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Daphne producer Valentina Brazzini talks filmmaking, SXSW and Microwave

Date posted: 07.03.2017

Now in its 10th year, our feature filmmaking scheme Microwave does more than simply fund films; we also give development and mentoring support to all of the shortlisted projects.

While only two films are able to be commissioned from each slate, many others go on to find funding after they have perfected their scripts and ideas through the Microwave process. We are very happy to announce that one of these, Daphne, which was part of the Microwave 2014/15 slate, will have its North American premiere at SXSW this week. 

The film follows 31-year-old Daphne, who's caught up in the daily rush of a restaurant job and kaleidoscopic London nightlife. She's strong, funny and acerbic, but deep down she’s not happy. Things change when, one day, she saves the life of a shopkeeper, and the cool armour she wears to protect herself begins to crack…

We spoke with Daphne producer Valentina Brazzini about how the film came to fruition, and what screening at a major festival like SXSW means to the team behind the film.

How did the film start and when did you come on board?
Peter (Mackie Burns, director) simply sent an email after a common acquaintance’s recommendation. He didn’t say much about the project but included a short film called Happy Birthday To Me, which had Emily Beecham as a lead performer, playing an early incarnation of the character that later became Daphne. I was just blown away by how good, fresh and original the short was, and how amazing Emily was in the role. As Peter’s idea for the feature was based on the short, and he was planning to work again not only with Emily but also with the same screenwriter (Nico Mensinga), I just had to work with him.

Where did the inspiration for Daphne’s character come from?
Well, this is more of a question for Peter and Nico, but I can say that they would tell you that it comes from a combination of women they have met in their life, so it was originally based on a mix of two people that were close to Peter. But when Nico came on board I think a lot of his own worries and obsessions as well as some of the women in his life contributed to the character of Daphne. Plus, since Nico started to write the feature having already Emily and her performance in the short in mind, he’d tell you that he wrote the character of Daphne "as an act of ventriloquism. I watched the short film a lot while writing the feature. And I just tried to think: the character that Emily and Peter fleshed out in the short film, what would she say if she was in this situation; what would she do if this happened to her?".

How did the casting process work?
As mentioned before, Emily Beecham was attached from the beginning, which helped the writing of her character. Her performance in Happy Birthday To Me inspired the writing of the feature, and knowing she could deliver the necessary complexity, irony, fragility and stubbornness liberated the writing process and helped creating a rounded and truthful character.

Once we had Emily we started working with the brilliant Danny Jackson and Kahleen Crawford, Scottish casting directors that worked in so many amazing films such as I, Daniel Blake, 45 Years and Under The Skin, to name just a very few.

Peter loves working with actors, and often gets praised for how great and truthful the performances in his films are, like in his Golden Bear winner short film Milk. He would tell you that the secret is to cast the best possible actors in each role, and I feel that we’ve done just that with Daphne. We were so fortunate to be working with so many excellent actors, such as Geraldine James who played Daphne’s mother, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor as her boss, and the amazing Nathaniel Martello-White.

What was it that drew you to the project?
Many things attracted me to the project, and perhaps the most important thing is not something in the story itself, but in the fact that I knew that both Peter and Nico had a sensibility I responded to, and that I trusted them completely to tell a complex, sensitive and touching story.

I also related to the character of a young woman struggling to find her place in the world, in such an amazing and difficult city like London. Especially because I felt that not many films explored with truth what it feels to live in a big city, constantly surrounded by people but fundamentally alone, and what people go through when they are in need of a change but can’t shake off familiar patterns.  

And while the indie US scene was already populated by funny, complex and not always 'cute' female leads, I thought that I hadn’t seen much of that in British films, although I do know that many people like me would have liked to see those characters on the big screen.

What was your experience of Microwave and how did it help the film?
The best thing about Microwave was attending a week-long workshop in London with Nico and Peter. When we attended Microwave we had only worked together for a few months and the workshop gave us the opportunity to get to know each other better and develop a great working relationship. It also gave us the opportunity to understand what our common idea of the film was, and learn how to express it and defend it to the outside world through the many sessions in which we were challenged and questioned about it.

Does Daphne differ much from the original script you started with?
I’ll borrow Nico’s words for this one:

"The finished version of the film stays very close to what was in all our minds through the development, when Peter, Valentina, Tristan [Goligher] and I would talk about what we felt the film was really about. We’d often talk about how it was about a character who doesn’t know how to connect with people, and how this inability to form meaningful connections  although she is just about managing to ignore the problem – is actually an acute form of suffering. And how the events that happen in the film would be catalysts to make her confront her inability to connect, to let people close enough to see the real Daphne – not the mask of bravado and bullshit she can present to the world, but the vulnerable and struggling Daphne behind the mask. We wanted to show how in a massive, multicultural city like London – one of the most connected cities in the world – it’s so easy for people to become isolated; to be surrounded by people, and yet, to feel intensely alone. Also that there are always little bridges back to feeling connected to people, to life – but you have to want to cross them."

What do you hope to get out of screening at SXSW?
We just can’t wait to premiere in SXSW! So many of our favourite films and inspirations are American indie (from the 60s/70s or current ones) and to unveil Daphne in the coolest home of genuine indie cinema, is just so unbelievably exciting.

From a practical point of view, we’re of course hoping that a US distributor will fall in love with the film but also we’re just looking forward to watching the many other wonderful films that have been selected and that we can’t believe share a stage with us!

What would you like viewers to take away after watching Daphne?
I think that so many good films can give different things to different people at different times, and Daphne is a confirmation of this. Every time we screen it, I am always amazed at the different things that people take from it and how varied details seem to touch everyone in a very specific way.

What I would say today is that I hope that, after watching Daphne, people will feel that no matter how hopelessly stuck and down you are, there’s always a chance for change. And that it can happen when you least expect it and without much noise.

But maybe after I watch it again at SXSW I will say something different… 

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