In conversation with filmmaker Aaron Dunleavy

As part of Push Festival we welcomed filmmaker Aaron Dunleavy. HOME Digital Reporter Ryan Lee Gregory caught up with him after his talk…

Ryan: You’ve just finished your Q&A here at HOME and said that your main influence above all others is Shane Meadows, and you’ve talked about your process is very similar to his. I’ve noticed that you, him, and Mike Leigh all have very similar improvisational processes and the content is also very similar, covering working class characters trying to find their place in the world. Why do you think that is, the process and the subject matter being paired in that way?

Aaron: Interesting question. For me it was never a matter of what class I’m focusing on, it’s just a matter of that’s the town where I was from and that’s the prominent class. But it was also that filmmakers like Shane Meadows had no resources to go out and make films, so they didn’t have access to actors or budgets. So a mix of things really, it’s an area that is close to my heart and it’s an area I’ve grown up with but it’s also that community spirit of coming together to make a film.

R: There’s also this stereotype that Northern people are much more open than perhaps other areas, do you think that is a reason you get such compelling and naturalistic performances and characters when you are doing this improvisational style?

A: I think there are elements of that. Northern people are slightly less represented on screen so I think there is an insight that lends itself to that friendly Northern charm. But I think it’s just about finding the right characters and all I’m looking for is interesting characters. There’s been times when I’ve been in London and sat across from someone on the tube and I thought they were interesting so I got their contact details. So it’s not necessarily just about location, it’s about finding that individual that has something about them.

R: I’d like to follow on from that and read you out a Tweet I came across the other day. So it goes like this: “Hello I’m a northerner in a movie. I say what I like and like what I bloody well say. Sometimes I leave my terraced house to climb a large hill & gaze off into the distance/future, dreaming of one thing: London. But who will look after my kestrel/mithering pregnant girlfriend?”

A: *chuckles*

R: Do you find that there’s a difficulty for filmmakers to authentically represent Northern people without descending into stereotypes and caricatures?

A: Yeah I think stereotypes are something that I’ve tried to stay away from as much as possible and part of that is trying to make sure that the character in the story is very close to the character of the actor. So I’m trying to bring as much of that persons real background and personality into the role as possible because then you get the real nuances of the different characters. I think it’s very easy to fall into the trap of the stereotypical flatcaps and whippets but giving a voice to young people is what I’m interested in doing, and if that makes a story go in one direction rather than the other then that’s just the reality of it.

R: Speaking of reality, you’ve also said that you never intended to make a documentary, you were primarily focused on narrative fiction. Now that you’ve made your first documentary and it’s been a huge success do you plan to stick with it or jump between the two?

A: I’ve always been interested in that line between fiction and non-fiction, and I think stepping over into documentary territory has made me almost a little bit more excited about going back and making something fictional. Because there really is an interesting cross-over in blurring that line between what is real and what isn’t real. So the transition to documentary was nice and I will definitely make more documentaries in the future but I’m certainly interested to see what I can do when I go back to some fictional stuff.

R: Yeah I completely agree with the idea of blurring the line between the two. We’ve both made documentaries for BBC3, to be distributed online, do you think that is the future for getting exposure for a film, particularly when you’re just getting on the ladder, or is there still a place for screening films of any kind in cinemas?

A: I think there’s something exciting about the real immediacy of the feedback that came from releasing a film on BBC3 and the platform that gave for all the comments and shares was a completely different experience to what I had from screening narrative stuff in cinemas and at festivals because you don’t really get any audience feedback. Whereas online there’s just no filter and people can be completely honest about whether they like your stuff, which is a good thing and a bad thing obviously.

R: *chuckles*

A: But for me there’s nothing better than screening your film in front of a live audience, it’s a magical experience and I hope it doesn’t go away.

R: It’s also much easier to avoid getting into conversations with trolls.

A: Oh yeah I’ve been there and it’s just not worth it is it?

R: Certainly not. Alright that’s a wrap thank you.

A: Brill.

Push Festival continues until Sat 26 Jan. Find out more and book tickets to festival events here.