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CATCH ME DADDY
February 27, 2015
Watching Catch Me Daddy, the gritty feature film debut from director Daniel Wolfe, is like watching a heightened slice of the everyday: a peep into a Britain at once recognisable and grimly detached. Collaborating – in more ways than one – with his musician brother Matthew, Wolfe has created a work of supreme distinction: an independent British thriller where the kitchen sink is both addressed and promptly smashed to pieces, calling upon the visual prowess previously expressed in his handful of stark music videos.
Armed with the hypnotically fluid cinematographic eye of Robbie Ryan, whose previous work includes Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank (2009) and Wuthering Heights (2011), Wolfe’s first foray into feature filmmaking is a triumph of searing brutality. Set amongst the vertiginous, verdant climate of the Yorkshire Moors, in a dilapidated northern town beset by smothered dreams and drowned ethics, the film tells the story of Laila, a young British Pakistani woman whose discreet existence hiding out with her boyfriend in a caravan park is irrevocably shattered with the arrival of two gangs of thugs hired by her oppressive father.
In their effort to bring the girl back to the family fold and reap the monetary rewards, the gang – made up of Pakistani and British thugs – chase the couple into the night, thrusting them into a situation where nobody makes it out unscathed.
As striking as it is unflinching, Catch Me Daddy – the latest in a long line of audacious low-fi British dramas – is hinged by the stunning and nuanced central performance of Laila, brought to life by complete newcomer Sameena Jabeen Ahmed, a sports teacher from Blakburn, who became involved with the film in rather unusual circumstances: she was street-cast.
“A woman just came up to me and asked if I wanted to audition for a movie,” Sameena says, possessing all the bashfulness of a first-time actress plunged into the limelight. “I didn’t think she was serious about it at first, but she gave me the details and said she’d ring me when the auditions were being held. I thought to myself that people always forget things so I didn’t get my hopes up.” These hopes were sated a few weeks later, however, when she was promptly invited to the first of six auditions that eventually won her the part.
With ecstatically coloured hair to match her luminous, piercing eyes, Ahmed has an instantly engaging on-screen presence that betrays her humble novitiate beginnings, fully selling the torment Laila endures during the fateful night we spend in her dogged company. An impressive feat for an untrained unknown who just turned 23 as the cameras began to roll.
Benefitting from Wolfe’s equal stance as newcomer, Ahmed’s experience was as typically wide-eyed and open as anyone who’s plucked from anonymity would be, entirely unaffected by the humble surroundings: “It could have been some big Hollywood set and director and it wouldn’t have affected my approach to it. It was all new to me and just like doing an ordinary job.”
What Ahmed wasn’t used to, and found herself initially struggling with, was Wolfe’s withholding filmmaking process, shooting the film sequentially and not granting his leading actress a script to work from and a full story to grapple with. Though she had a sense of who Laila is and where she’s come from, Ahmed was only told what she was going to be doing the morning of each shooting day. How helpful or detrimental was that for her?
“I wasn’t really able to comprehend the rest of [Laila’s] journey as easily as I could if I knew the story from beginning to end. Most of the time I was just doing whatever Daniel asked of me and reading lines he wanted me to read, but there was also a lot of room for improvisation as we went along. I think it was better for me because I could only focus on one thing at a time, and could actually be in the moment of the scenes.”
With a palpable sense of dread that angrily broils away beneath an already unsettled surface, the film is a bleak – though not unrewarding – affair that is as much a study of multicultural angst and a fraught battle for independence as it is a contemporary neo-western. Though she had to force herself into a gloomier state of mind to deal with the harder scenes, especially as the film gets progressively darker, Sameena, as well as the film, does at least get one scene of emotional release in the form of a disconcertingly gleeful sequence where Laila playfully dances around her caravan to a Patti Smith record.
Having not danced before in any capacity, this posed something of a problem for both Sameena and Daniel, who brought in singer-songwriter FKA Twigs to help loosen her up, so to speak. “Having her there was a lot of help, as she taught me a lot of different techniques and movements. It was difficult and tiring practicing for three days, but I took it all on board and used it when it was needed.” Though the choreography was deemed too rehearsed, Ahmed found her lessons beneficial as she was able to take the bits from the routine and “simply mash them all together and let loose”, however many takes she had to endure.
Speaking to Sameena, one gets a real sense of just how unfazed she is about the whole process, especially now she’s had a couple of years distance from filming. Not only did she see the film in its finished form at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, where it “received this massive, ten-minute applause. The best reaction out of all the screenings we’ve had so far” – and which she deemed as just a normal experience peppered with a few celebrities here and there, Ahmed also won the BIFA Award for Most Promising Newcomer last December.
I ask if she now plans to take on more roles in the future, which elicits a typically unassuming response. “I do feel quite hopeful about it, but I haven’t really thought about what kind of film I’d like to do yet. I guess it depends on what’s out there. There’s nothing in the pipeline yet as I’m waiting to see how this one does first, then I’ll just go from there.” An admirable answer to an arcane question, and one that shines a hopeful light on what promises to be a notable career.
Catch Me Daddy is released in UK cinemas on February 27th