In making Country Girl, I wanted to amplify the contrasts of Lillith’s life. The rural setting against her fiery red dyed hair and inky tattoos, the quiet of the countryside versus the maelstrom in her mind. I was drawn to Lillith because she's not your typical horsey girl: she's unpredictable and outspoken and she’s had a difficult past. She spent years drifting around the UK before settling in rural Wiltshire and she's bonded with Meg, this utterly temperamental animal because she feels she's a kindred spirit. Lillith felt to me like a complete contradiction, and I wanted the film to produce the sensation of being with her; you never know what to expect next.
I first met Lillith when I was commissioned to make a short documentary for the BBC for Valentine’s Day. They were looking for an unconventional story about love, and I was drawn to the idea of a troubled young woman who had a redemptive relationship with a horse. It’s a common cinematic trope, but I wanted to find it in reality. I came across Lillith through a Go Fund Me page she had created when she was raising money to buy Meg, and made the BBC film afterwards. The piece was fine, but I felt that there was more to explore with Lillith, and so I approached Doc Society for funding to make a new, longer film - with a pointedly different tone.
Country Girl takes an unconventional form because it blends traditional observational material with staged sequences. At the time of filming, Lillith was waiting for a Court date to fight the termination of her state benefits, and so the film follows her life in limbo whilst financial pressures mount and her ability to keep Meg is put at risk. The overarching narrative chronicles this series of events, but within that there are scenes which are dramatized. I never wrote a script; instead Lillith and I would work by improvisation.
Documentary scores are often minimal, but I felt adamant the score in Country Girl should reflect Lillith’s chaotic energy, and feel in keeping with the kind of music Lillith herself listens to. Matt Huxley wrote a pounding electronic score which gives the film a sense of drive; mirroring, I hope, Lillith’s own drive and determination to keep Meg against the odds.
I wanted to empower Lillith not just as a "subject" but as an active agent in the storylines of her life, and tell the "truth" of her situation in a style that wasn't necessarily grounded in straight-up verite. The resulting film is a docu-drama hybrid; it uses fictive elements to present the difficulties and dramas of Lillith’s life. In many ways it steers away from classical expectations of documentary, and so for this work to be nominated for a Grierson this year feels particularly rewarding.
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