The Dublin-born, London-based first-time feature director talks about her Tribeca world premiere Lotus Eaters and her next projects.
Debut feature filmmaker Alexandra McGuinness is having a “whirlwind” week in New York as her film Lotus Eaters has its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. The film sold out its first three screenings so the festival has added a fourth. “Everyone has been really welcoming to us and we’ve gotten a great reaction, especially for this weird little black and white film,” the director tells Screen.
McGuinness was born in Ireland (she is the daughter of U2 manager Paul McGuinness) and she studied at the London Film School, where she met Lotus Eaters producer Mark Lee. They pulled the film together quickly — it was only about a year ago that the film was conceived — and its post-production was finished just four days before its premiere in Tribeca. Ireland’s Fastnet Films co-produced.
The story follows a fashionable but self-destructive group of friends in and out of London.
McGuinness reports that there is buyer interest in Tribeca, and that the film should be attaching a sales agent in the coming days.
How did you finance the film?
We started with a crowd funding model; that was a way in. We raised some money that way, and we got more private investors and then the Irish Film Board came on board, and then some larger private investors came on board. The website and the crowd funding model got us a small investment at the beginning to keep going and it raised the profile and let people know we were there. And we used the UK tax credit as well. The budget was well under $500,000.
The movie started as this freeform guerrilla-style project and it became a lot more serious when we’re dealing with government bodies and film boards and tax credits, as it should be. We learned that in the early weeks.
How did you adapt to directing your first feature compared to making shorts?
It’s completely exhilarating and you have to switch into another physical and mental state to deal with it. With a short, you know you only have a couple of days you have to sustain. wWth a feature you have to be prepared for the long haul. We shot with a lot of locations: we had one week in Ireland, five and half weeks in London and splinter shoots in the South of France and Glastonbury.
Why did you decide to shoot Lotus Eaters in black and white?
It was a choice from script stage. It’s not a grainy noir black and white; it’s very clean. I was working on a lot of black-and-white photography at the time, and I was watching black-and-white movies, and I thought this cast of characters was so colourful that I wanted to have a bit of distance from them, and observe them, and I wanted the viewer to as well.
Is there any comparison to the excess of the 1920s?
It’s a similar time period, that end of excess. Like the end of disco or the end of the jazz age or something. It’s about a group of people who have been living in a state of excess, and it’s that tipping point.
The characters aren’t necessarily likable, was that something you worried about?
I didn’t want the film to be aspirational in any way. Even the central character goes from being sympathetic to unsympathetic. I really wanted to play with point of view. It’s boring to watch a movie where you’re watching people without flaws.
It’s about a point in a girl’s life when she’s lost and she doesn’t know what to do next. That’s a universal theme. She’s made the wrong choices and she’s trying to recover from those.
This sounds like a complicated shoot for a first feature in terms of locations and a big cast, and shooting music performances.
I thought this would be my difficult second film, after I’d made some smaller film set in one house in Ireland. But it turned out this way.
What are you working on next?
I have a script set in the south of Paris — a movie within a movie, a thriller. It’s about someone making their first movie in Paris [laughs], and there’s the language barrier and they bring their brother and sister to work on the film and they start to become paranoid.
There’s something in New York as well, which is more of a twisted love story. I want to go away for a little while and write.