Harry Wootliff

Harry Wootliff is a writer and director whose debut short film “Nits” was BAFTA nominated and selected for Cannes Director’s Fortnight. It also won numerous awards including TCM, the London Film Festival, Soho Rushes & Birds Eye View. Her second short “Trip” premiered at the Berlinale and won Best Short Bradford and was screened at 30 festivals worldwide. Harry was named The Observer’s Rising Star for Film for 2019.

Within the framework of the European Film Promotion and Sydney Film Festival’s initiative “Europe! Voices of Women in Film,” Tara Karajica talks to Harry Wootliff about women in film and her poignant and intimate first feature, “Only You,” a heartfelt and mature romance about a couple who is struggling to conceive and hang onto their passion. The film will be released in UK cinemas on 12 July.

 

 

 

How did you get into filmmaking?

Harry Wootliff: I was an actress when I started making films. I wrote and directed a short film and it was an exhilarating experience being on the outside of the story looking in on it, rather than being part of it.   

How did Only You come about?

H.W.: I knew I wanted to write a love story that felt really intimate and like a window into another couple’s private world. I wanted their journey to be rocky but for the story to also be a testament to love. At the time, I was trying for a baby and not falling pregnant and I thought this struggle could parallel the process of the relationship taking root and trying to flourish. I didn’t really want to write about my personal experience as I was right in the midst of it, but I started writing anyway and I happened to fall pregnant unexpectedly just as I was nearing the end of the script development process. But even though infertility is at the heart of the story, I wanted the film to always feel like it was a love story, to feel universal and ultimately about when life doesn’t follow the narrative you expect it to.

Can you talk about the title?

H.W.: It’s like a romantic tag line but then, the film subverts that tag line in various different ways.

Rooted in not always pleasant realities, Only You is an unconventional romance of endurance and a story of modern life. Can you explain the motives behind not sugarcoating its depiction of love and relationships with all their ups and downs?

H.W.: I think the best stories are the most authentic ones, so if you’re telling a story about love you have to tell it with all its richness and all its complexities and compromises. We’re sold the idea of a perfect relationship and it’s easy to let this undermine you. I want people to feel inspired by Jake and Elena’s flaws and struggles.

In that sense, your film is very real, very raw and very authentic. Anyone who has been in love and in a relationship will identify with Jake and Elena at some point and that is why we root for them. Can you talk about these two characters? How did you write them? What inspired them and their respective stories and backgrounds?

H.W.: I started writing them in just a purely instinctive way. I intuitively felt they should be unconventional and then I stuck to that; I didn’t let myself be swayed or pressurized into making them the same age or in a more long-term relationship. In a counter-intuitive way, I think their unusualness makes them more relatable. I also wanted to reflect the diversity of human experience when it comes to relationships. I wanted to turn expectation on its head, so I made choices that would adhere to this vision. I was inspired by my own life, by people I know and then I mixed it all up and added in elements that are purely fictional. Fundamentally, I knew the couple needed to be compelling; we had to want yearn for them to stay together – the whole film rested on that.

Can you delve a little bit deeper into the character of Elena, a vulnerable, irrational and modern woman?

H.W.: I think she is all these things and more. I think she’s stoic and strong and as rational as Jake, but at different times. They both have their ups and downs. I feel there is beauty in seeing people in their most raw and honest state. I also feel it’s important to see Elena’s vulnerability in the face of love; embarking on a new relationship can be terrifying, and Only You is a little unusual in that it is Jake that’s wanting to escalate the relationship, not Elena. I’ve had great conversations with women about how they relate to Elena, and yet their lives and circumstances are completely different to hers. I think what they fundamentally relate to is the portrayal of an experience of being female, and I love that.

You take a lot of care in going into detail of what IVF involves. Can you talk about that?

H.W.: If the process was brushed over, we wouldn’t feel we had gone through the emotional journey that IVF takes you on. I needed to portray the cycle of hope and disappointment, but I made sure it always centered around the emotional impact it has on Elena and Jake, rather than just being medical information.

