British Short Berlin 2023
January 07, 2023
© All Photo Credit Thomas Elliot Wood
When tragedy strikes, a spirited young woman turns to wild swimming in search of answers. By swimming each day at dawn and forming an unlikely friendship, she learns to accept her grief and the grief of those around her.
Hi Cat, it’s great to get to talk with you again, how has everything been going?
Hello! So nice to speak again - can’t believe it has nearly been a year now!
The last time we spoke was for your incredible event at Creating The Future We Want early in 2022, did you imagine you would have gotten such a stunning reaction to this event?
Definitely not! It was was such a special evening and I don’t think any of us could have predicted such a huge turnout and the inspiring conversations we had. It led to a lot of cool opportunities too for all of us which I think none of us had even dared to hope for! Oriane and Anais from Candid Broads and Augusta from Track Films are such powerhouses in the industry making real positive change so I know I have collaborators for life there. It was definitely the start of something special. We haven’t officially announced it yet but we are actually about to start planning for Volume II which will happen around International Women’s Day this year. Watch this space!
Congratulations on Fifty-Four Days having its European Premiere at the British Shorts 2023, how does it feel to be part of such an amazing line-up of short films?
Oh my goodness it’s so exciting. When you see the trajectory of some of the films that screened here…truly the best of the best and I’m really excited to be a part of it.
How important are festivals like British Shorts in creating a platform for short films?
They’re lifelines, truly. It means so much to just have your work seen and hear how people connect with it. Farewell She Goes actually screened here last year but due to covid rules at the time I was unable to attend in person so Fifty-Four Days is the first film I am actually getting the experience of being able to attend festivals and meet other incredible filmmakers. It’s really special.
I think also just knowing what it takes to get a film made and the blood, sweat and tears that are poured into it makes me feel as proud for every filmmaker as I do for myself!
Fifty-Four Days recently Won Best Short Film at the British Urban Film Festival, what has winning this award meant to you on your filmmaking journey?
I think I am still in shock! I have admired BUFF for such a long time and it was a dream to get selected but then to actually go on and win Best Short among so many incredible films was something I hadn’t even imagined. I was especially proud because the film is in many ways a tribute to my uncle and my friend so winning that award felt like I had won for them - and for everyone who might be in a dark place and looking for that glimmer of hope.
What was the process like for you writing, producing, co-directing and starring in Fifty-Four Days?
Intense! When I say blood, sweat and tears…I have poured every part of myself into this film - and especially with it coming from such a personal place every high is euphoric but the lows are really low. I have learnt a lot though and have been blessed to have been met with support from so many incredible people along the way - Soul Cap, dryrobe, Seabirds, Intermission Film, Ellie Gibbons, Manon Ardisson, Chiara Ventura, Bollie Lee Jarratt, Karina Michel not to mention our talented crew & cast Juliet Cowan, Delroy Brown, Josh Williams & Celia Imrie. I even had my Mum and family members as extras in the funeral scene and my sister worked with us as our mental health co-ordinator…that is really special to me.
"I would also add that especially for me as a Black woman making a film always felt inaccessible somehow."
Will taking on so many creative roles be something you will continue to do with future projects?
I don’t think so! It was never the plan and I don’t think I could handle the stress of it for a second time! Definitely more writing/directing - and writing/acting. And I certainly never want to produce another film I am acting in, especially if it is a role as intense as Ruby!
How much has your background as an actress helped in you in the writing and directing of Fifty-Four Days?
So much. Fifty-Four Days was actually the first screenplay I have ever written but I do think just from being an actor I get to read so many scripts all the time - so I have a strong of what works and what makes something sing. In the edit it got difficult as it is hard to separate yourself as an actor from yourself as a filmmaker. I had to really give myself a talking to and make sure that I would step out of the actor role to ensure that we just did what was right for the film! I think I even started talking about myself in 3rd person at one point!
With the 2023 film festival season now in full swing are you looking forward to sharing Fifty-Four Days with more audiences across the world?
I am bursting with some of the exciting news I am not yet allowed to talk about! All I can say is 2023 is going to be a very special year!
How did Fifty-Four Days come about?
