Louisa Fielden has built an impressive resume working behind-the-scenes in television and directing music videos and shorts in the past few years. Her latest work, the 17-minute People You May Know, has been selected to screen at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. It’s easy to see why. Fielden, utilising only two actors in one setting, manages to build a sizable amount of drama and tension while also addressing a plethora of social issues. As a result, the short feels both important and urgent – serving as a real calling card for Fielden. I spoke to the writer-director about the film and the themes it raises.
Congratulations on the film. How does it feel knowing your movie will premiere at Cannes?
Thanks so much, Stephen. It’s amazing to be heading to Cannes. The amount of enthusiasm and interest the film is generating is amazing and pretty mind blowing.
Can you tell readers a little about People You May Know? How would you summarise the short?
People You May Know is a relationship drama about the nature of consent and privilege. The lead character, Emily (Aiysha Hart), unexpectedly comes across her ex boyfriend’s profile on Facebook. She reaches out to him, and they agree to meet. At first there’s a glimmer of reconciliation as the couple explore their time apart. But soon they delve into an in-depth and intense conversation about a night from their past, which they both interpret very differently.
Both you and the leads Aiysha Hart and Joseph Timms worked on the TV series Atlantis. What was the process from moving from that to People You May Know?
That’s right, I directed Joe and Aiysha on Atlantis, which was a drama series for the BBC. But it’s been a while since we wrapped that show, so it wasn’t a case of bouncing straight from that onto this. Joe and Aiysha are both actors who really inspired and excited me as soon as I started working with them. Joe’s brimming with natural talent, and he’s an incredible listener. And Aiysha is so intelligent and always ten steps ahead of me. I’d kept in touch with both of them, so I reached out and fortunately they agreed to give up their time, which was so generous of them. I think they’re both brilliant in this film. I’m really proud of them actually.
The themes of interconnectivity through social media and sexual violence feel eerily topical. Is this mostly by chance or did you intend for the short to address timely issues?
That’s a really interesting question. I wrote the script for People You May Know in early 2017, and we shot the film months before consent and its connection to power became a matter of international conversation. You could argue I had foresight, but truthfully for decades—for centuries in fact—the physical abuse of women has registered as something like white noise, with powerful men acting without impunity. So what’s positive in terms of the reception of our film, is people seem ready to listen now. In terms of the theme of interconnectivity through social media, seemingly every day a new story breaks around Facebook, doesn’t it? But the fact we’re releasing a film about that platform at this specific point in time is, for us, simply fortuitous.
People You May Know almost feels like a play in the sense that it’s just two people in one location having a conversation. Was theatre an influence? If not, where did you find your inspiration?
That’s a great observation. I adore the theatre and would see a play every night of the week if I could, but having said that it’s not a conscious influence here. The genesis of the idea came from me wanting to write and direct a film that could hang off two high-impact performances. And this script is just what emerged. I’m influenced by so much stuff – my friends, my life experiences, music, art, podcasts. That all came into play.
The short focuses on a man and a woman arguing over whether he raped her 11 years ago. Do you think there’s any ambiguity over what happened between them? I ask because Timms’ and Hart’s performances are so convincing that as a viewer you sort of believe them both.
Their performances really are wonderful, aren’t they? I don’t see any ambiguity in terms of what happened between the characters on the night in question, but the fact you do is totally valid and exactly what I was hoping to achieve. My quest was to produce an enthralling piece of drama, which is first and foremost what this film is. As a filmmaker I like to ask questions but I’m not prescriptive, and actually I invite all audience members to make their own mind up, which will of course be dependent on their own experiences and their own sexual politics. What Joe (Joseph Timms) and I worked really hard on was making his character truly sympathetic and also kind. He’s not an extreme villain, he’s a multifaceted and charismatic anti-hero, brimming with internal conflict. And I think that’s one reason why so many people are connecting with the film.
Can you talk about any other projects you are/will be working on?
I don’t think I am allowed to say actually! I can say I will be directing more television drama, and leave it at that for now.
At the end of People You May Know there is a sense that there’s more to explore with these two characters and this may only be the beginning. We’ve seen in the past directors re-visiting and expanding on short films. Could you see yourself doing that?
Never say never. We’ll see what happens. If there’s an appetite for it, who knows?
Featured Image Credit: Louisa Fielden