You may not have heard of Hurt By Paradise just yet but you’ll know the woman behind it, Greta Bellamacina.
The 30-year-old co-wrote, directed and starred in the award-winning indie film about female friendship, as well as writing the poetry that runs through it.
Can it get more impressive? Yes, it can. Bellamacina was six months pregnant while filming, something she tells us was the reason behind her onscreen wardrobe – statement coats and voluminous Molly Goddard style dresses.
Despite being a known filmmaker, poet and model, she caught the attention of the world last year when she was denied entry to see Hurt by Paradise at the Cannes Film Festival because she brought her newborn baby with her.
This not only made her a household name, but also proved to be a strange foreshadowing of this film, with the stigma attached to pursuing a career with a child being just one of the themes it explores.
As Hurt by Paradise comes out in cinemas across the UK, Features Editor Jenny Proudfoot sat down with the wonderful Greta Bellamacina to talk Cannes, filming the indie while six months pregnant and her hopes for women in film.
Hurt by Paradise is finally out in cinemas…
It’s been totally bizarre because obviously all of the cinemas have been closed. We made this film two years ago, took it to festivals and then it was meant to be released earlier this year but because of lockdown, it’s been postponed. It really does feel like we’ve been on such a long journey with it, so to finally have it out there is really exciting. It’s so hard making independent cinema and we made it for such a low budget, so even to have it shown in cinemas around the country, it feels like a big achievement.
You were the co-writer, star and director so this really was your baby…
It’s total madness when you say it like that – it really is. I started writing it with the co-writer Sadie Brown and the story just developed as we went along. It was only when we eventually started filming it that I was like, ‘Oh god, I’ve got to do all of this’. But actually, it didn’t feel too daunting because we worked with such a small and collaborative crew that were able to jump between roles in a very natural way.
How long did it take to film?
It only took a month to film – I was actually six months pregnant while we were shooting it, which I’ve been very quiet about. We found out that I was pregnant and we didn’t want to wait another year to make this film because it already takes so long to write, process and develop. So, when we found out I was pregnant we thought, ‘We better film this before the bump shows’. We quickly shot it and then as soon as I gave birth we started editing it straight away because we had all of these festival deadlines and we wanted to get it out there. With independent cinema, films have to get its accolades through those institutions so there was a mad dash to find a place for it and luckily it went to Edinburgh Film Festival and Raindance, and it has gone on to find its home.
People have compared you as a filmmaker to Greta Gerwig…
We wanted to make a film about two women who ultimately were trying to succeed and achieve their dreams but were sort of failing. You see these quite flawed women who are trying to find their way in the world and they’re still ultimately dreamers. Stella – a failed actress in her early 40s – still very much believes, and even says in the film, ‘A winner is just a failure that tries one more time’. It’s about not giving up, but it is also almost a love letter to each other. I think that’s where the comparison to a Greta Gerwig film comes in. I don’t know if there are many films where the love letter is between two female friends, rather than a big love story with a man.
Why did you choose for the key relationship to be one of female friendship?
I think there’s a lot of cliché around the way single mothers are presented in the arts and in society in general. Women innately take on multiple roles without it being a huge burden – it’s very natural – and I just wanted to show the complicated way women have evolved and adapted throughout time. It’s a special thing with women. I very much wanted to show a positive female dynamic of women adapting and bringing up children single-handedly and it being a joy rather than a burden.
The film addresses the stigma of pursuing a career with a baby – is that based on your own experiences?
Maybe subconsciously. I think, because I had children in my early twenties, it has always been quite tricky trying to navigate myself as a mother but also as an artist and creator. My husband (Hurt by Paradise‘s producer Robert Montgomery) is also an artist and he never gets referred to as an ‘artist father’ in the media. As a female in any creative capacity, you’re almost always defined by being a mother, so I very much wanted to touch on that. We made a point of it in Hurt by Paradise, writing one particular scene where Stella is turned away from an audition for bringing a baby.
