‘Growing’ dir. David Alexander

A day in the life of three teenage boys, whose idle lifestyle of smoking, joking around and chasing girls, results in tragedy.

Writer-Director-Editor: David Alexander
Producer: Sylvia Amanquah
DOP: Nicolas Schroder
Key Cast: Rasheed Amanquah, Solomon Israel, Naaman Telfer, Tina Christofi

C8: What inspired you to write ‘Growing’?

DA: The end of a friendship with someone I’d been close to growing up. All relationships are like seasons, in that they go through changes, but sometimes something can happen, like a single event that in a moment lets you know that you and that person aren’t on the same page anymore. It can be something big and dramatic or something quiet and subtle, but when it happens you know. The actual plot of “Growing” is fiction, but that theme, that emotional core, came from a real life experience.

C8: Did you always intend to direct the film once you’d finished writing?  

DA: Yes, because I wanted to try and direct something I’d written to see if I could. I’d always been interested in writing and in photography and so directing (i.e. combining the two) was inevitable at some point.

C8: How early on was the decision made to shoot in black and white?

DA: I knew we didn’t have the money to do much in terms of lighting and grading with “Growing” so choosing to shoot in black and white felt like a good way to make the photography stand out. Also black and white is quite classic and timeless, and I wanted the film to feel like that. Everyday we see kids sitting around and more often than not we just ignore them, so shooting in black and white felt like a good way to get people to see a familiar image in a hopefully new and reengaging way.

C8: The subject matter is quite difficult. How did you approach working with actors once filming began?

DA: Sadly kids are often exposed to some pretty horrible shit in life from quite early on. So there was nothing in the script that was new or shocking to cast. But as they were quite young I didn’t want to ask them to do anything that was inappropriate. I think too much cinema these days relies on shock tactics. Like when you consider the history of cinema you can see that so much can be expressed without ever using explicit or exploitative imagery. Take for example the movie “Fear Eats The Soul” by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, which has always been a huge influence on me. The physicality of the central relationship is mostly always off screen, yet it never takes away from the emotional impact of the film. And that was kind of my mantra and attitude when I was making “Growing”, like the “difficult” subject matter would be off screen and instead what I would focus on, and in particular what I wanted from the actors, was the honest emotions and truth that existed within each moment.

C8: How much did the actors influence the final product? Did you allow them to improvise at all?

DA: There was actually very little improvisation. I wrote the script and we rehearsed it and fine tuned the dialogue a little, but on the day we shot what was on the page. We did lots of coverage and lots of takes, and in that respect it was a fairly traditional filmmaking process.

C8: What was the most challenging aspect of the shoot and why?

DA: It was the first film I’d made, so I had to be honest with people and admit that I didn’t have loads of experience, but at the same time I had to pursue what I wanted and push for my vision of the film, which was a bit of a balancing act.

C8: You also edited the film. Were there any scenes that you found difficult to cut or anything you didn’t include?

DA: There was a final scene in the script that we did shoot and did include in the first handful of assemblies of the film, but the general consensus was that it wasn’t needed so I cut it out. Cutting the dialogue scenes were tricky, as I’m not an editor, but the rest, like cutting the imagery, playing with the sound, etc. was the best and most natural part of the process for me. Like it was where I found, for lack of a less cliched expression, my voice, and the soul of the film.

C8: The film won the Time Out Best Short Film Award at the London Short Film Festival. What did this mean to you and your filmmaking career?

DA: It was mark of recognition, and a bit of luck, both of which you need throughout your career, and especially in the beginning. The award helped me get into a string of talent development initiatives, get a bit of attention and get my next film made. So it was great for me and something that to this day I’m very grateful for.

C8: ‘Growing’ was released in 2006. Do you think the narrative is still relevant today?

DA: Yes absolutely. More so than ever. But that said I didn’t make the film to highlight a social issue or try and make a point. Ultimately I hope that what remains relevant, or rather what allows people to connect to the film now, are the themes and ideas that express something about friendship, childhood and the quiet tragedies that occur in our lives.

C8: Do you think film festivals are still a relevant place for emerging filmmakers to showcase their work?

DA: For feature films yes definitely. The life span of a feature film in the actual cinemas can be painfully short, whereas it can live on the festival circuit for years. For short films I’m not so sure anymore. If you win a big prize it can help raise your profile, which is important. But also you can spend a lot of time and money applying to festivals and waiting for a response, verses just getting on with the next one. And I feel like these days if you want the reaction of an audience you can go straight to the Internet via YouTube, etc. And if you want to create work that is about you and your personal growth as an artist then you should just do that and not worry to much about external validation.

C8: What, in your opinion, makes for a good collaboration?

DA: With “Growing” I wrote, directed and edited the film, and consequently learnt the hard way that that is just not the way to go. I do believe that you have to develop as an individual, so that when you come to the table you have a clear and defined voice, but I also think that collaboration is the key to really exceptional cinema. And I think that can only occur when you respect everyone’s specific discipline and as much as possible give them freedom and ownership over that space. It may sound contradictory to the idea of the director being the singular driving force behind the vision of the film, but I honestly believe that it’s only via collaboration that we can get to the best possible version of the film. I think this stance is vindicated by the reality that throughout the process of making a film you’re constantly shifting between holding and letting go, like you hold onto a vision or an idea, but always keep the door open for something more truthful or beautiful or potent to supersede it, at which point you let it go. It’s kind of beautifully expressed in the Robert Bresson quote “My movie is born first in my head, dies on the paper, is resuscitated by the living persons and real objects I use, which are killed on film, but placed in a certain order and projected on to a screen, come to life again like flowers in water.”