In a time where aggregators and algorithms are over optimised to keep eyeballs glued and watch metrics high with endless streams of ‘content’, it’s perhaps more important than ever that there are spaces where the craft and techniques of filmmaking are both shared and celebrated. That’s exactly what we continued to do in 2021 in the curated guest programmes we provided to film festivals such as Aesthetica and Bolton, our annual Reading & Leeds Cinema Tent screenings, and of course, daily right here on DN. 2021 also saw Directors Notes enter its 15th year of existence and debut a refresh of the DN brand ready for the next stage of our evolution – an aspect of which being the recent launch of our dedicated DN YouTube channel (you should definitely subscribe!). While we of course love all the conversations we had with filmmakers last year, here are 20 of our favourites that we feel explify our mission to bring you the what, how and why of the best independent cinema has to offer.

A Woman Goes to Extremes To Satisfy Her Partner’s Odd Sexual Needs in Tobias Rud’s ‘I’ll Be Your Kettle’

“The autonomy you get from making a film by yourself is part of the reason why I got into animation.”

I’ll be first to admit that some of the subjects of my sexual fantasies have been a tad…unusual. But no matter how strange, unsavoury and at times barely legal, I can honestly say that all of my fictitious flames (as well as the real-life ones I should note) have had a pulse. However, there are plenty of folks who identify as objectum-sexual (OS) – a sexual orientation where individuals develop emotional, romantic and/or sexual feelings towards inanimate objects – and Tobias Rud’s animation I’ll be Your Kettle is centred around one of them. With a bold and quirky aesthetic achieved by masterfully blending video footage with 2D animation and hand-crafted cardboard sets, the nine minute film is a charming and captivating cautionary tale exploring what could happen if electrical appliances got between two lovers causing their relationship to reach, ahem, boiling point. DN is buzzing with excitement to present the online premiere of I’ll Be Your Kettle and chat to Rud about his own feelings towards kettles, finding inspiration in a sexy rock, strengthening the narrative by shifting the focus from the male to the female character and the advantages of working solo. [read here]

Lovers Are Separated Yet Together in Andzej Gavriss’ Defiant LGBTQ Music Video ‘We Will Become Better’

“I decided to immerse the viewer into the film so deep that they would see beyond sex cliches. I wanted to show two human beings that are in love.”

With anti-gay laws and mainstream homophobia very much at the forefront of society, even the simple idea of any queer media in Russia is halted at its inception. That’s what makes Andzej Gavriss’ music video for Sansara’s We Will Become Better even more powerful. A defiant video that celebrates the love between two men who are separated in their location yet intertwined in their emotions. It’s a beautiful video with fluid and moving choreography that expresses the desire shared between these lovers. We spoke with multi DN alum Gavriss about the challenges he faced in bringing it to life and the technical prowess that went into achieving his spellbinding choreography. [read here]

Nathan Long’s ‘Calling Attendance’ is an Unflinching Snapshot of the Harsh Realities of Life for Too Many Children

“We were really conscious of the delicate line between it being too subtle to tell the story, and it being gratuitous and unwatchable.”

Whilst it’s arguable that we’ve become more cognizant of the horrors of the world since the advent of the 24-hour news cycle and social media’s continuous feeds, how often do we think about the delicate considerations which go into creating the films needed to raise awareness for the dark issues most of us would prefer not to contemplate? After being approached by global foundation Education Above All and creative agency Across The Pond to create an unflinching campaign film, director Nathan Long was faced with a difficult question: How do you craft images which convey the brutal reality for children who, when not in education, are often somewhere unimaginably vile that spur viewer action but avoid being gratuitous? It’s a question answered in his meticulously considered 90-second film Calling Attendance, which is a stark snapshot of the situations faced by more than 75 million 3-18-year-olds living in crisis-affected countries. DN is proud to have the opportunity to delve into the creation of this vitally important film with Long and learn how he met the challenges of drawing attention to such weighty subject matter. [read here]

Duncan Cowles Takes a Hilarious Self-Depricating Journey Into Millenial Malaise in Series ‘Scary Adult Things’

“If something is actually funny, like truly funny, it’ll be funny no matter how many times you see it.”

