Cannes Film Festival
Short Film Corner 2021
London, 1962. An adoring friendship is strained to breaking point when a little girl, fuelled by her mother's paranoia, accuses her beloved family cleaner of stealing a precious ornament.
Hi Mark, thanks for talking to TNC, how has this time offered you any new creative opportunities?
Well, I'm also a theatre director and, of course, theatre has, because of Covid, been very hard, if not impossible to make. Inadvertently, it's forced me to write more and more. I think in this time, I've become more of a dedicated writer - I write almost every day now and maybe that wouldn't have happened without the limitations forced by lockdown. Being more dedicated to writing has forced me to face how difficult it is too - the highs and lows you feel sat at your desk trying to shape an idea into words. It takes time and patience and, if anything, lockdown forced those two things on us.
Congratulations on having your award-winning short film Ganef part of this year's Short Film Corner, how does it feel to be able to present your film at the film festival?
Well, obviously being at Short Film Corner is not a festival selection. But it’s great to be able to use the platform to get our film seen by industry and connect with other filmmakers during this amazing, world-class festival.
How much has your background in theatre helped you move into filmmaking?
A huge amount. Theatre directors – which is what I’ve spent 20 years doing – work incredibly collaboratively with actors in rehearsals, so I take for granted that I understand their process and have a language to talk to them. Having that experience on a film set has been really really helpful. Maybe also, over the years directing in the theatre has also hammered home what theatre is less good at – intimacy, close-ups, changing the angle – and I think craving those things has also led me into film.
Can you tell me a little bit about Ganef, what was the inspiration behind your screenplay?
I grew up in a family of Holocaust survivors – my grandparents survived whilst many of their relatives didn’t – so, from a very young age, I was aware of the horror they’d been through. I think I was also aware of how that sense of horror and trauma carried down to my own mother, and to me as well. So I wanted to explore inherited trauma in a complex way, in a way that wasn’t about victimhood but more about how destructive it can be. I also wanted to represent an experience I rarely see on screen – the private domestic experience of survivors of persecution many years after the end of the persecution itself. The trauma hangs around like a ghost, haunting survivors, even as they try to rebuild a new life.
"This is my first original short film and, when I think that it’s played in over 25 festivals around the world, many of them Oscar and BAFTA-qualifiers, I sort of have to pinch myself."
How flexible do you allow yourself with your screenplay when you start shooting, do you allow yourself / your actor much flexibility?
We shot Ganef in 3.5 days so we didn’t have too much time for flexibility! I don’t think we rewrote much, but we did roll the camera beyond the end of some written scenes and the actors improvised dialogue which made it into the final cut. And certainly we played around with scenes from take to take, going for different versions. But much of the work had been done before – either through lots of rewrites or in rehearsals or pre-filming conversations. I was very lucky to have highly skilled, experienced actors working on the film. They made the work a lot easier. And I think with these low budget shorts, when you have a lot of set ups and very little time, you just have to be very prepared and certain going into the shoot.
What was the most challenging scene for you to film?
Nothing stands out too much. I think my most stressful memories are to do with time running out. The exterior night scenes were crazy because we were running out of shooting time and the camera crew did a heroic job of lighting them in record time!
Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?
Watching old black and white films when I was a kid – anything with Robert Newton in! – and then, in my twenties, having my head exploded by the delirious risks Paul Thomas Anderson was taking.
Now you can be reflective what advice or tips you would offer a fellow filmmaker?
Get it written. Force yourself. Decide you’re going to make it. Get other people involved. Just make it as hard as possible to let your doubts creep in and stop you moving it forward. The best thing that happened with Ganef was the decision to make it and to approach it as a thing that was going to happen rather than one that might happen. And once it’s made, submit it to as many festivals as you can afford–– get it into as many festivals as possible. This is my first original short film and, when I think that it’s played in over 25 festivals around the world, many of them Oscar and BAFTA-qualifiers, I sort of have to pinch myself.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from your film?
That the effects of war and persecution last for generations. We live in a world of short-term news cycles which create the illusion that when a war or a period of conflict ends, its over. But it isn’t. It will transform the lives of people for generations to come.