Sunday, February 10, 2013

I remember crawling around in the dark under my mother as she was editing on the noisy steenbeck, in the front room: Lucy Mulloy (Una Noche)

Seven years ago her documentary short was nominated for a Student Oscar, and last year she came with ‘Una Noche’ an emotional-vibrant journey of three young Cuban characters which won at many International Film Festivals including 43rd IFFI, India. Meet Lucy Mulloy from Britain, a very talented storyteller and an emerging woman filmmaker.

I’d seen ‘A Better Life’ directed by Chris Weitz early last year, and I loved Demian Bichir for his performance as Carlos, the off-the-books gardener and a single parent trying so hard to live the American dream on the alien land. The movie put a human face to the story of illegal immigrants (the protagonist is a Mexican) living in America: undocumented, unwelcomed and in constant fear of deportation. Then I recently came across a similar heart wrenching Spanish-English drama ‘Una Noche’ (one night). It was directed by London born - New York based Lucy Mulloy. The movie follows lives of three teenagers: Elio, Raul and Lila in Havana, Cuba. One day an unwanted assault involving a tourist takes place after which Raul decides to flee to America. Elio and Lila are with him. They take the water route, emotionally somewhat similar to Ang Lee’s ‘Life of Pi.’
Lucy Mulloy

Lucy’s was more of an independent effort, and I wanted to talk to her and know more about the person and the creative process. After much effort I was able to communicate. She was travelling with the movie to various International Film Festivals, and it took time. ‘Una Noche’ (FB/Twitter) has so far won at Tribeca (Best Director), Gotham, Brasilia, Deauville, Athens, Fort Lauderdale, Stockholm and Oaxaca. Last year it was in Goa and was given a special Jury Prize at International Film Festival of India.

To talk about Lucy, she is the daughter of Phil Mulloy and Vera Neubauer. Phil is a well known British animator and live-action filmmaker (see Intolerance 1, 2, 3). Similarly Vera is also a very prolific animator in Britain. Lucy's brother Daniel is the producer of ‘Una Noche’ and three time BAFTA winning short filmmaker. He's won numerous awards (see Dad, Sister, Antonio's Breakfast) and regarded as one of the finest short film makers. Lucy graduated from New York University Film School. Before that she studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford University. In 2005, she made a documentary ‘This Morning’ which was nominated for the Student Academy Award. Now her next project ‘Una Noche Mas’, the sequel to ‘Una Noche’ is developing. She’s also writing a script set in NYC and Rio.

I hope you’d love it.
Here is the Q & A with her.

Tell me about you and your family. How was your childhood and how instrumental was the environment of your house in your becoming a filmmaker?
I was really lucky to be brought up with both of my parents making films. They are mainly animation filmmakers and so filmmaking was always present in my life, even before I knew what they were doing, I remember crawling around in the dark under my mother as she was editing on the noisy steen-beck, in the front room. I remember looking at the little images on the left over splices of film. We would make puppets with my mother when we were small for her animation films. Our parents always included us in their process. It was all I knew as a kid and I loved it. My father would be working on his drawings and I would sit on the wooden floor of his studio with coloring pens drawing and listening to his music. I am very lucky that I have amazing encouraging parents who always inspired me. They were always passionate independent voices. My brother is a filmmaker too. Our parents heavily influenced us both. They just wanted us to do what made us happy. I always knew that I would make movies. It seemed like the best way to incorporate everything that I love.

An Indian movie you like.
When I was a kid in London they would play a Bollywood movie on the TV every Saturday morning. I was really young, but it was so exciting to enter into this musical, vibrant world. I wonder why they stopped showing them. There is not enough exposure to Indian movies in the UK or US mainstream. An Indian movie that made an impression on me was “Monsoon Wedding”. The naturalistic quality and intimacy of the moments created a very emotional experience. The aesthetic of the movie and the perspectives and with long lenses, capturing beautiful moments were also very refreshing.

