the uncanny by Freud. An unsettling sense of psychological vertigo provoked by an encounter with people, places and things that are both familiar yet strange at the same time, which forms the basis of his deliciously dark folk horror. He speaks about the influences he has garnered from some of the great directors and names in movies and the sometimes conflicted application of film theory in developing the spark of an idea into the production of an intense 11 minute short film.

“The focus of my creative work is on psychological horror as it enables me to marry my interests in the uncanny, the occult and psychoanalysis with my love of film.”

With an intoxicating mix of religion, identity and mythology how did you come to write the ‘The Devils Harvest’?

I have a large reference library full of weird, macabre and counter cultural subjects that inspire me and I love horror in all its forms and directors such as Lynch, Strickland, Kötting and Deren among others whose works are both intensely personal and irrational. I rarely remember where my ideas come from and I often wake up at 4am and write them down on my phone before I forget. It’s not a reliable method but I think the most important thing for me is filling my head with the stuff that interests me and eventually something rises to the surface. A sort of a guided intuitive process rather than a commercial approach and ‘The Devil’s Harvest’ was one of the ideas and that became my short film in the first year of my Masters.

How did your Masters degree enable you to actualise all of the ideas you have?

I decided to undertake the Masters in Filmmaking at Raindance Film School which was very much self-directed, so I was able to design my own pathway and focus it on developing a way of connecting the ideas I was gripped by to a working practice. During my undergraduate degree I read Freud’s essay on the uncanny which really spoke to me, touching on subjects I found fascinating. Leading on from this I decided to explore the subject and write/direct a short film with folklore overtones. I also started exploring art and photographic references and building a lookbook for the film. It was an intuitive process but guided through the course structure and the support of mentors like Kate Shenton and Ruth Paxton

The MA program at Raindance seems to have fitted perfectly to your needs – is it a course you would recommend for others trying to move into directing?

I definitely would not be where I am without it. I’m not a very good blagger and I need to know what I’m doing and I’m also a bit of a theory junkie. On the first day I was told ‘you are now professional filmmakers and you need to treat yourself professionally’ – an empowering thing to hear. I am vastly different now than I was before in terms of confidence and knowledge but, mostly, in terms of approach. I now have a proper way of working. I don’t feel ashamed of saying I’m a director, modest though my track record is. During the MA I researched directing in depth and now I feel I know what I am doing when it comes to directing dramatic work as opposed to a thirty second viral. As long as I can use the theory I learnt to support the films I want to make rather than shoehorn the films into cookie cutter theory templates I’ll be happy.

What challenges did you find in the jump from post production and advertising to film writing and direction?

I was struggling to find an artistic practice that helped me create the films I’ve always wanted to make and found the experience frustrating. Whilst I gained a film degree at university my learning was mostly on the job and technical rather than artistic. In post and advertising there’s a division between the directors and the technical artworkers so I knew how to realise the work of other people, but not my own which was very frustrating.

I also was dealing with a weighty dose of imposter syndrome. Alan Moore has a writing Masterclass on the BBC and he talks of the Wand suit in the tarot and its relation to will. You can have great ideas but you need will to see those ideas through to completion. A great idea in a pub can be the most amazing film if it’s never actually made and that, a little painfully, resonated with me. You have to earn everything so putting down the bottle and facing up to the fact that no-one was going to do it for me was an important personal step.

How did the script progress from the aforementioned ‘unreliable’ method of jotting down ideas at 4am?

I initially wrote the film as a short story and then screenplay and directed the short in the summer just before lockdown. As it was part of my MA my timings were very tight and I worked on the script for about 3 months, looking explicitly at visual subtext as the language that sits underneath the film and helps convey all the elements below the plot. I was looking into themes, visual motifs and symbolism and how to add weight to a film which is a tricky balancing act. Robert Mckee talks about image systems in his book ‘Story’. What you really want to aim for is generating your own symbolism within your film rather than relying on external symbolic sources. You also need to strip back anything that doesn’t have a loaded meaning so you don’t weaken your thematic message. Don’t hit your audience over the head with a message, they want questions, not answers.

