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An Interview with Zöe Tweedy

Updated: May 10, 2020

Zöe Tweedy is a filmmaker based on the Isle of Man. Her first documentary short Nomad (2017) was awarded Best Documentary Short at the Belfast Film Festival 2018 and two Royal Television Society NI Student Awards. This was followed with Intimately Alien (2018), a travel documentary about where we place faith and The Essence of Me (2018), a BBC2 NI two minute masterpiece. Her short film Speaking in Silence, supported by Doc Society and BFI's Made of Truth Scheme is due to be released later this year.

Did you always want to be a filmmaker?

Yes and no. I mean, I feel a little strange calling myself a filmmaker. I didn't know that I would go into filmmaking, but I have always had a strong, driving urge to be on a pathway that would allow me to touch people’s hearts and try to make the world a slightly different place in the process. I think that this has always been central to me, particularly as a person who wasn't able to speak for so many years, or maybe, because of this. I have found the process of documentary filmmaking very therapeutic, and I think this process of letting people speak the truth from their heart, allowing a trusting space to do this, and then being able to spread these perspectives, is the reason I want to continue the craft.

I think like, lots of people, I found film to be quite a pretentious and inaccessible form of expression before I started to do it, and maybe this is something I struggle with today too. But I think it's very important to consider intention. Anything with heart is powerful. When I was younger, I used to get really saddened by all the suffering in the world, and I suppose I still hold onto the arrogance of youth a little because this is still what motivates me. I used to listen to Flobots, you know the song Rise. Just the feeling of their songs that had such heart in them. So I tell myself I am doing this from a good heart, and that can only bring positivity. Also, I feel like I've always had a lucky coin that keeps me able to do this kind of work, so I do often feel like it’s my purpose.

On a personal philosophy kind of side, I believe we are all like little satellites with the ability to receive things from outside this world and make an impact (for better or worse) on our lived environment.

So, in complete answer, I think I would have found a route for this expression and connection to the world, but right now this is a form that best expresses this and which sways my heart.

What is the most unique experience you've ever had on set of one of your documentaries?

This is difficult to answer. I am always touched by the uniqueness of each connection, and that moment when trust is built and the magic of hearing people behind their words, and seeing them behind their eyes. For each person this moment is different and always a new pleasure. It's a fleeting moment and sometimes it doesn't happen.

On a more bizarre note, I went to Nevada in 2018 as part of a documentary I was working on, and had a really strange experience. It was around 3am and we had fled from Las Vegas because of a big sadness that came over us. We ended up in a little town north of Las Vegas called Alamo. We continued driving to go and get a glimpse of the Extra-terrestrial Highway. We stopped at a gas station, and there was an apocalyptic, 28 days later sort of feeling to the place. When we got back on the highway there was a black car with its headlights off following us. Now, I didn't really notice anything else strange until we were driving back towards the motel. There were these big balls of light striking in the direction of area 51 every two minutes. It was very strange.

Can you tell me more about your documentary Intimately Alien (2018)? How did you come up with the idea?

It’s essentially a travel film. Looking outside and inside for the same thing, hope? Faith in something beyond us? What is both deeply intimate and yet so strange to us. I recently have been doing lots of research into the dark night of the soul and I think really it's this idea that's innate to us all to find something outside of us, whether that is a community, an extra-terrestrial species, a divine being or whatever, to reflect the most vulnerable part of ourselves.

I am thinking of trying to get a new cut of the film done to release online.

Still from Intimately Alien (2018)

Which documentaries have influenced or inspired your work?

I think there are three filmmakers who have really influenced me, as much as a person as a filmmaker. These are Werner Herzog, Chris Marker and the person who got me into filmmaking, though not a documentary filmmaker, Kenneth Anger. I think of all these, Kenneth Anger probably the most. There was a film called Lucifer Rising that I was enchanted by when I was a teenager. I loved Anton LaVey and the church of Satan and was fascinated by Charles Manson, and one of the Manson family, Bobby Beausoleil, wrote the soundtrack for the film.

I'd love to meet Kenneth Anger, and I think this is what I look for in a film. Is something a little unplaceable? Just like the film, makes you want to meet the person behind it and ask them about their view of the world.

What is the most challenging aspect of documentary filmmaking?

Well for me I think it is being organised. I am not a very organised person and my view of how things should be is constantly shifting. It’s an evolving living thing, but still you have to have a certain amount of control. But this speaks about me as a person maybe. Perhaps my work wouldn't be what it is without this “unstructuredness”.

With Monika Jatz on the set of Speaking in Silence

Can you tell me about the project you're currently working on?

I am currently working on a short documentary funded by the Doc Society and BFI (in addition to support from Great Guns, Suntera Global, NI Screen and the Isle of Man arts council). Long list of support! It’s a very personal documentary which explores my struggle with being selectively mute for most of my life, which meant I was unable to speak to many people outside of my close family. I am working with a family in London with a young girl who also has the same struggle. It is a story of hope though, and the light that Saarah has given me in this struggle. Finding someone else voiceless to hold onto a voice I had found.

It has been a very transformative experience making the film, for me as a person, and necessitated a lot of personal growth. It is certainly a new challenge to put myself at the centre of a story, struggling to let go of your ego and judgement to do so.

I hope that the film will really reach people, particularly in the situation we find ourselves in now. I think this experience really speaks to the disconnection, and almost forced introspection that we are all facing. I think people are looking now more than ever to find their real driving motivations, and searching for who they are with integrity, and this is just one such story of two people at two different points on a similar life path expressing this struggle.

But it has been a really amazing opportunity.

Which direction do you think a career in documentary filmmaking will take you?

Well, I feel very privileged to have the opportunities that I do, and I hope that I can bring this gratitude into everything I do. I am lucky enough to be on a 12 month mentorship scheme with Grierson trust and BFI Doc Society with documentary filmmaker Amy Hardie. I have no doubt that I will learn much from her.

Going forward, I think I would like to continue to work in short form, as this is something which has particularly impact today. I would love to be able to travel and connect with as many people as I can to try and bring all these perspectives and distinct narratives on the world into something meaningful and able to disseminate. I think the world is at a precipice of freedom being restricted for various reasons. It needs compassion and care to be spread and ease suffering, and I'd like to be a small part of this.

Liminal space interests me at the moment.

Still from Speaking in Silence

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