15th BFI FUTURE FILM FESTIVAL 2022
This Camera Is Broken
Section: A Family Affair
An ageing director is making her final film: one delving into her past. Face to face with the embodiment of her younger self, the line between her present reality and the film's blur.
Hey Joshua, thank you for talking to The New Current, how have you been holding up during these very strange times?
Has this time offered you any new creative inspiration or opportunities?
Despite opportunities to get out and shoot something new being understandably few and far between, the enforced hermitism gave me time to reflect on my work and read a silly quantity of things. I think I’ve come out of this period a very different, and better, writer. I hope to have the opportunity to realise and share these new visions with others soon.
What does it mean to be screening This Camera Is Broken at the 15th BFI Future Film Festival?
The BFI has always been an institution I grew up being fascinated with. One of the first DVDs I ever bought with my own money as a tween was your box set of Jan Svankmajer’s shorts. (A purchase I wisely hid from my family.) I still have it across the room from where I am typing this, dog-eared as it is. I think I always had the impression that being recognized by you was a high honour so to have my own shred of that at this early stage of my career is pretty dope.
In 2020 This Camera Is Broken was nominated for the BFDG Award at the British Film Designers Guild Award, what did it mean to you to get this type of recognition for your film?
I can only thank Olavo Abrantes, our Production Designer, and all around beautiful human, for that. He turned my sketches, that could be charitably called rough, into a place that Millie, one of our runners, called her “new happy place”.
He and our incredible team built that set in a single night and then tore it down the night after. I think he went about 48 hours without sleep to do it and if the award was based around sheer ingenuity under pressure he would have won a thousand times over. I know some of the amazing members of that guild so it’s of course a pleasure to be recognized by them.
This Camera Is Broken is going to be in the A Family Affair Section of the festival, are there any nerves ahead of the festival?
It’s a very apt section for the film. I get nervous going out for milk so of course there’s a degree of trepidation but I love the work my team and cast did and I’m thrilled to be sharing that with others.
Can you tell me a little bit how This Camera Is Broken came about, what inspired the screenplay?
I’m always looking for ways to tug at the frayed edges of reality and see what happens. Exploring the strange limbo of a film set was an easy first space to hang those ideas on. As for the film’s themes of the toxicity of nostalgia and futurism, they came from the conversations I had with my grandmother while caring for her at the end of her life. She was in a place where she had nowhere to look but back and I was doing little but looking forward. That tension interested me and I wanted to try to give those opposing viewpoints to one character across time. The idea of the shift from one to the other being forced into conversation with itself interested me.
How close do you like to keep to the screenplay once you start shooting, do you allow yourself much flexibility?
We had a single 8 hour day to work, including dressing the build. So, there wasn’t really any time left for us to improvise or go wildly off-script. We were so lucky to have Annabel, Cheryl and Ali turning in the performances they did under those constraints. The old adage of casting being most of directing is true. In the future, cliché as it is, I would love to have the time to find more moments on the day.
What has been the biggest challenge you've faced bringing This Camera Is Broken to life?
Finding funding to do this kind of work is very difficult unfortunately. The script existed for years before BBC Arts and Screen South helped us bring it to life. They were wonderful in recognizing the importance of this kind of non-Campbellian stuff and allowing us to run free within the 6 minute timeframe of New Creatives.
Since making This Camera Is Broken what has been the most valuable lesson you have taken from this experience?
A lot, chiefly, don’t shoot a short film in a single day.
Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?
I always wanted to tell stories but had no idea in which medium. At around 13 I discovered the truly strange and wonderful stuff Film4 was putting on at like 2AM on a school night. I started sacrificing sleep to watch stuff like Roy Andersson’s ‘Du Levande’ and Bergman’s ‘Through a Glass Darkly’. Those films in particular, combined with a friend slipping me a DVD of Oshii’s ‘Ghost in the Shell’ on the playground, meant there was no turning back. I think you have to be somewhat stupid to try and tell these kinds of stories within the most expensive art-form on the planet but I have always been proudly a little bit stupid.
How much does your background in Costume & Production Design as well as Art Direction help to influence your directing style?
Directing came first. I started directing little shorts at around 14 and had to take on Costume and Production Design for myself. I quickly realised they were as important to telling a story as Screenwriting or Direction. I think if you can find ways to embed your theme into a film’s aesthetic identity as well as it’s writing then you’re doing your job correctly. I like to delegate a little more now, especially with artists like Olavo and Janice around me, but my experience in their fields allows us a shorthand that has been indispensable.
"Think of all the strides forward literature has taken since those early stories, we have all of that in front of us if we let ourselves run free."
How important to you is the collaborative process of filmmaking to you?
Insanely so. A director is a conductor really, without an orchestra there’s just an awkward silence. Every collaborator brings their own indelible mark to a film. I’m not really into auteur theory that much, it’s too much of an ego trip. Take away a single person from this film and you wouldn’t have the same film, it belongs to all of us. I think that’s pretty beautiful.
Do you think filmmakers should continue to push the boundaries of the stories they want to tell?
Film is such a new medium, about 130 years old. That means if we were talking about literature we’d be at ‘Gilgamesh’ or earlier. I think the people who tell you that every story has been told or that we have to follow a set of ancient structural guidelines lack any amount of imagination. That way lies stagnation and franchising. Think of all the strides forward literature has taken since those early stories, we have all of that in front of us if we let ourselves run free. It’s so exciting.
For anyone out there thinking about making their first film do you have any tips or advice you would offer them?
I think if you’re thinking about it, and it won’t leave your head, it’s already too late for you. Do it, as soon as possible and don’t even worry about showing anyone outside of your friend group until you’re ready. There’s that old cliché: ‘The best time to start is yesterday, the second best time is today’. Regardless of age or the equipment available to you, just start. Everyone’s first short is terrible, get it out of the way, you learn so much by just doing. Learn to love it first, the difficulty of scale, funding and finding an audience comes later.
Nick Cave put it far more succinctly than I am capable of when he said ‘It’s better to act on a bad idea than to not act at all’. Good luck.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from This Camera Is Broken?
I think depending on whether you’re closer in years to the Director or to her teenage self the film will and should mean different things to you. I hope it’s a short that you can revisit throughout your life and have its meaning and commentary morph and grow. It explores the process of being in dialogue with yourself, so I would like people to go away and practice that, I think it’s healthy. Primarily though, the film, and I, want you to know that nostalgia is a poison that will kill you if you wallow in it individually or as a community.