Producer Alison Sterling, director Kasia Klimkiewicz and actress Helen McCrory talk about working on Bristol based love story/political thriller Flying Blind, the third film to come out of South West Screen’s microbudget scheme iFeatures.

Synopsis: A post 9/11 love story about an older woman working for a military manufacturer in Bristol who embarks on a passionate affair with a French Algerian student only to discover that he may not be what he seems.

Director: Kasia Klimkiewicz, whose short film Hanoi-Warsaw won the European Film Award in 2010.

Writers: Bristol-based writer Caroline Harrington came up with the original premise and wrote the first draft which was developed by Naomi Wallace, Bruce McLeod.

Producer: Alison Sterling of Ignition Films, who co-produced the BAFTA-nominated short film Turning.

Cast: Helen McCrory, Kenneth Cranham, Najib Oudghiri and Tristan Gemmill.

Financing: As part of the iFeatures scheme, the project is backed by BBC Films, Matador Pictures, Cinema Six, Regent Capital and City of Bristol. The iFeatures scheme is also backed by Skillset.

Budget: £300,000

International sales: Content Media

Language: English

Filming location: Bristol for 24 days.

Status: Shooting

Release date: Aiming for completion in May

On the origins of the project:

Alison Sterling: I had been working with Bristol based writer Caroline Harrington and we had a four page outline. The deadline for iFeatures [South West Screen’s microbudget film-making scheme] was coming up. I had this very strong instinct that I wanted to work with a female director and I felt it was right for a European director, because I really didn’t want to make a piece of British social realism.

I went along to Encounters short film festival in 2009 and the programme co-ordinator told me that I really should see Kasia’s film Hanoi Warsaw [which won a European Film Award last year]. I did and I was blown away by it – it was a completely unsentimental look at the way people are, with exactly the right combination of realism and cinema. Kasia, the director, happened to be there, and we met and that was it.

On the Bristol based story:

AS: iFeatures was the original inspiration, because the brief was to create a Bristol story. So the original writer, Caroline Harrington came to me and said she wanted to make a story starting with concorde. From concorde we went to engineers and we decided on a female engineer and a love story. It snowballed.

This story could not happen anywhere else. Because concorde was built here. And Frankie our main character’s father was one of the designers of concorde.

Kasia Klimkiewicz: As a foreigner coming to Bristol, it feels like this is an epic city with strong roots. It feels like it’s always been inhabited. There is a sense of tradition and strong roots. Frankie’s character is very rooted in Bristol. She comes from this very solid world which is rocked when she meets Kahil, who comes from a very unstable world.

On the political context of the film:

KK: It’s a very intimate story between a man and a woman but it has the political context of race and age and religion and class. The two are intertwined.

Helen McCrory: It’s about immigration which is something that the whole world is being affected by. Whether you are living in Sudan or Poland or London, this is a real problem for the world. It’s a very complicated issue. It’s also about the issue of terrorism and how it’s affected people’s lives. How perfectly normal sane people have become paranoid and a lot of communities have suffered as a result of it.

On the strong female central character:

KK: It’s about a woman who is so strong, but suddenly she falls in love and the carpet is pulled out from under her feet. I liked the idea of a strong woman who goes through an ordeal. It’s not an obvious take on women. We have a strong woman who can also be vulnerable.

AS: There has been a spate of older women films – Leaving, I Am Love. But interestingly in those films, it is English actresses playing foreigners. Because English women don’t have sex of course.

On the inspirations for the film:

AS: We’ve always been aiming at a European feel. It seems to me that British films either fall into the category of Gosford Park or Tyrannosuar. This is neither of those things. We hope it’s about the real world without being desperate or miserable. There aren’t many contemporary British films that do that. Primarily its’a love story but the atmosphere is that of a thriller.

KK: I really like films from the 70s. Taxi Driver, Conversation. I’m not comparing myself to Coppola or Scorsese, but what I like about these films is that they have a very strong plot and they say something about the world.

On working on a microbudget of £300,000:

HM: The huge benefit is the fluidity and the fact that you are not doing the same scene for 21 days. The disadvantage is you wake up the next morning and think, I should have done the scene that way. But I like it. When you talk to directors who are  promoted into directing enormous great studio films, you can often see their frustrations that they are supposed to be right at the top and yet every single decision has to go through a thousand signatures. We don’t have time for that here. Kasia will say, that’s not working, try it again, put a beat in there. There is a huge freedom in that.

AS: Because we wrote it for iFeatures, the script has always had that in mind. There are no stunts, no car chases and no crowds. But it means there is no margin for error. We are really lucky that all these talented people have come on board for half their normal rates and the cast are working on equity minimum.

KK: When you have a small budget you have to do a lot of preparation. Because you don’t have much time. We had a week of rehersals. If something is not working you have to find a solution very quickly.

On playing to an older audience:

AS: We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about audience. We think it’s a grown up film. It’s not for the 16-25 audience. There is a massive older audience out there. It could easily be a date movie. I think women will come because of the love story element and men will come because of the thriller element. What I really want is for them to leave the cinema and argue about it in the car on the way home. We want the audience to find the truth.

HM: The real importance of films like The King’s Speech winning awards, is that suddenly a whole load of films that have been on the shelves in the studios have been greenlit. Because they realised there was a thinking audience and most importantly they can make money from a thinking audience.

On what’s next?

KK: I am going back to Poland and have some ideas I am developing. I am head of the young film makers association in Poland so my aim is also to influence some changes in the Polish industry.

HM: I am starting the new year with Bond!