Mariayah Kaderbhai in coversation with Jasmila Zbanic, Thomas Vinterberg, Shannon Murphy, Sarah Gavron and Chloe Zhao
Mariayah Khaderbhai: Hello I’m Mariayah Khaderbhai, Head of Programmes at BAFTA and welcome to the BAFTA Film Sessions for Director. This evening is the last in this virtual series celebrating the nominees from this year’s EE British Academy Film Awards.
A little bit of housekeeping before we start: You can join the conversation on social using the hash tag EE BAFTAs. If you have a question please use the Q&A function if you’re joining us on Zoom, and if you’re joining us via Facebook or YouTube please put your question in the chat. We will try and get to as many as possible during the session. There is closed captioning available now which you can turn on at the bottom of the screen via the cc button.
We are joined this evening by director of Babyteeth Shannon Murphy, director of Another Round Thomas Vinterberg, director of Nomadland Chloé Zhao, director of Quo Vadis, Aida? Jasmila Žbanić and director of Rocks Sarah Gavron. Unfortunately Lee Isaac Chung cannot make it this evening, he directed Minari but he sends his sincerest apologies. Can I welcome all our directors, please?
Thomas Vinterberg: Hello
MK: Hi, hello everyone, and thank you for joining us from all corners of the world today. Congratulations on your BAFTA nominations for directing and your incredible films this year. I want to start off with a question for all of you this evening. A central theme I found, and maybe I’m wrong, when looking at all of your films is you tell the stories of outsiders or people’s lives we don’t often get to experience. We’re seeing them all at a moment of crisis or a point of flux in their lives and I found that is a really interesting device or tool in how you understand someone’s existence and reaction to what they’re going through at the time. I’m wondering how much of that is a conscious decision or what comes first, central theme or the emotional arc? That’s a very convoluted and long question, but yes, essentially what are you looking at? When you first receive the script or think of putting the word on the page are you thinking of the theme or are you thinking of the emotional journey? I think I’m going to pick on someone, sorry I’m going to come to Sarah first.
Sarah Gavron: In our case it was a bit unusual because we came with a really open brief of let’s look at girlhood and girls we don’t normally see on our screens. Not really outsiders, girls you see on our buses and streets, but where are they on our screens? So we got together a creative team and then brainstormed around friendship and resilience and joy and out of that came the emotional arc that Theresa Ikoko kind of formed. So it was that way round for us.
MK: And coming to you next Chloé. Is that a similar theme with Nomadland, building your supporting kind of cast on places you visit along the way and the script evolving and changing with the people you met?
Chloé Zhao: For me the challenge was looking at a non-fiction book that actually recorded a vast scale of events and places, of a time after the recession. For me it was theme first because I could see under all these stories there is a theme of collective loss and grief and so that was the entrance point for me.
MK: When did you decide to centre it to one person’s intimate experience to reflect that world?
CZ: Almost right away because in order to tell the story of grief and healing I had to create a fictional character that can link all these amazing places and characters in the book.
MK: And Thomas coming to you next with Another Round, did the theme of the experiment or how alcohol could elevate people’s lives or was it building a narrative around these four men who seem at the point we meet them kind of static but in crisis?
TV: This came, which is unusual for me, the theme came first. I wanted first to pay a tribute to alcohol, basically, a celebration of alcohol and it developed from there. It took quite a while before we found the narrative and emotional journey of the characters. Normally you’d start with something indescribable, vulnerable, within a human being, but in this case it was different.
MK: And Shannon I know Babyteeth is based on a play, what was the aspect of the play that drew you in and what did you adapt from that core? Did you ever see the play? No? I imagine that’s a benefit in a way so you could cast your own vision on it.
Shannon Murphy: Yeah I think when I read Babyteeth for the first time, and it was already a screenplay when I read it, I really loved the idea of having to interrogate pre-grief and deep down into what that meant and that experience meant. I worked closely with a psychologist who helped me to understand just how authentic the experience those parents were having, that they were already in a state of grief knowing what was to come and therefore behaving in chaotic and reckless ways in a sense, not allowing there to be a lucidity in their experience of Milla.
MK: And Jasmila with Quo Vadis, Aida? You’ve made films not specifically about war but the effects and impact before. With this particular film, it’s about a war but it’s so much more, it seems that it’s a feminist viewpoint of war in a way. At what point did you want to make a film about the massacre and then focus it in on one person being the conduit to share those experiences of it?
Jasmila Žbanić: Living so closely to Srebrenica and to genocide that subject was always full of emotions and what I hear and how survivors lived twenty-five years after was you know, all these years after, was something that was really disturbing me. There was a lot of emotions going on every day. Then I thought when I decided to make the film I was looking at how to allow audiences to witness what happened then but also what is going on still in everyday life. It started with the emotion and then I was looking how to tell it in a way that people would be able to follow and understand.
