Award Winner Interview: Sarah Clift

Sarah Clift scooped the Audience Award at this year's Encounters Festival with The Good Mother. She talked (from Mexico) to Encounters' Isabella Coombes about her creative process, finding the 'perfect' Trump piñata and how her life has changed as a result of her multi-award winning short. Watch it below!

Thanks for taking the time to talk to us and congratulations on your 2017 Encounters Festival win! How does it feel?

Thank you! I was so excited to win the Audience Award because it really affirmed in my mind that people support the idea. From the very beginning, it has been really important to me for as many people as possible to see the film, which is why it went straight to online.

What was the filming process like in Mexico, there is one scene I’m thinking of in particular (involving a Trump piñata and moped!) – did you face any challenges?

I used to work in advertising as a Creative Director and had worked in Mexico before quite a few times for clients. I co-directed an advert with the production company Madrefoca, which was the same company I worked with on The Good Mother, and so I had experience working with brilliant local crew and actors. There’s a huge amount of local and US productions in Mexico, so there is a real community of talented filmmakers and crew. It just made total sense to make a film in Mexico.

The Trump piñata, started out life as a 20-page design document! I was very specific about certain features – his cheeks and hair – when I took it to be made. We also had to take into account Monica Del Carmen’s height and the size of the Trump piñata when she was on the moped. Basically it involved a LOT of zip ties and good balance!

How rapid was the turnaround for this project – did you have the idea for the film in place prior to Trump’s inauguration?

It was very tight. I was always working towards a strict deadline, so had that in mind during the entire production. I didn’t follow the usual pitching process, and pitched the project using visual slides. It was a very non-traditional structure! I pitched in April and shot in May, working much faster than you would in a normal shoot.

My intention all along was to give a portrayal of Mexico mirrored on my own experiences, rather than the ones often seen on television, ‘Narcos’ etc. The idea for it came one day when I was out horse-riding with an American lady, we were chatting and she said how great it would be to have a Donald Trump piñata to take home with her. From then on I became fixated with the idea of the Trump piñata, and its feasibility.

I felt confident I had something that translated into a strong idea from pitching in both the UK and Mexico. There was a universally positive reaction to the humour, and that’s when you know it will work, I think – when it appeals to everyone.

I’ve read that you were a stand-up comedian too, how does humour inform your story-telling?

Humour plays a huge part, I grew up in Yorkshire and was always exposed to that dry Northern wit. There was also a lot of strong comedy dramas on British TV in the 80s and 90s that I watched growing up. I even wrote my thesis at university about ‘dissecting wit as a form of humour’. I did used to do stand up in my 20’s, but I always felt as though I’d return to it later in life, in my 40’s or something, when I had found my ‘voice’. It just so happens that this comedic voice has come through in my filmmaking instead.

Talk to us through the casting process in Mexico…

I worked with a great casting director in Mexico, and wanted to portray an authentic representation of a Mexican family. Monica Del Carmen is a famous actress in Mexico, and I explained to her that I needed a young boy to play her son. She suggested we use Ambraham, because she had just finished working with him on her last production, and he was just amazing. Mary Paz Mata who plays the Grandmother in the film is really iconic as a Mexican soap actress, and she just totally got the project from the start, and wanted to help out.

I wanted part of the casting process to be the actors talking to the piñata, kind of to gauge their political feelings and see their reactions.

This a beautiful story of the lengths a mother will go to for the love of her son. What are the furthest lengths you’ve gone to for someone you love?

Hmm, probably 5,200 miles! My fiancé is Mexican and I fly over. Fortunately, I have a fairly flexible lifestyle and can do that. The nature of travelling backwards and forwards might seem like a slog but actually there are real positives. I’ve become increasingly observant in both countries. Having the distance between the UK & Mexico provides me with more inspiration and ways of looking at things and gives me a different perspective on the changes taking place.

Your directorial debut has been a remarkable success. What did it feel like when you embarked on this journey?

I made a big lifestyle and career change, quitting my job in advertising to pursue this. I had experience in the industry from working on accounts for huge clients, but I wanted to work on developing my own voice and the projects that really matter to me.

A question that came up around then was ‘If there was no such thing as failure and you could do anything you wanted – what would you do?’. My response was to write and direct a movie. So, I went on courses to develop my screenwriting and directing at Raindance when I figured it out. I can honestly say I’ve never been happier!

What’s next for you, Sarah? Any more projects you’re able to tell us about?

I’m creating a trilogy of shorts, all of which are unique to the female experience; one involving motherhood, another not, but each exploring female strength through satire. This next film will be in English and shot in the UK, and due to the nature of its idea I want the entire crew to be female. I’m inspired to create a unique experience both on screen and during the production.

You can enjoy Sarah Clift’s The Good Mother below.