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Wednesday 12 October 2011

Aesthetica Short Film Festival | Exclusive Online Interview with Alex Sufit and Taster of Gentlemen in Squalor

'Gentlemen in Squalor' Top Shelf Jazz from Lexitricity on Vimeo.

Incorporating creative programming and alternative venues, the Aesthetica Short Film Festival (ASFF) is the latest addition to the film festival circuit. To celebrate the launch of ASFF, we are running a series of interviews with the filmmakers throughout October. Here you can find out more about what motivates our filmmakers, and ASFF will give you the opportunity to experience their short films first hand. To watch these films, visit the Aesthetica Short Film Festival (ASFF) website to purchase your ticket. Don't miss your opportunity to experience short film in the historic city of York.

Alex Sufit, Director & Producer of Gentlemen in Squalor (2011) spoke to us about her expectations of the festival, and her all time favourite short. Set in the prohibition era, Gentlemen in Squalor is the video for filthy swing band Top Self Jazz and features actor Dexter Fletcher, a troupe of professional swing dancers and a bunch of kids running riot in vintage costume! Shot on Super 16mm on location in East London.

You can see Gentlemen in Squalor in the following fantastic venues during ASFF:
Friday 4 November: Bar Lane Studios at 11:00 - 17:30
Saturday 5 November: Bar Lane Studios at 11:00 - 17:30

Firstly, congratulations on being in the Official ASFF Selection! What impact do you think this screening will have on your career?

I’m really delighted to be part of the inaugural ASFF and judging by the programme, it looks set to be a great line-up. As a filmmaker, the opportunity to screen your work is always welcome. I don’t just make films for the sake of it: it’s about sharing your work with a wider audience, whatever their reaction may be! Otherwise, no matter how much talent and creativity you pack into a piece, it just ends up gathering dust on the shelf. In terms of career, hopefully I’ll make some good contacts for the future, which is what festivals are all about. You never know who you might bump into: a talented DoP or editor, and in my case I am really open to speaking to producers who want to collaborate in future. I’ve produced a lot of my own work, out of pure necessity, so I really want to step up my game and start working with larger production companies and hopefully find representation.

How do you describe your work?

Quirky, a little eclectic perhaps, with a dose of humour added to the mix. For music videos, I like to have some kind of narrative, however loose it may be. My previous video Bad Penny is set in the East End, with the band and actors decked out in Dickensian costume. The video Gentlemen in Squalor, which is screening at ASFF, is set in the prohibition era and pays homage to Bugsy Malone and Oliver Twist, so I guess you could say I am going through a retro phase. I am very into the 1920s and 30s at the moment, but to be honest now that is becoming more mainstream I will be turning my attention elsewhere. That’s the fun of music videos: it is perhaps the last bastion of creative freedom for a director, where you can truly experiment with ideas.

Could you tell me a little about the film and how it came about?

Gentlemen in Squalor is set in the prohibition era and draws inspiration from Bugsy Malone and Oliver Twist. It stars Dexter Fletcher who played Babyface in the original Bugsy Malone film as a kid, together with a troupe of professional swing dancers and children aged 7-11 who were picked from local schools. They had no previous experience of acting on screen so this was a monumental experience for them. Dexter was a brilliant sport to take part. I was speaking to a friend ‘who knew someone who knew his agent’. It was all pretty random and I never thought much would come of it but I fired off an email anyway, and much to my surprise a very familiar voice was on the end of the line a few weeks later. He had watched my Budding Director film festival trailer and agreed to take part after being ruthlessly bribed with bacon sarnies.

What were some of the challenges involved in making the film?

Trying to re-create the prohibition jazz era on a small budget. Once you get an art department involved and get all ambitious with costumes and set design, it stars adding up pretty quickly. To make matters worse I was determined to shoot on S16mm film. That we managed it all is nothing short of a miracle. I have a lot of people to thank for that. Rushes, and in particular Joe Bateman, helped us out and Denny Cooper did a fantastic job on the grade. Jerry at Fuji supplied us with a couple of extra rolls and everyone mucked in to pull in the favours. The list is very long. The crew and cast were first rate and very professional, without them it just would not have been possible. At the end of the day, it is all down to the team, they really are the ones who make your vision as a director come to life, without them you’re just a conductor with a baton but no orchestra!

What is your all time favourite short?

One of my favourite shorts is the French film Argent Comptant by Philippe Dussol, which apparently took two years to complete; it’s a thrill of a ride. I remember watching What Goes Up (Must Come Down) on repeat a few years back, although that is a hybrid short / music video. It’s well acted and brilliantly funny. Charlie Creed-Miles: this is an open invitation to feature in my films. I also enjoyed The Black Hole directed by Phil and Olly. It’s a simple and clever concept that holds together from start to finish. Which is what a shot should be: rather than a fragment of something larger, I really believe a short should be a self-contained piece of work.

What are you working on next?

I have made a couple of short films but I’ve been stacking up music videos over the past few years and more recently commercials. I absolutely love music videos, it is the combination of two of my favourite art forms: music and film. If I could work with better known artists and bigger labels, and actually make a living out of promos, that would be amazing. I feel I have gone as far as I can as a solo director, so hopefully I will get representation soon so I can focus on more ambitious projects. I got a good break in commercials recently and just shot a series of broadcast ads for Belfast with one of the leading production companies and ad agencies over there. Who knows what the future may bring, but getting signed is top of the list, either represented for music videos or ads, preferably both. Longer term, I am setting my sights on a feature and have been working on a script for a road movie. I just need some kind soul to hand over a couple of million and we’ll be all set!


The Aesthetica Short Film Festival is the first film festival ever to be hosted in the historic city of York. The festival is a celebration of independent film from across the world with 150 films being screened from 30 countries. ASFF opens 3 November and continues until 6 November. For tickets and further information visit the website www.asff.co.uk or call (+44) (0) 1904 629 137.

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