On the surface, making a piece of genre cinema about a serious subject could seem distancing. By not addressing the issue in the most realistic manner it could come across like you care more about exciting the audience with cinematic tropes than exploring the truth of a situation. But using genre as a vessel to confront major issues can actually be more thought-provoking because cinema fundamentally isn’t real life, it’s strange and fantastical and, ultimately, more akin to the dreamstate. Liam Pinheiro-Rogers shows this with London’s Forgotten, his eerie fantasy drama about the cyclical nature of knife crime. Pinheiro-Rogers brings a ghostly edge to his spin on the knife crime drama, telling the story of a young man who wanders London’s urban streets which have played host to the countless stories of knife crime victims. It’s an incredibly compelling piece of work and we’re delighted to be premiering it below alongside a deep dive with Pinheiro-Rogers who reveals the stop-start nature of the film’s production and the stylistic influence he drew from David Lynch and Luis Bunuel.

What was it that motivated you to make London’s Forgotten?

The development of the concept was an interesting one. In some ways, it started in 2019 and in other ways, it actually started in the early 2000s when I was still living in Tottenham. As a child, I never knew just how bad the area was until I went to secondary school. I realised Tottenham was awash with gang activity, anti-social behaviour and of course, knife crime and it affected a lot of my classmates and friends. My parents moved us out of the area when our next-door neighbour’s son was tragically killed in Wood Green, a rival area. But despite knowing that it was a bad area, I still didn’t know why. What was the cause of these issues?

The main goal for the film was never to focus on the deaths in a vacuum but rather focus on the why and how someone may become a victim of knife crime.

The thought stuck with me and it was in 2019 that an idea sprouted in my head to do with my upbringing. I wanted to focus on the ghost of a knife crime victim finding his body in the middle of the street and trying to understand why this happened to him. It would’ve been a no budget short film made with a skeleton crew working off a one to two page script. Being a fan of horror and fantasy, I believe the concept needed that ghostly edge to fully explore the themes. We didn’t get to shoot it as actors and crew pulled out, and that’s when the idea started to expand, instead focusing on multiple victims of knife crime. It became more ambitious, and that’s when I knew I needed a larger crew and bigger budget to create this.

In addition to your own personal experience, what else informed your narrative?

I knew I had to take the time to research the idea, harking back to never knowing why Tottenham was bad to begin with, as the main goal for the film was never to focus on the deaths in a vacuum but rather focus on the why and how someone may become a victim of knife crime, questions that are negated in a lot of films dealing with the same subject. I gave it a surrealist spin for it to truly stand out, inspired by the works of Luis Buñuel and David Lynch.

How did you find the process of bringing together all the practical elements needed for this more ambitious version of the film?

Pre-production was tricky. We were dealing with an unconventional narrative, with most of the budget coming out of my pocket. The short was going to be shot in April 2020, but without spelling out the world wide event that happened around that time, we had to shut down production and re-convene when the world was back to normal. I was heartbroken that the film stopped as we were only a couple weeks or so away from shooting. Ultimately, this was a blessing in disguise for the film. It gave me time to save up more money, retune the script, find the right actors for the parts, which includes Jonathan Jules, known for Small Axe and Why Didn’t They Ask Evans, and to crowdfund. We were lucky to have grabbed additional funding from one of our producers and also from the Peckhamplex Cinema as they really believed in the idea. Fast forward to December 2021 and we were finally starting our shoot.

How many days did you get for production?

We shot over the course of four days, as well as an extra pickup day. The first day of a shoot is always the most difficult, in my opinion. You’re getting used to the dynamic of everyone on set, you’re finding what exactly works for you in this particular set. It didn’t help that the first day was one of the coldest days of that year! It was the scene when Daniel, played by Jonathan Jules, is walking through the misty alleyway full of those ghosts, played by actors ranging from 6’3″ to 6’10” to give them an overwhelming aura, as well as the gang rapping in the alleyway. I’m playing the man with the camera in that scene too! Can’t go wrong with a director’s cameo. The next few days went rather smoothly. One thing we just didn’t have the time for was to shoot the bedroom scene in the opening, where Adam, played by Elijah Dallen, is opening the box, and so we crowdfunded a second time to raise the extra funds for completion.

You mentioned the experience Jonathan Jules had coming into the role, how was it collaborating with performers like him and Donna Peart-Johnson?

Working with actors such as Jonathan Jules and Donna Peart-Johnson was a fantastic experience. We bounced back ideas with each other and made sure we were confident around each other. Jonathan was mostly narrating and walking through streets and alleys, but he brought a subtleness to his performance that made those scenes really shine. Donna was able to use her real life experience of being a surviving knife crime victim and knowing family members who were victims too to add to the character in the crucial scene of her looking at the photo of her slain son.

Working with Lyston Laurence and Floriana Dezou was another highlight I wanted to add. We actually had another actor instead of Lyston originally. We worked together with Dezou and our original actor for hours on Zoom calls to get the dynamic right. When he got COVID a day or so before the shoot, I was devastated as it felt like all of that work was for nothing. Luckily, I managed to find Lyston literally the night before the shoot and his dynamic with Floriana worked very well, leading to some great reaction shots from both actors. It was also my first time working with younger actors, ranging from eight years old to seventeen, and I ensured that I worked with them carefully so that they felt comfortable and confident in their parts.

After you had captured everything you needed, was it a case of finding the right structure or feel for it in post?

When it came to post production, Ellis Evans cut the film. We knew the edit was going to be fairly linear when it came to the blood montage in the middle portion of the film, but we had a lot of freedom for the other scenes and Ellis came up with some great suggestions to keep the tension and mystery in place. Once picture was locked, we were privileged to have the backing of Picture Shop to ensure the grade, sound mixing and online were done on schedule while having some of the best of post production in London work on the project.

We knew the edit was going to be fairly linear when it came to the blood montage in the middle portion of the film, but we had a lot of freedom for the other scenes.

We completed London’s Forgotten in May 2022 and after privately screening the film at the Peckhamplex, with multiple charities attending and talking about the issue, we had success in many festivals, including Leeds International Film Festival and the British Urban Film Festival. We were nominated for Best Director at The British Short Film Awards and won Best Experimental Short Film at The South London Film Festival.

If we could go back to production for a moment, because the film has such a strong look, I’m curious to know what camera were you shooting on.

The film was shot on the Arri Alexa LF by Nic Booth, who also recommended that we use a 1.43:1 aspect ratio to keep ourselves close to the characters. Shooting on the Alexa LF was an eye-opening experience, having never worked with cameras of that calibre before.

I wanted to focus on the ghost of a knife crime victim finding his body in the middle of the street and trying to understand why this happened to him.

And from start to finish, how long has this project taken to get made?

Pre-production ran from the middle of 2021 until December 2021, and as stated above we had five days of shooting. Post production was a good few months, from February 2022 to May 2022. We had to wait until we could shoot the pickup day before we locked the edit, we managed to shoot the pickup on March 2022.

Obviously it’s been a couple of years since then, how have you found yourself developing as a filmmaker after completing London’s Forgotten?

Since London’s Forgotten, I directed an advert for the charity Missing People, who were on the stage with us during the private screening of London’s Forgotten and wanted to work with me, and music videos. My goal in the industry is to eventually become a feature film screenwriter and director.

Can you tease us with anything you’ve got coming up?

My next short film is titled Scelus. While not experimental like London’s Forgotten, it does follow an unconventional story that tackles another social problem with a similarly fantastical spin. Unlike London’s Forgotten, Scelus is a proof of concept for a feature film. The short film is currently in development. Other than Scelus, I am currently directing commercials and music videos.

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