This year celebrating its twentieth anniversary, the Raindance Film Festival presented (from its London location) a vast array of exciting new independent films from talented young directors, along with a selection of retrospectives and workshops showcasing the hottest new film-making talent.
One of the standout entries in the Best UK Short category was The Mapmaker, a beautiful, dream-like and melancholy film about an aging couple who are forced to come to terms with the complications in their lives when journeying back to a hotel they once visited in their youth. Charles Dance plays the Mapmaker of the title and Jenny Agutter stars as is his wife Isabel.
The film is also notable in that it was exec-produced by legendary Brit director Nicolas Roeg (Don’t Look Now, The Man Who Fell To Earth). Roeg took an interest in director Stephen Johnson and writer/ producer Scott Bassett after seeing (and loving) their previous short Hunger and agreed to help the pair in getting The Mapmaker off the ground.
The Flaneur met with actress Jenny Agutter (American Werewolf In London, Logan’s Run, The Railway Children) along with Stephen Johnson and Scott Bassett to talk about the making of The Mapmaker and their views on modern British cinema.
Stephen Johnson (Director): We had been bouncing the concept of The Mapmaker around for a few years and after several discussions it developed into the strongest idea we had and one we both keen on making.
Scott Bassett (Writer/ Producer): We were originally working on a portmanteau film about a series of interlocking stories that take place across a single night in a city. It started as a small seed within that broader idea and grew from there.
Jenny Agutter (Isabel): I think The Mapmaker captured that feeling of memory which is interesting. It’s a film about time and a perspective on relationship. The two protagonists are telling the truth about their past which delivers them into this particular time. There is a heightened element to the film which brought with it a surreal quality. It’s a love story but it is also a tragedy.
Stephen Johnson: Funding and pre-production were our greatest challenges. We were chasing high-profile stars to appear. I have some great memories from the shoot. Charles Dance called me a cheeky git when I asked him not to talk so posh. He has a wicked sense of humour and made it a much easier process.
Scott Bassett: As a short film with no real budget to speak of, we couldn’t rely on money to solve our problems and so had to build the production as a sort of house of cards. I believed in the film’s potential from the get go and through adopting the mantra of ‘if you build it, they will come’, fortunately others started to believe in it too. We were very lucky to have such a fantastic cast and crew who stuck with us over a long period of time and some very difficult moments.
Jenny Agutter: I did like going to the coast and doing the scene on the peninsula looking out to the sea. It was a wonderful moment because we had to dash to get up there to catch the light. I hold a strong memory of that because it epitomises what movie-making is about and about what Stephen and Scott were about. The determination they had in going after something and making sure they got it was inspiring.
Stephen Johnson: Visually and editorially Nic Roeg was one of my greatest cinematic influences and helped out a lot. I’d ring him to ask advice and he’d give me guidance on where I was stuck. He’s still razor-sharp creatively. My greatest goal in terms of film-making is to create something new and exciting. We currently have one feature that’s in major development, three others that are waiting and ten more at the research stage.
Scott Bassett: Stephen and I had talked a lot initially about creating an ‘intimate epic’ which I think sums up the nature of The Mapmaker quite well. We were interested in telling a small personal story on an epic canvas. In giving me the confidence that it is possible to do this and be ambitious with memory, dream and narrative. The work of Anthony Minghella was and still is a massive influence.
Jenny Agutter: I am a great lover of short films and I think they are a big demand on a film-maker for telling a succinct tale. It’s like having a wonderful small painting. I’m sorry that they don’t get better distribution than they do, but it is wonderful that there are festivals to showcase them. I don’t know why advertising doesn’t go in the direction of sponsoring shorts and having them shown before features. I think there was talk of that happening at one point. There is some truly great talent making short movies.
Stephen Johnson: It’s an exciting time for British cinema and short films are very important as they are the coalface of creative freedom. I would like to see a broader range of films coming out of Britain in the future not just the usual Brit-genre films.
Scott Bassett: Right now I’d say it was tougher than ever, but also more exciting. There are many challenges facing us, but distinctive new voices are coming through every year with entirely new ideas about how to tell stories for the big screen. At one time in the UK it seemed you could either choose kitchen sink dramas about social issues, gangster movies or heritage films but I’m not sure that’s true anymore and that’s very exciting.
Jenny Agutter: I’d like to see different films coming out of different backgrounds and cultures, expressing different views and voices. It’s an interesting time in the UK and a wonderfully diverse place. I would like to see more films that reflect that, films that are about our society.