We’ve been fans of documentarian Duncan Cowles’ darkly comic yet contemplative short films for a while now and even spoke to him a couple of years ago about his humorous take on the world of freelance filmmaking Taking Stock. Scary Adult Things marks Cowles transition from short-form to long, taking his signature comedic style from a ten minute short to a three hour series. It’s a tricky manoeuvre to manage but Cowles’ particular brand of self-deprecation is perfect for TV and Scary Adult Things finds the filmmaker tackling wide issues surrounding the place of the millennial in contemporary society. DN spoke with Cowles ahead of the series finale to talk about its inception, the move to TV, and creating long-form work that feels authored. [read here]

A Contemporary Narrative on the African Diaspora Shines Through a Tale of Redemption in Ivan Herrera’s ‘Bantú Mama’

“We knew from the first day we didn’t want to go into porno-poverty, that was not what the film was about. We wanted to feel the violence but on the sidelines.”

Ivan Herrera’s drama Bantú Mama, the first Dominican feature to premiere at SXSW, is a film exploding with vitality, desperation and hope. The slow-burn narrative breaks away from the archaic rhetoric of the nuclear family as it follows Emma, an Afropean woman from Paris on the run who finds herself sheltered by a trio of minors in the most dangerous district of Santo Domingo. While the constant threat of violence is palpable, Bantú Mama’s intimate cinematography, coupled with authentic performances from its young non-professional cast, instead focuses our attention on the forming of unexpected familial bonds. It’s also a film that spans continents and cultures, breaking the pattern of the Western world as the ultimate land of success and highlighting the importance of a knowledge of where we are from. DN got to speak to Herrera during the festival about his desire to create a story which expressed the truth of sacrifice for a better tomorrow while reflecting his 50mm photographer’s eye view of his homeland. [read here]

Ewurakua Dawson-Amoah Challenges the Aestheticising of Black Lives in Ardent Visual Poem ‘Gold Token’

“I wanted to explore this idea of social media activism as looking without seeing, hearing without listening, speaking without thinking.”

We last spoke with Ewurakua Dawson-Amoah for her experimental short To the Girl that Looks Like Me, a powerful film which simultaneously celebrated black women whilst critiquing the way that black culture is commodified. Gold Token takes a lot of the same visual elements of TTGTLLM but applies them to another aspect of black culture – the surface level activism that came alongside the Black Lives Matter movement last year. What Dawson-Amoah does so cleverly with her film is let her images do the talking. By showcasing imagery surrounding Black tokenism and ancestry she is able to directly challenge these ideas. It’s another example of moving, experimental cinema which DN was excited to learn more about. We spoke with Dawson-Amoah about the music of Gold Token, how she transposed her frustration with the response to the BLM movement into challenging art, and the exciting projects she has on the horizon. [read here]

Tommaso Ottomano Delivers a Bold Exploration of the Relationship Between the Physical and Mental Ego in ‘Body’

“We decided to publish it on OnlyFans to fight Instagram’s censorship policy that most of the time limits cultural and art form of expression.”

Why do we accept the fact that nudes are held hostage to the strict rules on social media platforms labelling them as inappropriate or explicit material? Whilst we can all understand why the need to protect users exists, the proclivity of internet usage and our reliance on the content we garner online means that a more flexible approach might be beneficial. Paintings and sculptures featuring nudity are accepted on most platforms but a pair of buttocks is considered ‘nudity’. How does this affect other more emerging art forms, be it short film, photography or a digital cover for a magazine and their ability to access a wider audience and succeed? Body was born out of a brainstorming call between Milan based director Tommaso Ottomano renowned for his work with high end fashion houses, creative director Vincenzo Schioppa and the magazine team at nss factory. Through the stories of seven both dressed and naked subjects, Ottomano explores ideas of flesh, emotional intimacies and our relationship with our bodies and how that reflects upon views on our own existence. The film addresses themes of identity and the duelling dichotomies of free expression and censorship. DN spoke to Ottomano about working with nss magazine who understand that today more than ever culture and art need new ways to communicate and to reach everybody, and OnlyFans which besides the salacious stories you may have read, is one of the platforms revolutionising digital content creation and giving voice to so called alternative art forms. [read here]

Mitch Kalisa’s SXSW Winning Drama ‘Play It Safe’ Challenges the Unconscious Racism in Self-Defined Liberal Spaces

“I was interested in exploring the kind of structured racism perpetrated by those who consider themselves as being above prejudice.”

