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SHEFFIELD DOC FEST 2020

Review: The Filmmaker's House

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- Marc Isaacs lets people have conversations in his living room and kitchen in this look at filmmaking and Britain

Review: The Filmmaker's House

In The Filmmaker’s House, playing in the Rebellions sections of Sheffield Doc/Fest, documentarian Marc Isaacs continues his fascination with exploring lives that pass through enclosed spaces. In Lift (2001) it was a lift in a tower block, in Travellers (2003) a train carriage, in Outside of a Court (2011) the steps of a courthouse, while here it is, as the title suggests, his own home, which is where a couple of builders, a Muslim neighbour, his cleaner and a homeless man share some of their time in front of Isaac's camera. The “rebellion” part is that this is not the film Isaacs would have made if documentary commissioners and financiers had been more open to his ideas.

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As is becoming more and more the norm in our “hybrid” world, the line between documentary and fiction has become murkier. Much of The Filmmaker's House seems scripted, but it's hard to guess exactly which parts they are. The opening sequence, going into a hospital and locating a homeless man in a bed, is in the manner of a traditional documentary, but things quickly start moving in a less observational and more directed fashion. First, Isaac's hand comes into shot, armed with a £20 note, which he gives to the hospitalised man, and as he passes the money over, cinéma vérité knocks out direct cinema. Although Isaacs remains behind the camera, this film is all about his interactions with the subjects, and it definitely feels like he's orchestrated this meeting of people during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, rather than it happening organically.

Why he does so is made clear early on. During a video call to his producer, she informs Isaac that his new idea for a project does not overly enamour the commissioners she has approached because it's not something that they can easily take upstairs to their paymasters. Isaacs doesn't need to say it, but it's clear that this is just some normal case of passing of the buck by those unable to give straight answers and reject projects, shifting the blame on elsewhere. It's a frustrating tale that nearly every filmmaker has experienced at one time or another.

And so he takes things into his own hands, and within his budget range, and starts filming at his home. The homeless man, who reveals he's from Eastern Europe, comes knocking at the door for more money. The cleaner is grieving for her mother. The Muslim neighbour is cooking for others and sharing food. The two builders are here to lower a fence in the garden – take that, Trump. When they're all put together, it's not quite a state-of-the-nation look at Brexit Britain. It can also be exasperating, which the filmmaker acknowledges when he has his partner come in the house and roll her eyes at him for making a film at home. Another little hint that a filmmaker's life is definitely not all it's cracked up to be in a movie that remains watchable, and funny at times, despite everything being so haphazard.

The Filmmaker’s House was produced by the UK’s Lush, Mathew Shaw and Rachel Wexler. France’s AndanaFilms manages the international sales.

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