MK: And is Aida based on a true person, or does she carry multiple experiences? If she does, how did you engage and how did you research?
JŽ: I did talk to many people. For me very helpful was a book Under the UN Flag by Hasan Nuhanović, a man who was a translator and had to translate to his family ‘now you have to leave the UN base,’ knowing they will be killed. This you know, hoping not but also knowing how dangerous it was to leave. I started with that experience and he helped me a lot with all these details of life in the UN base in those days. Then I thought, you know, I wanted to have a woman as a character and to show it from that perspective so I talked to a lot of women who were in the base and later were searching for their kids in mass graves.
MK: Like Aida but touching on the films you’ve all made, there’s the idea of shooting trauma, but they’re all kind of tonally agnostic, you know experiences of life that are joyous, tragic, heart-breaking, all of that. That is the unique thing about all these films, how tonally you can’t put your finger on what you are and what you’re experiencing. I wanted to ask you all as a director how is the tone pitched so perfectly? Is it kind of in the scene, or is it addresses at the end of the day, or is it something that happens in the edit? Do you know it as you’re doing it or is it something that comes together at different instances?
SM: I think you try—for me with Babyteeth because the tone was such an incredibly unusual… It’s just such a dark, dark comedy at times that I wanted to make sure that every frame represented that in some way. So we would talk about it in the design world and the costuming and the colouring so that even if a scene was quite heavy, such as Milla’s last birthday party, we’d have little nods, a very tongue in cheek reference is the Day of the Dead decorations scattered all over the table in that scene. Just little moments that reflect Rita Kalnejais tone for the film. I wanted to make sure that was in every moment.
MK: You mention briefly aesthetic and you notice a shift in colour palette and aesthetic in Babyteeth throughout when it shifts in tone. I wondered if you could talk a little about that tonal shift and the colours people are wearing, and the design of the house being another character in helping that shift along as well.
SM: The house was an amazing mid-century house that had a lot of glass and I loved the image that Milla was in this very warm and loving environment but almost trapped in a glass atrium. The colours start to explode more in the film as she becomes more aligned with Moses but also starts feeling more electric in all her experiences. For someone who is towards the end of their life, their senses are heightened and I wanted to you know, represent that through the colour world. The costumes were really playful and there’s moments of synergy between Milla and Moses where they’re both wearing lilac, which is also very tongue in cheek on their night out to show they’re coming together. But we also put Moses in some really ridiculous shorts because Toby Wallace is so good looking and I needed to dial it down a bit and break his face down and his features and put lots of tats on him, make him look really sick. Some of the choices were for fun and some of them were very much about Milla’s colour journey and her becoming more bold and more punk as her journey went on.
MK: Jasmila, coming on in terms of a colour journey, Quo Vadis, Aida? Obviously, it’s kind of a depiction of a heinous tragedy but—I might be very wrong in this—but a colour journey that sometimes is contra, that’s bright and exuberant and filled with light and summer. I wonder if I’ve got that wrong or if there was a conscious decision behind that?
JŽ: Yeah. Eleventh July was a very hot day in ’95 when this happened and we wanted, my camerawoman Christine Meyer and me wanted to explore that genocide was happening on a beautiful summer day in Europe in ’95 and it was possible after we all said never again. This is what we wanted to stress out, a lot of colours in the costume, a lot of almost beach atmosphere outside, and inside we were working with a little bit of a warm feeling, like if you are inside of a UN base people felt more secure and they were in a different mood than people outside of the fence. For the second part of the film of course I wanted to contrast it completely so I said it will be snow and her emotions are frozen, there is nothing there anymore from what was in her previous life.
MK: Wow. Going on to Sarah, with the style and filmmaking terms, obviously with Rocks you used a lot of untrained actors or it’s their first major roles. Working in terms of camera movements, to allow more freedom you worked with two or three cameras at a time. Can you explain to us how that does create a sense of freedom? For me who’s not an actor I think of three sets of cameras on me that would be quite intimidating, but how that can capture something, a 360 almost maybe.
SG: I was just thinking about the tone question too, coming back to that. Tone was such a key conversation for the whole creative team throughout the workshopping process because our film evolved out of a workshopping process, and joy was one of the key words we used throughout because Theresa Ikoko who is the story creator had grown up in Hackney in a housing estate and she said her life, although complicated, was full of joy and these girls really encapsulate that and every day they were laughing and we were laughing and they were finding moments of joy in their everyday lives, so we wanted to really reflect that and it came very naturally.
