After graduating in only 2015 James was invited back to the National Film & Television School to deliver a masterclass to the current students on Jellyfish and how it was made. A big thank you to Jon Wardle and the NFTS staff for having us back and making the evening such an enjoyable one.
Jellyfish has won ‘Best Feature Film’ at Lo Spiraglio Film Festival - A very special prize as the festival's focus is films that address mental health issues and was judged by mental health professionals as well as filmmakers. GRAZZI to the festival organisers and the jury.
We have been sent some very special reviews from a group of young carers in Warwickshire. We are humbled and grateful for your feedback, which means more to us than any other we have received.
“I’ve never related more to a film in my life. Mental health can be hard on the individual, but also just as hard for the individual who is caring for them. It really emphasised the struggles of finding balance in life as a carer & how everything has a knock-on effect, & although you are the person that everyone needs, you’re the last person on your own mind. When you have siblings as well it means you’ve got to look out for them too & try to protect them as much as you can & try not to let them feel what you feel & keep them from harms way. You try not to let them see what you’re feeling, be a brick wall, be positive, just plod on & pretend everything is ok. Very heart felt. It was good that they didn’t hold back & try to pretend that everything was all sunshine, unicorns & rainbows. No sugar coating. It was just a young carer’s reality.”
Shannon, Young Adult Carer – age 19
“The film Jellyfish was a really good film. People are saying that nobody would be in that situation, but they are.”
Katie, Young Carer – age 15
“The film was very hard to watch as I had so much in common. I was in tears half the time! It perfectly shows the hard lifestyle of a proper carer & how poverty & worry can affect their choices & experiences. Although it was very hard-hitting that might just be due to our empathy with the character.”
Poppy, Young Carer – age 15
“I could relate to Sarah when she had to take care of her younger siblings, which I do to help my mum. I have 5 younger siblings so I understand how things can get stressful & hard, but you just have to carry on.”
Amy, Young Carer – age 15
We have received an overwhelming amount of praise from social and health care professionals and we are sharing a selection below by way of highlighting how Sarah’s circumstances are all too real for many vulnerable young people.
Stephen Vickers, Director Adults & Communities at Herefordshire Council
“Speaking as a professional who has worked in social care for over 20 years including in services supporting families and individuals living with mental ill health, I can honestly say that Jellyfish is as true a reflection as I have ever seen on screen, of the issues and importantly the humanity and resilience of some living on the edge of care. Real life, hard hitting, thought provoking, moving and brilliantly acted. A difficult subject to discuss, yet alone portray accurately and sensitively which this film certainly does. A highly recommended watch for all current and future social care staff.”
The Carers Trust
“If you want to understand just how hard life as a young carer can be, watch Jellyfish – hard hitting and realistic film about young carers in the UK.”
Sheffield Young Carers
“Watch Jellyfish to see a hard hitting but realistic portrayal of the love, the tears, the struggles and the strength.”
Dr Risthardh Hare (DSW MSW MA BA)
“The film was a pleasant surprise because I wasn’t really looking forward to this film. I had spent the day trying to come up with ideas to tackle the impact of poverty without mentioning poverty. I was excepting the usual gritty British kitchen sink film, 90 mins setting out the tragedy of the Working class affliction before an ending full of despair or hidden talent that saves our heroine from the gutter and the desperation of their poverty-stricken lives.
What was interesting for me was that these concerns dissipated within the first few minutes. At this time, I couldn’t work out why but on reflection I think it has a lot to do with the cinematography and the choice of music. Clearly, the film was made by someone who knows the area and these types of situations. It was heartening to see a piece that wasn't created by a social class tourist who was making a political point or a social commentary educating their peers (Owen Jones etc) - this was simply a story about a family who lived in Margate.
Anyway, from a Social work perspective, there is evidence of understanding about family behaviours. What we know from research and lived experience is that children who are abused, and this was an abused child well before the rape, will find something to hide their anger behind and this cloak can be the application of humour. However, the humour is driven by anger and fear and is also used as a weapon. This came across really well in the film, with painful events, which invoke fear /anger, creating a new joke. The acting was excellent across the board from the main characters to the bit parts.
