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“I mourn the fact that great subversive films rarely get made nowadays”

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Steve Oram • Director


- KARLOVY VARY 2016: Cineuropa sat down with Steve Oram, the director of Aaaaaaaah!, to discuss how he made this intriguing slice of British cinema

Steve Oram  • Director

Steve Oram’s Aaaaaaaah! [+see also:
interview: Steve Oram
film profile
 is a beguiling and strange slice of British cinema that mixes the sensibilities of Mike Leigh with the completely surreal, as we’re asked to imagine a world in which humanity has all the trappings of modernity but humans have devolved into apes. They whoop, grunt and holler, and throw their filth at each other, but they can still work the microwave. Oscillating between dark comedy and social satire, the film is both grotesque and strangely poignant.

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Aaaaaaaah! is Oram’s feature debut, with the director being chiefly known for his acting appearances, including playing the male lead in Ben Wheatley’s similarly dark Sightseers [+see also:
film review
film focus
interview: Ben Wheatley
film profile
(he also plays one of the leads here). The film has just screened at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival, where Oram was placed in the Variety “10 Directors to Watch” section. Cineuropa asked him about the film and about just how much monkeying around it took to make it.

Cineuropa: Where did you get the idea for Aaaaaaaah!?
Steve Oram:
I've always found it funny how similar we are to apes, and yet as a race, we seem to want to ignore this embarrassing fact. As a teenager, I had the Desmond Morris Naked Ape book, which stripped us down to our basics, and I loved that. I'd experimented a couple of times with short films in which people behaved like apes in a suburban setting, but it was a light-bulb moment when I came up with the idea of it being structured like a traditional Romeo and Juliet-style love story. It seemed a good way to bring together all of the elements I wanted – of comedy, social satire and horribleness.  

There’s so much in the film: I see aspects of social realism as well as many great and strange films from the 1970s. What kind of things inspired you?
Yes, I love the great subversive films of the 1970s, and I mourn the fact that films like these rarely get made nowadays. Movies such as If! and Clockwork Orange tapped into real truths about the human condition, which is why they're such masterpieces. I was also massively inspired by [legendary British naturalist] David Attenborough's nature documentaries, which I grew up watching. They were such brilliant observational pieces, and I remember finding them very affecting as well. This inspired much of the shooting style, too.

How easy was it to cast? Was it difficult to find people who would be prepared to enter the strange little world that you created, or was everyone really prepared to give it their all?
Everyone was 100% committed. I wrote most of the parts specifically for people that I knew and was pretty sure they would all be up for it. I didn't know Toyah Willcox [a punk singer and actress, who also stars in the film], but she had been in Derek Jarman’s Jubilee, so I had an idea she wouldn't be fazed. Most of the actors come from a comedy background, too, which helped.

I’d like to know a little bit about the shooting. How long did it take to get the funding together and then make the film?
The film was completely funded by me, and this came from a radio voiceover advert I did. I had this money, and I thought it was now or never to do a low-budget film. Andy Starke, who I had worked with on Sightseers, was up for producing it, and his expertise and experience made it all possible. The prep period was about three or four months, and then we filmed it over two weeks in July. I edited it over three months, and all the post-production work was completed by about Christmas. 

What about the reactions to the film? Have they been ones of bemusement or joy? Or maybe a mixture of the two?
It's mainly played very well, with lots of laughter. But there are often one or two people in the audience who are a bit unsure. There are a couple of scenes involving body parts early on in the film that set the tone, I think. With no dialogue, it's also worked well all over the world.

What film do you want to make next?
I have two scripts: one in a period setting and the other in suburbia. There'll be speaking next time!

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