Making ‘This Morning’ in 2005 to ‘Una Noche’ this year, what did Lucy Mulloy do in between?
Since 2005 I went to film school for another year, where I made short movies and shot exercises for classes. I loved film school because it gave me the opportunity to be completely free and experimental. I was also surrounded by people who were passionate about telling stories and sharing ideas. Prior to film school I had been at Oxford working in academia, writing essays, working independently, researching, so film school was a creative, collaborative paradise for me. I really enjoyed the freedom of being able to make and express exactly what I felt. It made me very happy. ‘Una Noche’ was a natural progression. It is my thesis film from film school.

You worked with Spike Lee as a production intern for the Hurricane Katrina documentary ‘When the Levees Broke.’ What was the experience like? Which is your Spike Lee favorite?
It was a privilege to see him working. I learnt a lot. He has his eye on everything. He knows exactly what is going on at all times on his set and he is aware of each and every person. He nurtures young talent and seeks to help people progress into becoming working filmmakers. Spike Lee is also a professor at NYU and was my mentor. He takes time out to go through each and every detail. I sat down more with him more than with any other professor when it came to editing the movie. He makes time to help you. I really value this. He is very insightful when it comes to editing and will push and challenge his students. ‘Una Noche’ was awarded the Spike Lee production grant, which was a huge help to getting the movie off the ground. Spike is nurturing a new generation of voices. I really appreciate his help. It is inspiring to see him making a movie each year on his own terms.
I love "Do the right thing".
Going to New Orleans with Spike and his team just two months after Katrina hit was a very emotional experience. I was shocked by the lack of action that was being taken to help restore the city. It seemed like the whole world was talking about the destruction that had taken place, but New Orleans was an apocalyptic ghost town. It felt completely abandoned. People’s entire material lives were scattered on the streets, family photos, baby’s cots and toys. It was very sad.

How did you conceive the content idea of ‘Una Noche’?
Javier Nunez Florian and Lucy while shooting.
I spent a lot of time in Cuba. From my very first trip I met people who were planning trips to leave on rafts. Migration is something that touches everyone on the island in one way or another. To cross 90 mile of dangerous water on a homemade raft is an extreme choice to make, it is literally to risk everything to get to the US. I was meeting people who were planning this trip, not knowing if they would be dead or alive in a few months time. It was harrowing and I wanted to understand what would push someone to that point. I was interested in telling the story from a young person’s perspective. I love working with kids and teenagers because they are happy to play and pretend and easily enter the realm of fantasy, so they make good actors! I had a conversation with a young boy I met on the sea front in Havana. I was asking him about whether he knew of any kids who had left on rafts and he told me the story of two boys and a girl who made a raft and left together very early one morning. That true story was the initial spark that inspired ‘Una Noche’.

Should I say that your film was a perfect case of life imitating art, as two of your actors disappeared in Miami en route to Tribeca Film Fest - thus giving a vent to the focal theme of the film (Cubans emigrating to the US)?
The movie is reflecting a real situation. The story of ‘Una Noche’ is something that really happens, which is why it was personally important for me to make this film.

There are regular talks of the best health care made available by the government in Cuba. But the hospital scene where a lead character met a nurse for medicine and a secret vendor opening a bed as a medicine store do not tally the government claims. S-e-x is also used as a metaphor of the hardships people in general have to undergo. Did you want to make a statement on life and government policy in Cuba?
There are talented medics in Cuba, but this does not negate the fact that sometimes things are sold off the record, not everywhere, but this can happen. Depicting this does not contradict that medics are good in Cuba. S-e-x is shown in the movie at moments when it was important to the story, or the impact it has on a character, whether witnessing it or doing it.
  S-e-x for many different reasons is a strong motivating drive in ‘Una Noche’. That was my intention. I wanted to juxtapose Lila's more innocent worldview with the way that s-e-x is present around her. It is something that she is starting to become curious about, which is reflected in her attraction to Raul, but she does not sexualize herself and she is conflicted about her attraction to him. I wanted to present her as an alternative image, contrary to the over sexualized stereotypes of young Cuban women, so it was important to contrast her outlook to those around her. Raul uses s-e-x as a release, an escape, as a way not to have to access deeper emotions, a way of numbing himself and also as a currency, to get what he needs.
  ‘Una Noche’ is focused on the lives of these three specific characters and their journeys of self-discovery. I am not making a general statement in showing the way that they live. It is not a reflection on Cuba as a whole. We did use all real locations and real homes. We are following three lives over one day. People may come into the cinema with a political perspective and that may mark their reading of the story. Everyone has a different interpretation and will leave the cinema with his/her own emphasis.

