"IT COULD BE THE MISSING LINK THAT GETS LOST SOMEWHERE DURING THE PROCESS, THAT CONNECTION THAT YOU HAVE WITH THE MATERIAL, OR THE REASON YOU STARTED THE PROJECT IN THE FIRST PLACE."
Comisura (The Corners of Your Mouth) BLOCK 1
Empty Feet & Fireflies BLOCK 3
3rd Papaya Rocks Film Festival Online
22-28 Feb 2021 | Tickets £5 / £10 Full 7-Day Pass: bit.ly/PRFF-Tickets
Empty Feet & Fireflies: Bringing together the salvaged remnants of an unrecoverable part-installation, part-improvised narrative film project, the work is the result of an assemblage of images; portraits of real people living in different places and timezones, shot over a year of study in the UK, Oceania and South-East Asia.
Comisura (The Corners of Your Mouth): Two strangers find a romantic connection and talk about their memories together.
Hi Benjamin thank you for talking to TNC, how are you holding up during these very strange times?
Yeah I’m all good, thank you! I’ve been making a gradual transformation into a fully fledged hermit crab. I’m almost there now. I need the sun back!
Has this time offered you any creative inspiration?
Yeah it definitely has, it’s been a tough last year but I’m grateful for the time. It’s allowed me the space to go back to some uncompleted projects with a fresh approach; something you rarely get if you’re shooting/editing a project intensively over a short period. The films selected for Papaya Rocks, Empty Feet & Fireflies and Comisura (The Corners of Your Mouth), might not have existed in this way, without this year! They are both quite personal films, and revisiting them with some distance from the time of their initial production meant I was able to evaluate the available materials, and rework them with some clarity and perspective.
It also gave me the opportunity to collaborate with my friend and incredibly talented musician, Youness, who rendered a beautiful End Credit for Comisura, and rescored and designed the sound for Empty Feet. It became a back and forth situation where we were just building upon what each other was making, and the project grew and evolved in a way I couldn’t have visualised. Although formal methods of working definitely have their place, I feel that in some cases, they can stifle the scope of the collaboration and creativity from other departments. I feel that image and sound are working together in harmony in the sense of this film, being interlocked at the time of their making.
Alongside this, it’s been great to have time to work into the edit of a documentary project I began in 2018, and filmed the bulk of in the 2019 summer. It’s shaping out as a longer form piece - with over 30 hours of original material I recorded! It’s been a constant curve of learning and creative challenges, but there’s a momentum now and I aim to wrap this year. I’ve also had time to be regularly watching lots of films, which consistently slices up sources of inspiration - MUBI has been a treasure trove!
Congratulations on having your films selected for the 3rd Papaya Rocks Film Festival, what does it mean to you to be part of such an amazing lineup of short films?
It feels really refreshing to be a part of the Papaya Rocks selection, and to be able to engage with a festival that holds an openness and inclusivity in the way it cares for independent film, and those exploratory works which try their best to escape categorisation. I don’t think my films are naturally for everyone, so it’s a great feeling to be recognised in this way and have the opportunity to reach an audience here.
Can you tell me a little bit about your films, how did they come about?
The first pieces of Empty Feet came about in 2017, when I was shooting a part-installation, part-improvised narrative film project, Soup, which fell through after running into hard drive failures. There were only a few fragments that were recoverable. This was just before I left the UK for a year, for a period of study in Oceania and South-East Asia. I took a break from filming for a few months, but eventually Empty Feet & Fireflies turned out to be an assemblage of images; portraits of people and places I crossed paths with from that year, living across time zones. I initially pieced it together when I came back to the UK in 2018, but it only really existed as a reel, lying dormant until I revisited it last summer (2020). I think of the film a bit like a patchwork, bringing together pockets of time and place, and in a sense, it’s also carrying the feeling of my experiences across that time. Thematically, the film explores the balance between the industrial, electrical whirring and waste cycles of our consumer-driven modern world, alongside the more essential pulses, textures and rhythms of nature. We go from big cityscapes to tiny bugs, presented in discord and harmony, and as a viewer we’re left to navigate through this space of residual static, somewhere in-between.
I wrote and filmed The Corners of Your Mouth in my final year at university (2018/19); it’s about two strangers that find a romantic connection and talk about their memories together over a night. Their conversation plays back in real-time, intermittently threaded over memory sequences; sensory patches that dip into their personal histories and childhood lives, which underpin much of their dialogue. I worked with two incredibly talented actors, Ana and Kristian, who were glowing when they spoke to me early on about some of their most significant and earliest memories. Some sections of the dialogue which made the final cut were actually ad-lib, or their version of the script, which I think is amazing. Beyond this, the film is looking at the simplicity and wholeness that I believe is possible between two individuals in a fleeting moment, where two paths might align and leave a lasting imprint.
"In a world that is in constant, progressive flux, boundaries always have to be tested, and film can be a positive tool that is a part of that."
