Cheap Cuts is the UK’s only short form documentary film festival (17 to 20 MAY 2018). We went to the first night screening – BEST OF BRITISH at Hackney Attic – and caught up with filmmaker Irene Carter afterwards for a chat about her film, LOVE THY NEIGHBOUR. Here’s our interview.
We chatted with director Irene Carter about her 2017 film, LOVE THY NEIGHBOUR after its London premiere. It features Mark – a devout Christian, proud father of three sons and anxious Islamophobe – who lives in Great Yarmouth. What started out as a Brexit piece became something much more challenging – and illuminating – about the state of our divided nation. Here’s what we discussed.
How did your film come about?
I decided I wanted to make a film in the wake of the Brexit referendum so I went to Great Yarmouth because it was a town very highly in favour of Leave. While I was there I met a few people… I went to a church, I went to a mosque, I went to Yarmouth council to meet the UKIP people there. I met this guy Mark through a church and he really struck me as a character who was very interesting, very compelling.
My first interview with him, he looked straight down the camera and I said “you don’t have to look in the camera” and he said “no, I want to”. Oh wow, this guy’s got some balls! And we really got on even though we had very different political views. He was very pro UKIP and has lots of far right views but he also had an interesting personal story. He’d come to Christianity late in his life, and it had transformed him and I found that really interesting.
Watching the film, it’s very clear how much emphasis he puts on his faith as having saved him – it’s also a source of his anger and some thinking that much of the audience seemed to disagree with – but it is this sense of faith having saved him: from gambling, from drink and drug addiction. You treat him sensitively throughout the film. How did that unfold in both filming and editing?
I wanted to be as fair as possible. I’m very aware that there’s lots of media at the moment making films where its a kind of “Brexit Zoo” where it’s all “look at these mad people with their mad views”. I wanted to focus on him because I thought he was a very complicated character. I was considering doing a few different characters but I thought no, this is always going to come across as a sort of generalisation but actually he’s more complicated than that.
I was also really struck in the wake of Brexit that a lot of people like myself who voted Remain were very hostile, vicious and vitriolic towards people who voted Leave, which seemed like it was very unfair and created this divide in Britain that I was trying hard to fight against. I wanted the film to be a fair portrayal – as much as possible – of someone who’s got some quite extreme views but is not necessarily stupid and is not a bad person. I really wanted that to come across.
There seem to be three things that he’s really committed to in the film: his faith, his family and Great Yarmouth itself – although he hasn’t been there recently because he doesn’t like what it’s become. How did you find the balance of focus on those three areas rather than just his views?
I made the film as part of an MA course and I had a mentor who is a filmmaker called Simon Chambers. I really love his films. He does a lot of films with the Bangladeshi community in East London, he’s been making films with them for years and years. He’s made films about arranged marriages and forced marriages as well. Something we might find in our culture a bit wrong but he does it in a very delicate way that I was really influenced by when I was making the film.
I started off by being interested in [Mark’s] politics and his views of Great Yarmouth but it was my mentor Simon who said his faith was really interesting, his family was really interesting. He’s a single father, raising these three boys by himself and many people who didn’t get to know him would think the worst of him. Actually, only by showing his whole picture can you get a sense that things are actually more complicated than the mainstream media would have us believe.
There’s brief moment in the film where you appear. Was that important?
Definitely. When making a film about someone there’s always a big imbalance of power. You can’t get away from that. I would never suggest that I managed to create a balance because it’s not possible when you’re making a film. You’re always the one who is in control and you’ve got the power. But there are small things you can do. So, having my voice in the film is very important so people know this is my opinion, this is my view. This isn’t some objective truth. That was really important as was putting myself in the film: to reinforce that I’m just a person, not the authority.
The audience asked questions about whether Mark had seen the film [which he has], but I was also interested to see if Della had seen the film, the Christian to Muslim convert that you interview at the Mosque. Her’s is a different voice in the film. Has she seen it and what did she make of it?
She has seen it and there were some things that I wasn’t expecting. She actually recognised Mark when she saw the film and she felt a bit uncomfortable. For me it shed light on some of the ethical issues that you don’t always appreciate. You go in and you make this film, and then you leave. You’ve affected – if not damaged – a community. So you have to be very careful I think when you go in.
Overall, she did really like the film, she thought it was really funny, but that was interesting. She said “I’m not sure I would have done it if I had known it was him who was in it.” That’s something I’m going to have to take forward in my filmmaking career, the consideration of those issues.
So, what is next?
You put all of this work into a film and then it’s done and you say “I never want to make a film again, it’s so hard!”. I work in the media production department of a company and we are organising a festival, How The Light Gets In. I’m spending a lot of time doing that. After that’s finished I’d really like to work for an independent production company. That’s my dream.
… and we were done.
HUNGRY FOR MORE?
- Head to Cheap Cuts for the full programme and box office/venue links. The festival runs from 17 to 20 MAY 2018 at Hackney Attic and Rio Cinema.
- You can read the first part of our BEST OF BRITISH writeup here.
- You can read our earlier RADIANT CIRCUS interview with Cheap Cuts directors Vera Hems Anderson and Natalia Garay Ceron here.
- Follow the action on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter & Instagram.
- From the team behind Cheap Cuts, Last Frame is a new project that showcases feature and short films shining a light on social issues, underrepresented communities and also festival winners and audience favourites in Walthamstow.
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Featured image: LOVE THY NEIGHBOUR (2017).