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El Alma De Las Moscas (The Soul Of Flies) (12A, 78 mins)
While most people’s idea of a debut feature is an intense, dark piece, set in one small unchanging location, Seven Dials-based director Jonathan Cenzual Burley threw away the rulebook.
His first full-length movie, El Alma De Las Moscas, is set in the open flat Spanish plains, following two brothers who have never met before, reluctantly travelling together to their philandering father’s funeral.
“Shooting inside is harder than shooting outside,” says Burley.
“Outside you have the light of the sun, so why shoot inside?
It doesn’t make any sense!”
For El Alma De Las Moscas, Burley returned to the landscape of his youth, and used his budgetary limitations to help develop his story.
“It’s a bit like when you write a book – you should write about what you know,” he says. “It’s pointless to tell a story about a gang if you’ve never been in one.
“I knew I had no money when I wrote the film – so I wasn’t going to make a film where the actors had to show an amazing display of emotions.
As long as I shot it well, it was all about how I directed the actors.”
The two brothers at the centre of the movie are both professionals, and friends of Burley. But for the rest of the cast Burley brought in friends and family – with both his grandparents playing roles.
“I could make them say a line over and over again until they got it right,”
says Burley. “You have to be patient when you’re working with nonprofessionals. You can’t be technical – you have to explain to them what you want in a different way.”
In this way he was able to let his actors improvise, so their lines felt natural, making the characters leap off the screen.
Along the way the bickering brothers meet a suicidal narcoleptic, a girl who wants to paint the brown fields with colourful fruit, a musical thief and a long-dreamed-of woman who smells of sunflowers, all endearingly soundtracked by Brighton musicians Tim Walters and Monsters Build Mean Robots.
There is plenty of quirky humour, and a surreal, almost dream-like quality – which was part of the reason Burley felt it should be a Spanish movie.
“England is more rational, the story wouldn’t have worked,” he says. “In Spain it felt like I could play around with the idea of dreams and reality. I don’t know if it is the language or the heat, but in Argentina, Columbia, Italy and Europe people seem to make films that look more alive and vibrant.”
Burley, who is currently based in Seven Dials, came to film through photography and theatre, discovering it was the perfect medium for his storytelling.
He learned his craft when he joined a film crew for three months in Argentina, taking much of what went into El Alma De Las Moscas with him.
He also has a couple of short films to his credit – although he doesn’t want to make any more.
“I like having 90 minutes to tell a story,” he says. “I think years ago you made a short film as a calling card, as not many people could do them.
“Now you can make a short film on an iPhone. There are so many film festivals, and YouTube, where they can be seen. Unless it is very good it doesn’t get noticed. I would rather spend three weeks making a feature than a week on a short film.”
The film was selected by the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival – where Burley sent it after becoming fed up with being ignored by smaller film festivals.
Among those who came on board later were the Warsaw Film Festival, where it earned a special mention, Sao Paulo International Film Festival and the 2011 BFI London Film Festival, where it was screened alongside big-name hits including Shame and A Dangerous Method.
Following its national release, Burley, who will be hosting a Q and A with Walters at the Duke Of York’s screening, is planning to make the film available on Video On Demand, before starting work on any new projects.
“I can now go to producers and art councils and say: ‘This is what I made with no money. If you give me some money now I can make something bigger’.”
Duke Of York’s Picturehouse, Preston Circus, Brighton, Monday, July 16, 6.30pm, £6, 0871 9025728