Isabelle Jayne Stead
Producer on the Move 2010 – United Kingdom
by Naman Ramachandran
Cineuropa: All of your feature films so far deal with the Middle East. Is this part of Human Film’s production philosophy?
Isabelle Jayne Stead: We started telling stories from the Middle East but our only wish is to tell any human story that needs to be told. It could be a story from England centring on the alcohol problem we have here or what is happening at the border between the USA and Mexico.
But as director Mohamed Al-Daradji, who is also my business partner, comes from the Middle East we felt it was important for us to start from there, especially Iraq, which needs its filmmakers to foster a film industry that has been destroyed by dictatorship, wars and occupation. Our hope is that our films will bridge cultural differences and resonate globally. We recently made a short film in France about a little boy who befriends a pig – a very different and worthwhile experience.
On what criteria do you choose projects?
First we start with how original the story is, then if the story his been told or not, finally how we will be able to make the story universal. Our film Son of Babylon was about a mother searching for her missing son, it could have been any mother from any country and hopefully that’s what makes the power of world cinema impact no matter where the story is told.
Could you walk us through the process of putting together Son of Babylon?
Mohamed came to me with the idea about four years ago, I instantly knew we had to make this film. From idea through to final delivery, from Leeds to Baghdad, it was drama central for the four years we fought to bring Son of Babylon to life.
The development of the film started in 2005, we started pre-production in mid-2008 and started shooting in October of 2008, ending in February 2009. It took 65 days actual filming but because of moving around and the difficult situations surrounding the filming, such as the election and security that delayed us, it therefore took about five months in total during production.
Since developing the project some four years ago and having Sundance attached, everyone has always been really enthusiastic and supportive – yet sadly this didn’t always translate into physical financial support and many of the financial commitments we were initially offered either fell short or it was a little too little and a little too late, which had an impact on shooting, scheduling and budget. Nevertheless, we had belief and never let anything or anyone stop us because we had a good script, a great director, a camera and usually film stock – during a production anything additional was a bonus.
What are the challenges facing the film industry in this recession market and what are your plans to overcome them?
Money and distribution, but for us and for the social impact films we make, this has always been an uphill battle. The conventional methods of distribution for films doesn’t seem to be helping matters and is not really appropriate for the most part to foreign-language social impact films. I’ve therefore looked at how documentaries with successful campaigns had been able to ensure the message of their film went further than just the cinema no matter what the financial climate.
What are your future projects?
I have a documentary in post: House for Sale, about an Iraqi orphanage on the brink of closure; and our next fiction film, Train Station (working title), about the last wish of a young female suicide bomber, 90 seconds after she changes her mind.
Lastly, how do you feel about being chosen as a Producer on the Move 2010?
When I found out I did a little jig around the office (any excuse). It is such a unique and rare opportunity for me at this stage in my career and is really important for me and for Human Film that are tucked all the way up in Yorkshire to meet other producers whose work I know, love and genuinely admire. I think it’s really important for me as an independent “young” producer in the UK to have this opportunity to meet the industry and to put forward my new projects into the world, especially at Cannes.
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