Features / Film

BAFTA Film: The Sessions – Quotes from nominated Directors Sarah Gavron, Shannon Murphy, Chloe Zhao, Thomas Vinterberg and Jasmila Žbanić

With the BAFTA Awards just over a week away, and after our shared summaries of the Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer category, and Supporting Actor and Actress nominees so far, it’s now time for some select quotes from the British Academy of Film & Television Arts session with nominees from the Director category!

The Session took place virtually with host Mariayah Kaderbhai, and nominees Sarah Gavron (Rocks), Shannon Murphy (Babyteeth), Thomas Vinterberg (Another Round), Chloe Zhao (Nomadland) and Jasmila Žbanić (Quo Vadis, Aida?) on Thursday!


On working with multiple cameras to allow freedom

The idea of the multi-cameras, we were really building on the shoulders of people who have made this style of film before. I spoke to Shane Meadows producer, and we talked to Ken Loach who was a producer, and we were drawing on those ways filmmakers before have worked with non-actors or first time actors. In fact by the time we got to set all these girls were pretty professional because we’d done workshopping for a whole year, so they were kind of as professional as any actor I’ve worked with in many ways. They were showing up and putting an enormous amount of work in. But we did nevertheless, Hélène Louvart who is this fantastic DoP who’s done seventy feature films, got five children, god knows how she does it, but she was there every day with this brilliant second DoP called Rachel Clark, and they kind of danced around the girls, and we rolled the camera before they even came on set, and then they’d be sitting on set and I’d say ‘do you remember the scene we’re doing?’ and they’d go ‘yeah,’ chatting away, ‘shall we do it now? Shall we get up? How about it?’ and they’d start and the cameras would be rolling for about twenty minutes by now and nothing shot, and we’d do the rehearsal and we’d stop and the creative team, the  writers and associate director Anuradha Henriques would all discuss what’s working and the girls would chime in ‘this doesn’t work at all Sarah, this seems dead,’ so we’d redo it and it was really like live theatre, almost like a forum theatre experience where they were doing their thing and we were intervening and sometimes they were doing it on the floor, sometimes by the window, there was absolutely no continuity at all. I have to hand it to our incredible editor Maya Maffioli who dealt with these 150  hours of totally unwieldy footage that had no shape at all, but we did have this brilliant arc that the writers had created and the girls had poured their love and energy into, so we hoped everyday there was something there and I’d come back and the editor was in a room in my home and we’d stare at these rushes until midnight every night hoping we could find the scenes, but we had such a strong team in a way that they created what was there.

On how Rocks has been received

We began at Toronto which was a real ride because none of the kids had been there and they had never been to a film festival, some of them had never left London so even the journey and the staying in the hotel, the whole thing…It was the loudest festival experience I’ve ever been swept through. That was really fun and I remember Theresa Ikoko saying, because I was so delighted that young people were connecting with it and watching it and saying ‘I’m seeing myself ten feet tall and I’m worthy and other people are interested,’ they were looking round the audience and going ‘someone else is watching my story and some grey old woman in Toronto is interested in me?!’


On receiving the nomination

I’ve got to tell you a story, when I told my parents I’d been nominated for a BAFTA they said ‘who else?’ And when I listed everyone, they went ‘Chloé? We loved her film that was amazing, oh my gosh she’s so cool you’ve got to become her friend, can you write to her and become her friend?’ and I was like, ‘you’ve missed the point of celebrating this moment completely!’

On how you create tone

I think you try—for me with Babyteeth because the tone was such an incredibly unusual… It’s just such a dark, dark comedy at times that I wanted to make sure that every frame represented that in some way. So we would talk about it in the design world and the costuming and the colouring so that even if a scene was quite heavy, such as Milla’s last birthday party, we’d have little nods, a very tongue in cheek reference is the Day of the Dead decorations scattered all over the table in that scene. Just little moments that reflect Rita Kalnejais tone for the film. I wanted to make sure that was in every moment.


