Interview English

Want to see the world through the female lens, says filmmaker Jeneffa Soldatic


Soldatic's short film The Honey Makers explores themes of displacement and the struggle to make one’s home in an alien land.

Sukhpreet Kahlon

Multiple award-winning director Jeneffa Soldatic’s short film The Honey Makers explores the circumstances of Arjun and Lalita, Indian immigrants from Uganda, who find themselves the target of racist attacks.

The film, set in 1984 in North London, sees the hardworking couple trying to create a home for themselves in the face of mounting resentment and violence.

The film won the award for Best International Short at the Mystic Film Festival and the Best Short award at the Fort Lauderdale Film Festival, 2020, amongst others.

In an exclusive interview with Cinestaan.com, Soldatic discussed the inspiration for the film and the themes that resonated with her. Written by Deborah Grimberg, the film is adapted from her award-winning play.

Speaking about the film, Soldatic said, “I saw the production of [the play] and I was blown away. I really adore the bees being a metaphor for migrants. My parents are also migrants and I’ve migrated to another country and been very lucky because I am a white woman, compared to someone of colour.

"I love the metaphor of the bees and the idea that everyone is looking for a safe home and the idea of the refugee movement, with the thought that ‘don’t let them settle’, which is what a lot of governments do.

"In Australia we have a terrible history of what we do with our refugees and migrants, so I loved her metaphor and thought she [Grimberg] had created these beautiful characters. I had no idea about the South Asian refugees from Uganda, and when I did, it was quite heart-breaking. It’s another genocide of sorts.”

Although the migrants in the film are from Uganda, everyone assumes they are from Pakistan. The powerful metaphor of the bees melds together themes of home, displacement, the anxieties of being uprooted from one’s home, and trying to carve a space in an alien land.

“I love the way Deborah writes," the director said. "I love her sense of metaphors. I love that she underwrites things, she allows actors to tell a story without telling it by words. As a director, that was material that I really wanted to work with. There is so much that’s unsaid that’s also said and that just takes brilliant writing.

“She [Grimberg] said this film is about [the fact] that everyone just wants a safe home. Like the bees, every person wants a safe home — the white beekeeper wants a safe home, the skinheads at the front [of the shop], the disenfranchised youth, are being told that other people are taking their safe home. So, it’s the disfranchisement that was happening at that time and how the beekeeper really likes these people, but when push comes to shove, he is trying to survive and create his own safe home.”

An award-winning theatre and film director, writer and acting coach, Soldatic discussed the journey of finding the right artistes for the parts.

“My instinct always knows when it’s the right person," she said. "When we met in the room together, everyone was aware about the story they had to tell and they really wanted to tell this story. That’s what makes a big difference with actors; when they really connect to the piece, it’s personal.

"I just had to know that the story was personal for them. The imagination is going to play the character, but if you can understand where that character has come from personally, then the rest is the acting, which a talented actor can do.

"I feel like there needs to be that essence of understanding what the story is about and what role you play in that and the commitment to that, and everyone was committed to that.”

Sharing her thoughts on the question of how much of acting is craft versus talent, she said, “I believe that acting is like singing and can be taught. I think it is a craft and I think that part of the talent is that the craft comes naturally to you.

"Some people don’t have to work at the craft. They already, naturally, have a vivid imagination or a strong will when it comes to believing and concentrating on the story. I think that’s the sort of natural talent.

"I think that everyone needs to, like any art, continually grow and I think natural talent only gets people so far, and that’s when the craft comes into play.

"I sometimes think that natural talent is a person on set who could be joking around and two seconds later he’s in character. That’s because they have already come with this extraordinary will and concentration and imagination which I think are the three most important things that naturally come to them.

"For some people, that’s not their natural disposition or the disposition that has been nurtured in them.

“For me, the most important stories are about the human condition and overcoming adversity.  I’m always attracted to stories of migration and I think as the world changes, that’s going to become a greater story as countries become more vigilant than ever.

About her own perspective as a filmmaker, she said, "I really want to see the world through the female lens. I feel like we have seen it for the past 150 years of film through the male lens and the male gaze and I’d like to see those stories told through a female lens.”

The Honey Makers has been received well and audiences have been supportive of the film which has been travelling to a lot of festivals. It is playing at the Los Angeles Shorts Fest and will then be screened at the Los Angeles Diversity Film Festival as well.

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