First time feature director Joanna Hogg talks about her critically acclaimed film ‘Unrelated’, now showing exclusively at the Lighthouse cinema
Winner of the Fipresci award at the 2007 London Film Festival, Joanna Hogg’s ‘Unrelated’ comes to the Light House Cinema this weekend. The low budget drama focuses on the life of Anna (Kathryn Worth), a 40-something woman undergoing a mid-life crisis while holidaying with friends in an Italian villa. Hogg, a former photographer and TV director, makes her feature debut at th e age of 40 with ‘Unrelated’ a project she describes as deeply personal. Here, Movies.ie chat to the writer/director about the film Screen International call “refreshing and unusual”
Q: Just looking through your biography, there are many parallels between your life and the film’s main character Anna; would you describe this film as autobiographical?
A: It’s not autobiographical. I’m not depicting moments from my life per se. It doesn’t break down into something chronological. I’d describe it more as something personal to me. These are sentiments and ideas that are personal to me. The theme of someone, who is of a certain age and who hasn’t had children, is something I relate to. In fact that was the initial impetus for doing the film – I was feeling something very strongly at a point in my life and I wanted to express that within the medium of film. But then, because of the way a film develops, it becomes a little more removed from yourself. So by the time you are casting the characters and then even beyond that, when you’re shooting, I definitely had more of a distance, which can be a useful mechanism because it can be difficult to muddle through such a personal experience.
Q: You initially started out in photography before moving on to television and now film. Why did decide to wait till your 40s to move into film?
A: It just happened that way. One interest followed another and photography is something I loved when I left school. Then that became a little bit limiting for what I wanted to express so I naturally found another medium for what I wanted to do. After I moved out of photography, my ambition was always to go into feature films; it wasn’t to go into television. That happened for other reasons and while I was doing television I was developing films that didn’t come to fruition – either I didn’t have the courage of my convictions to follow through with some of my ideas or they weren’t ready to materialise. I probably would have liked to have started earlier in life but that’s the wonderful thing about film: there is no age limit on it.
Q: The film is shot entirely on location in Tuscany. Why did you decide to shoot there?
A: The idea actually came to me ithere, where we filmed. It was the first element really – the first part of the puzzle of making the film. There was no question of making it anywhere else – that was where that story happened. I’d been spending quiet a bit of time there. In fact, I actually wrote some of the story there so it totally grew out of the texture, the light and the essence of the place.
Q: The film has been highly praised for being an atypical British picture. If not British cinema, where do youlook for influences?
A: I actually tried to avoid seeing too many other films when I was writing it. I wanted to find my own way of telling the story without direct influence. In terms of directors – I ‘m influenced by world cinema – I’m a big fan of Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Nuri Bilge Ceylan and Roberto Rossellini. One film I remember watching before making ‘Unrelated’ was Rossellini’s ‘Viaggo in Italia’. I was also influenced by other mediums outside of film- literary ones such as Thomas Mann’s ‘Death in Venice and L.P. Hartley’s ‘The Go Between’.
Q: You cast many non-professional characters in the film including the lead role Anna. What was your thought process there?
A: I wanted new faces. I didn’t want anybody watching the film to identify these people with other films they’d seen. I also didn’t want to see performances from either the non-actors or the actors I cast- I wanted everything to be very natural.
Q: Many people will know you for directing the spin-off Eastender’s episode ‘Dot’s Story’. What was your experience working on that?
A: It was a really positive experience and probably the closest thing I’d done to making a film to date because the other television was longer running series. The Dot story felt like an entity on its own. Ok it’s very far removed from what I’ve then created myself but I did enjoy the process and I enjoyed working with June Brown.
Q: So what’s next- will you be returning to television?
A:Never say never, but I’m not planning on going back into television. I’m in the process of writing my follow up feature. It hasn’t got a title yet but it’s not completely dissimilar to ‘Unrelated’. Another woman in her forties, who is married with no children, but this time I’m interested in the effect it has on her immediate family: the mother who will not be the grandmother etc.
Q: With the critical acclaim of ‘Unrelated’, will you be upping the budget for the next project?
A: I like the idea of working on smaller projects. A smaller crew and smaller budget means more control. We’ll see if we can hang on to that, but yeah, I’ve no ambitions to go big budget!
‘Unrelated’ is in selected Irish cinemas from Friday, September 19th.