Alex Taylor, director of SPACESHIP, on filling black holes

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Alex Taylor is a person after my own heart. No, he isn’t a female director, and therefore not my usual stock of interviewee. But he made me feel comfortable and energised with his excellent film SPACESHIP, which is out this Friday 19th. There was no male gaze to speak of at play – just a bunch of dream-like spontaneity, and images so reminiscent of dreams themselves.

I talked to A. Taylor about all this magic and the mystery of growing up, and he shone some beautiful light on the subject of ‘youth today.’ (That sounds like a subject heading in a government meeting in the 1960s).

Me: I have a very important question for you. What do you relate more to: a unicorn, an alien, a zombie or a human?

AT: I think an alien. I have always felt like an outsider; I wasn’t into football, or particularly clever. I was crap at everything. Only good at daydreaming. So I always felt like an alien on earth.

Me: Interesting! I feel more like a unicorn….

SPACESHIP is playful, magical and youthful. But it also has a melancholic, realist tinge interspersed with the surrealism. Would you say that’s an accurate way to describe/represent the teenage experience?

AT: I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. I hadn’t thought about it like that before but it’s exactly that. As a child you don’t really worry about anything. You’re just worried about when your next playtime is going to be. You do hit that age – the kevin-the-teenager age – where you go ‘oh shit!’ Life isn’t as simple as I thought it was. There’s girls; there’s relationships; there’s boys; there’s your sexuality; your identity; are you popular at school… No eight year old worries about if they’re cool or not, do they? Not if they’re normal…there are some weirdos out there.

Indeed.

So that’s why there are these melancholic moments with the playfulness. It’s a confusing mix.

Can you describe the journey you undertook into the making of SPACESHIP?

Well, I was working as a musician. The directors I was doing music for weren’t really getting anywhere in terms of making their first feature so I just thought I’d do it myself. I called up Hackney council and asked if they had a fund for first features and they said ‘yep.’ The told me to submit my idea, so I wrote a five page script, sent it in and got funding. I didn’t know anything about the film industry – I didn’t know what a film festival was. I’d heard of Cannes and that was it. I didn’t know anything about the film industry and was just getting into it, really.

“I get very inspired by young people because they are open-minded.”

And how did you become interested in the subject of young people?

I guess I’m still trying to cling on to my youth! I play the electric guitar, you know, I have synths. I have toys. I’ve actually got three guitars at home – I’ve got a baby but I’ve still got the guitars. I was probably trying to explore issues that I hadn’t resolved. Film is a chance to explore what you’re curious about. And also I get very inspired by young people because they are open-minded, whereas adults tend to be closed-minded. You think it’s your responsibility to behave rigidly – but who’s there to tell you what being an adult is?

Does Spaceship address politics and young people? I as a young person don’t feel I have much of a place in politics because of the rigidity of the system. And the freeness that the characters in SPACESHIP display is something that shouldn’t be ignored in important decision making. But it isn’t valued.

I would agree. It’s liberal in its thinking and its inclusive and diverging from the norm, accepting differences between us. So in that way, yes, it can be seen as political, but I think politics is in such a weird place at the moment. It just doesn’t make sense to anyone.

No one is speaking our language.

There’s no unicorn party!

It would be great if young people could form their own political party, because political parties just seem to be bodies that assume different identities as and when they feel like it nowadays. None of the outcomes have ever gone my way when I’ve voted – the last two elections, the referendum…

“What you realise as a teenager, is there’s a vacuum out there, and you go into it, you fill it, and you be who you want to be.”

And that’s kind of why I feel so positive about the film. It has so much energy that it makes you feel hopeful about the future. And then the darker tones of the film to me seem to say ‘how do you reconcile that energy with the structures of the adult world? Where does it fit in?’

I think what you’re picking up on, and what you realise as a teenager, is there’s a vacuum out there, and you go into it, you fill it, and you be who you want to be. That’s what life is. You can fall by the wayside, or run out of energy, and life could be difficult. You can find support in your friends around you and gather strength from them. I think especially when you’re a teenager, you really know this. You know that life can be good or bad but you’ve got to put energy into it, and you’ve got to engage with it. Whereas adults kind of just fall into this routine of getting a job, and spend all day on Facebook anyway, then they have a family and get married, then they have all these other things to worry about like pensions and mortgages and of course you may need some of these things but it becomes their only reality…

The women in the film are amazing. I felt like the film had a female-heavy energy and there wasn’t a male gaze present.