In terms of writing I used Dan Harmon’s ‘Story circle’, a lot of people hate story structure methodology as they think of it as constricting and/or commercial. However I found it helps to be aware of it, then write organically, returning to it during rewriting to see if it helps fix things that aren’t working. I don’t buy into the ’you need to hit this beat on page 3 and the midpoint has to be page 8’ but I do think knowledge of these models can help fix things that aren’t working.

Even outsider filmmakers have clear structures in their work. It always amazes me that no matter how alternative any particular film is, you can still see the first major plot point happening around the 12 minute mark. I like to think of filmmaking theory as a toolkit that you can use if and when you need it. You can also challenge it. It’s the old cliche about jazz. Know the rules first before you throw them out.

You have mentioned various directors draw inspiration from – who do you look to as some of the greats in writing and directing and do you think they follow the theory you have spoken about?

I love most cinema and I’ll happily watch a blockbuster as much as an arthouse film. That said, too many blockbusters can feel like empty calories. I’m a big fan of David Lynch though I cringe a bit when I see too much influence of his stuff in my work. I also deeply admire Paul Thomas Anderson, Tarkovsky, Fulci, Kubrick, Park Chan-Wook, Andrew Kotting, Louis Bunuel, Mark Jenkin, Julia Ducournau, Argento, Peter Strickland, Roy Andersson, Ari Aster, Robert Eggers, Maya Deren, and Hitchcock and anyone whose work is psychologically driven. Overtly political stuff tends to leave me cold as I’m just not built that way. That said, the Zizek documentaries on cinema and ideology are great.

As for if they follow theories or not, I don’t know. I know Ari Aster is a student of Peter Markham who’s written a very good book on script analysis for Directors. Scorsese did a great three part series on Classical Hollywood cinema and Gilliam did a great series on Early Cinema. As I also love horror, Mark Gatiss’ documentaries on horror for BBC4 are outstanding.

We’ve heard a lot about your theory and writing, what about the more practical elements in the shooting of ‘The Devil’s Harvest’?

Production for ‘The Devil’s Harvest’ took 3 days starting in some community owned woods in Uckfield which saved us having to compete with dog walkers and joggers. As it was outside and we had a cast and crew of about 20, I organised hot food to be delivered thanks hugely to my partner Anne. I couldn’t pay anyone so I had to feed them well! My brother, Luke, is a games producer and an organisation whizkid so I pulled him in as production manager and he helped run the show along with Thom O’Driscoll, the First AD. After unfortunately having to part ways with my first DOP I put an ad on shooting people and found Jonathan Nicol who had a superb showreel and we both had the same vision for the film. Jonathan really upped my game, the Director/DOP relationship is a complex one as it’s never the same. I knew with Jonathan that if I stepped back or slacked off at any point he’d jump in and take over. I don’t mean that negatively at all. He was just super efficient, creative and professional. The sound recordist and mixer was John Valledy who I’d worked with on some corporate work. We’d bonded over Lynch. He did a great job, particularly with the sound mix. A very good and long time friend, Jeff Stonehouse, who is an ambient artist, created the music bed and we weaved that in with the mix to keep things organic.

When it came to the edit I cut the film myself in Final Cut Pro (sorry, Premiere fans) and, through an old contact of mine, Andy, was lucky enough to get it graded at The Moving Picture Company in Soho by Philip Hambi. We hit it off straight away and it was an amazing experience to be able to sit in a suite grading my film in the same building that worked on Dune, Blade Runner 2049 and other massive features.

Can you tell us more about your experience of working with the actors?

At the time I was less comfortable working with actors than directing camera so I consider myself lucky that I had such good talent involved. Fintan Shevlin and Cerys Knighton I’ve worked with previously and they are both very gifted and professional. I had them in mind from script stage. Matthew Jure who played the dad was a firecracker in terms of performance and gave me loads to work with. Dave Pepper revealed a green man tattoo on his arm at the audition so I knew he HAD to be my Rotten Man. I pay attention to those kind of synchronicities. The two boys, Sam and Monty, were absolutely superb – it wouldn’t work without them – and they handled the shoot day like professionals.

