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Harpist. Lingerie designer. Street photographer. Art historian. Ali Kurr’s diverse talents could have sent her down any number of career paths, but her destiny as a director was sealed at the tender age of four. 

For some reason, the play needed to be performed naked.

A keen exponent of experimental theatre, the budding playwright staged her first masterpiece in secret: nursery staff returned from their break to find 60 toddlers cavorting in the nude. “For some reason, the play needed to be performed naked,” cackles Kurr. “The teachers weren’t very happy, but my mum thought it showed real initiative.”

Sport England – This Girl Can 2020

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Above: Kurr's Sport England film.


Born Alessandra Kurucz to a Polish father and an English mother, Kurr, who is currently signed to Partizan’s new director division, Darkroom, has certainly diversified her oeuvre since that initial foray into directing; what has remained constant, though, is her drive, commitment and ability to surprise. It could be a nonchalant shot of a tampon string in Sport England’s This Girl Can, glimpsed as a woman pulls up her shorts to hit the gym, or the OTT schlock-horror of a girl seeking revenge on her racist date in S.T.F.U, but Kurr certainly grabs the attention.

She learned to make her own clothes from vintage Vogue patterns, took up street photography – something she still dabbles in today – then decided to become a professional harpist.

Growing up in the rural Home Counties without a decent mobile phone signal or a driver’s licence (severely dyspraxic, she crashed her instructor’s car, putting an end to lessons), Kurr filled her time with creative hobbies that bordered on obsessions. “I watched box-sets of period dramas and spent hours designing costumes. Then I got interested in undergarments. I’d take my friends’ underwear, deconstruct it, remake it into things like tartan bras.” She learned to make her own clothes from vintage Vogue patterns, took up street photography – something she still dabbles in today – then decided to become a professional harpist.

BBC Sport – Change The Game

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Above: Change the Game, for BBC Sport.


“I think I’ve always been someone who gets excited by stuff, and really into whatever I’m doing [at the time],” Kurr muses. “[As a director], I still feel like I need to try everything out, to find out whether it’s what I really, really want to make.” That mercurial attitude pervades her work, which is yet to crystallise around a particular aesthetic. 

Because I didn’t go to film school, I’d just choose someone and try to emulate [their style] and have a go at it. The challenge now is to fuse all that together.

The kitsch appeal of Kurr’s earliest promo, for Digital Farm Animals’ Wanna Know – a camp satire of kids’ beauty pageants featuring a contestant whose ‘talent’ is ice sculpture by way of chainsaw – is a long way from Sparrow, her bleak, Andrea Arnold-inspired short film, or the cool, art-house vibe of singer Connie Constance’s Clouds“A lot of my stuff is really disparate,” agrees Kurr. “Because I didn’t go to film school, I’d just choose someone and try to emulate [their style] and have a go at it. The challenge now is to fuse all that together.”

Kurr started directing while studying history of art at London’s Courtauld Institute, supporting her thesis with immersive clips she uploaded to YouTube. “You’re expected to use figure references and photos, but I thought, in the digital age, this felt a bit naff, so I started videoing the work instead.” After graduating, she got her first music video commission, for Big Spring’s Buzzards Leave The Bones

You’re expected to use figure references and photos, but I thought, in the digital age, this felt a bit naff, so I started videoing the work instead.

Several spec spots later, she was approached by Connie Constance to direct the video for Lose My Mind, which scored a UKVMA nomination and, within six months, was signed to Friend in London. “It’s only now that I realise how long people work to get to that place,” she reflects. Thus began a golden era of work: promos for hot young artists like Loyle Carner and Poppy Adjudha; a spot for ASOS x Puma; and a mini Dazed doc on diversity in fashion.

Loyle Carner – NO CD

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Above: Kurr's promo for Loyle Carner, No CD.


Then – inevitably – the new director sheen began to rub off. Two years in, the briefs dried up, replaced with waitressing and tutoring stints. “Things were crap. I was really struggling,” remembers Kurr. She turned to fellow female director Georgia Hudson, who she’d met through an informal ‘women in film’ group. “I called her up and said, can you help me? I don’t know what to do.” Fortuitously, Hudson had just won a job for the BBC Women’s Football World Cup trailer; the Beeb were looking for another female director with sports experience, to shoot a lower-budget counterpart for the Women’s Netball World Cup, and Kurr fitted the bill.   

