SHORT FILM FESTIVAL 2021
Recipes for Baking Bread
Documentary / Animation / Experimental
Five episodes exploring stories from Ukraine.
Hi Sara thank you for talking to The New Current, these have been some very strange times, how have you been holding up?
You are welcome. Almost two years of lockdowns have offered me a lot of space for my work and practice. I have been able to travel twice. In 2020 I went to Copenhagen to visit a friend, Christian. This was a brilliant opportunity for a lot of new art and one highlight was a visit to Glyptotek. I saw Rodin’s The Thinker, one of my favourite pieces of work. I was also able to travel to Ukraine in September 2021. I went to Kyiv for work I was doing with the Holodomor Museum. This appeared from a collection of letters owned by independent writer Alison Marshall. These are from Jerry Berman, an engineer who was working in Ukraine during Holodomor. These are now in permanent collection and a selection are in archives at the Holodomor Museum in Kyiv. My fifth film has stories from these letters and was part of an exhibition in September 2021. I also travelled to south Ukraine, to Zaporizhzhia and Dnipro. This was a good opportunity for work and travel.
Has this time offered you any opportunities to take up some long-dormant hobbies?
Yes, I have become very aware of how I use my time. I am learning to play piano. In March 2020 I had a trip organised to Japan, in part to present at a conference in Tokyo. When I was unable to travel I used some of my savings to buy an electric piano. This has been brilliant. I am playing everything from Beethoven to The Crystal Maze theme tune, East 17, Britney Spears and Lady Gaga. My lessons are with a brilliant musician, Leighton Jones. I have also had opportunities for using online resources for my work. One of my interviews for my project, Daria Mattingly, was on Zoom. Mattingly is a scholar at Cambridge exploring rank and file perpetrators of Ukraine, this work is audio for my fourth film. Zoom, and online meetings have opened up possibilities for working on a national and international level. Since September 2021 I have been learning Ukrainian. This is online and with online lessons. I have started regular lessons with the Ukrainian Institute in London. It is brilliant to be working with a teacher in Ukraine and students from all over UK. I had my first lesson this week and loved it.
Congratulations on Recipes for Baking Bread being selected for British Shorts 2022, what does it mean to be part of such an amazing line-up of short films?
Thank you, it is a brilliant line up. One highlight for me is Max Cooper x McGloughlin Brothers on Sunday 23rd of January. I have been aware of McGloughlin Brothers’ work and both of these artists are a massive inspiration for Recipes for Baking Bread. I was first introduced to music by Max Cooper & Richard Gort, who is production executive on Recipes for Baking Bread. I used Cooper’s work as inspiration for my brief to Yoni Collier, who is composer for my films. There is something in this construction of digital and analogue, rhythm and pace and I use these ideas. In my fifth film, I produced this first, I wanted a theme of rhythm, construction, to fit with ideas of engineering, building and progress evident in Soviet Ukraine in 1932–33. I’m excited to be presenting work alongside these and other artists in Berlin. This is my first European screening for this film.
How did Recipes for Baking Bread come about, what inspired this film?
In 2017 I received an Arts Council England Artists’ International Development Award. This funded work in Ukraine and in partnership with the Holodomor Museum in Kyiv. One person I met, and has been a huge inspiration throughout this project is Yana Grinko, curator at the Holodomor Museum. Yana exhibited work in 2017 in main galleries in the Holodomor Museum and curated exhibitions of Jerry Berman’s letters last year. My original ideas for this work arose in 2007. I was working on a film commission for Channel 4, a personal story, The Accident. I encountered during my research materials from SCRSS, a Soviet studies archive in Brixton. These related to Holodomor, a famine, or hunger in Ukraine in 1932–33.
My grandparents were Ukrainian and I had no knowledge of these events. I featured references to these stories in my scripts for The Accident. I was working with a script writer Andrea Lioy who had a strong recommendation for me to remove these materials. His suggestion was I only had three minutes of air time and these stories were too big to tell in my existing project. I took Andrea’s advice, removed this scene from The Accident and when I did so, made a commitment to creating a new piece of work from these materials. This was where my project began.
Because of the personal connection to Recipes for Baking Bread did you have any apprehensions about telling this story?
There are strong personal connections in this work. My work remains committed to truth, all forms of truth, and storytelling. I wanted to find, and find ways to represent my grandmother’s story, a search for my own family histories and also exploring collective identities, personal memories and what happens when they shift and change over time. My work is a creative response to these stories. To missing parts of histories. To collective identity, personal truth and an artistic response to me encountering these stories and events. My conclusions are there are no conclusions. I don’t want to create judgements on materials I find, and represent voices as those voices speak. I am curating ideas, meanings, memories and histories and allowing all forms of truth to appear in a piece of work.
How much flexibility do you allow yourself when working on a film, do you prefer to stick to what you've planned?
This is an interesting question because my approach on this project is different to how I approach commercial projects, and how I have worked on past projects. Between 2011–2014 I worked as a designer at BBC Sport. I was considering approaches to pitching and models of pitching. It appeared to me many projects peak at pitch stage, and production makes constant reference to early ideas. I started to approach engineering models for constructing motion graphics. These explore principles of building, and finding functional artistic responses and then developing those responses with visuals. This project arose from fragments of stories during six years of research. These illustrations, ideas, meanings and memories came from many different sources and in many different ways. Emerging truths and realities and my relationships to histories. Storyboards for this project emerged very late in this process. I made an almost complete storyboard with Professor Lisa Stansbie in a one hour meeting as part of supervision of this work. This is a PhD project, part of my practice-based research at Leeds Beckett University. How I have approached this work, these models and production on this work is interesting and I’d love to explore these ideas further in my practice and in my academic work.