I thought the ending was superb and made the film feel more realistic and less desperate. The classic narrative would have seen the kid go on stage and be really funny and therefore have a way out. From a professional point of view, I would be really concerned about the message being conveyed. All these evil things happen, but they have given her great material, so it’s all ok? I saw the humour as her gaining her voice which became the mechanism for disclosure. These children don't want a way out - they love their families, but they just want to the bad stuff to stop. So the ending we had here, the child finding her voice and disclosing the abuse she had suffered, was perfect.
The dynamics between the family were spot on. The fear of the SW with the previous episode of care reinforcing that fear shows an understanding of this life. I thought there was a real love for Margate and loved the in-jokes "Shoreditch by the sea". It didn't patronise me, which is novel - I could apply my learning on behaviours, actions etc and come to my own conclusions.”
Susan Coffer – Eden Carers
“James Gardner’s insightful film into the life of ‘Sarah’, a young carer struggling with her domestic situation, school pressures and teenage angst, convincingly portrays the harsh realities facing many young carers today. Often invisible to those around them, young carers take on huge responsibilities of the kind not normal for their tender ages. Jellyfish, while often difficult to watch, skilfully condenses many of the issues that arise from caring for a family member and the physical, emotional and psychological effects it can have on the young carer.
The film has clearly been very well researched, and Liv Hill who plays the central character of ’Sarah’ is beautifully observed. The relentless grimness of her existence is peppered with humour and hope as she discovers her talent for stand-up comedy, by drawing on her situation for material.
Our hope at Eden Carers is that Jellyfish will help raise the profile of young carers nationally and, as a result, will see more of them being supported by charities like ours.”
Specialist Mental Health Occupational Therapist, Bristol
“Thanks so much for inviting me to watch the movie. It was so harrowing and such a true description of what happens. It gave me that same empty feeling when I read some of the patient’s referral forms and history. It’s such an important story that needs to be shared with everyone and the filmmakers did so well in telling it.”
“We thought Jellyfish was absolutely fantastic. The acting was spot on too. Really important film showing what it’s like for thousands of families growing up in England. Especially with the current situation with the roll out of Universal Credit. We will be sure to recommend others to go and see it.”
Wendy Lloyd for The Psychologist
“Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake invigorated public debate about austerity and welfare cuts, with the film still referenced in Parliament as a cautionary tale for Universal Credit. Here, director and co-writer James Gardner’s Jellyfish considers the welfare equation with the added crippling issue of mental health, in a film that might arguably be considered a companion piece to Loach’s BAFTA award winner.
Liv Hill delivers a visceral performance as 15-year-old Sarah, who we meet ferrying her young twin siblings to school by bike, then persuading them to make do with a cold, uncooked, packet noodle dinner when the electricity runs out. There appears to be no adult presence at home, and Sarah seems capable if beleaguered. However, navigating her peers and school-day soon reveals a young woman at breaking point; be it rebuffing her inevitable bullies, or talking back to her understanding yet conflicted drama teacher, played Cyril Nri.
Thus Gardner cleverly establishes Sarah’s character before we’re finally introduced to mother Karen. Mum has bipolar disorder, and Sinead Matthews’ committed performance encapsulates the highs, lows, insecurity and unpredictability associated with the condition. Importantly, Karen’s behaviour and the family’s history fleshes out not only her identity as a struggling single mum unwittingly emotionally blackmailing her daughter, but also Sarah’s naïve rationale for keeping the family together, despite the impossible toll on her and her siblings.
Jellyfish provides a bitter illustration of Judith Butler’s ‘Precarious Life', as expounded upon so powerfully in her 2004 book of the same name: Sarah’s carer responsibilities alongside school and a part time job are unsustainable, whilst Karen is utterly incapable of adhering to welfare system requirements with such chronic mental health. Paying the rent and keeping the lights on is therefore a daily struggle. Additionally, Sarah’s increasingly desperate efforts to make ends meet make her dangerously vulnerable to the men who pay her: a minor, for illicit sexual favours. Power relations inevitably loom large here, with Sarah’s seedy boss also willing to perceive her vulnerability as an opportunity to exert his power, ultimately via physical violence.
