A marvellous Party: Derry director Andrea Harkin on her Bafta-nominated short film
Set in 1972 at the height of the Troubles in Belfast, Andrea Harkin's The Party is up for Best Short Film at the Baftas on Sunday night. David Roy quizzed the Derry-born director about making the film, the nomination and her blossoming career
HI ANDREA, congratulations on the Bafta nomination. Are you excited?
It feels amazing to be nominated, were weren't expecting it at all, so it was a big surprise. The nomination was actually announced on my birthday, so it was the best birthday present ever! I'll be going on Sunday night and I'm really looking forward to it.
What do you think of this year's Bafta nominations?
In our category there's a really amazing film called Home which I think is very powerful. It's a very conceptual film about the migrant crisis, seen from a British perspective in a slightly unreal scenario. It's very strong.
I haven't seen all of the Best Film nominees, but I really liked Manchester By The Sea. Its tone is very interesting: it's dealing with tragedy but it's also got a very surprising sense of humour too, which is an interesting juxtaposition.
How did you get involved with The Party, which was made as part of the Irish Film Board's After '16 project for short films 'capturing film-makers' responses to the events of 1916'?
A producer called Farah Abushwesha put the team together. She was looking for an Irish or northern Irish director specifically and was hoping to find female director as well – which sort of narrowed the pool. She had a few scripts for me to read, including The Party by Conor MacNeill (The Fall), whom I already knew as I'd almost got attached to a feature he'd written.
We'd had a few meetings and although it didn't work out, we still had a strong admiration for each other's work. When I read The Party it was very engaging and had a similar impact to his feature script. It didn't feel a million miles away from my own voice and perspective and that was even more interesting, because then I was able to bring my own take to it as well.
How did you find your cast members?
We worked with casting directors Carla Stronge and Mary Ellen McCartan. Originally we wanted to cast non actors or very inexperienced people, but once Anthony Boyle (Mickey, previously seen as the young Ian Paisley in The Journey) came in and knocked our socks off, we realised we had to put other actors around him who had some training and would be able to match his energy.
The whole cast was brilliant and they're all going to do well, but Anthony's going to be a big star. The Party is one of his first films, but he's already been very successful in the Harry Potter play in the West End which won him the London Theatre Critics Circle Award, and last year he was named a Screen Daily Star of Tomorrow.
Did you ever have any aspirations to act yourself?
I tried it at school but didn't really enjoy it – I always wanted to either write or direct, or both. I love working with actors. That's my passion and it's what I love most about my job. I would definitely say I'm an 'actor's director'.
You did a degree in Theatre Arts at Edinburgh's Queen Mary University before an MA in Film Directing at the prestigious National Film and Theatre School (NFTS) in London. How and why did you make the jump between the two disciplines?
Film wasn't on my radar when I went to uni. Because I didn't have media studies at school or anything, it wasn't something I had even considered really.
After my theatre degree, I didn't feel any closer to having a career in theatre – that doors were opening or there was a 'pathway' available. Then I worked as a runner on a feature length film in Belfast called You Looking at Me? (2003) which was produced and directed by my aunt Margo Harkin for Channel 4.
I used to think quite visually even when I was conceiving theatre ideas and that sort of opened that my eyes to film maybe being a possibility. But I was living in Scotland and all the film contacts I had made were in Belfast, so it still took a very long time.
I just started teaching myself with the help of a local screen educational company called Pilton Video, now Screen Education Edinburgh. They taught me how to use cameras and edit and I found I really loved every aspect of film-making, from script writing to working with actors and then editing.
I made a couple of short films with them and then I made The Flyer (2008), which won a Bafta Scotland Award and helped me get into the NFTS. I actually met their talent scout in the bar after the awards. I told him I wanted to go to the NFTS and gave him a DVD of the film, which put me at the top of the queue when I applied.
Those two years at film school were the biggest and most important thing I've ever done. I got to make four short films there, which was great practice – I could make mistakes and then try again.
You've just directed three episodes of the forthcoming BBC3 thriller Clique. What can you tell us about it?
I'm actually in the middle of the edit now. It's super exciting, when I read the script I just fell in love with the material. It's written by Jess Brittain (Skins) and there's lots of strong young female actors in it.
It's about two best friends, Holly (Synnove Karlsen) and Georgia (The Fall's Aisling Franciosi), who end up going to the same university. One of them gets involved in an elite internship programme at a private bank and the other has to figure out how to extricate her from this exclusive world of parties, money, corruption and darkness.
Do you feel that there's a shortage of female directors at the moment?
I think there's a shortage of opportunity for women. There's actually lots of trained female talent out there.
In my own experience, it's taken me about four years longer than my male counterparts to get my break and I've observed the same thing with other female directors. I'm not complaining, but it's down to producers being willing to take chances (on women directors): just because we have different voices and different styles of leadership sometimes, doesn't mean we're not effective.
What advice would you give to young would-be film-makers?
Take any training opportunities that you can, apply for recognised schemes with funding attached and make films yourself with your friends.
Just keep making stuff and keep pushing yourself – try, fail and try again. For women, know that you can do this without the need to be 'bloke-ish' – just be yourself.
:: The Baftas will be shown on BBC1 at 9pm on Sunday February 12. Clique is due to start on BBC3 in March. Visit Andreaharkin.com to see more of Andrea's work.
THIS YEAR'S BAFTAS
THIS week, the cream of the movie industry will have been attending final dress fittings and working on their 'gracious loser' faces for the 70th British Academy Film Awards at London's Royal Albert Hall. Irish hopefuls include Ruth Negga, in the running for a RIsing Star award for Loving, and Derry's Andrea Harkin and the team behind The Party. The 'big ones' to watch include La La Land, which has 11 nods, Nocturnal Animals with nine nods, and Ken Loach's I, Daniel Blake, with five nominations. The full list of nominations is available at www.bafta.org; here are some of the main categories:
I, Daniel Blake
La La Land
Manchester By The Sea
Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge
Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
Jake Gyllenhaal, Nocturnal Animals
Ryan Gosling, La La Land
Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic
Amy Adams, Arrival
Emily Blunt,TheGirl On The Train
Emma Stone, La La Land
Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins
Natalie Portman, Jackie
Mouth of Hell
EE RISING STAR AWARD (voted for by the public)