INTERVIEW: Philip Clayton-Thompson | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Working together with highly respected American festival DC Shorts, this year’s Sunderland Shorts is set to be one of the biggest film events that the city has seen. Taking place across four venues, more than 65 unique films are set to be shown at the festival, ensuring that there really will be something to suit everyone’s tastes. Leading up to the four-day festival, which begins on Thursday 2nd July and runs until Sunday 5th July, we’re interviewing some of the film makers screening works at the festival, asking them what made them decide to make short films, what inspires them and about the works themselves. Here, Peter Cumiskey talks to Philip Clayton-Thompson about his life as a director and his short ARDOYNE.

How, in a nutshell, did you get into filmmaking?

I am from Blackpool, Lancashire, and in the winter, a small soft core cinema on the promenade thought that Fellini and Pasolini films were also soft core, perhaps because their films had salacious posters. In any event, I went to see them, or any other great Italian films playing there. So, at 14, I packed up my suitcase and my mother asked where I was going. I said I was going to Rome to make tea for Mr. Fellini. My mother said, “I doubt he drinks tea, maybe cappuccinos.” I did end up being a tea boy – a prestigious job in the British film industry – at Bushy Studios and served some of the best cinematographers there: Walter Lassally (Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner); Billy Williams (Gandhi) and Dougy Slocombe (more films than I can name). I became an independent award-winning documentary filmmaker thereafter. I tried to move up to producer/director at the BBC, but in those days the school ties were a barrier to certain elevated jobs. So, I emigrated to the U.S.

Your bio says that you wanted to “reinvent how documentaries are watched.” What made you decide to set your film around The Troubles?

I find that today’s youth get their information primarily from the web, and, in particular, YouTube. I thought a music video with an historic premise would be the best way to bring attention to an age-old problem in Northern Ireland. Having directed an award-winning 1972 film about The Troubles, A Place Called Ardoyne, I wanted to use my original footage from that film for ARDOYNE. Basically, I wanted the song to talk about conflict, no matter the country, where two or three groups have difficulty co-existing. Wherever those type of conflicts exist, ARDOYNE seems to resonate with viewers and, therefore, has become a success.

I watched the film online and it’s a fascinating mix of different media. What gave you the inspiration to merge animation, archive film and music?

For one thing, I mixed medias to attract a broader audience, many of whom receive information via their mobile platforms. The original film was shot on 16mm film. As an independent filmmaker, we had a small budget for film stock, therefore, I asked the children of Ardoyne to paint anything they saw out their windows, 96% of which was imagery of The Troubles. Those paintings were shown at one of the most highly publicized art exhibits at The Tate, depicting, for the first time, the effects of war on children. As an avid moviegoer, I caught the Spanish production of the series Gran Hotel, whose opening credits use animation to enliven period photos. That inspired me to animate the children’s paintings, which our editor Marshal Serna created.

“As a singer, who likes to write poetry, I was drawn to put into words a resolution for the centuries old conflict with my lyrics”

It’s a very short but powerful piece, aided no end by the Ardoyne song! What qualities do you feel music is capable of adding to a film, and a short one in particular?

One of the aspects of great films is the importance of rhythm. Music helps to move that rhythm forward. If it’s used intelligently, it can be an important part of a film’s success. Think of Lawrence of Arabia, The Magnificent Seven, or The Big Country. As a singer, who likes to write poetry, I was drawn to put into words a resolution for the centuries old conflict with my lyrics. Amazingly, I found the right composer, Daniel Buhr, on a film website known as Stage 32. Working with Daniel was wonderful, because he knows how to write a tune. Even more propitious was having Tim Ellis as our music producer, who asked Brian Dunning (U2, Gangs of New York,) of Dublin to add a layer of Catholic and Protestant airs to Daniel’s piece. We start with the Protestant fife tune The Sash My Father Wore, a rallying song of the Orange Men. The first drum lick is the work of a retired British Army drummer, who served in the Inniskilling Dragoons. The second drummer represents the Apprentice Boys marching through Catholic Ardoyne. The bass drummer is mimicking the sound coming from under the bridge in Glasgow. Ellis melds together the disparate sounds in a way that would be considered sacrilegious by most.

Why are film festivals such an ideal platform for pieces such as yours?

It is very hard to get distribution for a film, especially a short film. For a filmmaker, it’s a wonderful experience to sit in a darkened room with people who are film buffs and enjoy films on a large screen. The endgame in our case is to have a well-known band play ARDOYNE as a cover. I wrote it with the idea of someone else performing it at the 2016 Commemoration of the Independence of Ireland. I hope that its success on the festival circuit will help me achieve that as well as my vision of having a modern dance company perform an extended musical version of ARDOYNE with back projection. To date, ARDOYNE has won three major international film festivals: New York City International Film Festival, Philadelphia Independent Film Festival, and Phoenix Comicon, as well being an official selection in 20+ others – from Bosnia Herzegovina to Brazil and now the U.K.

The Sunderland Shorts Festival is designed to introduce audiences to familiar, new and unexpected genres. Where do you feel ARDOYNE fits in?

Unexpected. The music aspect puts it in the Music Video category, but the historic element makes it a candidate for documentaries. Add the animation, and that makes it experimental, creating a very layered piece that leaves you walking away singing the log line, “We will march together!”

Sunderland Shorts takes place between Thursday 2nd and Sunday 5th July across various venues in Sunderland.

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