59th BFI London Film Festival roundup

From the water people of Patagonia to the story of Shmilu in Hackney, here are 10 films that intrigued us most from this year’s festival.

Georgia Korossi

The Ocean is an idea.
The Pearl Button (2015)

The Pearl Button

The Pearl Button

The programme team behind the BFI London Film Festival declared 2015 the year of strong women. With Sarah Gavron’s Suffragette opening the 12-day-long celebration of international film, it was meant to be an honour to be a woman, outrightly.

238 films screened across 16 cinemas in the capital. But seeing the restoration of Black Girl (1966), the first feature by the father of African cinema Ousmane Sembène and the new documentary about his life and work, Sembene! by Samba Gadjigo and Jason Silverman, was a rare and special occasion.

As it’s impossible to include in this list every single film we loved, honourable mentions go to Magnus von Horn’s The Here After in the first feature competition, Dagur Kári’s Virgin Mountain, Mor Lousy’s Censored Voices, Pablo Larraín’s The Club, Zhia Zhangke’s Mountains May Depart and Miguel Gomes’s Arabian Nights trilogy.

Taxi Tehran
Director Jafar Panahi


Iranian director Jafar Panahi poses as a taxi driver in his latest film. He drives through the streets of Tehran, capturing moments from the daily lives of the city’s residents with a camera hidden in his car. At times the film offers a grim outlook for the country’s future, but an appearance by Panahi’s niece gives some cause for optimism.

Director Michael J Larnell


Michael J Larnell’s feature is about male friendship and trust in modern society. With outstanding black and white cinematography, Cronies is a sharp work that holds your attention to the end of the credits. Filmed in St. Louis with local actors, it features an irresistible hip hop soundtrack, including contributions by local indie artist Raye Cole. When it was screened to Spike Lee at New York University, he immediately came on board as an executive producer.

Gayby Baby
Director Maya Newell

Maya Newell’s Gayby Baby is a journey into the lives of three Australian 12 year-olds with same-sex parents. At the time of writing this PG-rated film is banned from being screened in schools in New South Wales, despite the fact that there’s literally nothing here that might be deemed offensive. The film simply demonstrates that these kids live utterly normal lives, facing everyday difficulties with the support of loving, generous parents. But the children are fully aware that their families are viewed as different, and raise some timely questions.

The Pearl Button
Director Patricio Guzmán


The-Pearl-Button-2015-statements-palaciosThe new film by Chilean documentary master Patricio Guzmán is as eerie as it is enlightening. It’s both a meditation on southern Chilean history, and a mesmerising study of the Pacific Ocean. This powerful rumination on life, water, and its hidden mysteries is every bit the equal of Guzmán’s 2010 masterpiece Nostalgia for the Light.

Watch Patricio Guzmán talks about The Pearl Button follwing the screening at the LFF

Jia Zangke: The Guy from Fenyang
Director Walter Salles


If I can claim my country now it is because I left it for some time.
-Jia Zhangke
Jia Zhangke: The Guy From Fenyang (2015) 

There are times when you ask yourself if certain film directors from far away corners of the world ever met and talked about ideas to each other. One of these instances refers to Chinese director Jia Zhangke and Chilean director Patricio Guzmán. Both masters of cinema, however they share something deeper: an existential truth about their roots.

Brazilian director Walter Salles filmed his new documentary about the Chinese director with such exceptional passion for his medium and Zhangke’s work that can rarely be found elsewhere. In a world of confused values here’s Zhangke speaking in front of the camera and says: “Peoples destinies have really not changed”. Then camera then follows Zhangke to the locations where he shot his most iconic films including, A Touch of Sin (2013), Still Life (2006) and Unknown Pleasures (2002), at which point he tells us the story about his father, a touching tale about freedom of speech and the right to live.

Watch the Jia Zhangke and Walter Salles screentalk during the LFF

Director Athina Rachel Tsangari


Winner of the Best Film award at this year’s festival, Athina Rachel Tsangari’s follow-up to Attenberg (2010) is a study of male egotism that will have you laughing all the way through. It’s shot mostly on board a private yacht, and the claustrophobic cabins inhabited by its passengers and crew are contrasted with beautiful shots of the Mediterranean sea. Tsangari is the first female Greek filmmaker to receive wide international acclaim, and she absolutely deserves this.