What do you hope for your film?

I feel that ‘The Devil’s Harvest’ is the first film I’ve made that really expresses who I am as a filmmaker. The process I developed on the course helped me join the dots from the initial idea through to the finished film. Of course, I see things that bug me about the film that I’d like to have done differently but there’s no point looking backwards. As a good friend of mine says, wipe your mouth and move on. I developed ‘The Devil’s Harvest’ idea into a feature script which became my final dissertation piece and I’d love to direct that some day and I’m trying to work out the finance now, how to step up to a feature. My plan is to keep my ideas complex but the practicalities simple and cheap. As I love the uncanny that’s not so tricky as it needs to be grounded in reality rather than involve huge CGI work. In the meantime I’m working on another short that blurs psychological realism with the supernatural and a micro budget feature that’s a cross between Funny Games and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I’m excited about both of them and that’s a good place to be. It’s lovely to have the film in festivals but, as Alan Moore says, the important thing is to keep going and get the damn things made. I may have found my voice a little late but I’ve only just got started. Hopefully what I do will be good and other people will like it.

Interview with Mark C. Hewitt, Director of ‘Les Coffrets: Boobs’

Inspiration can truly come from anywhere as shown by Mark C. Hewitt, a freelance playwright, poet and stage director, who launched into the writing of a surrealistic sequence of poems which he then decided to use for the basis of a series of stylised films all under 90 seconds. With the overarching title: ‘Les Coffrets’, Hewitt’s 8 ritzy and enigmatic micro films mimic the structure of his poems. The pieces have received audiences at festivals the world over, and Hastings Rocks International Film Festival is proud to be showing two of these: ‘Boobs’ & ‘Camp.’

We spoke to Mark about the beguiling ‘Boobs’. He tells us that the writing of the poems was challenging, “sort of a game, but a game with particular rules”. Whatever these rules are, they have led to a truly unique and innovative series of films, with each one standing alone in its own right . The artistic collaboration between Mark and filmmaker Matt Parsons seems to break with any conventional notion of directing and has pleasantly led to the extremely clever and enjoyable films inspired by the neo-noir vignettes of the 30s and 40s, with no conventional message. Who needs one?

Be driven by what you love.

What was the initial idea behind the films?

The films were conceived as the visual online counterpart to a quirky, slightly surrealistic sequence of poems which I had written, with the title ‘Les Coffrets’ (meaning ‘the boxes’) which comes from the shape of the texts on the page. Small boxes of thirteen and a half lines surrounded by a lot of white; each line approximately 34 characters long. There’s eight poems in the sequence and they have other particular features, most notably that the final phrase is something overheard. In the same spirit, the texts also use other chance elements, such as phrases seen on clothing or in ads.

How were you inspired in the writing and structure of the poems and then developing them into films?

The shape of the texts was influenced by something I thought I saw by Canadian poet Anne Carson, whose work I love. I was pushed by the desire to embrace chance and reject a rational authorial development of the texts. In 2019, I got a Developing Your Creative Practice grant from Arts Council England which allowed me some budget for the project and the idea of making a few film poems alongside this collection was part of the Arts Council project. I finished working on the collection of texts around the end of 2019, and was drawn towards the sequence of ‘Les Coffrets’ as material for the video project, partly because they were very short and the idea of a collection of micro films appealed to me.

The works are intricately created together with filmmaker Matt Parsons, how did you two come to be working together?

I was already committed to working with artist filmmaker Matt Parsons because I’d worked with him once before on a performance project made with addicts in recovery and I like his cleverness with using text visually and treating footage etc. In early 2020 I had a few meetings with Matt and I’d already decided I didn’t want the moving image material to be ‘illustrational’ of the texts. Matt had tried a couple of things that didn’t really appeal and I realised these little poems are so off-the-wall that they don’t really suggest any clear visual counterpart. I have this personal maxim: ‘Be driven by what you love’. And in the end, we sort of followed that and allowed my artistic sensibility or personal aesthetic be the key that opened up the project. We talked about shadows and doorways and abstraction and I expressed my love of the textural qualities of old 30s/40s film noir. This led Matt to start exploring out-of-copyright black and white footage from that period, and being the meticulous artist that he is, sifting through hours and hours of footage to find images of shadows moving across walls and doors opening and closing etc, so sort of creating a bank of potential material we could use.

