Filmmaker Louisa Rose Mackleston is a young woman who is going places, both literally – when we speak she is about to head off to Australia and Japan for a month (more of which later) – and in terms of her career.
Born and raised in Bradford, Mackleston went to study Psychology in London and first became interested in filmmaking through working as an extra, or supporting artist, on shows such as Holby City and EastEnders. It soon became apparent that she was more drawn to what was happening behind, rather than in front of, the camera. “I was always watching people on set and I decided that was what I wanted to do.” Starting out as a runner she quickly made her way up the assistant director ladder.
To say she has had an eventful few years is an understatement. Still only 26 years old, she set up her own grassroots production company Northern Fortress Films in Bradford in January 2021. “The more I was doing in the industry the more I realised I had my own stories to tell,” she says. “I wanted to shine a spotlight on marginalised communities and tell specifically Northern stories.”
During the lockdown she says she needed a creative outlet so she applied from some funding from the Bradford-based arts and culture programme The Leap. “I didn’t think I would get it but I did and then it just snowballed.” With the money she began to develop a short film Ruth & Safiya. “We shot it on a tiny budget and then it went on the festival circuit – it had its debut at Leeds International Film Festival and it won best short film award at Cardiff. On the back of that I got onto Screen Yorkshire’s Flex Programme and I also the Virgin Money Foundation’s Young Changemaker Fellowship programme. I have been working on careers and education support, helping young people get into the industry. I was invited to do a Ted Talk and Ruth & Safiya is also being shown on BFI Northern Exposure. It’s all been a bit busy.”
Written, produced and directed by Mackleston, Ruth & Safiya is a gentle, moving story about the friendship that develops between isolated pensioner Ruth and teenage Syrian refugee Safiya who is living in foster care in Bradford. “They bond through working the earth together on Ruth’s allotment. The main message is to humanise refugees so that they are not just a statistic,” says Mackleston. “I wanted to convey the fact that they are real human beings risking their lives to get to safety. The war in Syria is so far away and has been going on for so long that I think we have become desensitized.”
Mackleston’s aim for her production company is to give voice to these kind of seldom heard stories and to create films that will make a difference. “Film is such a powerful medium for social change,” she says. “You can alter people’s opinions on things. And within the industry there is still a problem with diversity and representation – that is something I am really trying to address.”
As part of her scholarship with Virgin’s Young Changemaker scheme, she is visiting two companies of a similar size and with a similar ethos to her own in Sydney, Australia and Yamagata in Japan. “They are both UNESCO cities of film like Bradford. I feel privileged to be able to represent Bradford – it has such an amazing heritage. I am very proud to be putting my home city on the map.”
Ruth & Safiya is screening at Hinterlands Festival, Skipton on May 14. hinterlandsfestival.org.uk