Interview with Filmmaker Anna Southgate (I SEEK ASYLUM)

 I SEEK ASYLUM played to rave reviews at the March 2018 FEMALE Feedback Film Festival in Toronto.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Anna Southgate: For the past few years the Helen Bamber Foundation has held a live event ‘The Conversation’ hosted by the charity’s President, Emma Thompson. I script and produce the event (since my background is in screenwriting), but with such stellar acting talent available, it made sense to create a film that would not only screen on the night but also online and at festivals afterwards. That way we could keep the conversation about the desperate need of asylum seekers alive.

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this short?

Well… being a charity project, everything was don in a very short time and on an extremely tight budget. None of which would have been possible were it not for the generosity of all those who supported us, both in front of and behind camera.

3. How would you describe your short film in two words!?

Shamefully accurate.

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

It’s hard to say – we had such incredible support. But it’s always difficult to ask professionals to give up their valuable time and talent for the price of a train ticket – even if it is in a good cause.

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

It’s nerve-wracking to hear an audience’s response to your work, of course. But a relief that the subject matter resonated with people. And that it made viewers think about how we regard refugees.

I’m particularly glad that the audience picked up on the point that we judge a person more positively when they seem to be familiar, when they look, dress and sound like us. But those we consider as ‘other’ – people with darker skin or foreign accents – we treat with suspicion and disrespect. For this reason, I made the decision to ask the actors to use their ‘normal’ speaking voices. Juxtaposing these with the voice-over of a real asylum-seeker illustrates this prejudice.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

6. How did you come up with the idea for this short film?

To research for the charity event, I read a lot of extremely harrowing asylum cases. Some are so dark it would be impossible to dramatise them without the audience turning away (which is the fine line the charity must always navigate when describing its work with the survivors of trafficking and torture.) But I realised that re-creating the interview scenario would make it possible to switch between different characters, enabling the telling of several stories in a single set-up.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

My favourite film is ‘Little Miss Sunshine.’ It never fails to charm me. Surprising though it may seem given the subject matter of ‘I Seek Asylum,’ my background is actually in comedy!

8. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are you feelings of the submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?

It’s a pretty slick process, thank goodness. Because I’m totally useless with technology. I’d use carrier pigeon for all correspondence if I had my way.

9. What song have you listened to the most times in your life?

Regrettably it is likely to be ‘La Bamba.’ Not out of choice because I enjoy it. On the contrary, I despise it. (With a passion I usually reserve for presidents with bad hair and worse politics). And yet… on almost every holiday I have ever been on, the hotel band seems it necessary to spoil my evening sundowner with a rendition even more irritating than the original.

I believe Dante describes a circle of hell in which La Bamba is played on an eternal loop by a man with bad hair and a banjo.

10. What is next for you? A new film?

I am soon to shoot a short film which is one of the story strands from a multi protagonist feature I have written – a satire about a local community centre that is taken over by city developers and turned into a private members club.

Such gentrification is happening a lot in the U.K., where the government and local councils are turning their backs on poor people. We have a huge social housing crisis so rising homelessness too which is an utter disgrace. It makes me so angry. But I try and channel this rage into comedy where I can – else I’d go mad.

Or maybe it’s already too late…

 
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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 20-50 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every single month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto, and Los Angeles at least 3 times a month. Go to http://www.wildsoundfestival.com for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

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