Do you see Better Things as a continuation of the tradition of a very English modern social realist cinema, for example, Loach, Clarke and Leigh? Where do you think Better Things fits in to this tradition?
British cinema is historically based on realism, it’s our foundation, but it’s not necessarily what I’m exploring in my films. My story and character obsessions certainly come from what could be called classic social realist territory. Working class, troubled, angry, violent - at least from the outside - but I think my use of them and rendering of the themes is different in Better Things. I grew up watching the movies of Loach, Clarke & Leigh so that influence is always going to be buried in there, Clarke especially. I very much identified with the England I saw in his work, I still do. There is also a tradition in British Cinema of twisting social realism. Bill Douglas, early Terrence Davies and some of the Powell & Pressburger work did this and in contemporary terms there is Lynne Ramsey. You take the real world but manipulate and filter it to try and create a texture that is more than just a recording of a performance, something which through the editing aspires to the interior of the characters and their environment. In this way Better Things has certainly evolved from what has come before and evokes a tradition, an aesthetic, but also attempts to move towards something hopefully more poetic or transcendental. With this film I was more interested in the creation of an atmosphere than I was in realism, but of course you need a veneer of that in order to give the film a foundation.
Better Things plays with both the naturalistic and ‘constructed’ (in particular, through editing and sound) Can you tell us a little of how you see your vision with regards to these, some would say, oppositional approaches.
For me cinema is all about these oppositional approaches. It is about juxtaposition. That is how a dynamic is created. It is about placing images and sounds together that create a new meaning between them. I never want my films to be just story or plot I want something more incongruous that evokes rather than explains. To do this I find placing the real and unreal side-by-side, with the correct balance, makes for a far more interesting and provocative dramatisation. It reverberates in a much more personal way. Using the unique tools at your disposal, namely editing. It becomes cinema rather than filmed theatre. There is something fantastic about hearing and seeing things that you recognise, but they are twisted and distorted, cut up and reassembled in a way that they take on a new shape and meaning. For me (and I understand not for everyone) that is the point of this art form, and its unique quality. This was also the most interesting way for me to be able to create a multi narrative film. To edit in a way that created sequences, linking characters and their narratives. The drama in Better Things comes from a gradual build up of scenes that relate to, and compliment each other thematically and build an impression of an area, it’s inhabitants and their individual stories through these sequences.