Karen Anstee is weeks away from the filming of Rachel. A short film about the complex relationships between love, death, family and religion. As writer and director, Karen shares insight into what inspired the project as well as some of the beautiful locations the production team will be shooting at. Ultimately, Rachel is an exploration of the issues surrounding the right way to say goodbye. There may be no right or wrong answers, but bringing the deceased back to have influence and a voice allows a new angle for what can be a very complicated & difficult debate.
– Karen Anstee –
Karen originally trained as a violinist at the Royal Academy of Music and Boston University, USA. Her experiences in the music industry inspired her two novels (represented by Curtis Brown and Watson Little Ltd) and a series of short stories, one of which was produced in 2015 for BBC Radio 4, starring Hugh Dennis. However, realising that what she was actually doing with prose was describing the films running in her imagination, she decided to pursue a career in screenwriting.
Her time at London Film School (2012) gave her not only an MA in Screenwriting but also the opportunity to use her writing, photographic, musical, design and management skills in taking an active, hands on role in multiple LFS film productions. She has several feature scripts in development.
In the process of writing RACHEL, Karen has come to understand that her lifetime’s journey has been leading her towards directing. She sees herself as the guardian of RACHEL and, as such, has sort to put together a team of like-minded individuals who share her desire to work in a truly collaborative style and ensure that this story is told with love, honesty and compassion.
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A short film about the complex relationships between love, death, family and religion.
Written and directed by Karen Anstee
Produced by Akua Obeng-Frimpong
In a world where couples often come from different cultural backgrounds, the rites of passage that once brought communities together can now bring pain and bitter conflict. Rachel is the story of a young woman who has abandoned her Conservative Jewish community in favour of an alternative lifestyle with her surfer boyfriend, Josh.
The film begins in a funeral director’s chapel of rest where Rachel’s corpse is laid out in an open willow coffin, watched over by Josh.
When her father, Frank, arrives to claim Rachel’s body for burial the next day as his traditions demand, Josh, who is tortured by the pain this will cause Frank, is forced by Rachel’s spirit to defend her last wishes.
The inspiration for RACHEL came from witnessing a debate between my mother-in-law, Shirley, and sister-in law, Paula, over which of them had the right to decide Shirley’s funeral arrangements. Shirley said she wanted to be cremated and Paula insisted that, as she would be dead anyway, it was for the living to chose and that they would bury her in the family plot at the cemetery, where she belonged.
There was definitely a comedy to be had out of that conversation but ever since I’ve been thinking about that question – are funerals for the dead or the living? Nowadays so many people are leaving instructions for their funerals, but what if those requests bring yet further pain to their already broken-hearted families?
Writing RACHEL was a distressing emotional journey in many ways – the process brought back so many personal moments of grief. The immense pain of losing my father when I was teenager and of seeing my grandparents broken by losing their only child; my friend Ellie dying very suddenly and her grief-stricken husband deciding not to have a funeral for her; the unbelievable fight to get the vicar to agree to my grandmother’s last wish to have “Ain’t Misbehavin” played on the organ at her funeral; my first love’s mother keeping his death from me for a year after she’d scattered his ashes in the ocean; the suicides of two friends. All that, and far more, was there when I was writing. I wanted to write a comedy – that’s what I usually do – but I just couldn’t.
Instead Rachel is a serious exploration of the issues surrounding the right way to say goodbye. I’m not trying to pass judgement – I don’t know the right answer, if there is one at all. The father is a flawed man but he’s doing what he thinks is the right thing and acting as a loving father, but Rachel’s partner Josh is also acting out of love for her. Whoever wins, the other loses.
It could have just been a story about two men fighting but this is truly Rachel’s story. A story about a girl who lived her life the way she wanted and must have that validated by her final resting place. And so Rachel has a voice and a living presence in the film, whereby just for once there is a right answer to the question and what could be a very depressing tale indeed has an uplifting end.
To write a script is one thing, to bring it to the screen quite another – it requires a supreme act of collaboration and I am lucky to have a really supportive team around me. The world of film is hugely male-dominated, so my aim has been to ensure that the key roles are taken by a core team of talented women who will tell the story with love and compassion, even for the father who tries to deny Rachel her last wishes, for he is a man who has lost his daughter twice over.
But there is little as meaningful and important as our chapel of rest location – we have had the good fortune to find a female funeral director kind enough to say that we can film in the chapel at her premises – such a privilege to be allowed to do that. It’s a small space that’s witnessed much real tragedy and I’m sure the feelings evoked by filming within such a private and special place will enhance the spirit with which Rachel’s story is communicated.
So, now we are in the last few weeks leading up to filming – exciting and emotional times. It is not always through death that we lose someone but, whatever form loss comes in, it is always difficult to talk about at the end of this creative process we hope to deliver a film that will provoke thought and conversation about a very difficult subject.
I want to make this film for me, for the people I have lost, for the people I will lose, and for anyone, which is everyone, who has lost or will lose someone.
If you are interested to know more about the project please do take a look at our Kickstarter campaign page, which runs till 6th June. We‘ve been truly moved by the level of support for the project to date and every little, whether it be a contribution of funds or sharing our social media links, will help a lot.