'Rye Lane' Director Raine Allen-Miller On South London, Filmmaking And Representing The Black British Experience

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Meet 'Rye Lane' Director Raine Allen-MillerShane Anthony Sinclair - Getty Images
raine allen miller rye lane
Shane Anthony Sinclair - Getty Images

‘I moved to London when I was 12,’ says Raine Allen-Miller. We’re speaking a few days before her film Rye Lane, a modern day rom-com celebrating south London, is released. ‘Tonight there’s a Q&A at the Ritzy Picturehouse,' she says of the Brixton screening, 'it’s quite special for me as this is where I grew up after moving from Manchester with my dad'.

The director’s affinity for south London and its intricate stories first helped her to carve out a name for herself as a rising star back in 2018 with the release of her short film Jerk. Written and directed by Allen-Miller it depicts an elderly Jamaican man’s battle with depression.

‘Growing up I remember saying to my dad that I want to create those [stories] on TV. I must have been around nine years old, which sounds so ridiculous and cliché,' recalls the director, who spent her early years studying at the Brit School and Camberwell College of Arts. 'Without trying to sound egotistical, I’ve always wanted to share my vision.'

Following Jerk's premiere at the BFI London Film Festival to critical acclaim, the ball began rolling on Rye Lane and caught the eye of the Head of Film at BBC Film, Eva Yates, and producer Damian Jones.

'The film was developed across a two-year period and funnily enough it was initially set in Camden when I was first approached,' she explains, noting that she was initially apprehensive to direct a project she hadn't written, but found herself pleasantly surprised with the injection of humour in its script. 'It was hilarious and also quite a singular, clear, simple film,' continues Allen-Miller. As a writer, however, the director had a specific vision for the project's protagonists. 'I had quite a lot of notes,' she admits. 'I wanted the female lead to be a funny one, and I wanted the world to feel more elevated. So when they told stories, I really wanted them to be more dreamlike and surreal.'

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Corey Nickols - Getty Images

When it comes to creating an environment on set, Allen-Miller cites a grounded and relatable approach is best. 'It should be fun, you know? It shouldn’t be hell, because even though it’s important to work, it’s not life or death. [Prioritising people and] making sure the crew and cast could go home, see their families and live a healthy life was important to me,' she explains, noting that she wanted people, like the film's production designer, Anna – who was eight months pregnant during filming –, to 'feel comfortable'. 'Everyone needs to feel like their opinions matter,' she continues. 'From the runners on set, to the young actors [Vivian Oparah and David Jonsson] leading the film... to make sure they're all singing from the same hymn sheet doesn't mean that they can't have fun, explore and challenge.'

The film’s plot – which sees two young people meet on an uneventful day in London following respective break ups – is a testament to the 33-year-old’s commitment to a forthright approach to cinema and creating relatable stories. 'I wanted the film to be a correct representation,' explains Allen-Miller. 'The truth of it is, being a person of colour is a hard experience. But there are also really good days, and this film is about one of those really good days. It’s so important to represent our experience correctly and not just show grit. We also goof out, we also get our hearts broken, eat Greggs on the bed and cry - we all have a 360 experience of the world, and it's important that that's shown'.

It’s a consideration easily noted in the smaller moments of the film, such as the scene when the two love interests, Dom [Jonsson] and Yas [Oparah], stop for a Supermalt, or when they're plied with Wray and Nephew’s at a family BBQ. 'You can put the inclusion of something distinctly Black and British in something that's gritty and sad,' says Allen-Miller, 'but when you put it into something that's happy, it's realistic. It’s such an unapologetically Black thing.'

raine allen miller
Shane Anthony Sinclair - Getty Images

Such an authentic and holistic approach to filmmaking is evident thanks to Allen-Miller's clear vision to highlight diversity across the British film space. 'I can only really talk about my own experience', Allen-Miller says in response to being asked what it means to be a Black female director. 'I think people talk so much about things changing, but actually, they're just talking and it's not really changing.' She describes the current working climate for her fellow Black female directors as 'a door that's a tiny bit ajar with one of those doorstops wedged in there. It's still quite hard.'

'That’s why it was really important for me that we invited the community to the UK premiere – without them it would have felt weird and wrong,' she notes while reminiscing about the film’s hometown tour following its Sundance premiere and screening at Peckham's Peckhamplex cinema. 'I was nervous because of the people that live there, in the area that I am trying to show in the film,' she says. 'The premiere was 20% nerve-racking, 80% joy.'

Looking ahead to the future, the director is already planning to develop her own screenplay with BBC Films, and a comedy-drama series. 'I love filmmaking, but I also am interested in figuring out what it is that I can do to help more people like me get into the industry,' she says. 'But maybe I need to direct more films before I do that? I'm still sort of figuring it out.'

Rye Lane will be released nationwide in cinemas from March 17, 2023

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