Melbourne filmmaker Jessica Barclay Lawton needs no introduction. Since graduating film school in 2009, she has been involved in a number of diverse projects spanning film and music video, the most recent of which, the Wes Anderson-inspired Pins, which we featured last year. Since then, Jess has been busy with her most ambitious project yet, the short film You & I, Brigitte, a romance that explores notions of reality versus perception. In the wake of the film’s premiere at Perth’s Revelation Film Festival last week, we sat down to chat with Jess on why You & I, Brigitte is unique in her canon of work, steering away from conventional narratives, and how difficult destroying a house really can be.
Portable: You & I, Brigitte is quite a departure from the retro stylings of Pins, your last short film. What lead you to go in such a different direction this time around?
Jessica Barclay Lawton: You & I, Brigitte & Pins are two very different stories driven by two very different characters, so even though I feel that Brigitte does still evoke the same nostalgic sensibility that is quite dominant in Pins,during the process of exploring Brigitte’s unique world and the best way to capture it, it was always important that the visual representation of her world be as individual as her story itself. So, Cinematographer Edward Goldner and I opted for a format and set of lenses which would reflect and enhance Brigitte’s distorted frame of mind and give the film a softer, more intimate aesthetic than what would have otherwise been achieved if shooting on a format like super-8, which we did for Pins and ultimately gave it that overall retro feel.
P: How did you balance the realistic depiction of a relationship with the more internal / surreal elements of the film, such as the breakdown of the house?
Jessica Barclay Lawton: The balance between the two was probably the most difficult challenge from pre-production right through to the edit. Knowing how much information is too much or not enough to portray the story fairly to the audience was always in the foreground of my mind. At the same time, we also had to make sure that the metaphysical elements such as the breakdown of a house were achievable and would work to support and reflect the main characters frame of mind, and building Brigitte’s world quite literally from the ground up was key to realizing that. The physical space of the motel where the film’s set is essential in translating Brigitte’s story to the audience, as its gradual destruction is the key visual representation of her internal mental demise. So, being able to construct that space and ultimately destroy it to perfectly serve the story turned into one of the greatest highlights.
P: What attracts you to depicting relationships, whether it be the relationship between villagers in a rural town in Morning Star, ex-lovers in Pins or an all-consuming love in Brigitte?
Jessica Barclay Lawton: I suppose I’m drawn to stories driven by truth and discovering the truths in our relationships. All of my shorts and installation pieces have in one way or another engaged with notions of time and attachment and their sometimes-unforgiving bond when it comes to family, friendship or love. The interaction between the internal and external states that becomes visible when we expose ourselves in our relationships not only fascinates, but also inspires me to keep exploring the weird and wonderful relationships out there through the medium of film.
P: What makes Brigitte stand out against your other works?
Jessica Barclay Lawton: Different stories engage with different parts of our psyche, and I suppose Brigitte’s story is quite a complex one that was always going to challenge an audience, which was important for me. Indifference, I feel, is the worst reaction that can come from any creative process. But I suppose if I had to pin it down, it was the very real destruction of Brigitte’s world that gave the story a whole new dimensionality for the audiences mind to escape into, and escapism in Brigitte’s world is much more acceptable, insisted upon in fact, than most traditional narratives.
P: Where do you go from here? What’s next after Brigitte?
Jessica Barclay Lawton: Every project I do, be it a short film, music video, photographic work or video installation, I’m learning more about my process and the kinds of stories I want to tell, so for me it’s just about continually creating and being open to new inspirations and ways of expressing my ideas. At the moment I have a few photographic concepts in the works, but am looking towards both music video and commercial projects, as well as long form drama to continue to develop on my obsession and love with film.