There is a certain spatial aspect in the film, like the confining space of the raft at sea sets an unorthodox but real stage for the climax of the whole drama. The earlier chaos in Cuban streets and homes gave way to greater chaos. How do you explain the semiotics thus expressed in your film? And, in this respect, what is the aspiration of your film?
Poster of Una Noche
When they are on the ocean I wanted the audience to feel the vast immensity of the water, but also the sense that they are trapped on a claustrophobic little raft and that they cannot get away from one another. My intention was to light all the emotional fuses in the city, for the audience to really get to know each character independently, so that when they are brought together their emotional bombs can explode. Once they are all on the raft their jealousy, desire, sense of who they are and what they feel for one another comes to the fore in a pretty messy love triangle. The journey is very important in them learning about themselves and influencing one another. Raul, for example, observes the siblings love between Elio and Lila and realizes his negative impact on Lila when she wants to get out of there because she wants to get away from him. These moments stimulate self reflection in his character.
  The film is about many things, love, respect, betrayal, family, ego, sexual attraction, unrequited love, friendship, sibling bonds and loss. There were a lot of emotions that I was going through making the film. I lost a very dear friend and that had a big impact on the story. The movie is dedicated to her. I wanted to express some of the feelings that I was going through at that time.

Which filmmakers across the world do you think have got the best out of non-actors in their movies (like you did)? And why non-actors?
Ken Loach is a great example of a director who often works with non-actors, films like “Kes” and “Sweet Sixteen” are very natural and organic in their acting. Also Michael Winterbottom's “In This World” comes to mind. Another good example is Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund's “City of God” fantastic acting by non-actors. I particularly remember the little kid crying when he’s shot in the foot. I think that it is often the case when looking for young talent, that it is easier to find non-actors who are willing to learn and be fresh. Kids are open to playing still and entering into fantasy world without inhibitions or self-consciousness, which is invaluable to a director. I love the relationships formed whilst working with non-actors. There is a lot of trust involved and I very much appreciate that you can keep the natural elements of that real person, the aspects of their character that drew you to them initially. I like the process of developing their talents too, when you can see their surprise by their own performance and feel them take a new pride and energy from their achievements. In ‘Una Noche’ a lot of the adult characters are also non-actors. I had the luxury of time to train them. I was looking for an aesthetic foremost and I feel that if you work hard with almost any person who is committed, that they have the potential to act. It really is all about confidence and trust. Trust to make yourself vulnerable.

What made narrative a strong part of your storytelling and filmmaking? If a cinema student wishes to learn it, what must he do? What study-video material would you refer?
In writing ‘Una Noche’ I was thinking about telling a story that I would want to see on the screen. It was that simple. I was writing something that would excite and grip me, as a viewer and that I would be invested in. I was thinking about relationships that progress, about how emotional states of different people can affect one another. I was taking influences from my life, from observations of others and from my imagination. I do not like watching films when I am making a movie. I like to focus more on the world around me and take inspiration from there. That said, one of my favorite movies is “Taxi Driver”. Robert De Niro's character is complex, real and subversive. I love that film. I was initially also inspired by “Soy Cuba” an old Russian film by Mikhail Kalatozov that is stunningly shot. Its energy is so raw. Visually, I really admire that movie and it was very amazing to hear about how it was made. It was before steady cam existed and the cinematographer did weight training with gallons of water to prep for making sure the handheld camera was on point. They have tracking shots that go up and down structures and under water and are visually incredible for 1964 when it was made. That movie really inspired me.

