17th British Shorts, Berlin
"Maybe selfishly, I never really thought about anyone ever actually watching it! It means a lot to have someone watch your film and it’s been great to have such positive feedback on it."
January 20, 2024
Atur, a short documentary about a father and son navigaing the turmoils of parenthood and youth, whilst their shared identity both blossoms and isolates them, albeit together.
Hi Sam, thank you for talking to TNC. How does it feel to be at the 17th British Shorts with your latest short documentary Atur?
I’m honoured. I love Berlin and I love film so it’s a perfect combination. The British Shorts programme is always really well curated, so more than anything, I’m just happy to share a space with lots of other filmmakers that are making interesting work and not just following the norm.
Atur is your graduation film from Edinburgh Collage of Art, what has it meant to you to see your film get so well received?
I made this film whilst at university so I was very much just experimenting and in way I didn’t have that high hopes for it. I just thought I wanted to do something really different. Maybe selfishly, I never really thought about anyone ever actually watching it! It means a lot to have someone watch your film and it’s been great to have such positive feedback on it. But I don’t believe art is just there to entertain or evoke only positivity. Art should engage you in many ways, across all spectrums of emotion. Even if it’s negatively received or evokes something negative for you, I still think that is a valid artistic experience. I’m really interested in anyone that gains anything from it.
What was your time like at Edinburgh Collage of Art and how much did your time there help guide your filmmaking journey?
I really enjoyed ECA, and learnt a lot, but I’m not sure how much was in regards to filmmaking. For me it was more of a space where I had the liberty to focus for an entire year on one film. To make a film like this is quite vital for your filmmaking journey as you can indulge entirely in what you are doing. It’s a privilege to be able to do that.
How important are festivals like British Shorts in creating a platform for short films and filmmakers?
British Shorts is a beautiful middle ground between a small and large film festival. Like it’s actually really good, and doesn’t buy into all the tropes that the ‘top’ of the industry seem to care about. These types of festivals are so important because they are more accessible for young filmmakers, and the focus is simply on the films rather than the scene, meaning the learning is invaluable.
What more can be done to make short films more visible to audiences outside of the festivals circuit?
I really love it when you go and watch a movie at a cinema and a short film is played before it. I almost think this should be obligatory. There’s enough good films out there for cinemas to change that up all the time. A bit like a band has a support act, there should be a short with a feature. This actually used to happen way more than it does now. Another easy option would be to get more short films being bought by online streamers. These are such easy suggestions which show how little effort is put into promoting the short film sector and especially short documentary.
"My Grandfathers painting were often British seascapes, moody, brewing skies, with rays of light penetrating through clouds and storms. This is telling the story of atmosphere, and mostly likely when I’m so interested in it!"
Can you tell me how Atur came about?
Atur came about when walking in a park in Dorset (Hardy Monument). I came across the main protagonists (The Clan Dolmen) working with another film crew in reconstructing a pagan ritual. I was fascinated. We chatted in the car park, shared a beer, not realising that the son was only 16. He looked 20. They were intoxicating, confident, sure in their identity, beautiful people. I’ll be honest, I just wanted to know them more than anything. We kept in touch and about 6 months later I brought up the idea of making a film.
Where did the idea come from to create a documentary that would explore this relationship between a father and son?
Sorry not that good an answer, but initially it was purely logistical. No mother was present to film with. However, they live in more of a community style, not quite commune but very much an open door policy with lots of shared space. Therefore there are lots of interpersonal relationships at play. I did hone into the father and son more as it kept the focus a little more clear.
Due to the nature and themes of the film did you draw any insight or experiences from your own life?
Well I was a bullied at the start of high school, to the point where I decided not to go back. I think I forced my parents hand into home schooling me for a year. Atur features subtle themes of bullying and social exclusion, but doesn’t dwell on the practicalities and instead focuses more on the feel of being isolated from your peer group. I did not want to make a film about a victim of bullying because I don’t think that’s really at play here. The father and sons shared identity simultaneously isolates them yet brings them together, and that’s not simply being a victim. That’s a complex alchemy of emotion.
When working on a short like this how important was the creative collaboration between you and your team?
