Alfie Barker was shortlisted in the 2023 Sony Future Filmmaker Awards for Hanging On, an experimental documentary that spotlights the strength of a community when faced with eviction. We catch up with the Leeds-based filmmaker to discover about his connection to filmmaking.
When did you decide you wanted to become a filmmaker?
It wasn’t a decision really as doing it as a job wasn’t something I thought it would turn into, just an obsession that started when I was really young. I loved Chicken Run, then my mum took me to an Aardman Animation workshop at Leeds Young Film Festival when I was about 8 years old, and that
In Hanging On you have a distinctive visual approach when depicting the struggles of the people who are slipping through the cracks of society. Can you take us through the thinking and actual creation behind this technique?
We wanted to tell this story in a way that hadn’t been seen before, so I watched as many shorts that tackled a similar subject to make sure this film was going to be something different. We worked with a talented stunt team, but most of the actual community members were suspended from a Manitou crane in their actual neighborhood as you see in the film. We used a clean plate afterwards and painted out the wires holding them in VFX after the shoot.
We read on your Instagram that Hanging On was funded by a nonprofit organization dedicated to enabling independent documentary films. Do you have any key lessons you learned while applying for funding that you can share to help other filmmakers?
Doc Society funded the film and was great to work with. We approached it with a very clear plan, a vision of what we wanted, and how it was going to look, which helped from the beginning. I think I remember I had even storyboarded it from the beginning which isn’t a normal approach to how I work. For funding in the UK, it’s tough and a lottery (literally) but I think it’s always good to ask yourself two things: why you and why now?
You released the full-length version of Hanging On in August. How has the film been received? We’ve seen some great coverage and recognition.
It’s nice to finally get it online, we always wanted it to be freely accessible because of the subject. All the screenings, awards, and recognition for the film have been great, but for me the most important screening was showing the community and them liking what we had done. It’s personal to them because we’re in their homes. I’m thankful they liked it.
Are you working on any new projects?
We’ve just finished a fiction short called HALF WAY and it's starting a festival run. It's slightly different from my other work but I wanted to try something new with multiple characters. I’m trying to write my debut feature but always cooking up new ideas. I’ve got another mad idea for a short film that involves a zebra – I really hope I can get made one day soon.
What stood out to you most during your time at Sony Pictures Studios for the Sony Future Filmmaker Awards?
Aside from the excitement of it being my first time visiting Los Angeles, it’s rare to actually have the first-hand opportunity to listen to executives and producers working on some of the biggest film productions. The best part though was meeting the other filmmakers who are from all over the world – I find I learn the most from other people.
Is there anything you’ve learned about your filmmaking since your experience last February?
I’ve learned lots of new ways to write and develop ideas which have been invaluable thanks to some of the recent residential labs I’ve been lucky to do. I also stick by Steve McQueen’s mantra to “not follow the money” which makes choosing what projects to work on easier.
About Alfie Barker
Alfie Barker is a Leeds born and based writer and director who grew up making short films with his dog instead of going to university. He is a previous BFI Future Film Award winner. His work and approach to story focuses on the displacement of communities, finding strength in character, and empowering people in the process. His short Hanging On, produced by Hollie Bryan, was long-listed for a BIFA, shortlisted for a Grierson Award, the Sony Future Filmmaker Awards, and premiered at TIFF.