Director’s notes

I was in Poland researching a different film when an uncanny series of events led me to Zofia, an elderly woman who took me to a forest clearing and showed me an indentation in the ground, which marked the site of a mass grave from 1942. Visibly upset, she thrust a blue post-it-note into my hand. I didn’t have an interpreter with me that day, so couldn’t understand what she was saying, but I knew I had to return.

Nine months later, as we sat in her living room, Zofia told me the story of a Roma woman who was buried alive by Nazi soldiers in the forest.

The next day, I began to write the story of The Deathless Woman. I drew on all the detailed research I had been doing into the ‘forgotten’ history of the genocide of the Roma during WWII, and the many events that have followed. I wrote the story in her voice; it was as if she’d possessed me. Her voice was charged and angry. I envisaged her rage as a physical force capable of setting fire to the forest, of cursing her killers, of destroying living beings. She rose up out of her grave and skimmed over forests and villages to look down and witness terrible events.

Then I wrote in my own voice, telling the story of how I came to find her grave. I imagined her watching me as I researched the history of the Roma, believing it was no accident that I’d found myself at her grave. She watched as I looked for her, and in the process of looking for her, I found other stories that deserved to be heard, yet had never been recorded.

These stories of great urgency and relevance to the racism and prejudice rising again in the world today underpin my film. The Deathless Woman is my response as an artist and filmmaker to the historical erasure of the experience of the Roma people. Through The Seeker’s testimony the film also interrogates what such an erasure can mean to us now and in the future. The film visually exhumes the Roma’s buried and traumatic past and connects it to our traumatic present.

The project’s organic evolution began eight years ago with fieldwork in Europe and has continued since then with the support and collaboration of Roma communities in the UK, Poland and Hungary. I shaped this material into a cinematic structure, integrating documentary evidence from other voices and witnesses, then drafted the narrative of my own quest and encounter with the Deathless Woman. I have taken a highly innovative approach that connects psychic and physical haunting, theatrical re-enactment, and character-driven narrative, all within a documentary context.