"We are all going to die," says Carol Morley as she reaches over
and offers me a some food from the feast that is spread on the
table in room allocated for her press interviews. "What do we leave
behind? What have our lives meant to the people who knew us? Dreams
of a Life is a film about Joyce Vincent who left us the ghost of a
memory for the people she knew. She presented herself as a
happy-go-lucky socialite to the outside world. But she died alone
and was undiscovered in her flat for three years."
Carol Morley is charming, humble and relaxed as she engages with
my questions. She is one of the foremost female directors in the UK
with a solid international reputation and has received awards for
her innovative films including - The Alcohol Years (2000), Everyday
Something (2002) and Edge(2010). Dreams of a Life (2011)
which recently screened at the London Film Festival to critical
acclaim is her most recent.
She is interested in stories about people who are marginalised
"I saw the headline about her death in a newspaper and wondered
who she was. Who she could have been had she lived. When she was
eventually found, her TV was on tuned to BBC1. Immediately I
started to think about the visuals and that image of the constant
TV output all those years. If the story had said man in a flat I
would not have been interested. It was her gender that drew me
in. I had no idea of her race until I learned more about her
and started to build story from the fragments of her
The image remained with Carol and drove her for five years to
get Dreams of a Life funded and to undertake meticulous, dogged
research the like of which would make any investigative journalist
proud. The resistance came because Carol feels she breaks
documentary convention in many ways, especially with the use of
actors as well as real life interviews. "Financiers fear
experimentation. I think they underestimate the intelligence of the
film going audience."
I ask her if she thinks her film would have been easier to fund
if it had some celebrity involvement. She responds passionately "I
would love the Dreams of a Life to put an end to the gross creation
that is celebrity culture. Joyce Vincent was an unknown. Her
identity was only confirmed using dental records from an old photo!
People used to want to create art to transcend popular culture now
people want to BE popular culture and ergo famous. It's like the
only way to be visible is to be famous. Joyce Vincent was special
yet invisible. I wanted to give her a voice so I made this film.
And as she wanted to be a singer I had her character sing in the
Joyce Vincent seemed to be a shape-shifter in her social life:
she was the exotic light-skinned girlfriend; a successful high
flier; a battered girlfriend in a refuge. Dreams of a Life builds
up her poignant life, filling in the dots and colouring in the
picture. But are the colours accurate? How can we really know who
she was? Carol takes a bite out of her lunch "How we are with
family is different to how we are with friends. We choose what to
show. Love has a way of breaking down some barriers. But how much
of one's interior world does one really share. And when someone
dies and their separate worlds collide, sometimes each friendship
circle may come in for a huge shock."
Joyce Vincent died before Facebook and Twitter took off. We now
appear to live in a world where everyone is connected both
virtually and in real life. Could a young attractive woman die
alone without anyone knowing in 2011? "I am sure it could still
happen. When a Facebook friend falls away from our newsfeed do we
notice? Do we follow it up? Or do we justify their absence -
they've deleted their account, they've blocked us, they've just not
got anything to say… How many of us are in actual regular real life
contact with those virtual friends we accumulate?"
The information gleaned by forensic inspectors showed that Joyce
Vincent died on her sofa surrounded by Christmas presents, as if
frozen as she wrapped them. Christmas is one of the times when
people reconnect with rarely seen friends and family. Morley wants
us to think about how we can be real in our friendships rather than
being driven to live our lives through digital avatars or fake
personas. "Dreams of a Life is an uplifiting film and a call to
action to connect in real life, in real time."
She gives me the sweetest smile to signal the end of the
interview and hands me a packet of Love Hearts from the sweetie
bowl. My first Christmas present.
Dreams of a Life is on general release