ASFF Filmmaker: Q&A with Director Francis Lee, The Last Smallerholder

Yorkshire-based director Francis Lee’s The Last Smallholder is part of the Aesthetica Short Film Festival 2015 Official Selection. Screening in next month’s documentary strand, the short eight-minute film is a personal piece about the filmmaker’s father. Featuring a strong agricultural theme, it follows the story of the last farmer on a Yorkshire hillside as he meditates on the working life and the changing landscape around him. We speak to Lee about the making of the film and its focus on the rural and an agricultural lifestyle, and find out about the director’s upcoming feature film God’s Own Country.

ASFF: The Last Smallholder is your third film to be featured at ASFF. How has your work has developed since The Farmer’s Wife in 2013?
FL: My work has developed in all aspects since The Farmer’s Wife. Although I am still returning to tell stories in Yorkshire about Yorkshire people, I have developed my skills as a visual storyteller. It’s been a thrilling process and I hope I will continue to grow and develop from future work.

ASFF: Agriculture is a key theme throughout your work and features prominently in The Last Smallholder. Do you think that similar ideas will continue to impact your work in the future?
FL: I am quite obsessed by agriculture and rural life, it’s true. Having grown up on the Pennine hills, I have always been obsessed with this landscape and the people who live and work there. I have made three films on my family’s farm near Skipton, but I’m hoping that after making my first feature film next year, I might have worked farming out of my system!

ASFF: What should we expect from your first feature film, God’s Own Country, which is due to begin shooting in spring 2016?
FL: God’s Own Country is a narrative drama about Johnny, a 23 year old farmer’s lad. Living on an isolated Yorkshire sheep farm, Johnny has sacrificed his hopes and dreams to look after the farm until he meets a Romanian migrant worker who comes to help with the week of lambing. It’s a contemporary love story. I made The Last Smallholder as part of the development and preparation for the feature.

ASFF: In your opinion, what are the struggles in deciding to create a feature film instead of focusing solely on short films?
FL: I think making a short film and a feature film are two very different things. Very much like the difference between writing a poem and a novel. A short can be about a tiny moment whereas a feature is about sustained storytelling and character development. It was really interesting making The Last Smallholder as it is my first documentary.

ASFF: Do you have any future projects lined-up after God’s Own Country?
FL: I’m working on my next feature film script called The Last Bus (it isn’t set on a farm and doesn’t have an agricultural theme!) as well as developing a TV drama.

Francis Lee’s The Last Smallholder screens at the Aesthetica Short Film Festival 2015 in documentary reel 6.

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1. The Last Smallholder, Francis Lee.