Chloe Ruthven is an artist whose latest documentary film, Death of a Hedge Fund Salesman, portrays the life and death of her best friend, and for which she’s just won the Canon Best Emerging Director UK award. Here she talks about art school, bad camerawork and why she’s got the best job in the world…
I went to art school. I was a painter and then moved into "street art”, which was politically motivated performance that explored social issues.
Video became a more effective way of working rather than the paintbrush, which felt isolated because you’re just stuck in your studio with ideas. Film encourages a dialogue – it’s about relationships.
I started working with vulnerable youngsters in institutes, using the camera to get their voices across. How do you represent somebody else’s story? The way that I’ve chosen to do it is by weaving my own story in – I’ve only ever made “authored” films. It’s about putting myself in the picture, trying to understand how another world works or where other people might be coming from.
I can almost imagine a finished outcome in the flash of inspiration that motivates me, but what I end up doing can be very far from that. Filmmaker friends have commented that I have a rash approach, which probably comes from going to art school. It teaches you to be un-precious: there’s so much emphasis on the process, that what comes out of it is all good. They’d never go and do a project until they felt that they’d mastered the camera, whereas I’ve just gone and done it, even though some of it’s unwatchable!
The most devastating thing about [Death of a Hedge Fund Salesman] is the impact on others when you start inquiring into somebody’s life. I’ve no idea whether it’s obnoxious to try and comment on somebody else’s life, or what responsibility I might have to friends and family. It’s as much a story about challenging my own judgement about what we believe to be the lives we should be leading and the judgements we make about certain looks or a way of living, and how much more complex it is than we ever imagined.
I had just 10 rolls of film when Tom died, so the whole thing is structured. Proper filmmakers shoot for scenes, whereas I just had Tom ranting to camera. I didn’t have anything else, I didn’t bother getting any shots of him doing this or that – he never shuts his mouth.
The film I’m making at the moment – my parents were NGO workers in Palestine. I’m fascinated by the idea of white “do-gooders” who think they can save the world. I’ve been following in their footsteps and been to the region and interviewed the “internationals”, with the enquiry of why are you here and why are you helping.
It’s the nicest job in the world, if you could make ends meet, because it’s asking questions of other human beings but also about our lives: what are we all doing here and how does it work?
[Filmmaking is] so cheap now that anyone can do it. You learn through doing. If something’s inspiring you, pick up your camera and follow it.
Not in a pretentious way, but don’t compromise your own work for commerce. By all means make bucks in advertising, but when it comes to your work, it should be true to itself. And there’s always a way of doing it.
You can find out more about Death of a Hedge Fund Salesman and OpenCity Festival here.