And then ironically, you were blocked from attending Cannes Film Festival because you brought your newborn baby…
I still can’t really believe that happened. The scene was shot a year and a half before the Cannes Film Festival incident where ironically we were turned away for obviously bringing our three month old baby who was breastfeeding with us. It was just a mad foreshadowing of the film. I didn’t expect it to be such a huge story – I was a bit freaked out the next morning to be honest, but Cannes has that reputation. One director told me while I was there that his wife who helped to do the costumes on his film had to walk 10 steps behind him because he was the director. There are just these crazy dynamics in Cannes which seem a bit out of date. I do think the industry is definitely changing and I just think that it’s unfortunate that it happened at that time.
Is right now a turning point for women in film?
Definitely. I think a lot more women are producing films – actresses especially are producing the films they want to make. You can be much more creative now making low budget films and I think there’s a whole new movement waiting to happen. Especially with what’s happening with COVID, people are having to be more creative and in general I think women are making a point of taking the forefront and not shying away from things that have been lost within Hollywood for a long time. I have been lucky enough to work with a lot of women who haven’t been afraid to take the limelight which has traditionally been very male. I work a lot with a director called Jaclyn Bethany who just won an Emmy for her TV show, The Performance. It’s so exciting to watch her journey and just to see women making things and being unafraid to do it.
Was it a conscious decision to feature a predominantly all-female cast of strong characters?
Definitely. We did a Q&A at Everyman cinema and someone pointed out that the few males characters are all arseholes and a lot of the female roles are very strong complicated women. We didn’t want to paint anything as too perfect – we wanted to show that life is complicated and flawed and that so much of life is tragic and that we are often in a state of melancholy and confusion trying to figure out the world. The female characters are very much at the forefront of that feeling. We also worked with a predominantly female crew and we had a really interesting dynamic where we found that a lot of the women within the crew were actually capable of doing other roles besides the jobs they were hired for. So, they ended up working with us in different roles throughout the creative process because they were capable of doing it and they wanted a shot. They knew the film from the beginning to the end and were with us from the start. It was an amazing process.
What was your inspiration for Hurt by Paradise?
A lot of my inspiration came from smaller London films – a film called London Kills Me and another called Wonderland – films where you meet odd characters in London in a melancholic snapshot. We almost wrote the scenes for Hurt By Paradise like vignettes – mini films within themselves – snapshots into people’s lives rather than a very plot-heavy film where every scene is determined by some tragic event. The film that does that a lot is Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes.
And the film has poetry running through it…
We very much wanted to make a sort of melancholic comedy about poetry because there really isn’t much out there that doesn’t take itself too seriously in terms of poetry. We wanted to hopefully show it as an art form which is accessible and is something which is innately within us. A lot of the passages where the poetry comes in are moments where the characters are in a state of flux, and I find that a lot of people are drawn to poetry in those moments. When we were writing the film, I was also writing the poetry so there is a bit of crossover and I actually got the book published while I was writing the film.
Are you on a mission to challenge misconceptions around poetry?
When I first started performing poetry in open mic nights at The Poetry Café in London, it was amazing for me because it was the first time I was able to find a community of other poets, from all different places and of all different ages, who were reading poetry about really important and relevant things – things that are happening now politically and socially. So, I think a lot of it was trying to show that poetry is actually one of the most truthful art forms we have left. You can be very profound with a short amount of words with poetry – you don’t have to say a lot in order to get the point across.
What message do you hope people will take away from the film?
Hopefully to not take life too seriously. Life is complicated and it’s hard work most of the time, and hopefully you can find love and joy in the unexpected.
What is your hope for women in film?
For women to be uncompromising and to create the stories they feel are not yet being put into the world. Every story is valid and film is so collaborative that just drawing together and finding communities of people who understand what you’re trying to say and can bring those stories forward is what we need.
Check website for cinemas near you where the film is playing.