TIFF 2021 Women Directors: Meet Camille Griffin – “Silent Night”
Camille Griffin is a writer, director, and co-producer. She originally trained in the camera department and worked for 13 years as a Clapper Loader, and has since written and directed seven short films that screened at over 20 international film festivals. Griffin is currently working on two further feature films— a Keira Knightley project with Searchlight Pictures, Celine Rattray, and Trudie Styler producing, as well as a Netflix science fiction film with Simon Kinberg and Audrey Chon producing. “Silent Night” is Griffin’s first feature film as a writer-director.
“Silent Night” will premiere at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival on September 16. The fest is taking place September 9-18.
W&H: Describe the film for us in your own words
CG: “Silent Night” follows a group of old boarding school friends and their loved ones as they reunite to celebrate Christmas and their pasts — but not their futures, as a deadly environmental eruptions threaten them and the rest of the human race.
The film investigates the lengths they’re prepared to go to in order to avoid suffering and to protect the ones they love.
W&H: What drew you to this story?
CG: My relationship as a parent— wanting to do better by my kids but failing miserably.
W&H: What do you want people to think about after they watch the film?
CG: I hope the film asks us to consider how we treat the planet, children, and society so can we do any better. All the big questions no one likes to think about.
W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
CG: Perhaps less of a challenge, more feeling responsible for everything— our actors, our crew, my producers, wanting to do my best work while supporting everyone else to do their best work. We had a limited schedule and budget and then faced the added threat of COVID as it began to enter our world.
W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.
CG: “Silent Night” was funded by private equity. I spent 20-odd years training in the film industry, writing, applying, more training, more writing, and more applications, while making one short film after another, all in an attempt to get funded within the UK.
After years of hovering on short lists, I realized I was looking to the gatekeepers for their approval, their permission to make films, and it wasn’t working. It was endlessly painful and confusing, as I had to believe that my work carried some value, yet they didn’t want to fund my films. I had to either give up entirely or find another way. I gave up on them and eventually it gave me courage to look elsewhere for support, [then] Matthew Vaughn opened his door to me and it was the right place for me to be.
W&H: What inspired you to become a filmmaker?
CG: Ever since I can remember, I’ve loved cinema. Films gave me courage and I never wanted to do anything else.
W&H: What’s the best and worst advice you’ve received?
CG: I believe all advice, good or bad, carries value. I think that if you hear bad advice and it feels wrong you should trust yourself. Don’t always trust that everyone else knows what is best for you. I had to find out for myself.
W&H: What advice do you have for other women directors?
CG: Tell your stories and stand up for yourself, your voice, your vision, and whenever you can, support other women, support the unrepresented, share your good fortune, and don’t be greedy. Be respectful of how precious these opportunities are. Most importantly, train at your craft, don’t rush, don’t be impatient, which is my hardest lesson in life. Be good at what you do, study, prepare, and practice. Prove to everyone that women should be given a landscape to make films. Be excellent, so that when it happens no opportunity is wasted.
W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.
CG: I saw a film some years ago at the Cannes Film Festival called “Polisse” by Maïwenn. It was an ambitious film and it shook me. It spoke to the parts of me that were broken. I don’t know if I can choose one film or filmmaker over another, but “Polisse” took my breath away and I loved her for that.
W&H: How are you adjusting to life during the COVID-19 pandemic? Are you keeping creative, and if so, how?
CG: When the UK went into lockdown we began editing, so I didn’t experience endless days of solitude, self-reflection, or bread making. Instead, I left my husband with the kids and went to work. On my day off I dropped prescriptions around for the older members of the community. We’re fortunate that we’ve been able to stay safe so I wanted to give something back.
When we finished the film, I thought I could either stop, collapse, and cry for a month, or keep going and start writing again, so I did, and I don’t think I’ve ever written so much as I have done in the last year. It’s taken a toll on me and I’m tired, but now that I’ve made my first film I don’t want to waste any time. Plus, I’m older. It hasn’t been a quick journey so I want to get on with it. I don’t believe the door stays open forever.
W&H: The film industry has a long history of underrepresenting people of color onscreen and behind the scenes and reinforcing — and creating — negative stereotypes. What actions do you think need to be taken to make it more inclusive?
CG: I believe we need to start at the ground level and give underrepresented people real opportunities. The British film industry is a nepotistic industry where people take care of their own, so that has to change. We have to make the effort to seek out diversity and even out the playing field. The balance needs to be tipped in the opposite direction and eventually it’ll settle.
Mostly, I believe the studios should fund trainees in all departments on their productions — they should facilitate open, safe avenues. Given that the studios make the majority of the profit, it’s time they give something back. If people aren’t afforded the chance to train, to be allowed a voice, to be heard, how can they succeed?