Not long after this, the pandemic went crazy and suddenly we were in the first long lockdown of 2020. We had made key basic decisions about how we would move forward with the films but Matt still wasn’t entirely sure about how I wanted him to use the footage. I referenced my love of early surrealist photography as one thing he could draw on, which I think helped free up his thinking in a narrative sense. I also sent him a list of keywords and suggestions that I felt related to each poem. For ‘Boobs’ I said to him: “baroque 18th century architectural features, opulence, statuettes, caryatids, scrolls, exoticism, pagan kitsch”.

Drawing on those aforementioned keywords was the particular inspiration beyond ‘Boobs’?

In my work as a theatre maker and stage director, I directed a one man show by Caribbean-British poet John Agard, called Roll Over Atlantic, which we toured fairly extensively in the UK. After a performance at Nottingham Literature Festival, we were taken to a nearby pub by the festival organisers. In this pub, I overheard a woman say: “It’s alright, I’ll get my boobs out, you’ll be alright.” So, of course, I wrote this down in my notebook. It became one of many overheard phrases that were available for me to use when it came to writing this sequence of poems and was sort of irresistible. With ‘Boobs’, the whole invented narrative was about making that one line work plausibly. It’s curious that when I put these works on Vimeo, ‘Boobs’ attracted way more interest than any of the others. (Can’t imagine why.)

What direction did you give for the voicing of the short

I had come to the conclusion that I didn’t want the pieces to be spoken in my own voice. Some, I realised, clearly asked to be spoken in a female voice. The first piece I asked an actor to voice the text for was ’Premium’ which I imagined might sound good in the voice of actress Melissa Sirol, a French performer with whom I’d worked on a previous theatre project. As soon as Matt and I heard Melissa’s rendition of the text, we knew it was right. Her European accent connected with the noirish black and white feel and it just somehow gelled. So I started thinking about each piece and asking other actors who I knew if they would consider voicing one of the texts. With ‘Boobs’ I first got a male actor to voice the text, then afterwards changed my mind and decided it should be female. I had involved Isabella McCarthy Sommerville in a bit of R&D once and felt her very cut-glass clear English diction would work well for the piece, which I think it does.

Film noir is beautifully apparent in the works, who and what types of film and work have inspired you to be making the material you are?

I do like the textural qualities of 30s/40s film noir. I was also influenced by early surrealist photography. There must be a whole complex of subtle influences and inspirations behind these works but I find it hard to identify in any clear way what they are. When I recently met with Matt he said he had re-watched them all again and liked that they were so weird and unapologetic and also felt that they seemed a bit Lynchean.

What do you hope for in your films?

After we’d finished, I had no particular idea of what I was going to do with the films apart from put them on Instagram. Normally I’m busy working on stage productions but in late June we were still in lockdown and that was not an option. I eventually started looking around at film festivals and discovered FilmFreeway. In due course, I started sending them out, one or two, here and there, and soon discovered that the best chances of getting them accepted was to focus mainly on festivals that have a super short or micro film category. They’ve now variously been shown at 35 film festivals in 18 countries, and the most successful of them, ‘Premium’, has been a category winner three times. I guess, for me, the important thing about this whole project is the way it’s opened up the possibility of working in film and putting stuff out digitally as a parallel to my other artistic activities. I’m now interested in seeing how my drama writing can work within a film context, maybe creating pieces that have both a live outcome and a digital/filmic outcome. So, it slightly changes the way I might conceive future projects. I have a monologue project with the working title ONESIES that I’m planning to develop in this way.

‘Les Coffrets’ is showing at 3.30pm on the 23rd of April at St Mary in the Castle as part of Hastings International Film Festival.

