Filmmaker Spotlight Interview: Interview with Yvette Farmer
Updated: Jul 6, 2020
Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from?
I’m a British-Irish Filmmaker, raised in the same part of England as the seaside town featured in X Anniversary. I have happy memories of visiting Margate’s ‘Dreamland’ amusement park (glimpsed in the background of the first scene) every summer as a child and young teen. My favourite memory of Dreamland is of my girlfriends and I crying with laughter at the mysterious, mummified mermaid exhibit we paid extra to see. The ‘mermaid’ had a memorable fish- toothy smile on its mummified monkey’s face. A grin framed by a visibly glued cascade of white human hair, in need of a good brush. We were already more streetwise than its original Victorian audience.
Back to the near present. I had been living in London for over a decade, self- funding short films and making narrative music videos but like many artists and makers, I got slowly priced out of the city (New Yorkers can relate). I kept hearing of creative friends migrating to Margate and the town stood out to me too with its sea-nic views and gorgeous Georgian & Victorian architecture you can affordably rent or buy your way into. Plus the town’s accessibility to London meant I wouldn’t lose my link to the city. So, I landed with the latest wave of artists to continue making work.
What inspired this story?
A few elements came together to give X Anniversary its originality; 1) I was playing with a short script featuring streams of consciousness by characters who were different kinds of exes, experiencing different kinds of losses. I had been processing losing my London life and beginning again somewhere new, so became interested in characters at the end or beginning of a stage of their lives.
2) When deciding where to set the film, I thought of Margate only after dismissing both London and a studio-based, expressionist idea as too expensive. Margate had been in decline for decades, with only it’s immigrant population, unemployment and crime rates ever mentioned in the media. The town had been used as a bleak backdrop location in numerous features but I had never seen its cinematic beauty captured and that frustrated me. Margate is a beautiful place and ‘there’s a crack in everything’, right? (thanks Leonard) It was important to me my regular cinematographer, Annette Remler, & I shoot cinematically. John Huston’s gritty ‘Fat City’ (1972) was my reference for its intimate tone and directly inspired the photography’s grainy texture. Eagle-eyed audience might notice the first and last shots are long shots inspired by the Western genre. They serve as epic bookends to X Anniversary.
3) I wanted to work with Northern-English character actress Keeley Forsyth again. Keeley has many feature and TV credits but is also an incredible musician, just give her album ‘Debris’ a listen. I had had a creatively fulfilling experience working with Keeley on a music video and was looking for a chance to work together again on a drama. Originally, I planned to cast four different actors for the four roles but while chatting to Keeley one day about her acting process, she said ‘I never think about a character’s gender when I work on a role’. I found this inspiring as all being equal, gender, sexuality and race should be tiny human details, they tell us nothing about a person’s character. Although in reality, they do tell us something of a person’s experience living in our society. Keeley had freed herself of being constrained by her character’s assigned gender in a script, in defiance of our society’s emphasis on binary gender roles. While I was waiting for both Keeley and Annette to become available to shoot X Anniversary, I was trying to decide which role to give to Keeley and realised she’s one of those rare actors who could play any role, so I floated the idea of her playing all four characters and allowed her to decide each character’s gender expression. Happily, Keeley accepted the challenge of playing four roles in the same film.
This all happened in conjunction with 4) me also starting to direct theatre and my excitement inspired me to make the streams of consciousness in my script four successive monologues. I absolutely wanted the film to be cinematic and have natural performances but I also wanted to experiment and let theatricality seep in as the film progressed.
How do you approach storytelling?
Increasingly, I’ve let my intuition guide me as I write and direct. This keeps me out of my own way and able to make the right decisions for the script or film. I want to make films I’ve never seen but desperately want to see – that’s my guiding light. I’m passionate about stories from people we don’t often hear from in mainstream culture. I’ve always been drawn to people who dare to think and live differently. The braver choices and bigger risks they take suggest they’re on planet earth to inspire. I naturally find myself building stories around them - they’re my kind of heroes.
What impact do you hope this film will have?
I hope the audience feel like they’ve walked in my characters’ shoes. If they feel empathy for the characters, or for a person in their lives a character reminds them of, or even for themselves if a line of dialogue hits home.. that’s real success to me.
When saw British director Nic Roeg’s masterpiece ‘Don’t Look Now’ (1973) I felt it gave me permission to be a filmmaker, that there was a place for the cinematic ideas I had. I’ve continued to admire films that depict dazzlingly poetic, visceral realities. Films that make you consider others viewpoints, question what you accept and vividly stay with you. That’s what I’m aiming to achieve in the films I make.
Were there any surprising or meaningful experiences while making the film you want to share?
While filming X Anniversary I was moved by how supportive and respectful the people of Margate were to us. When curious locals asked Keeley or the crew what the film was about, they’d always respond ‘yeah, they sound like types you’d find in town’. I took that as a thumbs up on the film’s authenticity. There’s also a local joke in the first scene only the Margate Film Festival audience have understood and laughed at so far. It was such a good pay off.
Kent Film Authority allow filmmakers to film in the streets of Margate and along the beaches for free because they’re actively encouraging filming in the area! That was a pleasant surprise which helped my modest budget work as I self- funded the film (i.e. put it on my credit card).
We filmed X Anniversary in December with just eight hours of daylight to shoot four external locations, so we had to work fast and weather-watch while saying prayers to the film gods. We were lucky until it started raining during the last scene by the beach but the rain stayed light, so we got what we needed. Good local meals together kept up the camaraderie.
What did you learn while making it?
I learned to fully trust my intuition on this film. X Anniversary was the first film where I put this into practice. It didn’t inhibit exploration, it just ensured I kept making the right calls for the film, throughout the process. My motto is ‘the film is Queen’, it comes before everything and everyone else and it must be protected.
What do you hope the audience takes away from the film?
I hope viewers are moved by X Anniversary and feel they spent their 14mins wisely because you can’t refund time. If the film stays with just one person, I’ll be ecstatic. I’ve noticed different character stories resonate with different people, depending on their life experiences. That’s really interesting. A few people have told me they think the film is beautiful and it makes me happy for Margate to finally be associated with beauty. What are you working on next?
I’m writing, working on an original drama TV pilot about a girl gang and developing a supernatural-psychological feature film idea. Watch this space.
Where can we follow your work?
Thank you for making X Anniversary your ‘Short of the Week’, I’m honored.