Two for the road: producer Grant Keir of Faction North and Virginia Heath looking forward to world première of Lift Share at EIFF Photo: Richard Mowe
Film festivals aren’t just about red carpets, parades of stellar talent, razzamatazz and glittering prizes but can act as a valuable showcase for short films that might otherwise languish virtually unseen and unappreciated.
Edinburgh International Film Festival offers what the curators collectively describe as “a thrilling showcase of the finest brand-new short films from across the globe” in various thematic sections - Dream Images, Optics, Resistant Bodies and for UK talent Firecracker and Kaleidoscope.
For director Virginia Heath and producer Grant Keir (of Faction North) the EIFF world premiere of Lift Share (in UK2: Kaleidoscope) marks the start of what they hope will be an attention-grabbing summer for the film with submissions to Locarno and Toronto to follow and who knows what else.
Shot over a crisp six days on the Isle of Harris and Lewis (Outer Hebrides), Lift Share is a road movie of sorts about a Romanian woman seeking to reunite with her lost child. She signs up for a lift with a musician setting out from Edinburgh to attend his estranged father’s funeral. Both have personal journeys and family conflicts to reconcile, unfolding in different time frames, as they head North.
Rumanian actress Ana Ularu, who has appeared in Romanian New Wave films by such directors as Cristian Mungiu, appears as Marina in Lift Share Photo: Faction North
Heath, a New Zealander now living and working in Edinburgh, said: “When I first started on the project which I co-wrote with my daughter Stella, we thought that, because it was in short form, we wrote a version of it in which they never went on the road. It was a kind of Sliding Doors-ish type scenario with her being in an internet cafe and him being in an apartment across the road. Slowly they got to know each other.
“Then our Executive Producer, Paul Welsh, at Scottish Film Talent Network, who were backing the film, encouraged us to open it out. So we decided to put them together and get them on the road which was where the road movie genre came in. And I do like those kind of movies, including Thelma And Louise, Two Lane Blacktop and more recently Nebraska. When they work well they’re great, but obviously you don’t want to film people just driving around the whole time!”
The notion of a Romanian woman seeking to find out what had happened to her child came about from research she carried out some years ago for a previous film, My Dangerous Loverboy. “It was about the exploitation of young people in this country. It was always assumed that the women involved here in exploitation or prostitution had been brought in from outside, mainly Eastern Europe. I looked at girls being groomed in the streets of Northern cities in this country and that has become a huge story now. When I made the film it was literally hidden.
“In the process of making that film I did a lot of research around sex trafficking and exploitation. I found that young women becoming pregnant under the aegis of their pimps would then have their babies taken away from them and offered for adoption. The other side of it was that a friend of my mother’s had actually gone to Romania and adopted a baby from an orphanage but she did not know anything about the child. If you go online there are a lot of self-help groups trying to reconnect children and their birth mothers. I thought this would be an amazingly strong thread for a story - what if one of those children had ended up in the Hebrides? It is a very subtle factor in the narrative - in a longer piece you could go into that whole side of the story.”
Car share: Mark Rowley and Ana Ularu on a journey of self-discovery in Lift Share Photo: Faction North
The film was written with the lead actress, Ana Ularu, in mind. She has appeared in Romanian New Wave films by such directors as Cristian Mungiu, Radu Muntean and Cãlin Peter Netzer, as well as international productions by Academy Award winners Francis Ford Coppola, Susanne Bier and Ron Howard, and will participate in an EIFF jury. She is about to appear opposite Keanu Reeves in Siberia, a crime thriller directed by Matthew Ross (due for 13 July release in the States).
Heath added: “She had been in a film that Grant produced called A Very Unsettled Summer, playing opposite Jamie Sives. I knew that she was an excellent actress, Grant had worked with her and knew she was great to work with. Ana is very proud of her country, yet nervous about Romanian characters being put in a box as prostitutes and so on, and we did not want to play that up too much. She is such a strong character as a person which comes across in the Marina character as well. She is very flexible and talented, and very funny but also responds brilliantly to the more tragic moments in playing with, and questioning, this notion of motherhood and family.”
As the musician, Paisley-born Mark Rowley became passionate about the part, and the film, and committed to it in his demanding schedule. “Mark gives a real depth to the character of Murdoch, wrestling with familial abuse, the feeling of betrayal he felt as a child, and his need to somehow reconcile with his past”. He portrays Finan in a starring role in the BBC's The Last Kingdom, recently shot over six months in Hungary, played the troubled Thane in Kit Monkman’s Macbeth, and is due to make a feature film shortly in the States.
Ana Ularu on the beach on Harris - stunning location for Lift Share Photo: Faction North
Keir, despite the logistical challenges of shooting in the Outer Hebrides, with two days of travelling on either side of the shoot, was pleased with the result: “Predictions concerning the weather proved challenging but all the landscapes we needed were in one place - the beaches and the graveyard at the top of the headland. It was very cinematic. The Western Isles Council provided some additional funding and were happy we wanted to shoot there. There is a fully functional studio space in Stornoway but it is hardly used. With a short film you have to have ambition and where you shoot is crucial. Lots of films shot in Scotland use the usual places in the Highlands or in the Central Belt but this location gave us new perspectives.”
Heath believes the film also has wider horizons. “Obviously the film is about the very personal way in which the characters help each other to recognise what they need to do in their lives. But I felt in the wider context of Europe at the moment and Brexit, I really liked the idea that these characters from different places and backgrounds come together and cross barriers rather than erecting them. That was a very conscious underlying theme.”
The world première of Lift Share is part of EIFF Shorts - UK2: Kaleidoscope screening at Cineworld 18.20 on Wednesday 27 June.
Lift Share is supported with National Lottery Funding through Creative Scotland, BFI NETWORK and Scottish Film Talent Network (SFTN). SFTN is a Consortium of Centre for the Moving Image, Digicult and Hopscotch Films.