We were fortunate enough to be able to conduct an interview with director of All These Creatures, Charles Williams. He also won a Cannes award.
Congrats on your Cannes Short Film win! Where did you get the inspiration for All These Creatures?
Thanks. The film really came out of obsessions I’ve had for a long time which mostly stem from growing up in a fairly complex family environment. I think as you grown older you’re always trying to find a way to separate yourself from that impact and get some kind of deeper understanding – are these people ‘bad’, or damaged themselves or mentally ill? And mental illness is an incredibly important issue that hasn’t been presented very well on screen.
I also think all of us reckon with these mythic images we have of our parents as we grow older. We try [to] find ways of seeing them with more compassion, and as real people outside of who they were in our memories. I also sat down to write this film about a week after my daughter was born. So that also played a role.
What was the process when searching for the right cast to play each of these characters?
It was very open and comprehensive, particularly for the lead boy, Tempest. It’s an essentially passive role and I knew that I needed a lot of very innate qualities, which aren’t very common in someone so young.
I also knew if I found the right soul, I could rewrite the story around whomever this was. I looked through around 400 kids; girls, boys, from any background. Once I found Yared, I was like: “This is the world that this film is going to take place in and I’ll adapt it to this.”
Yared was born in Ethiopia, so I brought on four Ethiopian Australian advisors from the local community to make sure the script was accurate and sensitive to their culture.
What effect did you want the audience to get when watching this short?
I try not to prescribe it too much. I hope audiences can connect with the film on a visceral level and hopefully come away with a greater sense of compassion than they had at the beginning.
What do the ‘creatures’ symbolize to you, to the characters and to the audience?
I think the young boy is trying to connect his experience to the rest of the world, and the creatures are his way of doing that. From both himself to the bugs to all the cells that make us up. It hopefully extends into a way of seeing volatile people in particular, as well as ourselves, with more compassion.
Do you think the voice over of the kid’s thoughts impacts the story telling? If so, how and why?
Yeah very much so. Voice over is incredibly difficult to get right, and it really changes what you can show and how. It was something that took a lot of time to re-calibrate in the editing, so we weren’t being redundant and making sure we were creating something new from the combination of the two.
Tell me, what is the message behind this film?
I’m a bit reluctant to spell that out. I think the film has a point of view, but I think I’ll leave the message to the audience.
Why did you give the father his particular ending in this story?
It seemed the most honest to me. It’s not at all uncommon for this kind of story, both from my own life and lives of people around me. I thought a lot on how to present this too, particularly in regards to how the lead character would remember it. In the end I think it needs to be as matter of fact as possible. Things like this for me are too large to process, they just happen.
Do you think children go through these issues and keep it hidden?
I think we all do. It’s not just from shame and a conscious effort to hide, or try as Tempest says, ‘to look like everybody else’. It’s also unconscious. How do you really process and resolve something so complex? Most of us don’t have the luxury to reflect and process so much, so we just put it in a box at the back of our mind and move on.
What themes are presented?
The main themes of the film are around mental health, family trauma and compassion.
What was your overall goal with this film? Did you accomplish it?
I just wanted the film to be as viscerally honest as I could make it and still connect with an audience; something that was really close to my nervous system, and hopefully other people’s too. On top of that I always had the dream of the film being appreciated in the context of a great film festival like Cannes. So it does feel like the film is achieving what I hoped.
What other projects are you working on?
I’m just finishing the latest draft of my feature film script Inside, which will likely be up next for me. It’s really exciting and lives in a similar territory to the short film, so it will be interesting to explore some of these ideas on a bigger canvas.