British filmmaker Ellie Rogers joins us on Close-up Culture to talk about exploring memory and unresolved trauma in her short film, They Found Her In A Field.
You can see They Found Her In A Field at the Raindance Film Festival as part of the Queer shorts programme (22 and 26 September). For more info
Q: I recently had a buried childhood memory triggered by walking past my old primary school. What led you to the subject of memories and this story?
A: I’d experienced a loss in the family and was trying to process some painful memories. Trauma is a cyclical thing, if you don’t address it at some point it will rear its head again. So I was firstly interested in exploring that in a narrative way and trying to imbed this idea of memories being distorted and cyclical through imagery and narration.
Then, as I was developing it, I knew I wanted to create a sense of a specific place and show how locations can have a profound effect on our lives and memories. As you say, they can be triggers and being in a space can conjure up a lot of feelings, both painful and beautiful.
Q: Memories are incredibly fragile and easily distorted, but I find childhood memories to be particularly potent and somewhat mysterious. What do you feel is the nature of childhood memories, particularly those that are tied to trauma?
A: I’m drawn to telling stories about young people and their experiences in the world. I think this is because it’s such a formative time and your first experience of love, guilt, grief, etc. are the most impactful. You carry them with you for the rest of your life.
But often those experiences are very private and young people bottle things up because of shame or guilt. I think this is particularly true for young LGBTQ people. So if a trauma occurs and it’s linked to these feelings of guilt or shame, it’s unlikely to be processed in a safe way when you are young.
Children keep a lot of secrets and take them into adult life with them. These memories can stay buried for a long time and the more time that goes on the easier it is for the memories to become distorted, which makes them all the more confusing and harder to process. The good and the bad gets mixed up and it’s hard to untangle it all.
People hold memories that might seem really inconsequential but there is a reason it’s imprinted itself there, an emotional reason, even if you don’t remember why.
Q: The stills I’ve seen of the film show a frosty field. What impact does the setting and this cold atmosphere have on the film?
A: It was always important to me for the landscape to be somewhat bleak and cold. It reinforces this idea of being frozen in time and that Martha hasn’t been able to move on, she is stuck in that frozen landscape.
I grew up in the countryside, and going to school on the bus we would drive past all these frozen fields and have to play games in the frost. Much like the memories we witness in the field, the cold can be both beautiful and painful.
Q: Can you tell us about the images in the film and how you wanted to visually capture Martha’s experience with memories?
A: So the film is told through Martha’s voice-over and her description of the events surrounding the death of a classmate. It was important to me that the voice-over didn’t at any point become too expositional and so I wanted her to tell us about the world outside the field and events gone by, the rumours and playground talk.
Then visually we only ever see the field and those are really the images locked in Martha’s head.
In order to create this idea of the cyclical nature of trauma, certain images are reprised but then slightly altered, giving this idea of distortion. Shooting on 35mm I think was important and helps add a texture and richness to those images.
Q: How did you find the experience of shooting on 35mm?
A: I’ve had some experience working on 16mm at film school which was great, but I was so lucky that the director of photography, Adam Barnett, had some 35mm stock left over from another shoot and so offered it up for the film.
On-set it’s just like working with 16mm but when you get the 4k scan from the lab, the details and texture are beautiful. It was such a delight when we started to colour grade it and seeing all the images come together.
It was a difficult shoot because we never intended it to be snowy, it was sheer luck that we got hit by the ‘Beast from the East’ that weekend. It made everything suddenly a lot harder and continuity was thrown out the window but it really added to the story. It made working on film hard too because it was a very old stock we were using and it started snapping when we were trying to feed it into the camera.
So that slowed us down but we got there in the end!
Q: Do you have a favourite image from the film?
A: That’s a really hard question because Adam is really good at his job. I thought everything he shot was not only beautiful but expressed something deeper within the story.
There were certain images that we had a very clear idea about from the beginning. I love the birds-eye-view image of the girls huddled up together like dormice.
But if I had to pick it would be where Sofia, played by Nia Towle, is lying in the field laughing. It’s accompanied with a line where Martha says, ‘She would never change.’ I always felt like that was the moment Martha remembers when she thinks of Sofia. There is a glimmer of warmth there which she has held so desperately onto.
Q: ‘They Found Her In A Field’ will screen at the Raindance Film Festival. What do you hope audiences take away from the film?
A: My intention with the film was always to create something atmospheric and poetic. To transport an audience into the field and see the beauty and the pain within these memories.
Ultimately the film is about unresolved trauma and how events like these can touch many people, not just immediate family, so I hope people get as sense of that.
Q: We are heading into a busy festival period here in London with Raindance and the BFI London Film Festival. Will you be in attendance? If so, is there anything you are particularly excited to see?
A: Yes, I will be at London Film Festival. I’m so excited, there is an amazing line up this year!
My favourite filmmaker, Céline Sciamma has her new film, A Portrait Of A Lady On Fire, which I’m dying to see. I’m of course excited to see big films like The King and Jojo Rabbit but a lot of first features too like Saint Maud and Atlantics.
Q: Now a few quickfire questions: Name three filmmakers who have impacted your work.
A: Céline Sciamma, Lynne Ramsay and Wong Kar-Wai.
Q: How do you unwind away from filmmaking?
A: Long walks and TV.
Q: What was the first film you fell in love with?
A: I remember watching Girl Interrupted, a lot!
Q: What was the last film you saw and enjoyed in the cinema?
A: Pain And Glory – Almodovar is such a great writer!
Q: Where is your favourite place to watch films?
A: BFI Southbank – the audience really love and value films.
Q: Name three actors you’d love to work with.
A: Chloe Pirrie, Frances McDormand and Thomasin McKenzie – she’s a rising star.
Q: What has been your proudest moment as a filmmaker so far?
A: I’ve had a few emails from strangers on the other side of the world saying that one of my films really touched them. That was really humbling and reminds me why I want to make films.
Q: And lastly, what is next for you?
A: They Found Her In A Field is going to some more festivals and I’m hopefully going with it. But I’m also looking to shoot another short film soon, I’ve just no quite put my finger on what it is yet.
I’ve been writing a feature about a forensic artists, and I’m developing a TV series about a young woman who gets her period for the first time and is visited by Joan of Arc.
You can see ‘They Found Her In A Field’ at the Raindance Film Festival as part of the Queer shorts programme (22 and 26 September). For more info