One of the first shorts I watched at SXSW Online 2021, Mitch Kalisa’s Play It Safe immediately set a high bar for the festival with its tensely constructed depictions of unconscious racism. Kalisa tells his story through many nuances and subtleties that highlight the prevalence of these issues in seemingly liberal environments, in this case, a drama school. It’s a short led by an astoundingly powerful and vulnerable performance from actor Jonathan Ajayi, who carries the character of Johnathan through subtle gestures and glances that slowly evolve into the film’s forcefully compelling finale. A most deserved winner of SXSW’s Grand Jury Prize for Narrative Short, we invited Kalisa to join us for a discussion about the rarely discussed microaggressions that motivated Play It Safe and the conversations he hopes to provoke. [read here]

Jacob Halpren Effortlessly Balances Humour With Sadness in Beautifully Elusive Dramedy ‘Claire at Seven Months’

“I wanted the focus to be on a person going through a tough time, who just so happens to be seven months pregnant.”

To sum up this film in a sentence is easy. It is also a mistake. For there is so much more to this story about a pregnant young woman who returns to her hometown in Florida to escape her problems for one weekend, that defies the simple description. Written and directed by Jacob Halpren, Claire at Seven Months is an elusive piece of magic which simultaneously tickles you with humour, teases you with romantic possibility, and touches your heart with melancholy in just eighteen achingly beautiful minutes. Grounded by two magnificently authentic performances by Emily Althaus (Claire) and Matt Barats (Cody), the dramedy centres around the brief but momentous encounter between two almost complete strangers, diving into themes of escapism, fear, loneliness and intimacy, but never drifting too far from a belly laugh or a gentle tug of the heartstrings. This delicate tonal balance, handled with the lightest of touches, is at the heart of this warm and witty cinematic triumph and it has firmly cemented Halpren as a director to watch out for. DN is thrilled to present the premiere of Claire at Seven Months and to chat with Halpren about the challenges of writing about a pregnant protagonist, avoiding cliches and the search for the perfect music track that both reflected the main character’s state of mind and charmed the audience. [read here]

Hend Esmat & Lamiaa Diab Reverse Parent-Child Dynamics in Absurdist Animated Short ‘Flipped’

“We knew that we wanted to include the looseness of children’s drawings and keep a hand drawn look to the final visual style.”

We all know at some point that the dynamic in our families will shift and the young will have to start caring for the old. But Hend Esmat and Lamiaa Diab’s absurdist short Flipped proposes this shift much sooner than expected, finding comedy in the switch of parent-child relations in the early stages of life. Taking a hand drawn, almost child-like animation style and curating a series of vignettes covering a day in the life of multiple families, Esmat and Diab’s short is a hilarious look at family life with a twist. DN joined Esmat and Diab in conversation, along with sound designer Patrick Henchman, to talk about the process of creating their short at the Bristol School of Animation, the real-life parental figures that inspired them along the way, and how they naturally stumbled upon their vignette-influenced structure. [read here]

Sebastian Hill-Esbrand Extols the Need to Proudly Celebrate Diverse Womxn Bodies & Spirits in ‘Booty Freedom’

“I had to ask myself the question, ‘How do you showcase a dance that is so objectified in the modern day and relay it to an audience as something different?'”

There are films that evoke strong reactions in us, be it a reminder of our childhood, books we have read, or experiences we have lived through. We laugh, we cry, are delighted and sometimes shocked by film in all of its delectable forms and as a consequence of the endless supply of creative minds in this world, there really is something for all shapes and sizes. I am proud to say that Booty Freedom from Sebastian Hill-Esbrand made me yearn for the ability to twerk and move my booty in the formidably proud and fascinating ways exemplified in this empowering and self-celebratory short. Right from the opening statement we are drawn in to what you may initially assume is a tongue-in-cheek piece of work but very quickly reveals itself to be so much more. A director who celebrates diversity, with roots in the Caribbean and growing up as a first generation New Zealand/American in Australia, below Hill-Esbrand talks to DN about his caution as a straight cis-male director in taking up the task of glorifying these woman and their movement as truly deserved and reveals that despite his best efforts he “still can’t twerk too well but I’m getting the twang of it”. [read here]

Awkward Encounters Abound in Emma Seligman’s Short to Feature Comedy of Chaos ‘Shiva Baby’

“I thought a sugar baby/daddy relationship would allow me the opportunity to explore gendered power dynamics.”

