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Vancouver Film Festival 2012 Interview – CONSUMING SPIRITS' Christopher Sullivan

Consuming Spirits at VIFF
by Jason Whyte

“Consuming Spirits is an independent animated feature chronicling the lives of three characters who live in a rustbelt town called Magguson, and work at its local newspaper The Daily Suggested. Gentian Violet, Victor Blue and Earl Gray first appear to be acquaintances. But as the film unfolds, we find they have a long diabolical history, revolving around social service intervention, and foster care, romance and hatred. Each character has family secrets to hide, and family secrets to discover. An auto accident one dark and inebriated night causes a crack in the memory vault of these intimate strangers. This film is an archeological dig, and a crime scene, the site has already been looted, and most evidence tampered with. With much support and help from family, friends, and the many artists who have worked on the project. I will present this evidence, and these
artifacts to you, in their final form, a sprawling diorama. By the end I hope all characters walk from the woods, healed and wounded, guilty and innocent.” Director Christopher Sullivan on “Consuming Spirits” which screens at this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival.

Is this your first film in the Vancouver International Film Festival? Do you plan to attend Vancouver for the screenings?

Yes it is my first time; though I know the city well, I have two brothers and a sister who's spawn on Vancouver island and the city. I will be there for a Q & A.

Could you give me a little look into your background and what
led you to the desire to want to make film?

I was born and raised in the wooded hills of Pittsburgh along with ten siblings. A product of my British mother Beryl, and my Irish American father Lawrence. They met in England during WW2. I come from a family of artists and intellectuals please and frustrated by there pluck in life. My past inspires my work, which is about the family, desire, requited, and unrequited love and care. I was a painter, ceramicist, and then began to animate and make films; it was here that the notion of assembly and audience caught me. I do performance as well as film. I am very much committed to people gathering to experience art, and the group energy of seeing my films or performances is why I use the medium. Animation is a merciless medium, but I do love it, but my films and not cartoons, but animated films. So perhaps Lars Von Trier will like them. During this span of the film I also raised two daughters, with Susan Abelson, who are now adults.

How did this project come together?

Very slowly, around fifteen years. Inspirational points of reference are the shaman exhibit at the Field Museum in Chicago, John Torrington's body, my father, my strange family. The writing and creating of elements took a great deal of time. Dialogue and voice over where created throughout the production, and scenes where added, and the narrative revised. The language and dialogue covers a span of 15 years, from the first introductory scenes to the final moments of the film. The animators and voice talent helped tremendously with helping the film come together. The Voice of Bob Levy particularly was inspirational in the writing for his character Earl Gray.

What was the biggest challenge in the making of this movie?

Trying to make animation keep up with what I wanted the film to be, in animation, you get a notion, or you record dialogue one afternoon, and you have a years work ahead of you. The film was made through the transitions from film to digital in the industry, and this caused some troubles.

Tell me about the technical side of the film; your relation to the film's cinematographer, what the film was shot on and why it was decided to be photographed this way.

Consuming Spirits was shot on 16mm Kodak film using two Bolex and a Mauer Camera. Audio was recorded on a 1/4 inch Stereo Nagra, and music and sound track elements layered on a 1/4 inch four track Teac. Over 230,000 individual frames where recorded for the film. The layers in the cutout animation where created with planes of glass separated with wooden blocks. The puppets are made out of paper, with paper hinges. The drawing layers are created wit pencil drawings on tracing paper. Over 30,000 individual cells where drawn for the drawn parts of the film. Postproduction of the film is in HD using Final Cut Pro. But all of the animation is hand manipulated and captured frame by frame, including camera pans, zooms etc. The puppets in the film are from one inch to 14 inches tall.

Who would you say your biggest inspirations are? Any inspirations for this film in particular?

For this film Joe Frank and particularly his piece Renta family moved me quite a bit. Dennis Potters “The Singing Detective”, John Cassavettes’ “Love Streams”, Edith Pargeter's “Heaven Tree Trilogy”, “Tale of Tales”, “Brief Encounter” by Peter Bruegel, and even “The Ghost and Mister Chicken”. These works take chances in letting the narrative run loose, and trust it will return.

Please tell me some filmmakers or talent that you would love to work with, even if money was no object.

I am probably to much of a controller to work with other animators, but if the situation was right, Jonathan Hodgson, Igor Kovelyov, Pritt Parn, The brothers Quay, Nina Shorina, Johanna Quinn Frederic Back, Tomm More and Cartoon Saloon. For voice talent Leonard Cohen and David Bowie are on my list right now.

How important do you think the critical/media response is to film these days, be it a large production, independent film or festival title?

Very important. For me, there is a lot of garbage that gets pumped up, and a lot of interesting films that get buried. “Melancholia” was for me hands down the best film of last year. but it was written about tentatively. I was very lucky to have my film debut at The Tribeca Film Festival, which had great audiences, and great reviews. It has been a big part of people being interested in the film, and that was where I was invited to show at VIFF.

If your film could play in any movie theatre or "space" in the world, which one would you choose?

I would love for the movie to play in cities like London, Belfast, Pittsburgh, Moscow, Tokyo, New York and Berlin for various reasons.

No doubt there are a lot of aspiring filmmakers at film festivals who are out there curious about making a film of their own. Do you have any advice that you could provide for those looking to get a start, and especially for those with films in the festival circuit?

Challenge yourself to make an important, film, a film that if you did not make it, you would want someone else to make it. pull no punches tell the truth, make work about what is under your skin..make a film that leaves warmth and wounds when people leave the theater.

How can people keep in touch with the film at this point in the
festival circuit?

Embarrassingly, as we speak I do not have a website, but check out my
Vimeo page and my new film sketchbook will be up soon. The address is www.vimeo.com/sullivananimation.

And finally, what is your all time favorite movie and why?

Again it would have to be The Singing Detective by Dennis Potter, though it is officially television (and shot on 16mm no less). Because it is brave enough to take you places without explaining, and he understands that small moments have great meaning.

This is one of the official selections in this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival lineup. For more information on films screening at this year’s fest, showtimes, updates and other general info, point your browser to www.viff.org.

Be sure to follow instant happenings of VIFF ’12 on my Twitter account @jasonwhyte, including mini-reviews of films, comments on festival action and even a Tweetphoto or two. #viff12 is the official hashtag.

Jason Whyte, efilmcritic.com

link directly to this feature at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/feature.php?feature=3439
originally posted: 10/03/12 11:58:29
last updated: 10/03/12 12:00:09
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