Marie LidÉn Interview

Date: 24 March 2023Category: Interviews
  Ahead of the BAFTA nominated Electric Malady coming to the Booking Scheme on the 1st April, Cinema For All sat down to interview the films director, Marie Lidén, to discuss the films unique production, personal filmmaking and its acclaimed release.   How did the project come to you and how did you first hear of William’s story? My mother developed Electrosensitivty when I was 8 years old and it took her about 10 years to recover, and I was getting to the age she was when she developed the illness and I just started thinking about it loads; worrying that it was genetic or that it would happen to me, so I decided to make a film about it. I knew I wanted to make it from a family’s perspective, so I placed an ad in a magazine that goes out to Electrosensitive sufferers in Sweden. Responses came from all over the world, and I got loads and letters and phone calls and emails, from those that can use email. William’s dad was one of the people who called me, so I spoke to him a few times before going out to meet William. Was it hard as someone with such a personal connection to this subject matter to then go and make this film? Yes. I did not expect it to be so difficult. From the beginning it was going to a story about a child’s perspective, looking and trying to understand an illness like this, and it was going to have more characters; we filmed this boy in Canada and another teenager in Sweden as well, and explored the scientific side. I don’t think I really understood how looking at this experience again from an adult perspective would mean I understood what my mum went through so much more, and how scared she was. I interviewed her a lot, because she was going to be in the film, she was really scared that she was going to have to leave us and go out and live in a cabin in the forest. This was before the internet, so she didn’t really know about other cases. She’d read one article about a woman who’d had to flee society, and that was the only case she knew and she was worried that that’s where she was going as well. So it was a really hard project to make. This must have been a very unique shooting experience, in terms or logistics and access, I wondered if you could expand on that process? I knew that it was going to be difficult using electrical equipment, so I went to test the equipment with William twice, and I realised we could use a hand crank Bolex 16mm camera and a small DSLR camera using long lenses and staying as far away as we could. All the recording devices had to be kept outside. Shooting on film was really hard because you need a lot of light, so we were using all of these mad ideas, using mirrors to get light into his cabin. So that was hard but it gave the film the look that it has. Ethically and morally, it added so much extra pressure. You’re already really aware of the impact that you’re having on your character, especially in this case with someone who has lived in isolation for that long. Also, even though we took all of these precautions with our equipment, our presence there had an effect on him. Sometimes he has to lay down for a really long time to recover, he asked to turn the camera off throughout, as you seen in the film. When your character feels very low and talks about suicide, it’s a whole new ball game. What kind of film am I making here? Am I making an exploitative film? I had to seek help; psychiatric help for myself, but also how to speak to someone in such a low state. We filmed for 7 years, so it was up and down through this process. There were times when I thought “should he be in this film?”, but the way he talks about his situation is so rich. He spends so much time alone with his dreams and his hopes. He’s a beautiful character. One of the beautiful things about the film is the way you engage with the themes through the form itself. You have the Bolex footage, digital footage, William’s home video footage, the photo slides, all exploring that space between digital and analogue worlds. Was that a conscious decision or was it born out of that necessity of shooting with William? He actually told me about his own home footage quite late on. He pulled out this bag of tapes, it was amazing. But it came quite early that we were going to go between these kinds of styles. I think because William’s space is so claustrophobic, we knew that the film had to come out for air. So the contrast of textured feel of the outdoor footage became something that we chose to do to show the difference between his space. I felt the film really becomes a film about family and the support network family can provide, and I felt that ultimately made the film, especially with where it goes, very optimistic. Did you always want the audience to feel that way or was that something you discovered along the way? Do you think the film is optimistic? I do. The film was very dark. When we were trying to get money for the film everyone said “No, this is too dark. You won’t be able to relate to this”.  So it wasn’t always that way. But William started working on his book, he found new treatment, and this film made an emotional change in him. He felt his story was going to be in vain, so while physically he is unwell, emotionally he’s so strong. Now every time I speak to him he’s happy and he laughs. At his lowest he was always incredibly strong, but there’s really been a shift. So that optimism just came. Speaking of William’s response, the films been really well received, you were nominated for the BAFTA, and I wondered how that’s been for you as the filmmaker and how has that been for William and his family? It’s been incredible. Making this film was so hard and from a funding perspective it was a nightmare. Towards the end I thought “I can’t call myself a filmmaker anymore”, “have I just been wasting everyone’s time?”. So seeing people’s reactions to it, I could almost not take it in. At the premiere I thought I was going to be verbally attacked and non of that came, and people were so moved and engaged. People who were suffering with invisible illnesses were really moved and felt connected to it and to William and his family. It felt amazing and quite vindicating in a way. William hasn’t seen the film, but I made an audio export that he could play on his CD player, and I said don’t comment on how you sound because everyone hates the sound of their own voice, and the first thing he said was “I sound awful!”. But it’s his story and he feels like I’ve told it well. With his parents it was a bit different because I had to prepare them that it was going to be very hard to watch. So they saw it late in the edit and I’ve never been more nervous in my life. I sent them the film and asked them to call me after. The first time they saw it, it was hard for them to take it in. Seeing your family from an outside point of view is really difficult. The second time they saw it they said “okay, this is a very good film”. For the BAFTA ceremony they somehow hacked the system so they could watch it from Sweden. They called William on his phone so he could listen in as well. They were really happy. You used the word “vindicating” there, it must have been pretty vindicating for William to have his story out there too. Yeah, I think so. We were pushed hard to put more science in the film [from funders], so we tried to explore that route and interviewed experts and scientists. But it just didn’t work. William also wanted more science in the film; he wanted this film to prove that this is real, these are real physical symptoms. But I think it was good to make a non-scientific film. We’re not trying to prove anything with the film, we’re just trying to show that no matter where you stand on this issue, these are real people and real stories and people go to such extreme situations when they have these symptoms that they isolate themselves for years and years. That’s real. This is not an isolated case, this is so many cases all over the world having similar experiences. That’s what I wanted to show and avoid that whole debate, because that wasn’t what I was interested in. Why is the theatrical experience and that collective experience important to you as a filmmaker? This is my first feature as a filmmaker, and I hadn’t really had an experience of this before. Showing this to audiences and speaking to people after has been incredible. I’ve learnt so much from other people. When we screened down in London there were people with long Covid in the audience who felt really connected to the story. Other people have seen the film and connected, sufferers of ME for example. That’s been really great that people themselves feel those connections. Showing it different kinds of audiences… I think it’s hugely important and I didn’t realise how important that was. Obviously, you want people to see your film, but that human connection and speaking to people afterwards and seeing how moved they were, it was incredible. I don’t want to jinx anything, but I’ve not been attacked yet. ELECTRIC MALADY is available to screen for just £90 from 01/04/2023. Book now.
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