We’ve all been at those family gatherings where awkward conversation dominates the room, with careers and life paths questioned in supposedly curious (but actually uninspired) ways. Emma Seligman’s debut feature Shiva Baby brings that sense of tension to screen, throwing in the additional unexpected complications of an ex-lover and a sugar daddy, the result of which is a film filled with near anxiety-inducing hilarity. This uncomfortable comedy of colliding personas was developed by Seligman from her well received NYU Tisch thesis short of the same name. And DN invited the talented writer/director to join us for a chat about exploring gendered power dynamics, recreating the tension of secrets threatening to break cover, and her transition from shorts to features. [read here]

A Taxidermist Sets Her Eyes on Stuffing a Human in Theo Rhys’ Bombastic Comedy Horror Opera ‘Stuffed’

“The goal from the off was to make a musical that sat in a darker, grittier and more uncomfortable world.”

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a short film quite like this one. Probably the strangest of the short form work screening at SXSW Online 2021 this week is Theo Rhys’ horror comedy opera Stuffed – the story of a taxidermist who desires to stuff a human, and the human whose fear of ageing leads him to cross her path. It’s a brilliantly bonkers film with a dark sense of humour and it’s incredibly realised. The irony of the whole film is that despite its ambition and all of the crazy elements at play it doesn’t feel the slightest bit over-stuffed (pardon the pun). A great example of bold short form filmmaking, DN caught up with Rhys to talk drawing inspiration from an infamous German cannibal, creating a musical about the darker side of life, and actualising their lofty ambitions on a budget. [read here]

Daniel Quirke Explains How Wax, Religion & DIY Instruments Inspired NFTS Short ‘The Song of a Lost Boy’

The Song of a Lost Boy Short Film Daniel Quirke

“I love how the materials can bring a heightened sense of tension to the characters and plot which stop motion really allows.”

As a student filmmaker, there’s a certain freedom in your work that may never come around again. Yet, don’t let this freedom sway you into thinking there’s no pressure for these emerging creatives, for many this is a golden opportunity to showcase your talent, an opportunity that could help launch your career. With that in mind, there needs to be a balance between making films that push boundaries or try new things and films that highlight your craft and display that you’ve got something that could work in industry. With NFTS short The Song of a Lost Boy, director Daniel Quirke got the balance just right. A striking tale of a young choir boy who suffers a crisis of faith after his voice breaks, Quirke’s stop-motion film displays an original voice and meticulous eye for detail – something the filmmaking industry is always going to be on the lookout for. The director joins us on DN to discuss how his own religious upbringing helped shape his film and the appeal of working with wax puppets…even if they do melt. [read here]

Cars and Choreography Collide in Alice Fassi’s Compelling Corporate Collaboration ‘Vogue-Maserati’


“I wanted the choreography to convey this contrast between the individual body and the whole. That’s why the dancers keep on joining and separating like hybrid components, each one with their own identity.”

Sporting pastel clothes and adopting carefully coordinated movements, the coalescing bodies of Alice Fassi’s Vogue-Maserati (produced by C41) have the ability to project unity and individuality at the same time, providing a fascinating correlative to the film’s ambition to represent the unique, contrasting personalities of both fashion magazine Vogue Italia and car manufacturer Maserati. Shooting on film at the hyper-modern Maserati factory and featuring an otherworldly musical score, the short feels analog while containing a futuristic ambition, taking us on a trippy adventure through the factory in just under two minutes. Fassi joins us in order to talk about creating a dreamlike journey, adapting choreography to the challenging location, contrasting the soft clothes of the crew with the harsh greys of the factory, shooting entirely on 16mm film, and how finding the music is often half the battle of creating a movie. [read here]

Take a Surreal Trip Through Our Collective COVID-19 Dreams in Intimate Animation ‘Invisible Monsters and Tomato Soup’

“Our goal wasn’t to describe people’s specific dreams but rather to illustrate the phenomenon of a collective unconscious, as expressed through dreams.”

