by Jon Cronshaw
After 20 years working as an actor, Francis Lee stepped to the other side of the camera to become a director.
He grew up on his family’s farm in Soyland near Halifax and it is the people and places around West Yorkshire that have become the inspiration for his films.
“All the stories I’m interested in telling are all within the Halifax area,” says Francis
“It’s the landscape and the people that inspire me - I love that you get the really harsh moorland on the tops and in the valley there’s this post-industrial town - that makes it very cinematic and provides a great backdrop to the people who live there.
“I guess I’m always reminded of the people I knew and met growing up, and I just want to write about them really.”
His latest short film Bradford Halifax London will be screened at Bradford International Film Festival later this month.
“I’m incredibly thrilled that the film was selected for Bradford International Film Festival,” he says.
“I’m really looking forward to watching the film alongside an audience who will recognise the strong Yorkshire characters and places.”
The film tells the story of a Halifax family travelling on the Grand Central train to London.
Shot in one take, Francis hopes that the film offers a tiny glimpse into real family life.
“I was interested in looking at what it means to be a part of a family,” says Francis.
“I travel on that Grand Central train between London and Yorkshire all the time, and I’ve been really fascinated just watching the dynamics of families - how they get on, how they interact with each other, the conversations they have - it’s quite voyeuristic in a way.”
Halifax Bradford London has been screened at film festivals across the world, and has received critical acclaim and awards.
“It’s quite unusual for someone to progress so swiftly and have so much recognition as I have - it’s not something I take for granted,” says Francis.
“It’s wonderful to go to places like Palm Springs or Park City in Utah and see a whole load of Americans watch a film shot in Yorkshire - it’s brilliant, it’s really exciting.
“The Americans have responded really well to it - they really love the humour, the tone and they really love the way it looks.
“It’s very satisfying, if not a little bit surreal,” he says.
His first film, The Farmer’s Wife, tells the story of a widowed farmer’s wife who is forced to leave the land where she spent her adult life.
For Francis, his own experience of leaving his family farm to attend drama school fed into the telling of the story.
“I thought a lot about the landscape of my youth and what it felt like to leave that when I moved to London and the pull that land has always had for me.”
Indeed, his forthcoming feature film In God’s Country draws from the same well.
The film tells the story of a 22-year-old lad called Johnny who takes up the running of his family farm while his friends move away for jobs and university.
“With God’s Own Country, I suppose I’m asking what it would have been like if I’d have stayed and worked on the land - what my life would have been like.
“What does it feel like to be so geographically and socially isolated?
“It’s about his duty to the land and duty to his family.
“When it comes to all work, the starting point is always to do with me - something I’m thinking about, something I’m trying to investigate.”
The transition from acting to film-making was not a simple one, through all the acclaim and awards, it’s a career that is very difficult to get off the ground.
“The biggest challenge has been the practical difficulties,” says Francis.
“As an actor I worked pretty regularly and earned regular money, but when decided to start making films, I stopped earning money - so that’s been quite difficult.”
Francis says much of his success as a director comes from knowing what it’s like to be an actor.
“It’s important for me that I work really closely with the actors to develop three-dimensional, authentic characters.”
Halifax Bradford London will be screened at Bradford International Film Festival before The Madness of King George on March 30.