17th British Shorts, Berlin
"When I read Hannah’s script I was immediately absorbed in the modern retelling of the particular moment of reunion between mother and daughter."
January 22, 2024
A daughter seeks refuge from her emotionally abusive partner at the home of her estranged mother. They attempt to reconnect and move forward, despite the knowledge that their time together is limited; bound in a knot of silent agreement to the changing of the seasons.
Hi Amelia, thank you for talking to TNC. How does it feel to be at the 17th British Shorts with your latest short film Ceres?
It feels fantastic. I was lucky enough to visit the festival last year with my first short film ‘Three’, so I know first-hand what a phenomenal festival it is and how engaged and enthusiastic the audiences are.
Ceres has already had an incredible festival run winning multiple awards, what has it meant to you to get this type of recognition for your film?
It means a great deal and makes me feel incredibly grateful that I was able to be part of making such an important film with such a wonderful team of people.
How important are festivals like British Shorts in creating a platform for short films and filmmakers?
They are everything. Without an audience to view the films our job as storytellers is irrelevant. Plus, having the chance to meet audiences and other film makers and producers at these events makes the lonely months of planning and writing and raising money all finally feel worth it.
What more can be done to make short films more visible to audiences outside of the festivals circuit?
I think there should be some short film seasons on terrestrial television. I know so many people who love the form of short films but never get to watch them. The BBC or Channel 4 should have monthly shorts festivals on a Sunday afternoon, it would be great!
How has your theatre background helped inform your approach to directing short films?
In every way. I learnt about how to work with text and timing, how to build character backgrounds and relationships, how to tell a story, hit a vision and most importantly how to work with actors. Fortunately for me, working with actors is honestly my favourite thing to do, and I’ve been lucky enough to work with some incredibly talented people over the years who have taught me so much.
When you started out in your filmmaking journey was it always you intention to create works that focus on the female experience? As a film maker it has always been my intention to tell female stories because the desire to makes films was born out of my frustration of not seeing enough complex or real female protagonists on screen. There are so many stories left to tell and so many stories which have been taken away from women and told by men. Men who even with the best intentions cannot cover the breadth and experience of what it is to be a woman in the world.
"As the stories I am interested in and the layers of detail I am eager to see has developed over the years, so too has my frustration with theatre and the challenges of directing an audience to see and appreciate all the tiny moments happening between actors."
What where some of the lessons you took away from making your debut short film Three and how did these impact your approach to making Ceres?
I learned to give myself more time at the end of a take and let the camera roll so that I had more options in the edit and in case there was more the actors had to give. I learnt to listen to my instincts more and push for shots if I knew I needed them or had a clear vision that needed to be fulfilled. I think with Ceres I had a greater understanding of the mechanics of how a film is made so I was able to trust my gut more and use the time more efficiently.
Can you tell me how Ceres came about, and what was it about Hannah Morrish’s screenplay that connected with you so much?
Hannah had written a version of Ceres during Covid and put a post on twitter saying she was looking for a director. I was in the midst of working on Three, but my husband, the actor Alex Waldmann had worked with Hannah on a play and knew how talented she was so suggested I take a look at her script. Coincidentally, about three months before this I had read the Ceres/Demeter myth and been incredibly taken with it as well as shocked that no one had ever adapted it into a film. I connected with the myth especially strongly as I have two daughters and I related completely to the idea that a mother, who also happens to be the goddess of nature and crops, would destroy the earth and anyone who came in her way until her daughter was returned to her,
When I read Hannah’s script I was immediately absorbed in the modern retelling of the particular moment of reunion between mother and daughter. I adored the sparing nature of the script and the way it so delicately told a story of devastating abuse which felt so powerful and honestly done . I knew I had never seen anything like it and I saw it very clearly as soon as I read it which is always a good sign for me.
What was the biggest challenges you faced bringing Ceres to the big screen?
The age old challenges of money and time. Though we were able to get into production pretty quickly the postproduction dragged on because we had to wait for so many things to line up and people to be free to do the work.
Is there anything you would have done different on this film?
I would have put a quote from the Ceres myth in the opening credit to make it clear that it related to Ovid’s story thus prompting people to explore that material.
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
I have always had a passion for telling stories. From about the age of 5 I was making plays and had a theatre company from the age of 9! As the stories I am interested in and the layers of detail I am eager to see has developed over the years, so too has my frustration with theatre and the challenges of directing an audience to see and appreciate all the tiny moments happening between actors. Thanks to my collaborator on Three, the actor Matti Houghton, who was adamant that I should direct a film I got had the support I needed to dip my toe in, and of course was immediately bitten by the bug.
Who are some of the filmmakers that have/do inspire you?
Andrea Arnold, P.T. Anderson, Claire Denis, Shane Meadows, Chantelle Ackerman, Sarah Polley.
What does Ceres say about you as a filmmaker and the stories you want to tell in the future?
I hope it says that I am filmmaker with an eye for detail and complex human behaviour, that I can get good performances from my actors and that I understand how to tell a story with nuance and care.
You’re currently working on your debut narrative feature, as you able to tell me anything about this?
I have just finished two features! One is a full-length version of Ceres that Hannah and I have written together and are super excited about. The other is an adaptation of Rebecca Stott’s best-selling memoir ‘In the days of Rain’ which I have co-written with Rebecca and am absolutely in love with and desperate to make.
Do you have any tips or advice you would offer anyone wanting to get into filmmaking or theatre?
Practice patience and perseverance. Don’t’ do competition or comparison. Trust your gut. Oh, and don’t work with wankers.
And finally, what message would you like audiences to take away from Ceres?
That Coercive control is a real and present danger which affects untold numbers of women around the world, devastating the lives of its victims and the families who love them. That even though it may be hard to quantify coercive control in the same way as physical abuse it is just as damaging. And finally, that so much work still needs to be done to tackle the insipid ways in which boys and men absorb ideas of male dominance and misogyny.