I'd been friends with the band Metric for quite a few years and in 2009 with the upcoming release of their album, Fantasies, their track "Help I'm Alive" had been leaked online and become a massive hit! Unprepared for this, they had not planned to release the track as a single, and had no plans to make a video for it.
They asked if I might interpret the song as a short film, giving me carte blanche to create whatever I felt would best interpretively depict the song visually. I came up with this concept of using archival animations to create a collage film that could span the gamut of post-apocalyptic metaphors and tripped out educational films.
With over two million views on Youtube, ironically it is my most successful film.
Speaking of carte blanche, the Festival du Nouveau Cinema commissioned me in 2011 to create a four minute film of my choosing to honour the festival's 40th anniversary.
My favorite film is Charles Laughton's 1955 masterpiece The Night of the Hunter, and I came upon the title Sins of the Father as a way of dissecting the weak fatherly figures the film portrays.
I had been working with miniatures on my latest film, Keep a Modest Head, and seeing how The Night of the Hunter is often described as a "horror film from a child's point of view" I thought it would be interesting to use a children's visual vocabulary to reinterpret key iconic scenes from the film using toys and miniature tableaus.
In 2004 I started filming Keep a Modest Head which would become an epic of a short film. On the last day before leaving the studio I came upon the idea of filming my friend and drummer Anders Erickson in a one take drumming performance.
My friend suggested "why don't you film outside" and immediately the entire concept came together. I had desperately been wanting to expand my palette as a filmmaker and was looking to leave my antiquated, stylized silent films in the past. Dumb Angel became that perfect, spontaneous, fortuitous film that would set me on a new course.
I had always been very exacting in my filmmaking precision in the past and now found a new, fresh way of communicating my desires as a filmmaker.
This film stands as the final chapter in the early part of my career. Having had a long time fascination with silent film, FILM(dzama) is my fifth film in a series of silent film inspired shorts focusing on rhythm and repetition.
At the time it was my most accomplished and demanding film and put pressures on me as a filmmaker that I had never experienced before. The film helped establish a career for myself, but was never one of my favourites.
Creating the film was a great deal of work and Marcel Dzama all but completely dropped out of doing any work on the film. Years later I found Dzama had been exhibiting the film unlawfully under his own name in galleries worldwide, soiling again an already challenging project.
The upside of the project however is the film was internationally recognized and at the age of 22 I won the Best Short Film Award from the Toronto International Film; the recognition I received really helped my burgeoning status as a filmmaker.
Keep a Modest Head (2012)
In 2003 having completed seven black and white silent, short films, having completed three collaborations with Guy Maddin in the same vein as my early work, I was ready for a change.
I was ready for sound and colour and the meeting of 82 year-old Jean Benoît, the last French Surrealist, would be the catalyst to do so.
Benoît's stories were so animated; alive and filled with colour that I knew there was only one way to shoot them, in a highly stylized, colourful, fabricated, surreal sort of way. I started thinking about how Michel Gondry would approach his shorts/music videos and decided to mash such an approach with my own surrealist sensibilities.
Well at the time I had bit off more than I could chew. Although I knew how to shoot the film properly and how to layer elements for visual effects, I didn't actually know how to do the effects on a computer. All of my previous effect work had been in camera, and now it was time to move into the digital realm. The only problem is that short of hiring out a $200,000 effects firm, the software and computers needed for such effects were not available to the indie filmmaker.
So I waited. I went on to create seven more short films in the meantime and in 2010, I acquired the tools I needed for the job. 20 months of 18-hour days and the film was complete.
I had lived in an absolute vacuum during that time, and although Jean had since passed away, it was the experience I gained on the other seven shorts that allowed me to complete Keep A Modest Head the way I had envisioned it.
Eight and a half years after starting the project, it went on to win the Best Short Film Award at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2012, an honour so personal that at the age of 32, a decade later, I could really understand its significance the second time around. Deco Dawson's short films will screen November 2 at 8 p.m. at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. Admission is free and there will be a Q&A with the filmmaker.
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