The Lobster
Director Yorgos Lanthimos


A followup to his 2011 ghost story Alps, The Lobster is director Yorgos Lanthimos’ return to the festival with his first English language feature, this time with the support of the BFI Film Fund. It is a damn-utter irony when a director films a picture that accurately describes modern day reality before anyone else does and he is then called the initiator of weird Greek cinema. Absurdly and rather secretly, modern-day society insists on giving a greater respect to heterosexual matching, marriage and family as opposed to single life. But no other picture could emphasise this strange 21st century reality better than The Lobster.

Lanthimos once again invests on detail, cast (Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Ben Whishaw, Angeliki Papoulia, John C. Reilly, Ariane Labed, Léa Seydoux and Olivia Colman, to name a few) and slow motion. His added features of working with dance choreographers and theatre plays in the past, shine throughout his new feature, expertly including silent disco, terrific Irish locations and the exotic animal kingdom of peacocks, rabbits and dogs. The Lobster is a story about the meaning of love.

The Lobster is on release across UK and Ireland since 16 October.

Director Todd Haynes


Impeccably stylish and romantic, director Todd Haynes returns with another exquisite picture, Carol, Phyllis Nagy’s adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s groundbreaking novel The Price of Salt (1952). Actor Rooney Mara gives an exceptional performance in the role of young photographer Therese who falls in love with the alluring lead, gorgeously played by Cate Blanchett. Set at a time when love between women was unspeakable, Therese meets Carol at a Manhattan department store just before Christmas and the two women embark on a road trip to the cosy countryside.

He Named Me Malala
Director Davis Guggenheim


The astonishing new documentary by Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth), He Named Me Malala, follows one of the most famous teenagers in the world and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize at 17, Malala Yousafzai. Named after a famous Afghan poetess and warrior, Malala was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman for campaigning girl’s education in Pakistan and was forced to move to Britain following the attack. Behind her brave and remarkable story told through her experiences, life and members of her family expertly illustrated with terrific animation, Guggenheim’s film brings hope to all women and courage in our world, desperately asking for peace.

Director Billy Lumby


We couldn’t close this roundup without underlining the programme of short films in the festival. Together with the launch of the Short Film Award, this year’s festival had an expanded programme of shorts curated in diverse themes including family, neighbourhood, experiences of fight or flight, mediums and messages.

Outside the short film award competition, a special mention is due to newcomer writer-director Billy Lumby’s Samuel-613 for its ethnographic, imaginative and technical qualities. Lumby went undercover in a synagogue in east London as part of his film research. It tells the fictional story of 23-year-old Hasidic Jew Shmilu (played by Theo Barklem-Biggs), who struggles to relate with his community and enters the void of modern-day Britain.

59th BFI London Film Festival award winners

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In pictures: 10 days in Cuba

From the streets of Havana and Trinidad: a hotly photographic journey in the heart of Cuba as seen through the lens of Georgia Korossi.

Georgia Korossi is editor of 11polaroids, writer, photographer and producer of film based in London and Athens. For this project the photographs were shot by Canon EOS 650D with Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II lens.


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Ingrid Bergman: iconic images

Swedish-born actress Ingrid Bergman was born 100 years ago on 29 August 1915. We mark her centenary with some of her iconic images, as selected by 11polaroids.


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Making it real together

Revealing creative dialogues in nonfiction films, a playful act between filmmaker and subject as early as 1950, are evidence that documentary filmmaking is the art of collaborative conceit.

Luke Moody

Stranded in Canton (2014)

Stranded in Canton (2014)

Last June Robert Greene’s Actress and Måns Månsson’s Stranded in Canton had their UK premieres at London’s blossoming Open City Documentary Festival. Both films use models of director-subject collaboration to produce narrative, character driven documentaries. Stranded in Canton (2014) portrays an episode in the life of ‘Lebrun’: a brooding, determined, yet flawed businessman from Kinshasa falling into debt in Guangzhou where he tragicomically attempts to make good a mistimed sale of t-shirts. In Actress (2014) Brandy Burre (The Wire) balances a crumbling relationship, family life and the casting toils of trying to relaunch her career.

