Rosie Morris is a documentary director who graduated from the National Film and Television School in February 2020. She is drawn towards coming-of-age stories and driven to explore female identity onscreen. Empathy, conversation and collaboration are at the heart of her process. She prioritizes intimacy and emotion to make films that are grounded in everyday experience, but psychologically complex and emotionally charged. She has a particular passion for observational filmmaking and has the ability to self-shoot or direct a crew. Morris has an openness to playing with cinematic form, always aiming to bring the audience into the world of the film and to meet the people in it at eye level.
Within the framework of this year’s 16 DAYS 16 FILMS initiative created by Modern Films and the Kering Foundation, a short film competition that platforms female filmmakers and their films, which explore, emote, and educate on forms of violence against women, Tara Karajica talks to Rosie Morris about her short film, “Heart Eyes and a World,” as well as her thoughts on the short form, women in film today and what she is up to next.
How did you get into filmmaking and what inspires you to make films?
Rosie Morris: I’m driven by empathy and inspired by observing the way people are, the way people communicate with one another. Whatever I’m exploring through a film, I want to access it on an emotional level. I love that Cinema allows you to do that. As a teenager, I hated school, but went to a youth theater in the evenings. We would spend months rehearsing plays which we’d perform for a few nights in the local theater. I thought it was the most incredible, magical and exciting thing – to work together with a group of people to communicate a story to an audience. I still feel like that. I love the journey of making a film and the relationships that are formed along the way. I love that everybody contributes something of themselves. The first few films I made, I worked completely on my own and taught myself to shoot and edit. I think that private time of pushing on and making something from scratch without anybody watching was so important for me. It allowed me to quietly build my commitment and confidence. It’s really hard to finish something self-initiated, but when you have done it once, you know you can do it again. I was thirty-three when I went to The National Film and Television School.
Can you talk about your short film Heart Eyes and a World?
R.M.: I would describe Heart Eyes and a World as being a behind-the-scenes view of the selfie. I made the film at a time when I was reflecting on my own teenage years and I felt that the only thing I could imagine harder than being a teenager again, would be to be a teenager now. I wanted to know what it was like to grow up with social media and never know anything else.
How do you see the short form today?
R.M.: I’ve only ever made short films. I think what’s hard is to take a short film from being an idea to being a story with a journey. Often, you can feel the idea too heavily. But it’s a great form for watching online and a great way for filmmakers to learn.
What is your opinion on the situation of women in film today?
R.M.: It would be great to be able to be filmmaker rather than a female filmmaker.
Who is your favorite female filmmaker and what is your favorite film by a female filmmaker?
R.M.: I love Andrea Arnold for too many reasons to describe here. I’ve been watching her films since I was a teenager and they have made a huge impression on me. I always feel they have really taken me somewhere I’ve never been before, where I am able to walk alongside the people in the worlds she creates. If the question had been: “Who is your favorite filmmaker?” my answer would be the same. I wouldn’t be able to choose a favorite film because I feel what I want from a film varies, depending what’s going on in my life. With Andrea Arnold’s films, they all have scenes or moments that have stayed with me really clearly and fully, which I can conjure in my mind as though I am watching for the first time. She has a way of really making you feel you are in the space with the characters and so scenes from her films stay with you, like memories.
What are your next projects?
R.M.: During the pandemic, I have collected verbal accounts of people’s night-time dreams via Zoom and have just got the Arts Council’s funding to develop this into a new work. At the start of the lockdown, friends were telling me about their vivid dreams, so I started collecting them. It was with the desire to make a film, but also to connect with people and hear about what they were experiencing on an emotional and psychological level, in a situation that was new and frightening and evolving each day – but that we were all in together. It was so good to have conversations with people during that time. Dreams have found their way into my films before. I made a film called Dear Pidgeon about an incredible woman, known as Pidgeon in the film, who was trying to understand and heal her relationship with her father. She had always kept a really detailed dream diary and she read from it in the film. The story of her dream is really the heart of that film. I’m always looking for different angles from which to empathize.
My NFTS graduation film, Trees, was a film about me moving home to look after my Mum whilst she had chemotherapy for breast cancer and asking her about when she moved home to look after her own mother –who I never met. It’s a film about women looking after each other, but above all else, it’s a film about love. As with all documentaries, the film ends, but people’s lives go on. I’ve spent the whole of the pandemic with my Mum as she continues her cancer treatment and I have carried on filming with her.
This interview was conducted within the framework of the 2020 16 DAYS 16 FILMS initiative created by the Kering Foundation and Modern Films.