15th LICHTSPIELKLUB
SHORT FILM FESTIVAL 2022 
Interview

Jennifer Martin  
TEETH 

Animation / Drama / Thriller / Comedy / Experimental / Mystery
Fri 21.1. 22:00 / Sputnik Kino 1

jennifer-martin.co.uknot-nowhere.org

A couple interrogated by UK Home Office agents endures a series of assessments that become progressively performative to evidence their relationship’s legitimacy. The office space becomes a theatre stage for a gruelling audition of acceptability. Awkwardness quickly escalates into surreal horror.

Hi Jennifer thank you for talking to The New Current, these have been some very strange times, how have you been holding up?


Hi, I'm holding. I'm in Berlin for British Shorts this week, and this movement into my life is welcomed. 

You've had an amazing run with Teeth winning Best Screenplay at SOUL Fest 2021, what has it meant to you to get this type of reaction to your experimental short?


I'm so proud of what we managed to accomplish with this short. The festival run for Teeth has been during the pandemic, so it has been very fragmented, but that the film has reached and connected to viewers means a lot. 

Congratulations on having Teeth selected for British Shorts 2022, how does it feel to be at the festival and part of such an amazing line-up of short films?


I'm excited for Teeth to be seen in this context alongside so many of the films I've enjoyed from the last year of festivals.

Can you tell me a little bit about how Teeth came about, what inspired your screenplay?


The starting point for Teeth was a leaked letter in The Guardian in 2018: then Home Secretary Amber Rudd wrote to Prime Minister Theresa May how the British public needed to know that the government had 'teeth'. There's not much of a veil to the intended cruelty; it encapsulates so much of what the Home Office is and how the government operates. That was the lighter fluid, and living in the UK as an immigrant from the age of 18 was the kindling. 

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"Our film lab subscription programme, screenings and events are open to all, but our programming is geared toward nourishing Black artists and artists of colour."

Are you able to be flexible with your screenplay once you start shooting?


When shooting, there was some flexibility with the screenplay, but we were significantly limited by time. We had two days to shoot and then major noise disruption throughout the shoot on location. Things that opened and shifted were things of blocking and movement. There's a segment shot in Super 8, which was intended but entirely improvised on the day. Fortunately, we had also done work before the shoot with the performers. We had one rehearsal that focused on improvisation and pulling at the screenplay and either one or two led by our choreographer Alexandra Davenport with Naomi Robson (Charlotte) and Edmund Short (Myles). It gave us space to play and some breath into the screenplay ahead of the shoot.

Do you think filmmakers should continue to push the boundaries of the films/stories they want to tell?


Always.

Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?


I've been thinking about this a lot lately. I have a pretty active imagination, sometimes frustratingly so. I tell myself stories all the time, entertain and annoy myself. I love that making a film can be creating and holding this world inside you and trying to imbue it with autonomy, plotting a way for it to escape you and reach others, and change through others' hands, and others' gazes, and everything that they bring. 

Coming from a fine art background does this help inform your filmmaking style?


Yes, and yes. When I started studying film as a teenager, I was afraid of ideas being used as placeholders for a technical exercise, which isn't so much a knock at film education as it was my experience of this kind of pre-university learning and industry focus in education. In art school, I got to stew in ideas, and materials, find myself coming back to things, perform, and break things. My favourite name for an art department was 'Time and Space'. I was able to intimately experiment across time and space; there's no assignment or formula. There are, of course, expectations and trends, but there's an incredible breadth of freedom if you're given (or steal) the leeway to tap into it. 

What was your experience being a FLAMIN fellowship 2019/20, how much has this helped/aided your filmmaking?


The FLAMIN fellowship came at the right time for me, just after finishing my MA degree, which was also arts-based but culminated in a film. The artist filmmakers that FLAMIN attracts often straddle that weird in-between of art and film. That continual negotiation can complicate a lot in just getting work made. The fellowship provided a peer group and support to help steer through that grey. 

Has your approach to your writing and directing changed since your debut short?


I feel like the pace for artist filmmaking, in particular, usually is so fast. The thing that has allowed my approach to writing and directing to change has been time, giving myself more time to write and being stricter in separating writing and directing without feeling like a loss or limitation on the expression. 

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How did not/nowhere come about, and what are you hoping this initiative will offer black and POC artists/audiences?


not/nowhere is a Black and POC-led artist workers' cooperative that supports the production of artist works, runs workshops, and organises screenings and events. It was started in 2018 by Taylor Le Melle and Imran Perretta. The rare film equipment we house has been passed down to us by artists who stewarded the London Filmmakers Cooperative's assets since its closure, just before us, this was no.w.here. 

16mm and Super 8 filmmaking can often be exclusionary and under-resourced; we aim to make these mediums more accessible through training and subsidised offerings. Our film lab subscription programme, screenings and events are open to all, but our programming is geared toward nourishing Black artists and artists of colour. We're in the process of moving to a new space in Hackney (East London), which will allow us to expand our lab offerings and have room for our communities to meet, experiment, learn, play, plot. 

Is there any tips or advice you would offer someone thinking about getting into filmmaking? 


You can start so small; filmmaking doesn't need to feel like this gargantuan, financially dependent enterprise. It is also that, but you don't have to do that or start with that. I do a workshop where we pair still images with found or recorded sound, and every single one will be unique in the story it tells. And having people to talk to and share it with is also where that story and other stories emerge. 

And finally, what do you hope audiences will take away from Teeth?


Something that sits uncomfortably or registers and maybe stings, in a good way.