To celebrate the BBC broadcast of short films made through our Beacons scheme, Ffilm Cymru are sharing a series of interviews introducing the new and emerging Welsh filmmakers that made them
Clare Sturges’ short film The Arborist is a poignant drama starring Catrin Stewart as a woman that must overcome the profound grief and guilt she shares with her estranged brother Joe (Rhodri Meilir) before she can let go of their dead sister.
Ahead of the broadcast we spoke to Clare about her inspirations, experiences and plans for the future.
Hi Clare, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m a writer director from Pontypridd in the South Wales Valleys. I became interested in filmmaking at the age of 30, when I was asked to write scripts for an advertising agency. I’ve since made a range of shorts, two longform documentaries, one of which won the BAFTA Cymru Breakthrough Award 2015, and My Brief Eternity, a BIFA and BAFTA-longlisted short documentary that won the BAFTA Cymru Short Film Award 2016. My first film was The Audition in 2010, which is a tongue-in-cheek grisly murder short about the perils of actorly jealousy, rivalry and unchecked ambition. (It’s on Vimeo and has a Facebook page and still makes me laugh today – check it out.)
What inspired you to make The Arborist?
I was inspired by Rachel Tunnard’s indie feature Adult Life Skills starring Jodie Whittaker – it’s a comedy about a twin whose twin has died, and the existential crisis that ensues. I laughed and cried so much watching that film from the back row of our local arthouse cinema, I thought I’d flood the aisles. I’d never seen a film about twin loss and it cut through me like a knife: I lost my twin Eli at the age of 21. I felt inspired and emboldened to write a film exploring my own take on the experience of losing a twin and The Arborist is how it all came together.
The film has a great cast; how did you go about finding the right actors for the characters?
I’d seen Catrin Stewart in Euros Lyn’s indie feature The Library Suicides – and the writer of the film Fflur Dafydd recommended her to me. Catrin is a twin and the themes in The Arborist resonated with her instantly. I’d seen Rhodri Meilir in BBC drama Craith/Hidden and the producer of that series Hannah Thomas recommended him to me – I really loved his performance as a conflicted, troubled man and I thought his brooding stillness would be great for the character of Joe.
How did you find the move from documentary to fiction filmmaking?
It felt right to me to develop my Beacons drama from a real-life experience as most of my filmmaking experience has been in docs telling other people’s stories. Documentary and drama have a lot in common; with both you’re seeking to honour the story and characters involved, to find the dramatic elements that expose and explore the nature of a truth, all the while seeking to entertain and sustain interest by finding the universal in specific human experiences and the difficulties people face.
What kind of support did Ffilm Cymru & BFI NETWORK give you?
I’m grateful to Ffilm Cymru Wales and the BFI/BBC for the relationship we’ve built up and the notes and support they’ve shared, especially Kimberley Warner, who shepherded the project through various trials and tribulations along the way. (The Arborist took three years to make from concept to final film.) I’m so pleased to have been able to work with all the talented, committed people on our production. Owing to our funding we were able to work with some of the best of the truly awesome professional crews that Wales has to offer.
What have you been watching during lockdown?
My top three lockdown watches are all true crime or crime drama as I just can’t get enough of it: Unbelievable, Who Killed Little Gregory? and Boy A.
What do you have planned next?
I’m developing a feature film about a notorious, brutal killing that happened here in Wales in the ’80s. It’s a humane exploration of guilt and a meditation on the nature of evil – revealing the repercussions and impacts of a tragic crime through the eyes of the killer, who got away with murder for years.
Watch the trailer for The Arborist here.
The Arborist was produced by Keiran McGaughey at Like An Egg Productions through Ffilm Cymru and BFI NETWORK’s Beacons scheme in association with BBC Cymru Wales. Watch it on BBC 2 Wales on Monday 14th September at 10:30pm (the film will also be available on iPlayer following its broadcast).