On how the actors played drunk in the film without it becoming a caricature

I put a lot of stuff on their plates. They had to be very tender, very fun. A lot of scenes where they have to find or catch fish and scenes where they cry or fight with their families, then they have to be drunk and dance. I thought I need to get some of this out of the way so it’s not a problem when we’re on set and what we did was a boot camp, booze boot camp where they filmed each other at different levels of intoxication teaching the students, which then was each other, and it was great fun but a lot of hard work. Everyone here with actors knows that it’s not until a certain level a lot of acting is about what you hide, what you don’t show. It’s the same with getting drunk, you’re pretending that you’re sober, buttoning up and sitting straight and measuring your movements, your sentences are slowed down not to give away any flaws in the way you’re speaking. But above 1.0, it becomes very, or easily become ridiculous and over-acted. What we had to do was watch a lot of videos of drunk Russians and just try it over and over again and make sure it worked.

On Another Rounds theatrical release in Denmark

Yeah, we’ve been very lucky in many ways with this movie. We finished, we had final mix when the pandemic broke out but the cinemas were still open there, there was a window there in which I sold more tickets than I’ve ever sold before. On that regard we were very lucky with this film and I also felt that it had a sort of extra impact on this movie because you know it’s a film trying to be life-affirming to some extent, celebratory of life. When people live in confinement with death and bankruptcies around them, they might like seeing this and seeing some guys sharing a bottle, which seems strangely forbidden to do now, so yeah.


On the research carried out for Aida’s character

I did talk to many people. For me very helpful was a book Under the UN Flag by Hasan Nuhanović, a man who was a translator and had to translate to his family ‘now you have to leave the UN base,’ knowing they will be killed. This you know, hoping not but also knowing how dangerous it was to leave. I started with that experience and he helped me a lot with all these details of life in the UN base in those days. Then I thought, you know, I wanted to have a woman as a character and to show it from that perspective so I talked to a lot of women who were in the base and later were searching for their kids in mass graves.

On the use of colour to communicate mood

Eleventh July was a very hot day in ’95 when this happened and we wanted, my camerawoman Christine Meyer and me wanted to explore that genocide was happening on a beautiful summer day in Europe in ’95 and it was possible after we all said never again. This is what we wanted to stress out, a lot of colours in the costume, a lot of almost beach atmosphere outside, and inside we were working with a little bit of a warm feeling, like if you are inside of a UN base people felt more secure and they were in a different mood than people outside of the fence. For the second part of the film of course I wanted to contrast it completely so I said it will be snow and her emotions are frozen, there is nothing there anymore from what was in her previous life.


On what led her to Frances McDormand

She came to me actually with the book. She read the book with her producing partner and she saw the writer and thought maybe this is an interesting director. She came to me with it and I knew no one else could do it except her.

On Frances McDormand adapting to everyone around her

When I was listening to everyone I definitely felt like it would be amazing if we got to have rehearsals, imagine how much I could learn from Frances McDormand in a rehearsal setting, you know? But we didn’t do any rehearsal and I think she probably would have loved to be able to explore more in those settings. We were just surviving, you know, trying to pull the film together so I was out there and yeah because the non-professional actors were going to show up and do their thing and they’re going to go off script, Fran has to play a version of herself as well. She definitely let go and wouldn’t know in many scenes where her character is, the way she would if she’s doing Macbeth. So she really had to let go, not just of comfort as an actress, but some of the security. What she’s so brilliant at, she has to kind of let it go and be very vulnerable in that way, so I really, really respect her for doing that.

BAFTA Film: The Sessions took place online between Monday 22 March and Thursday 1 April

Recordings of BAFTA Film: The Sessions 2021 are available on BAFTA Guru, BAFTA’s online learning channel www.bafta.org/guru and www.youtube.com/baftaguru

The EE BAFTA Film Awards will take place over a weekend of celebration on April 10 and 11 on the BBC.

Credit/Quotes: BAFTA


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