Hilda, the newest film from writer/director Rishi Pelham, recently got its premiere at The Raindance Film Festival. The movie is an incredibly emotional, moving and relatable story about a teenage girl going through a rough phase in her life. We were able to speak with Pelham himself and with leading ladies, Megan Purvis and Yasmin Al-Khudhairi.
Liselotte Vanophem: Welcome to the Raindance Film Festival. Excited to be here?
Rishi Pelham (writer/director): Yes, but also nervous at the same time. It’s our first time here at the festival and this is also a debut film for a lot of people in front but also behind the camera. It’s the first time that we show this movie to an audience, so it will be interesting to see how they will react. The nerves are always slightly high when things like this happen.
LV: Where did the idea for the story come from?
RP: It’s a weird thing. I was on the tube on one point and it was rush hour. There was a line of these people in business suits who all had a horrible expression on their faces. There also was a young schoolgirl who looked like she didn’t have fewer problems than any other person on that train. However, she had her headphones plugged in and it sounded like there was metal music coming out and she was just dancing along on her seat. All she needed was the music and her imagination. I couldn’t get that image out of my head for a very long time. Somehow the story for this film evolved from that.
LV: It’s a very emotional story. How did you prepare for a role like that?
Megan Purvis (“Hilda”): We did a lot of build-up as a team before filming. We had loads of workshops and improv sessions in character. We were also getting to know everybody, so then when we arrived on set and when we were doing the emotional scenes, we just played them as a character rather than thinking like “Ok, now this line and then that line”. It was more being in the moment and seeing what that character would do in certain situations. The preparations we did months before shooting, which was also the first time I’ve ever done those, was great because most of the time you don’t get that process. I think it really paid off in this film and especially in the friendship between Hilda and Ayala.
LV: Was this also how you experienced it, Yasmin?
Yasmin Al-Khudhairi (“Ayala”): Yes exactly like that. For me, it was the backstory of my character that was the main methodology that we used. That was new to me as well. We could have made a whole new film with all the backstory for my character that I got. When I was reading the lines, I wasn’t focussing too much on the lines but just wanted to get all the emotions coming out. I had all of that backstory information, and for me, it was all about how my character would feel about Hilda and the relationships she has.
LV: Does that backstory help with processing the verbal abuse in the film and not to take all the [characters] words personally?
YA: Yes definitely. Sometimes it’s hard to separate things and I remember that when we finished a scene that I wasn’t in the same mindset as before for a few moments after that. I guess that’s when I knew whether I did a scene right or not. If I didn’t get the feeling after a scene then I felt like I had to do the scene again. When I felt that I was still angry or upset just like my character for a long time after the scene, I knew that we got it right.
MP: When I felt like I had nothing more to give, I knew that I did Hilda justice. That’s when I felt like I was satisfied. Luckily for me, I’ve never been through the experiences that Hilda has been going through but being in that moment and playing in that way allowed me to let those emotions go when we were offset. They didn’t linger for too long, for me that was nice. It was weird because we worked with a lot of music, especially for Hilda’s scenes, and I kind of adopted that as an actor. The music became the escape or how I got into her mindset. Rishi gave me Hilda’s iPod and we listened to it. All those things were something I took on board as an actress. It was the music that would take me in or take me out off. That was a big help for me for these emotional scenes.
LV: How was it for you to see your story come to life every day on set and then to see the finished film?
RP: It felt weird actually. It was a privilege working with these two actresses and also with the other cast and crew. It was a strange thing. We worked on this film for three years. Mainly due to the lack of funds or how long it took to finally being able to shoot the movie. There was also a lot of time during the workshops.
We wanted to throw the audience right from the beginning into the action, into that metal club. At that moment, Hilda is already at a certain threshold in her life. We wanted to spend time to understand how all characters would be feeling at that same moment. There were certain times during the shoot where, after I’ve written something, I didn’t know if it came from certain memories or my subconscious. I would be looking at it afterwards with assistant director Michael Honnah (The Yellow Wallpaper) and then I would remember where that idea for that scene came from.
We became closer together as a team while we were working on this project and we all reached pushed each other the give the best of ourselves.
LV: So you, Yasmin and Rishi, knew each other before making this movie?
YA: Yes, indeed. We’ve known each other since university. I auditioned for one of his plays at university and that’s how we became friends. A lot of people on the team were friends of Manchester University and that was very nice to have. Then Meg came in and at first, she was like “Oh, you’re all friends” but then she auditioned and we became friends as well.
RP: During the auditions, I wanted to cast the main cast first before finding the rest of the crew. Especially the roles for Hilda and Ayala. We didn’t have any money to rent out some audition space so we found a tortilla restaurant and we were inviting actors to come to that restaurant and to do their audition next to the kitchen. I think that might have turned a lot of people away when they saw the context of how we would do our auditions. Megan came in and she just gave a performance that got us locked in. As a result of that, I think we became close friends as well. I think that’s how we all came to know each other.
