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Iris Prize 2021
Best British Shorts

Olivia Emden
Iris Prize / 5 - 10 October, 2021

A non-acrimonious, but sudden, divorce wrenches gay, working-class born Emeka out of a decade-long hiatus living the middle-class dream, landing him back in the childhood council house he hoped he'd left behind.


Hi Olivia thank you for talking to The New Current, how have you held up during these very strange times?


Thanks so much for having me. I’m doing okay all things considered!


Has this time provided you with any new creative inspiration or opportunities?


I’d say this time has provided some wanted (and unwanted!) time to reflect on what I actually want to do and what kind of work I most want to put my energies into. It can be pretty easy to get swept up in the noise of what everyone else is doing, and forget to touch base with what’s important, or exciting, to me. Luckily, Joseph and I had a couple of commissions ticking along, which kept us busy – although one project went from being a straight dramedy, to an apocalyptic sci-fi, which is definitely a sign of the times!


Congratulations on having Acrimonious selected for the Iris Prize 2021, how does it feel to have your film part of such an important LGBTQ Film Festival?


It feels pretty wild to be honest. As this was our first short film as co-writers, and my first short film as a director, I didn’t even know what expectations we could, or couldn’t have in terms of its festival run. To be part of Iris Prize 2021 feels extremely validating and also a bit unreal. Mainly, I feel grateful that it means people will actually see the film!


Acrimonious is Nominated for the Best British Short 2021, what does it mean for you to get this type of recognition for your film?


Again, it’s pretty wild. I’m hoping this might mean more people will see it, which is not only exciting, but also the reason why we want to tell stories - in particular, this story, which is super personal to Joseph, and feels important to both of us.


This is your debut short film how much has your background as an actor prepared you for stepping behind the camera?


Before shooting the film, I’d been on set as an actor and as a script editor. Both gave me an insight into the running of a set, but in pretty different ways. I’m not sure anything really prepared me for stepping behind the camera on the day – it was a bit of a baptism of fire, learning-on-the-job scenario! Perhaps I might’ve thought I’d be an “actor’s director,” because of my own experience… I’d have to ask the cast!


How did Acrimonious come about, what was the inspiration behind your screenplay?


The film came out of mine and Joseph’s desire to actually make something. Our job as writers, really, is to write scripts, but not necessarily get them made. (Obviously, we always hope they will!) Joseph had just gone through a pretty challenging life moment (a divorce and a move back home) and came into a writing session having had a conversation with a friend, which all hinged around the word “acrimonious.” He told me the story, and I said, I think that could be a short film. We wrote it, contacted a producer, re-wrote it, re-wrote it again, and then just went for it.


What was the most challenging scene for you to film?


I think the scene at Tenysha’s house with Emeka and Tenysha’s parents, Shaun and Sharon. It was on the second day of the two day shoot, and I’d never met Celyn Jones, or Donna Berlin before. All the other actors were friends, or friends of friends, but this felt like I had to be a “director” in a different way. Luckily, they couldn’t have been more wonderful – both as actors and as people – but I definitely remember feeling the pressure that day.


You co-wrote Acrimonious with your writing partner Joseph Akubeze, how close did you stick to your screenplay. Did you allow yourself/your actors much flexibility?


In terms of the scenes themselves, I think what’s on screen is pretty much word-for-word what’s on the page. Part of the joy of Joseph co-writing the film and playing the lead is we could write it in his voice from the get-go. In terms of flexibility, some of my favourite moments are the improvised ones, at the ends of scenes, and the whole of the initial credit section. Because the actors were super comfortable with each other, and we were shooting in Joseph’s home, we’d just keep the camera rolling, which meant we got to capture the magic of them just naturally having fun. Also, credit to Celyn for changing the line from “potato potata,” to “potato potato,” which is just much funnier.


Where did your passion for filmmaker come from?


I think my passion is for storytelling, which can take lots of different forms – acting, directing, writing in prose, or for screenplays. I didn’t really speak as a kid, and would just stand at the edge of the playground and observe. I think I’ve been trying to make a career out of that moment and that instinct ever since!


What was the first film you saw that made you think 'yeah I want to do this?'


I’ve got no idea how these films have aged, but the two films I remember leaving a mark were In America and Pay It Forward. The memories of those films are the emotional impression they made, how much they made me feel. The TV show, which did the same was Six Feet Under. I think there’s a sense of vulnerability and a deep awareness of the fragility of being human in all of them.

Now that you’re debut is behind you what would you say has been the most valuable lesson you’ve taken from this experience?


Probably that it’s okay to say “I don’t know,” or to ask for help. I think I’d never thought I could direct something, because I hadn’t been to film school, and/or didn’t have the technical knowledge that I imagined all directors had to have. Luckily for me, I had a pretty amazing team of people who were super patient and got onboard the project, even though I’d never directed before. I now understand that, perhaps, my idea of “a director” wasn’t strictly true, and that my job was as much about helping other people to shine than about shining myself.

"Hear the voices saying that you’re an imposter, or can’t do it, and tell them to go on a holiday."


Should LGBTQ+ filmmakers continue to push the boundaries of the narratives they want to tell?


I think LGBTQ+ filmmakers should push whatever boundaries and tell whatever narratives they want to! I get excited by boundary-pushing, so that’s often the kind of stuff I want to see, and always the kind of stuff I want to write.


Do you have any tips or advice to offer a first time director or was there something you wish you had known before you started shooting?


I suppose to just go for it. Hear the voices saying that you’re an imposter, or can’t do it, and tell them to go on a holiday. It’s always going to seem impossible/scary, until you actually do it.


And finally what do you hope people will take away from your film?


I hope people enjoy it – maybe laugh, maybe feel moved. If someone watches it and feels seen, or heard, in a way they don’t often, that would be a dream. I hope it makes people feel something, whatever that is, because that’s why we do what we do!

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