Gaby Dellal interview
Last month Gaby Dellal took her channel swimming movie On a Clear Day to the Locarno film festival. To mark the occasion she swam across the lake, winning over the locals at a stroke (as it were). It's a typical act of chutzpah from this first time filmmaker and mother of three.
I met Dellal at Sundance back in January where it opened the festival with a screening in front of Robert Redford and an audience of 2500. The next day, sitting in a balmy covered hotel patio a few meters from where Peter Mullan, Brenda Blethyn and Billy Boyd are tucking into nachos and beer, she told me how nervous she'd been - and how the sound broke down during the screening. 'I couldn't stop myself. I said "F***" out loud. Then the sound came on again...'
I wrote at the time that On a Clear Day is not really a critics' film, it's too emotional for us professional cynics. But Peter Mullan - who trained for six months for the role - is great as a gruff, lonely Glaswegian rocked by redundancy who sets himself a crazy challenge to swim the English channel. And festival audiences have lapped up the mixture of Full Monty laffs and triumph of the underdog uplift.
'I know that some people may not like it - it's not a "groovy" type film -but I'm sure Peter won't get one bad review,' Dellal told me. 'He was the only person I wanted. Originally the script was much more schmaltzy and I had to work very hard to pull that back. Peter is perfect for that because he isn't an emotional actor, he keeps it inside.'
It's very good on male inarticulacy. 'I have three sons, so everybody I live with is male. I have two male dogs. My 12 year old plays the son who drowns. People say how could you do that to your own son? But who else could I push under the Irish sea? I couldn't do that with anybody else's child. Brenda Blethyn was on the beach calling the NSPC...'
What appealed to her about this script? 'The father son relationship between Peter and Jamie Sives. That and the notion of losing a child, how people deal or don't deal with that. Most people would split up I think. So that intrigued me. How that affects all the relationships in the family.'
'Fathers and sons are difficult. They often don't get on. And because of my family I'm drawn to that. In fact all my short films are about boys. The channel swimming didn't appeal to me at all; I almost didn't read it when I saw that's what is was about. I mean, I can swim, but swimming is pretty boring really isn't it?'
'My dad is 81 and he goes to the office every day. Not because he needs the money, but because he needs somewhere to go. Take away a man's job and you're left with a huge void. I think that's what Peter was interested in. And we shot a lot more of that: him being destitute. But I had to weed them out. It was too bleak.'
Dellal herself began as a stage actress. When she became a mother - and she couldn't commit to long theatre commitments - she started organising rehearsed readings at London's Gate theatre and realised that she enjoyed that backstage work more than being a working actress. 'Then I came across a writer who wanted to do a short film, and I tried to find a director for it. Then my writing partner suggested I did it - and I got hooked.'
And which filmmakers would she recommend to LOVEFiLM members?
'The Coen brothers. Michael Winterbottom. Mike Leigh.'