'So, I’m dead. Now listen and I’ll set you straight on a few things. I have something to tell you but if I open my mouth and a flock of birds flies out you have to catch them, all of them, hold them close to your heart and never let them go. What I’m going to say has to be held tight in the palm - not twisted and turned into a story for later. Oh no. This is just between you and me.'
On her last day alive Ferida tells us the poignant story of her life-long secret. Always the drudge, the stay at home sister pushed to the side, it unfolds that she found true love under every one's nose. Set in 1968 with flashbacks to the Ottoman Empire in 1915 a Flock of Birds is a lyrical tale that explores the many aspects of love while celebrating the beauty and sexuality of women at all ages.
Interview with Writer/Director/Producer Victoria Harwood Butler-Sloss
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
Thank you! I made the film on a whim, actually. I had just finished editing my book and had sent it off to publishers, so there I was in the waiting game and I thought, “Why not record my favorite chapter for fun?” That quickly moved onto ‘Why not film some images to illustrate it?” The next thing, it was a short film!
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
Hmm. It’s a poem to love. And women. And being sexy at any age. It’s also testament to the fact that you can make a film for next to nothing. I had never picked up a camera before. I borrowed my husband’s and googled how to use it. When I looked through the monitor I got a huge thrill at how beautiful everything looked through the lens. It’s opened up a whole new world for me.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
The film is very personal as it is based on the true story of my great, great aunt, Ferida. She was the stay-at-home sister that gave up her life to look after her brother and family. At some point, she was at the center of scurrilous gossip as her belly got swollen and people thought she was pregnant, despite being a virgin. It turned out to be fibroids and she died sad and still a virgin.
When writing down her story, I decided to give her an alternative ending - one that involved a hot lover and an affair carried on in secret under every one’s nose. While making the film, two themes struck me; one, the art of stories - how each person has a very different version of a story (usually starring themselves) and also the many layers of love. Unconditional love, unrequited love, broken love. Old love. Sisterly love. Secret love.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development?
As I said above, initially I was going to simply record the story as an audio file for my literary agent. We both liked the chapter as it is the only time in the book the character speaks directly to the reader and we see a completely different side to her. Plus, she’s telling us as a corpse, and insisting upfront that this is a secret “between you and me,” not to be shared with anyone else (let alone a movie audience!) I decided that I would film something vague and artistic, just imagery to illustrate the words of the story, but as I worked on the idea and roped people in to play the characters, it grew into a short film. I was like, “Hey Mary, how would you like to play a corpse in my film?” And she was like “Sure,” so the ball started rolling.
The next thing was that my family came over to visit, and instead of driving them round California to see the sights, I threw them into costume and put them in the film. It continued the theme of storytelling even more succinctly. My family were playing other members of our family, dressed in their clothes. As it was a period piece I wanted to style it correctly but ultimately left things loose ( If you look closely, the things you will see!) I wanted it to be a group of people simply illustrating a story, a little like theatre, which is my background.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
So far people have loved it. I have had so many people come up to me and say, “That was my aunt/sister/friend.” Everyone seems to know a character that essentially put their life on hold for others. People have used words like, poignant, beautiful, magical. It’s very much a visual poem to love. Yes, some people have cried.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
I’m extremely happy with the reaction so far. I’m getting a lot of questions on how to make low budget films.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
Well, funding would be great as I have another film already shot and I need to pay my editor more than the ten cents I am currently giving her, to start! Also, the book that the chapter is taken from, The Seamstress of Ourfa finally found its home and will be published later this year by Armida Books. It would be great if the film sparks interest in the book. And the book itself is part of a trilogy- so there’s a wealth of stories for future film rights!
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
Let’s have a party and invite all of the above! Book rights are up for grabs…publicity would be great. Serendipitously, the film The Promise has just been released. A Flock of Birds would be a great short at the start of that as it is set in the same era, with the Armenian genocide as a backdrop. It would be great if I could sell the film rights to the whole book. Wait. Or all three.
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
I would like people to come away with a curious and open mind. To look at those “invisible” people that surround us and consider that their lives are not just how they are currently presented, but that there are profound stories in all of us.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
The feet. Where are the feet going? The feet represent the 1.5 million Armenians who lost their lives in the genocide of 1915. In A Flock of Birds, the guilt of surviving and the daily horror she witnesses, opens Ferida’s heart to love. Although the story is set in the Ottoman Empire in 1915 (and later in 1968, when she dies) and the Armenian genocide is the backdrop, I deliberately left it open in the film. It could be anywhere, any time.
Would you like to add anything else?
It will sound trite, but, follow your passion. Don’t try and create for a niche. It doesn’t matter if you write, film, paint, dance. Pick up a pen, a camera, whatever. Express yourself with passion and people will respond more than if you give them something you think they want. Does that sound counterintuitive?
What are the key creatives developing or working on now?
I am currently working on book edits and filming a book trailer which is great fun. Again, costumes and Ottoman Era and natural lighting. Edith Weil is editing again. There is also another film, already shot that is next up for editing. Rest in Pieces is a documentary on the Armenian Cemetery that ended up in no man’s land in Cyprus after the war and Turkish invasion that divided the island.
Interview: May 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
A Flock of Birds
A dead woman tells us the passionate secret she has kept all her life.
Length: 29:30 mins
Director: Victoria Harwood Butler-Sloss
Producer: Victoria Harwood Butler-Sloss
Writer: Victoria Harwood Butler-Sloss
About the writer, director and producer:
Victoria is Armenian English, from Cyprus. She moved to London at eighteen and began her career as a dancer at the Raymond Revuebar. She trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, spent twenty years as an actress, playing mad, bad, foreigners on British television and performing in the West End, The Royal Court and European tours, amongst others. After getting married she moved to LA, started a family, continued to work in voiceovers and wrote her first book, The Seamstress of Ourfa, (Armida press November 2017) A Flock of Birds is her first film as writer/director/producer/DP.
Mary Woronov as Ferida
Ayala Elnekave as young Ferida
JC Barros as Aram
Billy Patey Avakian as Iskender
Takouhi Avakian Harwood and
Verginia Avakian Patey as the All Seeing Chorus
Kyla Gelev as The Dying Girl
Looking for (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists):
Journalists, distributors, book to film sales.
Social media handles:
Where can I see it in the next month? Monday May 8th at 5pm at the Laemmele Music Hall 9036 Wilshire Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA 90211 at 5pm. (Wishire and Doheny) More dates coming throughout the year…