What were the biggest challenges you faced bringing your films to life?
Both of the films have had to overcome some monster obstacles, from the initial drive related failures I mentioned with Empty Feet, resulting in the collapse of the original project, to a cast and crew collectively turning into icicles during the shooting of Comisura. Due to the specific timeframe I had with Corners of Your Mouth, we had to shoot during the winter months, which brought with it its own set of challenges. It was a brutal shoot, compacted into an ambitious and tight shooting schedule – which saw a combination of shooting through the nights, snow, electrical failures and sleep deprivation.
I had an amazing, dedicated cast and crew for this project, who for some reason stuck with me throughout! Some parts of the film came about as a result of these external problems, which meant we weren’t able to shoot or go ahead with certain scenes. This resulted with improvised sequences and unscripted dialogue, which I think, beautifully, have turned out to be some of the most raw and natural moments in the film.
Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently on these films?
There’s always bits and pieces I would tweak and change, and definitely there are things I would have done differently, given the resources. But these are ultimately elements I will take and try to improve on with future projects. Overall, with Empty Feet, I think that given its nature and the unique set of circumstances that brought the film together, it could only really exist the way it is. I’m happy with it that way. I would have loved to have expanded the parent-child memory sequences in Comisura, so that they could stand more on their own two feet. This is something I originally intended, but there were parameters in place at the time which meant I wasn’t able to exercise complete freedom with this film. I’m sure it’s something I will carry across and filter into a later project. I also would have made Comisura during the summer, not winter, which would have been a much more comfortable experience for everyone involved!
Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?
I’ve always been drawn to visuals and image-making, so for me, my passion for filmmaking stems from cinematography. I think words will always have a limit, but with visuals, there is a capacity to render a place that is true and experientially authentic to the sense of the moment. Not just in its look or appearance, but more importantly, by the way it feels. It’s this ability for honest translation that I have always held close to me, as a language and a way that I can find genuine expression.
I believe in cinematography and filmmaking as a shared, universal visual language with the power to bring people together, and to represent and reframe perspectives.I’m also inspired by the processes of light and the natural world, which are the roots that bring the craft of cinematography to life. This orientation brings us in line with working in harmony with nature and the world around us, and not against it. It gives me a sense of presence and direction.
"I hope people that watch will resonate and engage with this, while also making their own connection."
What has been some of the best advice you’ve been given?
My first film studies teacher told me that sometimes you have to abandon a project to complete it. He observed and appreciated the way that I work and process things, which I think outwardly can be quite erratic and extraneous, but for me is essentially an intense care and attention to detail. That was about seven years ago now... it’s definitely helped my creative outlook since that time. I do feel that a film is never really quite finished – it exists in a capsule as its own little world, and given the opportunity, it would continue to grow and evolve exponentially, infinitely. That’s why I think it’s so important to be able to know when to jump ship - not to run away from a project, but to know you’ve given everything to make it what it is, in the context of that time. It’s a reflexive statement of the makers and the conditions that made the film what it is. That decision to leave a project behind and move forwards is progressive; there will always be room for improvement and things you pick out, but that’s what the next project is for.
Should filmmakers continue to push the boundaries of the films and stories they want to tell?
I think this is essential, and fundamental to why filmmaking exists. Tradition and convention will only ever cover a limited ground, and with filmmaking becoming more universally accessible, it facilitates the creation of stories for everyone, from everyone across the world. If films centre themselves around something as volatile, intricate and complex as life and the human experience, then the boundaries of the craft that represent this, as well as the medium in which they are contained, have to be pushed. In a world that is in constant, progressive flux, boundaries always have to be tested, and film can be a positive tool that is a part of that.
Do you have any tips or advice you would offer a fellow filmmaker?
I would say...something romantic or cheesy like, ‘go with your heart.’ I think it’s easy to forget about this, and maybe it’s the only way you can really be in tune with what you’re doing - with your craft and with yourself. It could be the missing link that gets lost somewhere during the process, that connection that you have with the material, or the reason you started the project in the first place. I think it’s really important to realign yourself with what that is, to retrace your steps and familiarise yourself in that sense. It’s really all you need to see a project through.
I think as well, when you have that connection with craft, the environment and people around you, it’s a place of sincere trust – you can feel that what you’re making in that moment is alive and sparking. That will translate and carry itself, and it’s why you’re doing what you’re doing - don’t forget that!
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from your films?
I hope my films spark a curiosity – they’re both different but in many ways they share a correlation in their themes, and in how these are presented; a gradual process of slowing us down into a shared moment, which operates in real-time. I think this grounds a lot of the ideas that are circulating - those relating with nature, memory, time and place. I hope people that watch will resonate and engage with this, while also making their own connection. There is an openness to the films, which I feel encourages this. I’d really love to hear any thoughts people might have – if anyone has something they wanted to comment or chat about, please do reach out!
You can write to me via my email.