Interview: Strawberry Fields, dir. Frances Lea
Next month, BEV teams up with New British Cinema Quarterly on their tour of Strawberry Fields – new release from “UK Screen Star of Tomorrow 2011,” writer/director Frances Lea.
An inventive melodrama referencing Tennessee Williams and A Streetcar Named Desire, Lea’s feature debut as writer/director is a complex story of lust, rivalry and liberation in Kent countryside. BEVer Emily Vermont speaks to Frances about her career so far and the backdrop to this unusual story.
Tell us a little about your background; how did you first become involved in film?
I dropped out from my Fine Art degree at Bretton Hall to work at a special needs day centre, before doing a HND in AV Communication. I then set up and ran a cinema at Treadwells Art Mill in Bradford and did a post-graduate diploma in Film and Television at Bournemouth College of Art.
From there I directed a range of drama productions for about ten years, working for Channel 4, ITV Network and BBC2. Two films I wrote and directed won 11 International awards at festivals. I also directed Everyone’s Happy (written by Simon Beaufoy) with Footprint Films and an Internet Drama series Get A Life Harry.
Has there been a turning point in your career yet? How similar is Strawberry Fields to your previous work for example?
Strawberry Fields is a turning point in that it is the first screenplay I have written. It comes out of a time when I stopped directing and concentrated on other things. I needed to work out what I wanted to say and how to say it. I feel I’ve achieved this with Strawberry Fields and I’m proud of it. Consequently I have written another screenplay and two other film proposals, so it has given me a clear purpose and focus as a filmmaker.
So you write as well as direct. How do you approach the creation of a story? To what extent was Strawberry Fields drawn from experiences in your own life?
Stories come when I give myself the time and space to let them in. The hard work begins when fashioning the ideas into a screenplay. It’s a hard-won skill that requires discipline and commitment to the truth of each character.
I do have a personal understanding of these characters having worked within prison, psychiatric and special needs institutions and studied the psychology behind family constellations (e.g. Burt Hellinger). I have witnessed how shame can silence and confuse people and so female sexuality and mental health are certainly themes that have always interested me as well as society’s tendency to hide its problems away.
I was keen to get away from any traditional focus on class and having been strawberry picking and met a mixed bag of people from Cambridge university students to violent ex-cons, all spending the summer together on the Kent coast, I thought this was a great place to set a film.
It’s possible that women don’t demand to be heard and supported in the same way that men automatically do. – “For most of history, Anonymous was a woman.” – Virginia Woolf. The question carries the weight of history (with all it’s childcare and nurturing roles) behind it; so it isn’t easy to shift this imbalance, but women tell different stories of equal value and we need to hear them. Education and confidence building at an early age is key.
The whole industry still seems predominantly geared towards the white male and younger audiences. Female filmmakers and scriptwriters need investment and industry confidence behind them and they need the male audiences to listen (as well as female). They have to be ferociously driven too, but it’s easier than ever to have access to cameras and edit suites and everyone can pick up a pen, so we also have to get on with it and really support each other.
Join us at the BFI Southbank on the 4th July, and at the Curzon Renoir on the 9th, when we’ll be hosting a Q&A.