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Grimmfest 2021: An Interview With Peter Blach, Director of Seagull

Seagull is one of the few home-grown films at this year’s Grimmfest, and I was interested to hear what the writer/director Peter Blach had to say about it. It is his first feature film, and it had its initial premiere at Liverpool Film Festival 2019; now it is ready to meet a wider audience.

Peter’s recollection of where the story of Seagull came from was very interesting. “I live in Folkestone, where the film was shot, and I was doing a lot of walking and running on the seafront. There are several people who live down there, off-grid—in particular, one guy called Mungo who built a shack there (sadly no longer with us). I went past his house many times, and it got me thinking about what would make a person want to live away from society like that. That was the beginning of the main character in the film, who lived off-grid for eight years and now turns back to town. Seagull isn’t necessarily their story, but it was inspired by them.”

I dared a cheeky question about the other characters in the film, the family who just didn’t get along: couldn’t he have made a film about some nicer people? “It is a bit of a grim family,” agreed Peter. “I have Scandinavian roots, and perhaps I’m drawn to the darker side of life. It is quite a dysfunctional family; not that it is particularly a reflection of what you find in Folkestone, but there are parts of Folkestone that are more deprived than others. I grew up with an alcoholic mother, so I know a little bit about that. I didn’t think too deeply about it being a horrible family. That just happened.”

I questioned whether it ‘happened’ as he put it due to the calamity eight years before the film opened, or whether they had always been like that. “I think there were issues beforehand,” said Peter. “There are issues in most families, but I guess there was a line crossed here, and things did deteriorate in the family. Maybe things were better in the past, thinking about the flashbacks. The stepdad is somewhat controlling, though, but maybe that got worse over time.”

Peter Blach, director, on the set of Seagull
Image courtesy of Peter Blach.

We talked some more about the location then. “It’s not necessarily a Folkestone story,” said Peter. “I just wanted to tell a dark tale, and the dramatic landscape really lends itself. You’re always looking for interesting scenery you can use, so the story came from the landscape as well as the character ideas.” That made sense to me, considering the way the cliffs, the beach and the city settings combined and contrasted in the film.

I asked about the title creature, the man-sized seagull that follows the central character Rose (played by Gabrielle Sheppard) around. “The way I developed the film was that I went around on my bike taking photos of different locations that I liked and then started looking online for images of characters that I thought were interesting. In Folkestone, every Boxing Day, we have this ‘winter dip’ where everybody dresses up and runs into the sea. I came across a photo where somebody had dressed up as a seagull, with a beak, flippers and white furry clothes. They had just come out of the sea, dripping and cold, looking hunched and weak, and I think that image became quite haunting and started some inspiration. Later on, as the film developed, we realised there are a lot of seagulls in Folkestone and in the UK in general, and if you look closely at the face, there is something haunting about them, something sinister. So that became an inspiration for the darkness in the film, too.”

The way I saw it, Rose’s residency on the beach and her seagull companion were both reactions to trauma, so I asked Peter what research had gone into that. “Having come from a family with alcoholic parents, that informed some of the writing. Also, we had this idea that she had to dress up when she did something hostile, and then it was only towards the end of the script-writing that the idea that it could be a character that existed in her mind came out. There were elements of schizophrenia too in the film, but we didn’t do any specific research into that.”

I closed by asking Peter what he was working on next. “I’ve been working on another couple of projects, including another dark horror film. I’m taking a break from that at present though and experimenting with improvisation, which I’ve never done with actors before. I’ve always been intrigued about using it as a writing tool.”

Seagull is being distributed by Evolutionary Films and will become available to stream after its Grimmfest screening.

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Written by Alix Turner

Alix discovered both David Lynch and Hardware in 1990, and has been seeking out weird and nasty films ever since (though their tastes have become broader and more cosmopolitan). A few years ago, Alix discovered a fondness for genre festivals and a knack for writing about films, and now cannot seem to stop. They especially appreciate wit and representation on screen, and introducing old favourites to their adolescent son.

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