Sundance Film Festival 2021
The Fire Next Time
Rioting spreads as social inequality causes tempers in a struggling community to flare, but the oppressive environment takes on a life of its own as the shadows of the housing estate close in.
Hi Renaldho thank you for talking to The New Current, how have you been holding up during these very strange times?
Hi, no problem at all. I have been fine, to be honest the life of an Animator is much like being a hermit anyway. I would have most likely spent the year locked in a dark room sat by my multi-plane either way, so in that sense it has been business as usual!
Has this time offered you any new creative inspiration?
Not so much new inspiration, it has perhaps created space for me. Firstly to finish the film, and then to explore other ideas, without social pressure to see other humans hahaha.
You are a 2019 NFTS Directing Animation MA graduate, what was your experience like at the NFTS?
The NFTS is an amazing school. A place where I was able to grow as a creative and find confidence in my voice. It was the most challenging experience of my life so far, you are constantly surrounded by amazing creatives and faced with new challenges. I had to give everything just to feel like I belonged there. But the trade-off is that you gain a network of support and a group of friends that enables you to realise ideas which are bigger than you.
And congratulations on having The Fire Next Time selected in the Animation section at Sundance 2021, what does it mean to be part of such an amazing line up of short films?
Thank you. We have been very fortunate that "The Fire Next Time" has been well received this year. We were very proud to premiere at Annecy in June, and feature at GIFF in Mexico as well as many other great festivals in 2020. It has been a great honour to screen with all the other amazing films. I wish circumstances were different so that we could have met and shared ideas with everyone, I think that is what makes the festival setting truly special.
Sundance was completely unexpected, we were all very excited when we got the news. As a film maker it is a great honour to take part in the festival, and as a creative the selection fills you with the confidence to believe in the work that you are making.
What was it about the 2011 London Riots that inspired you to want to make The Fire Next Time?
To put it simply, that the importance of the 2011 London riots as a political and social event was/is not self-evident. To me, it is clear that the riots are an expression of collective agency over environment, yet the response of the government and the lack of attention it is afforded is negligible.
Many of the issues that were raised by the research in the aftermath of the riots are still problems today. They were also problems at the time of the Brixton and Broad Water Farm Riots of the 80's. For example, stop and search/policing, or the question of education and opportunities for Britain's least privileged. Riots are cyclical in this manner, by ignoring the connections we diminish the importance of the event and allow the cycle to continue.
"As a child I watched cartoons, videotaped shows (yes I'm old), and copied the characters."
In looking back at this period in the build up to making The Fire Next Time did you discover anything new or unexpected about the London Riots, and possibly its aftermath, that surprised you?
Not particularly. I had experienced the riots, as I lived in Wood Green in London at the time. What perhaps surprised/continues to surprise me is how frequently I encountered resistance to discussion, and dismissive attitudes towards the concerns of rioters.
Growing up as a mixed race man in a poor working class family, I am acutely familiar with the concerns that the rioters raised in the joint Guardian/LSE research paper Reading the Riots. I find it startling that so many people willingly dehumanise rioters (who were a largely young and impoverished group) by dismissing their concerns and labelling them as driven solely by greed.
Do you hope The Fire Next Time will help to re-ignite the conversation about the history and legacy of the 2011 London Riots?
I made the film to make sure the discussion continues. The events of 2020, particularly the Black Lives Matter movement, have once more highlighted the need for the conversation, and for a willingness to listen to the concerns and experiences of others.
As a British man, I am particularly keen to contribute in the UK. I often feel that the discussion is not given enough of a platform here as there is an attitude that these issues do not concern us.
I truly hope that in 2021 we will be able to share "The Fire Next Time" with a British audience, so that our voices can be a part of that important conversation.
With animation how flexible do you allow yourself or do you prefer to stick to what you had planned to do?
Planned...(laughs to self). Robin Whalley ("The Fire Next Time’s" editor and fellow NFTS graduate) will read this so I have to be honest and say that I like to leave things open for as long as possible. This is not always the best approach, but I think it allows the film to grow organically. It allows more space for discussion and input for the team, and I think that this is very important. We did create an animatic, but it was flexible.
From a purely technical point of view, I always work using a rough drawing pass, but try to allow for adjustments as I make the finished animation. Because of the paint on glass and the style of the film, some parts of the character animation (particularly the smeared in-betweens) are improvised.
Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently on The Fire Next Time?
There are things that didn't work as planned, but I prefer not to think of the film that way. Films are like people, "The Fire Next Time" is a combination of the successes and failures of the things that we tried, that is what gives it character.
I did learn a lot from the process. I would say the major lessons were to work with people who support/believe in what you are doing and feel passionate about it. People who you believe in and who trust you. Secondly, be honest with yourself about how long something will take to make!
What was the biggest challenge you faced making this film?
The biggest challenge was that the project was much more ambitious than we had the time to produce. "The Fire Next Time" is mixed media, combining projection, stop motion, and paint on glass animation. The technique was very labour intensive and so one year was not enough to produce the film without a larger team.
I realised this but decided that it was the right way to tell the story, and felt the film school was the right environmental begin. The choice meant that the project was under pressures which were not related to filmmaking, but I believe ultimately it was the correct decision.
Do you think animation and animators should continue to push the boundaries of the stories they want to tell?
Yes, and filmmakers in general. There is a lot of discussion about diversity in film, but for me it sometimes misses the point. If a major studio hires a person of colour to direct films but the stories they tell are not distinct from the ones the studio would traditionally produce, then we are losing one of the benefits of diversity. For me, the aim should be to give those people spaces where they can create content that is expressive of their experiences.
This is something I feel you explore a lot at the NFTS, "What do I want to talk about". I recently read an interview by an NFTS grad which spoke about students feeling under pressure to make films with heavy subject matter, but I feel that way of thinking disregards students passions and opinions. The NFTS is a place where you are free to speak about the things that drive you.
Have you always had a passion for animation?
For as long as I can remember I loved animation. As a child I watched cartoons, videotaped shows (yes I'm old), and copied the characters. The difficult part was coming to understand that I could be involved in making them, that for me took much longer to realise.
How much has your style and your approach to your work changed since your debut?
I think styles are something that other people see, not something we ourselves necessarily recognise.
When I began animating I was convince that once I found my style it would all fall into place, but to this day to me, none of my work has the same style! I think that actually the idea is quite damaging to young creatives as they spend time judging their work against others when it is more useful just to keep making things without fear.
My approach is to make things that are responsive to the idea or the brief, and always to make your next piece better than your previous in some way. But above all, MAKE THINGS!
Are there any words or advice you would offer an emerging animator?
Draw draw draw! This might not be as relevant for other types of animation, but the better your command of drawing is as a 2D animator, the better you animation will be.
Other than that, I don't think I can stress enough how important it is just to keep making things, even if you don't like what you are producing. You will improve, slowly but surely, if you keep trying things and learning.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from The Fire Next Time?
I hope the audience will come away from the film with a sense that social inequity impacts all of society not just those who suffer from it directly. It is in our interest as a society to address its causes.