Interview with Sarah Wishart, Director of ‘Excluded’

One of the wonderful things about our modern times is that more and more voices are being heard on issues that desperately need to be addressed. . Whilst there is a long way to go, in 2018 a group of determined South London students started a movement for #EducationNotExclusion by using the London Underground to make a powerful and subversive statement about exclusions on GCSE results day. A Tube map from ‘school to prison’ could be seen on Northern Line trains, shining a spotlight on the number of pupils permanently excluded from school each day. The satirical poster shows a direct line from ‘sent out of class’, stopping at ‘permanent exclusion’ and with ‘prison’ as its final destination. People were forced to take notice and address a huge problem in the education system over the whole of the United Kingdom. Dr Sarah Wishart, the creative director of a UK-focused charity EachOther, directed the impressive and important documentary ‘Excluded’, shown at Hastings International Film Festival, and captures voices we need to hear as well as setting up a collaborative and informed environment where the young people featured on the film were all involved in the creative decision-making and are listed as co-creators.

A clever, admirably collaborative and thought-provoking first feature documentary where we are not focusing on politicians or journalists, but giving young people the floor so that the audience hears from those directly affected.

S.S: What is your background and what brought you to documentary making?

S.W: I have a background in performance art with a PhD on collaborative artwork and the processes of how they get made. I work with film, sound and text in my practice and so this job is a weird melding of all my skills and knowledge. EachOther is a human rights space for digital journalism so I find myself involved in all sorts of formats. We historically have made short explainer films about rights issues. This was our first feature length documentary and it was amazing to do.

S.S: Where did the initial idea for the film come from?

S.W: Originally I’d been looking to expand onwards from my film project funded by the EHRC with young children talking about human rights. We visited four Rights Respecting Schools around the country in the process of creating ‘Fair Play’. However, the minute I heard about the ad hack about school exclusion that took place on the Northern Line in the summer of 2018, everything changed. I originally thought the format of the film would be the journey into finding those young people and their story, but I actually made contact with them very quickly which totally shifted the whole project. My desire to look at education with young people around rights grew into a film project that listened to what these young people wanted to talk about in relation to rights, and that was exclusion.

S.S: How did you go about developing the idea after reading about the hack?

S.W: I tend to find that the restrictions on a project are what develops the project. Who can be involved, how do we pay them, how do we film etc. and restrictions on this project were fairly significant! It was initially a passion project that I hoped we could get some funding for but until we found any money, I was eeking out shoots around other work we had on. Just as we found out about a small amount of funding, the pandemic hit. We were just booking filming time in Scotland and we had to completely rethink what we were going to do. I sat with the idea that perhaps we had to give it up, but I was working with a fabulous producer who told me about how her partner was sending microphones out to guests on his show – and we followed suit. We bought microphones and sent them out to all the young people, and started all our workshops on zoom.

‘Excluded’ – Kadeem

S.S: You mentioned it was a relatively easy process but how did you find the young people who you ended up working with?

S.W: We worked with partner organisations, as we aren’t a client-facing charity, so we have to build relationships with other charities and individuals working in relevant spaces. Some of the young people were then introduced to the project through their friends who were already involved. Two young people I met when I was presenting our work at a young people driven event in Leytonstone. 

It always takes time to find people who want to get involved with a project like this, and time for the organisations we engage with to build our project into their own timelines. People have to feel like they understand what we and all our team are going to do and how we’re going to work with the young people. Time is a huge issue.

‘Excluded’ – Joe

S.S: When you sent out the microphones how were you directing what was being filmed from afar?

S.W: We’d had workshops with all the young people and circulated questions and ideas back and forth. We also worked with some of the young people’s youth workers and on occasion, these guys helped with the interviewing.

S.S: What were the advantages or perhaps pitfalls of working this way?

S.W: It was an amazing feeling to work in this way – to stand back and enable other people to be involved in a way they weren’t expecting. In relation to the pitfalls, time is always a massive issue. There are inevitable delays when you’re working with such a varied and far flung cohort. Some people needed more support so that took time to enable.

