Interview with Luke Holland

Interview with Luke Holland - what follows is a transcript of an interview by the BBC with the film-maker about the making of the five-part documentary series, 'A Very English Village'.

Snowy Sussex South Downs

Photo: Luke Holland. Click on photo for sledging on the Sussex South Downs.

BBC Four: Why did you move to Ditchling from London?

Luke: My wife made a very compelling case and I ran out of arguments. We had two small children, I was having all the fun travelling around the world making movies and she was schlepping shopping bags back from Tesco and dodging dog shit in the park.

While I was filming in Columbia she found the place down here and when I got back home there was a removal van outside our house. I didn't have time to cancel the papers. I thought it represented the end of something rather than the beginning. I am a fairly optimistic person so the two years of relative despair I experienced immediately after the move have now been overtaken by something more positive.

BBC Four: Is it fair to say that you film anything and everything?

Luke: I'm curious and I do film a lot. My father, who died early this year, always had a notebook and a sketch-pad in his pocket and even while conducting a conversation with someone he'd be sketching them, so I suppose I may have picked this obsessive recording thing up from him.

BBC Four: So having lived in Ditchling for 10 years, when did it become apparent that you could fashion a series out of the village?

Luke: I've been working in a focused fashion on the film for about two and a half years, but using material shot over a much more extended period. Nick Fraser had said for some time, "Why not make a film about the community in which you live? Ditchling is rather an extraordinary place and you're right there. Do it." And I kept saying, "No. I live here and I want to go on living here".

Ditchling antique shop in snow

Photo: Luke Holland. Click on photo for sledging in Sussex.

Luke: The challenge was to produce something which is interesting in terms of television and honest about my relationship with my neighbours. Film-making can be a bit of a smash-and-grab raid. You go in and get what you can. But there's no such escape on a project like this.

At one point the working title was Conversations With My Neighbours and I wanted it to have that kind of informal, casual intimacy. I'm in debt to my neighbours for allowing me to follow them home and quiz them about their life and to engage with them as a neighbour as well as a filmmaker. I trust they will like what I've done and acknowledge that the motivation is one of respect and some love.

BBC Four: Has making the series altered your relationship with the village?

Luke: That's a question one might equally ask my neighbours! It's been fascinating wandering into the remaining pubs or village post office and getting reactions from my friends and neighbours. I've had one or two calls from people thanking me for what I've done and expressing surprise; not apologising, but acknowledging that my sometimes intrusive presence had a legitimate purpose.

In a way the farmer, Gary Lee, at the beginning of the hunting film spoke for many villagers when he told me to "f*** off with that f***ing camera". There must have been a huge collective sigh of relief that someone had the nerve to tell me to get stuffed.

BBC Four: Do you have a favourite episode in the series?

Luke: I am very proud of the hunting and farming film. I think it speaks to a much larger agenda. It's about England and the fate of England, farming, landscape and tradition. To me the English landscape is not particularly natural. It's a landscape that's been forged and fashioned by farming and hunting and that's something I wanted to say in this film.


Image from film: Luke Holland

Luke: The Eric Gill story I am sure will raise a few hackles. When I embarked on the series I said that I wanted to use my camera to surprise myself and my neighbours. I think I was using my camera as an archaeologist might use a trowel - digging for memory, looking for hidden truths in the village.

The Eric Gill film is a very personal journey. I make no claims to be an art historian or to have anything particularly original to say about Eric Gill, but for me it was a fascinating personal journey. In a sense I was thinking about my dad and his art history. The extraordinary thing is that Gill was in this village because of his relationship with Edward Johnston, the great calligrapher and font designer, and Johnston was my father's tutor at the Royal College of Art in the 1920s. So it's not just a film about art; it's a film about community and personal history.

Eric Gill book

Photo: Luke Holland

BBC Four: Are there key themes you saw emerge in the course of making the series?

Luke: It has got me thinking about margins and centres. When we moved down to Sussex I thought that was it, I'd be out of the loop, but Ditchling is at the centre of something and we are connected to the rest of the world. I think those connections impose on us certain obligations. We can't retreat from the obligation that we owe to the world.

I wanted to say that we can't escape our responsibilities, even if we escape into this illusory idyll. We buy our mange-tout peas in the local deli but don't know what's going on in the land around us. These are the themes and subtexts of the series which has consumed me for the last couple of years.

photo of Luke with family chicken

Click on this image to contact Luke Holland or to purchase DVDs.

The Ditchling Films
Screened on BBC TWO in January 2007, this series of five documentary films for the award-winning BBC 'Storyville' strand, had an earlier outing on BBC FOUR.

Going for the Kill
The Ditchling film series opens with 'Going for the Kill', in which Luke Holland follows a year in the life of Sussex farmer and Master of the local hunt, Gary Lee, at the time when the contentious Hunting Bill was being debated in Parliament.

Salad Days
A village production of this hit musical of Cold War England, offers insights on backstage Ditchling - an exercise in nostalgia, or updated escapism for a new dark age?

Looking for Mr Gill
An exploration of the legacy that Eric Gill, maverick genius of the Arts and Crafts Movement, has left to Ditchling, the early twentieth century setting for his controversial experiment in art and community.

Closing Time
Ditchling campaigns to save the village pub from a commercial assault that makes a nonsense of democracy and of community. Across the UK one pub is lost every weekday.

The Ditchling Ladies
This, the last film in Luke Holland's series, features four ladies of Ditchling, two in their nineties, who offer entertaining and improbably lively insights on life, loss and love.

Film reviews and comments
'An elegiac 90-minute engrossing and deftly crafted documentary.' The Sunday Times. Read more newspaper reviews and viewers' comments about Luke Holland's series of documentary films.

Interview with Luke Holland - top of this page
Transcript of an interview by the BBC with the film-maker, Luke Holland, about the making of the five-part documentary series, 'A Very English Village'.