If happiness is infectious, then tragedy is toxic. Set in gritty South London and inspired by her own past, Thea Gajic’s (Run) latest short The Importance of Skin explores how happiness spreads and tragedy scars and how these moments of elation and heartbreak affect not just us, but those around us too. The 10-min film sneaks up under your skin as an intimate closeness forms with the main characters, their emotional journey deeply touching and painfully familiar.
“It is about the knowledge that everyone has your back”
The Importance of Skin tells the story of Cyra and Fabe, who are very much in love and expecting their first child. Living on a council estate, the young couple are supported by the caring, tight-knit community they grow up in. But all is not as blissful as it seems, as a life changing event threatens to destroy their happiness.
The film was shot in Brixton, South London, where Gajic grew up. Whereas we’re used to seeing these places shown as rough and even dangerous, the director has chosen to highlight the positive side of working class culture.
“It was in many ways an ode to the community of my teenage hood. To the strangers that became friends, that became family. It is about the knowledge that everyone has your back: from the neighbour to the cleaner to the shopkeeper in the off license”- Gajic explains, and she has undoubtedly managed to achieve this with powerful conviction.
Narratively, there is nothing extraordinary here, in fact it’s a rather unremarkable story, but Gajic has successfully crafted a poignant tale, which leaves a lasting impression on her audience. The interactions between Cyra and the shopkeeper, Fabe and his friends, or the time they spend with Asia, a little girl from the neighbourhood, these are the scenes which are so revealing, which show us who these people are and how much they care for one another.
We can clearly see the love between the two main characters, without them even being on screen together until the very end of the film. This clever writing is the reason why we are so drawn to them, why their happiness feels so palpable and their tragedy so devastating.
“If we want to open up conversations about such issues, we have to ignite them from an easier angle”
Having lost her dad at a young age, another element Gajic wanted to explore through The Importance of Skin was the way people coped with trauma and personal loss. “These things that happen to us and those we love aren’t stand-alone experiences; they happen to everyone, every day, in amongst the beauty of our day-to-day lives. If we want to open up conversations about such issues, we have to ignite them from an easier angle” – she elaborates and as someone who has also been fascinated by these same issues, I couldn’t agree more.
We still approach the subject with a degree of fear and embarrassment, or quietly wait for the pain to subside instead of sharing it with those who care enough to listen. Perhaps films like The Importance of Skin can help provide an emotional outlet, which can lighten our burden and make us just a little bit braver.
Thea Gajic is currently 80 pages into her first feature film. She is also featuring in a new BBC3 Pilot called ‘EnterpriCe’ due to air in October, so watch this space!