Filmmaker Interview by Chris Olson
UK Film Review recently met up with the director behind the stunning indie film Northern Lights, Nicholas Connor. In our filmmaker interview, we discuss how North England has impacted his filmmaking, the difficulty to wow audiences in 2017, and...of course...what he would say if he were a dolphin.
How would you describe your indie film Northern Lights?
Northern Lights is a coming-of-age drama that at it’s heart tackles teenage issues, such as anxiety, persona and the major changes from youth to adulthood. It follows Emma (Katie Quinn), a teenager suffering from anxiety disorder - she is at a pivotal stage in her life and we see how she copes with these changes and how this impacts on those around her. The changes in Emma’s life are mirrored by a sequence of images showing the changing street-lights in the North-West of England.
What was the reason for wanting to tell this story?
I had met with a number of young people that were experiencing mental health issues. It struck me that their story had never been told from their own grounded, unexaggerated perspective.
This imagery linked very well with my perception of the changes that are taking place in the North of England, a view that was first brought to my attention by the work of artist Chris Cyprus. Chris Cyprus’ work focuses on the North under the sodium street lights before the change to LED. As someone who has grown up with the orange glow of streetlights throughout my life the change is quite saddening as the whole landscape will look far more sterile and less colourful.
This idea of letting go of the past and looking at the future is really at the heart of the film. As someone who fears the future of cinema in the age of digital cameras and online streaming, change appears frightful. The film is really an allegory for that, but also an acceptance of the future.
The North is incredibly close to my heart and capturing the way it is now as a capsule of time I think is really important to keep hold of for future generations.
Did you have a particular audience in mind for this film? Or was there something universal you were trying to convey?
I think there is a universal theme within the film that is incredibly relatable for a wide audience in that everyone will take something from the film that connects to them. Having received feedback on the premiere of the film I realised that the audience, despite being from a variety of generations, had universally been moved by the project, a great result for me as a filmmaker.
Watch the official Movie Trailer for Northern Lights above.
Were you drawing on any particular influences when making this movie? Either other films or filmmakers?
I think the film in part was really influenced by the work of Xavier Dolan, especially his film ‘Mommy’, he captures time and emotion of a young person’s life in such a beautiful yet heart-wrenching way. When making Northern Lights I referred to the way that he uses pace and forms impactful moments out of seemingly small matter. I seem to take influence from virtually everything that I watch, there are influences from Won Kar Wai, Bergman and Ken Loach within the film, even though the film isn't entirely in the style of any of these very different directors. I think overall and most importantly, at the moment, I’m trying to form my own style, even if my style is in its formative stages.
What would you say is the hardest part of making a film in 2017? I think because of the coming of digital it's much easier to make content with professional looking cinematography, so it's far harder to stand out as much visually as a filmmaker. Now that almost anyone can make a film that looks ‘industry standard’, people seem to forget that it's not always about pixels but the story and characters being shown.
As a director I want to give my audience a ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ style ‘wow’ moment where there is scale and beauty, but it’s so hard to achieve this when audiences are so used to seeing great looking films. Therefore, I suppose the hardest part of making a film in 2017 is to find the key to standing out in new and innovative ways.
As a filmmaker who is interested in surrealism as well as realism, I think audiences are far less interested in surreal/slow-moving poetic films, which is what I aim towards in my style.
What do you have planned next?
This February I'm about to shoot my next film ‘Cotton Wool’ (Working Title). The film tackles the story of a 7-year-old boy whose mother suffers a stroke, leaving him to care for her with little-to-no help from his older sister.
The film is being made with the help of the Stroke Association along with a fantastic cast and crew, including the young Max Vento who you may know from playing the lead role in BBC’s ‘The A Word’, Kate Rutter (I Daniel Blake, The Arbor, Oranges and Sunshine) and Crissy Rock (Ladybird Ladybird, Benidorm, Under the Skin). In the lead role we have Leanne Best (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Home Fires, Cold Feet, Line of Duty). The film will be shot by BAFTA winning cinematographer Alan McLaughlin, and Katie Quinn, who starred in Northern Lights, will also be in the film as one of the leads. Cherwell Productions Ltd will also be funding the film as it’s second movie, following Northern Lights.
Where can people see Northern Lights?
Hopefully, people will be able to catch the film on the festival circuit, if it does well, then, fingers crossed, a release at the end of this year - we’ll be releasing it on DVD and digital streaming (VOD). What would you say if you were a dolphin?
I like turtles.