‘Excluded’ – Betty

S.S: The collaborative approach is perfect for this film. Can you talk us through some of the workshops and what the students brought to the table in terms of the actual film making?

S.W: We started with an initial brainstorming session to establish trust, discover what participants anticipate the film could achieve along with listening to what they want it to achieve and enable the space for discussion about how they want to be involved. We also saw this as a useful opportunity for discussions about consent and to get input around creative themes which could run through the project. We focussed primarily on listening to the attendees with only a few open questions to guide the workshops and give them a loose structure. We circulated in the session a rough cut of the footage we had already shot to give them a sense of what the project looked like and to anchor the discussion. After they’d watched it in the session, we dedicated a good proportion of the session to getting feedback on the film. We then opened a discussion centered around those questions. 

From the workshops we identified that the young people wanted us to include spoken word, photographs of some of the young people throughout their education, and a letter from one of Natalia’s uncles who had ended up in prison after his exclusion. The group felt like we needed to include more detailed stories of exclusion and so we asked for nominations of people whose story they thought should feature. A number of names were put forward from within the group and they also requested that youth MPs of some description were included. Although we approached several young Mayors in London, we found greatest engagement and interest when we approached the Scottish Youth Parliament. We discussed sending out audio recording equipment which is how we captured several of the voices throughout the next year. The young people felt there should be a narration track and that a young person should do that “in terms of the voice-over it is quite important that it should be a young person that does it, to really be able to capture the story, it is ok to drill home the points that are most important.” We implemented all of these aspects so the workshops and the co-production they allowed were therefore absolutely central to the development of the film.

‘Excluded’ – Jordane

S.S: Using the stop motion to hide identities works so well. Who did you work with on this and what guidance did you give as director?

S.W: This was done in-house by my film producer Jack Satchell, we decided we wanted to try and summarise the actions of the ad-hack whilst keeping everything anonymous. I absolutely love stop motion and have always wanted to work on an animation project with stop motion animators and Jack, who’d never really worked with this kind of format before, jumped at the chance to illustrate it. It was great finding a tube train model!

‘Excluded is showing at 1.30pm on the 23rd of April at St Mary in the Castle as part of Hastings International Film Festival.

In Review: ‘STABAT MATER’ & ‘COUSCOUS’ by Marina Sagona

Experimental New York cinema might bring to mind Andy Warhol, Jonas Mekas or Maya Deren but whatever your fancy it has the power to stimulate and draw out admiration, contemplation and so much more in the viewer. It diversely tests and breaks traditional aspects of filmmaking thus allowing the director to break free from narrative and to focus creative efforts on the statement being made. ‘STABAT MATER’ and ‘COUSCOUS’ by New York-based Italian Marina Sagona adroitly pay homage to her artistry and explore themes of family, memory and almost overbearing sentiments of longing and loss.

Marina Sagona, Directior of ‘STABAT MATER’ & ‘COUSCOUS’

In ‘STABAT MATER’, a project perhaps bewilderedly named after a 13th-century hymn portraying the suffering of Jesus Christ’s mother during his crucifixion, we are teased with the reveal of a striking nude painting superimposed with a text we see repeating 15 times. The first line appears to be acting as a censor for what is within the open legs on either side. Why would we censor this woman, and what is this straight line actually going to turn into as the text becomes legible? I wonder as a viewer if the religious naming is reflective of these opening frames and where this is going.

The following individual 18 second frames slowly progress to reveal the entirety of the text which we soon recognise as a translation of the chattering we hear between a man and a child. The text itself masterfully brings the viewers attention to the background dialogue fading out as the joyous yet sorrowful sound of the musical composition of the Stabat Mater by Giovanni Pergolesi emcompasses our senses. Sagona describes the nude, a portrait of the artist herself painted by her former husband as “a powerful testimony of my biographical circumstances of the time.” 

