As Joseph Ollman’s short film, Bitter Sky, was released on BBC iPlayer as part of the series Beacons: Short Films from Wales, I had the privilege of chatting with the Welsh director about the creative process behind Bitter Sky and the representation of regional film and television. I also had the opportunity of discussing the challenges with the film’s production, and his own relationship with Wales.
Bitter Sky follows the story of Nia, a 15-year-old girl who moves to Wales from England with her abusive stepfather Roy but with the help of local lad, Aron. She is working towards fixing up a car to reunite with her mother in Liverpool. Ollman planned to make a short film with a female lead, as his other works, such as Throw Me to the Dogs and Meat on Bones, reflected his general aim of filming all walks of life. When asked if he felt a particular attraction to directing in Wales, he answered “I want to make films all over the world and create films about all sorts of people.” This reminded me of the haunting beauty of the Welsh countryside that Ollman seamlessly captures in Bitter Sky. Despite the harrowing narrative and grounded dialogue, Ollman still took the opportunity to show us the vast forests at nightfall and the tranquil lakes at dawn.
When our discussion moved onto the representation of regional film and television production, Ollman gave us a glimpse into how far Wales plays a role in British media. Although Ollman acknowledges that a lot is shot in Wales, “it is definitely not represented as a community and not as many projects are going on here like in London, or even the north of England (especially with social realism) and Scotland. I think we need to wonder how far Wales wants to be represented as it’s a bit of a closed network.”
However, this isn’t to say that Ollman doesn’t feel any connection to Wales. Living in a small Welsh town for most of his childhood before moving to Cardiff, he does feel strongly connected to his Welsh identity. However, he did explain the discordance between his urban and rural upbringing and being taught to speak Welsh in school, but not being able to share it with his English parents. This is what Ollman identifies as one of the inspirations for Bitter Sky as well as his other works. His short films have all been surrounded by alienation, isolation, and hostility, but rather than focusing on bullying or the weight of responsibility, Bitter Sky takes on a more domestic role with the darker side of the family.
We briefly discussed the process of getting into film directing and what he would say to someone trying to get into the film industry. Despite the diversity of departments and routes that anyone could pursue, we concluded that the best solution is to just pick up a camera and create. Ollman reminisced on his time after film school, lamenting his original selectiveness with regards to finding new projects to join. He wished that he had said yes to more opportunities, and made more mistakes. “I made a lot of films which, in hindsight, weren’t very good, they were useless. But they taught me so much about filming and editing and let me make mistakes. I would say to just keep making mistakes and learn from them.”
Admitting that he’s generally “done with short films” and eager to move onto feature lengths, Joseph Ollman is a name and face to look out for in the future.
Bitter Sky, directed by Joseph Ollman, is a collaboration between Odelay Films, BFI Network, Ffilm Cymru Wales and BBC Wales. It is available to watch on BBC iPlayer now. Watch the trailer below: