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15th BFI FUTURE FILM FESTIVAL 2022 
17-20 February 
Interview

Rebecca Penner 
Carry Me In 

Section: In My Skin
rebecca-penner.com

Carry me in, a 16mm personal essay film, that tracks the filmmaker's connection with insects - from her childhood fascination to her development of late-stage Lyme Disease as a young adult.

Hey Rebecca, thank you for talking to The New Current, how have you been holding up during these very strange times?

Hi! Thank you for having me! I’ve been holding up alright, all things considered. I was in my third year of university when we went into lockdown and have since graduated, which is pretty surreal. 

 

Has this time offered you any new creative inspiration or opportunities?

It really has, actually. Being immunocompromised during a pandemic has proved to be very challenging and isolating, though my experience with my illness also served as the inspiration for this film now screening at the amazing BFI Future Film Festival! 

Also, because a narrative short film I had been developing was forced to be put on hold, I had the push to explore new creative endeavours I wouldn’t have otherwise, such as fiber arts and knitwear design. 

 

What does it mean to be screening Carry Me In at the 15th BFI Future Film Festival?

It is a huge honour and truly something out of a dream. In 2019, I had the chance to attend screenings at BFI LFF while I was on exchange at Chelsea College of Arts. So now, to have my own film screen at BFI Southbank this month is just incredible. I am also immensely honoured to be nominated! 

 

Carry Me In is going to be in the In My Skin Section of the festival, will there be any nerves ahead of the festival?

Absolutely. My film is about my personal experience with chronic illness. This is something I haven’t discussed much, even with people I know, so it is of course a bit nerve-wracking to be so vulnerable in this context. I also feel, though, that it is important for disabled and chronically ill people to share their stories. I am really grateful to BFI for allowing me to do so. 

 

Can you tell me a little bit about how Carry Me In came about, what was the inspiration behind your screenplay?

Carry me in came to be in a personal essay film class at Johns Hopkins University. Our wonderful professor John Mann had us read and watch personal essays. I was especially taken with an essay by writer and naturalist Helen Macdonald, in which she discusses bird habitats and her connection to nature. Despite never connecting my past fascination with insects and my current tick-borne infection, the general idea came to me very quickly after reading and discussing her essay with the class. We were then encouraged to sit down and write pages of stream of consciousness. In doing this, memories flooded in organically. Although it was meant as an exercise, I liked how natural it felt, written without self-judgment. I hope he won’t mind me sharing this quote, but John described it as feeling very much “like thinking as remembering,” and I loved that. The screenplay became pieces of that stream of consciousness exercise, and the organic style of that writing process really shaped the film. 

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When working on a short film like this how close where you able to keep to your script once you started shooting, did you allow yourself much flexibility?

I definitely approached the entire process with flexibility. The shooting process was inspired by the script, both in content and approach. I had vague ideas of shots I wanted to get, but I left myself with total flexibility. I shot what felt right in the moment. I ultimately felt lucky, after getting the footage back from being developed and scanned, that the writing and images came together so naturally, so I didn’t end up making too much revision of the script. I realize now, though, that it makes sense that they matched up well, because they were both coming from the same place. 

 

What has been the biggest challenge you've faced bringing Carry Me In to life?

Technically speaking, it was a challenge. I was taking my classes remotely, from the other side of the country. My university is in Baltimore and I was in California. That meant that the 16mm camera, film, tripod, and everything else had to be shipped cross-country. This also meant that, being so far away from my professor, any issues that came up with the camera had to be resolved with my own hands and his assistance over email. And of course issues came up. The camera isn’t new and for some still unknown reason, the film was getting jammed about halfway through each roll every time I went to shoot. I ended up losing a lot of footage. Luckily, I was able to work with what I had left and was also inadvertently given the opportunity to learn more about Arri S 16mm Film Cameras. 

 

Since making Carry Me In what has been the most valuable lesson you have taken from making this film?

The most valuable lesson I’ve taken from this process is that a film does not have to be meticulously planned ahead of time. Being able to respond to whatever comes up at any point in the filmmaking process is really freeing. 

 

Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?

Well, I began acting at the age of 6, first in theatre and then film. That experience served as my introduction to the world of filmmaking, though I didn’t have the confidence yet to make films myself. I would say, though, that my real passion for filmmaking came out of watching and analyzing films in my university courses. In thinking deeply about films and discussing them, mostly classic films, I developed an excitement that I wasn’t able to suppress - not that I wanted to. 

 

How much has your background as an actor helped you in your writing/directing of Carry Me In?

I believe that a large part of acting is self expression and self understanding. This may seem counterintuitive to playing a role in a play or a film, but you are really only able to become someone else when you know yourself. The character you are portraying ultimately comes from within you. In spending so much of my life acting, I learned the importance of self exploration. That’s really what is at the heart of this film.

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"Nobody really knows what they’re doing. Everything is an experiment, and your story matters just as much as anyone else's."

Do you think filmmakers should continue to push the boundaries of the stories they want to tell?

Absolutely. Pushing boundaries and experimentation is what makes filmmaking fun! And having fun is so important to making something an audience can enjoy. 

 

For anyone out there thinking about directing their first film do you have any tips or advice you would offer them? 

First, I would say don’t let a lack of self confidence get in your way. Nobody really knows what they’re doing. Everything is an experiment, and your story matters just as much as anyone else's. 

Second, I’d say watch lots of films. I know this isn’t novel advice, but it’s fun and it really helps to develop your understanding of film. Watch old films, new films, features, shorts, anything that you can find that sparks your interest. 

 

And finally, what do you hope people will take away from Carry Me In?

I hope that it inspires people to tell their own stories.