ON THE BLOG: Scottish filmmakers at Berlinale Talents Q&A

Within the first quarter of 2020, a spike of Scottish filmmakers were selected for European training schemes including Berlinale Talents, EAVE, Less is More and IFFR Pro. Alberto Valverde from Creative Europe Desk UK in Edinburgh met with three Scots taking part in Berlinale Talents this year, to talk about their experience attending, the value of training programmes like Talents, and the importance of participating in European networks. They are Glasgow-based animator Josephine Lohoar Self, writer-director Sean Lìonadh, and editor Stella Heath Keir.

Josephine Lohoar Self is a Scottish BAFTA-nominated writer, director and animator working predominately in stop-motion animation. In 2017 she graduated from The Glasgow School of Art in Fine Art: Painting & Printmaking. Josephine’s most recent film The Fabric of You received a Special Mention during its premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2019, has been nominated for Best British Short at The British Animation Awards 2020 and has been shown at festivals including Animac 2020 in Spain.

Sean Lìonadh is a poet, writer and filmmaker from Glasgow, known for his visual poem Time for Love, which reached millions of people online, won a 2019 Royal Television Society Award and was translated into five languages. It also inspired a TED talk, and a movement called the Time for Love Project. Sean is developing his first feature film, Nostophobia, a horror relationship drama exploring the terror of adolescent intimacy and trauma through a gay relationship. He is also publishing his first poetry collection with Speculative Books.

Stella Heat Keir is a film editor based in London who graduated with distinction from the National Film and Television School in 2019. Azaar, her graduate fiction film,  was nominated for a BAFTA and longlisted for a BIFA. Some of the films she has edited have premiered and won awards at festivals including the BFI London Film Festival, Annecy International Animation Film Festival, Edinburgh International Film Festival and Sheffield Doc/Fest.    

Alberto Valverde (AV): How did you hear about Berlinale Talents?

Jospehine Lohoar Self (JLS): Berlinale Talents had been on my radar for a couple of years. I first remember becoming aware of the talent lab at a lecture during the Glasgow Film Festival in 2017.

Sean Lìonadh (SL): The producers of my feature film asked me to apply in order to help move our project forward. We were aiming for the Script Station, but I was happy enough to make it into Talents!

Stella Heath Keir (SHK): After graduating in 2014 from the Edinburgh College of Art with a first class BA in photography, I moved to Berlin, where I lived and worked as an artist for two years. I attended the Berlinale in 2015 for the first time, where I watched films such as Bustamante's Ixcanul and Na Young-kil's Hosanna, which still paint vivid pictures in my mind. I watched at least five films per day for a week, and knew that this was the start of an important creative relationship for me.

AV: What encouraged you to apply?

JLS: For me Berlinale Talents has always been one of the most prestigious and exciting talent labs in the world. I thought I’d put in an application after completing my most recent film The Fabric of You. The main pull for me when considering applying to the lab was having the opportunity to connect with some of the most exciting filmmakers from around the world.

SHK: I left Berlin and moved back to the UK to undertake a MA in Editing at the National Film & Television School, graduating with distinction in 2019. Leaving Berlin to pursue an education and career as an editor in London was a hard choice as I loved the city, so I made myself a promise that I would one day return to the Berlinale as a participant of the Editing Studio. I had also researched training labs and found that the Berlinale Talents was one of the few labs that editors could attend as an individual artist looking to explore their own practice - outside of edit labs for films - which reinforced my fire and determination to apply. 

AV: What did the application process involve?

JLS: I remember the application process being fairly long. I think you have to submit a short clip from one of your films and you need to have completed at least two short films. You also have to complete a number of questions in the application form - which I actually quite enjoyed! They ask you about your practise, what you’re passionate about - outside of filmmaking - and what you’d look to gain from the Berlinale.

SL: The application was slightly unusual, with some interesting questions. From sharing questions I would ask my favourite artist, to writing about what concerns me in the world right now - the process required self-interrogation!