My advice to a film student is to tell the stories that excite you. Find your own voice.

You’ve studied politics from oxford, I’ll ask, what is ‘politics of films’?
At Oxford I was interested in political theory, the psychology of society. How people respond to different political systems and how various perceptions of the human condition are understood. It was most interesting for me to understand how people justified ways of envisioning society. I was especially interested in studying concepts of society that I did not subscribe to, for example conservative philosophers, like Burke. It fascinated me because I felt like I was starting to understand a mind set that I could not justify or fathom before. It was a very helpful background for my film making for sure.

There is a marked conflict between the experimental and the entertaining in cinema. Why have you associated with the former one?
My intention was defiantly to make a film that was entertaining. This is really important to me. My primary focus is to make a movie that I would want to watch; that would grip an audience, pull them into the characters' journeys, surprise, provoke and visually stimulate them, hopefully make them fall for the characters and root for them. As a filmmaker one of my main interests is to evoke empathy for my characters. I consciously wanted to keep up the pace of the film and include elements of action, thriller and strong emotions. I was not focused on the commercial prospects of the film, but more what would I want to see, what story would keep me watching and wanting to find out more about the characters and where the narrative would take them physically and more importantly emotionally. Certainly, I want to keep evolving in my work and fundamentally keep making stories that I am passionate about. I would not want to work any other way, making a movie is too hard to do without feeling completely committed to it and in love with the story, the characters, the locations and all aspects of making that vision materialize on a cinema screen.

When you conceive an idea, it’s something lyrical - spiritual - emotional and dramatic inside which remains within only until the dreamer in you is innocent and pure. But, once you start out to make the movie, you repeatedly have to maneuver the production, instruct the actors and technicians and take the tension of everything. I mean, when you’re exhausted managing everything, then only the rolling of camera starts. How do you save the initial idea and passion intact up to this point?
That is a good question. When I was making ‘Una Noche’ I was initially terrified. It was my first time working with a full crew. I was so focused on the physicality of making the movie that the process became an embodiment of all of those initial ideas. It was very exhilarating because I had been envisioning, dreaming and obsessing over the story, the actors, the locations for months and when it came to making it the moment was the only important thing. It was about being lucid and open to the moment and convicted to executing each shot that we needed to tell the story in the best possible way. It was also about being open to the talent around me and to harnessing and ensuring that the crew could harness that collaboration and use it to the best of everyone’s ability in the time given.
Dariel Arrechaga in a still from the movie, he plays Raul.

(लूसी मलॉय समर्थ एवं उभरती महिला फिल्मकार हैं। वह लंदन में जन्मीं और न्यू यॉर्क में रहती हैं। उनके पिता फिल मलॉय, मां वीरा नॉएवाउवर और भाई डेनियल भी काफी वक्त से एनिमेशन और शॉर्ट फिल्ममेकिंग से जुड़े हैं और प्रतिष्ठित नाम हैं। लूसी ने ऑक्सफोर्ड यूनिवर्सिटी से दर्शन, राजनीति और अर्थशास्त्र की पढ़ाई की। उन्होंने न्यू यॉर्क यूनिवर्सिटी फिल्म स्कूल से फिल्ममेकिंग की। 2005 में उनकी बनाई शॉर्ट डॉक्युमेंट्री ‘दिस मॉर्निंग’ को स्टूडेंट ऑस्कर पुरस्कार के लिए नामांकन मिला। पिछले साल वह अपनी पहली फीचर फिल्म ‘उना नोचे’ (एक रात) के साथ लौटीं। हवाना, क्यूबा के रहने वाले तीन किशोरों की इस कहानी को अंतरराष्ट्रीय फिल्म समारोहों में काफी सराहा गया और सम्मानित किया गया। पिछले साल गोवा में हुए 43वें भारतीय अंतराष्ट्रीय फिल्मोत्सव में उनकी फिल्म को स्पेशल ज्यूरी प्राइज दिया गया।)
*****     *****     *****