EUROPE IN SHORTS Interview

IT FELT LIKE A FEATURE

An interview with Matthew Sanger  about ‘Blueberry’

by Sascha Ormanns


How did you become a Filmmaker?

I initially wanted to be an actor. Actually, at the very beginning I wanted to be a stuntman, but the threat of personal injury saw me reappraise things. So acting was my thing for a long while. In retrospect it's clear that my driving urge was simply to show off. (Still is.) To that end, I wrote little films to act in. But as my prepubescent oeuvre burgeoned, the visuals became more and more important to me and I decided I no longer trusted my brother to operate camera. (Although he’s very good.) I think I was fifteen when I finally started calling myself a director.

You have already written scripts for feature films, you directed PLAYGROUND LOGIC and some music videos from Wojtek Godzisz as well and you also worked as an editor for television. With BLUEBERRY you returned to the short film genre. Why did you decide to do another short film?

The only reason I’d ever made short films – or done anything else for that matter -  was because feature offers were scarce! I’m steeped in feature films and my intuitions have been moulded by that form, and short film-making is such a different discipline. So my shorts were always wannabe features. I started writing features in hopes of wowing a producer into giving me the break of all breaks. As this eventuality languished in my fantasies, I developed some more scripts and ultimately produced one myself. Then BLUEBERRY was brought to me, or at least the bare bones of it. It immediately appealed and I pitched the notion of presenting it as a fairytale: romantic and dream-like. I think one of the reasons I responded to it was, although it’s a short, there are very few moments of real-time action and I could pace it as if it were the stylized prologue of a longer story. In short, it felt like a feature, or at least part of one. So I was comfortable with it.

Are there any characteristics in british short film culture? And if, do they have an effect on your filmmaking? 

I’m not really familiar with the world of short films, although I could maybe identify certain conventions of British shorts: a gritty, urban style possibly; the desire to make social commentary. I’ve never been of that disposition so I suppose my instinct has been to confound such expectations. But not simply to be contrary: if the convention were to attempt pure entertainment then I’d happily conform.

Where did the idea for BLUEBERRY come from?

The producer Darren Bender came up with it. He founded an authentic human story on an amusingly dark urban myth. A lovely mix.

Is BLUEBERRY based on a personal experience?

You’ll be disappointed to learn that my days have not yet been touched by any six-foot, man-eating pythons. Fortunately, the more grounded story at the film’s heart is similarly alien to my experience because my upbringing was idyllic. I suppose I have encountered troubled people whom I believe were deprived of their innocence prematurely, and BLUEBERRY depicts a moment in a young girl’s life where she’s vulnerable to the same fate. So in that regard it did resonate with my personal experience, but thankfully indirectly. 

Your film has a melancholic aura, which is constantly contrasted by Daisy's childish and innocent point of view, which has a humoristic effect on the viewer. Do you think presenting this serious topic in this special kind of way is influenced by the typical british sense of humor?

I think it’s that contrast which makes the film. It’s one of the things that drew me to it. A straight drama about paternal neglect may not have piqued my interest, but I felt that to invoke fantasy and humour to speak of such a grave human truth was potentially very fresh and sensitizing for an audience. I also hoped it would bring a poignancy to proceedings, inviting the audience to both recognize the impending danger and also to relive some of the innocence which was under threat. As far as the sense of humour’s concerned, I’m not sure my Britishness dictated it so much as that very contrast between the father’s experience and Daisy’s: it’s so glaring as to demand a tongue-in-cheek approach. Plus, I love humour. For me it’s an irresistible seasoning which I’m urged to add to everything I make.

For example Terry Gilliam's TIDELAND is also told from a child's perspective, but without the humor you find in BLUEBERRY. Have you been inspired by TIDELAND or other movies?

I confess I’ve not seen TIDELAND for the very reason I’d heard it was uncompromising in its depiction of a grim childhood. I love Gilliam, but I felt his dark style when applied to such a subject might be a little disturbing for me! I understand it’s a very fine film, which doesn’t surprise me as Gilliam is a constant source of inspiration. My main influences for this film were the Coen brothers and the children’s stories of Roald Dahl. And Spielberg of course. Always Spielberg.

BLUEBERRY is directed in a precise and trenchantly way and fascinates with unexpected turning points. Did your experiences in writing scripts and editing film influenced your way of narrating the story?

I’d hope that each film I make is in some way the sum of lessons learned so far. My seminal influences were the likes of Hitchcock, the Coens and Spielberg; directors whose styles are very deliberate and assured. To my mind, they achieve with film what Bach did with music: high emotion through technical precision. So that’s the ideal I’m aiming for. As far as the unexpected turning points are concerned, they were borne of a robust core idea and its intrinsic structure, so I can’t take credit for that. (Although I often do if the producer’s not around…)

Without revealing something essential: What was your idea behind the snake?

Are you asking how it was done or what it represents? I fear the answers to both are pretty obvious! Thankfully, mystery was not essential in either case…

What are you working on in the moment?

Right now I’m preparing another short which I’d describe as an existential black comedy, but with a heart. I wrote it myself, although it’s based on actual events which happened to a friend of mine. As he recounted his experience to me, I just watched the film play in my mind’s eye – and it was a short! So I just thanked the short film gods for tossing me a freebie and scribbled it down. Now I’m looking for like-minded collaborators to help bring it to fruition. I’m also writing another feature. It’s a ghost story with a rich thriller seam running through it. And I’m guessing some humour will creep in there too. We’ll see if I can resist...

Photographs by JameKarinejad