FILMMAKER INTERVIEW WITH SARAH CLIFT - "true collaboration is down to the power of the idea"
It is not often you come across a British director making a film in Mexico. How did you find the process of shooting there compared to filming in Britain?
This is my first film as a director, however I’ve shot all around the world as an advertising creative director so I have some experience to make the comparison. I have always found shooting in both the UK and Mexico of exceptionally high quality. Many major movies and HBO series are shot continuously in Mexico, so the pool of talent is incredibly rich. It’s also 3 hours from LA so you have a lot of access to equipment, crew and casting should you want to mix things up a little, which has happened on advertising jobs I’ve done there in the past. But for my debut short film, I was keen to use local crew only as I really needed to have the essence of Mexican family life, particularly when I do not originate from there. All of the crew I worked with were used to working on high-end jobs, so for my first solo directing experience I was in very good hands.
Now, for my next short film I’m looking to shoot in the UK, and I’m very interested in working in a local capacity once again, perhaps in my native Yorkshire.
You went very cinematic in your approach to making the La Madre Buena, do you feel that this direction brings the attention back to the mother rather than just making a joke of Donald Trump?
My cinematic approach is mainly due to the fact that I love high-end visuals whilst building imagery with real feeling. I studied graphic design for a time when I was younger and have a keen eye for building a picture with composition and cinematic framing, and the use of lenses and colour palettes are all very important to me. The main point is that I did not want the film to feel cheap, or cheapen Mexico any more than the election was doing so. I wanted people to see the real beauty of the country that I see when I am there.
The story is actually the mothers, The Good Mother, and she has a quietly emotive one to tell. So, yes, the cinematic approach helps heighten this. It was also very important for me to tell a strong woman’s story, particularly as this was paralleling with the election campaign.
The Donald Trump piñata on the other hand is a rather wonderful thing, as the actual object itself writes its own ending - piñata are supposed to be bashed to pieces with a stick at a party. I played the film out as straight as possible whilst dialing up the hyper-reality a notch. This was in order to heighten the satirical humor.
Have you had any backlash from Trump fanatics?
No actually, not really. However, this may mean the film has not been seen by many of them as an audience, which is a shame, or they are not commenting. It wouldn’t be a bad thing at all for the film to find itself that audience and see the reaction. I am very open to feedback, thoughts and opinions.
Now that the result has been decided I’ve found the audience is really gathering pace with this film, as I think people are looking for ways to absorb and express their feelings. What’s fascinating about this film is that it has taken many different turns all the way through production and now viewing, due to the turns in the election campaign. It really has been quite a unique experience.
You come from an advertising background. What was the transition like to writing and directing an independent film?
I quit working as a full time creative director in advertising last year, July 2015. During the 18 years working in that role and with my art school and graphics background I have consolidated a number of skills, and I relied heavily upon these during the process of making the short film. Creative directing also has given me the skills I needed to run a team, give the space for the creative heads to develop their own ideas, and to be tough on myself and the film to make sure I got the very best of what I had available to me at the time.
There is one majorly important difference however; I was completely in charge of all the decision-making. And it was amazing. When you work in advertising it can be quite a complicated thing as there are many people and business issues to factor into the equation. This is a skill in itself and often not recognized outside of the industry. The job of an advertising director is to ensure the film is not only their vision, but comes out as intact as possible the other end.
On the short film for the first time I could stay true to MY vision and keep going and going and going... and it felt wonderful. I was able to build visuals, layer in as many ideas as I wanted to, and tell a story close to my heart.
With Britain leaving the EU and America now having a leader that could potentially alienate a lot of international communities, how do you see the future of international collaboration faring?
I have thought a lot about this topic as I am not only a UK resident and an English woman, but my fiancé is Mexican and based in Mexico City. I am in the unusual position where both elections affect me in different ways.
When we were shooting the film in Mexico I spent a lot of time discussing how difficult political situations can affect your country. Mexico and Argentina are two places that have seen a lot of ups and downs in their politics, and so it was interesting to hear how the lives of the production crew had been affected. People told me how in times of unrest and uncertainty their countries were the most creative. That it gave strength and momentum for voices to be expressed in incredibly creative ways.
I thought about this for a long time, and as the election results came in this year for both the UK and the USA this thinking became very clear to me. Never before have I felt so strong about pushing forward on the subjects that matter so deeply to me – better portraits of strong women, giving a positive and equal vision to minorities, and wanting to highlight the divide the huge gap in my country between the wealthy and the poor in a hope to create a foundation to build a bridge between the two.
My fiancé, Jorge Aguilera, wrote something the other day in reaction to the US election result to a UK audience, which really inspired me (he has a production company in Mexico, Madrefoca, and the service arm allows people to come and shoot on location there). He said, ‘we must start to work together and build bridges, not walls’. And this is right. We cannot let the recent political campaigning continue to build higher walls between us than they already have. We must seek out the people willing to build bridges with each other all around the world and focus on this right now. And what better way to do it than through creativity?
This project really taught me that true collaboration is down to the power of the idea. If people believe in an idea and the topic is strong enough, and if it needs to enter the cultural vernacular, we will come together and find a way. So many great people believed in my idea, and we made a piece of film we are all incredibly proud of. I worked with people from Mexico, Spain, Argentina, Uruguay, Australia, UK, USA and France to make this film happen, and I hope it is an inspiring example to show how we can unite together and overcome whatever comes our way.
Have any opportunities come as a result from the release of the film?
The film has had an amazing response from people, press and competitions all across the world. It has given me the ambition, excitement and confidence to go out there and know I can tackle anything I want to. And as a woman entering the film industry right now, that is the biggest opportunity I can give myself.
Thanks to Sarah to speaking to us and we look forward to helping her get the film out there further on the festival circuit. Enjoy the film...