I’m glad you said that because I hate the male gaze. I think it’s really annoying. You see it a lot in films that pretend to be feminist: ‘here’s a woman in the lead role!’ However, that lead role is Naked Psycho Killer. You can’t just put a woman in your film and call it feminist because you’re still a man looking at her in a certain way. I tried to not think about men and women and just think about people, and I think that’s what young people are better at doing, just being asexual, or sexual but undefined, somewhere along that scale but moving.

A sliding scale. I would describe it as a queer film because of that.

Yeah, you can think of it like that. But it’s a little bit like putting ethnic minorities into a film and calling it an ethnic minority film. Again, people are just people. That’s the way we should look at it, and gender and sexuality shouldn’t ever be tagged on your shoulder. But definitely people from the LGBTQ+ film scene have really got into the film and lots of people on the film where somewhere on that scale, too.

We got US Distribution from Breaking Glass pictures, who are predominantly LGBT+.

So what’s next for you now?

I’ve got an idea, and the BFI are getting behind it, so next stage is script. It’s going to be more in the adult world, but still about identity and personality and how it can be a struggle to keep yourself you. But #can’tsaytoomuch.

#Ifeelyou.

SPACESHIP will be released in selected UK cinemas on Friday the 19th of May.

TEENAGE GIRLS, ALIENS AND UNICORNS: THE WEIRD AND THE WONDERFUL IN ALEX TAYLOR’ S SPACESHIP.

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Forget about tales they tell you in The Virgin Suicides, Sixteen Candles, Dazed and Confused and the rest of the over-embellished, over-stylised teenage flicks. Yes, we’ve all been teenagers, and we can all agree than none of the situations, love stories or formulaic relationships are not even remotely close to what is actually feels to come to the age of female adolescence.

Being a teenage girl, your body is undergoing transformations beyond your control, any feasible connection and mutual understanding with your parents has vanished somewhere at the age of 14, and the pertaining feeling of alienation and otherwordliness becomes your status quo.

‘I am bored of kissing humans’ – such is an opening phrase of Alex Taylor’s Spaceship a unique example of one of the most peculiar and organic stories about the cryptic and confusing lives of modern youth. Spaceship has combined the most remarkable examples of how teenage girls attempt to carve out a certain niche for themselves, but fail to adhere to the mundanity of everyday.

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But this failure is nothing but beautiful – Alex Taylor has created his own special microcosm inhabited by cyber goths with braces, girls with blue hair, their vampire boyfriends, punks and misfits. They are happy who they are and are completely okay with not fitting in – but who needs to fit in when a aliens, vampires and unicorns are much more interesting companions for life? Spaceship is a film where genuinity and purity of its female characters meets the beauty of improvisation, creating a documentary-like lovesong to teenage innocence.

 The film’s core is located on the intersection of the stories of its three female protagonists – Lucidia, Tegan and Alice. Lucidia, not fully recovering from an early demise of her mother, is implied to be abducted by a supernatural force (or as what her friends choose to believe in). She lives with her reticent and introverted Finnish father, whose stereotypical northern European coldness creates a barrier between him and his daughter, who finds a retreat in experimenting with her visual style.

You can say with complete confidence that Alice has not descended from this world. A beautiful, blue-haired fairy, she centres the most extraordinary energy around her in the film, gifting everyone with a slice of her magic. She walks her boyfriend on a leash in the middle of the day, and finds closer affinity to the mystical creatures rather than people. Whereas Tegan is the most confused and timid of the group, who is hit with the burdens of the outlandish teenage life the most. The film is shown as her long path to finding herself, where she also becomes very close to Lucida’s dad Gabriel, who she feels an unprecedented, sometimes even sexual connection with.

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No one is really shocked as when Lucidia suddenly disappears, as the kids of this Surrey suburb have had strong believes that most of them have been abducted by aliens at some point in their lives. Moreover, Lucidia’s friends are genuinely happy and even slightly envious of her, because by being somewhere else, far away from this world she has finally found harmony with herself and finally let go of her grief.

I have never seen such an enthralling array of colourful and confused characters. They all have isolated themselves from any traps of real world, but are happy and confident talking about dreams being chased by vampires in the forest and how much they want to be unicorns instead of people. Spaceship is made for all of those who never felt like they belong (and for those who still continue to do so), because teenager are gentle creatures who are forever offbeat.

Trying to deconstruct and understand what on earth is happening in this wonderfully bizarre film, Girls on Film speak to Lara Peake (Tegan) – read as we talk adolescence, social media and, of course, aliens.

Thank you so much for finding time to speak to us! We can all agree that Spaceship is very, very weird – are you excited about it finally being out next week?

