"I feel like a student, always": Lynne Ramsay's Master Class at Qumra

The morning masterclass was attended by emerging filmmakers from across the world and moderated by Richard Peña, Professor of Film Studies at Columbia University, and Ramsay's grace touched the audience.
"I feel like a student, always": Lynne Ramsay's Master Class at Qumra

Highly original even when she adapts literary works to cinema, Cannes and BAFTA-award winning director and Qumra Master Lynne Ramsay was effervescent and candid in her Masterclass at Qumra 2023, the Doha Film Institute’s annual talent incubator event for Arab and international cinema.

Wearing a stunning white satin jacket and cool matching high top sneakers, Ramsay took the stage casually and sank easily into the large armchair set up for her in the Auditorium inside the Museum of Islamic Art. Her striking black hair and casual, easygoing way was accompanied by a cool Scottish accent, which, she joked, the audience might need an additional translator to understand, in addition to the Arabic instant translation that was provided on headphones.

During her chat with Richard Peña, a man whose wisdom often makes one wish there were more hours in the day, enough to watch all the films he highlights and speaks passionately about, Ramsay talked about past projects and teased the audience with future ones -- like a version of Moby Dick which she's always wanted to make, but called a "Mammoth project" and Stone Mattress, based on the Margaret Atwood short story dealing with a woman meeting her rapist 50 years later, while "stuck" on an Arctic cruise.

Born in Glasgow, Scotland, in a working-class family that loved films, Ramsay attended a film foundation course for young kids, where she stumbled into a dark room to herself, which she called “the magic room” that enabled her to explore with abandon. 

Among Ramsay's past projects discussed during the masterclass were her 1997 experimental short Gasman, which prompted a Hollywood producer to ask her "did the camera slip because you can’t see the heads..." In the film she used her family as actors, to tell her story of what she called, "the quiet a tragedy in this family." Ramsay goes back to shorts often, most recently with her cool collaboration on Miu Miu Womens Tales, where she featured another DFI favorite Brigitte Lacombe and in the process, explored the dynamic between the world famous photographer and her sister and work partner Marian. Ramsay called the shorts medium, "a foreign form you play with and experiment and try things out" which is why she said she "enjoys the form, because it allows for experimentation that you don’t get in features."

Attended by emerging filmmakers from across the world and moderated by Richard Peña, Professor of Film Studies at Columbia University, the masterclass navigated the cinematic universe of Ramsay, providing glimpses into the genius that makes her works extraordinary and resonate intensely with successive generations of audiences. 

Hanaa Issa Deputy Director of Qumra, Fatma Hassan Alremaihi CEO of Doha Film Institute, Lynne Ramsay and Artistic Advisor Elia Suleiman

Peña and Ramsay talked about her first feature film, Ratcatcher screened in Un Certain Regard at Cannes in 1999, which stood out for its brilliant originality. She worked with non-professional actors as well for the film, and her cue to young filmmakers is “never to patronize [debutant non-professional actors] and to make the film set a fun experience.” She admitted the casting process on Ratcatcher took longer than the actual film shoot.

She called her first Cannes Film Festival experience, with her graduation film Small Deaths which won the 1996 Cannes Prix de Jury, "bizarre and overwhelming" and admitted that going back with a feature "is a completely different experience," and that she feels a certain "nostalgia for when I went with shorts, [as] now it’s nerve-racking." She likes to "make music through films," and admitted her second film was the hardest to make, because with a first film no one expected anything out of her but once she started working on her second feature she felt the stress, and knew people's expectations would come into play.

She then talked about her subsequent films, including Morvern Callar (2002), based on a novel by Alan Warner; the intense We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011), based on Lionel Shriver's novel and starring another Qumra Master, Tilda Swinton; and the ‘neo-noir crime thriller’ You Were Never Really Here, based on a novella by Jonathan Ames, which all gained international acclaim. 

But, in making these films, she again marked a departure from the norm. None of the films were seen by the writers before they were completed, with Ramsay never resorting to a ‘straight adaptation but always reinterpreting the characters’ in her inimitable way. 

While answering questions from the audience, with an unprecedented grace that all first time filmmakers should learn from, as well as seasoned pros of course, Ramsay said something which felt life changing to this writer. "What a fascinating job to have," she admitted about being a filmmaker, and continued "I feel like a student, always -- it’s funny to do a masterclass when you feel like a student yourself." And therein lies Lynne Ramsay's brilliance, her humble spirit within the soul of an unequaled artist, one who teaches and learns at the same time, ever open to finding new wisdoms within the other.

Qumra continued through March 15th in Doha. For more information check out the DFI website.

You may also like