Månsson, uses real locations and non-professional actors as his fabric for self-informing scenes, collaboratively moulding a narrative as he shoots and interacts. Greene tinkers with a malleable observational mode of filmmaking and more forced cinematic intervention. Recently I’ve seen an increasing interest and willingness from filmmakers to play with forms of subject collaboration: crowdsourced footage, handing over the camera, or facilitating a record of self-fictionalisation. Making documentaries together seems to be in a moment of creative development. However these experiments are perhaps nothing new. Intently subject-collaborative methods of documentary filmmaking have something of a long tradition from ethnofiction and performative works, to citizen journalism.

Bataille sur le grand fleuve (1950)

Bataille sur le grand fleuve (1950)

Jean Rouch was one of the seminal minds in rethinking the filmmaker’s relationship to subject, the subject’s relationship to audience, and the audience’s relationship to the filmmaker. After showing a scene of hippopotamus hunting from Bataille sur le grand fleuve (1950) to locals in Ayoru, they contested that the film was not believable due to the presence of music. A hippopotamus hunt, they remarked, requires absolute silence. Rouch responded to this creative dialogue by removing the soundtrack and correcting further observed errors in the documentary construction. This feedback model was also included within the film of Chronicle of a Summer (1961) allowing subjects to offer comments on the direction of the film, and their reaction to what had so far been recorded and edited. In Cocorico! Monsieur Poulet (1975), a surreal road trip of mishaps for two poultry sellers, he furthered this collaborative direction to develop one of his more narrative and cinematic ethnofictions, improvising scenes with the protagonists and his long-term friends Damouré and Lam. The film co-credits all three as directors using a combined acronym ‘Dalarou’.

Chronicle of a Summer (1961)

Chronicle of a Summer (1961)

If another wave of collaborative documentary cinema is surfacing, the most pertinent question to digest is not necessarily ‘what does this mean as a ‘new’ form of filmmaking?’, but ‘why is it re-emerging now?’ Are shared contemporary technologies of connectivity, recording and feedback influencing the filmmaking processes and self-performance by their subjects? Greene and Månsson and their contemporaries belong to a generation of western filmmakers who evolved with readily accessible means of making and sharing films from VHS camera culture of You’ve been Framed (1990-) to mini-dv Dogme 95 to connected phone cameras and periscopic life after the internet. Perhaps this continued exposure to lens omnipresence and universal everyday use of cameras has waned some of the hierarchical structures of documentary portraiture, making this artform a more shared act. Or have the perpetually increasing means of collaboration out there, producing thousands of unmediated perspectives on the world, become simply bewildering? Does negotiating the multiple voices, ideas, movements and lives of others require the confidence of a master storyteller?

Cocorico! Monsieur Poulet (1975)

Cocorico! Monsieur Poulet (1975)

The majority of post-millennial collaborative documentaries, both long-form cinematic and ‘interactive’ web-based works, have assumed this model by creating depository funnels: open calls to submit material to an ultimately singular filtering, curating, editing, directing body. Kevin Macdonald’s Life in a Day (2011) is a primary example.

Life in a Day (2011)

Life in a Day (2011)

More daftly exciting, deftly creative, and dubiously moral works have been emerging from the hot cathodes of the small screen. The immortal movement of reality TV and its incessant demand to spawn new formats readily confuse images of performance, self-representation and documentation. New incarnations take more risks in questioning the limits of subject collaboration and participation than commercially successful documentary cinema. Television has provided a crass test-bed for co-producing an ‘enhanced’ reality with its subjects: Made in Chelsea (2011-), Big Brother (1999-), Geordie Shore (2011-) and Steven Seagal: Lawman (2009-) put forward increasingly layered documentary viewing experiences if not content.

Both Actress and Stranded in Canton initially appear to be shot in a rather standard observational cinéma vérité style. However, the revealing of their making, and some self-evident moments in each film collapses our inherited theory of fly-on-the-wall filmmaking: you the subject must be honest, real and undisturbed by the presence of a creative act. I the filmmaker will extract and edit a story from the material of your reality. The suspended illusion of unobtrusive filmmaking still prevails amongst many filmmakers and, more dangerously, amongst audiences. Joshua Oppenheimer recently, quite succinctly, denounced the myth in his BOATS speech:

“What is really happening is that the director and the film crew and the subjects are collaborating to simulate a reality in which they pretend the camera is not present… All documentaries are perfomance. They are performance precisely where people are playing themselves.”

