Zawe Ashton on Channel 4’s boundary-pushing short film series

Crashing Waves from Random Acts
Crashing Waves from Random Acts

Put the kebab down. Channel 4 is back with Random Acts, its post-pub late-night short film series – all about pushing the boundaries, promoting diversity and championing new talent. And we are so here for it.

The first rule? Anything goes. The short films feature everything from music, kitsch animation, visual art, dance and even spoken word – with previous series featuring Shia LaBeaouf, Tinie Tempah, Riz Ahmed, Ai Weiwei, Marina Abramovic and more.

An episode airs every Tuesday at midnight (the fifth series started last week, so catch up on ALL 4), with this year touching upon themes such as mental health, social media and acceptance. Catch Noel Fielding as an elderly angel, a psychedelic animation of a tampon, or even a ballet performance shot in Antartica.

What’s more, for the second year running, actress Zawe Ashton has curated and hosted (you’ll recognise her face from roles in uni comedy Fresh Meat and Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals). We chat to her about it below…

Zawe Ashton for Random Acts
Zawe Ashton for Random Acts

Congrats on the series! How was the process of curating something like this?
My taste in film is eclectic, but I’ve always naturally gravitated towards filmmakers who haven’t necessarily found a home in the mainstream. Random Acts is a playground and a platform for those voices.

What was the biggest challenge?
The pushing of boundaries – even by people completely new to film as a form to express themselves – astonishes me series to series. It’s seriously hard to choose. That’s the joy of curating bold work. It challenges you, your eye becomes more discerning each time. Curating each episode is like putting together a mini film festival or gallery space. The films should be in dialogue with each other and take the audience on a journey. It’s really fun working out the tone of each episode, and everything from the scripts I write, to the set design, the location, to my clothes is inspired by each collection of films. And then I make up random titles for each episode.

How did you choose the talent?
Commissioner Catherine Bray tried to strike a balance between established names and emerging talent when scouting, since established names can help audiences who might already be fans of their work find a way into discovering new talents. For example, Noel Fielding worked with a relatively new director, Joseph Lynn, on a movement piece for this series, and potentially that means fans of Noel’s will discover the work of Joseph and indeed the entire team of creatives.

Where did you look for the new talent?
Going to as many festivals, exhibitions and events as possible – from Edinburgh Fringe and Cannes Film Festival, to relatively little known festivals like Tiny Dance in San Francisco and Treefort in Idaho – is a big part of the scouting process. It’s particularly satisfying getting people on board who might be working in a new discipline. For example, we have a film by Adam Thirlwell coming up who is principally known as a novelist, but is making his directorial debut with Random Acts.

Still from Crashing Waves
Still from Crashing Waves

What did you love about Crashing Waves?
I fell in love with Crashing Waves as soon as I saw it. The director, Emma Gilbertson, is originally from Liverpool and was found through the Screen South initiative. Emma does so much with so little in her film: the choreography is brutal, tender and the metaphoric space it occupies is epic. Two young men expressing their love for the first time on the public stage of their council estate. Emma is one to watch.

Why do you think series like this are important for the future of film?
The future of film often feels uncertain to me. Franchises are taking over and stories are being rebooted within an inch of their lives. Filmmakers are increasingly under pressure to make films that show the executives the money, and it’s impossible to find unique voices that way. Art and commerce are always going to be necessary yet uneasy bedfellows. It’s about striking a balance. Random Acts is about giving a commercial space (albeit a late night one) to experimental material and potentially launching the new voices that will keep the balance of film intact. So filmmakers who will keep it accomplished, but always weird.

You’ve contributed your own shorts in previous years – is directing/filmmaking something you’d like to pursue more?
It was so great to be both host and sacrificial lamb in the first series I did. I included a short fashion film I directed, produced, acted in and funded myself. A labour of love in keeping with the ethos of the show. Filmmaking is definitely a new love for me and I’m lucky enough to be having conversations about the feature length material I’m interested in writing and producing next.

Crashing Waves will air on Channel 4 on the 24 August. But watch below for an exclusive look…

Maybelle Morgan

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