The idea of the multi-cameras, we were really building on the shoulders of people who have made this style of film before. I spoke to Shane Meadows producer, and we talked to Ken Loach who was a producer, and we were drawing on those ways filmmakers before have worked with non-actors or first time actors. In fact by the time we got to set all these girls were pretty professional because we’d done workshopping for a whole year, so they were kind of as professional as any actor I’ve worked with in many ways. They were showing up and putting an enormous amount of work in. But we did nevertheless, Hélène Louvart who is this fantastic DoP who’s done seventy feature films, got five children, god knows how she does it, but she was there every day with this brilliant second DoP called Rachel Clark, and they kind of danced around the girls, and we rolled the camera before they even came on set, and then they’d be sitting on set and I’d say ‘do you remember the scene we’re doing?’ and they’d go ‘yeah,’ chatting away, ‘shall we do it now? Shall we get up? How about it?’ and they’d start and the cameras would be rolling for about twenty minutes by now and nothing shot, and we’d do the rehearsal and we’d stop and the creative team, the writers and associate director Anuradha Henriques would all discuss what’s working and the girls would chime in ‘this doesn’t work at all Sarah, this seems dead,’ so we’d redo it and it was really like live theatre, almost like a forum theatre experience where they were doing their thing and we were intervening and sometimes they were doing it on the floor, sometimes by the window, there was absolutely no continuity at all. I have to hand it to our incredible editor Maya Maffioli who dealt with these 150 hours of totally unwieldy footage that had no shape at all, but we did have this brilliant arc that the writers had created and the girls had poured their love and energy into, so we hoped everyday there was something there and I’d come back and the editor was in a room in my home and we’d stare at these rushes until midnight every night hoping we could find the scenes, but we had such a strong team in a way that they created what was there.
MK: Thomas, Sarah mentioned the word dancing when it came to the camera, and kind of obviously not just the obvious dancing in Another Round but the dancing of the camera as well when these four men at different periods in their lives all kind of descend into different levels of drunkenness, it’s really fresh and also allows an audience to feel what they’re feeling in that moment as well. I wondered if you could talk about you and working with your DoP in creating the inertia for the audience in a way, for us being able to feel what they’re feeling in that moment.
TV: Well yeah, I mean our film did not really have a general tone. Every time I tried to civilise it and create sort of a whole it was a bit of a castration of this movie. Each scene had its own life and was pointing in fifteen different directions and it was chaotic to some extent. Of course there was a system in this and a script behind it, but all the tones bumping together created I think a sense of honesty which I liked and which I was pursuing actually throughout. I did have plenty of conversations with the DoP about how to depict this, and our first and sort of more general idea was to show the awkwardness and clumsiness of sober life, such as two foreheads bashing together in a dance, and then when they start drinking you wanted things to smoothen out and become pleasant and colourful, like an airplane taking off. That’s sort of where we started, and both the film and DoP spiralled into a lot of other experiences which were all handheld. He’s a master at that, its his flavour and his thing, so a lot of tones combined I would guess in what you could call a cocktail, not a sharp drink.
MK: And Chloé coming to you now, talking about tone but also the composition in terms of cinematography in terms of the film. Tonally, I think I kind of said before, it’s beautifully agnostic and you wouldn’t want to fit it into any box because it’s not—I just wonder how much, how careful you were to make sure it kind of you know didn’t fall into any cliché or trope of a journey of self-discovery or someone having a neat ending? Just the process behind that.
CZ: I think I’m with Thomas on that one. The tone thing I don’t think I ever think about it but I notice when it’s tonally all over the place, I can recognise when it’s a cocktail, but for some reason they say life isn’t perfect, the beauty is in making it yours, and I find that, for a certain kind of filmmaking by the way, it doesn’t apply to all, but in what I’m trying to do if someone’s giving you something or something happened on set and you captured it, it feels damaging to try to get rid of it in service of a consistent tone, that’s in the edit for me and when you screen it for people I usually get notes: Tonally this is all over the place. Then you have to make a decision whether you want to keep it that way or not.
MK: You edited Nomadland as well yourself. Does your head almost change when you sit in the edit? Do all kind of, is the director always there, is the editor always there, or can you kind of pause that part of your personality in a way?
CZ: I think it’s just editor. I think I was probably so rough on the film, my producers were coming back saying ‘stop cutting everything! Stop making everything so fast! Slow down, remember the movie you wanted to make as a director.’ I like doing screenings, testing the movie and back then I used to be able to screen the film at a festival, watch it with people and come back and edit it. This time we couldn’t do it do we did some virtual screenings and it’s important to have a great team around you because I started doing notes that were damaging to the film until they started pulling me back.
