British Shorts | 2020
"After a series of conversations and creating a blog where others began to share their own earliest childhood memory, I realised that there is great power in the rediscovery of things that are often deep within our subconscious."
Dir. Mary Martins
In 2018 Martins was commissioned by the BFI and BBC4 to make the short film Childhood Memories, based on her memories of a holiday in Lagos as a young girl. The film combines archive footage with stop-motion and 2D animation to build a rich and evocative picture of a time and place remembered.
Hi Mary, thanks for talking to TNC, how is your 2020 going?
It’s been a busy start to the year, with studying at the Royal College of Art. Towards the latter part of 2019, I worked on a series of documentary experiments that would inform my practice this year. My focus has been on developing my documentary approach.
Congratulations on having Childhood Memories selected to British Shorts, what does it mean to you to be part of such a great showcase for British Films?
Thank you. I was surprised to be selected. It was a privilege to have Childhood Memories screened alongside an amazing selection of films.
Can you tell me a little bit about Childhood Memories, how did this film come about?
Childhood Memories is an autobiographical animated documentary about my earliest childhood memory. This was a holiday to Lagos, Nigeria with my mother.
When I became a mother there was an inseparable relationship between my work and my motherhood. There was a period when I was making minimal work and just focusing on raising my son. It was also a period of reflection and when my practice expanded into documentary form.
My mother had a difficult childhood, she was raised by her grandmother and called her mother. Her own mother she called her aunt. I had several personal conversations with my mother over the space of two years. We would go through old photographs and my mother began to really open up to me, which went on to inspire me to make the film.
I had a residency as the Motherhouse studios after winning the Mother Art Prize in 2016 for my documentary on single motherhood. During that period, I prepared a body of work that was later pitched at the BFI, and selected to be a part of the BBC/BFI Animation 2018.
Did you have any apprehensions about making a film that is autobiographical?
After a series of conversations and creating a blog where others began to share their own earliest childhood memory, I realised that there is great power in the rediscovery of things that are often deep within our subconscious. These memories can create our sense of identity. The intention of the film was to trigger this memory in others.
In making a film that looks at personal memory how cathartic was it for you to take a deep look at your memory?
It was such a beautiful exploration of my cultural heritage, my identity and artistic growth.
What was the most challenging aspect of making Childhood Memories?
Time. I needed more time to reflect on my technique. I used the opportunity to experiment with my filmmaking and push the boundaries between working with both live action archive footage and animation. I tried to pave a new way for myself. By this I mean a technique that had not been used before or in a particular way. The rawness of the film demonstrates this.
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
For the arts, yes. I started out painting abstract expressionist oil and acrylic on canvas. I watched a Japanese animation series with a strong message on the lust for power and how it can often lead to destruction and destroy relationships. I immediately wanted to learn more about film and animation and how, like painting, it too can be very expressive.
How much has your style and the approach to your films changed since your debut?
It prompted me to apply to the Royal College of Art as I wanted to expand further on my documentary approach and learn more. You have to continue to develop as a filmmaker. It takes dedication and practice to achieve your best work.
"I watch a lot of films not in the English language as it’s interesting to understand how our culture can influence our filmmaking."
What has been the best piece of advice you've been given?
Develop a cinematic language and experiment. I recently met a British filmmaker called Andrew Kotting who developed a method called ‘reverse engineering’. This is where you gather as much information as possible and film as much as possible then begin to build your narrative and/or message.
Do you have any advice you would offer someone thinking about getting into filmmaking?
Watch as much early cinema as possible, in particular the avant-garde movement. Understand analogue filmmaking and then move onto digital. There is so much beauty in the early work. I watch a lot of films not in the English language as it’s interesting to understand how our culture can influence our filmmaking.
What are you currently working on?
I’m working on an animated documentary for the Wellcome Collection around the theme of health and happiness. It’s in very early stages, but my intention is to unravel why our desire to procreate is linked to our mental health.
I am also working on moving image work that will be exhibited in a gallery space in June.
And finally, what message do you want your audience to take away from Childhood Memories?
We have so much to learn from each other, share your stories.