Filmmaker Spotlight:
‘Spiral’ filmmaker Laura Fairrie

Leading up to the 28th Washington Jewish Film Festival, we asked our filmmakers a few questions about their featured films.
In this edition, Director Laura Fairrie discusses Spiral

What inspired you to tell the story of your subject or the story depicted in your film?

The subject of the film felt urgent and important – the project started as an investigation into widespread reports of rising attacks and abuse against Jewish people in Europe. Antisemitism was rearing it’s ugly head again and I wanted to understand why. During the course of our research it quickly became apparent that antisemitism was the tip of the iceberg – the cracks in the surface started broadening out, all types of racism and hatred of the “other” increased, we were living in hugely unstable times. Against this backdrop I was inspired to make a film that told multiple stories from different perspectives showing the impact of fear and hatred on people’s lives.


Director Laura Fairrie

What was a particular obstacle you faced while making this film? 

As a documentary filmmaker you are trying to uncover truth and to peel back the layers of complex human stories and emotions. With this film there was a huge amount of fear coming from all sides and I found that fear clouds reality – there were times during filming when I found this to be an obstacle to getting to the heart of people’s stories.

Secondly, on a practical level I found making the film with people whose language I didn’t speak difficult because communication and genuine connection is an essential part of documentary filmmaking. I had to adapt my usual way of working and found various ways around the problem. I built bridges of communication by working closely with a brilliant French AP and other wonderful interpreters. In the end I think the film has a slightly detached quality about it because of this and that has fed into the overall atmosphere of the film which is slightly haunting and this ultimately has hopefully worked in it’s favour.


What do you want audiences to walk away with after screening your film?

I would hope that the film allows us all to reflect on how we react to hugely unstable times and how we need to check our own instinctive fears of the “other” and try not to retreat, separate or turn against each other.


Still from Spiral

Why do you think Washington, DC is a valuable location to screen your film?

One of the hopes we have for this film is that it has the potential to promote valuable debate and discussion about some of the difficult issues affecting us today – it’s a privilege to be able to do this in Washington DC, the heart of American politics and policymaking. 


What films or filmmakers have been the most influential to you?

The work of two female documentary filmmakers, Molly Dineen and Kim Longinotto, was an essential starting point for me. As an aspiring filmmaker I watched all of their documentaries repeatedly – I borrowed ideas from their approach and copied their shooting techniques when I first taught myself how to use a camera. One of my favourite documentaries is – “Divorce Iranian Style” by Kim Longinotto because it inspired me to get out there and shoot my own films and immerse myself in worlds that were alien to me. The film reveals shocking truths with a gentle humanity and great sense of humour. I have been influenced by a wide range of films but I like to focus on the work of women because I believe in the importance of the female perspective in filmmaking and storytelling. All of Jane Campion’s work (including The Piano, The Water Diary) is a huge inspiration to me, as is the work of Lynne Ramsay (Ratcatcher) and Debra Granik (Winter’s Bone).

Watch Spiral during the 28th Washington Jewish Film Festival.

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