15th LICHTSPIELKLUB
SHORT FILM FESTIVAL 2021 
Interview

Simon Ellis 
OSTRICH THEORY

Experimental / Documentary / Animation 
simonellisfilms.com

A pre-pandemic harbinger of public indifference to troubled times featuring digitally depopulated documentary footage.

 

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

You're welcome, thanks for having me. Like most people I've been up and down and developed some strange new habits. 

Was it easy to motivate yourself creatively during the lockdowns? 

Not at all, and that's been a surprise to me. There is always writing and/or editing to do, which are both solitary pursuits and therefore well suited to lockdown, but the inability to escape my surroundings and let some fresh air in has definitely taken its toll.

You've had a great festival run with OSTRICH THEORY, what do you think it is about this short film that's connected so well with festival audiences?

I was finally able to see it with an audience only a few days ago, after a couple of previous festival trips were scuppered. I really need that experience of sharing a film with a crowd because you never know what they will or won't respond to, and this was no exception. I was particularly buoyed that they recognised the humour in it. I started making the film in 2017 but the enormous amount of post-production meant that the pandemic came and locked cities down just before I finished. I was still working on the final scene when people began posting clips of empty London streets online, which was very dispiriting. Between other jobs and bouts of RSI from all the rotoscoping, it took three years to complete.

Congratulations on having OSTRICH THEORY 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?

I'm eternally grateful to them for selecting this odd little labour of love and I wish I could be in Berlin to enjoy the festival in person. I haven't seen any of the other films but I'm sure they are great because the programmers clearly have exemplary taste, hehe. 

OstrichTheory_Still_2.jpg

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?

Oh, it's crucial. I can't over-emphasise the importance of shorts in theatres. There used to be lots of debate about the proliferation of online exhibition and whether festivals could survive, but I think it's clear now that they can co-exist quite comfortably. The benefit of being able to attend a theatrical screening for us filmmakers, from a purely selfish point of view, manifests as the best possible education. That's how it is for me, at least.

What was the inspiration behind your screenplay for OSTRICH THEORY and how much has your experience directing documentaries helped you on this project? 

My background is mainly in fiction, although I've been making more experimental documentaries in recent years so I see where you're coming from with that. The original idea, while still concerned with the emptying of busy public spaces, was a slightly different beast that was more openly concerned with the climate crisis. As I was emptying the scenes and studying the footage I became fascinated with the idea of isolating certain characters by removing all the surrounding noise, then forging a narrative from their behaviour. Times were very tumultuous with Trump taking office in the US, Brexit dividing the UK, and ongoing outrage from younger generations regarding inaction on global warming. All of these ingredients feed into the film, either literally or metaphorically, as a playful take on the feeling that something bad is coming yet the show goes on. I was tickled to see Don't Look Up do a similar thing since, albeit in a very different way.

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

Of course, but what qualifies as boundary-pushing is subjective. In that respect, film is no different to any art form. I would always encourage the idea of exploring and trespassing one's own rules and preferences, whatever they might be.

"In some ways, it seems like animation might have been a more natural trajectory, given the love of drawing and what has also become a somewhat obsessive approach to the extremes of post-production."

Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?

Growing up it was all drawing and painting. Mostly drawing. Then I went through photography and pretty much lived in a dark room for years, before stumbling into film by being asked to do camera on a student short. In some ways, it seems like animation might have been a more natural trajectory, given the love of drawing and what has also become a somewhat obsessive approach to the extremes of post-production. Animation is something I've thought more about recently but I suspect it's a confused whim. 

Has your approach to your writing and directing changed since your debut short?

Oh yes. I've been doing shorts since the mid-nineties so it would be a sad state of affairs if my approach and tastes hadn't changed.

Is there any tips or advice you would offer someone thinking about getting into filmmaking? 

There are no rules and don't trust anyone who suggests otherwise, including me. Less is almost always more though. Distil and declutter to a minimum.

And finally, what do you hope audiences will take away from OSTRICH THEORY?

An unshakeable desire to send me treats.