After working on two previous documentaries, Karen Guthrie and Nina Pope chose the small seaside village of Jaywick as the focus of their third collaboration. It may seem like a slightly unusual choice for a film, yet the final piece is a thought-provoking and emotional roller-coaster that will leave you very surprised. We had the chance to talk to the directors behind the project and find out more about their inspirations and how their background in art helps their filmmaking.
What was your original motivation for taking on the project?
Nina: Well I had visited Jaywick and been really struck by what an amazing place it was visually and I always kept an eye out for anything arts-related that came up there. We were then invited to come to work in Jaywick as artists on a consultancy with Essex County Council about the possible future of the green spaces both in and around Jaywick. This might sound quite far from making a film, but as a company we have quite a diverse practice from more public art projects to documentaries.
Anyway, we really enjoyed working in the town and actually talking about gardens and green spaces is an amazing way to meet lots of people and to spend time looking at a place. By the end of our work there we’d had a show at the Martello Tower and I guess we had fallen for Jaywick. We could see that some of the problems in the town were very deep-rooted but we also heard many people telling us what a great place it was and that they had chosen to live there. I think in a way we wanted to come back and really interrogate why people might make this choice – that to many outside the town would seem hard to understand.
What did you learn from your previous documentaries that helped you on this third film?
Tenacity and how to make a film that’s both about people and a very particular place – how to create a ‘bubble’ world in a sense. Jaywick is in some ways quite different to our other films though (Bata-ville & Living with the Tudors) as we are in front of the camera in both in these films. In Jaywick, we did work on some days with a crew but most of the time it was just Karen and I with the camera and the characters.
Well hopefully the film does have a very particular aesthetic – we spent a lot of time in Jaywick before we started, taking still images and thinking about the look we thought the material should have. As filmmakers we perhaps also have a more open-ended approach to what we are trying to find out through the film than other directors.
We often start with a question we want to answer for ourselves rather than something we want to ‘show’. We are not journalistic in our approach at all, we ‘feel’ our way around a context as instinctively as possible, and how it looks on screen is as important as what is said and heard. This continues into the editing, where we enjoy taking a very free-form initial approach to finding the structure of a film.
In the two years it took to film Jaywick Escapes, what do you feel are the most interesting things you covered during the experience?
Well, we tried to really understand what motivates someone to come to Jaywick and whether they stay or not. Many people there are happy to tell you how much they like living in Jaywick (which is at odds with the outside perception of the town), but what we wanted to find out is if this was really true and the different factors that brought them to the town. I think what we really tried to show is the complexity of the situation there – both for the town and for many of the inhabitants personally. When you discover the back stories of some of the film’s contributors, it can be disturbing, but also inspiring when you see the personal resources they still have within them to try to recover.
Jaywick Escapes is clearly challenging and creatively tough. What impact did the project have on you personally?
The project challenged us personally, politically and creatively – the approach we took is quite different from our other films and to pull a coherent story out of the material was a really satisfying challenge. We met some amazing people through the film and it’s been great keeping in touch with them after working together. We’re pleased to say many of the people in the film have got their lives back on track since, but to become close to people who have really suffered in life of course makes you realise how fortunate you are, gives you perspective on your own problems.
Also it’s the first film we shot almost totally ourselves, it was great to connect hands-on with the ‘craft’, something that of course as trained artists, we enjoy doing.
You both maintain a diversity in your work from tutoring to developments and film. How important is it to have that variety?
It’s the way we’ve always worked – making films is now the most important part of our practice, but we also enjoy all the other aspects of our work and they perhaps bring a richness to our practice and to what we bring to film. We see it as ‘adventures in real life’ in a way, our other work, that we wouldn’t get if we were like other jobbing filmmakers working solely with what can be put on screen. The kind of films we want to make need so much sensitivity, you need to be so ‘awake’ to humanity that your life experiences all become a kind of training, it’s wonderful. Of course it can be tricky to juggle, films demand so much from you at times…
Do you have any dream projects you would love to be involved in in the future?
We are now in post-production on a very special film about Karen’s family called ‘The Closer We Get’ – I’m not sure it’s a ‘dream’ project but it is one that we both really wanted to make happen. In fact, we are running a crowd-funding campaign at the moment to support it. One of the benefits of being such a small company is that we can take on these projects without any initial outside support – this film was very time dependent so it was great to just be able to decide to go for it. You can read more about it here: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-closer-we-get/x/50567
Karen also harbours a secret desire to make rockumentaries – Debbie Harry or Prince would be her top subjects!
Jaywick Escapes is available now on DVD here.