77th Festival - La Biennale di Venezia 2020
Anna, an agency worker, takes her dog for a morning walk before doing her shopping. Searching through the discounted items, Anna wanders through the supermarket trying to find the most affordable necessities. As her groceries edge towards the checkout, her agency calls; she has lost her shift. What will she do? The Shift aims to capture the vulnerable condition of a temporary worker and to reveal the immediate consequences of the dangerously short and ever-present distance separating employment and poverty, security and tumult.
Hello Laura thank you for talking to The New Current, have these very difficult times offered you some additional creative inspiration?
I don’t think it has been inspiring as such. The UK government battled for weeks on who to save first, the economy or people; thousands of people lost their jobs from one day to the next and the situation continues to unfold. It’s hard to be inspired by this but this period has slowed down our days and I think people are seeing how our model of society isn’t working. So perhaps not inspiration but a feeling of urgency to continue to make films.
Ahead of a major festival like Venice do you ever get nervous about screening one of your films?
Yes, of course. So much work goes into making a film that to get to finally share it with an audience is nerve racking. But this year it feels different, with so many festivals getting cancelled we started to fear what would happen to our short and to get to premiere it at Venice is an incredible honour, especially under the current circumstances.
You are from Portugal but based in Scotland, how much a role do these two unique countries help inspire your films?
I think both countries have very different ways of making films and relating to cinema, perhaps I find myself somewhere in the middle. My experience of living in the UK as a migrant worker will influence any film I ever make and it has shaped the way I see our society in a deep way. From Portugal I think I have a very valuable sense of hope. Perhaps because my grandparents and parents still lived in a fascist regime that was defeated in the 70s, people are still alert and believe in the collective power. I have that sense of hope and I came to realise it might come from being Portuguese.
Your previous short film, Red Hill, had an amazing festival run winning New Visions Award at EIFF, what did it mean to you to get such recognition for your film?
It was an incredible achievement after making the film with no funding and a very small crew. Looking back I still wonder how we did it given so many things could have gone wrong. I think the award at EIFF played a part in helping to make ‘The Shift’ and that is really why awards like these are invaluable.
Congratulations on having The Shift selected for the 77th Venice Film Festival, can you tell me a little bit about The Shift, what was the inspiration behind your latest film?
Thank you! From the beginning I wanted it to be a film that shows just how dependent someone can be on their job and how from one moment to another their life can derail if that job is taken away. It felt important for it to be the story of a young character because for young people like me it’s particularly hard reaching adulthood now after a decade of austerity. The film was made before the pandemic hit and since the problem has only become worse. The element of the dog came later. I’ve seen dogs being abandoned twice in my life and those images stayed with me. Right when I started to write the film there was also a viral video showing a man abandoning a dog at night and the abuse directed at him online was so aggressive it made me think about how quickly people judged him and how little they knew about him.
What were the challenges you faced making The Shift?
Personally, the biggest challenge was making it alongside my day job and finding time to develop my features too. It wasn’t always easy to manage it all. Full dedication is expected from you as an emerging filmmaker but no salary whatsoever as the budgets for short films aren’t enough to pay for your work. I wish the film community would be more vocal about the need for young filmmakers to be paid, not just supported to make their films but actually given a salary. Why should this even be a demand? This single issue makes the film industry completely closed off to a lot of people and it’s clear that determines who gets to make films and more crucially the films that get made.
Looking back at The Shift, do you think there is anything you would have done differently?
No, it’s hard to think of a completed film in that way. I’ve been asked this question before with my previous short and I also couldn’t answer it.
Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?
I think it was in high school. I studied in an art school and was exposed to incredible films very early on. I used to go to Cinemateca in Lisbon and enter films at random. One of them was a documentary on John Cassavetes and when I watched his films it sort of opened up the screen for me. Then, at university I discovered observational documentary and sort of fell in love with it for a while until I felt it wasn’t right for me. I think the more films I watched, the more I started to fall in love with the language and feeling the urge to make them myself.
How much has your style and approach to your films changed since your debut film?
I learn a lot making films and it feels that every new film idea requires me to learn and discover how to make them all over again. I carry some experience with me, a lot of it from editing and from writing, but there’s an awful lot I don’t know and have to discover during the making of the film with the team. That’s the beauty of filmmaking, it’s a collective process and no writer/director does it on their own. But I don’t feel my approach and style has suffered any significant changes since my last short film.
"I think the more films I watched, the more I started to fall in love with the language and feeling the urge to make them myself."
Are you looking forward to helming your debut feature film project?
Yes, I’m developing it at the moment and it’s going to explore a lot of the themes I’ve been dealing with in my shorts. The way I’m thinking about it is that in the short films I was able to generate a problem for the character but they were never given the chance to fight it - in the feature we will stay with the character for the fight.
Is there any advice you would offer any emerging filmmaker?
I couldn’t stand it when directors would say ‘Go, grab a camera and make a film’, I was straight out of university, broke and getting rejection after rejection from funding applications and the idea I should grab a camera and shoot was intriguing to me at the time. That’s not all you need to make a film, you need time, you need money for the camera, you need to edit the material, the list goes on… But eventually, two years after university, I had saved enough to consider that a possibility and did it with very little, a lot of favours and talented friends - my mum cooked for us all. ‘Red Hill’ got into festivals, it won a few awards and since then I managed to secure funding for ‘The Shift’ and started to write my first feature. Without that first film I don’t think I would have been able to pursue this career and that is structurally wrong in our industry – it’s not inclusive on many levels and it’s been very slow in fixing it. Sorry, that isn’t really advice but there you go.
And finally, what do you hope audiences will take away from The Shift?
Poverty is affecting a lot of people but the narrative around it it’s always one that it’s a result of personal failure which is harmful and twisted. I feel cinema can help change that narrative and so above all I would like people to take away one thing from ‘The Shift’ – empathy.