Four generations bound by one terrible secret.
Interview with Writer/Director Polly Steele
Main photo: From foreground back, Karin Bertling (Traudi), Jodhi May (Beth), Lucy Boynton (Emily), Juliet Stevenson (Helga) Andrew Ogilvy Photography
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
The story of LET ME GO came to me, literally, in a book-shop one day. A small paperback exposed itself slightly crookedly off the shelf so that I would see it. The photo of the little girl on the back intrigued me. I read it and was astonished by the story. I flew to Italy the following week to meet Helga Schneider whose life story it depicts. It took 10 years and a whole personal journey to complete it but now it is done.
Why did I pick this book? It was not a story I had heard before and I felt a very strong desire from Helga that it needed to be told. In retrospect I realised it also mirrored something in me but at the time it was just an amazing story about being abandoned and the impact that has on an individual and a family. I am fascinated with trauma that originates in childhood, how long it lasts, how it can be inherited through our DNA (now substantiated in several scientific studies) and how we can let it go.
I was so intrigued by this topic that I went away from film-making for 5 years to be trained as a life coach, NLP therapist and specialist in helping young people to deal with traumatic childhoods. After seven years of writing and re-writing the script, working with various different companies and even putting it aside for a while, somehow the stars realigned, the right team came together, the energy changed and we made the film.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
I think you will recognise yourself in one of the four generations and recognise the relationships that the women have with each other. It is a universal tale about families. Also you will be intrigued to hear the tale of the old lady, her voice is authentic and very rarely heard. It is a voice that is dying out and one that we need to hear to recognise what happened in Europe in the 1930s so that we don’t repeat the same mistakes again today. It is also a film that shines a light on inherited trauma, how we can carry our wounds and pass them onto the next generation if we are not careful.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
As I mentioned above the universal mother and daughter relationships are very dominant in the film and highlight what many many families experience when there is trauma in their history but I also think that the film pays attention to the detail, to the specific, to this story, this one family and their terrible secret and in that way we get pulled into their emotional roller coaster of a ride.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development and production?
The first draft was a very faithful adaptation of the book. But in talking to Helga I realised that there was much more to this story than had been put into the book and asked her if I could have access to her extended family. Helga was reluctant and wanted to understandably protect them but she gave me her blessing to write my own version and so I did. I was fascinated in the generations that followed Helga and so created two more characters.
Ironically many years later we laughed together at how authentic they were and how much of it she recognised so I felt the story was validated. I also worked with a couple of dear friends on the script over the years, Jo Ortmans, Lisa Gee and Stella Duffy and without their enthusiasm, I would not have continued with the film. Of course the final film was a vastly reduced version of the first script as always.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
From private screenings we have had very positive feedback mostly saying the film must be seen by the biggest audience possible (comments from private RADA screening attached).
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
We have been thrilled at how positive it has been. Some people have been very quiet on leaving the screening because they are processing it all and have then written to us with very positive comments. What is interesting is different people associate with different characters, it is very subjective but there seems to be someone for everyone. People also spend a lot of time referencing their own family stories after seeing the film.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
We really would love to have as many people around the world as possible see this film – it is a universal story which resonates with so many. It shines a light on trans-generational history. It is also very relevant to what is going on in the world today with the rise of the extreme right in many countries. We would love wearemovingstories.com to spread the word…..
Who do you need to come on board to amplify this film’s message?
We would like Distributors to see it and it would be great for it to get into some more wonderful festivals to increase its profile. Obviously there are some fascinating subjects to write about, so we would love journalists to see it too.
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
We feel it will resonate with many people if they get the chance to see it. We know that Helga believes that we need to learn from the past to clear the way for a more joyful and peaceful future and that is why we hope people will get to watch the film.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
No matter what crime your mother had committed would you still love her?
Would you like to add anything else?
To prepare the actresses for their roles we all took part in an extraordinary workshop all about inherited trauma. It was a family constellation workshop run by Gaye Donaldson and we constellated the family in the film. It was an amazing experience and one that helped all of us to feel very deeply what this story was really about.
What are the key creatives developing or working on now?
In Trust Films (Polly Steele and Lizzie Pickering) are about to option a best selling novel – announcement soon! Polly is also about to direct a documentary feature in preparation for Nelson Mandelas 100th anniversary.
Interview: March 2017
We Are Moving Stories embraces new voices in drama, documentary, animation, TV, web series and music video. If you have just made a film - we'd love to hear from you. Or if you know a filmmaker - can you recommend us? More info: Carmela
Let Me Go
Four generations bound by one terrible secret.
Length: 100' 34"
Director: Polly Steele
Producer: Lizzie Pickering, David Broder
Writer: Polly Steele
About the writer, director and producer:
Polly Steele (Writer/Director): Polly is an award-winning, independent film-maker, renowned for her ability to tell the most sensitive stories. She co-founded Elton Johns Rocket Pictures with David Furnish.
David Broder: David has worked as a Location Manager and Production Manager on large budget features for many years including The King’s Speech and The Imitation Game.
Lizzie Pickering: Channel 4, Events and Comedy Show producer (stage), founded In Trust Films with Polly Steele to raise the budget for Let Me Go.
Key cast: Juliet Stevenson, Jodhi May, Lucy Boynton, Karin Bertling, Stanley Weber, Eva Magyar
Looking for distributors, film festival directors, journalists
Funders: Independently funded through Private Equity raised by In Trust Films.
Where can I see it in the next month?
Bentonville Film Festival is our World Premiere 4th May 2017. UK Release later this year date tbc.