When I started I desperately didn’t want to be the ‘woman director’ doing the shit, girly work.

A sweaty, adrenaline-pumping homage to netball’s infamous three-second rule, Change The Game joined spots like Nike Train Harder on Kurr’s commercial reel, bolstering her sports credentials and ultimately winning her the latest iteration of Sport England’s This Girl Can (via Darkroom, whom she joined in 2019). “I’ve done way more sports ads than anything else, because when I started I desperately didn’t want to be the ‘woman director’ doing the stereotypical female work,” Kurr says. 

While she loves working with professional athletes – “they’re at the top of their game, literally, and they always hit their marks” – This Girl Can had a personal appeal. “The first campaign totally influenced me getting into running. Before then, I fucking hated sport. So it was great to work on something that had already worked on me.” 

It’s an interesting one: when a style has been set, how do you put your mark on something?

Freshening up the fourth instalment of an established campaign proved challenging, though. “We took a slightly different approach by following fewer women; we used a track by a young British artist; and visually, the style is a little more gritty, a little greyer. But yes, it’s an interesting one: when a style has been set, how do you put your mark on something?”

Nike – Train Harder

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Above: Nike Train Harder.


Outside commercials, Kurr likes exploring “female sexuality: where it can go, how it’s perceived, how you portray that”. Her 2019 short film, Sparrow, which screened at BFI Flare, captures all the awkwardness and futility of first love through the narrative of a lesbian couple attempting to rekindle their relationship amidst the teddy picker machines and caravan parks of Skegness. 

I’m very interested in the idea of women going out of control, losing their shit. Being unattractive, ugly even. It’s somehow seductive.

More recently, S.T.F.U sees singer-songwriter Rina Sawayama go full-on Ringu as she rages against casual racism and threatens to strangle her mansplaining date with her own hair. “I’m very interested in the idea of women going out of control, losing their shit. Being unattractive, ugly even. It’s somehow seductive.”

That subversive take on female sexuality, plus a penchant for drawing filmic inspiration from personal experience (“I’m always hearing my art history lecturer at the back of my mind, saying ‘Great artists don’t talk about their personal history, it’s just about the work’… but unfortunately everything I make it about me”), comes to a climax in Kurr’s latest project. 

It got to the point where I couldn’t sit down and had to cancel jobs. I was very unwell, very embarrassed.

Co-produced with Erika Lust Films and set for release this month, it’s a 20-minute porn film about an adult performer who suffers from vulvodynia (aka unexplained pain around the vulva), which inhibits penetrative sex. Surreally comic, the film is inspired by Kurr’s own experience of the condition, which strikes women randomly. “It got to the point where I couldn’t sit down and had to cancel jobs. I was very unwell, very embarrassed.” After a producer friend suggested using it as creative fodder, Kurr’s research led her to a cam-girl and fellow vulvodynia sufferer, and the idea of “a porn performer who can’t perform” was born. The title, inevitably, is Outercourse.

Rina Sawayama – STFU!

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Above: Kurr's promo for Rina Sawayama, S.T.F.U.


After getting to grips with casting (“people don’t send in casting tapes, you watch their videos, so me and my producer had a right laugh watching about seven hours of porn in the office”) and performances (“you’re only allowed to rehearse on the day, to keep it natural”), Kurr was worried she had made a “corny” porno. “But I think, towards the end, there is something interesting there.”

People don’t send in casting tapes, you watch their videos, so me and my producer had a right laugh watching about seven hours of porn in the office.

Outercourse is not the only project on Kurr’s slate for 2020. Finding affinity with its visceral subject matter, she’s optioned the stage rights to Wetlands, Charlotte Roche’s cult novel: “I’ve always had a fascination with grotesque things. When I was younger, I’d collect my mum’s dandruff.” There’s also a TV series in development, which is “real Edgar Wright-style slapstick comedy. As I’ve got older, I’ve realised it’s OK not to be deep and cool and arty. I like having a laugh and not taking anything too seriously.

 “I’m still just playing [around] at the moment,” Kurr concludes. “But I think the more things I’m making, the closer I’m getting to where I want to be.”   

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