INTERVIEW: our 2016 With Teeth filmmakers

With the deadline looming for With Teeth, the London Short Film Festival commissioning fund, LSFF’s Philip Ilson chatted to our first three With Teeth filmmakers, commissioned in 2016: Alnoor Dewshi, Daisy Dickinson and Alex Taylor.
INTERVIEW: our 2016 With Teeth filmmakers


Where did the idea for your With Teeth short, KICKBOX HIJABI, come from, as it's quite distinctive and original in both delivery and idea?

Burqas were on my mind from another project, and I was thinking about how to subvert the familiar/loaded/contested image of a girl in a burqa. Kickboxing actually came second to parascending. But a story about an underground scene of street-fighting girls in burqas stuck.

You've made a number of shorts, documentaries and features over a number of years; how important is it for you to have an auteur driven style given you've jumped genres and subjects?

I don't think I've got a style as much as a motley bunch of ideas stashed in a shoe-box. I like musical rhythms in the visuals, story line, dialogue. They express themselves differently every time.

Was it hard to find the two actresses, given they needed to know kickboxing moves?

Yeah. Finding the right martial artists was key to making the film work. We tried multiple pairings of performers in a workshop. I had met actor/fighter Christina Forrest and she brought in her friend Augusta Woods who she'd trained with in stage combat school. Their chemistry was immediately tangible & beautiful. Fight coordinator Rajesh Rishudeo devised the choreography, and they worked, worked, worked. I wanted it to be somewhere between fight and dance, and to tell a story.

Filming was pretty challenging. We only had a day to film the fight sequence, a day being 6 hours of usable daylight in late November in a park in Whitechapel full of homeless people, drug addicts and hipsters. I kept the camera full body and running long, so the effect of attack-impact-reaction defence-impact-reaction is carried by performance rather than cuts. Augusta and Christina's execution was immaculate.


Your work has a distinctive visual style, and you also do visual projections for bands; what are your visual influences?

Coming from a background of music videos and live visual performances, my work is naturally very influenced by music. But mainly I think I am influenced by the world around us, not so much by other films and imagery, but more so by distortions in everyday life such as water reflections, different things under a microscope or by dreams and places we can go to using our imaginations.

What inspired the story in your With Teeth short?

My With Teeth short BLUE BUT PALE BLUE tells the story of a man who falls into a coma after being hit on the head by the branch of a tree and tries to grasp hold of his own consciousness and navigate his way back to reality. The story is a visual response to my father’s recent traumatic brain injury and was a way of me trying to understand the process he went through when awakening from the coma.

Do you plan to make more narrative given work, and have you anything in the pipeline?

I’m planning another narrative-based short inspired by Oliver Sack’s book Hallucinations; in the book he recalls stories of patients possessing Charles Bonnet Syndrome (CBS), who experience extreme visual hallucinations due to partial or severe blindness, and the film will centre around this idea. I’m also coming to the final stages of editing a new stop motion film called Until We Reach The Sun, set on an otherworldly moon-scape which I built from plasticine and have just finished a documentary in collaboration with Julia Laird, Hidden People, that looks at elf belief in Iceland and is set to premiere in London this July.


You're just ready to release your first feature, SPACESHIP; what was it like returning to make a short film for With Teeth?

It was very freeing but also quite weird, after being on a set with catering trucks and 40 odd people rushing about trying to satisfy your every whim, to just get back to the grass-root basics of making a film. With Teeth allowed that freedom and encouraged - by it's very name - filmmaking which took risks and I knew would be accepted into the fold, no matter how 'out there'.

Your shorts and the feature all have a distinctive 'Alex Taylor' style - where do your influences come from, not just in film, but from elsewhere?

I think a lot of it comes from your childhood, feelings of wanting to disappear from school and re-appear in a more colourful place that let you be who you want. That's the power of cinema is you get to make a dream, the dream you want you life to be, the dream you don't want to be a dream. I don't get why so many other films, with this power of cinema you have, end up being about knives, guns and crime. There's enough of that in real life.

How important was it for your With Teeth short, LILY GOES TO KISSLAND, to have a character driven plot, rather than the looseness and multi-character aspect of your previous shorts?

Well, two reasons. Firstly, I wanted to take the strangeness, the floating multi-thought structure of my previous shorts, and try to explore that texture through one character. It's something I've never done, and it was amazing to work with an 11 year old - I love working with kids because they're so free thinking.
Secondly, if I'm honest, being in development and production now on feature films with funding from the BBC and the BFI, you have to focus really on character driven plots, because that's what a cinema-going audience prefers to see. So my challenge, in SPACESHIP and in my second film which is now in development with the BFI, is to keep my voice alive but accessible enough to go to a wide audience on the big screen. It's not easy, that's for sure, and SPACESHIP is really getting strong responses - those who love it, adore it, those who don't - let's just say I'm happy if they keep their views to themselves.