This ‘precariousness’ is also encapsulated in the film’s location of Margate, a battleground of rising inequality. When Sarah encounters a posturing estate agent, who boasts obliviously of vast profits from his property development for the 'DFL' (Down From London) types who are gentrifying parts of the town, she has a seemingly justifiable opportunity to gain at least some financial redress for the shitty hand she’s been dealt. But there’s little to celebrate as we anxiously witness Sarah embarking on yet another precarious mission purely because she’s run out of options.
The one option Sarah does have comes courtesy of stand-up comedy. With everything else going on it could have been a stretch making this storyline coherent, but Gardner (and co-writer Simon Lord) smoothly incorporate Sarah’s journey to her eventual, and tensely show stopping, performance in a way that highlights the salvation and power of a personal passion. The film is a tough one, but perhaps not bleak: ultimately you feel hopeful about Sarah’s courage and power within. The message, however, is clear: families like Sarah’s are society’s dirty secret, and they’re being failed by the system.
Jellyfish is a timely and important social commentary with terrific performances. If it can garner even a fraction of the attention of I, Daniel Blake perhaps it could prompt a better understanding of the horrific ramifications of poor mental health on struggling families in poverty, and provide another much needed counter to those hysterical polarising headlines.”
The BFI have named Jellyfish as one of ten films to check out at the upcoming Borderlines Film Festival. The film will play at the Hereford Courtyard on the 12th and 13th of March. The 12th (with q&a) is already sold out, but there are still some tickets left for the 13th.
Read the full BFI article here.
“I can’t wait to see what this guy does with money”
Mark Kermode and Ben Bailey Smith ran out of time discussing Jellyfish in the 5-Live Review Show, so continued to talk about the film in the extended podcast version of the program. Listen via the YouTube link below…
"Jellyfish is part of the conversation that promotes a better understanding of how we can improve our society"
James was interviewed by Cineuropa after winning the ‘Cineuropa Award’ at Mons International Film Festival on the weekend. Read the full interview by clicking here.
Jellyfish has won the Cineuropa and the Jury’s Screenplay awards at the International Festival Du Mons. James was in person to collect the awards and also deliver a Q&A after a couple of the screenings.
Mark talks about Jellyfish (again!) on the BBC Film Review on the 15th February 2019. Watch below…
“Gardner eschews easy triumphalism by remaining true to his protagonist’s situation and using the film’s Margate setting to weave in a deft critique of the gentrification process turning a blind-eye to people like her.”
The Scotsman has awarded Jellyfish four stars, the highest rating of any of this week’s new releases. Read the full review by clicking here.
Mark Kermode reviewed Jellyfish on his BBC Radio 5 Live show and you can watch the whole thing back by clicking play on the video below…
"How often does a British film come from nowhere and establish a funny, touching, vividly memorable “somewhere”?... Jellyfish is funny, touching and vividly memorable."
The Financial Times has awarded Jellyfish FIVE STARS and you can read the full review by clicking here.
“Jellyfish is a timely and important social commentary with terrific performances. If it can garner even a fraction of the attention of I, Daniel Blake perhaps it could prompt a better understanding of the horrific ramifications of poor mental health on struggling families in poverty, and provide another much needed counter to those hysterical polarising headlines.“
It pleases us tremendously when professionals who work in the fields the film addresses respond positively to the film. You can read the full review by Wendy Lloyd on ‘The Psychologist’ by clicking here.
Ahead of the release in UK cinemas on Friday (15th) Jellyfish has received four FOUR STAR reviews, which you can read by clicking on the links below…
“Hill is the anchor at the heart of this movie and, fittingly for her character, delivers a performance with maturity beyond her years.”
“Owning every scene, rising star Liv Hill certainly delivers a memorable performance as Sarah, worthy of all the attention and nominations she’s been receiving.”
“It’s a compelling story with wonderfully drawn characters and a world that carries weight”
“Jellyfish is a remarkable debut anchored by an unforgettable lead performance - this is a British indie that deserves your attention.”
Liv and James were were interviewed live on BUILD SERIES LDN yesterday and if you missed it, no worries as you can catch up by clicking play on the video below.
“I’m looking forward to experiencing adult life without my mum but I know I’m going to be homesick. On my last day at home, my mum’s going to make a lasagne and I’m going to bake fairy cakes.”
Liv is featured in today’s copy of the Metro newspaper. Read the article online by clicking here.