Sally Pearce is one of the many UK filmmakers whose work has been selected by the British Council for support under our International Short Film Festival scheme.
We recognise that film festivals provide a vital networking platform for talented new filmmakers to present their work to peers and audiences alike, which is why we run our scheme to promote selected films to around 60 key festivals each year. To read more about the scheme please visit our website.
Your connection to the British Council?
I’ve had three British Council grants, to Uppsala, Vienna (Tricky Women) and Shanghai Festivals with Elephants - all amazing to attend, three different kinds of experience. Uppsala is a beautiful University town, one of the oldest in Europe, it reminded me of Cambridge and the Festival felt very vibrant because there was such a high student presence. Tricky Women was a great Festival to attend, we had rooms right in the centre of Vienna and the organisers of this intense event went to great trouble to ensure we were all comfortable, entertained, stimulated and networked and I saw some very inspirational work, and got to meet animators I have stayed in touch with. Shanghai was a culture shock, a huge experience that I’m still gasping from. (Can’t explain in one sentence, you have to go there yourself) I ended up spending one day isolated in hospital as a swine flu suspect, which was scary but the President of the Oscars was there, and I won an Award, so that was a buzz. The British Council also put me in touch with the British Council in Kiev, and I’ve had invaluable help from them for a research trip to Chernobyl.
Your current project?
My new project is about wildlife living in the radioactive Exclusion Zone around Chernobyl, especially with regard to a very rare species of wild horse, Przewalski Horses, who were released there as part of a return to the wild programme about ten years after the explosion. I went to the Exclusion Zone for a week in April with cinematographer Laura Bellingham, funded by the Welsh Arts Council, and I’m now raising funds to make a short film, compositing animation into the footage and stills we acquired there. Ultimately I aim to make a feature length film and I’m developing the script with a writer called Pol Mag Uidhir. A film he wrote won the jury prize at Chicago Children’s International Film Festival (where Elephants got a second place) and I liked it so much I got in touch with him.
Who originally turned you on to film?
I never dreamed of being a film-maker at all, I was a Nurse. But when I started taking a part time Fine Art Degree, I saw there was a ‘Time Based Arts Department’ and announced I was in this department. I wasn’t particularly encouraged at first and had trouble getting people to take me seriously, but I had a supportive tutor who gave me a first few chances.
Career high so far?
Winning the Welsh Short Film BAFTA and the Award for the Most Creative Idea in Shanghai, although 'Elephants' has won some other Awards which are also special, especially the second place at Chicago International Children’s Festival because that was the first Award and we had set our hearts on Chicago even before the film was finished. But I actually really like to be working on a film so the whole process of making Elephants was a Career high. My trip recently to shoot footage and research in the Exclusion Zone around Chernobyl with cinematographer Laura Bellingham was mind-blowing.
Your first job in the industry?
I came straight in as an Independent Film Maker, making short films from my own scripts for no or very low budgets, then I got some commissions.
If I knew then what I know now....
Persist. Value the people you work with. Take advice, but don’t listen to people who say you can’t do it – have faith in yourself.
Your favourite British Film?
There are many, but I’ll say Ratcatcher, because it’s a passionately honest film with great performances and such strong camera work. It won great and deserved international acclaim and is directed by a woman.
If you could have directed any film ever made...
The Piano, (Breaking the Waves runs close second – or perhaps Amelie, I love that film, also I love any fantastic animation live action mix from Who Killed Roger Rabbit? to Pan’s Labyrinth, or ‘Little Otik’). But to make a choice, The Piano because it’s wildly imaginative, it would be amazing to work with genius actors like that, the locations are so dramatic it’s like an inner dreamscape, and the child’s performance is stunning. I have some problems with the film, things that annoy me or that I don’t understand, but I still wish I had directed it.
The first film you ever saw?
Um, I’m afraid the very first film I remember seeing was Disney’s Bambi. Everything goes black for a long time after that….The first film I remember being really struck in the gut by was Tarkovsky’s Solaris. This seemed to make my brain grow a few more wrinkles. It introduced me to the idea that a film can actually reach out, grab you and shake you and leave you a different person, if you let it. Like The Piano, I have problems with it, things that disturb me and even make me angry, but it’s the films I have this love/hate relationship with that just go on screening inside my head, rather than the ones I just simply admire.
Favourite line or scene from a film?
I’m very fond of the moment in Being There with Petar Sellars (sic), when the simple gardener turned President of the US ends the film by walking away on water. It’s sort of, perfect. I also like the moment in Oscar nominated ‘Second Class Mail’ an animation short by Alison Snowden and David Fine, when the budgie in a cage suddenly does two somersaults and dies – an inspired way to indicate passage of time in a still shot of a sofa with nobody on it? I love it when Amelie literally melts when the guy she fancies walks out of the café where she works. There’s moments in Solaris, for instance when the wife rips her way through a thin metal door rather than be left alone or comes back to life after swallowing poison that still make my blood run cold with their power, although I hate them.
Favourite screen kiss?
Um, oh no, I can’t think of one…not one…help…Ah, in Powell Pressburger A Matter of Life and Death (definite contender for the favourite British film also, along with horrible Peeping Tom) doesn’t David Niven steal a kiss from Kim Hunter during a frozen moment of time, or is that a tear….?
Favourite screen villian?
Cruella De Ville is a good one and the Toon villain in Who Killed Roger Rabbit?. I think Snape is my favourite, though I guess he’s really only masquerading as a villain.
I’m not so hot on heroes. Heroes are predictable. Villains have much more juice. Ah, just thought. 'Dr Who', all of them, (I have the dimmest memory of watching the first one from behind the sofa. Which brings me back to villains - Daleks are even better than Snape).
Who would play you in a film about your life?
Holly Hunter? Small, intense, creative, amazing actress, much prettier than me. Actually, not like me at all, American even, I must have The Piano on my brain. Julie Walters? She’s a comedienne, but that wouldn’t be a bad thing at all. Also amazing actress and much prettier than me.