MK: You mentioned the word the beauty of cinema and all these films were primarily made for the cinema and some of them thankfully have had a theatrical release. It’s such a unique experience to be fully immersed in that experience when you can see the film on the big screen. I’m wondering how that changes for you—is expanding the visual world of the narrative, is that conscious or unconscious part of directing? Is that a very vague question, shall I let you ruminate for a little while and come on to something else?
CZ: I feel like everyone’s film I’ve seen, all your movies are brilliant. And I think all these movies are also great to watch in a dark room by ourselves.
Hiding my emotions. At the same time I’d love to see how the person next to me is reacting in the theatre because I was having such intense emotional reactions. I’d love to see how they react. It’s fifty, fifty for me.
SM: I’ve got to tell you a story, when I told my parents I’d been nominated for a BAFTA they said ‘who else?’ And when I listed everyone, they went ‘Chloé? We loved her film that was amazing, oh my gosh she’s so cool you’ve got to become her friend, can you write to her and become her friend?’ and I was like, ‘you’ve missed the point of celebrating this moment completely!’ so it’s kind of—
CZ: My parents are the same way!
SM: Its why we’re such high achievers, right?
CZ: Right, right.
MK: I wanted to talk about working with actors now. I’ll stay with you at the moment Chloé. Obviously you used the majority of non-professional actors as Sarah did as well. So allowing people to represent who they are as individuals and can you just talk about how the script evolved when you met different people at different locations, obviously based on the novel but having to have that everyday evolving experience. Then giving them room to tell their stories and you to reflect that authentically.
CZ: When I hear Sarah’s description I’m so jealous, I kind of wish I got to be able to do that with them. Most of the time the people I end up making films of I’m not going to be able to track them down, they’re going to live their lives, this isn’t going to be a priority for them. I maybe get them for a day or two without any rehearsals, so it was really important it was written for them completely. They’re not going to be able to do the stuff that Sarah was able to work with them and have them become almost, if not better than, trained actors, that wasn’t the way I was doing it. I had to listen to what they say and work and take the things I know they’re going to be able to deliver on the day regardless of what happens and put it into the script and change my lead character’s arc to match my non-professional actors’ scenes.
MK: Thomas, on the flipside of that, using four known, well-versed actors but specifically I believe you wrote for these four actors, is that true? Doing that kind of does that allow you freedom when putting pen to paper in the beginning when you know who’s going to play it?
TV: Yeah, some of these actors I know their language and way to talk better than they do themselves I’ve known them for so many years. I guess I start the same place as Chloé. It starts with an enormous curiosity and admiration for this person, for the actor. And an urge to be together with them creatively. Then of course it deviates from what Chloé’s doing because I’m creating a character which I mean it’s not autobiographical, but the gasoline behind this is I’m admiring these people and curious about them and want to see them do this and then this and this. It’s this game of challenging them and because we know each other so well, I’m being allowed to push them out of their comfort zones as well, push them to places where they’re very vulnerable and hopefully I can find something a little bit truthful. I’m kind of dividing the work with the actors in a couple of phases. In the beginning we just work a lot, we prepare, create a very solid foundation so that they really know this character and it’s very difficult to separate the character from the scenes and stuff, then when the camera flicks on they can fly. I guess that’s how our work often is, it’s a lot of hard work and boring meetings to be allowed to fly at some point creatively. There’s this constant duality between these things, and this is how I’ve been working with them so they could unfold as spontaneous and truthful as possible in front of the camera.
CZ: And what are some of those techniques when you’re on set?
TV: In this case half of our rehearsal period they were drunk. They were at least getting to drink because we needed to rehearse playing drunk.
MK: That, playing drunk could almost become a caricature. They’ve got to play drunk but pretend to be sober while playing drunk and kind of yeah, how did you kind of—it doesn’t appear as a caricature at all but how did you work with them?
TV: I put a lot of stuff on their plates. They had to be very tender, very fun. A lot of scenes where they have to find or catch fish and scenes where they cry or fight with their families, then they have to be drunk and dance. I thought I need to get some of this out of the way so it’s not a problem when we’re on set and what we did was a boot camp, booze boot camp where they filmed each other at different levels of intoxication teaching the students, which then was each other, and it was great fun but a lot of hard work. Everyone here with actors knows that it’s not until a certain level a lot of acting is about what you hide, what you don’t show. It’s the same with getting drunk, you’re pretending that you’re sober, buttoning up and sitting straight and measuring your movements, your sentences are slowed down not to give away any flaws in the way you’re speaking. But above 1.0, it becomes very, or easily become ridiculous and over-acted. What we had to do was watch a lot of videos of drunk Russians and just try it over and over again and make sure it worked.
