Call the ‘voicemail confessional’ and say how you feel about pandemic

Rupert Clague's Tell Me project

Rupert Clague's Tell Me project - Credit: Archant

Maida Vale filmmaker Rupert Clague is inviting strangers to leave him an anonymous voicemail which will form part of collaborative international documentary Tell Me

Rupert Clague with Werner Herzog

Rupert Clague with Werner Herzog - Credit: Archant

Maida Vale filmmaker Rupert Clague is hoping for a “creative silver lining” from Covid 19 with his collaborative documentary project Tell Me.

At total of 17 international filmmakers have set up voicemail boxes in their home countries - inviting strangers to express how they feel about living through a pandemic.

They will then set these anonymous voices to imagery and edit it together to create a global “tone poem” of these strange times.

The group, who hail from the UK, US, Estonia Germany, France, Jordan, Colombia, and Argentina, met at Werner Herzog’s film workshop in the Peruvian Amazon in 2018.

Rupert Clague filming in the Amazon and a still from his short film Jacobs Ladder

Rupert Clague filming in the Amazon and a still from his short film Jacobs Ladder - Credit: Archant


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Estonian Marta Pulk who concieved the idea describes it as a voicemail confessional “like sharing a story with a taxi driver or barman, someone you know you may never meet again. What do we reveal in this intimate space?”

“It will go straight to voicemail,” says Clague. “They can leave an anonymous message about any thoughts or feelings they may be having during this strange time. Once we have collected interesting responses from our respective countries it’s down to each filmmaker to think about how to visually realise it - whether that’s animation or images recorded during our daily exercise. We can build a tone poem which will be a unique portrait of humanity united in their isolation.”

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Clague and his fellow filmmakers felt lockdown was a time “in which everyone is isolated and people have strong feelings about their experience but with no place to share it.”

“The space after the beep is a neutral space - they are talking into the void and can offer a thought, a poem, a song, a story. We have a mission to realise a film where the world itself has come up with a script, and we have to work creatively to make something from these disparate ideas that people have given us.”

Rupert Clague filming in the Amazon and a still from his short film Jacobs Ladder

Rupert Clague filming in the Amazon and a still from his short film Jacobs Ladder - Credit: Archant

Clague has enjoyed a globetrotting career, starting at the BBC on documentaries “on everything from Shakespeare to the birth of the SAS”.

In recent years he’s chased through the Cambodian jungle searching for homemade rocket gambling, filmed shaman performances in Vietnam for Jack Whitehall’s Travels With My Father and was a Producer on the recent Disney+ series, The World According to Jeff Goldblum.

But the best thing he has done was the jungle workshop with German auteur Herzog.

“I feel unbelievably privileged to have spent time with Werner in his natural habitat, mixing with these incredible filmmakers from all over the world. It was a pressure cooker, hot, humid, waking at 5am every day, going to incredible locations accessible only by boat to make our own films, and sitting up at night with bottles of whiskey, talking about film. We stayed in touch hoping to collaborate on a shared feature project. One of the few upsides of the pandemic is we can now pool our resources to create something.”

Rupert Clague filming in the Amazon and a still from his short film Jacobs Ladder

Rupert Clague filming in the Amazon and a still from his short film Jacobs Ladder - Credit: Archant

Herzog was an inspirational teacher whose rules for filmmaking involve finding the stories you want to tell - then leaving no stone unturned to realise them.

“He is the reason I wanted to get into film,” confesses Clague.

“He is not just the sum of his films, it’s his approach to life - he is unbelievably committed to his artistic vision. He says ask for forgiveness not permission. There is no excuse for not finishing a film - you get the shot no matter the cost even if it means spending a night in jail!”

For someone used to roaming the globe it has been frustrating to have jobs and film festival screenings of his 8 minute experimental short cancelled.

Rupert Clague filming in the Amazon and a still from his short film Jacobs Ladder

Rupert Clague filming in the Amazon and a still from his short film Jacobs Ladder - Credit: Archant

Shot in the jungle, Jacob’s Ladder features music by world’s ‘fastest pianist’ Lubomyr Melnyk, and conjures “a fever dream” evoked by the psychoactive Toé plant prized by the indiginous Machiguenga people.

“They call it angel’s tears. You put it under your pillow and breathing it in it creates intense, lucid dreams. I wanted to invite audiences into a deep dream world.”

Clague adds: “The reason I wanted to go into film was to tell stories, meet people internationally and make a career out of travel - it’s been like having my wings clipped but I am hoping being forced into this new territory will make creative people think of new ways to come up with exciting work.

“It’s more important than ever to continue showing film. It’s a means of escape, you are taken into another world, there is that glorious moment when you are absorbed so deeply, time stops around you.

Tell Me project

Tell Me project - Credit: Archant

“But while to be able to take people out of themselves is great, film can also tell stories that cross international boundaries and offer a shared experience and communality and a meeting place for ideas. These collective narratives are an essential component of our cultural identity, to feel as though we are part of something bigger than ourselves.”

Call and leave a piece of yourself, or simply pass it along.

Tell Me UK: +44 (0) 3333 444 924 fb.com/tellmefilm

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