Paul Taylor - We Are Together
Tony McKibbin meets Paul Taylor, the man behind We Are Together, the multi-award winning feelgood film of the year
Director Paul Taylor had just finished his first year studying film at Bournemouth in 2003 when he went off and worked for a few months at the Agape Orphanage in South Africa. A year later he returned with a camera and documented the kids. In some ways Taylor’s film is a curious project: it’s a full-fledged feature documentary that at the same time serves a specific function. As he points out, ‘The film is a non-profit work, and all the money we make goes back into funding the orphanage.’ He adds: ‘We’ve already raised £100,000 and we hope to reach half a million.’ If they manage to do so, they’ll be able to set up an endowment fund that will secure education for the kids in the orphanage into the future.
While the film clearly serves a specific social purpose, that doesn’t mean it has been thrown together. Taylor shot 160 hours of footage for a film that runs to less than 90 minutes. So, how did he give it shape and focus? ‘We wanted to work with a fiction editor,’ Taylor says, ‘and so we hired a brilliant guy in Masahiro Hirakubo [Trainspotting, The Beach].’ Despite this, Taylor admits to admiring the work of great ‘Direct Cinema’ documentarians like the Maysles brothers and Frederick Wiseman. It was his wish that the direct style should not be lost to fictional demands, so he also called on the help of Ollie Huddleston, who edited Kim Longinotto’s observationally acute 2005 documentary Sisters in Law.
Taylor had immense access to the school and to Slindile Moya’s family who form the heart of the film. There are harrowing scenes of Slindile’s brother Sifiso as he dwindles away, dying of AIDS. Taylor, who developed close ties with the remaining family members, and who still talks to people at the orphanage on a weekly basis, always tried to respect the family’s privacy. Yet, as the family could see there was a wider purpose to the film, then gaining access wasn’t difficult.
Cynics might say that the film is a crowd-pleaser. The kids at the orphanage start a choir and their singing runs through the film. At the climax, they even end up on stage in New York performing with Paul Simon and Alicia Keys. Fuelled by the infectious enthusiasm of the children at the orphanage, Taylor’s film may lack a broader political dimension but the fact that he managed to get distributor EMI to funnel profits from the film back into the orphanage has achieved something political on an immediate level. This is feel-good filmmaking with a do-good purpose.
We Are Together, GFT, Glasgow, Sat 15–Mon 17 Feb; Filmhouse, Edinburgh, Fri 21 Mar. Reviewed next issue.