Director Annabel Jankel’s diverse career includes forays into feature films (D.O.A., Super Mario Bros.) and music videos. During our phone conversation Jankel discussed her latest feature Tell It To The Bees and elaborated on several of her favorite films. Jankel’s love for cinema is evident by the rich visual tones and lived in performances from Anna Paquin and Holliday Grainger in Tell It To The Bees. Our chat is below!
Based on the Fiona Shaw’s novel, Tell It To The Bees centers on Jean Markham (Anna Paquin), a doctor who returns home to take over her late father’s medical practice. Jean is also a bee keeper, which leads her to befriend a boy named Charlie (Gregor Selkirk) and his mother Lydia (Holliday Grainger). A summer spent in southern Scotland makes an impact on each of their lives, and the film is a vividly told tale of memory by Jankel.
Can you talk about working with your DP and going with the Arri Alexa for your film? Did you initially want to shoot it on film?
Well I worked with Bartosz Nalazek – he’s a young DP with a tremendous breadth of experience having worked with Janusz Kaminski. And he did a load of tests It was all done very quickly because he did the tests while I was scouting. He came back to Glasgow where we reconvened and looked at all the tests.
The best possible approach was to use the Arri. We didn’t go 35mm simply because it was really a matter of practicalities. Because there wasn’t a lab that would be able to look at our dailies quickly enough. It would have taken too long for the 35mm to go back to have gone back to London and then come back (to us).
We didn’t have that facility, so he did the tests and we ended up using the Arri and the Arri mini and the Hawk C-series which were in fact manufactured in the 70s. So the opticals were very similar probably at that point as they were in the fifties. That was our choice.
Speaking of choices, can you talk about the chemistry between Holliday Grainger and Anna Paquin. Did you know that was going to work from the get go or did it happen organically?
I think it’s probably a beautiful alchemy of both those thoughts. Because visualizing Anna Paquin and Holliday Grainger together felt very emotional and connective and it felt sort of instinctively deep down inside that there was a potential for this combination to ignite into something very special.
The relationship that they built together was something that just did develop organically and beautifully.
How have you grown as a filmmaker over the years?
Well I feel as though at the core of my interests, it has always been story. Even going so far as back to the first music video which was “Accidents Will Happen” for Elvis Costello.
There’s a strong storyline throughout although it’s somewhat obfuscated with graphics, but I think I’ve become more and more focused on story and I am very excited and inspired by drama and specifically musical drama.
And I think that as a filmmaker it’s really less about the bells and whistles and more about the connective tissue.
Can you pick one of your favorite films and tell us what continues to inspire you about that feature?
That’s just a hard question to just name the one. But I will tell you the other day that I rewatched Thomas Vinterberg’s The Commune. Have you seen that?
I’ve never seen it.
It is so fantastic. And when I saw it about three years ago when it first came out. I was at the end of the film, I was at the cinema, I sobbed for 10 minutes. They had to literally give me the bum’s rush from the theater because I was so emotionally wound up. And I was so curious about that – that I had to recall afterwards and in fact I did recall this to Thomas Vinterberg when we met at the Toronto Film Festival. He was there and I met him there and I said “Your film had such a deeply profound, emotional effect on me that I don’t remember feeling so strung out by watching a film since watching one other film probably 30 or 40 years ago. He said ‘What as that?’ And I said “The Gold Rush.”
And I realized that there are two aspects that are similar – equal aspects of a particular storyline and (narrative thread) that is in (The Gold Rush and The Commune) which I think touched me really deeply. And so I love the fact that I was so emotionally connected to those two films that but also because they profoundly affected me.
I cannot miss the opportunity to say Sunset Boulevard. It was because of watching Sunset Boulevard endlessly that I wanted to do D.O.A.
Tell It To The Bees is now playing in select theaters and is available On Demand. During the discussion, I also talked to Jankel about the film’s memorable ending, and my audio interview with her, which includes a little spoiler talk about the final moments, is available via our CinemAddicts Patreon members.