Yeah, it’s going to be interesting to see how it’s perceived off everyone. It’s kind of got a a mixed audience – you’ve got the adults who think of it as a bit nostalgic, because it reminds them of their childhood and wanting to escape and find who they are. And it is also really relatable to a lot of my friends who’ve seen it – they really like the music, the look of it, the costumes. I really want to see how it’s picked up!

So how’s this journey been for you – being casted, to filming, post-production, festival circuit and now, finally – it being out in the UK cinemas? Has anything changed for you since then?

I guess when I was cast I was at college and living teenage life. I was just planning on carrying on with A Levels but I knew that I always wanted to act. So I guess project like Spaceship was a great thing to work on as an early thing because Alex, the director, was happy to cast us, just normal teenagers, rather than go down a very traditional acting route. He was very eager to find people and learn from them- he would always talk to you, find out stories – he would be like ‘Right, lets put that in’. I remember creating the plot as we went along because that’s just his style and how he likes to find out about different characters. So I guess from being cast to now, I’ve definitely found out new things about myself, through being cast and meeting Tallulah and Alexa, and going away from home. And I guess being in that age you develop and learn new things. And now it’s released, two years later, still every time I watch it I get all the memories flooding back because it wasn’t just a job, it more of like a whole experience – a very nice part of my life!

Definitely! It’s like finding yourself a whole new family for two years!

Yes, we are still so, so close!

So judging from Spaceship and his other shorts, Alex understands teenagers extremely well – he just knows who they are and lets them be weird. Was working with him similar to  having this cool older brother?

Definitely! We used to joke about that – because of his approach, he likes to just approach teenagers and to just start talking to them. Most of the cast in the film he just found on the streets and we would just laugh about how did he just approach people like that and ask them ‘Do you want to be in my film?’. He is not afraid to do that, and he’s just like a little kid himself! He would just go up to teenagers and ask ‘Do you want a beer?’

It’s so great to have someone like Alex to introduce you to the world of cinema, especially considering this is your first feature!

Oh yes! He’s just such a positive thinker, it definitely generates his creativity by always having an open outlook on everything. He doesn’t really judge, he’s happy to meet the most wacky people and create the best characters!

Describe Tegan – did you feel close affinity to her?

Ever since I read the script, I really related to the character. I mean the script – it was used, but the actual film was kind of devised from the script. The character was immediately very similar to myself, especially at the period in your life when you are on the customs, going through the teenage life and becoming an adult. You could really understand some of the dialogue, how she’s thinking and how to reach to some of your friends. You’re just eager for some sort of security, you want ultimate freedom and the ability to escape and be who you want to be. So all of that combined with the physical aspect of the character, you know the partying, and the dress up.

So you went through that phase yourself, not really knowing who you are and dressing up crazy?

Oh yes – you just constantly experiment with your style, where you want to sit. I think we are all pretty similar to our characters – we used to do loads of improvisation, and you could just shoot any of that, and I think it was a bit of a struggle to get out of character sometimes

In the film Tegan forms a close bond with Lucidia’s dad Gabriel – how would you describe their relationship?

I think it would be weird to ignore the fact that there is a bit of sexual tension. I mean it is suggested, her parents are not really mentioned, you never hear about where her parents are or what they’re doing so you can say that she is looking for a father figure, but at the same time it’s like the character is really experimenting with her sexual side, she’s really lost. I think that is normal for teenagers, maybe not normal – but probably it goes through their minds, thinking about more adult figures. Maybe as well the fact that she doesn’t really know who she is, but she wants to fit in.

There is a heavily dominating element In the film of being ‘somewhere else’, far away from the world, and having more in common with mystical creatures than people – why do you think teenagers are so disconnected from the real world?

I genuinely think because It’s crazy how much people spend on their phones nowadays, it’s probably 60 per cent of everyone’s lives, especially teenagers! We are constantly watching television shows, reality shows, looking at unrealistic roles models. Everything is kind of heightened online, on social media. I find it so weird sometimes how you are completely different, like almost a split personality online, and it is a completely different world. There are so many fake accounts, you can just be completely new.

You can even create a new personality for yourself!

Exactly. And it’s dangerous that at the same time you would probably be really scared to just say ‘I’m not gonna have social media’, because you would be so disconnected then.

It seems that nowadays to have to have Twitter or Instagram account to be someone – without that, how are you going to present yourself to the world? That’s the only way unfortunately!

It’s so weird because you’re always like ‘How am I looking online?’, ‘How do people perceive my online presence?’. It’s so odd that it’s so necessary to the actual world.

Yes! When I was young, back in the day, we didn’t have that, it was great. We just talked to each other, and climbed trees – it was great!

