Streaming: Operator (2015)
Funded by Kickstarter, Operator was inspired by a genuine 999 call. Director/writer Caroline Bartleet heard and recognised the dramatic possibilities of giving us a brief glimpse into just one fire service phone call. Short films have to be quick and punchy and it’s rare to find a 5 minute film telling a very simple story, with one actress on screen and the other a ‘voice’, that can convey not only a sense of foreboding, complete empathy and finally a resolution that made me let out a gasp and wipe away a genuine tear at the final moment.
This is a film, albeit short, that has such intensity it remains in your memory for days. Laura (Kate Dickie) has just started the night shift answering 999 calls for the fire service when she answers a call from Gemma (Vicky McClure) whose son is trapped upstairs in a burning bedroom. The sheer terror and urgency in McClure’s voice and dialogue is completely believable, you don’t need to SEE Vicky, as it’s all there in her voice; the terror, pleading, and relentless panic at the thought of flames engulfing her son (and herself).
Vanessa Whyte (cinematographer) has done a fantastic job of giving the whole film an almost tunnel-like vision. Close-up lingering shots of Kate Dickie, her face caressed by the pale blue sheen from the computer monitor in a dark room, focus never faltering, camera as steady as Laura’s nerve, her calm and reassuring voice cajoling and present, empathetic and concerned, that lilting Scottish accent only adding to her zen-like facial countenance. She soothes Gemma like a mother, cooing to her, a virtual hug of reassurance that she will be saved. Her son will make it, she is Gemma’s lifeline. Dickie’s face at the end of the piece did make me genuinely fill up.
What a coup for Bartleet to get two of the UK’s greatest modern actresses to appear in her film, and the fact that it’s a short, and has 2 great actors in gives this film such gravitas and makes this a real joy to watch. Here we have quality, a succinct yet emotionally powerful story, performed brilliantly by two wonderful actresses who in the space of 5 minutes give performances of such depth that I was truly breathless by the end of the film. Unsurprisingly, Operator has been nominated for Best Short film BAFTA, and deservedly so, it might be little, but it’s BIG. Massive even, for how many films out there boast a female director, writer (Caroline Bartleet), producer (Rebecca Morgan), cinematographer (Vanessa Whyte), two female stars and NO broken hearts? Mmmm, I can’t think of any. I’m sure we’ll hear a lot from this team in the future.
Please check out Operator’s website for updates on where the film is showing (festivals) and when the film will be available online.
Review by Tina (co-host of 60 Minutes With) with thanks to Rebecca Morgan for the advance streaming link.