With the London Short Film Festival’s tenth anniversary just three weeks away, i-D continues to showcase the nine filmmakers who have won Best Short Film by catching up with Ruth Paxton.
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PARIS/SEXY is the bold and haunting film from newcomer Ruth Paxton. It was the 8th film to win Best Short Film at the London Short Film Festival. As a couple from the city stumble across a dilapidated house and its inhabitants in rural Scotland, desire, control, power, play and violence brim to the surface, threatening to consume them all. It is an ambitious short film, that shows enormous potential. We were very excited to chat with her about her inspirations and to learn how the LSFF saved the day.
Where did you find the inspiration for this film? Was it a spur of the moment ideas or had you been thinking on it for a while? There was a year when I spent a lot of time in Paris hanging out with a wonderful couple whose marriage was approaching its end. With ‘PARIS/SEXY’ I wanted to write about youth, sex and danger; and build a narrative around a single person entering a couples’ cosmos. Francoise and Seamus have married young and promptly; both infatuated and reckless. I liked the idea of meeting them as that once-blazing heat is cooling, both sensing it but neither able to face it.
It’s quite harrowing in places. Could you explain your fascination with a darker edge? I do tend towards drama on an operatic scale! It’s passionate relationships, power structures and ultimate sacrifices that get me going. I like to think I write about strong subject matter, but always with heart. I’m inspired by the grand stuff of Greek classics, of Gods and heroes: stories that are bloody, messy and theatrical – even if they’re rooted in a wee Scottish fishing village. I’m interested in looking at taboo subjects, under-explored and misunderstood people – especially those with mental health issues.
What was the turning point for you as a filmmaker when you though, ‘OK, I can make this happen?’ I kind of seek, discover and re-seek that feeling all the time! I’ve always been self-motivated and had a sturdy support network, but despite hard work and talent, one does face regular rejection in this industry and I think that it’s crucial to be able to allow yourself to feel shite about it when it happens, but also be able to reignite your passion and excite yourself about projects. I believe (and sincerely hope) that the key to success is to do with commitment. Having said this, a clear example of validation came when Philip and Chloe at the London Short Film Festival kindly invited me to showcase work at LSFF 2011, and nominated ‘PARIS/SEXY’ for the festival award. It gave me a strong dose of faith, which initiated a string of significant events including signing with my agent.
Do you see making short films as a necessary stepping stone to making features? I can’t see how you’d secure backing for a feature without demonstrating how you’d handle story in short form first. I guess some directors cut their teeth on ads and promos, but that’s not the optimum way to learn about character and plot. Making shorts is your opportunity to experiment, learn and fail. I also believe short films are art forms in their own right and that there’s a great amount of unrecognised skill and craft involved in making a successful short. I believe it’s even harder to get a short right because people consume and forgive feature films more readily. Shorts have to work much harder to impress. ‘PARIS/SEXY’ has many weaknesses, primarily because it was quite ambitious for 24 minutes, but ironically I think that this is also it’s strength, for not playing it too safely – I guess it showed potential.
Who are the film directors, which have most influenced your work? As a young viewer, it was American director Tim Burton’s early output, which had the biggest influence on me. Repeatedly experiencing the extraordinary ‘Beetlejuice’ (1988), ‘Batman’ (1989) and ‘Edward Scissorhands’ (1990) was my first recognition of a director’s presence in a movie, how a director’s vision worked and how distinct Burton’s voice was in terms of the whole experience; design, story, score and tone. I must say though that Burton sort of went off the boil for me since ‘Mars Attacks’ (1996). Soaking in Darren Aronofsky’s, ‘Requiem For A Dream’ (2000) was seminal. Around then I also began long-term filmic love affairs with Lars Von Treir, Jane Campion and Michael Winterbottom. Recent influences include, French director Jacques Audiard for ’Un Prophete’ (2009), Greek auteur Giorgios Lanthimos’ ‘Dogtooth’ (2009) and Australian Justin Kurzel’s striking ‘Snowton’ (2011).
What are you working on at the moment? I’ve just finished an early draft on the first feature I’ve written, called ‘Liam Fights The Darkness’, which is a contemporary healing story about a young Traveller who believes he’s cursed. Right now, I’m in development on a short horror, called ‘Brian Malcolm Slaugher.’ I’m working on the germ of a dystopian fantasy feature set in the Scottish Highlands. I also write with both my Dad and my brother Louis, so we have a few different projects brewing too.
I’m really excited about a fresh collaboration with my cinematographer David Liddell (‘PARIS/SEXY’) and Scottish folk trio LAU, where I’m writing and directing an experimental piece about the demise of Marilyn Monroe’s relationship with Arthur Miller, to be screened and accompanied by Lau live during their festival, ‘Welcome to Lau Land’ at the King’s Place in London this October.
Text: Joe Cohen
Images: Top by Magali Magistry. Bottom four are all stills by Ruth Gibson.