Interview with Jeanie Finlay, director of the Indietracks documentary

Jeanie FinlayNottingham-based film director Jeanie Finlay, director of numerous critically-acclaimed films including Sound It Out, The Great Hip Hop Hoax and Orion, has made a 30 minute documentary about Indietracks and the Midland Railway, which will be shown at the festival this year. She talks to Nat Hudson about her past experiences in film-making, why she chose Indietracks as a subject and her plans for this year’s festival….

Please tell us a bit more about your director career – how did you get started, and what made you want to become a film director?
I sort of fell into filmmaking. I made artwork and wrote music for many years before I ever picked up a camera. I realised that the conversations I had with people as I photographed them were “the work” so I started to film them. A maverick commissioner at the BBC commissioned a 60 min film (Teenland) off the back of my artwork and a 10 min film. I was six months pregnant, it was an utter baptism of fire but I loved it and I’ve been making films ever since. My films include: Goth Cruise, SOUND IT OUT, The Great Hip Hop Hoax, Panto! and Orion: The Man Who Would Be King.

You’ve made several documentaries about music – is this something that has always been of interest and, if so, why?
I would say that I’m much more a fan of people really, I always see music as an additional layer to the storytelling. My films usually start as a very personal response to something or a notion that catches me out of the corner of my eye and once I’ve seen it I can’t shake it. Teenland, Goth Cruise and SOUND IT OUT are all hugely personal and connected to my life in one-way or another. The Great Hip Hop Hoax was something I read about but I kept thinking about my Scottish father and the improbability of him ever sacrificing his “Scottishness”. Orion was triggered by my husband buying a mysterious record at a car boot sale with a masked man on the cover and it triggering the desire to find out his story. With Indietracks it was always going to be about the people running the trains and how the festival supports their passion. In terms of my own taste I’m a huge Dolly Parton fan as well as of Prince, Belle and Sebastian, The Just Joans, The Smiths and The Shangri Las. Music shapes and maps the story of our lives. Before I was old enough to leave home I knew that there was a big world out there – I’d gotten a glimpse through the records on my turntable.

Tell us a bit about the filming process. Your films are always so genuinely heartwarming – how do you manage to capture peoples’ life stories without it seeming “staged”?
I am genuinely interested in people and the small moments that can feel big onscreen. It doesn’t feel staged because I am usually there for a long time and people usually feel pretty comfortable with me. I don’t believe in “Fly on the wall” film-making , what you see on screen is a result of chemistry between me, my crew and the people I am filming. I really enjoy interviewing people who have never been on camera before and might see themselves as unlikely contributors. Who really wants to hear from someone who wants to be in a film? I’m interested in telling small and shy stories. I sometimes feel like a shy person in the role of an extrovert, as a filmmaker. I’ve found a way of connecting with an audience – a film can make a very small and intimate story accessible by thousands, but without the need for shouting.

Why did you decide to come and film the railway and Indietracks?
I have been to Indietracks four times as a festival-goer, usually assisting my friend Gareth Howell with one of the workshops. I would always see the people running the trains and wonder about their lives. Who were they? How much of their lives did they dedicate to steam trains – what an unlikely yet utterly fitting confluence it was to have an indiepop festival on a heritage steam railway site. I was commissioned to make a film about an older community in Derbyshire by Shine A Light and Derby, Quad. Indietracks was the first thing I though of. I wanted to make a film that exisited in the gap between the two groups and this unlikely yet loving marriage. Indietracks (The film) tells the story of festival through the eyes of the volunteers that run Midland Railway all year round who have steam in their blood.

What were your highlights of the filming?
I absolutely loved riding up front on the steam trains and the locos and getting to know all the train volunteers. Then to see the site fill up with people and all the hard work pay off when the festival was in full swing was wonderful. I loved filming Tigercats, The Tuts, Jen Schande, Emma Kupa and Owl & Mouse. My crew and I were on stage a lot of the time so it was great to see a gig from another vantage point.

I’ve shown the film to most of the Midland Railway group and the Indietracks Teams and both times I cried. It’s the shortest film I’ve made in recent years (29 mins) but it’s so full of emotion. The festival means so much to everyone and I’m incredibly proud of them all. Ten years is no mean feat!

You’re going to be at Indietracks this year – tell us a bit more about what you and the team will be up to! 
Indietracks will be screened twice at 5.20pm in the Church on Saturday and Sunday and I’ll be running a stall in the merchandise tent selling hand printed, numbered and collectable DVDs of the film with 10% of all sales going to The Midland Railway Trust. I’ll also be bringing some very special film merch and
some homemade cakes so do come and say hello.

Here’s a trailer for the Indietracks film below. It’s now available to pre-order digitally and on DVD from http://indietracks.vhx.tv/ 

Read more about Jeanie Finlay’s films here:
www.jeaniefinlay.com / www.facebook.com/jeaniefinlay / www.twitter.com/jeaniefinlay