AN INTERVIEW WITH STEPHEN RUTTERFORD, DIRECTOR OF "FINDING OPHELIA"
Winner: Best Mystery Film - February 2021 Edition
Stephen Rutterford is a British born Film Director and Visual Artist based in Brooklyn, NY. Cutting his teeth in Advertising as a Creative Director, Rutterford has collaborated with artists including Pharrell Williams, Talib Kweli, Astronautica, Shepard Fairey, Faile, D*Face and Michel Gondry, and has directed music videos for Black Asteroid, Hana, Fashawn, The IZM, Just Process (feat. Joannie Jimenez) and Chris Stylez. His debut short film ”Back Page Ripper” garnered over 23 official selections at film festivals Worldwide. Including Winner of The LA indie Film festival for best short film. He is the Director and Producer of multi-award winning independent feature film “Finding Ophelia” starring Jimmy Levar and Christina Chu.
. 2021 Finding Ophelia
. 2020 Hana: So & So
. 2018 Chris Stylez: Living a Lie
. 2016 Back Page Ripper (Short)
Hi Stephen, let’s jump right in: How did you come up with wanting to tell this story?
I have always been fascinated with dreams, why we have them and what they mean. They are like a parallel universe that exists within us. The images came to me while listening to music. I was listening to a lot of ethereal, minimalist soundscapes. I’ve found that genre helpful for opening up your imagination.
I remember that David Lynch had spoken about writing down 70 ideas and letting your subconscious mind weave them together into a narrative. So I found this beneficial during the writing process. "Finding Ophelia" has several “meditative moments”. I wanted these dream scenes to act like moving abstract paintings that evoke certain emotions, allowing us to get inside the mind of the lead character and feel what he’s feeling.
"Finding Ophelia" takes the Viewer on a surrealistic journey inside a man’s mind. How do you articulate the notions of peer pressure, societal and professional obligations, and mental health in the individual search for their « significant other »? Do you think there are contemporary specificities to the modern mind’s quest for love, that something has changed through the times?
In a post digital society, there are significantly more distractions vying for our affections. Not just “Love”. Technology has enabled us to live lives of abundant choice. How this will take its toll on our mental health remains to be seen.
Consumerism has crept into our human relationships; we often treat each other like mere products. We ghost people, we swipe them left. Our personal devices are like remote controls for our lives.
Furthermore, there is the constant social pressure to be always “on”. To be successful at work and play, in love and parenthood. You CAN have it all, but it will come at a price.
According to Jagger “You can’t always get what you want”. And when that happens, some people want it all the more. (Even if it costs them their mental health.) This is what happens to our protagonist William. (Yes, another Shakespearean ref.)
Part of what we could call your mission statement, as per Stephen Rutterford’s website, is an intention to blur the lines between art forms. How did you experience expanding this perspective to a format longer than commercials or communication campaigns for brands?
Yes, I believe the art of persuasion through entertainment and engagement is more effective for brands than traditional interruption and repetition.
But "Finding Ophelia" is purely an art project. In hindsight, maybe I should have procured an alcohol brand sponsor to help with the funding.
Working on a format this long was a Herculean task. It felt like editing 100 commercials at once. I greatly underestimated the amount of time and effort it would take.
From Shakespeare to Guillermo del Toro or Marvel Comics, and countless other examples in film, novel, myth, theater or music, « Ophelia » as a female character seems to obsess the creative male’s psyche. Can you tell us more about what she represents for you, or why the choice of this name?
Through media and popular culture, we are encouraged to “Follow our dreams”. Sometimes it’s a good thing and sometimes it’s not. For some it could be an entirely selfish way to live. For others, entirely sacrificial. I chose the name Ophelia because I was inspired by the iconic John Everett Millais painting.
My hope is that the viewer will interpret this film on a personal level. In this context, Ophelia is merely an icon symbolizing the heart’s desire. She is not necessarily an icon of perceived femininity, sexuality or love itself. I want to allow the viewer to project their own desires on what she represents to them.
We all desire idols in our life; It can be career, money, power, family and more recently our continual urge for entertainment. For William Edgar it was “Love”. The desire to find the girl of his dreams. Unfortunately for him, it turned out to be a nightmare.
Your film is multi-tagged « Mystery, Horror, Supernatural, Experimental. » What are your influences in all those genres, and your favorite films, and why?
In essence, "Finding Ophelia" is a supernatural mystery, but it has elements of Horror mixed with experimental dream scenes along the way.
A big inspiration was “The Trial” by Orson Welles. The protagonist Josef K played by Anthony Perkins, wakes up in the middle of an inescapable Kafkaesque nightmare. We get a strong sense of his psychological journey of paranoid confusion, expressed through avant-garde music, the pace of acting, dynamic lighting with strong shadows and dramatically framed compositions. This film still feels contemporary even though it was shot in 1962.
For cinematography, “Fallen Angels” by Wong Kar-Wai - Shot by Christopher Doyle. Breathtaking cinematic documentary style camera work with bold color. Unapologetic super wide angle lenses. Filmed against the backdrop of a neon saturated urban nightscape. Achingly cool.
For Experimental: The haunting dreamscapes of “Eraserhead” by David Lynch. This film is truly groundbreaking and explores dream-logic and the subconscious mind.
For Mystery: “Memento” by Christopher Nolan. The slowly unfolding narrative keeps you intrigued and engaged from beginning to end.
For Horror: I’m inspired by films with more of a weird art house approach or more of a lean towards Sci-Fi like “Tetsu -The Iron Man” by Shin’ya Tsukamoto, “Pi” by Darren Aronofsky and “eXistenZ” by David Cronenberg, These films all have a powerful emotional intensity to them and go beyond the surface of the usual horror genre.
Your film was completed in September 2020. How did you manage to shoot during the various lockdowns? What do you feel you’ve learned, as a filmmaker, that you would not have experienced had the conditions been « normal », as in « pre-Covid »?
I was fortunate enough to have the footage shot just before the pandemic. So it was the perfect time to be locked inside editing for 4 months for 12-15 hours a day. If it was a normal situation perhaps my family would be less tolerant of my being glued to a screen for that long.
What is your view on the future of Cinema, whether in the U.S., or worldwide, in terms of making and broadcasting?
The Pandemic was the first step into a more virtual society. In the near future we will enjoy virtual reality Cinema with our friends and family. We will discuss the film afterwards in virtual cafes. It will be indistinguishable from real life. But even then, there will be the purists who will still enjoy the nostalgia of the “real life” Cinema experience.
Short statement describing your vision of the post-Covid cinema, do you think there will be notable changes?
Covid wounded Cinema, but it won’t die. As new media evolves, still old media exist alongside it. Theatre was around before the Greek and Roman Empires and will once again thrive post Covid.
Cinema survived Broadcast TV, video rental stores and streaming services.
Why? Because humans are social beings and we crave shared experiences. Whether it will dominate is another question. Probably not. People still listen to music on vinyl and cassette tapes but streaming dominates presently. Will ownable and affordable NFTs be next?