Even before the screening began, there was a buzz in the air. One of the shorts being shown tonight, Mars, had already created a stir. As the audience were waiting for the screening to begin, I overheard two teenagers chatting about it animatedly with their parents. It was a pleasure to hear those teenagers so enthused by the film, and their excitement was indicative of a wonderful event to come. Sophie Black (director of A Different Place) and Aella Jordan-Edge (writer and director of Misnomer) were led by host Niamh Brook’s considered questions, providing a thought-provoking evening. Although the room was not quite full, the engaged and passionate audience made it feel much busier, noisy chatter before the screenings giving way to rapt attention and applause, and then insightful questions when the Q&A was opened up to the floor.
There were definite similarities between the two film-maker’s experiences. Both projects were in development for a similar amount of time – 1.5 years development and research for A Different Place, leading to nearly 2 full years working on the project and nearly 2 years for Jordan-Edge to polish her first draft into a final script. The importance of creating a safe space for their actors and allowing them to bring their own approaches to the characters was also highlighted by both directors, with the sets being closed for at least part of the shoot for both films. As those who have seen the finished shorts can attest, this approach paid off with brilliant and sensitive performances. They also both spoke of the draw of bringing stories that they had not seen represented in cinema at large to the screen, and of the influence of Portrait of a Lady on Fire on their films.
Black talked about the challenges of working with a crew she had not previously worked with due to the impact of the production length and COVID restrictions, as well as the learning curve as a director working with an intimacy co-ordinator, in addition to the importance of featuring older women in such roles – as she said, “[the] shot of putting on spanx most important shot I’ve ever filmed”.
Jordan-Edge also gave some fascinating insights into her directorial choices, explaining how with both handheld camera shots and framing, they “tried to just go really raw” and that the contemporary, DIY feeling the soundtrack gave “just felt right”. She explained that her film was ultimately about communication and that if the audience took anything away it should be to communicate, even when it is hard. She also hoped that it would open up wider experiences for those who eventually see the film.
When asked about any upcoming projects, both directors were eager to tell further diverse stories – Jordan-Edge is currently studying for an MA in Directing Fiction, with an aim to enter the industry fully and produce a feature, whilst Black has an aim of making a feature film as well, with two further shorts being written and directing an episode of an unnamed fantasy TV show already in the works.
There were many more compelling insights provided during the course of the evening, far more than I have space to go into here – it was an enlightening and highly enjoyable evening, and I would recommend looking into both directors’ work and further Q&A sessions held at the festival. As member of the audience put it so eloquently, it was “fabulous to see queer stories that feel really authentic and are positive.”
Review by Margot Tancred