Interview: Love + Hate

Understanding, by being taken into other people's lives, is what I like about making these kind of films. - Director Dominic Savage

Feature by Paul Gallagher | 16 May 2006
Crash', this year's surprise Oscar winner for best picture, was a timely reminder that racism is as much an issue in contemporary western society as ever. Although a million miles away from that film's high-scale production values and glittering cast, Dominic Savage's debut feature 'Love + Hate' is a similarly uncompromising look at the state of race relations in the UK.

Taking place in an unspecified northern English city, it tells the story of Naseema, a Muslim girl, and Adam, a white boy, and the world of prejudice that tumbles in on them when they unexpectedly fall in love. Like 'Crash', 'Love + Hate' is very much a film with an agenda, and its story could appear somewhat contrived, as it is clearly a vehicle for social comment. But speaking to British director Savage, it becomes clear that it is the characters that are the key: "I believe there's a truth within each character. There's a resonance in the actors' lives with the characters they play, and they were drawing on their own personal experiences when playing those parts. So there's a realism of character, but a sur-realism almost, in terms of setting and place."

Savage sees film as playing a crucial role in helping different cultures and communities to understand each other, an understanding that is in short supply at present: "Understanding, by being taken into other people's lives, is what I like about making these kind of films... I think a lot of problems are occurring because people aren't engaging with each other, and don't want to; they're just living their own separate lives." This desire to promote understanding brings an integrity to Savage's casting choices, as he states, "to me it's crucial to find people that have direct experience with the role they're playing". It's refreshing to hear such a people-focused philosophy, as opposed to the market-driven concerns of Hollywood, but it made Savage's job a lot harder for this film: "Young Muslim girls would never be encouraged to be in a film, let alone a film that dealt with this. So it was a very long process." The work paid off though, with the highlight of the film being first-time actress Samina Awan's compelling central performance. "She brought that life experience to the role", says Savage, "and if we'd had someone 'playing' her, who didn't have that experience, I think we would have had real difficulties."

One of Savage's priorities was to make a film that worked as a piece of entertainment as well as being an 'issue movie', and this informed his decision to use songs by Snow Patrol, Ian Brown and Stephen Fretwell, amongst others, on the soundtrack. It's a move that could have easily ruined the film, but it works, adding to the emotional impact. "Songs can work in a very unique way in films", says Savage, "I like the way the music and lyrics can work together to say something else about [a scene]." This is particularly true of the film's final moments, which use a well-known song to powerful effect. "I want people to really get into the story, and hopefully when the song comes in at the end your heart is with those characters. I like to think that the message, ultimately, is that love wins over everything."
Love + Hate is released on May 5.