The importance of representation in film, and the role of women both on-screen and behind the camera is as relevant today as it has ever been. Gradually, progress is being made in this area, and one of the filmmakers hoping to further enhance the role of women in film, is London-based independent filmmaker Luana Di Pasquale.
With Keep Mum (2019), a short film which journeys into the horror/psychological thriller genres, the audience is taken on a real emotional roller-coaster, led by an incredible performance from Nadira Murray (Mum).
We spoke with Luana about her introduction to film, the true inspiration behind Keep Mum (2019), as well as what the future holds for her in the current Covid-19 climate.
FF: Can you tell us a bit about yourself? Did your upbringing affect your view on films at all?
LDP: I grew up watching Japanese cartoons (manga) in the day, and horror/thriller films by night, I mean, I was 8 when I watched The Exorcist (1973) which I believe was the first horror movie I ever saw. It was terrifying but at the same time I remember the enjoyment of being terrified. Indeed, I grew up watching genre films: Poltergeist (1982), the Freddy Krueger’s Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) series. Then I fell in love with Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) and David’s Lynch’s Lost Highway (1997) and Twin Peaks (1990-1991) – my favourite TV programme: I remember being fascinated by the mood of those psychological films, what was not being said… I suppose I was quite a dark child…
But I remember that the first film I watched at the cinema was Zanna Bianca (1973) (the Italian version of White Fang) with Franco Nero, and I cried so much: I was so moved by the profound friendship between the boy and his wolf. Animals are a very important part of my life and so is nature in general, despite the fact I live in the City of London where there are not many trees around. I remember also crying at Ghost (1990) and at the last episode of Six Feet Under (2001-2005) for obvious reasons: we are all going to die one day… OMG – Dirty Dancing (1987) – I was thirteen years old when I watched it, and I remember being so inspired by its teenage protagonist Baby – I wanted to change the world like Baby did!
Today there is more encouragement to make female-driven films; there are many women’s festivals, women’s collectives and women’s clubs promoting the work of women…
I never watched E.T. (1982) even though I believe in extraterrestrials: I mean the Universe is massive and ever-expanding, with 200 billion galaxies, probably operating with many dimensions (string theory and all that) – how can it be possible that we are the only ones? It is too egotistical to think that planet Earth is the only planet in the universe with life on it.
FF: How would you describe Keep Mum (2019) and what was your inspiration for making the film?
LDP: Intense. Thrilling. Profound. Real. Surreal. Suspenseful. Heartbreaking. Honest. Keep Mum (2019) is a short film that takes you on a 24 hour journey rooted in the secrecy of domestic abuse – which during the pandemic-induced lockdown could not be a more real or present issue. Keep Mum (2019) slowly reveals what is hidden behind a happy family photograph… It is inspired by a personal tragedy.
In addition, I can say that with Keep Mum (2019), I went back to my origins as a filmmaker, revisiting some of the themes of my graduation film Interference (2005) a thriller/horror story also about a woman who breaks her silence after a traumatic event – a very lyrical film, unsettling at times, with similarities to Keep Mum (2019) but much more surreal. It is interesting to see how much I have developed as a filmmaker over the last 15 years while making women’s stories…
FF: Keep Mum (2019) is a very intense and cerebral type of horror film. What attracted you to this genre?
LDP: I am interested in consciousness and how trauma affects the human psyche. We unconsciously project onto the world what we absorb while growing up. By bringing awareness to these “projections” one can connect more truly with oneself and others, and thus live more fully authentic lives. Indeed, by bringing to light the unconscious we can stop the cycle of abuse to which human nature is bound – you see, there is so much horror going on in the world and yet more horror is created by making decisions that divide people and inflicting damage on the ecosystem instead of bringing us together and with nature. I love films that make me think, and that offer an insightful look into human existence.
FF: Keep Mum (2019) has been described as a pilot for your upcoming debut feature film, My Enemy Within, can you tell us a bit about that and what we can expect?
LDP: My Enemy Within is a feature film that will not only revisit some of the circumstances witnessed in Keep Mum (2019) but also follow Mum after these events, telling us more about who Mum is and what she will do next: will she go to the police? Or will she hide the body? Will she run away? If so where to… I want to delve more into the element of illusion, exploring the mind of Mum as she enters the underworld of her psyche, facing once and for all her demons… I don’t want to give too much away at this point, but what I can say is that it will blow your mind.