MK: Shannon to come to you next. In working with your actors and building that central family unit, am I right thinking you didn’t do a lot of rehearsal time with them and you had them kind of be together as individuals but not so much rehearse the scene?
SM: Yeah I do like them to spend a lot of time together not necessarily just working. I didn’t have a lot of time with the parents Ben and Essie, but I had a bit more time with Toby and Eliza. Because I was a theatre director for ten years and a lot of them have done theatre before, when we do hit the rehearsal floor we get up on our feet quite quickly. I’d pre-blocked the whole film with four other actors in the space, so we were ready to go despite not having a lot of rehearsal time. Like Thomas is saying there’s so much prep work done and even when you’ve got limited time with the actors you can get a lot across in meetings and in the time that you have, but then on the day I really kind of love chaos theory and let it go wherever it might go despite all the prep and the ideas that I’ve had. You know I still always get those takes but then I like to get some left of field interpretations of the work and that can only come for me when I keep rolling and diving into another take and another take and letting them sort of never stop exploring what this scene could be.
MK: When you came to your edit were there any scenes in particular that completely shifted kind of in your mind from kind of if you’d shot a few things differently and thought ‘oh actually…’
SM: I mean the dinner table scene was one that was actually twice as long and I could’ve kept it in its entirety in some ways. Cutting that down was quite challenging. And of course because that was a whole day of shooting of course when actors get tired some real gold comes out and there were a lot of mistakes that started happening, Essie started getting even more ridiculous on her prescription pills and Ben started dropping silverware and it just became a complete mess in a really glorious way and I remember thinking ‘those takes, I bet, will be the best, but we’ll see,’ and I wasn’t sure until I got to the edit but it was gold because it was so natural.
MK: Jasmila coming to you. Obviously you have a core central cast but there are hundreds of extras. It seems that each one has been cast with such intent and purpose there. I’m wondering how you went about doing that and doing that supporting cast?
JŽ: Because Bosnia isn’t a country with a developed film industry we don’t have these agencies where you can rent extras and you know hire them and you know employ them, but the main thing for us was to find them. Not many people know what is a film set and how to come to that. We really sent assistants round, they took photos of people from the place where we were shooting and then we’d choose each person, really 500 people we’d choose face by face and that brought some energy as well because they were not professional at all and we really treated them, because they were, like actors. They were on the set so supportive like when an actress or actor would miss a line, 500 people were applauding them giving them love and support and all actors said they were really like a partner because they were giving so much, really wanted the film to be shot because Srebrenica is such a big trauma for Bosnia that so many people wanted to support the film, and actors said that just by getting the energy from extras who were there, really feeling what was going on, feeling fear, knowing this fear from the war gave actors so much energy to you know, respond and play it in the right tone. Of course with actors I was working you know rehearsing a lot and we had that opportunity because we had a very small amount of shooting days, just forty-two shooting days so we had to be really prepared knowing we had a lot of mass scenes and stuff had to be very, very precise. So that’s why we did a lot of rehearsals with actors before so we are emotionally ready, there are not open questions, ad we can still be free to react and you know imagine stuff on the set that is very tough. For me it was also the question of emotions, you know, that they are not too less or too much, so as much as we could on every shooting day we did a palette of emotions, something higher and smaller so that in the editing room we could adjust every shade.
MK: Can I ask in particular, how did you decide what to show and what to leave out in terms of the violence and the trauma? It’s so delicate and so beautiful and I think you’ve got it tonally perfect but how did you kind of decide what to show the audience?
JŽ: My experience of war is that it’s a really awful thing and I couldn’t be seduced in many war films with the images of soldiers or tanks or fires or whatever. I always talked with the camerawoman about how to show it in the worst possible way because that is my experience of war, the banality of evil and that’s how we wanted to show it. We didn’t want to give this spectacle of killing, and anyway the audience can imagine better the horrors, they can imagine it better than I could show. Also out of respect for human beings I just thought so many people who are, who survived genocide will watch the film and it has to be right measured there.
MK: It’s such a recent part of a lot of people’s history as well and I imagine a lot of people making the film as well it was very close to their personal history as well.
We have a lot of questions from the audience at home. Let’s try and get through as many of these as we can. For Chloé: What led you to Frances McDormand? Was she your first choice?
CZ: I put her through a lot of auditions. She came to me actually with the book. She read the book with her producing partner and she saw the writer and thought maybe this is an interesting director. She came to me with it and I knew no one else could do it except her.
MK: And Chloé when you mention obviously kind of she had to adapt to everyone else around her, was that—I’m sure obviously it comes across in her portrayal that it works well, but was she on the ride with you?
