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Ben Sharrock • Director

“Sometimes we all struggle to communicate how we feel”


- Scottish director Ben Sharrock talks about his debut feature, Pikadero, the winner of the Cineuropa Prize at the 2016 Brussels Film Festival

Ben Sharrock • Director

After its premiere in the New Directors section at the 2015 San Sebastián Film Festival, Pikadero [+see also:
film review
interview: Ben Sharrock
film profile
 by Scottish director Ben Sharrock has been travelling around the world, picking up Best British Feature Film at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and the Cineuropa Prize at the Brussels Film Festival, among other accolades. Sharrock explores the themes of the economic crisis, the future of today’s youth and sexual relationships with humour and a distinctive visual style in this co-production between Spain and the UK, shot entirely in the Basque Country.

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Cineuropa: What is your personal connection with the story? Have you experienced the struggles that Gorka and Ane went through, both economically and emotionally?
Ben Sharrock: I spent a lot of time living in the Basque Country and saw first-hand the effect of the economic crisis on young people. People around us were looking for ways to progress in their lives. Their imagined careers had come crashing down, and they were searching for ways out. I wanted to talk about this. Outside of the crisis, of course, I really connect with Ane and Gorka. I am of a similar age, and at times, I really had to push myself to follow my dreams to be a filmmaker. I think the film is about that as well - trying to figure out life and what you want from it. It is a little existential. I have wanted to talk about the inner emotional struggle in how we imagine our lives versus the things that happen or the decisions that are made that lead us in different directions. 

In the film, Gorka seems to be detached from everything - from his job, his family, and even his future. Even when he is with Ane, he seems distant and afraid to commit. Was this a choice to fit in with the deadpan humour of the film, or does it also inform your view on today’s young people?
I think Gorka’s character is about being slightly lost in life. I think people react in different ways to being lost, and Gorka has detached himself from different aspects of his life. I wanted to write this kind of character because I think there is a part of Gorka in everyone. I think we all need to figure our lives out at times. Sometimes we are all lost and don’t know how to progress - sometimes we all struggle to communicate how we feel. I think Gorka is Gorka, but he exists in one way or another in all of us. Of course, Gorka also exists in his entirety. There are Gorkas out there - I’ve met them! He isn’t just a vehicle for dead-pan humour. 

What was the casting process like, and what were you looking for in the actors who play the lead roles?
The casting process was actually extremely straightforward. The producer, Irune Gurtubai, read the script and immediately told me who she thought could play the characters. I wanted real characters to counter-balance the stylistic element of the film that gives it a slightly surreal feel at times. I see the movie as a type of social realism, and I didn’t want the actors to feel like actors. In the key cast, we managed to get all of our first-choice actors, which was perfect. I love working with actors and knew that I could work with them to get the kind of performance that I wanted. It is a different type of performance, but I knew I could work with actors to achieve this. Faces and authenticity were important. I wanted distinctive features and faces that look great on camera. The kinds of faces that draw audiences in through their eyes and expressions, especially when using wide-angle lenses on close-ups. A lot of the tone of the film comes from how the camera interacts with the characters, so the faces were really important. There is a lot of stillness and silence in the film, so the faces alone had to be interesting enough for people to stare at for an hour and a half. Outside of the central cast, everyone else in the film are non-actors. We held castings in the villages and towns in the area and managed to find lots of really authentic people who actually work in the factories in the area. Some would arrive to the set having just finished their night shift in the factory.

Besides the language, what are the other challenges that you faced as a Scotsman making a film in the Basque Country?
It was just an incredible experience making the film in the Basque Country. I think people liked the idea of a Scotsman making a film there. The Basques have a real affinity with the Scots. There is even a Basque tartan; maybe if I had been English, it would have been a different story! Making a debut feature can always be difficult, especially when you have a very specific vision, a different way of doing things and no money. We had a mix of British and Basque crew, and sometimes we found that there were different mentalities and ways of doing things on set. Also, because of different cultures, there were different ways of communicating. Sometimes these things created a challenge because you are asking people who are new to working with you to trust you when you are kind of barging into their industry. These things never really affected the work, though. The team were incredibly dedicated, and we never would have been able to achieve what we have without all the individuals involved in this.

Have you had many chances to converse with your audience about the film? Do you think the audience got the messages and feelings that you intended to convey?
The feedback has been really incredible. We have shown the film all over the world, and I have had the pleasure to see how different people from different cultures connect and relate to the film. It is a great feeling when people get excited about your film and tell you that it impacted on them emotionally. I think you always end up feeling good after the screenings because it is generally the audience members that like the film that are going to come up and tell you how much they loved it. Of course, the film isn’t for everyone. It has a very particular style and pace, and sometimes that doesn’t work for people. I would much rather have people who absolutely love the film and others who hate it, than have everyone think it was “okay". I don’t think it is the kind of film you can think is “okay" - it is a bit like Marmite. Pikadero is very clear about what it is; it has not set out to please everyone. In a way, the most important audience for me was the Basque audience. It was really important for me that they could relate to the film, and connect with the characters and story. After the premiere at San Sebastián, a Basque audience member told me that, as a Scot making a film about the Basques, I am either a genius or the Scots are the same as the Basques, because he could really see himself and his culture in the film. I think the Scots are similar to the Basques, but I think I also find it easier to look at other cultures over my own. I am certainly not a genius!

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