[Interview] Lee Haven Jones for THE FEAST
THE FEAST l Courtesy IFC Midnight
One of the highlights of the film festival circuit for horror fans was Lee Haven Jones’ THE FEAST. A horror that subtly slips itself underneath the skin, many who got to see the film while it made the festival rounds found themselves enamored. A film that touches upon the harmful impact of humanity’s greed and consumption, THE FEAST is an all too relevant horror, with food scarcity, supply chain issues, and global climate change making its impact now. And one that we here at Nightmarish Conjurings recommend to the fullest extent.

For the release of THE FEAST, Nightmarish Conjurings’ Sarah Musnicky spoke with Director Lee Haven Jones, where they discussed the collaboration process between him and writer/producer Roger Williams, using the horror genre as a gateway to introduce Welsh culture to a global audience, and possible challenges he dealt with in transitioning from shooting in a TV format to a more feature-length format.

What was the collaboration process like between you and Roger [Williams]? Especially in coming to the decision of tackling THE FEAST?

Lee Haven Jones: Roger and I have worked together over the years on various different projects, usually on television projects, actually, and it was always a mutual passion of ours to make a film. We’re both sort of historical fans of horror in that we both used to watch them as children and teenagers. I probably used to watch them far too young in age. So yeah, we wanted to make a film, and we were continually told by some of the gatekeepers here in the UK that we were television people. He was a writer for television, and I was a director for television, and so we kind of joined our heads together and thought, Okay, we need to break out of this television ghetto and make a film that will travel effectively beyond Wales.

I often refer to kind of the three Ps in our decision to make this film. One is passion, and that’s passion for the genre, and passion for Wales and Welsh culture and the heritage of Wales and telling stories that are distinctly Welsh. The second one is pragmatism, and I guess that’s partly responsible for it being a horror film in that there is a rather massive audience for kind of genre, and particularly this genre, throughout the world, and it seemed to us that we could sort of Trojan horse our Welsh story into a global sphere by using this particular genre. And the third P is a sense of politics. As a child, I used to love some of these movies that were sort of slasher movies and commercial horror of the 80s. But then, what appealed to me over the last 10 years is this new crop of horror that, I guess they’re referred to as elevated horrors, with some kind of a message and some kind of politics about them with a small p, and it seemed to me that we wanted to make a statement about contemporary Wales, and our history as a nation, but also speak to a wider audience on a global stage with an environmental message. In the UK at the moment, there’s something called Cop26 happening, which is a gathering of a lot of the countries throughout the world, and it seems to be quite timely to be making sort of a story about environmental degradation and sort of speaking to the climate crisis.

Annes Elwy in THE FEAST l IFC Midnight

With regard to speaking about modern-day Wales, I wrote down in my notes, is one of the messages in THE FEAST about this clash between rural Wales and sort of the need to constantly be modernizing?

Lee Haven Jones: Yeah. On a very fundamental level, I guess, Wales, in many respects, was the cradle of the Industrial Revolution and, of course, England’s first colony, and as such, history is one of exploitation of people extracting things from the ground, usually from the ground, always from the ground actually, and powering the so-called British Empire. But, of course, we haven’t ever seen the financial proceeds of that process of extraction. All of the profits have ended up in London, actually. So that was that’s one aspect of our story.

But also, I think it does speak to something a bit more universal in that it is about humanity’s embracing progress at the cost of staying true to yourself and your people. And it’s kind of a stark warning against the consequences of greed and avarice. In a way, it’s about rampant consumerism, isn’t it? And consumption. Hopefully, it’s not too heavy-handed.

I don’t think it’s too heavy-handed. But, from my perspective, THE FEAST is a fairy tale. It’s a warning. And so, sometimes in a fairy tale, you aren’t really supposed to be super subtle. So I think you achieved that balance.

Lee Haven Jones: I think you’ve put your finger on it. That was the idea to make a contemporary…it’s a parable. It’s an allegory. It’s a contemporary fairy tale. And as such, within this piece. I guess there are archetypes in a Brechtian sense, or in a Jungian sense, actually. And the way that the pieces are put into chapters, it’s drawing on that sort of Brechtian idea that, in order to learn a lesson, we shouldn’t get too emotionally involved in a story, that there should be a distancing effect. So hopefully, the chapters make you stand back and consider what you’ve just seen, and also reflect on what is said on the screen, and then see how that resonates when you watch the scene. I guess it’s a little bit didactic, in a sense, and it is very much like a fairy tale. And, of course, it depends, if an audience wants something, which is a bit more, I guess, emotionally immersive, then maybe this is not the piece for them. But I think given our message and all the rest of it, I think it’s important that the structure is structured like this.

