Sebastian Godwin’s The Girls and Tom Harper’s Cherries were two of the most memorable shorts presented at last year’s Raindance Festival and deservedly made the short list for the Best UK Short award. They can both be found on the Best of 15th Raindance Shorts DVD. This year’s Raindance Film Festival runs October 1-12 at various venues across London. LISA WILLIAMS caught up with Godwin and Harper to find out what being selected for Raindance last year has meant for them.
A graduate of the Lodz Film School in Poland, Sebastian Godwin is drawn to stories that revolve around the family unit. The Girls, completed last year, is about two pre-teens playing a twisted torture game with their father, while his forthcoming short, The Rain Horse, concerns a dad who encounters a wild horse while on a family trip to Wales. Godwin is currently working on a feature film in which he explores the theme further, this time through a story set during a holiday to Spain. ‘I’m interested in families because they can contain a high level of drama and tension’, he says. ‘The family can often be a very political idea as well – the idea that parents protect children, that the family is a Ã¢â‚¬Å“unitÃ¢â‚¬Â… The family can also be a microcosm of wider society and a good way to explore and challenge certain notions we may have.’
Godwin is particularly interested in the father figure. Notions of patriarchy are placed under scrutiny in his films, often with the fathers being forced to undergo some kind of physical test. In The Girls, the unnamed father is subjected to being blindfolded, smeared in mud, fed with worms and jabbed by a rake. Godwin adapted the script from a short story by Joyce Cary, although the director insists that his version is not as violent as the original: ‘I read the story at school when I was young and it stuck in my mind. It really interested me but I didn’t understand it at the time. In the book, the girls actually strangle the dad but I extended the film so that it is drawn out over 10 minutes and there is more development. It is more playful rather than nasty or violent’.
With an enchanting visual style that moves from steady shots of a fresh autumn garden to a more disorientating, hand-held look as the game escalates, the film is unsettling because of its very domestic setting. Godwin credits the naturalistic feel to the use of different filming styles, which were edited together at the end. This took less planning yet provided a wider choice of shots to choose from for the final version.
As The Girls was one of the highlights of the Raindance Festival shorts last year, it has allowed Godwin to secure better funding for his next project, The Rain Horse, which is part of the Film London and UK Film Council’s Pulse Plus project. The Rain Horse is also an adaptation of a short story, this time by Ted Hughes. While out filming in the rainy Welsh countryside, Godwin reflects that having The Girls shown at Raindance was a big step up for him: ‘Raindance was one of the most helpful things that has happened for my career so far because it was one of the very first showings of the film. We had no idea what the reactions were going to be and everyone at Raindance was incredibly supportive. And the film was nominated for Best Short Film at the festival which meant there were extra screenings and it automatically got more exposure.’
Not resting on his laurels, however, Godwin’s ambition is to make a feature film that would somehow fuse Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park and Michael Haneke’s Funny Games. ‘It would be nice to make a film that used the adventure/crazy fun of something like Jurassic Park but make it more indifferent and cold like Haneke’s film, which says something about cinema itself’.
Though some people insist they are happy with the short film format, Tom Harper admits that making it through to feature-length territory is no bad thing: ‘I think I will always make shorts when I can but you also need to make money. You can sell feature films and get them distributed, so I would like to make more of them’.
Since his short film Cherries was shown at Raindance last year, he has directed The Last Van Helsing television series and has made a start on his first feature film; known under the working title The Scouting Book for Boys, it is due to be shot later this year. It marks a key change in location and subject matter: Cherries was a paranoid but not wholly unbelievable look at the effect of the Iraq war on an inner London school; his earlier short film Cubs was a stark depiction of urban fox hunting filmed in London. The forthcoming feature, on the other hand, is a coming-of-age film set in a caravan park in Norfolk. Harper insists that his reasons for moving out of London were somewhat practical: ‘This script came up and it was set in a caravan park. As there are no caravan parks in London we had to move out’, he says. ‘I shot my short films in London because it was where I knew and where I grew up but I want to start telling bigger stories about different places’.
His interest in politics remains strong. With a social consciousness due in part to having studied theatre and ideology as part of an academic drama degree, he considers that the filmmaker’s role is not to be taken lightly. ‘If you have the opportunity to make a film I think you have a responsibility to tell a story that needs telling. I don’t want to be overly controversial but if I believe something is right for the story, then I’ll do it’.
Having started out as an editor in post-production, Harper only realised his talent for directing after shooting some of his own footage in order to practise editing. Since then he has taught himself although he acknowledges the role film festivals have played in his career so far: ‘With good festivals, you get a platform for your film as well as an audience. With a festival like Raindance, you also get a great networking arena where you can meet other people’.
Harper is now seeking the help of Shane Meadows’s protégé Thomas Turgoose (who plays the lead role in his new film) to find the right actors for the supporting roles: ‘Thomas is helping us with casting but when we ask him what he thinks of people he always says, Ã¢â‚¬Å“I really like themÃ¢â‚¬Â. He’s such a talented young man, which is quite unusual to see. He’s going places!’
The same will no doubt be said of Harper himself.