Toronto International Film Festival 2021
Short Cuts Programme 05
A docudrama that spotlights the strength of a community when faced with eviction. HANGING ON reminds us about the struggles of people who are slipping through the cracks of society and what it means to have a home.
Discover more here.
Hi Alfie it's so great to talk with you again, how have you been holding up during these very strange times?
Hello! Yes I’m good, last year was hard but surviving and trying to keep making stuff. I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to make something in the past few months.
Has this time given you the opportunity to explore any new creative interests?
Get through the “watch” list in my notes and read more stuff, which is a good feeling to switch off.
Hanging On had its World Premiere at the 2021 Sheffield Doc Festival, after everything that has happened the past year did you have any apprehensions about getting back on the film festival circuit?
It’s a strange one, as Hanging On wasn’t something I thought would get made, I was following the community’s story and wanted to make a story in a different way to so many I’d seen on the housing crisis. I didn’t really make it with festivals in mind but more just a way of their story reaching more people in my area, so for it to be received is mad.
What does it mean to you to have Hanging On making its International Premiere in the Short Cuts section at TIFF 2021?
It’s taken a minute to grasp the situation. I can only thank the programmers for helping elevate the situation this community are going through, as this is a story is one that continues outside of this film, it's real life. Never did I think this film would ever have the privilege of being selected amongst such talent.
Can you tell me a little bit about Hanging On, how did this film come about?
I’d been following their story in the paper and online. It’s disgusting and really angered me. I wanted to make something cinematic that stood out from all the covid news everyone was hearing, what visual would capture attention? During the time of the production, I had my own issues with where I was living in my flat, to the point where I literally stopped paying rent as nothing was being sorted...how can this government ask us to stay at home during the pandemic, when where I’m living is inhabitable? Where do we go?
How did you get introduced to the families on Wordsworth Drive and Sugar Hill Close and what was it about their story that connected with you as a filmmaker?
This community, who are also from Leeds where I’m based/born had lived in Oulton almost all their lives - and were slowly being evicted at a time when we needed our homes the most, and I found it heartbreaking. I just went down in person to see what I could do.
Did you have any concerns about asking them to be part of the film?
A project like this takes time to understand what we are trying to make, which is the most valuable thing to anyone. There weren’t any concerns but there was the fear that at any moment the community may not want to take part or there’s the production concerns of how we would execute it the way we wanted.
Due to the sensitive nature of your subject matter what were some of the biggest challenges you faced bringing Hanging On to life?
All films have their challenges but this one was different because there were a few scares it wouldn’t happen, I have to thank Hollie Bryan who produced the short as this was a doc made a full team of people. The council heard our original idea and didn’t like the idea of the crane where we wanted. The whole idea relied on the suspension which was also weather dependant, there were snow flurries either side of us shooting - we were full of anxiety.
How different was your approach to Hanging on compared to your other projects?
There was a lot of learning, we were very open with the fact we haven’t used VFX/stunt team so we were thorough by going over everything in prep. The BFI Doc Society allowed us that creative freedom which we are grateful for.
You are a BFI Future Film Festival alumnus, how much did your experience at FFF help you on your filmmaking journey?
It’s helped me massively, so much love for all the people! I remember years ago Noel ringing me up when I was 14, asking me to come down to the festival because a short I made will be screened, I’d never been to London before and it was a scary idea. The support that BFI have given me has genuinely been life changing.
As a writer/director how flexible do you allow yourself to be when you start shooting?
I try to keep it as flexible as possible and keep it open right up until before we shoot. It’s risky but I don’t like nailing those details until days before shooting to keep it fresh. There’s always room for those things that happen on the day too.
"There’s no right or wrong genre of film, some amazing films say very little but are visually incredible and that’s fine."
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
From young, I used to be a programmer at Leeds Young Film Festival from around 9 years old until 16, so I’ve been around independent cinema for ages. I’ve always had that filmmaking bug.
Do you think more filmmakers should push the boundaries of what they are creating and what they want their films to say?
Filmmakers can do what they want. There’s no right or wrong genre of film, some amazing films say very little but are visually incredible and that’s fine. It’s always exciting to see a story told in a different way though, it’s inspiring.
Is there any advice you would offer a fellow filmmaker?
Scorsese said recently “there’s no excuse to go and make your film” with cameras being everywhere now - I agree, go do it.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from Hanging On?
I want to leave audiences who have seen the film, with one thing: who is there to catch them?!