"The consequences of adopting greed as a political ideology"
by Naman Ramachandran
- Encounter with the British filmmaker, three months after the Cannes premiere of her Selfish Giant and in the wake of her nomination as a finalist of the 2013 LUX Prize
Cineuropa: After The Arbor [+see also:
film profile], what made you choose The Selfish Giant [+see also:
interview: Clio Barnard
interview: Clio Barnard
film profile] as a subject? Was Oscar Wilde an influence in your formative years?
Clio Barnard: While I was making The Arbor I met a boy called Matty who lived on The Arbor, a street in Bradford. The film is based on him and his relationship with his best friend. I read The Selfish Giant to my own children when they were small and always wanted to make a contemporary, realist version of this story. The story is about the dangers of excluding children, what gets lost when children are shut out, when their value is not recognised. Matty and his friend were children on the margins of an already marginalised community – so I knew who the children would be, but had trouble figuring out who the giant could be. Matty and his friend were collecting scrap metal using a horse and cart, as lots of teenage boys in Bradford do, and that gave me the idea of the selfish giant being a scrap man.
Did the acclaim for The Arbor make the financing for The Selfish Giant easier? Can you please walk us through the process that you and your producer Tracy O’Riordan went through?
The short answer is, yes. After The Arbor I was asked by Lizzie Franke at the BFI, (who had been involved in developing The Arbor), what I would like to make next. At that point The Selfish Giant was a seed of an idea. She said she would be interested in developing it. I also spoke to Katherine Butler and Tessa Ross at Film4 who wanted to support me in making my next film. I began by doing workshops in Bradford with Matty and other teenage boys to develop the idea. The film was green lit once there was a healthy draft of the screenplay.
There is a strong social realism undercurrent in The Selfish Giant. Which aspect of British society are you turning the spotlight on? Is it the lack of available opportunities or the people who are responsible for the lack of opportunities, or both?
The film is based on observation of the lives of teenage boys growing up in a socio-economically marginalised community in Bradford. The film looks at the consequences of adopting greed as a political ideology (capitalism). Kitten has adopted this ideology and Arbor emulates him. It’s about what of real value gets lost when greed is seen as a virtue not a vice. The people on which the film turns the spotlight are the children who are the victims of this ideology - children who are often blamed, excluded and criminalised.
How has the journey been from being a visual artist to a feature filmmaker? Has your background in the visual arts made the transition smooth?
I have always worked with film but the context has changed. The Arbor is an artwork about representation that critiques social realism, verbatim theatre and documentary filmmaking where as The Selfish Giant is a more conventional film which embraces a strong tradition of social realism as fable. (Bicycle Thieves, Kes, The Apple, The Kid with a Bike [+see also:
interview: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne
film profile]) My main concern in making the transition was that with a background in visual arts I worried that I lacked experience working with actors – so I worked hard to try and get that right. I really enjoyed working with actors – both the adults and the children - and made that my priority on set.
What is your next film about and what stage is it at now?
I’m attached as a writer/director to a screen adaptation of a novel by Rose Tremain set in France and attached to direct Polly Stenham’s screen adaptation of her play Tusk Tusk.
The Selfish Giant is the first British film to be shortlisted for the European Parliament’s LUX prize – your reaction to this honour?
Thrilled! Absolutely delighted! I’m incredibly pleased that the story, although specific to one very particular place, has relevance across Europe – that’s wonderful.