What would you say has been the most valuable lessons you have taken from this experience?
Many valuable lessons connect to process and how I work. I worked with two supervisors on this project, Professor Lisa Stansbie and Professor Simon Morris. Both of these people have taught me enormous amounts about creative inspiration, activity and vision. This exists inside creative academic practice and also I am learning about developing and pushing this vision. How I create products and objects for myself and how these objects relate to communities, to stories, to other people, and how to engage these people in my work. Academic practice is an important part of this project. I have learnt how to write using academic protocols and about academic research. I have also loved presenting work in progress at conferences, writing about theories around my work and finding communities in production of filmmaking. I am also learning a lot about truth and instincts. About my gut responses to ideas and to materials. When something feels right. How I can stick with my feelings, and then how I evidence my processing using more formal methods.
Should filmmakers continue to push the boundaries of the films/stories they want to tell?
Yes, this is critical. And one question is how. This is a lot about how film develops through contact with oneself. Through contact with others, and filmmaking precedents. I have become fascinated by early filmmaking. I love Eisenstein’s theories about montage, architecture, construction of film in a physical sense. Vertov’s ideas are fascinating about rhythm and structure in production of work, and I also love Steyerl’s contemporaries theories of filmmaking production. These ideas of connecting practice within oneself, now, within a sense of present, and also within filmmaking contexts and histories all practice existing before. Poetry is a critical tool in my work. I love Japanese poetry. Ancient scriptures and work by Rilke, Rumi and Brecht.
These practices for me offer a sense of connection and depth within oneself. A sense of rhythm and form. There are links between structures in Japanese Haikus and traditional Japanese Nō drama, and Eisenstein’s ideas about montage. How poetry emerges and how film appears. This is all about inspiration, About art in all forms of practice.
"Throughout all my films I explore memories, personal identities, linear and non-linear storytelling, repetition in my stories. There are experiments and forms I explore in more bold ways in recent production of work."
Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?
My early experiences with motion graphics were during my BA course at Leeds Metropolitan University (now Leeds Beckett) in 1990s. These included early motion graphics by Barnbrook, Foggie Bummer, Tomato Nae Hope, and other experiments with After Effects. I was using Director, with rostrum shoots, physical analogue and digital production. Much later I encountered works of theatre, and scripts by Samuel Beckett. These works changed my experiences of art and artistic practice. Literature, existential writing, for example Sartre and Camus and a widening vision of how to write, how to write scripts, how to write for film and how to create artistic practice. My first job after my MA was at BBC Broadcast. This was a fantastic opportunity for me to take my ideas and interests in all forms of commercial art from illustration, graphic design and typography, storytelling, and combine this into commercial work. I loved work I produced during this time and this is how I learnt to use After Effects.
A natural progression from this was an interest in telling my own stories and developing authorship of
How much has your approach to your films changed you tell changed since your first film?
One writer has had a huge influence on how I work. Svetlana Alexievich’s work explores oral histories in Belarus and former Soviet republics. Her books were a recommendation to me from a former colleague, Alison Rowley. There are similar themes in my practice. Throughout all my films I explore memories, personal identities, linear and non-linear storytelling, repetition in my stories. There are experiments and forms I explore in more bold ways in recent production of work. I know myself better now that I did in 2007 when I made my first film. I’m going to respond to this with a quote from Leonard Cohen: “There’s a crack, a crack in everything, that‘s how the light gets in”. These are my interests. Exploring imperfections, gaps, irregularities and how to find interest and meaning in these spaces.
For any emerging filmmaker out there do you have any tips or advice you would offer them?
My responses to this are all poetic. I can offer a quote from Sufi poet Rumi: “To go guided by fragrance is a hundred times better than following tracks”. This is about personal meaning. It is about direction, identity and sense, or feeling, of knowing where and when something appeals. Rainer Maria Rilke follows similar themes in his work. “I can’t give you any advice but this: to go into yourself and see how deep the place is from which your life flows; at its source you will find the answer to the question of whether you must create”. Rilke was fascinated by these ideas of looking inwards. This is also of personal interest to me. Subtleties of form, where direction and bravery exist in practice. Knowing what is important, why and when. There is also something critical in reflection on Rilke’s work. This is about looking inwards, processes of creation and looking outwards. When and how to publish work, how to find meaning from audiences and when to concentrate on finding meaning within oneself and focusing inward. On practice, on process and on meaning, connection and depth in artwork.
And finally, what do you hope audiences will take away from Recipes for Baking Bread?
I had lessons in filmmaking to consider credits as an opportunity for this. Those final moments of a film, and then, when everything goes to black. What are audiences left with. What is an emotional feeling or residue from a piece of work. For me in this project, this is always about raising awareness. Few people in UK and other parts of western Europe know about Holodomor and one of my aims for this project is to raise awareness. It is also about storytelling and truth on a wider level. I am interested in a specific part of Ukrainian histories and reflecting on my own past, my own family, my own personal stories and my relationships to these histories. On a more universal level, I am considering what happens within society, within cultures, within social groups and within a person when meanings and histories shift and change over time. I am going to end with a quote from historian Christoper Harding: “Modern Japan offers a compelling case study in the sort of wrestling that lies behing – and ahead – of us all”.