In the last week I have seen two very different but equally thought-provoking and life-affirming films. They have reminded me why I want to make films, and why I want to be a better person. If that sounds dramatic (and like a misquoted Oscar-winning film) then so be it, but to me the feels are real.
Today I got the results of my Masters in Screenwriting and I got a First Class Honours. I am a bit shocked by this, but also pretty proud because I slogged my arse off this year in film school while also working, running a business and being a single parent. I was also lucky enough to win a scholarship from Warner Bros. to do my masters. This result and the backing of a major studio to study are the permission I needed to keep going. I often ask myself why I work in the arts - a creative life is one of the hardest you can choose, and you will spend a lot of your time questioning why you do what you (try to) do. So it's nice, occasionally, for someone to say “Here you go – you are now deemed proficient at [insert artsy thing], go forth and create.”
The films that have so inspired me this week are the box office smash, DC Superhero movie Wonder Woman and, on the opposite end of the filmmaking spectrum, The Other Side of Hope, an independent production about a Syrian refugee in Finland. Both films are fish-out-of-water stories - one about an Amazonian warrior with superpowers, the other about a man fleeing war and trying to find the will to start a new life. I was really looking forward to Wonder Woman and it didn't disappoint as an action-packed superhero flick with a great female character at its centre. What I didn't expect was how moving it would be; how it would get me thinking about war, ideologies and what it means to be human.
9 year old Little Bird came to the premiere screening and we loved it so much we went a second time a few days later on a rainy bank holiday Monday. It sparked so many conversations for us around gender, race, equality, kindness, warfare, and the nuances of human nature. This is what the arts are for; to get us out of our ordinary lives and to think about things from another perspective; to teach us empathy and courage; to fire our imagination and give us inspiration, and to have us question what we think we know and understand. Nations have been shaped by great theatre, poetry, prose and cinema, and they conversely and simultaneously reflect the state of the nation they come from.
The Other Side of Hope is heartbreakingly poignant and yet never loses its lightness-of-touch and sense of humour even when dealing with the darkest of subject matters. I haven't stopped thinking about it for days, both as a filmmaker and as a 'civilian'. Like all great cinema, it raises more questions than it answers, leaving the audience to fill in the blanks. I hope someday I can make films like this – films that give voice to those questions you didn't even know needed answering, films that wake you from the torpid slumber of the day-to-day routine and keep you awake at night. In a good way, like.
I have recently completed my second short film which has now gone out to the festival circuit and am knee deep in funding applications for my third short. I'm also starting the daunting process of finding a literary agent in the hopes that someone, somewhere will actually read the feature films and TV treatments I have written. There is no earthly reason to do all this thankless and, so far, unpaid work. Other than the fact that I really have no choice. I am driven to tell stories – as an actor, a writer, a producer and some day, I hope, as a director – and so I carry on. I work hard to improve my craft and I carry on. Because I believe in the transformative power of good narrative, of wonderful cinematic experiences, of stories big and small. Because this week I feel cinema has once again changed me for the better, if even just a little.