FF: Female-driven films are very important to you. Have you seen improvements in this department since you joined the industry, and what do you hope to see a change in the future?
LDP: My personal work as a self-shooting PD (2005-2014), before I began to work on TV, was always focused on women’s stories and not because there was a lack of it but because they were very interesting and compelling stories to tell. For example The Truth about Cocaine (2008) highlights the issue of drug abuse by delving into the experience of a young woman quitting drugs and leaving an abusive relationship; Porn for Women (2014) – which highlighted the issue of the exploitation of women in the porn industry – centred on Anna Span, number one porn director in the UK, discussing this paradox. Both were shorts commissioned by Current TV.
I also worked with the legendary Guerrilla Girls on Tour for a few years bringing more awareness to feminist issues by not taking feminism too seriously, for example with Feminists are Funny (2008), a short comedy showcased as part of their world tour.
Another example is Nonna Nicolina (2008), a short portrait of an elderly woman in Rome looking back at her life and at her city. “The film works like a snatched conversation – it couldn’t be simpler, or more compelling!” is how 4Docs curator praised and described Nonna Nicolina (2008), while it was shown at the Learning to Love You More exhibition which initially was curated by award-winning film director Miranda July and artist Harrell Fletcher and then it was taken further by artist Nicky Peacock in Middlesbrough, (UK). For me, it has always felt very natural to be making films about women because their stories were very insightful, giving a fresh perspective. In hindsight, though, I was not aware that I was embarking on a mission by making short stories about women as an independent filmmaker.
However, it seems that today there is more encouragement to make female-driven films; there are many women’s festivals, women’s collectives and women’s clubs promoting the work of women, more than ever before, and there are also more grants available to write stories about women than before. In terms of numbers, though, women are still very much a minority in the film industry, so a change I do wish to see in the future is women being given the same and as many opportunities as men and being paid the same for producing women’s stories.
I am interested in consciousness and how trauma affects the human psyche. We unconsciously project onto the world what we absorb while growing up. By bringing awareness to these “projections” one can connect more truly with oneself and others, and thus live more fully authentic lives.
Still, though, there is discrimination not only in terms of gender or skin colour, but also Brexit shines a light on an issue regarding the many “foreigners” who have been living in the UK most of their lives and I have found myself in a few situations where I was discriminated against because I am an Italian making British genre films and being a foreigner (even though I am actually a Londoner) is not always accepted (even in the so-called women’s circuit).
Overall, it seems there are at play many unconscious biases, therefore initiatives like the BIFA’s Unconscious Bias training programme which highlights how unconscious biases affect our work in the British film industry and what we can do to solve it – this is truly a step forward in making better decision-making. So another change I do wish to see in the future is more acceptance and more inclusion.
FF: The arts have been heavily affected by the pandemic. How have you adapted to working in these new conditions, and have there been any positives to take from it?
LDP: The pandemic meant for me: time for reflection, healing, loving, being creative, writing and planning ahead while nurturing my passions, one of which is mentoring young filmmakers to make films! While I am developing a slate of genre films with female-driven stories that journey deep into the human psyche, pushing the boundaries of perception, I have recently received a grant from the Arts Council (lottery funded) to bring together my 5 years of experience in working with communities, organisations and colleges in London and take it to a new level; the result of this is The Art & Craft of Cinematic Storytelling, an online or in-person workshop about smart-filmmaking – check it out!
With regards to Keep Mum (2019), we have been very lucky that, despite the pandemic, it has been officially selected in 17 film festivals around the world, winning not only nominations, but also awards, and we have not yet finished our first year in the festival circuit, hoping to run more. I am amazed how the film festivals have found different solutions to respond to the COVID crisis by hosting their festivals virtually when they were not able to showcase it in a venue, allowing filmmakers to participate even when we are not able to travel. If you would like to see Keep Mum (2019), check out our upcoming film festival screenings.
FF: What advice would you give to any aspiring writers/directors hoping to break into the industry?
Be grounded. Trust your guts. Keep making films.