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Categories: Interviews

How a lute inspired a new lease of life. The Spread chats to Laura Stratford about her new documentary Lady Lovely Lute and the emotional story behind it.

Making her new documentary film Lady Lovely Lute proved a life-changing experience and “a labour of love” for talented young filmmaker Laura Stratford, who exclusively reveals to Cinema Jam readers the details of its premiere next month.

Explain to us the subject of Lady Lovely Lute, why did you choose this particular story?

Lady Lovely Lute is the title of a documentary film I have produced and directed which tells the story of a truly inspiring individual, a quite remarkable lady named Stephanie Feeney. Stephanie was involved in a near-fatal road accident near her home one afternoon when she was struck by a car and, in her own words, was “tossed like a rag doll” high into the air. Amazingly, after landing in the gutter by the roadside, she survived – and has now lived to tell the tale. Meeting Stephanie, getting to know her a little, winning her trust as a filmmaker, and chronicling her moving story for the first time has changed my life, too.

Stephanie was the victim of her road accident when she was a child. It left her with a life-threatening frontal lobe brain injury and the film is the inspiring story of how she discovered and harnessed the power of music through the lute – using it to help her overcome the challenges she has been forced to face up to in life.

There are millions of us in Britain today who have either been afflicted by brain injury or closely affected by others who have suffered one. I have been inspired by Stephanie’s great resilience in the face of adversity and her moving story motivated me to create this film. I felt that hers was an important story to tell.

How long has the project been gestating?

I first met Stephanie in 2011. Over the next few years, our film was gestating while I was university and then later working in London. As with all film and documentary productions, there were some minor delays and technical hurdles to overcome. Some legal hoops needed to be jumped through, which all took time. The project finally started coming to fruition at end of 2017, and post-production work was concluded earlier this year.

What was the hardest part of the process for you?

For legal and copyright reasons, there were some small sections of the film, which Stephanie really liked, that, sadly, needed to be omitted, so this required further editing work. This process, as any filmmaker knows, is always time-consuming so keeping up the momentum proved an extra challenge. Self-shooting and editing this project has been a real labour of love for me, immensely rewarding and also very tiring and time consuming at the same time.

What do you want people to take away from the film more than anything else?

There are three main sentiments that I personally took away from the process of making Lady Lovely Lute, and my hope is that some of its audience and your readers may share a similar experience.

Firstly, there’s the positive conviction I came to realise that there are ways to combat the life-challenging and often harrowing aspects of ongoing brain injury recovery. In Stephanie’s case, it transpired that by following her passion for music and the lute, she was able to re-build her life after so nearly losing it. In recent years, her renewed sense of confidence has even led to Stephanie being commissioned to host her own radio show numerous times and she really enjoys it.

Secondly, the film serves as a reminder that brain injury recovery is an ongoing process. A lot of people think or assume there’s a point at which the afflicted person’s life returns back to normal again, when that’s simply not true at all. More needs to be done in terms of how we can help people reintegrate into life, their family and society. Yes, there are charities out there, but there isn’t enough discussion on this issue. Brain injury is like mental illness. You can’t see it, but it still affects all those concerned.

And lastly, I guess I just want people to come away from the film feeling that they’ve experienced Stephanie’s world and improved their knowledge of what brain injury is all about. If they also learn to love the lute, as Stephanie and I do, then everyone will feel all the happier.

Stephanie Feeney and her lute.

There are a lot of documentaries that revolve around music. Is there a special bond between the two mediums for you? Or do you think it’s more about character study?

Yes, there are a lot of documentaries that revolve around music. To be honest, I don’t really remember whether I was conscious of this when I started making the film. The more we shot footage of her performing or busking in the streets, and the more we did interviews with her and friends and family, it was only then that I realised that I was building a kind of character study. Music was always going to be important, sure, but ultimately because it was about her and her brain injury, I soon realised that music would help to have an illustrative impact.

The film has its own original music, how did that develop? Any original lute music on the soundtrack?

Stephanie’s knowledge of lute music is vast and so there are some lute classics that feature, yes. There’s also some original music from the Paris indie band, Shoefiti. They’re really great, lovely and hard-working individuals. Met them a while ago through a friend of a friend. I actually helped organise a UK tour for them once. So I think it was around that time that I asked Henri whether I’d be allowed to use their music and he said yes and thank god he did. I really think it’s the perfect ambience needed for certain points in the film.

What are your documentary inspirations? What are the must-see documentaries, in your opinion?

One of my all time favourites is The Cruise by Bennett Miller. I remember the first time I watched it. Something about the fly-on-the-wall photography, and the way in which it captures the eccentricity of New York city tour guide, Timothy Levitch. His rhetoric is just pure stream-of-consciousness, he’s a joy to watch. What’s great is that it’s an affectionate portrait, whilst being detached enough for the viewer to make their own mind up about him as a character and I think that’s a hard balance to strike in documentary. Capturing the Friedmans by Andrew Jarecki is also great; a disturbing slow burner of an investigation which unravels itself at just the right pace. And there’s Etre et Avoir by Nicolas Philbert, a really lovely and touching depiction of childhood innocence in rural France.

What’s next for you?

Well, I am delighted to announce that Lady Lovely Lute will be having its premiere on Saturday 8th September at 1pm at the Rio Cinema in London. Address is 107, Kingsland High Road, E8 2PB; corner of John Campbell Road, close to Dalston Kingsland or Dalston Junction stations. I’m also excited to announce that the screening will be in aid of Headway, a leading UK charity that works to improve life after brain injury. There will be a short talk and live performance before the film, and a Q&A afterwards. Programme ends 3pm. Tickets available now, so please join us! It should be a great afternoon.

You can purchase tickets for the premiere of Lady Lovely Lute here.

Mark Birrell

Mark is the editor of The Spread as well as a copywriter, and lifelong cinephile, who received his bachelors in Film and Comparative Literature from the University of London. You can follow him on Twitter @markwbirrell

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Posted on Aug 13, 2018

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