Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir is a two-part film with the second part about to go into production. In the first part, she takes us back to the 80s when Julie is a film student, still finding her way and her voice as a artist. Along the way she meets Anthony with whom she embarks on a relationship, but as her world starts to focus on him and his needs, her own dreams take a back seat.
The story reflects Hogg’s own journey. It has paid off in a project that has been years in the making as she spent time trying to decipher the characters for screen. Hogg says she hadn’t felt ready but kept trying. It was only recently when the story started coming together for her. I caught up with Hogg to discuss The Souvenir.
You open with the voiceover and the photographs. What was that choice before you cut to the next scene?
I wanted the film to be framed by Julie’s work or her ideas as a filmmaker. That project that she wanted to make had some resonances by what happens in the film and I thought that was a nice way to start it.
It was also my own beginning in filmmaking because I too wanted to make a film in Sunderland with that very same story and most of the photographs you see are reference photos for that. What Julie says about the story is the exact description of the story that I wanted to make at that point in time.
This is semi-autobiographical. How long did that journey from page to screen take?
I first started thinking about making about a film about that experience back in 1988. Three years after that relationship ended, I started thinking about my experience as a story for a film. Even back then, I wanted it to be in two parts. I needed the first part to tell the story of the relationship and I needed the second film to be about the development of an artist’s voice in the shadow of a life experience.
When I first started writing down ideas, I didn’t have a lot of experience as a filmmaker. I had been out of film school for a year. I wasn’t ready to make a film about my own life in any way, shape or form. I’d revisit it every few years. Even in the 90s, I wasn’t ready to grasp that story. I felt I needed to fully understand the characters. I wasn’t confident enough to speak on behalf of the Anthony character. I realized, a few years ago, that I didn’t need to tell the story from his point of view. I didn’t even have to understand the story to tell the film and that the film itself could be some form of investigation.
When you’re working on something that is so personal and your story, how do you convey that to your cast and your crew?
I have detached myself to an extent when I cast the actors and crew by that point. When I’m working on the ideas, that’s the most intensely personal time for me, but as soon as I start showing others that story, then it’s much easier because I’m past that point.
You have so many beautiful shots in the film. Where did you end up shooting?
We were looking for a studio to shoot the film. I didn’t know whether it would be an action studio where they shoot action films or where it would be. We ended up finding an air force base and we found an airline hanger. It happened to have this incredible view out the doors looking out into the countryside, so, we ended up shooting in Norfolk on that base and made it look like East London.
The views from the flat were 35mm sildes from the apartment that I had shot at the time from the apartment I lived in. The apartment was reconstructed from my memory. It was a challenge to recreate those views. We weren’t sure how to do it, and we ended up projecting the views and we used as the basis for the projection – those slides that I had shot in the early 80s.
I love that you continue to keep your music to a minimum whether it’s score or music.
It was exciting to open a new door here. I felt there were certain songs and music from that time period that conjure up memories from that time. I wanted to be faithful to my impression of that period. My memory of the 80s is that you’re not just thinking about the music of the 80s. You’re thinking about the 40s, the future and the 60s. I wanted to be true to my own memory of it. Music was an exciting way of doing that.
What were some of the other challenges that you had aside from the projections?
I had these characters in my mind, one of which was myself. So, it was about what know was being played out in front of me and my memory of that experience. I had to let go at times of that actual experience and embrace the new thing in front of me. I wanted to embrace that new thing in front of me and I wanted to connect with Honor and Tom. It’s the reason I work in the way that I do. I allow new things to come in during the shooting and not feel that I’m a slave to something I’ve worked out. It’s that tension between the real experience.
Honor Swinton was superb. How did you know she was the right person to play you?
The exciting thing is that I don’t know until we start working together and I sort of don’t want to know. I had a very strong instinct and there’s a lot of unknown in that and I wouldn’t have it any other way. There’s a huge mystery. If there’s no risk, there’s no life in it.
I’m just convinced and have a strong feeling it will work.
What’s the latest with part two?
We start shooting in three weeks time. I’m taking more risks where I’m pushing myself. There’s the danger right now because so many people are responding to the first part that I can sit back, but I’m not going to do that. I’m taking a big risk and I’m not making the same film. There are new elements and it’s a different film and it’s a different journey all formed by the first film.
I do love the cinematography and the use of lighting in the film.
I’m working with the same crew and we’re not doing the same thing. We’re pushing for new things and taking risks. You’ll see.
The Souvenir is on limited release