“My aim is to create art that is holistic, organic, and quotidian."
Claudia Tomaz is a London-based filmmaker whose work surpasses genre limits and shows the viewer that stories can be told in many alternative ways. Often times, she will improvise during shoots, work with poetry and images, and collaborate with non-actors for her projects. The result is a journey full of surprises, both for the filmmaker herself and for the viewer.
I interviewed Tomaz about her style, how she uses the internet to reach audiences, and her new project LONDON GROUND, a series of short experimental documentaries about the London underground art and music scene. The project will be financed and distributed by online technologies like IndieGoGo and Film Annex.
F.A. Would you call your films unconventional? What makes your work stand out from films that follow the route of traditional storytelling?
C.T. My films are not driven by narrative in the traditional sense. I am more interested in visual storytelling, journeys of perception, encounters with people and places. I try to make films that are open so people can fill the gaps with their own stories and emotions. So yes, I would call my work unconventional. Film production has to be creative; it’s not just about saving money. For my second feature film, I worked in super-16mm with a full crew and cast. It was an amazing experience and we accomplished great results, but it also made me realize that it was not how I wanted to work. There was too much stress and pressure, too many hierarchies involved. Since then I’ve been working on a smaller scale mainly on digital. I do what I call ‘experimental documentary,’ which allows me to get closer to the thin line of subjectivity. I am interested in the process of creating, the methods of filmmaking, and the economic and technical aspects of my work. My aim is to create art that is holistic, organic, and quotidian. So I look for a sustainable way to do that. Digital technology and online distribution can make this possible.
F.A. In your films Nights and Detour, you successfully blur the line between narrative and documentary film by using fictional and non-fictional elements at the same time. What do you achieve by combining these two genres?
C.T. It’s enriching for me to work within that blurred zone between life and narrative. I always look for ways to use film as a personal tool. When you have a full crew, it becomes difficult to get to the essence of things. So I choose to adopt microcinema to be able to go beyond the genre mentality.
I was only 23 when I made Detour. I wanted to see if it would be possible to make a film that didn’t have a traditional narrative style and realized that I can in fact tell a story in many different ways. Detour starts off as a fictional story and ends as a documentary. My script consisted of poetry, a collage, and some drawings. We worked with non-actors, fishermen and women in a Portuguese village, where we stayed for a whole month. In order to create a particular visual texture, I used a super-8, a betacam and a digital camera. I was reading Beckett at the time whose writing surely influenced the absurd and hypnotic mood of the film, which I created through editing and sound design.
Noites (Nights) was my first feature film. It started off as a fictional narrative about a drug-addicted couple, reflective of a huge social problem in Lisbon at the time. After I took a trip to the slums and met the people there, I rewrote the script to make it more realistic. I worked mainly with non-actors, and the script went from being fictional to improvisational along the way. I shot the movie on video and worked with a small crew. In the end the film was transferred into 35mm, screened at the Venice Film Festival and won ‘The Critic’s Week Award’.
F.A. You describe your films One Love and Travelogue as road movies. What makes a road movie different than a documentary?
C.T. I think people still think of documentaries as observational films that are objective, but I like to feel subjectivity behind the camera. “One Love” and “Travelogue” are road movies because they are journeys. I use my camera to communicate and capture the state of being in a new place and meeting new people. These films are not scripted; they happen as I travel and through encounters. But they come to life only after I edit the image and the sound to express the particular moods of the journey.
F.A. What is London Ground and how can people get involved in it?
C.T. London Ground is a series of short experimental documentaries (3-10 min) to be distributed on MICRO FILMS WEB TV. It’s about the London underground art and music scene in 2009. This project uses online platforms for fundraising, collaboration, production, and distribution. The films will be made in collaboration with artists from different backgrounds, such as musicians, filmmakers, and performance artists. As a result, we’ll showcase documentaries, essay films, visual poems, and music videos. Collaboration is really at the core of this project.
I launched LONDON GROUND on IndieGoGo, an online platform where filmmakers can pitch their projects and seek funding. Anyone can follow and contribute to it by visiting http://www.indiegogo.com/LONDON-GROUND. You’ll see that I put up a number of fundraising values and offer a return for each contribution (name in the credits, DVD, 2-day workshop with me, etc.). I will also organize public screenings and parties in order to extend the collaborations with the artists involved. In short, people can get involved in the project through financial support via INDIEGOGO, by spreading the word, watching the films on MICRO FILMS Web TV and visiting my blog.
F.A. How do you plan to develop London Ground and how can it become ‘sustainable’?
C.T. If enough people contribute with their work and help out financially, the films can be done. I’m hoping that the revenue from the events, DVDs and online distribution will sustain the project.
A few weeks before launching London Ground on indieGoGo, I set up Micro Films Web TV on Film Annex. My Web TV is like a screening room for my work. I am currently showing my old and new films (1995-2009) in a micro format and I upload new stuff every week to keep it dynamic. London Ground will be the next showcased project even though it is a work in progress. This way people can watch my films for free while they are supporting London Ground.
F.A. How do you plan to use the revenues you will be generating on Micro Films Web TV?
C.T. These funds will be used in the production, post-production, and the online distribution of LONDON GROUND. I need to cover all expenses, including filming, editing, distributing the films online and maintaining the sites updated. A fee for admin expenses, equipment, tapes, transport and promotion (like flyers) is also included in the budget.
F.A. Have you done any shoots for London Ground?
C.T. We did our first shoot this week. A few weeks ago, I showed a film at VHS Video Basement & Picture House, which is run by a group of artists who squat buildings in central London. They run these weekly Short Film Nights, and the last building they occupied used to be a strip club. I felt inspired by this place, the friendly vibe of the group and their interest in independent filmmaking. So I decided to collaborate with them and use their space as a set for the first episode of London Ground. I filmed three artists; a young photographer from Australia, a theater student, and a painter. who brought their artwork to the shoot. We talked about how new spaces can bring people together to create art, the squatting scene in the 70s and 80s, community art projects, and some other topics. I think we got the spirit of London Ground going!
For more information on Claudia Tomaz and LONDON GROUND, check our her website and Web TV.
Interview by Eren Gulfidan