Today, we are continuing in our series talking to the animators of the Sundance Film Festival with a conversation with Renaldho Pelle, director of the short The Fire Next Time. Renaldho studied the Directing Animation MA at the NFTS (National Film and Television School) in the UK.
How did you get started as an animator?
I always loved the medium as a child, I watched a lot of animation and grew up drawing characters from my favorite shows (lots of Dragon Ball Z!). I got into animation quite late (before the NFTS, I considered myself more of an illustrator than animator); I came to it through anime and manga. I loved the stories that people like Taiyou Matsumoto were telling, and I wanted to tell stories of my own.
You did this as part of your graduate program?
Yes, The Fire Next Time was our graduation project at the NFTS. My experience there was amazing; it is a place where I was able to grow as a creative and find confidence in my voice.
The film depicts the 2011 London riots. What did you want to say about them?
I wanted to highlight the significance of the 2011 London riots as a political and social event. That may seem self evident to some, but I feel that some of the key issues which rioters raised in the aftermath of the event are still problems today. I think it is important to highlight the connections.
What made you decide the colors you used? Blacks, fluorescent colors?
With the style, I was keen to have a strong contrast between the environment and the people that inhabited the spaces. The film attempts to address the impact of structural power on peoples’ lives and on society. The physical environment plays a key role in that relationship. It felt right to me that the people should be full of colour and life, and the buildings around them should feel cold and lifeless. They are physical representations of the limitations imposed on the characters.
You used both hand painted and stop motion animation for the short. What was that like mixing mediums?
One of the major challenges posed by the film was the technique.
I wanted to use paint for the sense of fluidity but also [the] tactility it would bring. I felt this would pair really well with the stop motion element. I feel the combination works well, but the process was very labour intensive.
Were you inspired by James Baldwin who wrote ‘The Fire Next Time’?
The title is a very deliberate reference, to the sentiment of the statement, but also to the ideas of the piece of work. I love James Baldwin; he was a brave and incisive thinker, writer, and speaker. I find much in his words that I feel is ever relevant. I was keen to borrow their weight and to encourage people to revisit them.
How long did it take you to make the short?
Hahaha (looks awkwardly around and quietly whispers) 2 years. This is twice as long an NFTS grad project should take, and so it did not endear me to the tutors! But they were very supportive of the project, and I always believed that you have to make the film in the way it demands. I wanted to be a filmmaker first and a student second.
What was the process like submitting to Sundance?
The process was the same as most other festivals; the submissions take place via the filmfreeway platform. I submitted the film and genuinely did not expect to be selected! I believed we had made a good film, but Sundance is a massive festival, which receives many submissions. It was a massive shock to get the email to be invited to take part; I feel very humbled.
What would you like people to take away from the short?
I hope people will come away from the film with a sense that social inequality impacts all of society, not just those who suffer directly. It is in our interest as a society to address its causes.
Would you have any advice for animators hoping to get into the festival?
No, not particularly, because for me, a film festival, even Sundance, is not an ends in itself. My advice to animators would be to just make! Make films about things that you feel strongly about, and don’t be fearful of making films you don’t like.
We’d like to thank Renaldho for talking with us and wish him the best of luck in the festival. Anyone wanting to follow in Renaldho’s footsteps and study animation at the NFTS, applications are now open to the Directing Animation MA to start in January 2022. More information can be found here.
Edited by: Kelly Conley