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Ben Sharrock, writer/director of Limbo

Focus Features release Limbo in select theaters on April 30th, 2021.

NYC MOVIE GURU:  Would it be fair to say that Limbo's comedy is rooted in tragedy and why?

Ben Sharrock: I agree with that. I think that it's something very human. When we are at the bleakest of times, we tend to gravitate towards  humor. It's something that I think is a very human element, but it's also transferring that into filmmaking and making Limbo where I'm treating this subject matter with humor in the approach. It helps to access the subject matter in a different way. Maybe it's like Vitamin C gummies or children's medicine which has raspberry flavor or something. It's good for you, but it also tastes sweet and it goes down easier. I think that that's what really works in using humor with big, global topics like this.

NYC MOVIE GURU: How did you find the right way to hook the audience from the very first scene with the funny dance sequence?  

BS: In the process of writing the film, you get these visions and creative desires. Somewhere along the way, I saw the vision of that scene. One of the things that I do in writing is that I really build my vision as a director into the writing process. I just got a vision of that scene exactly how it was played out, shot-by-shot. It was fairly early on in the writing process when I knew that I wanted to open the film with that scene. Then it was, sort of, building the blocks to get that which sets up the world and the sociopolitical backdrop of the film and then move that into the journey of the characters.

NYC MOVIE GURU: What was the purpose of displaying the film's title card on-screen slowly right before Omar's mother answers his telephone call while Omar is off-screen in the phone booth?

BS: I like challenging the audience and trying to create a connection between the experience of the characters on the screen and the audience. So, the idea of holding that shot is literally putting the audience in limbo where you're holding onto this shot that's going on forever and the audience is thinking, "What's going on? What's going to happen?" You're waiting for something to happen, but it never happens and never comes, and then breaking that with the title card "Limbo" to say that the audience just experienced that limbo for that minute on that shot. It then goes straight into the scene with Omar where the conversation with his family. Omar gets to break that limbo during his time in the phone booth with that connection with his family.

NYC MOVIE GURU: Would it be accurate to say that Limbo is poetic? Poetry is often a form of protest, so what do you think Limbo is a protest for or against?  

BS: Yes, absolutely. I set out to make Limbo about this subject matter because it's something that attached itself to me and it's really important to me. I had this huge desire to make a film about this broad subject of the refugee crisis. The reason why I wanted to do that is because I wanted to humanize the refugee and to move away from what I felt was the process of dehumanization of refugees and the pitying of refugees. The mission for me was to create a connection between the audience and these characters onscreen who are often depicted with statistics and numbers or in the most tragic of ways, so we're not seeing them as people like us that we can relate to. It's also a film about compassion. I hope that it's a warm film as well and that it's about humanity. Hopefully, that warmth and humanity stands out. In the UK, the asylum system really is terrible. The way that the government treats asylum-seekers is terrible. That's a result of the process of dehumanization because the government and the people who are in control of these policies are not seeing refugees as human beings. So, they're not looking after them in the way that they should.

NYC MOVIE GURU: Between knowing when to trust the audience's patience, intelligence and imagination, which of those three elements was hardest to tweak in the editing room?

BS: The questions that were being asked were more about patience and intelligence. I really believe in the audience. Audiences are spoon-fed far too often. I have become used to certain types of passivity in films. I enjoy challenging the audience. At the end, there's this concept of an audience of an audience as well. You don't truly know who your audience is going to be. You have to go with the idea that if you like the film and if you're patient enough for it, then you can have the intelligence to reveal the different aspects of the film and go with it, and then other people will as well and there will be an audience for it. That's what I go by rather than by trying to make a film for this idea of everyone because that just doesn't exist.

NYC MOVIE GURU: Would Limbo work in black-and-white?

BS: I would like to make a film in black-and-white. I feel like I built color and the use of color into this film very early on. One of the many things that I do as well and build into my filmmaking is that I use color as a way to balance the tone. So, I use color in the frame in order to create an undertone of humor or a sort of playfulness in the image. So, I wouldn't see Limbo in black-and-white.

NYC MOVIE GURU: Which movie do you think would pair well with Limbo in a double feature?

BS: The Band's Visit because that was a film that for me, early on, was a big influence. I think that it's such a brilliant film

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