I am curious, why is there never any mention of adoption?

H.W.: If you fail to conceive, then there is a grieving process to go on through before you move on. Jake and Elena just aren’t there yet. Letting go of the concept that you won’t have your own child is very emotional. Jake and Elena are just trying to have a family like everybody else does, they need to recover and grieve before they move on to another difficult and emotional journey such as adoption.

Can you talk about the meet-cute?

H.W.: I wanted to capture that connection, that chemistry, or whatever it is that makes you fall for someone after a five-minute conversation. It’s so euphoric – I wanted the audience to really get high on that experience like you do when it happens to you.

What is your opinion of romance films and the romantic film genre?

H.W.: I had this idea that Only You would both adhere and upturn the structure and atmosphere of a traditional romantic drama. I wanted it to start off light and then take a turn. I wanted you to feel you had laughed and cried and that the ending was more cathartic and weightier than a more conventional rom-com might deliver.

What was the best advice you were given?

H.W.: I can’t really think of a piece of advice I’ve been given… When directing Only You, I kept reminding myself of the heart of my story which is two people trying to love each other. I think with directing and with navigating my career, I try to give it my all and follow my heart and not my ego.

Men are allowed to exhibit much more diverse behavior than women and still be deemed as lovable; I want to change this!

How do you think the European Film Promotion and Sydney Film Festival’s initiative “Europe! Women in Film” will impact your career, your visibility and the promotion of European female film talent in Australia?

H.W.: It’s fantastic to be part of the festival and to be selected for the initiative. To have people experience my story in somewhere so far away from my home country is a real thrill and to do that in the company of other female filmmakers and be part of the evolving dialogue around women and film is a privilege.

There has been a lot of talk about the situation of women in Film for the past year and a half. What is your opinion on the matter? How is it in the UK?

H.W.: In the UK, it’s very prevalent. The last couple of years have been very positive for me and I wonder if that’s a reflection of where we are politically. To me, it’s just about audiences being able to see films that reflect the full diversity of human experience.

Are you a feminist? If so, how does it inform your filmmaking?

H.W.: Yes, I am. In the making of Only You, it was fascinating to see how much scrutiny Elena’s character came under as opposed to Jake’s. Men are allowed to exhibit much more diverse behavior than women and still be deemed as lovable; I want to change this!

Who is your favorite female filmmaker? And your favorite film by a female filmmaker?

H.W.: It’s so hard to choose. There are so many that have affected me at different times of my life. I have just been re-watching White Material by Claire Denis. I love the way the narrative feels so blurred and dreamlike, but also so emotional and Isabelle Huppert is incredible.

What are your next projects?

H.W.: I am currently finishing a draft for a film called True Things. It will shoot in March with Ruth Wilson in the lead.

 

 

This interview was conducted in partnership with:

and

Tara Karajica

Tara Karajica is a Belgrade-based film critic and journalist. Her writings have appeared in "Indiewire," "Screen International," "Variety," "Little White Lies" and "Film New Europe," among many other media outlets, including the European Film Academy’s online magazine, "Close-up" and Eurimages. She is a member of the European Film Academy, the Online Film Critics Society and the Alliance of Women Film Journalists as well as the recipient of the 2014 Best Critic Award at the Altcine Action! Film Festival. In September 2016, she founded "Yellow Bread," a magazine dedicated entirely to short films, ranked among the 25 Top Short Film Blogs and Websites on the Planet in 2017. In February 2018, she launched "Fade to Her," a magazine about successful women working in Film and TV and in 2019, she was a member of the Jury of the European Shooting Stars (European Film Promotion). She is currently a programmer for live action shorts at PÖFF Shorts, Head of the Short Film Program and Live Action Shorts programmer at SEEFest and Narrative Features Programmer at the Durban International Film Festival. Tara is a regular at film festivals as a film critic, moderator and/or jury member.

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