Montreal-based Malcolm Sutherland is a busy guy, creating self-initiated short films ranging from meditations on the beach to Mayan-inspired space travel to contributing to Star Wars Uncut. His new short, Umbra, is a wonderful wormhole of a film. The precocious character will bring a smile to your face and the unraveling story is a welcome break to a busy day. Don’t scrub ahead or you’ll break the space-time continuum… or maybe do once it’s all said and done to reconstruct it.
Malcolm was kind enough to answer some questions about Umbra and the (beneficial) emptiness of existence. Interview and Credits after the jump.
Also- If you’re a fan of Malcolm’s work, there’s more goodies on his vimeo, including the more experimental/synesthetic Light Forms and Forming Game.
The Astronomer’s Dream had a very ornate cosmic-futuro-mesoamerican design. Umbra, on the other hand, uses very simple (but charismatic) shapes. Was that a decision informed by the story?
I think the design in Umbra had to be simple to convey a sense of emptiness that was key to the film. There is an idea in Buddhism which is that everything in existence is empty – this isn’t nihilistic, it just says that at the core everything is empty of a concrete, fixed, self; and the truth behind the form is that everything is transient and interconnected. For me contact with this “emptiness” can be both wonderfully liberating and a terrifying thing! So in my mind this is basically what the character in the film is confronting. A simple yet organic design seemed necessary to get that sense of pervasive “emptiness” into the film. I think it was important to have that contrast with to the dense inner voyage of the character.
Also regarding The Astronomer’s Dream, you described it as “my first ‘real’ attempt at a narrative film”. Was there anything you learned from that film that informed the making of Umbra?
I learned a lot about pacing and editing, for sure. I think the rhythm of Umbra is more subtle, and I would like to keep refining the rhythm of my films in this direction, more like a song; Umbra feels more balanced and less laboured to me. I think Astronomer’s Dream was more of an editorial challenge because of all the visual detail. Also a lot has evolved for me in regards to showing a more rich inner world for my characters, but in any case I still feel like I have a shit load to learn! Maybe when I am 90 I can make something truly awesome.
Do you have a lot of awesome dreams involving outer space travel?
Ha ha, no! I mostly dream about exploring nature and sex. Last night I dreamed I was a woman! Ha ha, my dreams are probably more like crazy inner space travel.
How do you balance time between work and creating personal films?
In a perfect world I would never do anything unless I loved it, so, as much as possible that’s what I try to follow…. I don’t want to be rich or famous – so basically if I can pay my rent and eat; whenever I am above the poverty line, so to speak, I usually won’t work again until things get hairy ….. it always feels like a bit of a leap of faith but I like to think I will get “paid” in other ways too. You know, like extra games of frisbee and long mornings with my lady.
What are you up to now?
Well I am gonna be a dad soon, thats pretty exciting, I’m stoked – although I have no idea what I am in for. Maybe the kid can help me make films, ha ha ha! I got his (her?) whole life planned already. Otherwise I am working on some animated segments for a documentary feature and working on a couple films. One is about wrestling and the other is about this shaman guy who loses his mind and is reborn. I don’t know where any of this is going though.
Directed by Malcolm Sutherland
Music by Alison Melville and Ben Grossman
Foley by Leon Lo
Sound Design/Mix by Malcolm Sutherland