How was your school experience like? Were you an outsider yourself or one of popular kids?

I went through a lot of friendship groups, from year 7 to year 11. I’ve always been in big groups, I’ve never just had one or true friends. I was never a part of the popular crowd when I started school, but I think by the end I was. But not in like a way where I was fickle, wanting to be the most popular girl in school. It was more just like I was drawn to different people, just whoever I made friends with. I never fell out with the groups I moved from. You change in those five years, I think I had three different groups – in year seven there was a group of about eight of us, in year 9 I had about the same, and then in year and eleven you just go to parties and make loads of new friends

Who did you want to be when you were 14-15? 

I never really have any huge role models. There were people I looked up to and admired, but I never was like ‘I want to be that person’. I think I’ve always –  know it sounds cringey – just wanted to be myself, just be genuine and true to yourself. I would say what I think but not be too direct of course. I always wanted to act, so there was always that, and travelling and working.

What was your favourite band?

I’ve literally got the most eclectic music taste because of my mum. My dad is into this soft rock like Blur and Oasis, whereas my mum was so random. My music taste was all over the place, I was obsessed with the Jonas brothers back in the day, but obviously got over them very quickly.

Do you think it’s sad that there are no more Spice Girls/Britney posters and instead everyone exists in a fake world of images and questionable idols? And our experience experience as teenagers has been warped?

It’s definitely got ups and downs to it – it’s such a new thing, I don’t think we’ve seen the long term effects of it yet. You don’t know the impact it’s going to have. It is sad I guess that there’s sometimes just too much of it when you’re in a company of people. My cousin always says to me ‘You’re never on your phone when I’m with you’. It can definitely be overboard, but it’s all about getting the balance. But at the same time you can learn a lot from being online, we’re lucky to have it – you can access so much stuff. W hen I was doing Spaceship, I used loads groups and communities on Facebook to find people – you weren’t able to do that back in the day, you would’ve had to go around knocking on people’s doors.

Do you believe in Aliens?

If it’s a straight yes or a no, it’s  a yes.

Which mystical creature would you most likely associate yourself with?

Don’t know that many mystical creatures! I’m looking at gargoyles right now. I would most probably be a unicorn or a seahorse?

And to finish off – a question taken from the film: would you rather go all the way up into space or all the way down to the bottom of the sea?

I would go all the way up into space..There’s so much more to look at! But that says something about your personality, doesn’t it?

Oh, it wasn’t a personality check, I promise! Well, thank you so much for finding time to speak to us – I think there should be more films like Spaceship out there, it will definitely find it’s devoted fanbase. I promise that I will go to the premiere wearing my weirdest outfit and it’s going to be great!!

Spaceship is out in the selected UK cinemas on Friday, May 19th. 

NASTY WOMEN REIGN: LADY MACBETH

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A story we have seen before. A period piece featuring a feisty young woman forced to be with a man she does not love, and her journey to be free. Lady Katherine of William Oldroyd’s LADY MACBETH certainly fits that mould and then some. An adaptation of Nikolai Leskov’s novel Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, the film and book get their namesake from one of Shakespeare’s most notorious female characters; this should give you some idea of what lies ahead of Lady Katherine and those around her.

LADY MACBETH follows Katherine (Florence Pugh) as she tries to set herself free from a loveless marriage to Alexander, and the lengths she will go to to ensure that freedom. We see her fall in love (or should I say lust) with stable hand Sebastian, and seeks to destroy all that will get in the way of their happiness. This is not your average period drama, this is certainly a dark and murderous tale about how the constraints placed on a woman in those times can only lead to terrible ends.

The film jumps opBQ5A8877 copyen at the wedding of Katherine and Alexander, and aside from one remark by him about her dowry we do not get to to know much of Lady Katherine’s backstory – but then again we don’t need it. She is representative of a much greater crisis of femininity, or the lack of understanding of what femininity truly is. We are looking at the subordination of women in the 19th Century and the effect this is having on them. The majority of shots of Katherine feature her wedding ring – reinforcing her entrapment and reminding the audience that she is property, a possession bought for a small amount and a piece of land.

Katherine is not even allowed outside, she has no space to breathe. We see her thirst for freedom explode on screen and as the film progresses and darkens in tone Katherine only grows stronger. The power that she gains from her own privilege is also incredibly alarming, she assumes her role in the household when she needs to, when it suits her, understanding the power her title gives her. Her relationship with Sebastian really shows this – she is not interested in love, merely authoritative power. This quest for sexual freedom and agency is sadly still a marker for women today, making this film not only enjoyable but relevant.