CZ: Again when I was listening to everyone I definitely felt like it would be amazing if we got to have rehearsals, imagine how much I could learn from Frances McDormand in a rehearsal setting, you know? But we didn’t do any rehearsal and I think she probably would have loved to be able to explore more in those settings. We were just surviving, you know, trying to pull the film together so I was out there and yeah because the non-professional actors were going to show up and do their thing and they’re going to go off script, Fran has to play a version of herself as well. She definitely let go and wouldn’t know in many scenes where her character is the way she would if she’s doing Macbeth. So she really had to let go, not just of comfort as an actress, but some of the security. What she’s so brilliant at she has to kind of let it go and be very vulnerable in that way, so I really, really respect her for doing that.
MK: From Jessica Evans we have a question for Shannon. Eliza Scanlen is the perfect fit for Milla. When casting Eliza what did you see in her that fit the character to you?
SM: Erm, Eliza came in for a few auditions and every time she did something so different that I was so completely confused that I didn’t actually know what—whether she was quite right or not. I realised she has just such an incredible range and Milla needed to shape shift from the first kind of minute and a half of the film she’s re-defining who she is constantly, even her look keeps changing. I realised after quite a long time of ruminating on it that Eliza would be able to craft that with me because she’s quite a scary actress in that way, she can do almost anything and so I realised just having that ability to have such a range was what I needed and so that’s why I ended up casting her. She’s also just really magnetic on camera and has a very wise spirit for her age and that’s something that’s so very Milla. She always feels like the oldest and most mature adult in the room all the time.
MK: What you said at the top of that was really interesting, that she has to know what she’s doing a minute and a half into the film. I think that’s so true for all of your films as well, not only the people in it but the audience, you land them into these worlds immediately and land us into this immersive experience and I think part of the joy and the success of them is kind of, you know, the world’s fully formed already and we get to kind of come into it and decipher it along with the people in it as well.
We have a question for Thomas from Michael Cannon. Speaking of pushing actors past their comfort zone how do you do that in such a healthy, shepherding way? What language comes with that?
TV: They like to be pushed out of their comfort zones and the way to get there is to make them comfortable first. What I do in my rehearsal period is try to find the corners of the character, trying to define what pasts they grew out of, what dreams they have of the future, what do they choose to show of the world, what do they choose to hide from the world roughly speaking, then we play around with that. We do improvisations from their past most often so they feel they have a common past. I don’t like to rehearse the scenes and script too much because they should remain untouched to some degree. When they feel secure enough and when they have faith in the whole process and me then you can ask them things. You don’t have to be brutal or especially polite or anything, they want to be pushed around. They want to get to a point of self-forgetness. That’s what we should help them do. the element of self-forgetness is the theme of my film, but also the theme of an actor. To put them in situations where they take off makes them high, they’re addicted to that and we just have to help them there. And sometimes it’s outside what they normally feel is comfortable but they ironically still like it somehow.
MK: I wonder how much of that applies to all of you as well? How much of the back-story do you build for your actors? How much of that do you give them or allow them to explore themselves? Jasmila maybe I’ll come to you with Aida. How much of her was written down and how much did you work on that with the actress?
JŽ: We had a lot of rehearsals with her and family in the apartment where we shot their apartment. We did whole process of how she met her husband, how she had first date, first kid, how kids were going to school. We were doing all of that, my background is also theatre so we were doing it as a theatre performance. They were improvising and doing a lot of stuff. Then with all other actors, you know we rehearsed different things, not so much the script but also the script because I feel what Thomas is saying also, the most important is that they feel secure and when they feel secure and trust me and people around, they want to do everything and I can ask them anything and they will do it.
TV: It’s an interesting process, this because you may find nothing in your rehearsals. We have to keep trying in different ways to get them to the right place. Sometimes you find it in the rehearsals, sometimes they meet some guy in the street who inspires them and suddenly it all sparks from there. Being a director is to some extent greedy and you have to pick from different shelves over time and see what works and if it doesn’t work you throw it away. The rehearsal period you get some of that done and sometimes you find treacherous things and sometimes you don’t and you have to find it somewhere else.
CZ: Can I ask how long all your rehearsal periods were?
TV: I did two weeks, I could probably do more but I find them really tough. I find it tougher than shooting because everything is so open and everything is so naked and I rarely find more time than two weeks. But before that I have conversations, dialogue with the actors and rewrites and all that you know. I guess we all know that finding the right actor and putting them in the right situations, you’re very far already. That dance has been taking place for a while, then there’s the floor for two weeks.
SG: Drunk, yeah. We couldn’t do that because we had under sixteens. No drinking.
MK: Isabel First with a question for Sarah: As a young filmmaker I wondered what was the one thing you wished about entering the world of filmmaking when you began?
SG: You mean when I was a young filmmaker?
MK; You’re still a young filmmaker! But even younger.
