‘London Calling’ exposes both the strength of creative voices living in the capital, and the necessity for short-film. 2015 saw 20 works that covered topics necessary for discussion but often ignored, exampled shockingly in Toby Fell Holden’s BIFA nominated ‘Balcony’. We talk to a handful of Film London’s latest roster of London-based film-makers about their works.
Toby Fell Holden
In your own words, what is “Balcony” about?
It’s about the way we all project onto the outside world, and how the bigger our own lies, the more out of step we become with our perception of reality.
I couldn’t help but feel like Balcony was a reaction to the Tory Home Secretaries’ ‘Building a stronger Britain on British Values’ ideology. Is there some truth in this?
Not intentionally, I first wrote a draft in 2011, though I understand how “Balcony” could be read that way given the more immediate tensions around immigration and the fear-mongering that’s swept across Europe, particularly with the recent tragedy in Syria. I see the film more as a collection of experiences drawn from growing up as a mixed-race person on an estate that spans a period of time stretching back to the late 80s. Debates about ‘British Values’ were around when my mother’s family arrived in London from India in the early 60s, these ideological arguments circle around every time London receives a new group of immigrants, but the diversity of UK cities seems inherently British, at least, that’s been my experience. I do think that the volatile impact of whipped up xenophobic attitudes does hang over the film, and, in that regard, politicians have a responsibility in how they influence opinion.
Japanese Samurai Sword
Lab Ky Mo
In your own words, what is “Japanese Samurai Sword” about?
Japanese Samurai Sword explores the culture of Vietnamese Triad gang culture in London. Catford-born, 18-year old TIEN has grown up with the legend of his dad chopping a customer in his restaurant with a meat cleaver. And so when Tien is coerced into his older brother’s Triad gang, it seems like a natural fit. However, when he is persuaded to go on his first hit with a Japanese Samurai Sword, Tien begins to doubt his allegiance both to the gang… and to his own Vietnamese culture.
British-Vietnamese characters are rarely represented in British film. How important was it for you to represent this?
I think it is important to tell British-East Asian stories in British film as they are woefully under-rerpresented, as a diaspora, both in film and in the arts in general. And so, I often delve deep into my own upbringing as a British-Born Chinese to come up with stories that, although entertaining, happen also to be original and enlightening. Japanese Samurai Sword, although seemingly quite a fanciful tale, is actually based on a true story – that of my cousin, who in his wayward youth, was drawn into Triad gang culture, and found himself in a very similar position where he was coerced to go on a hit. Watch the film to see what happens to him!
In your own words, what is “Little Soldier” about?
Little Soldier is about the power of a child’s immagination to overcome her reality. The character of Anya is based on some of my own experiences and relationships. I emigrated from Italy when I was 7 years old and came to live with my grandmother in Hackney (and Islington). We lived on several estates in and around Dalston throughout my childhood. I’m one of the few natives of Dalston who still live there so the recent changes have really impacted me, my family and the community we used to know. I have benefited from being raised in a fast growing artistic environment, even though I do feel like an outsider in my own neighbourhood most of the time. When I wrote Little Soldier I had a huge desire to express what the area was like and what council estates really were in my childhood. For me and my producer Carol-Mei Barker, who is originally from Barking, the estate never symbolised poverty, danger and crime. It was about community and a space where you felt safe, where you knew your neighbours and playing out was the norm. The estate was our fortress and we navigated it with confidence and our heads held high.
Little soldier really played games with my moral compass. Tell me a bit about your choice to follow the story through the eyes of a child. What was it that inspired you to make the film from her perspective?)
I wanted to express a child’s resiliance to life’s difficulties with respect, without provoking pity on either her or the mother, to humanise the experience of a negative moment in their lives by showing elements of tenderness and beauty (through the set design by Paulina Rzeszowska and Robbie Ryan’s camera work) I hope the film gives a sense of hope that Anya will survive and thrive through whatever situation she faces.
In your own words, what is “Jacked” about?
The story is about two young car thieves who find audio recordings of a dying man in a car they ‘jack’. Waylen (Turgoose) is determined to bring the car back while Russell (Rothwell) just wants to deliver the car and cash the money. JACKED is about friendship, the day to day routine of petty crime, the horrible effect of asbestos and the different shades of morality.
I also wanted to shed light on the owner of the car who you usually would not think of when you watch a film and see somebody’s car gets stolen. More important, we consider that a petty crime but the impact could be devastated for the owner.
The film poses the question “how much are you willing to put yourself through for money?”. Considering the current political/financial climate in the UK, to what extent do you think the answer to this question is already decided for us in the UK?”
Criminals are not just one dimensional as they are usually portrayed in the media or judged by politicians. They have motives why they do things. Russell looks really bad in the eyes of the audience but with the money from the car he will help his mom, who is a mess and in financial problems. Waylen is a criminal but clearly shows empathy after listening to the tapes.
A terrible political decision like cutting welfare, gentrification or a poor economic climate can be a reason for their crimes. For Russell it’s clearly a financial reason and that makes him a better person in my eyes cause at least he has a valid reason. The story is based on my own personal experiences, and in my case it was not economic but a set of normalities within a large group of youngsters. Stealing was not a big deal, it was fun and you gain a lot of respect among your friends. Respect and power was much more important money.
In your own words, what is “Big Dog” about?
Ha. Good question! Big Dog follows a man called Daniel who’s just been released on probation and set up with a job in a small meatpacking plant. The owner of the factory keeps a fighting dog locked up in the factory yard, and Daniel starts to identify with the animal’s plight – with what you might call more than just human empathy…
The stories narrative plays in and out of various genres. Did you set out from the beginning to make a supernatural/horror?
Well we certainly never set out to make a horror. But our intention was always to take something mythological/supernatural and completely strip it of all sensationalism (the idea actually started out as a fake documentary). We were curious to see if you could take a cinematic cliche and reframe it as sort of a stripped-back social drama. Whether it entirely works is another question altogether! But it was certainly a very interesting experiment.
In your own words, what is “Rainbow Party” about?
Rainbow Party is a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story which deals with the themes of bullying, peer pressure and rape.
The story is about a 14-year-old girl called Sofia who has been sidelined and bullied for as long as she can remember by the popular girls at school. But she has had enough, and decides to fight back and try to fight her way into the popular group of girls. The film follows her journey fro outcast to an insider, and demonstrates just how much she has to sacrifice and give up in order to become popular. It it is a modern story about what it is like to be a teenager today. The film attempts to not hold back or soften any of the harsh realities that today’s teenagers face.
Without giving too much away, by the end of the film you present a rarely seen perspective on the darker side of teenage sexuality. What inspired you to create the story from this angle?
Reality is my biggest inspirations. A part of the story is inspired by what I went through as a teen, and other parts are inspired by things I read about in the news or hear about from society. Rainbow Party brings up the theme of male rape, a topic which I feel is not dealt with enough in todays news, media or even films. I wanted to demonstrate just how easily people can be convinced to do something so fundamentally at odds with their core beliefs. Peer pressure, especially with teenagers, is incredibly powerful and dangerous. And in the film, we see how a once shy and kind girl turns into the ultimate mean girl and betrays her best friends trust just to get accepted into the popular group. I want people to feel angry, shocked and uncomfortable at the end of my films – and I believe Rainbow Party does just that with its surprising end.