Film graduate Leeds the way at Film Festival
MA Film and Television graduate Sema Basharan has won the Yorkshire Short Film Award for her inter-faith film The Branches are Hope, The Roots are Memory at the 2021 Leeds Film Festival.
The Yorkshire Short Film Award celebrates local filmmakers that demonstrate a passion for their county. Sema’s film documents the memories of faith-based activists in Bradford and explores the links between Bradford’s religious diversity, peace heritage, and grassroots activism.
We spoke with the graduate about her award-winning film, how she found her passion for film at Falmouth University and her advice for aspiring filmmakers.
What inspires you as a filmmaker? What kind of stories interest you?
Put simply, I’m interested in people and what makes them tick, their motivations and actions. I can’t always say what kind of story I’m looking for exactly, but when I hear something that challenges me or makes me see people in a different light, that always takes my interest.
I’m also a big believer in art being a driver for social change. It has the power to speak to people on a level words sometimes can’t. So, I think, where I’m challenging myself, for me, that’s a good place to start.
I also love to experiment, and with each film I make I try to think of how I can tell the story differently from the last. So, I’m inspired by films and other art forms that take me by surprise in some way.
What does it mean to win the Yorkshire Short Film Award? And can you tell us a bit about your film?
The Branches are Hope, The Roots are Memory explores the connection between faith, peace and activism amongst Bradford’s faith communities. It’s by far the most personal film I’ve made and I realised very early in the process that it was as much about my own relationship with the city as anything else.
The judges at Leeds described it as “a hymn to a city” which was quite pleasing as I really wanted to make something celebratory that shows an aspect of Bradford’s culture that I love.
The film has had a short festival run, but I’m so pleased with how well it’s done. It premiered at Sheffield DocFest in the summer where it was nominated for an award, so that exceeded all my expectations from the start.
Winning the Yorkshire Short Film Award at Leeds was amazing, especially with it being so close to home. To be honest, I’m still a bit shocked that a film about peacemakers in Bradford would be of interest to other people! But people really seem to connect with the film. I’ve had some great conversations with people who were really touched by it and have wanted to screen it at local community events, including an inter-faith group run by one of my contributors.
For me that’s one of the big successes of the film, that it doesn’t just appeal to festival audiences but is screening in the communities that it came out of and inspires further discussion on topics of faith and peace.
The course and the support of the staff helped me discover not only that documentary is where my passion lies, but also that I can direct those documentaries, something I'd shied away from in the past.
What was the best thing about your course at Falmouth and how has it helped you?
My time at Falmouth was a space to explore what direction I wanted to go as a filmmaker. When I started, I only knew I loved making films but didn’t really know what kind of stories I wanted to tell or what role I wanted to take.
The course and the support of the staff helped me discover not only that documentary is where my passion lies, but also that I can direct those documentaries, something I’d shied away from in the past. So, I really gained a lot of confidence and direction there that set me up really well for working as an independent filmmaker.
Do you have any advice for aspiring film makers?
Honestly, just make films. Do what you can with the resources you have. You can do so much with a smartphone and a laptop. It doesn’t matter how big an audience you get just keep making stuff and honing your skills.
The other thing I’d say is find people you trust who can give you really honest, constructive feedback, even if it’s hard to hear sometimes. Those people are vital for the process so seek them out and take them on the journey with you.