The Meena Ayittey One: "I feel that we have the ability to change the world by creating"
Updated: Jun 21
Meena Ayittey is an award-winning film director based in London. Working as a director in the film, television and advertising industries she has amassed an impressive number of credits, taking home several film festival accolades in the process. Meena won Best Drama at IFA London for her film ‘Home’. She is currently working on her third short, '8:52'.
I think we live at a time where many filmmakers feel compelled to make statements about the world and to encourage us to analyse it in ways that we might not often do. I think this is a wonderful thing.
Can you tell me about Home and how you became involved in the project?
HOME was originally conceived after both me and a friend of mine were experiencing our own battles with mental health. I myself have suffered from anxiety since I was a child, and my friend had recently been diagnosed with both borderline personality disorder and severe depression. We talked about our experiences and it became evident that the mental battles that we face within was often at odds with the way that we often present ourselves to the world. I wrote a draft script myself before sharing it with my co-writer Jude Cook, and together we rewrote the script for the film.
What was the biggest challenge you faced when filming?
The biggest challenge we faced when filming was our limited time in the hospital location. This was a low budget production and we had about 4 hours to film all of the hospital scenes. Time was tight and we had a hell of a lot to get through in a short space of time, plus we were all extremely tired after shooting for the previous 2 days. The hospital scenes were the last ones we filmed and also the most demanding in terms of action and pre-planning. Luckily, I was working with an incredible team and we also enjoyed every moment of it.
Yes, a large part of your work is set in that hospital so how did you go about securing the set?
The hospital set was the most difficult one to source! Mostly because we had such a small budget but wanted a set that looked authentic. We were very lucky that The Hospital Location, which is often used for TV and feature films was able to accommodate us.
The film addresses mental health, what role do you see for filmmakers to address societal issues like this?
I think we live at a time where many filmmakers feel compelled to make statements about the world and to encourage us to analyse it in ways that we might not often do. I think this is a wonderful thing. The more we shine a light on issues that affect us as a society, the more we cultivate a culture of understanding. Mental health being a prime example, it has long been stigmatised in our society as something we don't discuss, often leading sufferers to feel a sense of guilt or shame. Thankfully this has changed greatly in the last few years as talk of mental health has become mainstream. I think it's important for subjects such as these to be explored on film in order to de-stigmatise and shift the narrative.
Yes, it's clear from your work at how passionate you are in driving change. How big was your production team and how did you recruit them?
We had a team of about 25 cast and crew working on HOME. I was lucky enough to be working in the film industry already and worked with several people I already knew. The recommendations for most of the cast came from my co-writer Jude Cook who knows a lot of wonderfully talented actors. He knew both of the leads, Jason Eddy and Naomi Sheldon, quite well and they nailed the auditions.
What equipment did you use to film?
We shot on a Sony FS7 which we did a few test shots on before production. My cinematographer Ciaron Craig and supervising DOP Bruno Downey did an incredible job working to a really tight production schedule.
Creating characters that are relatable, making something that people enjoy and engage with so much that they keep watching until the end also makes a successful film.
How do you approach publicity for the work you’ve done?
I spent a lot of time writing and submitting to film festivals. I was not expecting to hear back from so many of them and the film seemed to gain momentum as it continued through the festival rounds.
I'm glad to hear and can see why. So how would you describe success for a film director?
I would like to know this! I think the definition of success is subjective and different for everyone. For me I would describe it as being able to represent your vision as clearly and effectively as possible, that has to be the key. Creating characters that are relatable, making something that people enjoy and engage with so much that they keep watching until the end also makes a successful film.
You work as a full-time director, what advice do you have for others wanting to make that step?
I often feel like I hustled my way into becoming a director! I think you just have to keep making work, keep filming, keep working on personal projects because that's the only way you will constantly improve. The more films you make then the better you will get. In time you will develop your own voice and your own style which makes you stand out and will facilitate you getting paid to direct - which is the ultimate goal. But the key is to be constantly creating.
What is the most enjoyable project that you’ve done?
I've just finished up my first feature length documentary called 'Black Creative' which looks at race in the UK advertising industry. It's a different sort of film as it's not scripted but I loved every second of the process and the subject matter is one that's close to my heart.
Well I look forward to watching it. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
We are experiencing a pretty turbulent time at the moment and I think it's really important for creative people to try and funnel all of that anguish, the uncertainty and the anger into something creative whenever we can. It's really easy to feel lonely as a filmmaker, I spend a lot of time writing scripts, watching edits and generally living inside my own head. I know this sounds idealistic but I also feel that we have the ability to change the world by creating; be it art, film, music, whatever outlet that you have at your disposal, because I can almost guarantee that if you put your heart and soul into creating stuff then it will connect with someone, and I think we all need to feel a bit more connected to each other in the world right now.
Meena, thank you for submitting to IFA and it was a pleasure reviewing your work.