Sweet dreams are not exactly made of radioactive lizards, hotel orgies or mushy sourdough, but apparently it’s what our angst-ridden subconscious is stuck with for now. Created by Meghan McDonough, Stevie Borrello and Marcie LaCerte, Invisible Monsters and Tomato Soup archives the dreams of 20 people from 5 continents, all dreamt during the COVID-19 pandemic. From fear and loneliness to frustration and longing, the five minute short covers a plethora of emotions, powerful enough to give Freud a migraine. With bold outlines, a vivid colour palette and playful character design, the animated documentary pulls at the threads that link our haunted minds during these challenging times and turns what could have been a dull watch (after all, the only dreams people actually enjoy hearing about are usually their own) into a captivating and intimate experience. We sat down with the trio and scrutinised the film’s aesthetic, discussed the criteria that helped them whittle down the 80+ responses they received and chatted about all things dreamy. [read here]

A Man Faces Existential Purgatory in Lisette Donkersloot’s Experimental Sci-Fi Short ‘Lead Balloons’

“I looked at the tragedies of today’s world and asked myself what would that look like in a place without hope.”

There’s a real harrowing beauty to Lisette Donkersloot’s experimental dystopia short Lead Balloons. Following Abe, a lonesome perpetual coward who decides to end his life with the help of a suicide service, what starts off as an ominous excursion in a self-driving taxi slowly descends into a bleak and nightmarish purgatory populated by the hopeless. Donkersloot captures this through hues of muted colours and slow tracking camera movements which reflect the aura of pure despair embedded in this crafted version of existence. Joining us on DN today, we speak to the Amsterdam based director about crafting her sombre vision of hopelessness, the tumultuous multi-year path from music video to short film it underwent, and the technical challenges of shooting in Lodz, Poland. [read here]

Sally Tran’s ‘Centuries and Still’ Devastatingly Displays How Anti-Asian Hate Is Not a New Phenomenon

Centuries and Still

“When I started researching I didn’t have the intention to make anything as a filmmaker but as I got deeper, I thought I should say something.”

The last year and a half has seen an awful rise in anti-Asian hate crimes committed in the USA, culminating in the tragic Atlanta Spa shootings in March. Sally Tran had already dissected the inability for America to improve its relationship with its Black citizens in 60 Years and Still, which attempted to quantify the immense loss of Black life at the hands of violence since Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a dream” speech. Now she returns with Centuries and Still, a sweeping look at anti-Asian violence which takes a deeper historical look that spans from the Gold Rush to nuclear testing in the Pacific to the hatred that was renewed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. It also sees the director expand her toolkit by utilising mixed media and bringing on a larger illustration crew. We talked to her about being affected by the last 18 months of violence, shooting on different formats to reflect different areas, and her plans for potential future instalments of the and Still series. [read here]

Egor Tarasov & Vladimir Ivanov Bury the Pain of a Lingering War in Exquisite Music Video ‘Yamakasi’

“‘Let’s bury the war.’ This was the moment when everyone in the room realized that this was it. This was what we were trying to say.”

Location, location, location…how many times have we heard that maxim spouted? However, for Egor Tarasov and Vladimir Ivanov’s gorgeously shot promo for Miyagi & Andy Panda’s album title track Yamakasi, location was of utmost importance. Yamakasi doesn’t just feel like a music video but more a reaching epic of a film, with expansive one-shot scenes and an incredibly evocative notion behind its creation. An abandoned town housing a mere handful of families after flooding is filled with a multitude of extras and an ambitious crew to bring us the burial of a lingering war. We spoke to the FMT JETLAG directors about the logistical hurdles faced, corralling a crowd of extras and getting inventive on set to bring life to the painful history of the artists’ homeland. [read here]

Nicolaas Schmidt Crafts a Mesmerising and Minimalist Work of Sly Romance in Arthouse Drama ‘FIRST TIME’

“I am interested in lifting banal everyday actions to a higher level through reduction.”

FIRST TIME (full name: FIRST TIME [The Time for All but Sunset – VIOLET]) combines two of my favourite interests: minimalist arthouse films and train rides. The sea and sun-kissed U3 in Hamburg, a short circular train line, provides a panorama of the Northern German city; a place for wonder, banality and even romance. Almost entirely a shot of two boys stealing glances at one another on the train, it remains endlessly fascinating even as it seems like nothing happens. One of the standout films at the Locarno Film Festival, where it won a special mention, it re-establishes Nicolaas Schmidt — who we previously spotlighted in our Berlinale 2020 round up — as one of the most interesting aesthetically-minded filmmakers around. Ahead of the film’s Canadian premiere at the Festival du nouveau cinéma in Montreal (6-17th October), we talked to Schmidt about the move up to a longer runtime, capturing natural sunlight, and creating moments of humour that punctuate the arthouse premise. [read here]

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