Director of The Silent Storm: Corinna McFarlane

In a second interview with filmmaker Corinna McFarlane, we hear about working with Damian Lewis and Andrea Riseborough on The Silent Storm (out this month), securing a decent budget, being a woman in film and dealing with bad reviews…

Yesterday, we heard from Bristol-based Corinna Mcfarlane about her secluded life – living in a water tower, with her dog, writing films. She talked us through her filmmaking journey; and how she got to where she is now and explained her decision to make her first feature-length film – Three Miles North of Molkom – a documentary. Today, she tells us about The Silent Storm and the way the film industry treats women.

Corinna McFarlane on The Silent Storm…

“I’ve always been writing. I write poetry; short stories, so making a drama was very natural. I was, as Werner Herzog says: “looking for the ecstatic truth”. On the production side, I was a first time drama filmmaker but I went to it like a duck to water. It was brave of me but I was surrounded by fantastic actors.

I started out working in theatre and this was an actor’s piece. I’d found the location and had a strong sense of what I was doing – it could only be as I saw it. So I just got the people around me to facilitate that. I’d lived and breathed it for so long.

It took us a few years to raise the finance and in that time I had to jump through so many hoops and cross-examinations from investors that I knew the film inside out. I’d been grilled on why my locations would work, or wouldn’t. As a young woman, there were a lot of hoops.

The budget was a couple of million, which is a big budget for a first time director in this country. But I had to sing for my supper. However, after that grueling process, filming was a joy; a relief – like playing with all my favourite people, doing exactly what I’d wanted to do for so long.

I took every challenge as a gift, an honour. I was super-grateful and excited – and I brought that energy to the shoot. Andrea said it’s the best film she’s ever worked on, and I think that was because I was so over the moon to be there; buzzing all day every day, which I think kept the team alive and committed.

Making The Silent Storm

I never want to be pigeonholed as a director; I want to be more like a Danny Boyle – to jump from genre to genre. Women are so often stereotyped into period drama or sentimental stuff but I’ve jumped from documentary to drama and now I’m doing something completely different with my latest project.

There are similarities between Three Miles North of Molkom and The Silent Storm – there are themes of healing, and the power of our true nature, and nature itself. Also, about the power of human connection to heal us, against all odds. But the setting is different.

The Silent Storm film is a fairytale – a modern fairytale – and like all fairytales, it’s quite dark. I explored old Scottish, Celtic myths – strong, simple stories with archetypes at their heart. In a way, there were archetypes at the heart of Three Miles: an Aussie, a viking. But these are different archetypes rooted in Scottish history; this is a love story.

Also, there is a female narrative… it’s a feminist film. There’s an exploration and celebration of the feminine, whilst diving into the oppression of the patriarchal system.

Damian Lewis is a minister who sees godliness in scripture. Riseborough plays Aislin, his wife, who he finds washed up from nature; the sea – and for her, godliness is in nature.

There’s a love triangle with a young boy and this explores patriarchy and oppression of the feminine. But the only thing that prevails, in the end, is truth. It’s a full-on film. I think I’ve got it out of my system now. The next film is situational farce – a screwball comedy.

It’s important to mix it up and show that female directors don’t have to be put in a corner. Though, to be fair, it happens to men too. The people financing the film only want to pay if it’s the same genre as your last success but this results in British film becoming quite limited. Especially compared to French film, which celebrates the auteur – allowing for creative freedom.

Here, there are council estate dramas or kitchen sink stuff or mock American rom coms. So The Silent Storm is definitely a European film rather than British. It’s heavily influenced by Ingmar Bergman, Carl Dreyer – old school Scandinavian directors who I discovered while making Three Miles. Also The Piano, by Jane Campion.

The Silent Storm and its star-studded cast…

I got Damian and Andrea to agree to taking part off the back of the script. There was no way they would have done it if they hadn’t loved the material; it’s an actor’s piece. It’s intentionally theatrical and actors really enjoy getting their teeth into something performance-led. There are three archetypal characters, but it’s a Marmite movie. You buy in to the setting, tone and myth and understand it or you don’t – it’s dramatically stylistic.

It wasn’t easy to get Damian and Andrea; it took a long time – the right place, right time. Damian was my first choice but we didn’t think we could get him because of Homeland – then there was a break so we had a short window, and manipulated all the schedules to get him. He gives a belter of a performance – a great piece of theatre for the screen.

Dealing with reviews of The Silent Storm…

It’s hard. I’m only human. However, I’m quite strong and I remind myself there are very few people brave enough to work in film and put themselves out there like I have. I take solace in that; I know that I push boundaries – I have with both films. And I really like getting a strong response.

I’ve had people really love this film and not like it at all but nothing in the middle, which I think is good. It’s a challenging film. People are forgiving of really shit work if it’s misogynistic, they’re more tolerant because they’ve been conditioned to be. But this speaks to people on a different path. That’s not to say it isn’t mainstream; it’s not just for art house fans.

Only 5% of directors in the world are women because it’s scary. There’s an incredible amount of bullying. I’m a first time drama director and it’s a craft that evolves but there’s a lot more generosity towards male exploitation narratives than stepping out and doing something different.

You get people saying: who wants to know about this shit. It’s a bit like all kinds of minorities; people think no one’s interested. Ultimately? Fuck it. I do it for the love. And for the people who do love it.

People aren’t as generous when they see it’s by a woman. Think about how much American mainstream stuff we follow. Superhero movies that are just money-making machines. We don’t complain, or challenge it. But there’s a real, urgent need for more alternative voices in the mainstream. Entertainment – the term – has been highjacked.

Hopes for The Silent Storm…

I’d like people to enjoy it, and for it to have an impact. I’d like it to shine a light on the power of nature, and how important it is. It focuses on a protestant fundamentalist – but fundamentalism in general is important in our world today. The oppression of women in two thirds of households around the world, who are being ill-treated in the name of god, is an outrage.

So really I just want to explore that, to bring the question of femininity – what does it mean to be a free woman? If people could have a moment to think about that after seeing my film, that would mean a lot, because the freedom of women is so important.”

The Silent Storm will be in UK cinemas from 20th May