Clara Helbig

disjointed screens as part of the BFI Future Film Festival from 18-21 February, free on BFI Player

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disjointed centres around the experience of two men working in the food industrial complex. The film deals with a patriarchal paradigm in crisis, and offers a space to heal from trauma, where movements express what remains inaccessible through words and descriptions. disjointed challenges ideas about an organic and traditional nature of our food, highlighting the artificiality of a rarely seen reality.

Hi Clara thank you for talking to TNC, how have you been holding up during these very strange times?

Thank you for taking the time to cover my work! It’s been a strange time indeed...I’m lucky that I’ve been able to stay safe and healthy, so all things considered everything is going alright.

Has this time offered you any new creative inspiration?

It’s been a mixed experience! So much of my creative process involves being in the world, talking to people and experiencing what’s around me. Whilst being at home has given me time to work on my technical skills, it's certainly been quite a challenge adjusting my creative process to this new reality. I’ve built myself a website and have started working on concepts for upcoming projects, but mostly I’d say the last months have been a deep-dive into research and watching films.

Congratulations on having disjointed selected for the BFI Future Film Festival, what does it mean to you to be part of We Are Not Our Trauma section?

I feel very grateful for disjointed to be showcased at such a seminal festival for young filmmakers. My intention with disjointed was to focus on the the personal stories of those working in the meat industry and the mental and physical toll the work has taken on them. For disjointed to be part of the “We Are Not Our Trauma” section reflects the film’s message and my protagonists’ stories best as can be.

Can you tell me a little bit about disjointed, how did this film come about?

disjointed grew out of my interest in food: it’s often industrialised production and the ecological and labour issues behind it. With this film I wanted to contribute a differ- ent perspective to a much discussed issue. Meat production and consumption are often addressed in relation to ecological or animal-rights issues. While that’s incredibly valuable and important, I often wondered about the people who stand behind the machines. Those who have to comply the rhythm of profit yet rarely benefit from it. I found that I had seen more meat industry workers through CCTV footage of animal rights groups than actually heard them speak about their experiences them- selves. I wanted to make disjointed to change this.

What where the biggest challenges you faced bringing this film to life?

There were definite geographical barriers to making the film. The meat industry operates out of sight - often in rural, desolate areas that most people, including myself, have yet to come close to. As with much low payed, industrial sector work, it’s not a job people dream about but one which is often taken out of necessity, making it harder for workers to organise and complain. This made it really hard to find people who were willing to share their stories on record. There are no unions for ground floor meat industry workers.

During the making of this film (pre-Brexit), over70% of those working in the sector were contracted workers from Eastern European States. I had help from a Polish friend to translate, but a lot of language barriers remained. In the end it took a lot of reaching out and trying to find my way in to actually encounter people to speak to & collaborate with.

"I think there is something really special about knowing the person you see represented on screen fully exists in this world with you."

Looking back is there anything you would have done differently on this film?

This being my debut film, there are a lot of technical & aesthetic aspects I would like to improve on, but that’s part of the journey and I try to see it as space to grow from.

More crucially, If COVID hadn’t hit I would have loved to spend more time to meet people. I would have liked to stay close to industrial abattoirs for an extended period of time to understand more viscerally what the environment of their workplaces are like and to connect to larger groups of people in doing so.

What has been the most valuable lesson you have taken away from making disjointed?

I’ve learned a lot about what it means to be trusted with someone else’s story. Communicating their experience with integrity whilst maintaining my directorial vision was at times frightening in the responsibility I was given, but ultimately a rewarding process.

Also, keeping your lens clean during a windy beach shoot is much trickier than anticipated!

Where did your passion for documentary filmmaking come from?

Growing up, documentaries often became my way of looking outwards. I think there is something really special about knowing the person you see represented on screen fully exists in this world with you. I’m passionate about non-fiction films because of their potential as powerful agents for change. To me, documentaries offer an unparalleled level of closeness and connectivity that allows for complete immersion in another reality, creating understanding and alliance with those represented.

What has been some of the best advice you’ve been given?

Ask yourself what’s the urgency behind the work you’re making. Be honest about why you want to tell this story and what your positionally to the topic is. Reach out to people you admire.

"disjointed is not a light hearted film, but what I hope to transpire through is the common humanity we all share."

Should filmmakers continue to push the boundaries of the films and stories they want to tell?

There are so many different ways to tell a story. As I mentioned above, I think intentions are key. What format this ends up resulting in should depend on the content, rather than to be ‘boundary’ pushing for the sake of it. However when it comes to the film industry, I’m all for eliminating boundaries! Especially concerning gatekeeping & who gets to tell stories in the first place. I think it’s crucial to keep pushing and remind ourselves how much there still is to do in order to equalise the play- ing field and expand the canon from what it currently is.

Do you have any tips or advice you would offer a fellow filmmaker?

I think certain pieces of advice that I always try to follow are to stay honest about your intentions and to speak about things that move you. And to always reach out to people! Also to avoid talking negatively about your own work before even show- ing it, or really at most times, unless it's some constructive criticism you have held up for yourself.

And finally, what do you hope people will take away from disjointed?

disjointed is not a light hearted film, but what I hope to transpire through is the common humanity we all share. It’s not about pointing a finger to the wrongs of eat- ing meat but to share an honest account of a reality that been consciously concealed by those profiting on the back of people like Patryk and Doug. I hope that in showing what the hidden actors in our food production chain experience, audiences will find themselves rethinking their relationship to what they eat and those who are proving it to us. disjointed also sets an imperative for the importance of regulated, unionised working conditions.

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