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15th LICHTSPIELKLUB
SHORT FILM FESTIVAL 2021 
Interview

Laura-Beth Cowley 
Crafty Witch

Animation 
Laura-BethCowley.co.uk

After years of prosecuting and torturing innocent women, Hopkins (the self-proclaimed Witch Hunter General) is about to get his just desserts at the hands or rather the magical finger of Winny.

Hi Laura-Beth thank you for talking to The New Current, these have been some very strange times, how have you been holding up?

 

You're very welcome, thank you for speaking to me. I am well, thank you, very busy currently but holding up just fine. 

 

Was it easy to motivate yourself creatively during the lockdowns? 

 

Haha no, the first lockdown here in the UK was such a void of anxiety and fear. Luckily, I have a very supportive partner who is also an animator but works remotely for a studio, so having someone who had a structured workday helped me have one too…eventually. 

 

What was the experience like for you premiering Crafty Witch at Encounters in 2021?

 

Strange. I love Encounters, it is just down the road from where I live and is such a vibrant and welcoming festival. Normally I get to meet up with old friends and meet lots of great filmmakers, but as the last two years have been primarily online (my previous film The Gift was in the 2020 edition too) that aspect has been greatly reduced. They’ve managed to keep up some of the outreach elements, such as film-maker Q&As, but I miss real audiences and hearing what people think of the films, especially when you're sat behind them and they don’t know you’re there! That being said, I have still been able to gather some feedback from viewers and critics like yourself online which is always fun to read and is more permanent. 

 

With everything that is going on due to Covid how essential are festivals like British Shorts Berlin in continuing to provide a platform for Independent British short films?

 

Very - film festivals are such an important guiding light for filmmakers. They provide networking opportunities, the potential for funding, motivation to actually make short-form work and, above all, allow for important conversations to be had in a public setting. 

Congratulations on having Crafty Witch selected for British Shorts 2022, how does it feel to be at the festival and part of such an amazing line-up of short films?

 

Incredible, it is such a well-respected festival. I'm really very honoured that my seriously tiny film is playing amongst such talented individuals. I realise it is quite an odd little film - being only a minute long and a bit dark but also a comedy makes it a somewhat hard film to place in a programme, so I’m glad they liked it enough to find a space for it. 

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How did Crafty Witch come about and when did you first hear of the infamous Witch Trials in Europe?

 

Oh gosh, I think if you’re European and female you are raised on the cautionary, real-life tale of the witch trials. England was particularly bad for it back in the day, especially with people like Hopkins - also known as the Witchfinder General (who is also one of the characters in the film) prosecuting people left and right. The origins of the film were simultaneously derived from the story of witch trials and the style in the film, which is based on the classic ‘cartoon modern’ style seen in early animated works of the ’50s and ’60s, as well as the use of 3D printing in puppet fabrication.

 

During your research did you discover anything about these trials that really gave you pause for thought?

 

Originally the film was going to be part of a series that used all of the various witch trials that determined whether a person was a witch or not. There are quite a few that I looked into, such as the ‘pricking test’ where the accused would be pricked with a needle to find a spot that felt no pain, or ‘praying’ as it was believed witches were unable to recite scripture. Some of these I drew up initial beat boards for, but I felt that the dunking stool was the most visual and iconic. 

 

What has been the most valuable lesson you have taken from this film experience?

 

Well, the film itself for me was part of a much bigger project I've been working on for the last four years. I’m doing a PhD about the use of 3D printing in stop-motion and the film makes up part of that study. In this sense, the film was looking at working with a 2D animator, Sam Shaw, and collaborating to make a film that used 3D printing as a material rather than just a process of making. If you watch the film, you should notice that the character faces are covered in little lines, which represent the print texture that was left behind in block prints used to illustrate instructional pamphlets and flyers at the time of the trials. It’s very subtle but I think it solidifies the whole film. In such a short film there is a lot to unpack, but that’s just how I make films and one of the most engaging bits of animation, you can fit so much into every frame. 

 

Do you think filmmakers should continue to push the boundaries of the films/stories they want to tell?

 

Of course! What would be the point otherwise? No one wants to eat the same meal every day - unless they're incredibly dull - so why should we expect them to watch the same kind of programming? Variety is the spice of life after all. 

"I used to worry an awful lot about being ‘original’, but to be honest, every film, even if it’s on the same subject, is very different because you yourself are different."

Where did your passion for animation come from and how much has your approach to your writing/directing since your debut film?

 

I’ve always done a lot of various art practices. Animation is the perfect medium for those who have a mix of skills, as you can bring them all together - especially in stop-motion. My approach changes quite drastically from film to film, I don’t like to be beholden to any particular way of making and it’s not always for the film either, although I do tend to want to turn everything into a film eventually. Life is too short to be any ‘one’ thing, I have such a broad range of interests I want to explore them all.   

Do you have any advice you could offer an emerging filmmaker? 

 

Try everything and say ‘yes’ to as many opportunities as you can. I’m the stereotypical jack of all trades, I do a little bit of everything (except music, luckily my partner is a musician so does the music for all my films). I think you need to work out what excites you and pursue it. I used to worry an awful lot about being ‘original’, but to be honest, every film, even if it’s on the same subject, is very different because you yourself are different. I suggest following your own voice and taking on advice as you go. You only truly learn through doing and you miss 100% of the opportunities you don’t take. 

And finally, what do you hope audiences will take away from Crafty Witch?

 

I hope it makes people laugh and I hope they like how it looks. Simple I know, but I’d be content with that. If they want to look more into the process or the story it’s telling that would be fab too.