A Web Exclusive with British Filmmaker Leyla Pope

British filmmaker Leyla Pope is an up and coming writer and director.  She recently finished directing a short drama entitled Love Struck, which was broadcast on the BBC this autumn, and her recent short film Bubbles is currently on the festival circuit receiving very positive reviews.  The film follows three generations of a family brooding in the shadow of a loved one's funeral.  Each character suffers an emotional crisis in private, allowing Bubbles to sensitively examine the agony of regretting the roads not taken in life, and the anguish of leaving behind our childhood.


We caught up with Leyla Pope for a chat about her film, her ideas about the role that cinema plays, and her views on what it's like for women in film today.



STUDIO: Firstly, congratulations on your short film Bubbles.  You must be very proud of the positive responses it's received so far.   Was this the reaction you anticipated?

Leyla Pope: Actually, it has far exceeded my expectations by a long, long way.  I was flabbergasted when we got the first review through.  A huge sense of validation, but never expected it, no.


STUDIO: As well as directing, you also wrote the film.  Could you tell us what inspired the story?

LP: I was on a writer's retreat in a gorgeous house by the sea in North Wales.  The aim was to come up with a short film script.  I was still a fairly young Mum and for me just being able to have a weekend away to myself, and being able to write, was a massive gift.  Someone had recently talked to me about Wuthering Heights, and how in that story the house was a central character.  So I was thinking about houses that watch the histories of families, but also about how it's a very British thing not to say what you're feeling.  This makes it wonderful for film, because it gives you rich sub text.


STUDIO: So it was a conscious decision to keep dialogue in the film to a minimum?

LP: Absolutely.  One of the reasons I wrote this was I feel that cinema is becoming the only space for quiet reflection in our busy lives.  People don't commonly go to church, there's no longer that space in people's lives.  But when you're in this darkened room, then you can start internalising and identifying, and going to these inner places...


STUDIO: There's a kind of cathartic release...

LP: Yeah, but also there are so many things we're not allowed to talk about in mainstream society.  Things like, when you're married you're married, and that's a wonderful, happy thing and you're meant to be happy forever.  And yet people struggle within marriages.  People might have desire for other people.  I wanted to explore that, and also those first signs of awareness of your own sexuality.  These are all very uncomfortable feelings, and so intimate that people don't necessarily talk about them.  So I don't really think I could have used dialogue to go there.


STUDIO: The film immediately follows a funeral, but each individual character seems to be suffering from their own personal sense having lost something they cannot recapture.  What do you think we as audiences find so appealing about themes of loss and regret?

LP: It's so funny, isn't it?  We all go around wanting to be happy all the time; we're all kind of in pursuit of happiness, and yet part of being happy is being able to mourn our losses as well.  I think we need to lose things to be able to open ourselves to new experiences.  I agree that loss is predominant in the film, but there is also a hope: a seed of finding new feeling as well. I think we all need a space to revisit our losses.  This goes back to what I was saying about cinema, and how it is a space to allow us the safety to feel these things.


STUDIO: You mentioned how the house can play such an important role in family life.  It seems also that Welsh landscapes play important roles in the stories both of Bubbles and your BBC short film, Love Struck.  Would you agree?

LP: For me, these are microcosms.  You go into a little world and yet there is universality to it, and also a timelessness.  By going into the landscape, we immediately have the sense that these stories have been happening, and they will happen again and again.  For me the hills symbolise that.


STUDIO: You began your academic studies at Cambridge in French and Persian literature.  How do you think your literary background has helped you as a filmmaker?

LP: I definitely think the stories.  We translated a lot of epic poems in Persian literature, and had all these lectures on what the important elements of a story are.




STUDIO: Was it quite a late decision to go into film?

LP: Well yes, film came very late.  I was looking for a worthy career and kind of fell into working for Médecins Sans Frontières.  There you come across all these very horrible stories: lots of humanitarian disasters and children dying.  That's when I started script writing.  And really, after scriptwriting, I thought, "Well now I've got to make these films!"  So it was a natural progression.


STUDIO: Have you had the support of your family behind you?

LP: Yes.  Kicking and screaming mind you, but...


STUDIO: Do you think this could be one of the reasons for the lack of women in film: being torn between family life and the demands of the job?

LP: It's a really tough one!  There is obviously a massive shortage of women in film.  It could be because of the long hours.  It isn't a job that's immediately family or child-friendly.  Has it been an intimidating industry for women, perhaps?  I'm not sure.  When I got to film school, I had one lecture by a woman during my entire eighteen months of study.  The rest were all by men!  All the books I was given to read were by men.  I just thought, "This is appalling!"  We live in a world with both men and women, and I think it would be a far richer, more interesting world for having those voices.


STUDIO: Could you say that you have encountered any other barriers in the industry that you could attribute to gender?

LP: Any barriers would have just spurred me on.  You definitely have to have a huge level of self-confidence.  I don't see thirty guys on set and think, "Damn!"  I'm like, "Thirty guys on set - yay!"  Oh god, please don't put that in!  That sounded so wrong, didn't it?  What I meant was, that a male environment does not intimidate me.


STUDIO: Do you find this whole conversation about the lack of women in film to be a double-edged sword?  This is an issue that obviously needs to be raised, yet how do you view the 'woman director'?

LP: It is one of those really difficult things.  You want to be known for being a director, not for being a female director.  I remember the first time Bubbles was screened, the head of the film school introduced it as a "very female film" and the hairs on my neck bristled!  But I can see that there is a lack of female directors, so there is definitely a need to encourage women into the industry.


STUDIO: You're currently doing the rounds of various festivals.  What's next for the film?

LP: I always said I needed to see how people reacted to Bubbles to see if it was worth taking further, which is why the recent screenings have been so positive for me.  We're now writing the feature length script, which is very exciting.  It's actually very rare to have a British film that's not a gritty working-class drama, so I think we've got to use that as one of the selling points.  That, along with the fact that we are writing a protagonist who is an older woman.  This is something that seems to have really spoken to women at the screenings.


STUDIO: Are you working on any other projects?

LP: I've got a couple of feature scripts that are in development.  I'm quite excited about getting back to writing.  After having a kind of crash course in doing quite a few films recently, it's lovely to re-energise.


STUDIO: How have you found dealing with all the marketing and PR side of things?

LP: Thank goodness for the people that have been doing that for me!  I've come to realise that making the film is actually just a third of the work.  The Twitter campaign has been the biggest insight: that people would be interested in following us.  The responses have been amazing.  But yes, I am beginning to realise just how important that side of it is, and actually how you should have it all in place before you start.  But hey, I'm still learning!


Words by Andrew Chesney.


Bubbles is reviewed in our November issue – out now!

"There are so many things we’re not allowed to talk about in mainstream society. I wanted to explore that."
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