British Short Film Festival and SOUL Fest Award winning writer and director Yasmin Afifi talks about her latest short film ‘Jellyfish and Lobster’, which is a finalist at this year’s BAFTA Awards
In a matter of days, the BAFTA Awards will descend on one of the UK’s most prestigious arts venues – the Royal Albert Hall. The annual celebration an acknowledgment of Britain’s finest filmmakers and their undeniable storytelling skillset at both a televisual and filmic level. With a total of 25 categories in all, the nation’s emerging, as well as high profile stars will don the red carpet in anticipation of the evening’s results, and overall, in appreciation of art and how art is expressed. Multi-award winning writer and director Yasmin Afifi is one of this year’s finalists, having been acknowledged for her profound watch Jellyfish and Lobster – a tale of grief told from the eyes of two terminally ill patients faced with this existential reality. Ahead of the ceremony on Sunday 18th February, Yasmin tells us more about exploring this heartfelt narrative further, working alongside a devoted creative team to realise the film and what she’d like for viewers to take away from the film.
Hi Yasmin! Your short film Jellyfish and Lobster has made it as a finalist in the ‘British Short Film’ category at this year’s BAFTA Awards. How are you feeling ahead of the ceremony on Sunday 18th February?
I’m just overwhelmed with a deep sense of gratitude at the moment. Gratitude to BAFTA and the voting members and to everyone who has watched and connected so strongly. The messages I’ve received throughout this films festival run and in particular what I’ve been receiving since the film was made available online for a limited time via BAFTA’s YouTube page has left me speechless and frequently in tears! That human connection, that feeling of being seen and/or being a window to the unseen, that’s the beauty and power of cinema. Whatever happens on the night, the response and connection it’s had with audiences is the greatest win any filmmaker can hope to achieve. So yeah, I’m just deeply grateful and looking forward to celebrating that achievement at such a prestigious event!
Jellyfish and Lobster follows Grace and Mido, two terminally ill elderly residents of a care home grappling with their approaching end of life – who make a magical discovery that reinvigorates their sense of youth. What inspired you to explore this narrative further?
The idea came about in January 2021 when my aunt, who was a second mum to me my whole life, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer – she passed away shortly after. This came after already losing my Dad to lung cancer in 2019 following a 5-year battle.
And in my own exploration of grief, I realised how selfish my experience of it was in comparison to theirs and how when grief as a concept is explored, it is too often done so from the lens of those left behind. But the biggest tragedy for me was in watching them go through the process of losing and grieving themselves. I’m losing one person, they’re losing the life they had, everything and everyone around them. These people who could once climb mountains and run marathons were slowly, somatically deteriorating beyond their control and having to grapple with the emotional distress of that. Which isn’t just specific to being diagnosed with a terminal or debilitating illness but is a universal process and struggle that comes with aging. As we grow older and evolve and as time passes, we are constantly, be it in small ways or more overtly, grieving ourselves. I wanted to explore and visually encapsulate the process of that. The magic of the pool is synonymous to their grief, it isn’t just emblematic of eternal youth, it’s much more emotionally momentous in that it restores them to the version of themselves they are grieving the most. So while on the surface, this is a love story between two old souls who are contending with their physical vulnerabilities and illnesses as well as the ageist expectations of a society that denies them experiences they are said to have ‘outgrown’. At its core, this film is a meditation on self-grief but within the curative power of comic relief and magical realism.
The film is written and directed by yourself, produced by Elizabeth Rufai, with cinematography by Linda Wu, and stars Flo Wilson as Grace and Sayed Badreya as Mido – amongst a larger team of creatives. What was it like to work as a team to create this film?
I’m so grateful to my team. They really went above and beyond and defied all the odds to bring this film to life. Our production manager Diana Duah who came every single day with such incredible passion and energy despite all the production hurdles, Sayed who voluntarily paid his own flight to fly to the UK from LA two times to do the film because he just really believed in the project, our Casting Director Charlotte Chapman who took on a film that had such ambitious casting with such a tight turnaround with little pay but took the challenge because she was really moved by the script. My editor Max Reynolds who believed in the story from day one and spent nights upon nights in the edit with me, going above and beyond to make sure we did the footage and the story we wanted to tell justice. It was such a labour of love. My composer Catherine Hillier who composed a GORGEOUS score. That underwater scene at the end is emotionally grounded in her beautiful music, despite having a whole fully fledged musical to compose for another project! I could go on and on. I mean those 17 names at the end of the film are all names of loved ones that members of the team have lost to cancer… so that’s the majority of the team. Everyone came into it with someone to honour. It’s chilling but beautiful too in being telling of just how much love went into it by all of them. They certainly did their loved ones proud. I’m so proud of them.
Jellyfish and Lobster has enjoyed critical acclaim, having been awarded at both the British Short Film Awards and SOUL Fest. How does it feel to have been acknowledged for your work in this way?
So amazing. It’s hard to describe. It’s a beautiful reciprocation of recognition in truth. I keep being told how this film has made people feel seen and acknowledged their experiences but each time this film is acknowledged in that way, I too as the filmmaker and as a human, feel seen too. So it’s a mutual acknowledgement and it’s an incredible feeling. And I’m so grateful to every single festival that has embraced this film along its journey to the BAFTAs and allowed me to connect with so many wonderful humans. I think winning the Audience Award at Encounters was really special, it felt special at the time. It’s the moment I realised or started to feel that this film is really connecting with audiences. I started noticing the impact it was having and after that it pretty much propelled onwards.
What have you learned/taken away from the creation of the film?
I’ve learned so much but I think the most important thing is to embrace and acknowledge fear when creating anything as an indication that you’re creating something authentic and true to your DNA. This was probably the most honest piece of work I’ve done and I was so scared to share it with the world. So yeah, I think just getting comfortable with fear. And also to trust in the humanity and emotional intellect of your audience, they will recognise honesty when they see it. So if you feel it, they’ll feel it.
What can viewers expect from the film?
I’m not sure I can really answer that. Filmmaking/art is so personal and so subjective. I never really create anything with an expectation of how anyone will receive it. And to some degree, I don’t think it’s my place to. I can only create from a place of honesty and compassionate curiosity. But I will say that I hope it provides them with moments of laughter and joy as equally as contemplations on what really matters in life, which only they can answer for themselves.
What would you like for viewers to take away from the film?
Perhaps that the brevity of life is what gives it its magic. And that growing old is beautiful and a gift. Totally random but when I was writing it, I kept thinking about that scene in Matilda where Bruce is forced to eat all that chocolate cake. I couldn’t shake it. Because I kept thinking about how the first few bites are sweet, when he eats the first slice, you can see he’s really enjoying and savouring all that gooey chocolatey goodness! But after a while, he loses all enjoyment of it, it’s like the cake loses its flavour entirely. I think of life as being a bit like that. Some of us might think an endless supply of life would be amazing but it would likely just lose its flavour and meaning. It’s the fact that we get one slice of life which makes it sweet. So just savour every bite. Grace and Mido are on their last bite and they’re making it count. Its cheesy I know, or should I say chocolatey? Ok I’ll stop. Sorry.
Questions by Lucy Basaba.
This year’s BAFTA Awards take place on Sunday 18th February and will be available to stream on BBC Iplayer from 8pm. To find out more about the awards, visit here…