BA Alumni Maya Armon’s Bechora at BFI London Film Festival
By Danny Kelly
09 October 2020
To the delight of many film fans around the country, the BFI London Film Festival returned this week with a socially-distant savvy programme of both physical and virtual events. Tonight, Fri 9 Oct, sees two exciting screenings – MetFilm Production’s award-winning doc The Reason I Jump (20:45, BFI Player), and the ‘Kids Will Be Kids‘ strand of short films + Q&A (18:00, BFI Player) which includes Bechora – the graduation film of BA Practical Filmmaking alumni, Maya Armon.
Based on true events from the writer-directors adolescence, the film explores the relationship between 13-year-old Maya and her younger brother Dan.
[June 2021 Update]: Bechora will receive its North American premiere at the Oscar-qualifying Palm Springs Film Festival, where it competes for Best Student International Short.
We caught up with Maya to discuss the making of the film and her time at MetFilm School…
What made you want to tell a personal story like Bechora for your graduation project?
In the third class of a screenwriting module, we were asked to present three different loglines. Two of them were fictional and one of them was Bechora, which is a story of a defining moment in my upbringing. All members of my class unanimously voted for this one.
The films I like to consume and intend to make all revolve around small, intimate moments. I try to pursue universal issues that are relevant regardless of the circumstance of the story. When I called my younger brother to tell him that I was starting work on my graduation project, he knew immediately that this was the story I chose. Perhaps both of us felt that this event was meant to become a film.
The film takes place over only a matter of hours – was this your intention from the beginning or did the script change over time?
I like cinema where the runtime mirrors the length of the events in it, and I enjoy bringing to the screen a realistic view into the life of others. I feel as though short films are suited to this scale. While the film is based on a true story, I did decide to alter the events to better serve the message. My passion is finding those small moments and building the drama around them.
Bechora became the third short film in a coming of age trilogy I created over my studies at MetFilm School. I feel I prefer to create realistic and streamlined films; to weave pieces of life into a story that will have an impact and stay with the audience for a long time after watching.
What can you tell us about the process of casting and directing your young actors?
The process of casting young actors is enjoyable but more complicated than adults. Firstly, there are less of them. I went to several youth centres, art schools, young actors’ agencies and internet groups and from there chose the relevant candidates. Auditions can be a stressful environment and I try to put actors at ease during our first meeting. I typically start by telling them a bit about myself and then share specific details that they can relate to. Then, when looking at the script, I emphasize that it is more important to covey the intention rather than to recite the dialogue itself.
Once cast, it’s an important part of my process to develop a friendly, interpersonal relationship. We spend long hours together and learn every detail. I then finish writing my characters together with my actors; they never feel whole until I see them in the flesh. I believe that to work correctly with young actors, the director needs to be very clear and explicit to compensate for their lack of experience. Lastly, but very importantly, keeping high spirits on set is a very efficient way to keep them focused.
Do you feel Bechora is representative of your filmmaking style and the future films you’d like to make?
I immensely enjoy using the different techniques available in the great toolbox of filmmaking, but it has to feel natural to the audience. In my humble opinion, style starts with forming a view of the world. Each object within my space has a sound, a shape, a pattern. I use these to define the atmosphere. Physical details become meaningful: the reflection in an eye, the dirt under fingernails, the foam in the mouth while brushing teeth – I want to capture the smallest details in every frame. This is also true for dynamics; I like to use the camera movement to define the pace of the character and convey feelings. I believe that these parts of the filmmaking approach will continue to be part of my creation, while still learning more cinematic tools.
Getting selected for the BFI London Film Festival is an exciting achievement – will you be engaging with the festival yourself this month?
The BFI London Film Festival is one of my favourite events; the programme is so rich and versatile. Sadly, due to COVID-19, the festival will be conducted differently this year and this will be the first time for many years that I’ll not be attending in person. However, so much is available to watch from home, so I am lucky enough to not miss out.
Tonight (Fri 9 Oct, 6pm) is the official screening of Bechora and afterwards, I will be joining the Q&A virtually. I am truly excited to meet the other directors and to hear more about their creations.
What learnings or experiences from your time at MetFilm School did you find useful when making the short?
I think that every module contributed to something that will stay with me for life. The experience I gained while studying has increased my confidence and leadership skills, which proved to be very useful on set when I had to manage a professional crew.
Personally, the most helpful part was the endless hours of mentoring. I was very fortunate that MetFilm School Director, Jonny Persey, guided me through the entire pre-production stage. Talking to someone who listens to you, inspires you, and fills you with the confidence to follow your own story is the greatest gift. I couldn’t have made this film without it.
Finally, what advice would you give to other aspiring filmmakers making their first short films?
Creating your first films is a big step in understanding the field of cinema. The experience is frightening, exciting and rewarding but most of all, it is a great platform to understand the filmmaker you wish to become. For me, the most important thing is to assemble a talented crew that I truly appreciate and enjoy working with. The long hours on set, the endless time on pre-production and the months of post-production should be enjoyable. Having good-spirited people around you will make the difference.
Bechora is part of LFF’s Kids Will Be Kids strand and is available to watch for free throughout the festival via BFI Player. Maya graduated from our BA Practical Filmmaking in London in 2019 – download a prospectus.