All observational documentary is collaborative conceit: the filmmaker and subject compromise imagination and reality to produce a facsimile. Why then not play with the balance and form of collaboration rather than pretend it isn’t occurring?

Perhaps it is time to openly acknowledge this shared creative space: a space of enactment, not distantly documenting or retrospectively commenting on reality but working together to understand the actuality of the moment and the production of its record. As subjects of the connected screen world have increasing exposure to the means of selective selfie-representation and self-mediation the possibility for naive performance disappears, documentary ‘direction’ could become more of an act of initiation, negotiation, and facilitation. The question is then raised: whose story is this and whose film is this? What would a good documentary performance be? A truer character? A more stereotypical self? Someone who is dramatic and engaging on screen? Someone who is more able to articulate the story they are living through in a way that an audience can easily follow? What is a ‘good’ balance between performance and being, documenting and directing? I asked filmmakers Robert Greene and Måns Månsson to try to understand their methods and motivations behind exploring those boundaries.

Actress (2014)

Actress (2014)

My impression of Actress was not one of a fluid, singular vision but a performative push and pull between portraiture and self-portraiture. Greene describes this as an attempt “to demonstrate the way we play and can get trapped in social roles.” His methods try to permit creative dialogue between his directorial desire and the progressing actuality:

“I never used a script but I often knew what I was after. I very much believe in ‘directing’ a documentary and that it can still be entirely emotionally truthful and remain tethered to reality…I asked Brandy to do something (go shopping, clean the house, etc.) that she’d already be doing. Other moments I’d be in the room when something really dramatic was actually happening. Still other moments we reenacted things that happened off camera.”

Actress is largely operating in this structured observational mode of occasional composed slow motion interludes with emotional musical accompaniment: such as Brandy swaying in the shower, crying to camera, ‘playing house’ by performing domestic tasks in self identified ‘mum role’. In the film Brandy discusses her balancing of roles in terms of being ‘selfish’ fulfilling her ideal role as an actress, and ‘selfless’ continuing to give herself to a family role. She recognises an unconscious sway in herself between performance and personality, “I’m amazed at how many rules there are, and how we all agree to them, even when we don’t”. Greene appears to revel in this representational friction rather than ignore his subject’s struggle with societal rules and personal volition.

Stranded in Canton pushes the constructs of subject and scenario intervention much further, to a point where the tether of reality is quite minimal. Månsson describes his framework quite honestly as:

“…bringing characters together in certain places and letting the scenes unfold with very basic ideas of a premise and a certain conflict/desire while then trying to capture that with somewhat observational techniques.”

As a director Månsson works on the fly, progressively developing the situational reality with his character and editor:

“…we went about developing that story further day by day while shooting and editing simultaneously. Lebrun and myself would be out shooting and George Cragg would be back at the hotel room next door to Lebrun’s suite editing and by the end of each day we would sit down and look at scenes and discuss what to do tomorrow.”

However, for the viewer, the resulting consistent strength in cinematography and fluid narrative construction become problematic. Their smoothness escapes the common experience of documentary verisimilitude and its aesthetic associations of roughness, gaps in narrative and awkward development of events. Working together with the subject to smooth out the performance, its recording mechanisms and moments of chronological suture may ultimately cause a loss of audience trust in the story portrayed.

Argentinian Lesson (2011)

Argentinian Lesson (2011)

The exploratory, improvised techniques of Actress and Stranded in Canton appear more rooted in the tradition of John Cassavetes than classic factual documentary. There are many more recent examples of filmmakers using various levels of subject collaboration to initiate an autogenetic documentary:

You All Are Captains (2011)

You All Are Captains (2011)

Bloody Beans (2013), Tchoutipoulas (2012), Only The Young (2012), Summer of Giacomo (2011), Argentinian Lesson (2011), Stop the Pounding Heart (2013), You All Are Captains (2011) and the forthcoming All These Sleepless Nights by Michal Marczak.

Summer of Giacomo (2011)

Summer of Giacomo (2011)

They all portray young characters and loose, temporally contained episodes of life. Perhaps this emergent group of films is a result of the ease of self-fictionalising and suspended belief that youthful characters inspire. With the exception of Bloody Beans, they are also quite safe narrative territories, unlikely to provoke questions of ethics or aestheticization that the collaborative methods of Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing (2012) or Eliane Rehab’s Sleepless Nights (2013) require. A mix of young subjects working with self styled creative documentarists does prompt the question of how reciprocal the dialogue of collaboration is. Filmmakers can’t assume that efforts to increase dialogue automatically bypass exploitative forays into treating subject as object, and otherness as an image.

