Raindance Film Festival 2021
Shorts Programme: Animation 1
Tomás Pichardo Espaillat
What Really Happened During The Attica Prison Rebellion
On September 9th, the spontaneous uprising began. Prisoners overpowered guards and captured supplies. Soon, over 1,200 prisoners had assembled in the yard with 42 hostages, demanding that changes be made to the inhumane living conditions in the prison. This is a cut-out animation about the Attica Prison rebellion.
Hey Tomás, it's great to talk with you, how have you been keeping during these strange times?
These days I'm fine, but it wasn't always like this. At the beginning of the pandemic, many of my projects and plans had to be postponed, and that affected me a lot.
Has this time offering you the chance to find some new inspiration or opportunities?
Yes, by having to pause everything I was doing, I had a chance to work on new ideas and personal projects that I had left behind due to lack of time. Also as everything has been getting back to normal little by little, returning to these projects that I left on hiatus, makes me see them now from a new perspective. And I feel like some of these projects have been changing for the better.
Congratulations on having your European Premiere of What Really Happened During The Attica Prison Rebellion at Raindance 2021, what does it mean to you to be at the festival?
For me it’s a great honour. I have been sending my films to Raindance for several years, and this is the first time one of my films has been selected in the festival. It was a very nice surprise, especially the idea of presenting my film in a country where I’ve never been.
Can you tell me a little bit about What Really Happened During The Attica Prison Rebellion, how did this film come about?
My background is in fine arts. Therefore my films are usually about personal issues or my own feelings. Lately I have been expanding my approach a lot, and I have been focusing on social issues. First with issues that were connected to my own experience, such as immigration. But eventually other social issues such as racism and discrimination. Burton’s screenplay resonated a lot with me and where my focus is at the moment, and I thought it was the right project to make next.
What was it about Orisanmi Burton screenplay that interested you so much as a filmmaker?
Burton’s screenplay is based on a story that I originally didn’t know. After reading it, I was very curious and I kept exploring the subject. As I was learning about it, I imagined how I could recreate that into an animation. And it was by looking at the interviews and different documents, that I understood that this story could be completely represented as if it were a collage of different media.
As a filmmaker I'm looking for projects that make a strong impact on me. But at the same time, I look for projects that are visually challenging to carry out, either because of the technique or because of the level of complexity. I think this project offered me both.
As well as direct What Really Happened During The Attica Prison Rebellion you also edited your film, how do you balance these different creative roles on a film project like this?
It’s part of my education as a filmmaker. I am very curious and I love learning new things. Therefore in my work I have been developing a DIY approach, where I use each new project as a challenge to learn something new. Whether they are new techniques or new skills.
Not every project is successful in achieving this, but I feel that the more things I do, the more I learn from my mistakes and experiences. And so my skills grow with each project.
What would you say was the biggest challenge you faced making What Really Happened During The Attica Prison Rebellion?
It’s a film about real people with real struggle. That makes it challenging because I want to do this story justice. In the media there’s very little information about this story, so it’s very likely that some of this film’s audience are learning about Attica for the first time. For me, this makes it a responsibility, I have to tell this story to the best of my ability.
Have you always had a passion for animation?
Originally I dreamed of being a film director, especially a live action director. When I was younger I didn't have the money to buy a camera, but I did have access to a computer with some of the Adobe and Macromedia creative softwares. So I started using them to create my stories, with the idea that eventually I would make them into live action. As time went by, I realized that I had become an animator.
How much has your style and the approach to your animation changed since your debut film?
It has changed quite a bit. I love learning and discovering new things. I feel that animation as an art form is very open and has many different techniques. It’s not something you can master quite easily. So I take each new project as an opportunity to learn new techniques or different styles. And with the passage of time, these changes are quite noticeable in my work.
"...it may be that the right person sees it, or someone connects with it, and contacts you for a new project."
Do you have any advice or tips you would offer any emerging animator?
Everyone's work process is different, but I feel that something that has helped me a lot has been putting my films out there for people to see them. When you are starting out, the work you do is usually not where you want it to be, in terms of quality or technique. Therefore, you might feel a bit scared or somewhat ashamed to present these pieces. But I feel that it’s necessary, because creative work is like a ladder. You don’t know how people will react to it, until they have a chance to see it. If you present your first film, it may be that the right person sees it, or someone connects with it, and contacts you for a new project. And so your work grows and evolves, and new opportunities come.
That’s what happened to me, both in terms of studies and job opportunities. Films that I felt were not there yet, but I did publish them and someone saw something in them that I didn’t see, and gave me an opportunity.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away What Really Happened During The Attica Prison Rebellion?
My goal is to make this story as accessible as possible. And if people learn a bit more about this subject, and that makes them curious and want to continue investigating or learning about what happened, then for me the film achieved its purpose.