Get to know: Kim Tserkezie

The actress, producer and founder of Scattered Pictures production company speaks with BFI NETWORK's George Rogers about her new film Obsession

29 October 2019
By George Rogers
George Rogers is a student filmmaker, a graduate of the BFI Film Academy and a freelance film journalist. As a wheelchair user, George hopes to promote the representation of differently abled people in the film industry.

Kim Tserkezie is a fascinating filmmaker and actor who I admire greatly. Her dedication to making truly personal projects that she believes can make a difference, whether in representing disability more frequently and positively on screen or doing the same for her home region, the north-east of England, is one of the reasons why I am so pleased to see her succeed.

Kim is someone who shares my passion for telling stories and approaching subject matter that has not yet been explored due to a lack of desire to change and grow in the film and television industries. This is something she does with her latest project, Obsession, a dark and unflinching drama about fighting for the life you deserve, which she stars in as well as executive producing.

Probably best known for her role as Penny Pocket on Balamory, Kim has gone on to establish her own production company, Scattered Pictures, which focusses on producing film and television projects involving emerging and diverse talent and normalising the presence of disability on screen. 

I spoke to Kim about her experience working on Obsession, and the importance of representation in the film industry. 

George: As an actor and executive producer on the film, how did you become attached to Obsession, and what drew you to the project?

Kim: I was introduced to the production company via a mutual colleague who thought we might find a connection, so we met, initially just to have a general chat about producing films in the north-east. Soon afterwards they sent me the Obsession script and asked if the role appealed to me. I said yes immediately! 

I rarely get sent scripts where I’m not being asked to play ‘the medical problem’. I’m usually playing a ‘disability issue’ in the storyline and it really frustrates me, so it was exciting to be sent a script for a project in which I would be playing a character instead. My mind started racing, as the impact of putting a disabled actor into a role which explores domestic violence was something that I hadn’t seen on screen before. It felt like new and exciting territory to explore, so I jumped at it.

Was your character, Jasmine, originally written as a disabled character or was that changed when you became attached and were therefore able to bring that element to the film?

No, the original script wasn’t specifically written for a disabled actor, so when I read it I immediately began to think about how I would have to play this very physical role differently. I worked with the company to shape the role and discussed how we could do things – even down to sound design, utilising the clicking sounds of the powered wheelchair. It was important that I could bring something fresh and unique. It was a domestic violence storyline, but because of what I was able to bring to it as a disabled actor, it became one that had never been told in that way before.

You collaborated with BFI NETWORK on this project; it’s clear that as an organisation, the BFI are attempting to work with underrepresented storytellers more and more, and I have been so pleased to see that. Tell me about your experience of working with BFI NETWORK on Obsession.

I can’t express enough how excited I am about working with the BFI and BFI NETWORK. I’ve found them to be so supportive; it feels like a genuine collaboration. BFI NETWORK especially have encouraged me as a filmmaker from the north-east; I have to do a lot of travelling for opportunities and networking, and I think the focus that they have brought to the regions is really setting the bench mark.

It just shows what can happen when you bring services to people. I feel we will see more disabled filmmakers coming through BFI NETWORK, because they are acknowledging the things that might prevent us from taking up opportunities. They are making changes that I’m very excited about.

You had a fantastic crew working with you on this project. I’m interested to know how the creative relationship developed between you and an able-bodied crew, who perhaps didn’t have much experience in collaborating with disabled performers. I expect there was a lot to learn for everyone on set?

Yes, I was lucky to work with a great crew who supported me as a wheelchair user on set very well. Communication is so important in that situation. I think some might say that it was a learning curve for them and that it gave them a different experience; I’m so used to this, and I look forward to the day when this isn’t the case, but I often seem to be the first disabled person people have worked with.

It’s almost like I have another job to do, and I do it because it’s important and I want to take people on the journey with me, but it can create a lot more meetings to attend and discussions to be had. You have to be aware as a disabled performer because it’s so new to some people; they don’t always understand it easily.

It only becomes frustrating when you have been really explicit about your access requirements and it is overlooked. There are things we simply need as human beings to do our job, and it amazes me how often we are left without essential facilities like an accessible toilet!

I’ve certainly found that to be the case. For me, the initial hurdle as a disabled person in this industry is to get past others’ reluctance to do or say what they think might be the wrong thing and put them at ease. Do you feel the same way?

I think that’s part of it. I think there is fear about getting things wrong and misconceptions of how the experience will be, that it will create so many problems. Often, as disabled professionals in this industry, we come ready with a lot of those potential problems already solved. If people give us the same chances and gain experience of working with us, they might realise it’s not as difficult as they thought.

I’ve seen on your website that there are a lot of exciting things coming up for your production company, Scattered Pictures. Could you tell us about what’s next for you?

Predominantly comedy at the moment, working mainly in television, collaborating with some UK giants like BBC Studios, Fremantle, Seven Seas Films, IMG Productions. It’s really great that these companies are seeing potential in a little north-east indie. All of our projects include representation at the core of everything; I’m very passionate about the north-east, my home region, which I feel is very underrepresented on screen, so all of our productions are set in the north-east. I’ve been so inspired by working with BFI Network on Obsession that I’m now looking towards what my next film project might be too, and especially my next acting role!

Finally, what do you hope audience members will take from the film when they watch it? What do you want people to think and feel when they see Obsession?

Firstly, I hope this film resonates with women globally; if there’s one woman that watches this film anywhere in the world and it encourages her to seek support, the film will have achieved something incredible. I hope it will make people stop and think to include disabled people more generally in the narrative, whatever that subject may be. As a disabled actor, one of the things I’m most excited about with Obsession is being able to be seen in a leading role, as that happens so rarely.

I think you can only get an authentic portrayal of disability if you include disabled people in the creative process, and that is what Obsession shows. If you involve disabled people, you get an authentic portrayal and a fresh perspective that will make a very interesting screen project, in an industry which is constantly looking for new stories to tell and new perspectives. 

Kim was recently announced as one of the top 100 most influential people with a disability in The Shaw Trust Power List 100. Read more here.