Stop the Pounding Heart (2013)

Stop the Pounding Heart (2013)

In a generous and blurry filmed interview the director of Stop the Pounding Heart, Roberto Minervini, emphasises his relational prerequisite for making a film that suggests a levelling of subject and filmmaker in the creative process. He states that he and his subject must first of all ‘care’ for each other, then the subject can take the baton to lead the story. This is a direct effort to avoid the obstacles of personally imposed ideologies of representation.

Watch Roberto Minervini on Stop the Pounding Heart

A rather analogue, traditional set of values for collaboration is evident. A number of these films partner it with analogue cameras: Summer of Giacomo, Argentinian Lesson, You Are All Captains, Stop The Pounding Heart are all shot on film. The retrospective fetish is also under the influence, no pun intended, of a canon of predominantly male auteur filmmakers, notorious for their experiments with improvisation, performance and reflexivity: John Cassavettes, Jean Rouch, Maurice Pialat, Peter Watkins.

The Oath (2010)

The Oath (2010)

They contrast with assumed techniques and technologies of progressive forms of collaboration: films or web documentaries that embrace new means of connectivity through video conferencing, anonymous uploads and crowdsourced material. Astra Taylor makes a point of the continued need for these analogue values of filmmaker subject relations with reference to Laura Poitras’ The Oath (2010): “The internet might be a wonderful thing but you can’t crowdsource a relationship with a terrorist or a whistleblower.” There is an ongoing necessity for filmmakers to build subject relationships offline and over time in particular with more complicated subjects. The act of making documentary films together with a subject questions the supposed ease of contemporary relationships, connectivity and self-managed social profiles.

The Act of Killing (2012)

The Act of Killing (2012)

I’m hopeful of future collaborations, which will use today’s new personal technologies and aesthetics of intimacy: the lens of a web or phone camera, the broadcast presence of livestream, periscope and skype. The need for filmmakers and subjects to share physical space will erode only with the spread of connected trust and trusted connections, but for now the production of shared narratives seem to require an offline bond. Needless to say there are large parts of the world population still unaffected by the 4G stage.

Bloody Beans (2013)

Bloody Beans (2013)

In Greene and Månsson’s films the push and pull qualities of filmmaker-subject collaboration manifest in both positive and negative results. Actress shows a visible friction between the filmmaker as director, the subject as a confident on-screen performer and the real occurrences neither could have predicted. In moments this makes for a layered, engaging viewing, other scenes feel like forcedly inserted attempts to give the director a voice. Stranded in Canton presents a double filtered, smooth narrative. One in which removal of the reflexive devices such as production apparatus and modus operandi result in a polished film that potentially undermines any belief in the image: it appears too good to be true.

Only The Young (2012)

Only The Young (2012)

This isn’t solely a problem of creative documentary filmmaking. The most commercially ambitious of documentary cinema presents a different kind of smoothness: constructing seamless story arcs, charismatic heroes or dramatic events stylised with hollywood genre determined soundscapes and camera techniques. What else does the audience lose in terms of affect from this aesthetic shift towards an enhanced reality? Are drifting, stabilised cameras, movements and choreographed scenes smoothing out the possibility of visceral emotion, empathy and engagement? The push and pull between direction, subject participation and the shifting actuality might be exciting if handled masterfully, but it might also result in failure or more clear movements away from that reality towards the safer world of pure fiction. Richard Brody was recently outspoken against removing evidence of the director from the film, advocating for a need to be absolutely transparent:

“Filtering themselves out of the dialogue and off the screen (an editorial trick that might be fun to try at home) would do worse than to thin out the film – it would falsify it.”

Tchoutipoulas (2012)

Tchoutipoulas (2012)

Ultimately the loss of reality pointers and didactic context within the frame will require a shift in audience reading of the documentary film, and an increased need for ‘reading about’ the film. Månsson, who also operates in the wall text, critical review and gallery pamphlet justified conceptual art world, already recognises this in his viewers:

“Audiences seem to be very happy to be introduced to narratives where nothing is what it seems but maybe we are moving into an age where audiences are also more and more keen on appreciating that the production process was not what it seemed.”

