Everyone, ring the alarms – there is a new player in the game. Runyararo Mapfumo, a Sheffield Hallam Uni graduate, enters the UK film scene with nothing short of a bang: her seminal short feature MASTERPIECE has managed to already wow UNDERWIRE, BFI and LSFF to name a few. Runyararo’s overwhelming success should come as no surprise – the film skilfully condenses issues such as race, class and privilege in modern London that are filtered through the interaction of five young black men in an art gallery. And trust me, their banter will be the main source of your entertainment for the day – #blackboyjoy is beaming through on full blast.
Girls on Film got a chance to interview Runyararo and the film’s wonderful producer, Grace Bridger, and delve a little bit deeper into the foundations of MASTERPIECE:
How did the idea of making this film come about? Did it come from personal experience or something you once observed?
Runyararo: It’s a combination of conversations that I’ve had and conversations I’ve overheard. I love going into gallery spaces and looking at art. I’ve been with friends that don’t really have an interest in the art itself and those really are conversations I couldn’t write.
I find the repetitive stereotypes in films and TV shows very tiring, particularly when it comes to the representation of people of colour. These characters are like young men I know, those that are both creatives and less engaged and interested in art.
Grace: Runyararo and I had known each other in passing over the last few years, catching up at film events. We then sat down after one event and she spoke about a new project that still needed a producer. She then sent through the script, directors statement and her points of reference for the film. As soon as I read these I understood what she was trying to do with ‘Masterpiece’ and I knew I wanted to produce the film.
Runyararo had previously worked with our cinematographer Ann Evelin Lawford and production designer Emily Britton so they came on board early on. We knew sound would be key for the film especially as we were shooting in a studio with trains regularly running over head. We were introduced to sound recordist Cassandra Rutledge who completely nailed the sound on the day and made our life so much easier for post.
We loved that all the onset HoDs were women, which is something that happened very organically but we both said it was one of the best on set experiences we have had.
Obviously with a lot of speculation around female and male gaze nowadays, you seemed to managed to dissociate yourself from these notions and parade something completely neutral, anchored in the ideas of urban community, friendships, creative spaces. How important do you think is for women to make films about men that don’t have any connotations of power and desire?
Runyararo: I wanted to write something that felt truthful to my world and also just a film I’d like to see. There were certain ideas I wanted to explore and it’s been interesting to see how the film is received and analysed.
I understand that gender and race can’t be separated but aside from the relationship between the guys, ‘Masterpiece’ is less about gender inequality and more an exploration of race and class. It was important to me that the conflict wasn’t directly connected to their identity. Overall, I see this film as a celebration of brotherhood while not neglecting the nuances of the everyday lived experience of black people.
Your film brilliantly lays out numerous social commentaries one by one – would you say humour is the easiest way to deliver those to the audiences?
I wouldn’t say it’s the easiest, or the best but it’s ‘a’ way to challenge and discuss a lot of ideas. When considering genre, I always try and think of what will serve the story most and comedy felt right for this particular film. I reckon I’ve watched more comedies this year than I have in my entire life and the ones I really enjoy play it straight and are embedded in truth. They punch above their weight and often leave you with something to think over – if you want to. The audience can take or leave it. I do like ridiculously silly comedies too!
Can you tell us a bit about the casting process and how the actors worked together?
Grace: The film was cast by Kharmel Cochrane Casting, who immediately understood our film and why we wanted to make it. They were fantastic to work with.
We knew it was crucial for our five actors to meet up as a group and get to know each other so they could portray that on-screen intimacy only old friends could have.
We all went to the cinema and saw ‘Trainspotting 2’ and then encouraged them to continue communicating in the lead up to the shoot. By the time the shoot day came they were a tightnit group which really shows on screen. Their chemistry as friends is something we get most comments about after people have seen the film.
What are you doing next?
Grace: ‘Masterpiece’ was selected as BFI NETWORK’s pick of the month which means they will be working with us to develop our next project. This is still in the really early stages but we are really excited to work with the BFI NETWORK team. They are really supportive of new and emerging filmmakers in the UK and understand where we are looking to go with the next film.
MASTERPIECE is not officially available to view on online platforms and also watch out for it on our upcoming ‘What we’re watching’ page!