Spotlight On: Laura Carreira

We spoke to Scotland-based filmmaker Laura Carreira about her career hurdles, biggest influences and latest short film – The Shift – which recently premiered at the 77th Venice International Film Festival.

What brought you to Scotland to study filmmaking, and what made you stay and develop your filmmaking career here? 

When I left Portugal the country was going through a really difficult economic crisis and at the time it felt really hard for me to see how I was going to be able to make films there. Studying in Scotland seemed to offer that possibility, that hope. It was short lived I’ll admit – it soon became clear it was going to be as hard if not harder to pursue filmmaking here. It hasn’t been easy and I’m not entirely sure why I stayed. Perhaps because it slowly became home. 

Your work addresses universal themes – such as loneliness, underrepresentation, class, and lack of social mobility – could you elaborate on why these matter to you as a filmmaker? 

Those themes matter to me as a person before they matter to me a filmmaker. I really missed those representations on screen, especially during the period when I was studying cinema. Films impact the way we see ourselves and the way we see others and when all you see are characters that are not bound by the same limitations that you are as an individual, I think it can be very damaging to our perception of ourselves. It’s also about gaining new perspectives on our own day to day life; cinema enables that. When you point a camera at a task that you do every day but maybe never noticed it, you invite audiences to observe it, to interpret it, to think about it. Films allow that reflection to be shared and collective – that to me is one of the most meaningful and beautiful aspects of cinema. 

Your director’s bio states that your films “call for a renewed interest in bringing marginalised characters to the screen, with a particular focus on exploring the representation of work in cinema”.​ In your opinion, how important is it for you to show representation on screen? 

When filmmakers avoid certain scenes or subjects – the one particularly disturbing to me being scenes when people work – what we’re doing as filmmakers is looking away from a big portion of people’s lives. Films can entertain and engage, and yes, perhaps the last thing someone wants to see after a long shift is a character working but there’s space for more in cinema. That is the space I’m interested in at the moment. The economic system we live in has eroded the perception of ourselves as part of a collective in a very damaging way and it makes us believe everything in our life is a result of our individual choices. A lot of mainstream films reproduce this narrative and that is why for me it so crucial to make films that challenge that perception. 

“When you point a camera at a task that you do every day but maybe never noticed it, you invite audiences to observe it, to interpret it, to think about it. Films allow that reflection to be shared and collective – that to me is one of the most meaningful and beautiful aspects of cinema.”

The Shift – your latest short – follows an agency worker who is forced to make her ultimate sacrifice after her shift is cancelled unexpectedly. How did the initial concept for this film come about? 

I wanted to continue exploring the theme of work and how it affects us as individuals but this time with a younger character because this dependency starts very early on. If anything, it is a much harder relationship to manage when you’re starting out and you’re getting the lowest paid jobs and the ones with the least safety. I wanted to keep it very limited in terms of space and time so from the very beginning I had the idea for the whole story to develop during a trip to the supermarket. It seemed to encapsulate how someone’s life can so easily derail from one moment to the next. 

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced when filming The Shift? How did you go about location hunting, gaining access and shooting?  

Finding a supermarket was probably the biggest challenge. The producers did an amazing job in finding different possibilities but our budget was limited so we had to make it work with what we could access. We ended up using two separate locations to recreate the supermarket we wanted. 

The Shift recently had its World Premiere at Venice International Film Festival 2020 and is now a candidate for a nomination in the category ‘European Short Film’ at the 33rd European Film Awards. What are your plans for exhibiting and distributing the short? 

We are continuing to work with our distributors to reach as many audiences as possible. The pandemic has made it a lot more complicated with some festivals getting cancelled or going online so we’re just assessing as we’re going. We already have a few festivals lined up and a UK premiere confirmed for this year but with the number of COVID-19 cases growing we’re just taking it one week at a time. 

What or who are your biggest influences and how have they informed the work you’ve made so far? Have they changed over the years? 

My biggest influences would have to be John Cassavetes, the Dardenne Brothers and Ken Loach. Each in their own way but the work of these filmmakers revealed to me a very meaningful honesty I hadn’t seen in others. More importantly perhaps their work taught me a lot about the language of film. On the other hand, I’m also heavily influenced by observational documentary. I was exposed to some amazing films during my time at ECA and these are films that continue to amaze me every single time I watch them. Even at Venice some of my favourite films were observational documentaries. 

What piece of advice would you give to someone based in Scotland who wanted to make a living out of being a filmmaker? 

I wish I could get advice on that myself. The truth is that I don’t know how that’s possible. I have a day job, without which I couldn’t make films. Even when there’s funding, in particularly for emerging talent schemes, it’s never enough to pay for writers, directors or producers so we’re left to figure it out on our own. Funding schemes that are meant to support rising talent need to offer grants that are enough to pay writers, directors and producers a wage. Otherwise you’re excluding a lot of voices. It’s disgraceful really and again it brings back the question of representation – if the industry is only open to people who can work for free that will be reflected in the films that get made.

What’s next for you? Have you already got more projects underway? If so, can you tell us a bit about them? 

I’m currently writing and developing my first feature film which will be a European co-production between Sixteen Films (UK) and BRO Cinema (PT). In the film I’ll continue to deal with the themes I’ve dealt with in the shorts but by having so much more time it will give me the chance to dig deeper.