Hannah Currie on film development, 3am ideas and winning a BAFTA

Hannah Currie is a Documentary Filmmaker from Glasgow. Hannah currently has two films touring the festival circuit, We Are All Here, about the suicide of a young rapper from Glasgow, and That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore, about a couple coping with life after a devastating brain injury.

The latter, developed during Hannah's time on the Scottish Documentary Institute's Bridging the Gap programme, won the BAFTA Scotland award for Short Film in November last year.

The film also screened at DOC NYC and Cucalorus Festival, and Hannah took part in IDFAcademy's DocLab, a five-day programme for international talent in the field of documentary storytelling and interactive media. Screen Scotland was delighted to support Hannah's attendance at these Festivals through our Market and Festival Attendance Fund.

We recently chatted to Hannah about development, how the BAFTA Scotland award and attending these Festivals has impacted her career, and what she has planned for the future.

Hannah Currie and her aunt Lindsay smile together at DOC NYCTJIFA Contributor, Lindsay and Hannah at DOC NYC

What inspires your work?

"I am drawn to multi-layered characters and I take pleasure in becoming part of their lives and capturing the experiences and emotions that can move audiences and encourage thoughtfulness about others. Life is extraordinary and I’m very curious. When I sit on the bus, I want to know about everyone around me.

"I’m interested in personal stories that tackle universal themes like mental health, love and loneliness, addiction and recovery. And I like the idea of giving a voice to people who are not normally heard or whose realities are ignored by mainstream media, though I’m very aware of the huge responsibility that comes with putting a life onscreen."

2019 was a fantastic year for your career - what was a highlight?

"It was all a bit of a blur for me. I graduated with a Masters in Screen Documentary in December 2018 and by January I was adapting my graduation film (We Are All Here) for broadcast. The re-titled Lumo: Too Young To Die launched during mental health week on BBC Scotland and that was a massive deal for me, having spent a lot of my time fundraising and volunteering for mental health charities. And it was my first TV commission which was a dream come true really!

"The film won a Mind Media Award and was nominated for BAFTA and RTS student awards, and it will next screen in the National Gallery of Singapore for their mental health festival in February.

"The highlight of 2019 was absolutely winning a BAFTA for TJIFA; the film is about members of my own family whose life has become incredibly difficult due to illness, and it was a proud moment to be able to dedicate the award to them."

Huge congratulations on your BAFTA Scotland win. What did that achievement mean for you and everyone involved in the film – and has it brought about new opportunities for you as a Director?

"It’s been a real game changer! Receiving that recognition for a piece of my work gave me renewed confidence that I’m on the right track career-wise, and confirmed that the film is speaking to people in the way I’d intended.

"Being very new to documentary filmmaking, it validated me in the documentary field and advocated that my films are worth watching, which is helpful when you’re constantly competing for audiences and funding. Plus Edith Bowman bought me quite a few shots of sambuca which was nice because I think she’s a legend!

"I think the award definitely puts you on the industry radar and has the potential to bring about new opportunities, because you can sell yourself as a BAFTA-winning Director, but really the most important thing in creating new opportunities is putting in the work! Though I still might try and bring my BAFTA with me to all future meetings and see if that’s enough to swing things in my favour.

"For the people in my films, awards and nominations are not going to majorly impact their lives - my aunt Lindsay and uncle Paul still struggle through the daily reality of living with a brain injury. However, the recognition might mean more people see the film and receive its message - and that’s definitely a positive thing."

Last year you attended DOC NYC, Cucalorus Festival and IDFA – taking part in the IDFAcademy. How important is it to attend international festivals for you as a Filmmaker?

"I was extremely lucky (and grateful) to attend these international festivals with support from Screen Scotland, and if there’s one thing I learned from that experience, it’s that placing yourself right in the hustle and bustle of international film festivals is of enormous benefit to your documentary career.

"Watching docs, talking docs, making industry connections, and attending masterclasses by world class filmmakers is inevitably going to up your game! I learned the basics of documentary filmmaking at University; but I learned how the whole machine works at these festivals."

"You learn how to pitch your films to people in a few lines"

"Thinking, selling and developing all play a big part in making films, and festivals are the perfect environment to do all of these things. You learn how to pitch your films to people in a few lines; you see what they react well to and what doesn’t hold their interest, and so you think on it some more and develop your idea and each time you do that, it gets stronger."

Hannah Currie
Documentary Filmmaker

Do you think attending these festivals has had a positive impact on your film projects – completed or in development?

"Yes, hugely. Thinking, selling and developing all play a big part in making films, and festivals are the perfect environment to do all of these things. You learn how to pitch your films to people in a few lines; you see what they react well to and what doesn’t hold their interest, and so you think on it some more and develop your idea and each time you do that, it gets stronger.

"For my completed films, I hand out postcards with links to the trailers on my website and this is a calling card to say 'Watch my work, select it for your festival, and remember me because I’ve got more to give!”

What was it like participating in the IDFAcademy? What were your biggest takeaways?

"I can’t emphasise enough how good IDFAcademy was – it was a huge privilege to be selected and I’d encourage all new, ambitious documentary filmmakers to apply.

"The Academy demystified sales and distribution, two areas of the documentary industry that I’ve always found tricky to navigate; and it made me realise that my own voice and filmmaking style are valid and important in a sea of voices and films.

"I was fortunate enough to witness a masterclass by Mohsen Makhmalbaf (considered one of the most influential documentary filmmakers of our time) and I loved this advice from him:

'Filmmakers shouldn’t copy each other; we shouldn’t copy reality; we must use our own point of view to give different perspectives of truth. If you focus only on cinematic technique, you focus on the glasses of cinema; we need the observer. We need the individual point of view.'

"I came home feeling really inspired."

What are you working on in 2020 and what are your hopes for the future?

"I have just completed the trailer for Glasgow Short Film Festival 2020, which my brother Tim and I were commissioned to make after We Are All Here won their Audience Award in 2019 (Tim edited the film). I worked closely with an exceptionally talented team of people to pull the trailer together and I’m very proud of it, so I can’t wait for audiences to see it on the big screen at the festival in March.

"Documentary-wise, I have two projects in development, both of which I am really excited about. I have new ideas all the time (usually at 3am when I can’t sleep) but these are two strong subjects that I’ve been coveting for a while and this year I’d like to get both funded, commissioned and into production. Wish me luck!

"When I’m not making films, I run a club-night called MILK with my friend Aileen – we’ll be DJing at the 2020 Glasgow Film Festival at the end of February this year! I also try to dedicate some time to campaigning for causes that get me fired up."

Follow Hannah's work

The Joke Isn't Funny Anymore will screen at British Shorts Berlin on Friday 17 January, then at DOCfeed Eindhoven in February.

To find out more about Hannah's documentary work, check out her website at www.hannahcurriefilm.com. Follow the social media for We Are All Here and That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore for updates, and watch the TJIFA trailer below.

All images courtesy of Hannah Currie.