SHK: Honesty. Susan Korda, Gesa Marten and Aletta von Vietinghoff - the three brilliant women who run the Editing Studio, championed the unique voice of each editor - the range of our experiences, interests, technical, emotional and creative approaches to being editors was beautiful and inspiring. Passionately and truthfully be yourself in the written application - don’t be afraid that you aren’t experienced enough - some of us had cut features, some were still studying, some were moving their practice into the world of video art for gallery exhibition…

AV: What did you learn from the experience? 

JLS: Where to start? Trying to get your film made anywhere is hard. One thing I found particularly interesting was talking about the unique difficulties and challenges directors and producers face in their own countries.  It was particularly eye-opening hearing from filmmakers who are trying to get their projects funded in their countries which invest little in film, as well as filmmakers whose scripts directly engages with the shortfalls of their respective governments.

SL: I learned the value as an artist in surrounding yourself with creative people. It can be difficult to do this sometimes, and when you find yourself finally in a purely creative environment, all doubts you have about a project quickly evaporate. 

SHK: To not be afraid. Send that application, start that conversation, wear your heart on your sleeve - and get a room full of editors to literally scream alongside you, to remind us of how powerful our collective voice is. 

AV: What would be your main takeaways? 

JLS: Co-productions: Something which was focused on a lot during the Berlinale Talents was co-productions. I really enjoyed learning about the benefits and opportunities, countries such as France had to offer to filmmakers looking for co-produce. And also the power of filmmaking: I went to a couple of incredibly interesting lectures exploring the revolutionary potential of filmmaking. We were lucky enough to hear from a variety of documentary filmmakers, tackling topics from pro-democratic uprisings in Algiers, to a village’s decade-long protest against Africa’s biggest silver mine. The importance of freedom of expression within filmmaking was further highlighted for me at the festival when Mohammad Rasoulof’s film There Is No Evil won the Golden Bear award. There Is No Evil tells four stories loosely connected to the use of the death penalty in Iran. Since the films showing at the Berlinale, Rasoulof has shockingly received an incarceration order from the Iranian authorities who argue his film is ‘propaganda against the system’.

SL: My main takeaways are the very good friends I met, and the work and visions I witnessed while there. I also saw a real beauty in Berlin as a place, and would love to return, especially when the time come for the next festival.

SHK: Global creative communities are so important - especially in these divisive times - in the wake of Brexit I was proud to be attending a European film festival which fostered a unique space to grow, learn and discover through the exchange of ideas - ultimately building a 255 people strong community of long lasting cross culture relationships. 

AV: Some of these European training schemes have been proven key in developing Scottish Filmmakers’ networks and skills. Would you like to attend more of these in the future? Why? Perhaps more specialised ones?

JLS: Yes absolutely! I’m going to apply for the EIFF lab this year as I begin to develop a feature script. I have also applied to a number of European pitch and development labs for another short stop motion film I’m working on. 

SL: I would love to attend more programmes like this, specifically those based on skills-sharing and developing as a writer/director. I think it’s key for creatives from all over the world to meet and introduce their practise and vision to one another so we can all learn from each other, but also appreciate the unique quality of each others’ visions.

SHK: 1000% yes, in the face of the current social climate of divisionism, building networks of artists has never been more important. It is so rare to get fifteen editors in a room together, let alone such a diverse and global group of people. I’d love it if there were more Edit Labs or even Post-Production Labs.

AV: Would you encourage other filmmakers to go out there and attend European training schemes like Talents? Why?

JLS: Absolutely. Attending talent labs internationally and domestically, not only gives you the opportunity to network with some of the most exciting filmmakers from around the globe, but it also educates you on the massive multi-faceted nature of the industry. Since coming home from the Berlinale I feel energized and inspired and am looking forward to applying what I’ve learnt to my next projects.

SL: I would absolutely encourage filmmakers to attend trainings like Talents. One of the most important things it gives you is more self-esteem as an artist. In these environments, ideas and confidence are nurtured, and the energy of the place stays with you long after you return home.

SHK: Yes, we should never stop learning. The more I learn, the more the necessity to create and collaborate becomes an uncompromising urge. The frontier is an exciting, demanding place to be and our job as filmmakers is to explore the multiplicity of truth to activate thinking in our audiences.

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Take a look at the list of European Training Courses available here