Spotlight - Daniel Kokotajlo

By British Council

The writer/director of Apostasy talks about his love of films ranging from Lost Highway to Peeping Tom.

The Manchester-born writer/director makes his feature directorial debut with Apostasy, which will have its world premiere in Toronto. The film, about a Jehovah's Witness family struggling when one sister makes a transgression, is sold by Cornerstone.

What’s your connection to the British Council?
British Council has been screening my debut feature film Apostasy in its selector screening series (see more info here) and that's how it was selected to screen at the Toronto International Film Festival and then the San Sebastian Film Festival. It will also screen at the BFI London Film Festival.

What are you working on right now?
I’ve only really just finished Apostasy. I’m attending a few festivals, then I'm back to staring at a blank page waiting for inspiration to strike. I’ve got a couple of ideas that I want to develop.

What or who originally turned you onto film?
I’ve always been into film. As a kid, I loved visiting my local video shop - a huge converted mill, packed with VHS tapes and LaserDiscs. It also had a projector in the basement, showing films all day eveyday, even if no-one was there. My mum and I would spend ages in the shop searching for something new to watch.

What was your first job in the film industry?
Err. I guess it was writing and directing Apostasy. I was able to give up my zero hour contract jobs to work on it.

What is a key piece of advice you’d give to someone starting off in filmmaking?
Stick to your guns, literally. Werner Herzog held a gun to Klaus Kinski’s head to make him act. From the sounds of it, Kinski was bit of a knob anyway, so i guess it’s okay.

What is your favourite British film?
That’s a toughie, there are so many. I’ve probably seen A Matter of Life and Death the most though. It’s so beautiful and unashamed. I have to pay dues to Mike Leigh too, especially his early TV output. Kiss of Death is my favourite— his use and rhythm of northern dialect was like nothing else i’d seen.

If you could have directed/been involved with any film ever made, which one would it be?
I wish i was around for Peeping Tom. And the backlash it received. I’ve been reading about how it ruined Powell’s career in the UK… I would have supported him through that nonsense. He's one of our best.

What’s the first film you remember seeing?
Disney animations, like the psychedelic Three Caballeros! But I guess I didn’t think of them as films. It was probably Back to the Future or Star Wars.

What’s your favourite line or scene from a film?
That scene in Lost Highway when the weirdo approaches Bill Pullman at the party and says - “We met at your house once before. As a matter of fact, I’m there right now!” — that always gives me goosebumps.

Favourite screen kiss?
I feel like i should be choosing something more classy, but i’ve got the opening scene of Larry Clark’s Kids stuck in my head.

Who’s your favourite screen hero and/or villain? 
I like noir stories where formerly famous actors turn into psycho-type villains. Bettie Davis in Whatever Happened to Mary Jane? is a classic example. She fills me with dread but i can’t help feel for her too.

Who would play you in the film about your life?
I’m going through a Kirk Douglas phase (again). So i’d pick him without a doubt, I'm sure his mancunian accent is good enough for me. He has just turned 100 years old though.