SG: Doing this film I was called the mother to the little sisters and even the big sister to the creative team. If there’s one thing I knew—really what I’ve learned, in fact I’ve learned most on this film and I’m indebted to the extraordinary team I worked with who were all so young, often first time filmmakers, but extraordinary storytellers. And what I learned was the joy of collaboration actually and the joy of listening to them and flattening the hierarchy and saying you know what your opinion is just as valid as anyone else’s let’s all work together and right from the beginning let’s turn this system on its head and inside out and challenge it from the inside. Let’s start the wrong way round, cast first the young people with a very open brief, let’s not say we want a girl of this height or this size or shape or whatever or this background. Let’s go out and see who wants to be involved in this process and let’s build it together. I think it came from my—when I was young my mum worked at a community centre and I used to sit for hours very bored in these smoke filled rooms and they all used to try and create projects and nobody was allowed to be the leader and I was like someone’s got to be the leader, but somehow it happened. It was a little bit slow, but it happened and I think I’ve always been intrigued by the way film is a collage and you can’t actually track who came up with that idea and that kind of magic alchemy of the team and this time we were really honest about it, we were like it doesn’t matter what I think, it matters what you think. I’m not young and you’re young and this is your experience, it’s not mine and I’m the furthest away from it in this team. So what I learned was the joy of that in a way and the power of that and the power of these young people and their potential. And if we don’t take away the scaffolding that supports the young people, particularly in this country where we’re robbing them of youth clubs and you know, they are really going to rule the world because they’ve got so much potential.
MK: You all chuckled a bit when Sarah said the leaders in the room when you were young; you were all the leaders when you were young! Younger, I should say, younger.
This is a question for all of you from Jo Morley: How has the pandemic had an effect on your creative processes? Maybe I’ll come to you Jasmila, because I believe you had to edit Quo Vadis, Aida? When lockdown happened back in March. If you can talk about kind of how it was editing this feature during a pandemic.
JŽ: Yes, the pandemic came in the last week of editing and because it’s a co-production of nine European countries we shared work. In Romania was our picture, VFX was in the Netherlands, sound in Bosnia, all over the places. We couldn’t really move and when you’re in the last week of editing you feel like a pregnant woman who wants to get rid of baby and you can’t do it for twelve months. It was so frustrating. Then in July we were able to get out and meet some of the crew but still not possible to be all together, we couldn’t enter Romania where our material was, so we managed to find a way through computer programmes to sit in Berlin in a studio and our colour grader and our sound mixer was in Romania and we connected Uppsala with Berlin and Bucharest and tried to do this real time sound mixing and colour grading. It was—I wouldn’t recommend it ever, I really like to be with people in one place, decisions are done quicker and it’s more creative and we are all together. Of course, I’m happy this technology exists and we were able to do it and finish the film.
MK: I’ve got a question. The releases of the films kind of theatrically or online but also kind of different communities or countries where you made the film, how have they been received locally in those places? Chloé I don’t know if you’ve been able to show the film to that incredible kind of supporting cast of people who helped you make it, have you managed to do any kind of screenings together?
CZ: We were very fortunate to have Telluride who did a screening in LA as a drive in last September, the first time I’d been around people. it was also the day of the wildfires so in the morning as we were driving thinking can they see the screen because it’s just ashes, smoke in the sky. The first time we all came together, all the vans drove in and we were in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, you know it’s just one of those moments where people had to honk and they flashed their headlights and you see the ashes in the beams and the nomads are on the stage and you go this is why I want to tell stories. Moments like that. Having gone out of isolation for the first time, being together, just amplified that feeling of stories connecting people from different walks of life. I was very fortunate to have that.
MK: Where there’s a will, people will find a way to watch a film together. Thomas, Another Round was theatrically released in Denmark, that’s correct, yes?
TV: Yeah, we’ve been very lucky in many ways with this movie. We finished, we had final mix when the pandemic broke out but the cinemas were still open there, there was a window there in which I sold more tickets than I’ve ever sold before. On that regard we were very lucky with this film and I also felt that it had a sort of extra impact on this movie because you know it’s a film trying to be life-affirming to some extent, celebratory of life. When people live in confinement with death and bankruptcies around them, they might like seeing this and seeing some guys sharing a bottle, which seems strangely forbidden to do now, so yeah.
MK: And Shannon, can you tell us a little bit about, has it been screened in Australia, Babyteeth, have you managed to see it with an audience?
