BSFA Interview: Daniel Deville for BY ANY OTHER NAME
The British Short Film Awards 2023
Accompanied by his loyal and supportive assistance dog, Brego, Writer/Director Daniel Deville, fearlessly navigates a “captivating realm of storytelling”, often dealing with characters facing serious issues and threats we often read or hear about on the news. However, it is clear that he also draws strength from his own experiences — completely transparent about his borderline personality and bipolar disorder — that infuses his work with a raw authenticity. Having also grown up in a low socio-economic area in Bradford, his tenacity as a filmmaker, coupled with his awareness of marginalised characters and serious issues, is clearly apparent in his latest short film, “By Any Other Name”, which raises awareness on sex-trafficking in the UK.
Daniel kindly shared his influences and further information on his approach to the film.
How did you discover the specific story the film is based on?
I was at Burning Man Festival six or seven years ago and I met this girl in the temple, which is a place people go to leave messages for loved ones no longer with us. We were each writing notes to our mothers and stuck them side-by-side. No one speaks in there, so it’s quite powerful. As we left, we got chatting and sat down for an hour to share stories. She spoke of her loss and how she’d been sex-trafficked as a young girl. It was an unreal story that really hit me, but what I connected to the most was the fact that dance had saved her throughout the ordeal. She spoke of how her love of dance gave her an escape. And, in fact, she was dancing professionally at the festival. This was something I could connect with, as film was my escape growing up in a rough part of Bradford, dealing with bullying and mental health issues from a young age. She left, I left. We didn’t even exchange names… but I’d like to think the film will find her.
So, the clown element was inspired by the ‘dancing girl’?
Yes, partly. The clown character was an adaptation of the girl’s love of dancing and how it had helped save her. I was leaving a cinema in Leicester Square one evening and saw a street clown. The thought came into my head “Who is this person? What is their life like?” They were selling ‘happiness’, but I had no idea whether they were depressed or joyous”. That was when the clown entered the script.
Obviously, this film tackles some very serious issues, raising awareness of sex trafficking. I’m interested in hearing your approach to tackling the story, including your research.
It was both overbearing and affirming. I think most of us see sex-trafficking as a problem far from home, in some distant land, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. When you read into it, it’s right down your street. It happens all the time, especially to vulnerable children. The more I researched, the more I wanted to tell this story. Once I started pitching the script to the industry, most didn’t want to know. Which I found strange, but that made me even more determined. I have Slick Films to thank for taking a chance on such a difficult film.
Who influences you as a filmmaker?
Bukowski. There’s not a word I’ve read yet that doesn’t resonate with me in some way. He tells the truth… brutally so. He begins from the depths of the soul and finds light there in such a stunning manner. A spark or a feeling hidden is a special place to begin creatively. Without realising it, I write the same way. Happy stories that fake a smile just don’t come out of me. But each film I make, I try to deliver a message. Even if it’s to wannabe filmmakers sitting in their rooms at 12 years old, the way I was. Connect to art, feel it, grow from it, and follow it all the way.
Were there any specific films or filmmakers you referred to during production?
I definitely looked at Fincher’s film look. I had Gone Girl in my mind with cinematography and grading. I don’t like to look so far into another artist I admire, to the point of referencing too much in how I direct, as it’s important to me that I create a signature of my own name. However, it’s impossible to not be influenced by the films we love; and I have no problem with someone comparing my work to another filmmaker. I’d be remiss to not mention Michael Mann and M. Night Shyamalan. I watch their films before each shoot, just to absorb the art form in a way that touches me the most.
The film also fosters collaboration between deaf and hearing professionals. Was this something set out from the offset with Producer Camila Arnold, who is deaf herself?
Not at first. The film was commissioned by Slick Films, who have some connection to the deaf community with past films, but also company Director Rachel Shenton who runs a foundation called HearArt. Their remit is to get more deaf filmmakers working. We partnered with them to adopt the 50:50 crew. Camilla, being profoundly deaf, was amazing for me and the project. She was so kind and generous with her time and understanding me as I traversed this new experience. It’s the best experience I’ve had with a producer, by far. I think that says a lot for deaf filmmakers in general.
Other than the awareness of these key themes, is there anything else you would like audiences to take away from the film?
The core message that runs throughout — and might be woven a little deeper than the main themes — is don’t give up on your passion. Fall back on it anytime you need it. If you don’t let it go, even in the harshest of times, it will light the way to a ‘new you’. I know film did that for me. Without it, I’m not sure I’d be here talking to you now. I think that’s a good message to send out to the universe.
That’s a wonderful and inspiring message. Good luck with the film, Daniel.
Thank you… and thanks so much for championing independent cinema.