One level of understanding is the experience of the film work, the second is reading about the work. The exhibition of a documentary film rarely provides an opportunity for supporting texts outside the film frame other than a brief synopsis. Brody’s comment is a common criticism of documentary as an art form due to a weighted expectation of documentary as a form of journalism: discipline and detail over vision and ambiguity. Are binary terms, drama versus documentary, objective versus subjective, art versus journalism or the hybrid between, redundant in discussion of these layered collaborative stories? If from the outset the filmmaker doesn’t have faith in the notion of ‘recording reality’ as a representation of truth, then documentary practice, dialogue with subject and audience, become a quest for truth: sharing the production and understanding of a represented reality.

Luke W Moody is a cineaste and maker based in London. He currently works for BRITDOC and curates somethingreal.today. He tweets @zzzzzzzzzzzzoo

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Foxygen: Electric Ballroom

California’s rock duo returns to London for cosmic psychedelia …And Star Power performance.

Niall McAuliffe

Foxygen’s Jonathan Rado and Sam France

Foxygen’s Jonathan Rado and Sam France

Camden’s Electric Ballroom was host to an exhilarating, physical and stylistic performance by Foxygen, the alt-indie Californian band formed by Jonathan Rado and Sam France. Frontman France had all the moves and swagger from the rock n’ roll stage book, Iggy-esque bare chest to David Lee Roth leaps and Jarvis Cocker ass-wiggling. Complimented by the group’s three go-go dancers-singers and five-piece band, the show was full of theatrics including a mock jousting fight between the two guitarists and France climbing the stage equipment.

Foxygen, Liverpool KazimierAt times almost like Jim Sharman’s 1975 cult musical Rocky Horror Picture Show, the foxygen-2013band’s baroque style falsetto swept away their custom changes during which a scratchy recording of “Shuggie” from their second album We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic was playing from the sound engineer decks. Yet the music grooves, the band is rigid and the backing vocals were a perfect fit. However, translating the sound live lacks the production quality of their studio recordings and perhaps the elaborate stage performance tries to compensate this. With shades of Ariel Pink wackiness and fusing many genres together, they certainly have a part to play in the Californian alt-indie scene. As performance goes, it is a watch with a lot of style but it requires more substance.

Foxygen’s third album …And Star Power was released in October 2014 and follows a loose concept around the fictional band Star Power.

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Kim Longinotto on Dreamcatcher

The master director of films on women’s rights talks to us about her picture based on Brenda Myers-Powell and the girls on the street corners of Chicago.

Georgia Korossi


Documentarian Kim Longinotto returns this year with a film about prostitution. Perhaps, an obvious and depressing subject about sex victims wouldn’t appeal to many people at first. Let alone film financiers and Longinotto herself, whose subjects have boldly focused on rebels and people’s lives going against the grain, see Salma (2013), Gaea Girls (2000) and Divorce Iranian Style (1998). But once Longinotto saw a showreel about Brenda Myers-Powell, co-founder and Executive Director of The Dreamcatcher Foundation that strives to end human trafficking in Chicago, she fell in love both with Brenda and her imaginative ambition through her work as social worker.

As Longinotto says, “Brenda’s damaging life couldn’t be worse from being made to have sex from the age of four for money”. When she made her life-turning decision to leave prostitution, Myers-Powell decided to focus all her efforts towards offering help and listening to the girls hanging on the dark corners of Chicago and its surrounding areas. While she is driving in the midnight to find the girls and offer them condoms and support, we hear a number of heartbreaking stories of abuse from girls as young as 14 years old. The saddest side of the coin is that we often ignore these difficult stories because they are veiled from the public eye.

The Dreamcatcher Foundation’ s Brenda Myers-Powell and director Kim Longinotto

The Dreamcatcher Foundation’ s Brenda Myers-Powell and director Kim Longinotto

Dreamcatcher’s central character, Brenda Myers-Powell, is admirable for fighting her weaknesses with strength, passion for life and change. Towards the end of her 25 year-long experience as a teenage and adult prostitute, Brenda was on the streets recruiting girls for her pimp. “I think this is the thing she feels really guilty about” Longinotto says. But the impact Dreamcatcher has on us is to look back and accept our past, to learn to live with it and get on.