The glaring religious significance of the films title and the auditory chorus commissioned to Pergolesi by the brotherhood of Our Lady of Sorrows clash superbly with the aesthetic yet graphic nude figure who, whilst slouching informally on a sofa, screams of discomfort, pain and suffering. It is private, personal and yet undeniably relatable all at the same time and also arresting in its simple repetition. The pain Sagona is clearly dealing with is all over her face, only made more evident with the slow panning from the painting as the text fades away into an indiscernible size.

Sagona’s ‘COUSCOUS’ is an auditory journey with stunning and equally stylish vintage footage exploring the director’s own history and cultural and geographic legacy, spanning Libya and Italy. Sagona hails from a Maltese family who settled in Tripoli in the 1700s during the Ottoman Empire, only to be forced to flee after Muammar al-Gaddafi’s coup d’etat. 

The split-screen film shows an emotional and linguistic decoding of a seemingly simple recipe for couscous which is actually describing and conjuring up the nostalgic family footage which evokes the smells, sounds and recollections of a life left behind. The musical voiceover and images expertly highlight the director’s expertise in visual media and is a true testament to one family’s unique and poignant story. ‘COUSCOUS’ makes me long for a simpler time which might be mere fiction and makes me envious as my family name Smith doesn’t hold quite nearly as much intrigue. Through both films I felt the director’s intentions, struggles and desire to tell a story. Experimental film may not speak to everyone, but for those who are willing to work hard at reading dissonant sounds and images, the end is worthwhile. 

Interview with Alan Cross, Director of ‘For The Love Of Noise’

The often-repeated adage – “it’s not what you know but who you know” is perhaps irksome, but the case of director Alan Cross shows that being in the know and knowing the right people can be the golden combo. Cross possesses a motley and enviable background as a member of a successful band from the 80s, years of songwriting, international DJing and music video direction. After bumping into Kevin Hough who would ably contribute to the writing and production of ‘The Love Of Noise’, he commenced an epic 10 month journey to provide us with a fascinating insight into a twilight world. It is a film celebrating Brighton’s underground and experimental noise scene and the city itself, a lieu known for embracing creativity and the downright weird. Our festival audience can expect alluring drone videos of Brighton, in depth and revealing interviews and most importantly, a rare view of a relatively unknown world.

A UK documentary pulsing with passion, filmed in lockdown where we see a city and people going through trying times whilst the throbbing pulse of noise and experimental music is itching to come back to life before our eyes. 

S.S: Where did the inspiration for the film come from?

A.C: The film came out of a chance meeting in the street during lockdown between Kevin Hough and myself. I was loosely looking for a subject that was music-based to make a documentary about and he told me he always wanted to make a film about the noise scene, so we just got cracking to make it happen!

Kevin is a key player on the noise scene and has an encyclopaedic knowledge of its history and all the precarious components. The scene is firmly rooted in live performance and encompasses a huge spectrum of styles, so Kevin’s knowledge was invaluable in putting the film together. Initially the idea was to put together a potted history, but the scene goes way back to the 20s and even has roots in Italian futurism so it was too big a subject for one film. Therefore we decided to make it more about recent history, mainly the last 20 years. 

While making the film, it took on a life of its own and really became a celebration of the Brighton scene and the diversity of Brighton as a city. It encompasses everything from pure noise to more experimental jazz aspects.

S.S: There are unique chapters and movements to the film – how did you go about your storyboarding and planning for these?

A.C: Storyboarding and planning was fairly fluid. We knew from the start that we wanted to include sections on Brighton’s musical history, a run down of Brighton’s noise venues, women in noise, cassettes, DIY and the future of noise, but while we were interviewing people I was listening out for patterns and themes that we could build on. Some of it wasn’t planned but evolved from those early recordings and into the edit. I spent months of late nights listening to, labelling and tagging all the material. I built a massive library to pull stuff from then just went for it. 

S.S: How did you connect with your interview subjects in a time where going to venues wasn’t an option?

A.C: The first job was to find people who were happy to be interviewed, as a lot of people on the scene don’t want to put themselves in front of the camera. We knew we had to base the film mostly on interviews because the live venues were all closed due to lockdown under Covid. Awkward! Thankfully, Kevin is a big player in the noise scene and plays in Noiseferatu and Three Bald Knobbers among other bands, so he knows most of the key personalities. It’s a close knit family and Kev had the access.