In January 2020 I lost my uncle and almost exactly a year later my friend to suicide. The world was locked down at that time and I just felt like I was choking on my grief. It was the lowest time of my entire life. At some point on one of my daily allotted walks - I think just tired of feeling so numb and wanting to feel something again - I decided I would get into a lake near my house. It was freezing cold but it lifted something in me and became a daily routine. Eventually I realised that swimming each day was healing me. I wanted to share my story with others - because in the wake of losing my loved ones I didn’t find anything that showed me what hope after such a devastating loss might feel like. Suicide is always portrayed in the media as the end of the story - and normally in quite a triggering way. I wanted to make a film about how those left behind pick up the pieces - and about hope. Fifty-Four Days is really at its heart a film which shows you that things can and will get better, and healing can come in the most unlikely places.
Did you have any apprehensions about making a film that comes from such a personal place?
I think it all happened quite quickly - having the idea, writing the script, raising the finance and assembling the team. I just knew I was going to make this film no matter what and was in such a focused state of getting things done and so I didn’t overthink it at first (probably a good thing!)
It was only later when I started to really think about whether I could play Ruby that I started to panic. It felt too raw still and I wasn’t sure I could bring myself to relive some of those emotions. But eventually I also challenged myself - and I knew I had to do it, for my Uncle Del and Simon but also for myself. It has been hard at times as in interviews etc I have to speak about such a deeply personal time, but I also know that this is how I will truly be able to help other people find the hope that I needed so badly.
When you started out making Fifty-Four Days had you always intended/hoped to be able to partner with a young suicide prevention charity like PAPYRUS?
It was a big dream. It was also one of the reasons I was excited to meet Phoebe who was an ambassador for them. They had been the charity my friend Simon’s family chose to fundraise for after his death which meant a great deal to me. Their work is so vital and knowing that we are raising awareness for their mission to save more young lives is one of the things I am most proud of.
What was the biggest challenge you faced making Fifty-Four Days?
Money is always an issue and I cannot tell you the sleepless nights I have had doing everything in my power to raise the finances. I have also had to have difficult conversations along the way which is always hard. I’ve had to learn that I can’t always make everyone happy all of the time (not easy for a chronic people pleaser!) - and that I can speak up when things aren’t right. I feel like I have grown up a lot making this film!
How much flexibility did you allow yourself when working on this film?
In all honesty I don’t think I could say I was particularly flexible! The film meant so much and I had such a clear vision that I just had to really focus on moving all of the mountains to bring it to life! But at a certain point you do just have to let go and trust in the process.
Looking back at the process of making Fifty-Four Days what would you say have been the most valuable lessons you’ve taken from the experience?
Learning/daring to trust in my own voice.
Do you think filmmakers should continue to push the boundaries of the films/stories they want to tell?
Absolutely. That was the whole ethos of Creating The Future We Want - to really highlight that we have the power to shape our own future. I would also add that especially for me as a Black woman making a film always felt inaccessible somehow. The industry is still dominated by a certain type of voice & it didn’t even enter my head as something I might be able to do. But since founding my production company Kusini Productions I have seen that we can tell a different type of story - and we can have inclusive and diverse cast and crews bringing them to life.
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
I’ve always loved acting and performing - storytelling I guess! But I never imagined that I would be able to make something myself. Coming back to trusting in my voice, since I have dared to do that I am seeing the impact ripple throughout my career, (Fifty-Four Days and also my debut book This Thread of Gold which will be published in June 2023 both being examples of that) - but also on a personal level too. I am so excited for all of the stories I am yet to tell!
What future stories are you hoping to bring to the big screen through Kusini Productions?
We have a very exciting 2023 slate which tells stories ranging from a boy with dwarfism following his dreams to a young Black girl interviewing at Cambridge to a world where men can get pregnant instead of women. We will also see our films Ceres which explores coercive control, BBC funded Bridge which is a love letter to the NHS, BFI supported Measure, The Ceiling & Ladies Coffee complete post production and enter the festival circuit.
For any emerging filmmakers, writers, producers out there what are your top 3 tips you could offer them?
It feels impossible but it isn’t. Nobody has what you have to offer the world, so dare to dream and dare to have a go.
Always be kind. Kindness is everything - and especially in this industry we really need it.
Trust yourself - if something doesn’t feel right it probably isn’t. Don’t be afraid to call it out. And don’t be afraid to say no either!
And finally, what do you hope audiences will take away from Fifty-Four Days?
I hope it will encourage us to talk and that there is no right or wrong way to grieve. I also hope that is is changing a narrative around Black people swimming and Black mental health and most importantly reminding us that no matter how bad things get, hope is always around the corner.