Every time Brenda meets a girl, she sees herself in them so she listens and gives support to them without any judgement. Her busy life working in the prison during the day and delivering her bold message relentlessly as a survivor of drugs and sex abuse to young girls at-risk in the city, is a genuine inspiration.

How important do you feel it is for both women and men to see your film and why?

In a way I feel it appeals to everybody. I don’t see that it’s an issue film. I see it as a film about all sorts of things that touch all of us. It’s about growing up in a family. It’s about all the secrets and the lies. When you’re a child you are very vulnerable and you believe that what you’re growing up with it is the same as everybody else. You don’t realize that your life is different from any other child’s life. So in a way if you’re having a happy childhood, you don’t realize you’re having a happy childhood. And if you’re having a terrible childhood, you think most of it is your fault and if it isn’t your fault then you just accept it.

You don’t have a sense when you’re a child that one day you’ll be an adult and that you won’t be in this. It’s very strange the way a childhood becomes your whole world. I think we’ve all had many of these experiences of feeling vulnerable, of feeling small and not valued, of feeling that you can’t tell adults things because nobody is listening to you. So I hope that the film has resonance to everybody in different ways. Not just for the obvious things, of all the millions of us being abused as adults or as children and rape victims. It’s also about anyone who is dealing with childhood, about the things that you can’t say to your parents, the secrets that you have to keep. The way that you are very separate from other people and the way the world doesn’t seem very easy to understand.


Brenda’s story is an inspiration because as well as helping the girls on the streets, she also has her own personal life coping with her own struggles. 

That’s another thing that makes Brenda’s story universal. Girls have come up to me saying, “I’m going to stay at college because if Brenda can make it, I can.” And people have said, “I’m in a very bad situation at home, I’m going to leave. If Brenda can leave, I can.” She’s a real inspiration to me, she has a tough life, she has a job in the jail, she brings up a small child, she’s talking to the girls, there’s so much going on. There’s a scene where Brenda is in bed exhausted, she can’t really cope and she gets up and says, “I’ve tried my best”.

She’s failed Melody and she can’t help her brother’s wife so it’s not all success. Most of the people in the film, she feels, she lets down. At the very beginning she meets this very young 19-year-old girl who says, “I’ve got nobody” and she loses her, she’s gone. It breaks her heart but Brenda keeps going by putting herself together literally everyday. Her wig, eyelashes, the dress, the attitude, that’s all part of putting this person together. And you can see she’s transforming herself. She is really vulnerable and she says it in the car, “People don’t realize how much it takes.”


The girls in your film open their hearts with confidence in front of the camera. Did you have a method to help this happen?

Once I decided I wanted to make the film, nothing else mattered and I think that was very moving. You mention these girls: those girls had never been listened to, like Robin for example who says, “Every night I was raped by my family’s friend, I would tell my mum and she wouldn’t believe me” and Cherissa says, “I was being raped from the age of four, and I’d tell my mother, she would cry and nothing would change.” Here for the first time the film would listen to these people. Witnessing the film is kind of listening. It’s like a document, it makes it there forever.

Brenda makes it very dark in a funny way, she says, “Those boys outside, I’m gonna show you how to avoid them. Tell them you’re not ready” and they all look at her one by one and they say, “We’ve all already had sex from the age of four! Too late.” They were never listened to, they had no help or people didn’t believe them. They were told that they shouldn’t had told them because they are recycling what had happened to them. It happened to all their mothers as well. One of the girls says, “My mother was angry because the same thing happened to her.” So it happened in all generations as well.

How personal is this project to you if compared to your previous films?

Every film, when I make them, is an important thing. And they’re all personal in different ways. For each of the films I have this realization of myself, and my life, and they’re all so different, scary, exciting and wonderful and all those things together. They are all a journey to go and you have to be very open to it and put yourself into it and you see where it takes you. You wait for the right moment to film, you listen to people, you watch them. It’s a mixture of being very flexible and being very disciplined.

Dreamcatcher had its world premiere at Sundance this year where it won the World Cinema Directing for Documentary award. It is now showing in cinemas across the UK and screens as part of the Guardian Live: Doc Sundays on 22 March at Rio Cinema, London.

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The best films of 2014 in pictures

Indie, blood-sipping and oddly endearing, with focus on diverse preoccupations, art and great cinematography are the best films of the year, as selected by 11polaroids.

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