There’s a theory that your first work of art will always be an intensely personal expression. But does that mean it must be autobiographical?
For filmmaker Harry Macqueen, there’s clear water between the two. His recent feature debut, Hinterland, was acclaimed by indie cinema aficionados and critics alike, and on the surface is a film hand-woven with real-life experience. Or maybe not.
“The film is very personal, but not autobiographical at all really,” Macqueen reflects. “The literal journey the characters take is one I’ve done all my life but that’s kind of where the parallels stop.”
Nonetheless, Hinterland is a film that will speak directly to many a misfit lost in the late-twenties wasteland. Charting a road trip taken by level-headed, would-be novelist Harvey (Macqueen) and starry-eyed musician Lola (Lori Campbell), it’s a bittersweet love letter to friendship, childhood and unspoken truths.
“Although the film has a kind of timeless quality to it in the way it’s shot, for me it’s definitely about being in your twenties in contemporary Britain – London to be more specific.”
You could also be forgiven for viewing Hinterland as an auteur-piece, a film meticulously managed and perfected by its creator. After all, Macqueen not only wrote and directed, but also produced and joint-starred. Once again, however, there’s a distinction to be made; this jack-of-all-trades approach was born of shoestring necessity rather than perfectionism (or megalomania).
“It all comes down to budget really,” he explains. “Initially I’d written myself a little cameo in the film and was happy just to see if I could write and direct, but in the end, realising there was no money left (nor space for one more person in the car), I had no choice but to take a lead role.
“Similarly we couldn’t afford a producer, and since I’d written it and knew the locations pretty well it seemed like something I could also do.”
It’s a scenario that will be familiar to most first-time directors with big ideas and scant resources. Making Hinterland was clearly a labour of love for everyone in the six-person team behind it. Indeed, this was the main thrust of Macqueen’s introduction to a recent screening at Hackney Picturehouse, one of 12 Picturehouse cinemas that championed the film around the UK.
“One of the key things that helped us finish the film was that we all fell in love with it,” he told the audience. “We fell in love with the characters and the story.”
Macqueen’s bread and butter comes from acting, with appearances in the likes of Eastenders and feelgood Hollywood romp Me And Orson Welles. As such, the evolution towards producing and directing a feature film wasn’t painless:
“The entire process was a huge challenge for all involved, not just me. Considering pretty well none of us had made a feature before it’s a massive achievement.”
Shot on location along a raggedly beautiful stretch of Cornish coast, the production was very much a DIY, communal effort.
“We had fun and laughed a lot and it was exhilarating to make a film in that way – everyone living under one roof looking after each another.
“The actual shoot was pretty intense, simply because we didn’t have that much time to get it all done.”
Hinterland is also a memorial, as testified by the hand-drawn dedication at the movie’s close. Inheritance money left by a close family member financed the production to the tune of £10,000 – a budget that was soon on the verge of exhaustion.
Happily, these restrictions may well have been an unlikely blessing. The handcrafted style of the film is complemented by its part-improvised dialogue, all of which hangs together with delicate, understated charm. It’s a movie that refuses to spoonfeed its audience, as expressed by the intrigue surrounding Harvey and Lola’s own friendship.
“The ‘truth’ in almost every situation doesn’t exist in the words we speak but in the spaces in between them, what we don’t say,” says Macqueen.
“I think it follows that if that’s what you are striving to focus on, to capture a situation or a performance ‘honestly’, it’s paramount to try and explore that.
“I wanted to find my own voice, and the most important thing at all times was to be truthful to the characters in whatever way seemed appropriate.”
With a Raindance nomination, inclusion in several major film festivals and backing from Picturehouse and Curzon cinemas, Hinterland certainly isn’t a bad start for a filmmaker clearing his throat.
For Harry Macqueen, it’s been a rollercoaster introduction to the world of filmmaking – but one that was clear-eyed from the very start.