Poet, actor and filmmaker Greta Bellamacina joins us on Close-up Culture to talk about her directorial debut, Hurt By Paradise.
The film, which has been nominated for Best UK Feature at the Raindance Film Festival, tells the story of Celeste (played by Bellamancina) and her co-dependent friendship with her babysitter Stella (Sadie Brown), a failed actress captivated by an online love affair.
Q: This year we have seen a wayward friendship between two women in Sophie Hyde’s ‘Animals’ and a tight-knit friendship in Olivia Wilde’s ‘Booksmart’. What is the nature of the female friendship at the heart of ‘Hurt By Paradise’?
A: The friendship is one of those you stumble across by mistake. Stella and Celeste live in the same building and Stella occasionally babysits Celeste’s son Jimi, as a way to make money. But the characters almost end up living their dreams through each other, as neither of them can seem to make them materialise in the real world. They kind of become an odd little family, and not until the end of the film do they realise how much they need each other.
Q: You co-wrote this story with Sadie Brown and Robert Montgomery. What did the three of you want to explore about friendship?
A: I think we wanted break away from the idea of a nuclear family and show two women bringing up a child with humour. We were quite aware early on that we didn’t want Celeste’s downfall to be her being a single mother. Instead we wanted her writing to be the main focus. And the friendship between the two women to be depicted as a kind of modern portrait of motherhood.
The script evolved from me and Sadie writing together on the same page and then Robert refining the script and reworking scenes to fit locations and the initial vision of the film.
Q: You play a struggling poet called Celeste. Can you tell us about her and how much of your own experiences as a poet went into the character?
A: The film is predominately fiction. But I wanted to show the struggle of making a living as a poet, which is something I’ve found particularly challenging. We open the film with Nicholas Rowe playing the high-handed literary agent who tells Celeste to “write poetry on the side” and sends her on her way dismissing the idea that she could make it as a poet.
Q: How do you view the relationship between poetry and film? Did your poetry background help or inform your work on ‘Hurt By Paradise’?
A: I’ve always thought that cinema is a kind of poetry. In the sense that when all the elements come together – the lighting, the set, the costume, the cinematography – you are making a dreamlike rhythm where anything feels possible. Cinema is dreaming while you are awake really.
I am a big fan of Terrence Malick’s films. It is impossible to not see the poetry in them.
Q: I’ve heard that you evoke Woody Allen’s ‘Manhattan’ at the start of ‘Hurt By Paradise’. Why did you want to open the film on this note?
A: I don’t know if it was intentional or not to reference Woody Allen’s Manhattan, but I think London has a certain romantic loneliness to the streets and I think as much as the characters are living in chaos, I wanted the city to be a way of exploring their thoughts and dreams. There is a shot we took on the 26th floor of a block of flats in South London when the sun was setting pink and all around you can see London far away and glistening, which is a reminder of how you can feel part of a place but far away at the same time.
Q: This film is shot in black and white with the occasional injection of colour. What does this aesthetic choice bring to the story and its atmosphere?
A: The colour comes up whenever Celeste is reading a poem in her head. I wanted to find a visual way of suggesting that her dream world is more vivid, and perhaps more real, than the world around her.
Q: You’ve been on film sets since ‘Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire’ in 2005. How did you reflect on that experience and your journey in the industry?
A: Growing up I did a lot of theatre acting. I immediately felt most free when performing, it allowed me to be inventive and complicated.
I was incredibly lucky to work on Harry Potter. I was fourteen at the time and I think I was able to see early how important every single detail is to making a film. It is really mind-blowing when you think of how big those sets are in comparison to low-budget indie filmmaking. I think for a year I didn’t see the sunlight, I would leave home at 5am and get home at 8pm each day – but I absolutely loved it.
Q: Which part of making ‘Hurt By Paradise’ did you find the most challenging and the most rewarding?
A: I think when you are working with a low-budget it is always going to be challenging to pull it all together. Luckily we had amazing actors agree to be in the film early on because they liked the script. But it was challenging to find locations for free which worked in the world of the characters without comprising.
But equally, I think the beauty of working on a low-budget film is that you can make creative decisions that you wouldn’t of considered before. We were quite untraditional in our approach to making the film. From very early on we said that we wanted the crew to be just as creatively involved as the director and the actors. I was able to trust the decisions of the team both creatively and technically because everyone was a part of the creative dialogue which made it easier to step into my character role.
Also, my creative partner and husband – the artist Robert Montgomery – produced the film and became the second director, and sort of guided me from the monitor which meant that the process of acting and directing became much more fluid. And when we played back the rushes we could sign off on a shot much quicker because both of us share a similar vision.
Q: ‘Hurt By Paradise’ has been nominated for Best UK Feature at the Raindance Film Festival. What are your thoughts and feelings heading into the festival?
A: I am really proud to be in nomination at Raindance Film Festival, especially as it is a festival I’ve grown up coming to as a teenager and discovering incredible independent cinema for the first time.
Q: What is next you? Any plans or ambitions to share?
A: I will be playing the lead in Jamie Adams’ new feature film which will be shot this November in London, as well as working on a new script of my own. And my poetry book Tomorrow’s Woman is coming out in the US and internationally on the 4th of February 2020 with Andrews McMeel, so there’s lots to do.
You can see ‘Hurt By Paradise’ at the Raindance Film Festival in London (28 and 29 September). For ticket info
Title image by Carlos de la Reina