LV: Was it one of the scenes you had to do in that restaurant?
MP: The first one we did was one that isn’t in the film. It was one where I was in a club and dancing. The second scene was one that I didn’t see before the audition. It was a surprise one and it was the one in the film in which my baby brother is being given water by Ayala and my character gets rather upset with that. I like to have my lines in advance and I like to know them beforehand so that I can forget them during the scenes. When I was being handed the script during the audition, I was like “Oh my god” but I was trying to pretend that I was cool with it. When we were doing it, I noticed that it was quite wordy and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to remember it. I literally threw the script away and just went for it like that. I was thinking about what would be said in a scene like that. Michael was playing the role of Ayala during my audition and I just threw words at him.
When Rishi gave me the script, and I read it, although I’ve never been through what the character was going through, I could see her. I knew what she was thinking. When he gave me that script during my audition, I just put it aside because I knew what she was going through and what she was thinking. I remember that there were a few high fives after my audition and it felt like it was the best audition I’ve ever given.
LV: What was the first scene you (Megan and Yasmin) had to do together?
RP: Well, they met for the first time when they were in character.
MP: It wasn’t during a scene. It was during one of those workshops.
RP: But they didn’t speak to each other then.
MP: No, true. I didn’t know what Yasmin looked like. I was in Manchester and I had never been to Manchester before. Rishi would be like “Ok, she’s standing next to the supermarket at the corner”. I was like “Ok, am I going to greet someone randomly?”. Obviously, I could see where they were filming the workshops and so I thought “Ok, yeah it must be the girl standing in front of the camera”. That’s where we did our first improv.
RP: That workshop went on for about five hours. We ended up in a Jazz club and did Hilda her night out during which the girls discover their love for dance and music. That’s what we wanted to create during that first workshop. We started at that street corner, went to the club and ended up in the park where we played our music.
MP: In terms of filming on set, we did most of it chronologically. I think the first one was the sneaking out of the bedroom one.
LV: Who created the dance routines you have to do in this movie?
RP: That was Justyna (Szymanska) from Manchester. Apart from being a dancer, she’s also studying for her Maths degree. Michael sent me a video of Justyna performing and we’d seen a lot of fantastic dancers around that period and they were always trying to make the dance look very impressive and all about the show. Justyna is one of the best dancers I’ve seen in my life and she was the only person who understood that this wasn’t a dance film and that it wasn’t about the best dancer in the world. It was about someone who just loves dance and was trying to find her style. Justyna took that on and worked tirelessly while also getting a degree in Maths and doing her dance projects. She worked very hard on this film. Megan also had to work incredibly hard to embody these crazy routines Justyna came up with. Justyna really was the brains behind how Hilda expresses herself through dance. Hilda is a character that isn’t very good at talking to people and who can’t vocalize things. Somehow, when the music is playing and when she’s able to dance, she knows how to express her emotions. Without her, this film wouldn’t be what it is today.
YA: The moment where I had the feeling that I understood my character is when I did a workshop with Justyna. It was just a moving workshop and was all about the movements and music. Justyna was doing these different workshops with me and made me understand that’s not all about Hilda and that Ayala also has her own life as well. Ayala isn’t just someone on the sideline. Thanks to those workshops I was able to come to terms with who my character was and how she moved. After that, I found it all so much easier.
LV: Will Hilda have further screenings after its Premiere at Raindance?
RP: Of course we would love for this film to reach as many people as possible. The feedback that we got is that this film is very relatable for people, even if they’re not going through the same difficult time as Hilda. We do believe that the film could have the potential to do that. What we’re going to try to do is, hopefully, have a good festival run with this film and get it seen by as many people as possible. Getting people speaking about it.
LV: What’s next for you guys after this?
RP: When working on this film, someone said to me that before I go to the festivals with this film, that I had to know the next projects I would be working on. This film is the first one of the production company that I and Tomos Roberts founded. We’ve always helped each other during various projects. Sometimes I had to do lighting for a play that he was doing or then he might need to be a gaffer for a play that I was doing. We filled in each other’s roles. Tom did an incredible job producing this film but he also has other projects of his own. I’m thinking about some other projects myself and starting to write my next feature.
YA: For me, it’s just auditioning. I’m quite new to the acting game so I hope this might open some opportunities for me. I’m hoping just to focus on acting soon and do whatever I’m trying to get into. On the lookout for new and interesting roles. Ones that are a bit different and in which I can play the character in the way that other people might not play it.
MJ: I’ve got a couple of films coming out so I’m going to see how those go. I’m waiting to hear back from some auditions. I’m really hoping that this festival will open some doors for us and for people to see what we can create and to see our talent. We can take on projects that we want to do because we want to dedicate our lives to being in the film industry. We’re hoping that Raindance really will help us do that. It’s a festival that celebrates independent filmmaking and it really does do that. We’re excited to get our film and our talent out there and show the world what we can do.
Also Read: Hilda (Review)