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Francis Lee • Director

“I wanted to look at the emotional impact that falling in love has on you”


- We caught up with British director Francis Lee, whose first feature, God’s Own Country, screened at the Transilvania IFF after garnering success at Sundance and Berlin

Francis Lee  • Director
(© Nicu Cherciu / TIFF)

British filmmaker Francis Lee was born on his family's farm in West Yorkshire. He worked as an actor for many years in theatre, film and television, and also directed three short films. Last January, he premiered his first feature film, God's Own Country [+see also:
film review
interview: Francis Lee
film profile
, at Sundance, winning the Directing Award in the World Cinema – Dramatic section. He talked to us about his movie, which is partially inspired by his experiences on his family's farm and is now screening at the Transilvania International Film Festival.

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Cineuropa: In many movies where homosexual characters assume an important role, acceptance of one’s sexuality is an important topic. Why does this not happen in God's Own Country?
Francis Lee: I knew that I didn't want to make a film about coming out. What I really wanted to do was to look at the emotional impact that falling in love has on you, and whether or not you can open yourself up enough to love and be loved. That was my experience in my life, and the hardest thing I ever had to do was accept that I was a vulnerable person and be able to fall in love. Coming-out stories are very well covered in cinema, and I wanted to look at something else. 

Even though the two main characters don't talk very much about their past, you can feel that they come from difficult places. How did you achieve this during the creation process with the actors?
Three months before shooting, I started to work with Alec and Josh, and we started building the characters from scratch, from the moment they were born until the moment we see them in the film for the first time. We talked about everything: their education, their families, their friends, their experiences... So by the time we started to actually work on the film, the two boys knew these characters inside out and were able to bring all of that into their performances.

The way the film is shot is very specific, as the camera always stays very close to the actors. How was the process of working with the cinematographer to achieve this sensation of closeness?
I've never been a big fan of dialogue in film; I like to tell stories with pictures. When I started to work with the cinematographer, Joshua James Richards, he discovered very quickly that we both loved the idea of the cameras being close, the idea that we would see this journey through the eyes of these boys. When we were filming, we did do some wide shots, but every time we did that, Joshua and I would talk, and we felt that we didn't know why we had these wide shots. In the edit, with editor Chris Wyatt, it became apparent that all we wanted to do was to stick with close shots. I wanted this to be a very immersive experience for the viewer.

Another thing that makes the experience even more immersive is the use of sounds and music. How was that designed?
I am very meticulous and precise as a filmmaker, and sound is super-important for me. We built a soundscape from scratch; we developed certain sounds of the wind that represented certain characters, and the birds are very metaphorical – they were chosen very specifically. Everything was there to enhance this sense of immersion and the alienation of the central character. I wanted the movie to have minimal music, so we very carefully worked with the composers and found something that just added ever so subtlety to the sense of place.

The movie also touches on other issues such as xenophobia and racism. Did you intend to make a political statement focusing on these matters?
Not exactly. The character of Gheorghe was inspired by somebody I worked with. While I was developing the film, I got a job in a scrap yard to earn some money. One of the guys I was working with was a Romanian immigrant who came to the UK to find a job and improve his life. I was very shocked and ashamed when I heard about his experience. I knew I wanted the outsider on the farm to be a migrant worker from Romania, and when Gheorghe feels these xenophobic vibes, I wanted it to impact him emotionally more than politically. 

Are you already working on your next film?
I'm currently working on something that is at the writing stage. I’m hopeful that it will be something I can shoot next year, possibly, but I can't say anything more than that. 

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