TDF Interview: Love Sarah director Eliza Schroeder
Like the most technical of technical challenges on The Great British Bake Off, Love Sarah, the debut feature film from London-based filmmaker Eliza Schroeder, combines a multitude of different ingredients. The story, about three women who decide to open a bakery in Notting Hill after tragedy strikes, blends humour and heartache, mixes generational dynamics with multiculturalism, and fuses doughy warmth with actual dough.
Starring Celia Imrie, Shelley Conn and Shannon Tarbet, with supporting roles from Bill Paterson and Rupert Penry-Jones, Love Sarah is a delightfully charming, Curtis-esque slice of romanticised drama that is every bit as sweet as the confectionery that adorns the windows and shelves of the women’s artisan business. After release in selected cinemas earlier this year, the film reached No.1 at the New Zealand box office, where it stayed for over 2 weeks.
Talking cakes, culture and life after loss, TDF sat down with Schroeder over Zoom to discuss the film ahead of its release on DVD and VOD.
The Digital Fix: Hi Eliza. Thank you for taking the time to talk with us and congratulations on the film. It still seems like such a strange thing to be saying, but, given how the film industry has been affected in recent months, you must have been so excited when Love Sarah finally got a theatrical release in July.
Eliza Schroeder: I really have been so excited, especially because we had been debating with the distributors about whether or not we could get the film released in cinemas. It was always planned, but with lockdown and everything, we just seemed to be in this situation where we weren’t sure whether we could do it. In the end, the producer [Rajita Shah] and I pushed them hard to get the theatrical release and it’s been wonderful because I wasn’t really expecting it in the end. When we did, it was absolutely thrilling.
And then we had this amazing success in New Zealand, which was really great. You never know how different territories and different audiences will react to a film, but in New Zealand and Australia, the audience really seemed to love the film and that’s great. I’ve received lots of emails from people over there congratulating me on the film and saying how much they loved it so that was really quite pleasing. And then being number one at the [New Zealand] box office was just so unexpected and just amazing.
Of the many things this film will make you feel, hungry is definitely one of them. There are just so many mouth-watering shots of cakes and pastries. Has making Love Sarah turned you into something of a cake connoisseur?
I must admit, I’ve always been a bit of an expert because I just love cakes. I really have a sweet tooth — I hate to say it, but I do. I’m always excited to wander around wherever I live and check out all the local bakeries. I’ve always enjoyed baking, too. I come from a large family — there were six of us at home — and one of my sisters was always baking, so it has always been a passion of mine.
Do you have a favourite?
I make a mean chocolate chip cookie and some very good brownies. Lately, I’ve got into making a white chocolate mousse that was also quite delicious, so I’m always experimenting with baking. At the moment though, I don’t actually have a kitchen — we are currently renovating a house — but hopefully I can get back to it soon.
One of the prominent themes in Love Sarah is the idea of communities coming together. To explore that through food is, I think, a wonderful concept. How integral to you was that examination of multiculturalism during the project?
For me, it was so important, because the area I live in and the area we shot in is so extremely multicultural; so multicoloured in all aspects. That was something I really wanted to reflect both on the screen and off it. We had such a diverse crew working on this film: people from everywhere who call London their home. Any skin colour, any ethnicity, any religion, it’s such a rich cultural mix. It’s something that I experience everyday when I go on the street and so that’s really what I wanted to bring to audiences around the globe: to say that London is one of those cities where you find all these different ethnicities and you get really inspired by talking to, and being friends with, people from all over the place.
I certainly think that comes across in this film. It opens, for instance, with several lovely aerial shots of London. Was establishing that specific sense of place a really important part of this project?
Yeah, it was so important because I think London is just such a unique place and one that people should see. Especially during these times of uncertainty, it’s so important to see that we all live together here in relative harmony, although we are all very different. Looking at how I grew up, and how I’m sure most of us grew up, I’m not used to that same degree of openness and mix of cultures and, in that way, London is quite special, I think.
You mentioned before about coming from a large family. How much of the family dynamic and generational interactions we see play out in the film were based on your own experiences?
I definitely took inspiration for the central characters from different women in my life, for example, my grandmother. But I think the dynamics of these women is something quite unique to the film, so I guess I’ve drawn more from my experiences over the decades looking at headstrong women, both in my family and friendship circle. I’ve always taken pleasure from people in general who have a strong mind and stand for something.
It’s great to see that, at the centre of this story, yourself included, there’s this strong core of independent, creative women — be it through, baking, dance or, in your case, filmmaking. Was that always your intention from the start?
Yes, I wanted to try and create a film where people, especially the female audience, can go and hopefully be inspired by some of these characters or by certain facets of this character and certain elements of that one. In an ideal world, I would have an audience sit there and say “Oh, I can identify with that issue,” or “I can identify with this characteristic” or find inspiration in how she has turned that problem around. I guess I was hoping to inspire people with these three very different female characters.
As I understand it, this is, in many ways, a deeply personal film for you. As much as it’s an examination of grief, it also feels very much like a celebration of life. How much of the story is a reflection of your own emotional journey?
As a filmmaker, you always look to draw from your own personal experience. Losing my mother and my own experience of loss has definitely shaped me as a director and so I wanted to bring people a story that allows them to grieve, allows them to feel the grief, but also enables them to see that there is life after that.
Even today, I’m still busy thinking about what my mother would have done, or how she would have felt about certain things. And trying to keep someone alive despite the fact they aren’t there anymore is, in the end, what the women in the film do. To be able to still embrace someone even though they aren’t there physically is, to me, a really lovely thing.
And obviously, given what’s happening globally, there will be a lot of people in the world who have suddenly and unexpectedly been impacted by grief. What do you hope audiences will take away from Love Sarah about dealing with loss?
I hope that people will see the importance of spending as much time as possible with the ones closest to you. For those who have lost loved ones, my hope is that they will see that you can give life another chance. There is always hope and if you allow yourself to step away from your usual path and towards something new, you can explore something quite wonderful. I think the three women in the film do that. They put aside their separate lives, their separate paths, and, in the face of uncertainty, come together. Although it might sound a little bit romanticised, I really think it’s all about giving hope a go.
And, finally, other than your own house, of course, what other projects have you got on the go and what can we expect to see from you in the not-too-distant future?
I have a couple of projects in development that I’m excited about. One is a thriller, so I’m really looking forward to that, particularly as a female director. The other is another romantic dramedy, but it’s early days so hopefully I’ll be able to reveal more about that soon. All in the pipeline, all very exciting.
Love Sarah will be released in the UK on all major VOD platforms and DVD on September 7 (available through all major retailers).
Love Sarah (2020)
Dir: Eliza Schroeder | Cast: Bill Paterson, Celia Imrie, Rupert Penry-Jones, Shelley Conn | Writers: Eliza Schroeder (story), Jake Brunger (screenplay), Jake Brunger (story), Mahalia Rimmer (story)