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Steven Hudson • Director

True North

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Steven Hudson • Director

British actor-turned-director Steven Hudson tells Cineuropa about his first feature True North. Shot in a real fishing trawler, the Ariel Films production received two BAFTA Scotland Awards nominations (Best Direction and Best Scriptwriting) and has now been selected for Karlovy Vary's Variety Critics' Choice: Europe Now! sidebar.

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Cineuropa: Why the theme of illegal immigration for your first feature?
Steven Hudson: Illegal immigration is an integral part of the world we live in, and it clearly isn't going to go away for as long as the planet is divided up the way it is. There have been several very strong films that have told illegal immigrants' stories from their point of view. What really interested me, though, was to make a film from the point of view of people smugglers.

The politicians would like to tell us that these are the bad guys, but – on the face of it at least – people smuggling is a victimless crime: the smugglers are simply providing a service that other people are prepared to pay for. On one hand, of course, you could argue that people smugglers are preying on human desperation. On the other, though, (unlike, say, heroin dealers) they never created that desperation… If anything, they are helping to alleviate it.

At the time I wrote True North, I'd had enough of films where the good guys are the good guys because they're good, and the bad guys are bad because they're bad. It just seemed like lazy thinking. The moral grey areas much more interesting: I might think I'm a good guy, but what would it take to push me into doing something utterly evil?

How did you articulate the character's personal dramas with the social issues of immigration and the death of the fishing industry in Scotland?
Immigration and fishing provide the background to the story, but not the story itself. Perhaps I was attracted to them both simply because they are problems without any easy solutions. They are bigger than any of us.

At the same time, though, a fishing boat is a wonderful setting: it's almost a forbidden world. Nearly all of us have seen fishing boats in harbours, but the world of the men who work on them is completely closed off from us. Life on board is incredibly hard, and also intensely cinematic: below decks, it's utterly claustrophobic, with men penned up together in just a few square feet. Above decks, one can see all the way to an empty horizon in every direction – utterly alone, and exposed to the forces of Nature. In the eye and the hands of the gods, as it were.

I suppose it's not very fashionable, but I'm a great admirer of epic cinema: I love big set pieces, storms, huge panoramic landscapes. However, these images only mean something if they articulate real human emotion. Without emotion, without a basis in the personal and intimate, it's nothing – just empty bombast. But if it really works, the cinema can be magical – the outer world becomes a means of expressing an inner world.

In this sense, I suppose there is an attempt to bridge the personal with something much bigger... We kid ourselves that we're the authors of our own lives, but there are forces out there – forces of nature, forces of economics, forces perhaps even of destiny – over which we have no control whatsoever.

Shooting on a real fishing trawler in the winter must have been a tough experience. What are your best and worse memories of the shoot?
Best and worst: out in the Atlantic in a force 8 gale. I always wanted to make the film in as realistic conditions as possible. I guess I got what I deserved.

What project or projects are you currently working on?
My wife just had twins. Right now, I'm very busy with that...

What does it mean for you to be selected for the Variety Critics’ Choice section at Karlovy Vary?
I'm absolutely delighted!

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