Hetain Patel in conversation with NAE curator Saziso Phiri


SP: Did you already have a trilogy of films set out when making the first film?

HP: I don’t think I had a trilogy in mind when I started The Jump. As I started to conceptualise the second film (Don’t Look at the Finger), that’s when I started thinking about the trilogy and knew it’d be a series. I liked the idea of a trilogy, just because it partly also references Hollywood cinema as well. And I also liked the idea that the trilogy could be in a nonlinear way for me to think about my feature film.

SP: In The Jump, you are dressed as Spider Man. Out of all the classic superheroes, why him?

HP: I’ve been drawn to Spider Man ever since I was a kid. He’s probably the first superhero that I was really into from the cartoons. He’s very relatable, in the sense that if you think of the DC World, Superman is kind of an invincible alien and Batman is a billionaire whereas Spider Man is kind of a nerdy geek. Peter Parker, who is Spider Man, never had any money. He couldn’t get a girlfriend, was bullied at school and is sort of skinny and scrawny. He makes his money partly by shooting photography for the local paper. I felt like he was created as a reflection of the comic book reader in a way so I was definitely drawn to it for those reasons. Also, the physicality. As much as the idea of flying like Superman would feel amazing, imagining the physicality of Spider Man was always really interesting. You can’t fly like Superman, but you could swing from building to building on some sort of rope and it still acts within the laws of gravity. It’s less of a jump of fantasy somehow, and I was always drawn to that kind of physicality especially when it started being visualised on screen. That was kind of mind blowing in the early Spider Man films when we first saw it in the Tobey Maguire films anyway. I wouldn’t have consciously thought about it at the time as a kid. It’s also very freeing, this idea of Spider Man, because it’s one of the rare suits that covers every inch of the hero’s skin. So, you know, as a kid, if I would have wanted to dress up as Superman or Batman, you know, you can see a skin so you always get called the Indian Superman or the Indian Batman. Whereas with Spider Man, you could just be Spider Man, and not have a framework of your ethnicity being in front of everything at a time when you didn’t want it to be, you know, as a kid trying to try to fit in. So yeah, that was that’s probably why I’ve always been drawn Spider Man,

SP: There was quite a bit of a jump (pun intended), with the production style between the first two films in the trilogy, the first being shot in your grandmother’s living room with family members, and the second featuring a full film crew and professional cast. Could you talk about the change in the process during the sleep? Sorry, another pun!

HP: I don’t think I’d ever conceived of the possibility of my being able to make film. I’ve always been a massive film fan. But it was definitely one of my blind spots as a maker and an artist. I don’t know why, but I never conceived that I’d be allowed or be able to create something that is filmmaking, in the Hollywood sense. And so The Jump was already a huge leap for me. I wasn’t necessarily even thinking of this idea of wanting to make a Hollywood film to start with, it was mainly because I wanted something super slow motion. I guess the big difference between the two is the first one I was just doing on the fly and learning as I go and it was as minimal as possible. The second one was with support. And the biggest changing point for me was meeting Sophie Neave, who’s the producer of Don’t Look at the Finger, who’s from the film world, and not the art world. Working with her, I was able to get much more expansive about how those ideas of that film were realised. I learned that I didn’t need to know all the people that you see on the credits of a film – I just needed to know the producer. She was able to take me through all that on and take care of what’s needed for that. It was a massive learning experience and opened up the possibilities for Trinity, the film after that

SP: Your art practice has crossed various mediums from drawing, to dance, sculpture and film, with the latter becoming a more prominent part of your practice. With your ambition for continuing to create more film work, do you still plan on continuing to make art in other forms?

HP: Instinctively, I’ve always been interested in physical communication, the ways that our bodies communicate visually and physically. Personally, from a very early experience of growing up in West Alton, on the outskirts of Bolton, it was predominantly white and there was a lot of racism. There was a more overt flavour of it in the 80s. I guess what I learned through that, consciously and unconsciously. You get judged very negatively, even before you even open your mouth, before you even get to say something, or to have any sort of personality – just from the way that you look; Your skin colour, your ethnicity, the way you walk, what you’re wearing, all those sorts of things. And so, I guess that embeds in you just how much visually physically you exist. And so physical communication, what we do with it,, how our bodies read, how we are read as bodies and people is so huge. I’m fascinated with communication as expression, as agency. Things like dance, martial arts, sign language, all of these things are things that feel really direct in terms of communication, or what it can say about us. My practice, whether it is film or performance, or even sculpture or 2D still all somehow starts out in my body. I still feel like I explore these things physically somehow. Whether it’s choreographically, or just sitting with something or observing people or myself or whatever it might be, I think they all start there and so physicality in the body is hugely core and key to my work.

