Documentary Filmmaker Eleanor Mortimer Breaks Boundaries with Film, Territory

November 3, 2017

Eleanor Mortimer’s film Territory won the Oscar-qualifying best short documentary award at Hot Docs, received a Grierson nomination, and traveled to over fifty festivals including Sundance.

Eleanor, who was named a ‘Sundance female filmmaker to watch,’ lives and works in London as part of the production company Glow in the Dark Films. After winning second place in AudFest Documentary Short Film Festival, Mortimer filled us in on the production history of Territory.

Inspiration behind the film

I am interested in border spaces, and Gibraltar initially caught my eye for the tit for tat behavior between Spain and the UK over ownership of the rock. However, upon visiting this British enclave, and taking in the atmosphere of this bit of the Mediterranean that had somehow become part of the UK, I realized that there was a riper story to be told.

How the monkeys became the focal point of this film project

Encountering a monkey on my first visit to Gibraltar, he gave me an insolent stare, as if to say ‘who do you think you are?’, and I was immediately fascinated by the rebellious spirit of these animals. When I returned from my recce, my editor, Nina joked that I should make my film about the notorious monkeys of Gibraltar. On reading more on the subject, I discovered that they had been there longer than the British and that some of them were due to be ‘exported’ from Gibraltar for their daily invasions of the built-up areas. The story jumped out at me, and I started to take the idea seriously.

Here was a film about territory, but through the prism of the struggle between humans and animals against the backdrop of this disputed piece of land.

The challenge of working with monkeys

The hardest thing about filming monkeys is their unpredictability. Time and time again we set up somewhere the monkeys would usually be, only to learn a few hours later that they had taken a different route that day. However, over time I learned to watch them and predict their behavior. I had decided to shoot everything on a tripod in order for the film to have a composed and thoughtful feel to it, allowing also for careful framing which would give a sense of surroundings and environment.

The monkeys were of course initially fascinated by us and the equipment, particularly the wind shield on the boom, which they took to be another small fluffy animal. One of the baby monkeys actually took to grooming it.

The Gibraltar Government’s outlook on sharing territory with the monkeys

Getting access to film the monkeys and the peashooters were more difficult to get than anticipated. The Gibraltar government is quite protective of the image it gives out to the world of its monkeys, and I had to negotiate through several levels of officials before being granted permission. The peashooters could have made an excellent film in themselves. Teresa and Matthew are extremely hardworking and see themselves as protectorates of both the monkeys and the people. Barry and I grew very close to them through filming, and they were of huge help in letting us know where they thought the monkeys would go next!

The impact of the film’s final scene

We went into the edit without the final scene of the monkeys being exported, because the government kept putting back the date of their departure. Finally, three months after the end of my initial shoot, after countless phone calls to the minister of the environment, I was given a rough date. By this time we had edited and mixed the rest of the film, which existed in its own right, independently of this final scene. We had to then postpone the final stages of post-production in order to reassess the film in the light of this final scene and change the edit accordingly.

I believe this final moment brings a slightly serious note to an otherwise carefree and amusing film, which might leave the audience feeling pensive. For this reason I am glad to have been able to be there to document such a historical moment.

Thank you to Eleanor Mortimer. We look forward to following the success of this young filmmaker. To learn more about Mortimer, you can visit her portfolio, and her production company, Glow in the Dark Films.


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