I have a duality when it comes to my documentary work. I love to collaborate but I also love to work alone/ or as minimally as possible. When I’m shooting I want as few people. I like the intimacy. If it’s only me or one other than that’s great. I worked with a few fantastic people on Atur: filmmaker Daksh Punj who helped me develop the idea and was the sound recordist. He is a good friend, one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met, and has such an inquisitive mind. Another good friend, Julia Elger, edited and co-produced the film with me. Her editing style is very critical, and I mean that in all senses. She will investigate every shot and take away all that does not add to the film. Editing is what you leave out, not what you put in. We have a good personal understanding of each other which means editing with her is quite a magical process. I’ve also worked with colourist Caroline Morin a few times now and she did a great job on tying it all together and capturing the atmosphere I was looking for in our grade.
There is a real unique feel to Atur that has the camera as observer. In so that when we see the father and son there is a stillness of the camera that enables the viewer to connect with them both but one never feels intrusive. How did you manage to create this feeling of emotion, and atmosphere?
The camera never moves in Atur. It is always static. To the point that I meticulously cut out anything where I was reframing or moving, meaning that I actually may have missed a lot. Some people may say that I valued an aesthetic choice over story, and to be honest they are right and that’s what I wanted to do. My documentary does not aim to capture a narrative progression of events. It’s designed to capture atmosphere and tell the story of feeling, a moment in time, that will depart and fade into memory. In order to capture this liminal idea I was really strict with my cinematic language and the fact that the camera never moves and is often quite distant massively heightens the sense of atmosphere. It’s still, almost like you’re a ghost in the room. That’s why it doest feel intrusive because you are an invisible witness.
What was the biggest challenges you faced bringing Atur to the big screen?
I suppose the hardest thing when making a film with not much story is what do you include? How do you know when you’ve reached your destination or when to stop filming? We could have cut this film in many different ways, and we tried a lot of different scene variations, and quite simply settled on what felt right emotionally. The lack of narrative is quite a hurdle for people to overcome - most people want a story when they watch something. It probably means that Atur exists somewhere between a documentary and an art film. Where do films like that even live outside of a festival context?
Where did you passion for filmmaking come from?
My passion for filmmaking stems from the Grandfather, my dads father, who I don’t think ever made a film in his life. Other than shooting a bit of 8mm. He was an avid painter and we spent hours upon hours of painting with him when we were young. For me painting and film are both light based mediums, the image is constructed almost always based off sight and how light falls over a subject or setting. This is different to say ceramics or sculpture, which transcend light and can be felt and understood through touch. In a way painters and filmmakers are bound to light in an almost unbreakable way. My Grandfathers painting were often British seascapes, moody, brewing skies, with rays of light penetrating through clouds and storms. This is telling the story of atmosphere, and mostly likely when I’m so interested in it!
How much has your approach to editing and directing changed since your debut short?
Film, like any art, is a process. It’s always changing, morphing, evolving. And I’m really happy it does. I don’t want to be the same person as I was yesterday or the same filmmaker. I may resemble that, but I hope I continue to grow and challenge myself. We will see how the next film turns out and then we can reflect on that.
What where some of the lessons you took away from making Atur, and what do you think you discovered about yourself during the making of this short?
Committing to a static camera is very hard and you miss a lot of good coverage. However, working at a slower pace is also a unique way of looking at the world. You see it in more detail. I think it is very important to always set yourself limitations when working, as through limitations, the best creativity happens.
Who are some of the filmmakers that have/do inspire you?
My taste in film is very eclectic so I don’t think any of the filmmakers I really respect resemble what I am doing. I’m a massive fan of Lynne Ramsay's early works ‘Ratcatcher’ ‘Morvern Caller’ which install an unearthly sense of reality (thus a feel of documentary) in her fictional films. But I also love the absurd sereneness of people like Roy Andersson who hold static wide frames for painfully long in films like ‘A Pigeon on a Branch Reflecting on Existence’ or ‘Songs from the Second Floor’.
But for me, and I urge anyone who hasn’t seen their films to hunt them down, I really rate the work of Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel. They are anthropologists and artists that work with film and have directed a number of documentaries like ‘Leviathan’, ‘De Humani Corporis Fabrica’ and ‘Sweetgrass’. It’s some very interesting work. I won’t say anything more about them, as I think the work speaks for itself.
Do you have any tips or advice you would offer anyone wanting to get into filmmaking?
Keep making films that you want to make and never stop. If you do that, no matter what your career looks like, at least at the end of it all you’ll be happy you made work that was definably you.
And finally, what message would you like audiences to take away from Atur?
I hope that you can find a sense of stillness and peace, a pause from the constant driving nature of time.