The Movie Waffler Interview - THIS BLESSED PLOT Director Marc Isaacs | The Movie Waffler

Interview - THIS BLESSED PLOT Director Marc Isaacs

Interview - THIS BLESSED PLOT Director Marc isaacs
Isaacs discusses his new feature, which blurs the lines between fiction and documentary.

Interview by Benjamin Poole

Director Marc Isaacs' latest feature is set in the quintessentially charming village of Thaxted in Essex, which is steeped in history. A playful tale of love, loss and betrayal, This Blessed Plot seamlessly mixes fact and fiction in this otherworldly film which features remarkable performances from an ensemble cast of non-professional actors.

We spoke to Isaacs about his genre-blurring new film.


As you are a filmmaker who is celebrated for documentary films, I was hoping that I could start by asking you about this type of filmmaking. What do you feel is the purpose of the documentary as a mode of cinema? What responsibilities do you believe that the documentarian has, if any? And how does This Blessed Plot fit in with these ideologies?

To be perfectly frank, I don't believe in the term documentary (although I use it myself for convenience) because all forms of moving image work are unavoidably shaped by the creator's subjectivity.

So, in this sense, the question of purpose extends to all forms of filmmaking and, for me, I am only interested in using the medium to express my feelings, confusions, curiosities about the world I'm living in. I feel compelled to ask questions rather than provide answers; to explore the intimacies of people's lives and how they choose to live, especially as they navigate the often confusing worlds in which they exist. I have a responsibility in my films, to not look away from uncomfortable truths. I must respect and be honest with my contributors even if I ask them to reveal difficult aspects of their lives. Above and beyond this, I have a responsibility to take risks and challenge established ways of making work - even more so now as the form becomes ever more corporatised. And this is where The Filmmaker's House (2020) and now This Blessed Plot fit in. Two films made with the energy and defiance against what I see as the conservative nature of the film industry, especially here in the UK.

Without wishing to spoil the film, what impressed me most about This Blessed Plot was the blend of suggested authenticity and deliberate artifice, which somehow made the characters and the sentiments within the film all the more sincere and touching. I wonder if you wouldn't mind discussing this approach in more detail: how the film balances the "real" with an almost magical realism...

Every film I have made has emerged from the struggle to transcend "the real," to not be hostage to reality, to be free to invent. In This Blessed Plot, this of course is taken to extremes in some way. I'm glad you find it sincere and touching because this was my hope....that by moving further away from reality and into strange stylised performative modes and, as you say, deliberate artifice, I could add layers of complexity to the whole endeavour by provoking us to consider questions of authenticity, performance and myth making, both on an individual and national level. Films asks us to suspend our disbelief, and I am playing that game too but I am also asking the audience to think about what this suspension of disbelief means to them - especially when the protagonists are non-professionals and seem to be (in most cases) performing themselves. The breaking of the fourth wall is all over the film not just contained in specific moments.

Notions of national identity seem important to This Blessed Plot. What sort of questions does the film propose concerning what "being English" and the idea of "England" may mean?

I don't really know about that except to say that whatever it once meant is now of course unravelling at such a great speed that some people are thrown into confusion and uncertainty. This is when new myths are created/needed for better or worse (often worse sadly).

I think that the (character ?!) of Lori is absolutely crucial to the narrative success of the film. I liked her wry and warm objectivity. I note that she is played by an in real life documentarian, Lori Yingge Yang, which is very congruous with her persona in This Blessed Plot. How did Lori (the person) become involved with your film?

Lori studied film on a course I teach on at UCL and this is how we met. She was wonderful. I had no idea if she could play this role but she took to it incredibly well. She was very involved in shaping the film, rejecting some of Adam, the writer's ideas and offering up better solutions and also totally open to pushing her character in directions she wouldn't relate to naturally. 

In This Blessed Plot, filmmaker Lori goes on a journey, but I'm interested in the likewise expedition which This Blessed Plot has completed. What pre-production and production challenges did this idiosyncratic independent film overcome?

Well, firstly, gathering the £30k that the film needed. This money came from different places but no film fund money. Some of it was from a previous film sale of mine, a little from my university research pot and so on. We had to keep things small and simple but I like limitations so it wasn't too difficult but an extra £10,000 would have helped. Everything is expensive now but I had some great help especially from Sarah Gonzales Centeno, who assisted with the editing and was/is a technical wizard. Writer Adam Ganz was incredibly crucial to the whole film and I worked with a young Producer, Lydia Kivenen, who kept the whole thing ticking along.

If you could programme This Blessed Plot in a triple bill with two other movies, what films would they be? Where would This Blessed Plot fall in the line-up and why?

Great question: I'd start with one of the Straub Huillet films - maybe Moses and Aaaron, then probably Jaguar by Jean Rouch and lastly This Blessed Plot. Why? Because these filmmakers both took huge risks to produce novel forms and I think the films would all talk to each other in an interesting way.

Thanks so much Marc! All the best with This Blessed Plot!

This Blessed Plot is in UK cinemas from January 26th. Read our review here.