Hannah Currie’s documentary We Are All Here – showing alongside Canadian film The Song and the Sorrow - is one of several films at SMHAF 2019 to explore the impact of suicide. In the first of a series of Q&As with filmmakers and performers at this year’s festival, she tells us the story behind the film…
How did you begin the process of making We Are All Here? It obviously tackles a very difficult and sensitive subject.
Shortly after Calum passed away I read a newspaper article by the Scottish rapper Darren 'Loki' McGarvey that struck me on many levels. Lumo's youth and talent, the fact that he volunteered for a mental health charity to raise awareness, and generally the sinking familiarity we have come to feel in Scotland with young men going missing and ending their own lives - gave me an overwhelming sense that this was a story that needed to be told, and made me dig deeper. I listened to Lumo's entire back catalogue of music and was struck by the searing honesty in his lyrics, so from early on the plan was to allow Lumo to tell his own story through his lyrics. And then when I eventually met his family, they gave me video diaries that they'd found after he died, and that cemented him as the narrator of his own story. The support of his friends and family and their determination to make a difference drove me throughout the entire process.
You’ve said that your aim with the film is to promote suicide awareness – what do you hope audiences will take from the film?
Awareness is key. For younger viewers, I hope Lumo's story and the aftermath contribute to removing the shame surrounding mental illness and opening up the conversation to create a space for young people to work through their issues. And for all viewers, I hope the film plans the seed that mental health is something we need to take seriously, and recognise that mental illness could be impacting our family and friends in serious ways that we may not have considered. One male friend sent me a message a couple of months after seeing the film and said that he'd noticed his friend acting differently and reached out to him, and the friend had told him he'd been contemplating suicide and that he was the first person who'd asked if he was OK. They are a pretty 'macho' group of friends and the film had made him act differently in that scenario, and that is exactly what I hope it will continue to do.
One striking aspect of the film is the way it’s divided into chapters, each focusing on a different aspect of Lumo’s identity – reflected in the different names he chose for himself. Can you tell us about why you made that decision and how it shaped the film?
As I was interviewing Lumo's friends and family and watching his video diaries, a very clear picture emerged of a young man who was struggling to find his place and grappling with his identity - which is a struggle I think a lot of us can relate to, especially throughout our teens and early twenties. Lumo was only 21. He was a perfectionist and often took the pressures of the world very personally, and felt a responsibility to himself and to others to 'be' a certain way, and I think that became an added pressure in itself. Having said that each of these identities - Calum, Lumo and Mohsen - were all very important to him, so it was important to me to give them each their place in the story. He really was all of these people at once but he thought he had to choose. I feel it's a tragedy that this happened before he got to realise that it's OK to be layered in this way.
Tell us something about the Scottish hip-hop scene that would surprise people.
It's full of exceptionally lovely and intelligent people. Some of the nicest people I know in the music industry are hip hop heads. And the standard of lyricism is so high. A lot of the lyrics are borne from difficult backgrounds and personal struggles and I think it's incredibly inspiring that people can express themselves in this way. I wish more people would pay attention. Sadly Scottish hip hop still gets massively overlooked in the grand scheme of things. Hopefully the film helps bring it to a new audience.
What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned from making We Are All Here? And what impact has making the film had on you?
I became a stronger person making this film. People always ask me 'was it difficult to make' but any challenge I had pales into insignificance when placed next to the daily struggle of losing someone so young. I spent so much time in the company of Lumo's amazing friends and family and I drew a lot from their strength. Of course, doing documentary and telling a story from someone's life is a daunting process, and there were definitely bumps along the way - but I never felt derailed by them. From the moment I read his story I knew it was special and I recognised its potential to help people.
What’s been the most memorable response to the film?
The recognition the film has received has been totally unexpected and overwhelming - winning the Audience Award at Glasgow Short Film Festival was really special. But the most meaningful responses are the people who find me after the film to tell me their story: whether they are struggling personally or bereaved by suicide or inspired to make a change, that totally fills up my heart.
Your first involvement in SMHAF was volunteering for the festival as a teenager. What do you remember about that experience? And how does it feel to be returning as an award-winning filmmaker?
It was one of my first jobs and I remember feeling so fortunate to be part of such a progressive festival; I wanted to be a journalist and my job was to write the brochure and I just loved it. I'd get to attend the events and I saw so much amazing, important work. I'm so glad to see the festival thriving because I really believe the arts can turn the tide of stigma - it's already happening and seeping into the mainstream, so it's moving in the right direction. As for returning as an award-winning filmmaker - words can't describe. I've attended the film awards religiously for the past 10 years - the work on display is always amazing and I can't believe our film will be amongst the entries this year.
What are you working on at the moment?
I'm buried deep working to deadline on a new documentary commissioned by Bridging the Gap, which is the Scottish Documentary Institute's new talent initiative. It's about my wonderful aunt and uncle (who has a brain injury) and it will premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival in June.
Hannah Currie's We Are All Here is the winner of the Best Short Documentary prize at SMHAF 2019. It screens alongside The Song and the Sorrow at Flourish House on Sunday 5th May. Click here to book tickets for the screening. Hannah Currie is also taking part in We Are All Connected, which gives you an opportunity to have a one-to-one conversation with some of our award-winning filmmakers. Click here to book a slot.