SM: Yeah, primarily at festivals, it’s all been so different. Venice was completely overwhelming but then in Marrakech Toby and I were there and audience members would come out and have their hands on their hearts and it was really quite powerful. Our press screening in Venice was really powerful too because a lot of journalists got up and it was all getting translated but they were telling their own stories and getting emotional when they were talking to us. That was really affirming for us that we’d made something impacting. I love working out where people laugh because it’s different in every country. So far I’ve noticed the Americans laugh the least. But they still seem to enjoy it. We were quite nervous showing it in Australia, because whenever it’s work you’ve made for your own country in many ways that’s nerve-wracking. But that’s gone really well too and it’s still actually in cinemas in Australia. I’ve never just seen it with a general public audience anywhere, never seen it with a British audience, fingers crossed that can happen one day.
MK: Fingers crossed. Jasmila, where has your film been seen and has it had any local theatrical release at all? And also because it is part of such recent European history, I’m wondering people involved how they’ve reacted to it?
JŽ: We were lucky to screening Venice with the audience. That was so important for me because after that very soon everything was blocked and I would feel very empty if I didn’t have this feeling with the audience. It was the first time we shared this story with people who have nothing to do with Srebrenica and Bosnia so I was not sure if they would feel it emotionally like a local audience so it was a relief to see people were crying and they could identify with the character. And then we organised screenings for young people in Bosnia because this subject is politically still very hot and the genocide is denied and politicians are fighting over Srebrenica a lot. I didn’t want that film captured by any political side, so we showed it only for young people who were born after the genocide because these stories of genocide affect their lives and we wanted to tell them they should be emancipated form the past. They should know about the past but they are free, they are not you know victims or perpetrators because they were born in those kind of families. After that we had to go on VOD which was also not bad because our film was banned in certain regions with a Serbian majority but people had a chance to see it and they are reacting really, really good, you know the first time they saw facts about Srebrenica. They knew they’d been told many lies and through these emotions they could see what happened and I have a feeling it’s touching them and we have really good reactions.
MK: And finally coming to you Sarah. Rocks if I remember rightly was in cinemas just before we went into lockdown in March 2020 in the UK, and then—was it?
SG: I just have to say I saw all your films on small screens and I was so moved by all of them that I can’t wait to see them on the big screen. You think, God, the power they will have on the big screen. We had a kind of lucky and unlucky time. We began at Toronto which was a real ride because none of the kids had been there and they had never been to a film festival, some of them had never left London so even the journey and the staying in the hotel, the whole thing…It was the loudest festival experience I’ve ever been swept through. That was really fun and I remember Theresa Ikoko saying, because I was so delighted that young people were connecting with it and watching it and saying ‘I’m seeing myself ten feet tall and I’m worthy and other people are interested,’ they were looking round the audience and going ‘someone else is watching my story and some grey old woman in Toronto is interested in me?!’ They couldn’t believe that and they talked all the way through the screenings and it was very interactive. It was a whole new experience for me. I went to one with my brother and he was like ‘I didn’t hear a word I just listened to the conversation of the girls beside me’ how it resonated with their own experience. That was all really, really fun and we had this great time and then we went to London and they were in their hometown and all their families and communities came and it was kind of astonishing to see this film they hadn’t seen and that finally they felt they were seeing for the first time which was exciting. Then we were about to open and we had all these great events planned and gigs and music things because music was a huge part of it and we had all these great London singer-songwriters who were going to perform and takeovers and the whole crew was excited, and then lockdown hit and all of—all the girls suddenly had nothing to do and they were at school and they had cancelled GCSEs and nothing to do. So we set up this film club and each week we’d go, they’d say when’s the film going to come out, is it ever going to come out? Is it never going to come out? Because they’d just had these two festival screenings. We were like we hope it’s gonna come out, you know, all kind of talking to the distributors and you know then Black Lives Matter happened and they went into this kind of you know, the fact this affected their community so hugely and they got involved in this activism and then out of that you know just the end of this hugely traumatic year for many of them, suddenly it opened up and the distributor said we’ll go into cinemas and we went in with masks and socially distanced but they got on the stage and did Q&As and sat and watched in the cinema for two weeks. They just were delighted and it was in Hackney their home stomping ground and then we went on to Netflix and their friends could see it on Netflix. It all came good, all came good.
MK: All came together in the end! I want to thank you all so much for making these incredible films. Tying in every single thread of human experience and existence and allowing us to be a viewer and a passer-by, lucky enough to see it. I wish you all the best of luck at the EE BAFTA Film Awards. I want to thank you Thomas, Sarah, Jasmila, Chloé and Shannon. Thank you so much.
CZ: Thank you so much.
SM: Thank you
JŽ: Nice to meet you everyone!
CZ: Nice to meet you all
SG: Good to meet you all
JŽ: The baby’s popped up!
SG: Aw a baby!
SG: Thank you.
TV: Thank you.
JŽ: Thank you.