When you think of a monologue film or TV series, it’s often a character just sitting down, looking straight into the camera. Filming in her hometown of Margate, Yvette Farmer took a much more compelling approach for the realisation of X Anniversary – a stream-of-consciousness-like four-part short which uses the full potential of the cinematic frame while being a rigorous dramaturgical text at the same time. Premiering here today, we talked to Farmer about casting Keeley Forsyth in all four roles, collaborating with Margate City Council, and being inspired by the Western.
Why did you want to make a film in four separate parts and how did the elements come together?
I had been messing around with a script that features four streams of consciousness. I’d seen a few monologue films made and screened on the BBC and I wanted to play with that format but was interested in making it a lot more cinematic. I decided it would be nice to make it about the community too and how one character could flow into another character’s story.
Keeley Forsyth and I’d been looking to work on a drama together. When I was talking to her about it, she said that when she was reading this script she never thought about the character’s gender. I found it really inspiring that she’d freed herself of the binary constructs written into the script. I floated the idea to her if she would be interested in playing ‘all’ four characters and choosing the gender expression of each one.
I wanted to play with that format but was interested with making it a lot more cinematic.
I’d also started directing theatre and my excitement about that inspired me to make this film which was essentially four successive monologues, but because I’m also a film director I really wanted it to be cinematic and have good, natural performances for the screen.
You shoot in a widescreen aspect ratio, which really helps to stress the characters in relationship to the landscape. Were you always aiming towards that look?
Yes. I really wanted it to have a strong sense of place and for it to be cinematic. The first shot and the end shot are really wide, and the way the character enters, lingers and leaves takes inspiration from the Western genre. I wanted a sense of epic-ness, where you have this evocative and expansive sense of place.
Sergio Leone comes to mind…
The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly was one of the references. I also looked at Westerns from a more female perspective, so I had Meek’s Cutoff and Netflix’s Godless. That’s beautiful and has a character I was quite obsessed with who defied gender norms. She was played by Meritt Weaver, who I would love to work with one day.
The film is set in Margate, where a lot of creatives and also troubled people end up. Why did it make sense for the film to be set there?
I definitely wanted them to feel like characters you’d find in Margate. I’ve filmed in London a lot, but filming in Margate felt completely different. The community were supportive and really respectful of us filming. When they approached Keeley Forsyth or the crew asking questions about the film, without fail they said: “Oh yeah, they sound like types you’d find in town.” I felt like that was a thumbs up for the film’s authenticity.
What’s been interesting is that, even though X Anniversary was completed in 2019, it feels like it’s gained some extra resonance and power in the midst of this global pandemic by uniting four emotionally isolated members of the same community. I hope people watching it feel some much needed connection because it actually looks and feels like a lockdown film.
At the same time characters feel like they’re on the verge of something, stressed by the final shot which is by the cliff faces and the sea, contrasting nicely with the opening segment set against the Dreamland park. Did you always know this was going to be the order?
Yes, that’s how it was written. With the first scene you’re arriving in the town. If you were to get off the train at Margate, Dreamland and that area would be the first that you would come to. I wanted to contrast between the landscapes as well to give a fuller sense of Margate that’s it’s not just the beach and Dreamland, there’s also green areas and beautiful architecture in a state of disrepair and needing work. So they were four hallmarks of the town that I wanted to be in there. I wanted to show a bit more intimate knowledge of the place. I had seen Margate used as a bleak backdrop in countless films and TV shows, but I hadn’t seen it presented as a beautiful place to live, even though I saw beauty everywhere. This is the place that Turner would return to over and over again because the light and scenery are so beautiful. Why aren’t people photographing that cinematically?
This is the place that Turner would return to over and over again because the light and scenery is so beautiful.
Were the town council supportive in making the film?
I worked with the Kent Film Office and they were brilliant. Firstly the big difference between shooting there and London is that they want you to film in Margate. So as long as you have a permit, it’s completely free. They’re encouraging it and they’re encouraging artistry which is beautiful.
I loved the music at the end, Portofino 2 by Raymond Scott. How did you come across the song and why did you pick it to close the film?
I loved that it immediately recalls the seaside and seaside towns. It sounded dated but it’s by a really pioneering electronic composer. It has that pioneering spirit like the people who are moving there, but it also made me think of the Western genre again and the pioneers in that. Keeley Forsyth is also a really inspiring musician. She has an album out this year called Debris which fits in beautifully. She had done a playlist for BBC Radio 6 Music, and it was one of the tracks on the playlist. We had been talking about composing something for the end credits, but when I realised how short they would be, I thought that we’d compose something together for a longer film instead.
What are you working on next?
I’ve been using lockdown time to focus on writing. I have been writing a TV show about a girl gang and I’m on episode two at the moment. I’m also developing a feature film idea which is more of a supernatural, psychological film. So, focusing on writing and hoping that it’ll move me into TV and features.