15th BFI FUTURE FILM FESTIVAL 2022
Section: Citizens of Earth
A middle-aged childless couple adopt a refugee from Antarctica. Their life changes when he appears on their doorstep, overcoming their prejudices.
Hey Stephen, thank you for talking to The New Current, how have you been holding up during these very strange times?
Thanks, its been a very peculiar time these past few years- my last year at university was right in the middle of that first year of the pandemic, and things haven't really been "normal" since, but constantly changing- lots of personal difficulties but also wonderful opportunities to grow as a person and an artist through them. I feel more confident in my art and as a human far more than I did back in the start of 2020.
Has this time offered you any new creative inspiration or opportunities?
The pandemic as a whole has really given me more than anything time to rest- its now been a year since the film was properly completed and I'm just now feeling ready to put together ideas and push to make something new. Though ideas are never far from making it to paper, making this film took a lot out of me during that early part of the pandemic- producing the entire thing in relative isolation.
What does it mean to be screening Pengugee at the 15th BFI Future Film Festival?
It means so much- this is the first time one of my films is being screened at a UK festival, and it is truly wonderful to feel at home among the many other talented filmmakers and to be able to go and physically see my film on the big screen for the first time.
Pengugee is going to be in the Citizens of Earth Section of the festival, are there any nerves ahead of the festival?
Hah, when you’re used to seeing a film on relatively smaller screens, it’ll be interesting to me to see how it holds up so big! Lessons to be learned in any case.
Can you tell me a little bit how Pengugee came about, what was the inspiration behind your animation?
Technique-wise, I was heavily inspired by the puppetry animation work of Conor Finnegan, The Muppets as well as Aardman- lots of people mentioned the penguin from “The Wrong Trousers” as a parallel story, in this case what if the penguin was good, and I can see it. It started out with an idea I had just randomly talking to some then first-year animation students at Middlesex University when I was in the second year. We got to talking about climate change and displaced penguins and the idea really snowballed from there- I didn’t know at the time this would be a film Idea I’d fully realise, but it's very cool thinking that the best ideas can come from the most random of places.
When working on an animated short how close where you able to keep to your screenplay once you started shooting, did you allow yourself much flexibility?
Once I had my final animatic sorted, I just rolled with it and committed 100% to making it as close as possible to what I had in mind- there were a few cases where shots needed to be extended compared to the animatic for flow and general animation timing, so having the soundtrack done last really aided this process. I knew if I started changing things past a certain point I’d never stop.
What has been the biggest challenge you've faced bringing Pengugee to life?
Keeping going during the darkest hours of the pandemic- I put so much pressure on myself and was quite mean to myself at times about the speed I was going with it, and missing any form of meaningful social interaction for months at a time is something I never wish to experience again, it's very hard to be alone when you need support the most.
Since making Pengugee what has been the most valuable lesson you have taken from this experience?
Stick to the original tests that people liked! I think the style works for this particular film with the textured limbs and clothes, but next time I’d like to keep it simpler and less time consuming/taxing. I’ve fallen in love with this technique, but it is about refining it and finding those efficiencies that add up for next time now.
Where did your passion for animation come from?
The first animation I ever really fell in love with would’ve been Pingu, but I’d say my passion came about being exposed to the early-mid 2000’s internet communities of animators on sites like Newgrounds. Seeing independent animators making their own films and animation work really changed animation from something that was out of reach or very difficult to start to something accessible and possible. I still have my first flash animations on file.
How important to you is the collaborative process of filmmaking to you?
It's so important, both for realising where you fall short as an individual skills-wise, and for ensuring your film gets the best result. By working with others, you can all learn and grow together over the course of a project, and beyond.
Do you think filmmakers should continue to push the boundaries of the stories they want to tell?
Of course, without a drive and determination to push and improve, we’d still all be working on silent films- of course some of us are, and it's great that people are pushing the boundaries and expanding that area of film too. The important distinction is that now we have a choice, and our choices grow each day, with every new technological advancement and pioneering film test.
"You don’t need anything but a camera or computer to make a film, and the most interesting films and styles usually come from the greatest limitations."
For anyone out there thinking about making their first film do you have any tips or advice you would offer them?
Make it with anything you have around the house- Pengugee was a more or less entirely homemade film, with some things like the lighting setup (cheap bedside lamps bought off the internet) far from orthodox. You don’t need anything but a camera or computer to make a film, and the most interesting films and styles usually come from the greatest limitations.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from Pengugee?
I’m happy for each and every person to attach their own meaning to Pengugee, I know what it means to me, but if people find it funny, heartwarming, poignant or some kind of cool hybrid blend of these things or more, that’s awesome too. I mostly hope people enjoy watching it, and like the technique enough to want to see more. I want to make more!