Maja Borg's first feature-length film Future My Love has successfully launched at major festivals in Edinburgh, Copenhagen, and Tallinn. Ahead of further preview screenings in Glasgow and London, SDI's Agata Jagodzinska spoke to her about her journey in filmmaking which included a Bridging the Gap film.
When did you know that you wanted to make films, and what do you value the most in documentaries?
I’ve been making films since I was a child; I played with my friend’s video camera even before I had a television. When people asked me who I wanted to be when I grow up, I usually said three things: that I wanted to be a cobbler, a carpenter, and a filmmaker. I still have hopes to become a carpenter one day. Maybe not so much a cobbler any more…
Coming back to filmmaking, when I tell a story, the genre isn't important – it is finding ways of telling it honestly. Sometimes documentaries are the best way of doing that, sometimes they are not. There are some subjects you can’t quite tackle honestly with documentary. There are loads of reasons for it: you may be putting your subject at risk, or you may not be able to get honest answers out of people who are afraid of making themselves look bad. It can also be argued that by being in a situation with a camera, you are changing it…
"There are some subjects you can’t quite tackle honestly with documentary"
For me, the genre is very much secondary to the subject of the story. Therefore I don’t think I've made a single film that is a straight documentary. I find fiction quite limited as well, it is limited by your imagination. What’s great about making documentaries is that you need to respond to reality all the time. You can make a plan and you may even write a proposal about what you think you’ll find – and it’s wonderful how you always get surprised and have to deal with the fact that you can’t control what will happen. I really like that.
Could you briefly tell us about your journey from the first film you made to the beginning of your first feature Future My Love?
I made films with my friends when I was little, until they got bored of me wanting to make films all the time. Due to that I focused on photography for a while. I had a dark room in my basement where I spent a lot of time as a teenager. However I never was quite satisfied with just a still image, so started to compose scores for my photographs, sometimes even recorded sounds to go with my photographs and worked out ways to incorporate text in the image in different ways.
I didn't try to exhibit them anywhere; I simply wasn't satisfied with the limitations of them. I also started to do cut out and clay animations, which then brought me back to filmmaking. I did my first documentary before I went to film school. At that time I believed that you cannot teach someone self-expression, and I didn't agree with the funding system either. So I worked two jobs at the same time to be able to fund my film Gilengo Lon. When I finished it in 2002, I realised how incredibly difficult it is to make documentaries and that there was a lot of thing I actually wanted to learn. I decided to start my film education, it gave me time to experiment, gave me access to knowledge and equipment. I did a BA in Film and Television at Edinburgh College of Art, which was a great experience because I could produce a lot of things, I felt like a child in a candy store.
As soon as I had graduated, I got commissioned to make two films through Bridging the Gap and the Channel 4 Talent Scheme. The first one was a wonderful experience, and the other one was exactly the opposite. You are in a very fragile position in these talent schemes. To be honest, I felt very 'used' working with Channel 4, as the producer promised me that I was making 'my' film while promising Channel 4 something else... It was a textbook example of bad communication, and I unfortunately think this is pretty common and hurts a lot of new filmmakers. You are being told you need to do these schemes to have a career, then you are told you need to do it in a certain way, otherwise the experience will be taken away from you.
In my case, the film I wanted to make was so personal that I didn't want them to take it away from me, which put me in a very uncomfortable position. I had to finish a film which meant a lot to me, but I wasn't allowed to do it in the way I wanted to. It felt like they wanted my style but not my view on the world.
In Bridging the Gap however, I was not pushed to do something simple and mainstream. I was able to make the film I wanted to make and the fact that film turned out so much better gave me a lot of confidence.
Where do your ideas come from? What do you get inspired by?
They come from everything that feels important to me in life. My dad is a musician and a passionate gardener and I adopted the way he views art. He quite often says that good art should be like good compost, if you are an artist and only study other artists, or if you are a musician and you only study music, you are going to get a poor soil for your garden. You need a lot of different things to put in the mix, you need the food you eat, the people you meet, the people you love, other countries, other cultures, art of course, but also politics and philosophy – and then you mix it all up and this way you have much more fertile soil to be inspired from.
"Good art should be like good compost"
I like watching films and being exposed to art but I don’t do that for my work. I quite rarely analyse films when I watch them, I just want the experience they give.
Shorts are particularly difficult to get funding for. At the same time, they are essential for filmmakers to find their style. How did you go about finding money for your shorts?
The main thing when you are trying to establish your voice is to keep making your films. You can't waste your time waiting for funding to come to you. You just need to find your way to keep producing, which obviously is easier said than done because we all need to eat and live somewhere. I worked a lot to make enough money so I could make the films I wanted to make, without funding bodies telling me it wasn't a good idea. I wish all new-talent schemes would be about filmmakers developing their voices rather than creating cheap television. It is easy to get exploited, especially when you are new to the industry, so it's important to stick to your gut feeling and continue making the films you want to make, even if they end up being on a much smaller scale then they could be.
The film you made through Bridging the Gap, Ottica Zero, touched on the same issues as your feature-length debut Future My Love. When you were making the short, did you know this was the beginning of your feature?
In the end, the feature seems to have more similarities to the short then I thought it would have. The short was always meant to be a film in its own right. I didn't do it as a trailer or as a way of pitching a longer film. It surely introduced me to Jacque Fresco [the futurist whose ideas are at the centre of Future My Love], and it was a challenge to squeeze such big ideas into a short film. More films have been made about Jacque and Venus Project in the meantime, but at the time it felt like I had to make a bigger film about them.
"It was a challenge to squeeze such big ideas into a short film"
I felt it was extraordinary that I, as someone interested in alternative societal structures, hadn't known anything about Jacque Fresco before I made Ottica Zero. A relatively small number of people knew about him at the time, and I wanted to introduce his ideas to a different audience. I didn't want to do it from the usual perspective and just teach people about it, I wanted viewers to have the same experience with him as I did, and Ottica Zero was too short to offer that.
Whose films do you value the most, which filmmaker do you find most inspiring?
I can't say that there is one person I feel mostly inspired by. There are so many different filmmakers that I gain from, some of them give me an experience that enriches my life and give me inspiration to create from – others I admire for their part in film history. Future My Love tells a love story between two women – but I've never heard anyone describing it as a 'queer film' or 'lesbian film', and this would not have been possible if not for filmmakers such as Barbara Hammer who, already in the 1960s, made very progressive, experimental, lesbian cinema. On the other hand, the palette of experimental cinema that I can use is so wide because other people have developed different tools that I now can develop further.
What are you working on now?
I am developing a few projects at the moment. For the next two weeks, I'm working with an amazing Swedish director, Tove Pils, as a story consultant. The film has already been shot but we are working on the structure of the film to maximise the drama. I'm also editing a beautiful observational feature length documentary shot on black and white Super 16 by Anders Jedenfors.
I'll soon start working as a cinematographer on a project about Pier Paolo Pasolini's poetry, and I am also working on an installation piece which I have developed for myself. It's one of these films which I don't really want to expose to funding with too many strings attached – it is going to get made even if I don't get funding for it. It's not the kind of a project which I want to commercialise, it’s important for me to keep it low key.
And finally I do some teaching as well: I did a masterclass earlier this month in St. Petersburg about the use of generic archive footage to illustrate personal drama. I recently did some lectures with film students at Napier University. I like these kinds of things: they give me variety and keep me engaged with different media, different people and different places.
With its 10th year coming up, Bridging the Gap currently has a new call for applications. Deadline is on 3 December.