14th BFI FUTURE FILM FESTIVAL, 2021
"I THINK IT'S IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER THAT I WAS WORKING WITHIN A CERTAIN MINDSET THAT'S UNIQUE TO THE PERIOD AND PROJECT. YOU CAN ONLY LEAN AND BRING IDEAS FORWARD TO THE NEXT PEICE."
Section: THE REAL ME
Faces tells the unique stories of three young people as they discuss their personal experiences of being mixed race, set against visuals of an interracial couple in the throes of embrace. The film sheds light on the joys and challenges of being mixed race, highlighting an underrepresented segment of race relations, and emphasising the unique anxiety that comes with belonging to two or more cultures.
Hi Patrick thank you for talking to TNC, how have you been holding up during these very strange times?
I’ve been holding up fairly well. I’ve tried to keep myself busy and maintain a level of routine, which I think can be important for a period in history where time seems to have stood still.
Has this time offered you any new creative inspiration?
Aside from the obvious limitations, I quite enjoy isolation. I’m able to ponder and create as much as I like. It took me a while, but I’m at a stage in which I enjoy solitude.
Such a period has lent itself to my latest documentary ‘Nars’, set against the confines of the pandemic, surrounding a set of Filpino nurses. It’s an idea that may not have come around if I hadn’t the time to sit around and ‘think’.
Congratulations on having Faces selected for the BFI Future Film Festival, what does it mean to you to be part of The Real Me section?
It’s a pleasure to be part of such a prestigious festival for young filmmakers. It’s important for myself and the film, given the themes it deals with (mixed race identity, racism, marginalisation etc), to be given a platform. Institutions such as the BFI must continue to give voice to stories about race, and I’m happy that I’ve been given the chance to do so.
Can you tell me a little bit about Faces, how did this film come about?
Faces came at a time when I was able to recognise and understand how far I’d come in my own skin. I’d become much more comfortable compared to my much younger self. I wanted to explore that, and the unique anxieties that come with belonging to two or more cultures, as a largely under-represented area of race. I think for this reason, a lot of people are unable to truly comprehend its anxieties.
You’re essentially sitting on the fence, wondering which race or nation to align yourself with. It’s an identity struggle that can carry forward into adulthood. Many mixed-race individuals will rock between cultures, not feeling they belong to either. Oftentimes, you might choose to identify with the country of your upbringing for ease or default. “Who am I? What am I?” I wanted to explore these elements as part of my own personal understanding and healing process, to close the gap on who I am, and why I am.
What were the biggest challenges you faced bringing this film to life?
‘Faces’ was somewhat a labour of love, and shot over the course of a year. Its disjointed shoot schedule made it difficult, and I had to be patient. The idea was conceived in early 2019, around February, but it wasn’t until May, August and finally November, that we were able to shoot. The film was finally finished and edited by February/March 2020. It was a highly personal project with not a lot of money behind it, and so it became about scheduling around the cast and crew's availability.
On the flipside, with only myself for pressure, I was allowed to let the project breathe and spend time editing and experimenting, which is something that is rarely afforded on commissioned projects.
Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently on this film?
Aesthetically, maybe. I looked back at the rushes quite recently and found a load of shots that I really liked, and wish I’d used, but it’s not something you should dwell on. I think you can drive yourself crazy worrying about ‘what could have been’. That said, if I could go back, I would play around with its structure a little, as well as the way in which certain shots are presented. Still, I think it’s important to remember that I was working within a certain mindset that’s unique to that period and project. You can only learn and bring ideas forward to the next piece.
What has been the most valuable lesson you have taken away from making Faces?
I experimented more with shot composition in some ways, channeling more photographic leanings in regards to portraits and such, which is something that I’d been wanting to incorporate for a while. It’s since become one of my favourite methods in presenting people, particularly against a voice over, as I’m not a huge fan of ‘talking heads’.
Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?
It started very young, I’ve been making films since I was around 6-7 years old. Before the age of 12 I’d already remade Star Wars and The Lord Of The Rings with friends or action figures. I’d say that my Dad was probably to thank however, as he’d insist on watching a film after work to relax and wind down, so we’d watch a lot of westerns and classics - which I obviously hated at the time. There was definitely a limit on cartoons at this point.
"Use your days off from work or education to write, shoot or pitch on projects, and to email your favourite production companies for internships or work."
How has your approach to your films changed since your debut film?
It depends how far back you go. I tend to class my film ‘Cult Party - Kiss (Two)’ (2017) as my ‘debut’ film, as it still holds up today. It’s one of my favourites. It’s a short film/music video I made for friend and musician Cult Party with DOP Katie Iles-Spencer (who also shot ‘Faces’). It’s essentially a dance piece set against a group therapy of sorts, and deals with mental health issues.
It was the first film I’d made after university, and definitely helped solidify a sort of precedence and style that I wanted to uphold - one that was emotional, textural and thematic. With that, I’ve since begun to mix formats and media in my work, yet still uphold the same level of ‘lo-fi’ that was first established in that film. I feel my work is more tangible when it's raw and grainy.
Will you continue to work on documentary film or will you like to move into other genres?
For now, perhaps. It’s something that I’ve enjoyed working in. I really don’t have a traditional understanding of the documentary format, and so have enjoyed putting my own spin on it. Still, I’m very open to other genres, but all in good time I suppose.
Should filmmakers continue to push the boundaries of the films and stories they want to tell?
I think so, but I wouldn’t force it. I personally think that with art you should, if you can, talk about important issues. More so if they’re personal. It’s a good starting point, but I also understand that art can also be popcorn. There are plenty of ways to push the boundaries - aesthetically, technically, thematically etc. I’d say make what turns you on, and to not get bogged down in whether it’s ‘boundary pushing’ or not. In some ways, that’s for the viewer to decide.
Do you have any tips or advice you would offer a fellow filmmaker?
I’ve learnt a lot by just doing and experiencing. I’ve learnt that perseverance is key. It’s so difficult, but you have to really want it, and I think you just have to get up and just do it. If you want to make a film hard enough, you’ll make it, and I think in the early stages, whether there’s money or not, you need to just do it. A lot of my work that I’m proud of that has gotten me noticed in press and festivals is work made on peanuts and favours. Find something that is doable and accessible, but story driven. You have to put yourself out there. Use your days off from work or education to write, shoot or pitch on projects, and to email your favourite production companies for internships or work. To become aware of what other filmmakers your level or age are doing, and to emulate their approach. Just try, do, and fail.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from Faces?
I understand that ‘Faces’ is packaged in a very ‘artistic’ sort of way, but I hope that viewers will learn more about the mixed race experience through its four portraits. It’s a literal balance between two or more cultures that is rarely exposed or spoken about. Which side do I belong or identify? How do I integrate both cultures? It’s a tricky terrain, and it’s something that I want to shed light on for both monoracial and mixed race people.