It is always believed that female characters must be likeable, unlike many male characters – they must either be somewhat redemptive or get their comeuppance in some way. Katherine certainly has a journey but it is not rounded at the end and she does not receive any retribution for the acts she commits, she receives freedom. She is not maternal, she is not caring for the other women in her life. She is mean and brave and strong. She is a truly admirable nasty woman.

Final Word: Warps the idea of femininity. She’s unlikable and I like it.

Lady Macbeth is in cinemas Friday 28th April 2017 

Landscapes and Women: I AM RAJA by Avatara Ayuso

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I have never made the connection between choreography and film direction, however renowned dancer Avatara Ayuso has proven via her transition into short filmmaking that the link is a tenable one. Body language is such a huge part of directing actors: if nothing else, as you wildly gesticulate for them to move into a space, it shows them that you see your script as more than just words on a page, and that they are alive. For I AM RAJA, the first in her trilogy of short films about women in extreme landscapes spanning three generations called 3 Women 3 Films, the language barrier between the twelve year old leading lady (after whom the character Raja was named and written) and herself meant that a lot of the talking had to be done without words.unnamed

‘Water will be the common theme between the three films. It just developed that way naturally,’ explained Avatara, gesticulating enthusiastically and in doing so demonstrating just how natural, and translatable into her everyday life, all her methods are. She gave off an aura of authenticity: she chose to make these films because of how important to her development as a person and as a woman the experience of being exposed to extreme landscapes was. She has known Raja since childhood, when her parents took her to the Sahara dessert. She was thus inspired by the strength and physical interaction with their surrounding the women there had. It was something she wanted to show as universal, hence why the next two films will feature (respectively) a 30-something Greek woman living underwater and an Eskimo woman in her 60s living on ice. They are yet to be found.

The experience of researching and finding these women, and getting to know their cultures, will be the next step in the development of an inspirational woman. A great sense of nature, and respect for natural order, permeates from the project that is as much a personal journey as it is a public project. As all art should be.

http://www.threewomenthreefilms.com/

The Final Word: Watch out for Avatara Ayuso’s radical DIY filmmaking style, and learn.

IBZ by Kat Ronson

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Directed by: Matthew J Rowney

It is probably fair to say that you haven’t really experienced life to its full potential if you haven’t entered the land of vice, bodily temptations and chemical intoxication – Ibiza. It has really grown to become a hub for bored Europeans (and not only), who dump the tranquility of their day jobs and swap them for bikinis, glow necklaces, drugs and over-priced beverages.

After visiting Ibiza, you don’t normally write books, write cautionary articles or create a day-to-day podcast, depicting your everyday experience. Ibiza is hardly a place generating any sort of inspiration – it is too embarrassing to dwell on things you  get exposed to daily (and that’s if you have any recollection); one-night stands are not even worth mentioning to your friends as there will definitely be no numbers saved on your phone acting like a as some sort of signifiers of a promising relationship. Everything just gets swept under the rug like nothing has ever happened.

And this is why Kat Ronson’s short film-drama IBZ is a lot more than one 18-year old girl’s ramblings about her days of A-class drugs and promiscuity. IBZ is a an amusingly aggrieved monologue that unambiguously documents all the pain and emptiness that comes, unfortunately, as a side-effect after the booze, and the drugs wear off. After all this time of conscience-stricken silence we needed someone to step out and turn on the light switch on the true story buried between the phone pictures and blurry videos.

And Kat is not afraid to put herself in a vulnerable position; moreover, she deftly mixes tragedy with comedy as a healthy way of dealing with the repercussions of unrequited love and drugs, peppering it with an outstanding comical self-deprecation. We see how she get fooled by her own expectations of a healthy loving relationship that flourishes only through the physical pleasure. This deceit leads to her de-constructing her life piece by piece, reconciling with the fact that whatever happening with her at the moment is just an irregularly shaped drug-infused misconception of reality. 

She delves deep into her reflections on life, relationships, family and moral self-positioning, drawing out how these things are inextricably linked. The film seems more of a precious chunk of bitter memories, which is designed as a more of a means to retrace her steps to see where things went wrong. IBZ is Kat’s way to self-recuperation – a way to reconcile with your old self and move on.

Featuring some brilliant laugh-out-loud bathroom scenes, and a banging soundtrack made in collaboration with Alexandra Milne, Kat Ronson takes something that no one wants to talk about and shamelessly throws it into people’s faces. Let’s talk Ibiza, she says. Well, why the hell not?

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Thank you Kat for inviting us to a great premiere event at the Soho hotel and supplying with a super useful goodie bag. We wish you all the best of luck presenting the film at the Cannes Film Festival!