'We are making progress to equality, but we are not there yet’. Suffolk director Charlotte Couture describes need for carer-focused film Different Day
Charlotte Couture founded a film company with a desire to overcome obstacles, but she might not have counted on a global pandemic being in her way.
Not to be deterred, the 30-year-old from Barton Mills had a more productive 2020 than most in wrapping her first short film as a director. Different Day, currently in post-production, focuses on Alicia, an 18-year-old young woman who is looking after her bipolar mother and little sister, balancing her commitments alongside her aspirations.
Charlotte, who is now based in Streatham Hill, got the idea for this, her sixth film project, having read a lot about the plight of young carers and seen documentaries.
“I heard of the obstacles they face, but more importantly the resilience they show. There are a vast number of young carers for different reasons.
“I wanted to write a film about it because it is really not represented. It is a silent community of people because they do not feel like they can talk about it openly.”
Different Day is the latest work from Sheer Height Productions, which Charlotte founded alongside friend and collaborator Jenny Wilford.
The half-hour short film climaxes with Alicia facing an ultimatum following an incident between her mum and sister.
Charlotte says the film is not autobiographical but is inspired by a carer she has met – and the challenges thrown up are a daily reality and burden for young shoulders. Her research led her to speak to more young carers and social care professionals.
“Facing big decisions is a problem when it comes to young carers as they feel this responsibility to stay with their family, they love them, but there is very little help for people who want to transition and have their own independent life.”
A small, all-female, cast of just five actors are featured, with Laura Joy Pieters cast as Alicia.
“She was brilliant,” said Charlotte. “She brought out the sensitivity of Alicia and her resilience. She is in a situation where she is getting frustrated and, while has a lot of love, she is in a situation where it is being chipped away at. She plays her so brilliantly I was lucky to find her.”
Alex Jarrett, Suzie Frances Garton, Jenny Wills, make up the other characters while Charlotte, who has played a main role in her previous films, takes a cameo role as a social worker. The film was shot in Hackney for convenience with the East London location providing an urban backdrop but with green spaces. No mention of a setting is referenced in the dialogue, a deliberate move to suggest what is seen could be a reality anywhere.
“It was quite daunting going into it,” Charlotte said. “But I knew I had the best team around me, to make it happen. It is definitely something I want to keep doing and where my passion lies.
“As a director you see everything from beginning to end, the overall creative output is on you. There is a lot of responsibility but when you are passionate about a story you have a specific idea about how you would like to see it delivered, it is exciting to see it come alive.
“It is scary as you don’t know how it might be received. But you do your best, that is all you can do, and I love the process.”
The entire film was shot in 2020, a significant feat considering the ongoing pandemic. Restrictions would be a challenge for any director, especially a first time one. Charlotte was able to bring together a small crew for the production, mostly comprising people she knew of, or had worked with before.
“Because of the social distancing rules we had to use a reduced crew. You might usually have fifteen for a short film but we had eight or nine. It was a small set, so we had to be very aware and it worked out fine. We needed the Covid measures in place and we had PPE, which can prove difficult when filming.
“There were not many scenes when actors were in close contact, but when we had those, the actors were not always facing each other anyway. But it did pose a challenge. We did as much as we could to minimise any transmission. We were always two metres apart as a crew, only the actors had to be flexible with the rules.
“But in a way it developed the camaraderie and a sense of teamwork, we were all in this situation together.”
Another challenge of making the film was the financial aspect, with film making expensive at the best of times. Different Day was mostly self-funded with sponsorship inclusion.
“At the moment it is hard to secure anything,” Charlotte said. “It is a challenge and hopefully doors will not be closed for people trying to get funding.
“I fear a lot of money will be going into bigger productions, some of the safer bets that industry backers know will bring returns.”
All being well, Different Day will be released on the festival circuit from spring in the UK and internationally, before producers ‘weigh up’ where to take it.
Charlotte dreams of being featured in the BFI London Film Festival or even at Berlin or Cannes festivals, but she is also looking towards the Suffolk scene.
“The aim would be to go for the Suffolk Short Film Festival and other ones in the county. We’d be looking to do a screening in one of them, to try and get some exposure, and highlight the issues within the film. There is an element of the film that explores how in rural areas, young carers have far less available to them because of the accessibility issues. It is important to get it out.”
But however well this latest film is received, Charlotte knows that the work is towards a greater goal. Back in 2014, she founded Sheer Height with the goal of creating more opportunities for women in the film industry.
Does she feel things have improved since then?
“Yes,” she said, “We have seen progress in the number of women in the ‘best director’ category at the Academy Awards and Golden Globes. Before that was never the case. There has been a rise in female driven stories, and while there is always progress to be made – there are a lot of programmes with heavily male casting - I’d say we have definitely made some progress.
“You have to push forward on all levels of the industry. It can’t just be the BBC and Netflix doing it, it’s important we are all conscious of the changes that need to be made.
“I hope that people will be able to think about young carers in a more meaningful way,” she added. “To come away with the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.
“But there is also a sense of hope. Carers like Alicia show a real resilience. She is going to be fine.”
Different Day is currently in post production and is set to premiere at film festivals later this year.
For the latest, visit: www.sheerheight.co.uk