Mollie Moore’s documentary A Word Away uncovers a story that’s both unique and universal. She spent five months getting to know Cosmo, a young man from South Sudan who moved to the USA with his family as a boy. Growing up, he spent 18 years struggling with selective mutism, but now he’s finding his voice as a poet thanks to help from his childhood friend Moon. It’s a fascinating insight into a ‘New American’ community but also a resonant tale for anyone who has found it difficult to find the right words to express themselves. And it’s a moving tribute to the importance of creativity and art as it helps us make sense of the world.
The film premiered at some of the most prestigious documentary festivals in the US such as Camden International Film Festival (Maine, USA), then at DOC NYC and has just had a screening at Big Sky International Film Festival. It is also in the running for several more high profile film festivals around Europe and the USA, so for that reason we can only share the trailer for now. However, you can contact Mollie through her website if you’re interested in seeing the full film.
Originally from South London, Mollie now lives in Brooklyn, New York. She’s currently alongside the British artist Marc Quinn as one of the lead filmmakers on his new documentary feature film, alongside the project ‘Our Blood’ with Radical Media.
'A Word Away' Trailer from Mollie Moore on Vimeo.
LBB> How did you first come across Cosmo's story?
Mollie> During pre-production I spent a lot of time researching ’New American’ communities that had been attempted to be re-housed in states on the East Coast of the USA. However the ignorance and racism of some local Americans meant that many could not be. After a lot of research and speaking to many journalists I came across ‘Cultivating Communities’ which is a non-profit organization based in Maine that train new Americans how to farm the land in a different landscape and climate to their native homes. This is where I met John, Cosmo’s father. John welcomed me into his community and family and this is when I was introduced to Cosmo. Telling both John and Cosmo’s story grew very naturally from there.
LBB> How much time did you spend with him, his family and Moon?
Mollie> I spent some time with them during pre-production, getting to know them. I then filmed over the course of a month during the summer and continued to go back to Maine a few times more after the majority of the filming. In total the time spent with them was over a period of five months.
LBB> What was it like focusing on someone who has, for so long, struggled to express himself? Did that present any interesting challenges or opportunities?
Mollie> I met Cosmo in a very transitional period of his life. He was trying to understand his own journey and in a beautiful and aligning way, the making of the film allowed more space for that. Cosmo has a very poignant and poetic insight to very complex feelings, which created a sense of ambiguity a lot of the time, I think this is shown in the film. I felt that my job as a filmmaker was simply to listen and observe.
LBB> And generally, the film is a wonderful exploration of creativity as a means of processing the world and the challenges or trauma one experiences - how did the experience of making the film help you reassess your own relationship with creativity?
Mollie> Not being from the USA myself and having lived away from home a lot of my life, I think I was subconsciously drawn to the themes of ‘Home and Belonging’ that Cosmo speaks of so well. It wasn’t until the editing process that I really realized what I was trying to say and he allowed me my own space for contemplating what these themes meant to me.
He also showed me huge strength which came from his willingness to be vulnerable and the power that this has when shown through different mediums of art. It was a very healing process and I am very honoured to have met and shared time with Cosmo.
LBB> What are some of your most precious memories from making this film?
Mollie> The film was shot predominantly during June in Maine, which is a naturally stunning setting to be able to create in. The sharing of worlds and lives is always something that has drawn me towards documentary filmmaking, so it's hard to select one particular moment. It was the essence of the place and the people that welcomed me into it. Just over a year later we premiered at Camden International Film Festival in Maine and they were all there to experience it with me.
LBB> You're also a DOP - how does that know-how and experience inform your approach to directing?
Mollie> I like to blur the line between fiction and documentary visually. I don’t think that documentary has to be any less cinematic that narrative film. Having experience as a DOP definitely meant that I approached the making of the film with somewhat of a concrete visual vision. I also felt that where words were absent during the film, the images helped speak, especially amidst the themes of poetry and exploration.
LBB> Tell me about this new project with Marc Quinn - how did you get involved and how far into the production are you?
Mollie> I got involved with Marc Quinn’s ‘Our Blood’ after the producer had seen ‘A Word Away’. The topic of the project is also about migration and the refugee crisis. The project has many layers to it with Marc Quinn’s sculpture piece at its core. It's been in production for nearly two years now. However the documentary feature we are making is still in the early stages of filming and production. The project is hoping to be premiered sometime in 2021.