Filmmaker Samantha Moore’s stop motion BAFTA nominated documentary Visible Mending is about the therapeutic power of knitting, and how the tactile hobby can be so much more than just an activity to wile away the hours. What’s so clever about Moore’s documentary is how she brings the viewer in with cutesy handcrafted characters of animals and knitwear and uses them as a trojan horse for a wider conversation surrounding the elderly and the importance of emotional repair. It’s also worth mentioning that the doc isn’t entirely constructed through stop motion as Moore bridges sections of her film with traditional 2D animation, the form in which she has built an impressive career upon. As we find ourselves heading towards the BAFTAs, DN caught up with Moore to talk about the personal therapy she’s found in knitting, the challenge of finding her interviewees and telling their stories respectfully, and how she funded the film through the BFI.

What drew you to make an animated documentary about the emotional repair that can be achieved through knitting?

My mum got early onset dementia in her early 60s and forgot how to follow a knitting pattern. As she declined I taught myself to knit via YouTube videos, and I realised how much solace knitting brought me.

Were you always set on having a mix of tactile stop motion animation accompanied by some more abstract, shape-based imagery?

I wanted each character to choose their own representation because the patterns we choose say so much about us. With Betsan Corkhill’s contribution from the perspective of a medical professional I wanted to have a more cerebral representation, as if we can see what happens in someone’s brain when they knit. Also, I am a 2D animator and I wanted to have a section of the animation that was familiar to me because everything else was a huge learning curve.

How long were you working on Visible Mending for?

This film was five years in the making, starting with me getting some seed funding from a funded Celebrating Age Programme in Shropshire. It was part of Creative Conversations, the Shropshire wide partnership development initiated by MediaActive Projects and Arts Alive and funded by ACE, Baring Foundation and Shropshire Council. I was working on other films for the first three years but it allowed a really slow and thoughtful development of the idea.

I wanted each character to choose their own representation because the patterns we choose say so much about us.

What were the trickiest parts of production? The stop motion? The interviews? Post-production?

Probably finding the interviewees and getting my head around how to represent their stories. There’s a big responsibility when you are ’taking’ someone’s story, which is why the interviewee’s participation throughout is so vital to me. We are all still in touch and I had a special private screening for them before the film went out to festivals, so we could discuss how it had gone and what they thought. I send out newsletters to them giving them updates about the film’s progress.

How did you approach the interviews? Do you have a process for forming questions or putting your interviewee at ease?

There’s no magic bullet but just spending lots of time with them and forging trust and understanding. I like to spend as much time as possible with the interviewee before we even start audio recording. I started by taking buses out to different parts of Shropshire and visiting crafting and knitting groups in libraries, church halls and community centres. Through this I met Kate Johnson who led The Merrymakers at Church Stretton and I began to regularly visit them to chat to them about their crafts. I even ran an animation workshop with them so they could understand my work too.

Visible Mending deliberately uses really appealing characters to draw in the audience, whilst simultaneously delivering these very powerful emotional stories.

Funding for the short came through the BFI Short Form Animation fund, how was it applying for and securing that financial backing?

We had done three years of R&D with a tiny funding pot so we had a lot of material and a clear sense of the shape of the audio. The BFI funding was more money than I had ever had for a short film before and I really wanted to use the opportunity to do something different and stretch myself. I am a 2D animator and by choosing stop motion I was taking myself well out of my comfort zone. I worked with an amazing stop motion animator Adam Farish who animated a short clip for the pitch which was incredibly helpful in giving a strong sense of the vision for the film.

Visible Mending has had such success on the festival circuit and is now nominated for a BAFTA, what do you think, from speaking with audiences, it is about the film that’s resonating so much?

The film has screened at some incredible festivals which has been amazing, but it was also featured in the NYTimes around Christmas and the response was unbelievable. I screenshot all the comments because they were so incredibly powerful! I think it’s testament to the power of the stories resonating with a wider audience. I also think that these stories aren’t unusual ‘per se’, what’s unusual is foregrounding them and making them the focus of a film so that people who have similar experiences feel validated and seen. All our interviewees are in their 70s, 80s and 90s and there’s an invisibility that can come with age, particularly when you retire from a career. Visible Mending deliberately uses really appealing characters to draw in the audience, whilst simultaneously delivering these very powerful emotional stories. I cried a lot during the edits.

Is there anything you can tell us about what you’ll be working on next?

A rest! I want to take a break before starting R&D on a new project. Every time we make short films it’s the same mountain to climb, it never gets any easier! I am planning an ambitious project next so I want to take some time to reflect and evaluate how this one has gone.

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