Alice Jane McKinney | 2017 | 10 min (Selected by Scottish Queer International Film Festival)
Polish immigrant Marta returns to visit her family after leaving for Scotland in search of a better life. On her childhood farm, a past life of taboo is uncovered as well as the heart-breaking sacrifice Marta made to find safety and acceptance.
Alice Jane McKinney moved to Edinburgh from Dublin to study media in 2013. Fuego was made as McKinney’s final project for her degree at Queen Margaret University, which she graduated from in 2017 with First Class Honours. The short, about McKinney’s girlfriend, Marta, has toured festivals internationally and won Best LGBT Documentary at NRFF Amsterdam.
You made Fuego as part of your degree at Queen Margaret University. What made you choose this subject matter and style? To be honest, I struggled a bit to come up with an idea particularly because I was making a documentary and I wanted it to be as authentic and interesting as possible. My girlfriend Marta suggested I could make the film about her life and I hadn’t considered doing a film so personal, but I’m so glad I did. I hadn’t even originally planned to fly over there to film. Making my final dissertation on a person who I had recently fallen in love with was the perfect way to end university. The style of documentary came pretty naturally to me: my lecturer told me if you’re good at telling a story, you can be a good film director, and as an Irish person, I think I can tell a good story!
What were your inspirations in terms of other films or filmmakers you were thinking about when you made this film? I watch a lot of vlogs on YouTube and I think this has helped me develop a bit of a style. It’s hard to nail down a specific film/filmmaker but I tend to like documentaries that are stripped down and authentic, with some intrigue. I wanted to film Marta’s family in a normal day so nothing was structured. I think voyeurism is something people like to watch because you can make your own mind up and just observe relationships, behaviour, body language etc. The main thing that drove the whole film was making sure I didn’t just tell people what to think: I don’t reveal things explicitly – you have to piece it together and that’s what I think keeps people interested enough to watch. And silence – including silence is important to add tension and to remind people that this is real.
Fuego is about your girlfriend, Marta. What was the process like documenting someone you were so close to? It made the whole process a lot easier actually because Marta was so supportive and patient with me. She was really open and up for anything so it was a lot of fun to make. I was a little shy about it at first but it sort of became my ‘coming out’ to friends and family – most were introduced to Marta through this film. It was therapeutic and empowering because I never expected to be so open about my own life so publicly – so to meet Marta and take that step and then to make a film about her – it was just really special. It makes a difference as a filmmaker to make something you really care about where nothing is forced – it shows in the film if you’re passionate about the story you’re telling.
How does Marta feel about the film? Has her family seen it at all and how did they react? Marta’s loving it! She has really loved the reaction from people and it’s been heart-warming to see different people relating to her story. She definitely cringes at her voice and broken English in the film but otherwise she enjoys the attention! Her family have seen it – Marta’s sister translated the film to her parents, which was a little daunting because I’m not sure they were fully aware what the film was really about at the time of filming. I think it’s opened up the conversation a little bit; Marta has said that her parents can see how important the film has been to her, and they’re totally baffled that it’s been screened all over the world. They haven’t said much about it, but I know it’s lifted a bit of tension that was there before; you can feel that there’s a difference – maybe more understanding.
Do you have any upcoming filmmaking or related projects you are working on? Not at the moment. I’ve started working fulltime so I don’t have much spare time anymore. That said, I definitely want to make another documentary soon and make time to be creative and express myself. I find filmmaking challenging but it’s the most rewarding process and it gives me a feeling that’s completely irreplaceable. I think filming stories about those close to me is something I would love to do again – sharing a story that you want the world to know and see through your eyes is such a good feeling and it’s addictive! Being able to make people feel something through your own self-expression is really powerful.
Glasgow Short Film Festival’s Shorts In Support scheme aims to revive the tradition of the supporting short film by distributing eight fantastic new short films (including two selected by the Scottish Queer International Film Festival) to cinemas and film societies to screen before features during autumn/winter 2018. Shorts in Support is supported by Film Hub Scotland, part of the BFI’s Film Audience Network.