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Aesthetica Short Film Festival 2021
World Premiere
INTERVIEW

Jessi Gutch
& Liz Jackson

Blind as a Beat
The Listening Pitch
5th November | 18:00 - 19:30

asff.co.uk

Blind as a Beat is a celebration of the power of listening, set against the backdrop of a film co-director Liz Jackson's failing eyesight. Told through four phases of loss, the hlm portrays her journey: from ex-documentary filmmaker who used sight as a primary sense, to someone who is visually impaired and using hearing predominately.

 

Jessi Gutch and Liz Jackson are the recipients of The Listening Pitch from Aesthetica Short Film Festival and Audible 2021. 

Hi Jesse & Liz thank you for talking to The New Current, how are you held up during these very strange times?

It's certainly been a very intense time! I (Jessi) had to shield and am still considered clinically extremely vulnerable, so trying to navigate that despite things being 'back to normal' can be a challenge! But we've both found joy in simpler things and it's helped with perspective on life and what's important. Saying that at points it's just been really really really shit (!)  

Has this time provided you with any new creative inspiration or opportunities?

Well The Forgotten C was literally born out of this time! It was my/Jessi's real flat, real road and neighbours and had quite an interesting documentary element to it in that way. I'm not sure that I'd do another film all shot from one room out one window, but the creative boundaries actually really served the story on this occasion. 

Congratulations on having your World Premiere of Blind as a Beat at the 2021 Aesthetic Film Festival, what does it mean to you both to be able to take part in a festival like this? 

We're both so excited to have a real live audience watch the film in an actual cinema! Whilst there are so many great things about this new hybrid way of doing festivals and events, a virtual screening just doesn't have that magic of being with your audience in a dark room and soaking up the energy and reactions. We love Aesthetica's celebration of artistic films and it's a joy to be a part of this.

Will there be any nerves ahead of the screening?

Maybe in the sense of worrying people will be out drinking instead! Although maybe we should take this opportunity to tell readers that there will be a drinks reception at our screening as well. 

You pitched Blind as a Beat for Aesthetic & Audible's The Listening Pitch what was this process like and did you face many challenges moving from the pitch to production?

Like most things, it was that 5 minutes in the Zoom waiting room where our nerves took over somewhat! We had to be conscious of doing it together - as we're both talkers. So we really tried to separate out who should say what - although we're pretty sure this went out the window. For me (Jessi) I was absolutely blown away by my Mum's rendition of what it was like to be visually impaired. She spoke about her emotions so articulately and in a way that I hadn't heard before actually. I think it goes to show why you should always leap at these chances - it ends up becoming so much more than simply a pitch. You always take something away from an experience like that. 

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Is this the first time mother and daughter have co-directed a project like this? 

Yes, and we were so happy to finally get the chance to do it. It's something we've always wanted to do - after years of talking about films, directing, and storytelling. There were a few moments of clashing but overall we managed to keep it a fiery but equal and respectful partnership. We also tried really hard to not bring a mum-daughter dynamic to set, rather a co-director dynamic. Hopefully, we achieved this for the most part! 

Because of the personal nature of this film did you have any apprehensions about making and sharing this story?

Liz: I think it's difficult if you've made documentaries to imagine yourself actually in a documentary. I felt slightly less apprehensive because I wasn't going to be in vision, but it's never fun hearing your own voice for the first time like that. There was also one moment on a shoot where I had to be in the optician's chair and that reawakened some of the anxieties I'd felt in the past about my failing eyesight. 

How much did your background as a documentary filmmaker help to prepare you for making Blind as a Beat?

Liz: Undoubtedly it helped a lot because I felt very comfortable with the approach we took - which is also what I used to do. Because when I was directing it was all on film, I would do a sound edit first, so that we were being really economical with what we shot - matching the images and preparing the sequences. With our DOP Anna MacDonald - who is amazing - we decided to take on this same approach of working on 16mm film and shooting to an already edited soundtrack.  

What would you say has been the most valuable lesson you have taken from making this film?

Liz: That no matter how many films you've made, you're always learning new things.

Jessi: That sometimes stripping the process back can be a good thing. I was a bit reticent about the idea of sound editing first and felt like it might make the film more stagnant somehow. But actually, it was completely the right thing to do for this film and so you should always be prepared to change your filmmaking process. 

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"Even when life takes something precious away from you, it always gives you something back."

Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?

Liz: I can honestly remember the first time going into a cinema when I was about 5 and completely falling in love with that world.

Jessi: I think what I fell in love with was more a need to express yourself through imagery and document moments in time.  
As a BIFA nominated filmmaker how has your approach to your films changed since your debut short?

Jessi: I've learnt so much, so fast. I've been making films within the charity/NGO space for about 6 years so had a lot of filmmaking experience by the time we made The Forgotten C. But it was completely different - mainly in the sense of kit and crew. I was used to self-shooting on my Sony A7iii kit at a certain level, with no one else. So when Molly's (Manning Walker - director and co-writer of TFC) kit arrived I was literally like oh my god haha. I couldn't believe how much there was! So yes, a very steep learning curve as to how higher-end productions work. But it's been so much fun. 

Is there any advice you would offer someone about making their first film?

Liz: Plan, organise and prep everything down to the fine detail, but then be prepared to let it all go. 

Jessi: No crew, no film. Find your people, value, respect and hold onto them for dear life! 

And finally, what do you hope audiences will take away from Blind as a Beat?

Even when life takes something precious away from you, it always gives you something back. We'd hope people come away with a different sense of perspective that should be uplifting, rather than see it as a sad story.