SP: Your family is present in two of the three films in the trilogy, in The Jump, sat in your grandmother’s living room, and the Trinity soundtrack, with your mum on vocals. Could you speak about these choices and the influence of your family life in your work in general?

HP: My family features very directly in The Jump and Trinity. There are also photographs of my family in Trinity, and my first language of Gujarati is spoken in the film. But also, there’s a lot in Don’t Look at the Finger which comes from my family as well. The rituals that they’re creating in that film are drawn from real rituals from different places around the world, some of which are Hindu wedding ceremonies, and other rites and rituals that I’ve grown up with. and so that features quite heavily in that including a setup for an arranged marriage and this idea of that being a marriage of two families, as opposed to a marriage of two people. That really informed a lot of Don’t look at The Finger as well. In terms of why I do that – involving my family is because the image of my family and what they seem to represent in a western context in the UK where I’ve grown up can be very exoticising. It’s typically been the thing that marginalises you if you have a non-white family or family from Asia or Africa. You get stereotyped a lot. And all of those things are very restrictive in lots of ways. So, my choice to use them, feature them or explore them in my work is to be expansive about who they are, or how they might be seen to cement them under a lens of Britishness and not just a lens of Indianness, which we tend to get put under in terms of marginalisation. In the jump, there is the humour to juxtaposing Spider Man leaping in this very Indian looking set in my grandmother’s living room. But actually, it’s really real as well as it comes from reality. It’s not unusual for Asian or African or non-white kids to also be fantasising Spider Man, jumping off sofas and pretending superheroes like that. In Trinity, we use my mum’s voice in the soundtrack. Amy (soundtrack composer) and I were talking about using something that we really loved from some of the movie references like 80s synth music, but changing that sort of music you typically recognise young, skinny white kids playing but we won’t have that vibe in that tone, but sang from my mom in Gujarati with an older voice, a female voice. Featuring my family in my work is partly about transformation, partly about being expansive. Both of those things are about striving for freedom I guess.

SP: It is not uncommon for directors to continuously work with the same composer for their film scores for different films. For example, Martin Scorsese, and Robbie Robertson, Darren Aronofsky and Clint Mansell, and Michael Bay and Steve Jablonsky for the Transformers series. You have worked with composer Amy May on all three films in this trilogy. Is this a working relationship that is set to continue for future productions?

HP: Yeah, my relationship with Amy will continue as composer of my films. We’ve worked together now on not only these three films, but also on a live performance. We’re also working on another one or two projects together. We’ve had a really good working relationship and friendships since about 2014/2015. There’s a lot of shorthand there, which I’m sure is why other people work with the same collaborators. If you find someone who you click with, you tend to stick together. We can challenge each other and also feel like we’re on the same page in other ways too. Amy’s really great at responding to impulses that I have about a film or a tone, or a character. We share a lot of film references that we were into. I’m not from a musical background, and she has so many tools and such a wide knowledge base of music that she can respond to. It just feels like a good collaboration. So yeah, hope it continues.

SP: A few fire round questions to round off the conversation. Favourite film of all time?
HP: The Matrix. Probably closely followed by Coming to America.

SP: Favourite film scene of all time?
HP: The opening of The Matrix we first meet Trinity, and she’s in that dark room and runs along the wall to kick all the guards asses – that’s such an incredible scene. Another favourite is probably when in the original Transformers. There’s a scene towards the end where a transformer called Hot Rod pulls the Matrix of Leadership and becomes his greatest self, which is Rodimus Prime. Just had to add another favourite film scene of all time, this might be at the very top actually, of even the other ones that I mentioned, which is the opening scene of the Dark Knight, the second Batman film from the Christopher Nolan series, and it’s the opening scene where the Joker is pulling off a bank heist. Yes, just amazing.

SP: Favourite dance scene?
HP: If it’s dance or theatre, then probably a scene in a film called Zero Degrees by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Akram Khan where they’re both telling a story, anecdotally and they’re doing it in sync with each other. In really precise sync – it’s just amazing. If it’s a film, then in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon in the dojo, the weapons fight scene between the two female protagonists, the young student if you like, the older warrior. That’s just absolutely incredible. I also like a lot of the scenes from the first two Matrix films, the precision in them.

SP: Finally, favourite film battle?
HP: Funnily enough, I’m not that into big film battle scenes, and probably more into a few people or one to one fights. But if I had to say one, it probably would be the training montage in the one in the first Wonder Woman film at the beginning, with all of the warrior women in that scene. One of the favourite film battles one to one is probably in Troy between Achilles and Hector. That’s also amazing. I feel like it’s choreographed and dramatised and the rhythm of it is very different to fight scenes that you tend to see. I think that there might not even be any music in it which is very unusual for a big Hollywood film.

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