With the London Short Film Festival’s tenth anniversary just over a month away, i-D continues to showcase the nine filmmakers who have won Best Short Film by catching up with Esther May Campbell.
September is the beautiful and mysterious short film from Esther May Campbell which tells the story of a young man who stumbles across an unusual scenario. At its heart is the theme of connection, from one being to another, and a profound yearning for mastery over our own lives – to escape if we so wish. The beauty of the film lies not only in the stunning camera work and choreography, but in the paradox of its mysterious simplicity. Esther May Campbell is definitely a filmmaker to watch out for and we were very excited to find out more about the project.
Where did the initial inspiration for September come from? I start with an image and work backwards. I pictured a man in the edgelands, looking at a woman levitating and wondered why, how could this be? Around this time I was teaching a BTEC in Bridgend. I was pregnant. I would drive at dusk and dawn from Bristol in to Wales, looking at the land and motorways, the flyovers and byways and wondering about the what ifs. What if He were stuck here, in byway world? What might compel Him to move? And then I muddled on through.
Have you always both written and directed your own work? No. I have been hired to direct television, and I enthusiastically read TV and Film scripts hoping to find a strong project or collaborator. I find writing painful, but by doing it I can have my own misadventures. It’s hard to hold one’s nerve. When I have written and made the work it’s been a good experience and resulted in good work. Writing can be like being in an edit. You have to set your own compass. What was the point of this to start with? What am I trying to get to? Why must it be this way and not that way – even if that way seems obvious, or correct. The script of September didn’t light everyone’s fire by a long stretch. It was rejected by so many funders and schemes. I was lucky to get to make it. The script is only part of the vision for me. I like to sketch the film out earlier in other ways.
Is creating a sense of mystery important to you when writing films? Writing and directing is me trying to make sense of the world – trying to take the mystery out of it. What you see is what remains. What creeps through the cracks. However, I do believe we are more than our cultural, social and physical selves. I have a strong sense of lives un-lived, gone and yearned for – and how humans are connected in thought and spirit to one another, and to places. I’m interested in stretching cinematic form, pushing against our expectations of it and at the same time I have respect for the audience/reader. I want them to engage and feel and be taken on a journey. I want them to experience the mystery of life, and of transcendance and possibility. I think I miss the cinematic dreamers in the UK.
What was winning a BAFTA like? At the time it was like being at someone else’s wedding, but I’m not sure whose. It was a giant surprise. The film was the underdog of the nominees. I was given a lot of free make up. I looked like a tranny. Drank whisky and played pool until the wee hours.
Are you currently working on a feature film? Yes. I passionately want to shoot next year. Really hope that the financing won’t entirely rest on the script, but that my overall process will be taken into account.
Who are the directors that have most influenced your work? Mallick, Tarkovsky, Weerasethakul, Powell (when with Pressberger). Duane Hopkins and Lynne Ramsay are here now, taking risks, pushing the form in such poetic, heartfelt ways. I’m glad Ben Rivers and Andrew Kotting are making work the WAY they make it. It should keep financers surprised. And thank God for Keith Griffiths.
Where would you like to be in ten years time? I’ve been thinking a lot about integration recently. And Integrity. Compassion, tolerance, difference are qualities that need to be valued in the industry to make good, authored work. Art comes from a process. It doesn’t drop from the sky. It can’t be managed in the same way business is. I really hope to be making integrated, good work that moves and changes audiences – that prepares us to be with life’s mysteries.
Text: Joe Cohen