Words by Jyoti Mann
London College of Communication graduate Hanna Aqvilin won the Best Documentary award at Fastnet Film Festival 2017 for her portrait documentary about Fay Presto, one of London’s legendary magicians.
Hanna, who studied on LCC’s MA Documentary Film course, beautifully captures how 70-year-old Fay has dedicated her life to being an entertainer, having performed for the Queen six times. Hanna went on to receive the award after being encouraged by MA Documentary Film tutor Nancy Platt, having created the film as part of her graduate project. The film also went on to be shortlisted for the Iris Prize amongst 15 Best British Shorts, with the award being £20K.
We caught up with Hanna to find out more…
Hi Hanna! Congratulations on your recent success! How does it feel to receive the award?
I was really surprised actually. This award is a tremendous honour. During the process of making the film I had a lot of self-doubts – which I think is very common for creative work – and I didn’t allow myself to think beyond the our grad show screening back in December.
Since this January the film has been screened at six festivals, won this award at Fastnet Film Festival for Best Documentary, and was honoured by a Special Commendation at a ceremony at BFI Southbank, so it has definitely given me more confidence as a filmmaker.
“Students on the course stick together during and after graduation, and those with more experience help ‘the new people’, and that’s something I will pass on as well.” – Hannah Aqvilin.
What did you hope to achieve through this work?
I have always had a passion for storytelling and journalism, and I wanted to explore a more expanded form of portrait storytelling in documentary filmmaking, particularly through this amazing character, Fay Presto.
What was the process of making the film like?
Getting access was tricky in the beginning. Fay didn’t trust journalists because she felt that the media had badly treated her in the past so I had to build trust and make sure that I didn’t portray her in a way that would feel like a breach of that trust.
The project developed into a collaboration between Fay and me, and she helped out a lot during the production. It was crucial for me that also she was happy with the final film and that she was proud of it. I started to film Fay in March 2016, and followed her for shorter periods until August 2016. Post production was from September until November 2016.
What was the most challenging aspect?
Post-production was very difficult. I had a lot of footage, so it was hard to decide on a structure that worked in the editing. I was working entirely on my own – filming, interviewing and editing – so after a while, I become very blind to the material. But after many late nights of editing, and after some technical failures and pulling hair in frustration, the film finally took shape.
What is the highlight of your time at LCC?
The graduate show, which took place at Bertha DocHouse in London, was the highlight because you were able to show your film in the same space as many of the Oscar-nominated documentaries – and that felt like a real privilege!
What are you currently working on and where?
I’m now co-producing a short documentary, commissioned by BBC and BFI, together with a former MA Documentary Film student Gareth Johnson, who graduated from LCC in 2014.
Earlier this year, I was involved in The Guardian’s latest VR project, thanks to another former student of MA Documentary Film, Anetta Jones (VR producer for the Guardian), who asked if I wanted to help out as a production assistant.
Additionally, I have recently started up a production company Blick Gunita Films, with a close friend Jill Damatac Futter. We studied MA Documentary Film together and got the idea one day after class – and now we are working together on new documentary projects and commercial work.
In short, many students in the course stick together during and after graduation, as well as will people with more experience help ‘the new people’, and that’s something I will pass on as well.
How did the nomination for the Iris Prize come about?
If you were to win the award, how would you use the prize fund?
How does it feel to receive the nomination?
I’m thrilled! It’s a BAFTA recognised festival, and many people from the industry have heard about it before which makes it more significant than perhaps other smaller festivals.
What is next for you?
My focus is always on storytelling and growing my journalistic practice. Currently that’s by establishing our production company, by developing and making documentaries, commercials, and branded content.
What advice would you give to other MA Documentary Film students or prospective students?
Prepare yourself to be a jack-of-all-trades freelancer after the course, and you will probably do some unpaid work to develop your portfolio.
Don’t be afraid of reaching out to people you admire to ask for advice and show them your work – even if it is terrifying. Also try to help others, because it will eventually pay back.