Yeah, I agree. And I have hope that all audiences will appreciate it.

Lee Haven Jones: Hey, me too! I think it’s very difficult, because I’m so close to [THE FEAST], because I made it, but I think it has a certain oddness, uniqueness, a certain otherness to it, which I hope will really appeal to people because I think we are sitting in a culture, which is sort of saturated with content, and a lot of it looks kind of the same. And, hopefully, this feels a bit different, both in terms of tone, and the fact that we start it in a very naturalistic kind of way, and then it becomes incredibly theatrical and very operatic in a sense, but also in terms of the message and the fact that Wales is a part of the world that a lot of audiences will not have seen represented on screen. So I think it has a lot going for in terms of what it offers to a contemporary audience.

Annes Elwy in THE FEAST l IFC Midnight

What challenges did you have in tackling filming THE FEAST in moving from a TV format to a feature film format? Did you have any challenges?

Lee Haven Jones: It’s kind of interesting. As I said, one of the motivating factors was a sense of frustration of people saying to us and saying to me, you’re not a film director. You don’t know how to direct film. But, of course, it was a process of education. And it seems to me with the benefit of hindsight, and being able to kind of look back at the process, and what I’ve learned, it seems to me that television can be, and is often quite naturalistic and literal. The difference between that and this movie is that it’s far more ambiguous in terms of messaging. It’s far more suggestive, in a sense, and it’s far less prescriptive in terms of storytelling, and it really allows an audience, I think, the space to kind of engage on a creative and imaginative level. Whereas, I think a lot of television involves spoon-feeding audiences narrative. So, I think that’s the main difference for me, is that it’s about just allowing a bit more space for the viewer to engage. I remember there was a playwright, he wrote something called Arguments for a Theatre. His name is Howard Barker and he’s an English playwright. He’s revered in continental Europe but is hated in England because he is seen as a bit of an intellectual. And one of the points in a manifesto says something like, art is a problem of understanding, and that’s always stuck with me, actually. I think that’s often what you don’t do in television. You always explain something in television.

It’s the show and tell argument.

Lee Haven Jones: Yeah, exactly. You’re always trying to explain things in the world of television. Whereas I think in film, you can leave things a little more opaque, a little more ambiguous, and therefore you draw the audience into the piece, I think.

You spend a fair amount of time in THE FEAST just focusing on the characters sans dialogue. That immediately came to mind as a difference between shooting TV versus a feature, in terms of just giving time to just focus on the character emoting sans dialogue, and we learn more without them having to explain who they are.

Lee Haven Jones: Yeah, I think in terms of spending time with them, of course, we don’t get a complete precise picture. But I think it allows us to question them and engage with them on that sort of level, rather than just being told this is what they are. And also, I mean, it’s interesting that the film has been up there now for a while, and it’s gone to a number of festivals, and one of the critiques is that we that some people find that space is incredibly frustrating. And that is intentional. I think it’s a sense of the ennui and that creeping boredom that is in that house, within that family. It’s almost like you’re experiencing viscerally the emptiness of their lives. It’s completely intentional and some people say, Oh, it’s a bit slow. And it’s like, no, that’s part of the experience of watching it. That’s the other thing. I guess the difference between television and film, to refer back to your previous question, is that I think television is often about just about narrative. Whereas I think film, a good film, at least kind of draws you into what it’s like to experience that world through the character’s emotions. That definitely was my intention in terms of that sort of long, drawn-out, intense opening, which some people really lose themselves in, and other people find sort of stultifying, but imagine being in that family. You’d feel that same sense of, Oh, my God, I need to get out of here. I think that’s a really cool thing to do in film.

I’m also a bit biased, because I used to be an actor. So, in those moments, I was like, “Well, clearly, we’re getting an insight into their minds.” But also, as a critic, I can see where people would be like, “Uh…why are we focusing so much on this?” I can see that side. But, on the other side, this is our snapshot. [laughs]

Lee Haven Jones: Absolutely. Historically, I’ve been a big fan of…I love all film. As well as being a fan of horror in my youth, more recently, I’ve been a fan of slow cinema and love that sense of immersion that you get in slower cinema, where it kind of washes over you, and you sort of disappear into the world a bit more than you do when you’re just delivered information constantly. And I guess that’s just a taste thing, isn’t it?

THE FEAST opens November 19th, 2021 in theaters and on-demand/digital platforms. To learn more about the film, check out our review!

This interview was edited for length, clarity and to remove major spoilers.

Sarah Musnicky
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