S.S: As it is such an underground scene with fascinating characters, how did you find the right technique to draw out their stories?

A.C: By being as nosey, impertinent and rude as possible! Asking personal questions and threatening never to let them go if they didn’t tell us their innermost secrets!

Seriously – I was genuinely interested to know why people would spend their time doing noise work or performing live in the strangest of ways, so we just tried to get them to reveal the motivation behind it. Their dedication and belief meant I was genuinely curious so we asked! There’s a lot of humour in the scene and there’s a real bond between people making noise – it’s a great group of characters so there’s a lot of love involved.

I’d like to have gone further – I think performing a noise gig also embodies a strong rebellious streak so it would’ve been good to get their take on that. It’s a kind of rage against the machine. We should’ve maybe asked why they feel the need to be so rebellious or whether they think it’s attention seeking, or just being antisocial even? But that would maybe be too much “on the nose”. We went as far as we could in the time available.

In the end we just tried to let the speakers provide us the story they felt most comfortable telling.

S.S: It might seem obvious due to the subject matter but how did you put together the soundtrack for the film and where did the material come from? 

A.C: The soundtrack is mostly made up of tracks from the Spirit of Gravity catalogue on Bandcamp which they kindly allowed us to use when artists gave permission. All tracks are listed in the end credits. There are a couple of sections where I improvised short bits of noise or ambience myself during the editing process purely for the fun of it, or where I didn’t have any music that fitted. You can probably spot those pieces! 

S.S: Among other things you are clearly a very talented drone photographer – were the shots in the film specifically for this documentary and what do you think they add to the film?

A.C: Thanks! Apart from the YouTube footage, which is framed on the screen with a black border, all the other shots were captured specifically for the film. I try to capture a big library or pool of shots before I start editing so that I have plenty of material to play around with in the edit – that’s the fun part.

When we were planning the film, the challenge was to avoid the film becoming an endless string of talking heads so we set about creating entertaining visuals to create as many layers as possible while the interviews played out, and to portray Brighton as the vibrant and diverse city that it is.

S.S: Alongside the stunning aerial shots we see a big dose of  daily street life in Brighton – why did you want to include these? 

A.C: As we couldn’t shoot inside live venues we were shooting scenes of people on the street (the only place crowds could go during the pandemic) and while we were going along we realised we were creating a kind of portrait of the city during the pandemic and it became a story of two worlds: one of the overground Covid world with people wandering aimlessly around the city waiting for a solution to the global problem, and the other a portrayal of the underground night club live performance world we are all missing so badly. 

There’s a duality between the normality of sunny, overground Brighton and its underbelly, home to the darker, rebellious underground noise scene. Hopefully we succeeded in portraying that contrast at least in part with the visual elements. We wanted to give the noise scene a context and show where the scene has its home, whilst also showing the city under lockdown during the day, then moving into night at the end of the film. It’s a sort of contrast between “normal everyday life” and “those crazy weirdo freaks” making wild noise and daring to call it “music”!

S.S: What do you hope for your film?

A.C: We hope the film receives some recognition for showing an otherwise undiscovered part of Brighton’s culture – some awards would be great, but it’s already rewarding to see an otherwise unrecognised scene being documented in one place. We are both really proud of how the film pulls all the elements of the noise scene together into one unique document. We hope we’ve done a good job and that people will find it as fascinating and enjoyable as we did putting it together. 

There is so much creativity out there in Brighton city and beyond, so we hope the film gives due credit and exposure to the artists that we have involved and included in the making of the documentary. It’s a vibrant scene and one we felt needed documenting so people can maybe get involved and create new acts and live performances to showcase their own talents in the amazing venues Brighton has to offer. There’s life beyond the stifling digital world – live music and the analogue audio cassette tape are not dead! 

DIY is available to everyone and costs nothing so we hope potential future artists will watch the film then go out and make some noise!