What was the original influence to film two young brothers in Bradford with an interest in the EDL?
I grew up in the same town as the two brothers in the film and around this casual and inherent attitude towards racism. My aim was to create a film that didn’t chastise or condemn these brothers for their Islamophobic beliefs but to show how these opinions are formed and passed down from this Northern working class patriarchy that I’ve witnessed firsthand.
How did you get permission to follow your two protagonists?
The brothers were more than happy for me to make the film about them – there was a level of trust given that I am from a similar background. I think the only condition was that I buy them a McDonald’s on the day of the demonstration.
What was the reaction of your two leads or even EDL members once the film was on the festival circuit and available for viewing?
What really stunned me was how proud the brothers are of the film. Both love their portrayal, in fact the younger brother has shown his teachers at school and I even got a message from the older brother asking for a link to the film because he was trying to impress a girl at the time. I don’t think they really care who sees the film or where it’s been.
Unlike most documentaries, in this film we do not see you prompting your subjects with questions of counter points, almost to a point where the camera is not there. Were there times that you intervened to get information or some truth from them?
Narratively this film is about following these kids journey to their first far-right demonstration and how they are affected by attending. What I was trying to do was get the audience sucked into this journey and allow them to be affected by the experience as well. If I am intercutting that narrative with the boys doing reflective interviews to camera then I think you lose that sense of Journey, that sense of exploration. Of course, off camera I am guiding the conversation and chipping in, posing questions for each brother to spark conversation.
It’s interesting that one EDL member disassociates himself from the BNP and Nazis, which probably a lot of people would associate themselves as and there is even the moment when Sam is having his haircut at an Asian barbershop. It kind of threw me, did it confuse you or your crew when filming?
I think that last scene with the older brother, Sam, getting his haircut by a Muslim barber exemplifies the fundamental contradictions and hypocrisies with the far-right and the EDL. It says a lot about the community, that these cultures live side by side and only integrate at specific moments. For the Islamophobic British, white, working class that could be going to Muslim shops, restaurants or hairdressers. Growing up in that town I have experienced these contradictions throughout my life.
With the style of direction you adopted, that looks almost realist cinema akin to the early works of Andrea Arnold or Lyn Ramsey, was this stylistic choice something decided in pre-production or once all the footage was brought to edit?
It’s a great compliment to have my work compared to Andrea Arnold and Lyne Ramsey. Yes the gritty stylized cinematography was the only way I wanted to tell this story. I don’t think its possible to make a film like Black Sheep if you don’t set out to make it that way. Films like Gomorrah, Mean Streets and the Italian neo-realist films of the 1940s where a huge influence on me and I think you can see that in this film.
With your film being on the film circuit and doing well, did you learn anything on the festival circuit that could be important for future film projects?
I think for me the most important thing was to make connections with the festival directors and programmers and to attend as many of the festivals as possible. What I did learn was the weight a director or producers name has in terms of it getting into the festival. I feel like my film was sometimes slightly overlooked just because It was my first film.
You can find out more about Christian’s work at www.christiancerami.com.