15th BFI FUTURE FILM FESTIVAL 2022
A young Colombian man receives a voice message from home while grappling with cultural differences at a London dinner party with his new English girlfriend.
Hey Harry, thank you for talking to The New Current, how have you been holding up during these very strange times?
Hi there, I’ve been holding up well thank you! The past year and a half has certainly been a bizarre time but I’m delighted to have been able to continue writing and directing, surrounded by many other wonderful young filmmakers with a similar desire to keep creating, both virtually and in person.
Has this time offered you any new creative inspiration or opportunities?
The first lockdown gave me time to reflect on a very personal experience I had while living in Colombia; I wrote a first draft of the SANTI script based on journal entries from my time there and began to develop my ideas through Zoom conversations and walks with friends. The story connected with many people who had suffered similar feelings of isolation and melancholy while living away from friends and family at home. It was inspiring to engage with something so universal, in a time when we were all physically so disconnected.
What does it mean to be screening Santi at the 15th BFI Future Film Festival?
Screening SANTI at the 15th BFI Future Film Festival is a major achievement, which I am very proud of. It’s incredible to be screening at a festival that has such a strong focus on nurturing the talents of young upcoming filmmakers. The BFI Film Academy LABS on Zoom and Instagram SCENE interviews with filmmakers, who had previously been selected for the festival, kept me focused during the Covid lockdowns. I was inspired to work hard to find the perfect team and sufficient funding to skilfully bring the SANTI story to the screen. Now that SANTI has been released, it’s awesome for it to be recognized by the BFI.
Santi is going to be in the A Family Affair Section of the festival, are there any nerves ahead of the festival?
There aren’t nerves as such; instead, I hope that the film will be well-received amongst such a strong selection of work from other emerging filmmakers. It’s very exciting for the film to be reaching a wider industry audience through the festival.
Can you tell me a little bit how Santi came about, what inspired your screenplay?
The screenplay was inspired by my own experience living in Colombia, where I struggled to adapt to the local culture and customs. I decided however to reverse the narrative to focus on the lesser-documented story of a young Colombian man who has recently moved to London. It was important to faithfully reflect the middle-class British culture onscreen, while also consulting with two Colombian executive producers living in the UK, Marvin Vivas and David Sierra Márquez, to ensure that the screenplay was authentic and packed with nuance.
With Santi being a proof of concept for your feature film how did you go about selecting or educing your feature script down to a short?
There were a couple of contributing factors that led to selecting this particular 10-minute scene. Firstly, it was very important that the scene showcased the feature film’s central characters, "Santi" and "Violet", as well as effectively conveying the feature’s leading themes of isolation and family. While the feature is set between the UK and Colombia, it was important that we chose a scene set in the UK to allow us to shoot locally here in London while Covid travel restrictions were still in place. This enabled us to progress with the project and shoot the scene on a relatively low budget. The final short film we see today is the opening scene of the feature.
How close do you like to keep to the screenplay once you start shooting, do you allow yourself much flexibility?
During shooting, I believe it’s essential that the entire SANTI cast always sticks entirely to the words written in the screenplay. This is because the writing process involved improvisation sessions between me and the script editor to find the most natural dialogue. We also adapted the script during the rehearsal process when the actors found that certain words or phrases didn’t fit their characters. This meticulous preparation gives the cast and crew confidence on set that the shooting script is exactly what will be later seen on screen. On the day, the focus is therefore on the blocking and finding the best performance from the words that each cast member already knows so well.
What has been the biggest challenge you've faced bringing Santi to life?
The biggest challenge I faced when bringing SANTI to life was when we had to delay our shooting dates one week before we were scheduled to begin. This was very painful and caused a day of tearful phone calls with our cast and crew; something which I hope to never relive again. All of Team SANTI had spent many hours of their spare time, working incredibly hard throughout January 2021 around other jobs and commitments, to prepare for the shooting weekend at the start of February. It threw the future of SANTI into uncertainty, as we didn’t know when we would be able to start shooting again or whether the same cast and crew would be available down the line. It also meant losing the location for which I had already storyboarded, and two further locations fell through before we finally secured somewhere in May 2021.
Since making Santi what has been the most valuable lesson you have taken from this experience and has this changed or added new influences towards your feature script?
The most valuable lesson I have taken from this experience is the power of being patient. While I have always been very eager to make work quickly, very often I was forced to slow down by Covid delays or encouraged by the brilliant producer Stan Stott-Hall to prepare more thoroughly before beginning our crowdfunding campaign. By doing this, I found that we raised a far larger budget than we had originally anticipated, while my script was infused with fresh experiences and made stronger by a very talented script editor, Tally Myners.
Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?
I’ve always been drawn to the audiovisual medium and telling personal stories – from making family holiday videos as a child and putting on plays in my parents’ living room, to crafting crazy one-take prefect videos at school. At the age of 17, I put together my first short film, ‘Year 13’, based on the pressures I felt while applying to Oxbridge at school. I released this in my first year of university and then brought together a larger team to make my second short film, ‘Glass People’ in 2018. From there, I produced a series of short travel videos for the Colombian national newspaper, El Tiempo, while living in the country’s capital, Bogotá, before beginning to think about SANTI in 2019.
"Always trust your instinct when making difficult creative decisions but listen to the people around you – remember why you hired them."
How important to you is the collaborative process of filmmaking to you?
It’s essential. It’s so important as a director to trust the heads of department to enhance the central vision. They are so talented and with such extensive knowledge of their respective fields, that they allow a film to grow from a small seed of an idea into a bold piece of art. In SANTI’s case, I am so grateful for every single member of our team – from the Sound Designer to Covid Supervisor to Data Wrangler, they are all so talented and passionate about sharing the SANTI story.
Do you think filmmakers should continue to push the boundaries of the stories they want to tell?
Absolutely! We each live such rich and diverse lives that it’s so important for us all to keep reflecting and expressing ourselves through film. It can have such a profound impact when someone sees their own experience portrayed on screen, while others can also learn from a viewpoint they may never have previously considered.
For anyone out there thinking about making their first film do you have any tips or advice you would offer them?
If someone tells you it’s not possible to make your film, which they often will, use that as fuel to work harder to ensure your story reaches the screen. Always trust your instinct when making difficult creative decisions but listen to the people around you – remember why you hired them. Finally, if a HOD is passionate enough to insist that something should look or feel a certain way, they are probably right.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from Santi?
Even when you feel completely lost and out of place, your family keeps you grounded. Your family are your home and your identity, that you carry with you through the world. It’s that sense of family behind SANTI that has enabled this film to be made and it will carry us through the wild, difficult but inevitably gratifying journey towards making the feature film.