Congrats to Clea Mallinson, who joins South Africa’s growing contingent heading to Annecy in June with her short film concept FAIRY WHEELS: a soul-searching story about a tenacious boy who missions across the beautiful Eastern Cape to tell a girl he loves her before she moves away to the big city. Clea, a screenwriter, editor and documentary filmmaker, will soon be in the alpine town at the invitation of MIFA for their Animation du Monde pitch focus event. Here’s what Clea had to share when we interrupted her preparations for the big day…
Q: You’ve got a very diverse and impressive portfolio of work, and you succeeded in securing NFVF development funding for FAIRY WHEELS. Could you highlight some of your achievements and tell us what made you focus on writing and animation?
One of the things I’m most proud of was directing a short documentary for SABC in 2009 called PINKY AND THE COMPUTERS. It was hard work filming in a very rural area and making it in Xhosa. I made a stop motion animation in 2010 for a music video competition – doing that alone was another feat. Having mostly worked as a video editor on reality TV, I’m still waiting for that ‘calling card’ project. After years of editing I decided to broaden my skills and did my MA in Screenwriting in 2010. Since then I’ve slowly been turning my attention more to writing, although only on self-funded projects. Animation has always been a love of mine, so once I realised FAIRY WHEELS was an animated film it really took off—I was so happy to get NFVF development funding I burst into tears.
Q: Your hero, the asthmatic Luthando, is a fragile soul searching for his inner voice under difficult circumstances—what inspired you to create this little hero’s journey?
In the 90’s many South Africans immigrated. From age 11~17, I lost about seven people to that trend. I was reserved growing up and I didn’t always tell people how I felt (there were also no cellphones, no Facebook: it was difficult staying in touch), so I love how Luthando is determined to express how he feels, even if it goes against everything everyone’s telling him. It’s about letting it out. Otherwise your feelings are stuck inside.
Q: In your pitch you wrote that the Eastern Cape “is not yet on the animation map”. What aspect of the Eastern Cape would you like to show the world and why do you think it has remained ‘undiscovered’?
Sometimes people shy away from culturally specific locations; they worry the story won’t be universal. Maybe I’m biased because I grew up in Grahamstown, but I think the Wild Coast specifically is the one of the most special places in our whole country. Look at the documentary THE SHORE BREAK about the community fighting against mining interests in their coastal area. The area where FAIRY WHEELS is set just got electricity in 2016 and it’s solar. There are solar panels on the thatched roofs of the huts. If that’s not cool, I don’t know what is. So it’s a place that lies at the heart of Xhosa culture and then you also have this clean, modern technology in there. I just think that’s magical.
Q: FAIRY WHEELS was blessed for success by a local Igqira [indigenous healer], and you’ve also promised to show the film to the villagers once it’s made. What do those relationships mean to you and why do you think it’s important to return?
I took inspiration from both Dwesa and the Nquileni Village areas. In Nquileni we projected Triggerfish’s KHUMBA at a local backpackers and invited kids to their first film (they went over and touched the wall after it was over). When the kids see this short, it may give them a sense of pride in where they come from, but I really hope to see their faces light up in recognition and maybe inspire them. I did ask the Igqira for her blessing, so returning there will be about coming full circle. They may not even remember me, but these relationships motivate me.
Q: What steps did you take to get this project off the ground?
The NFVF approved my funding application in early 2015. I used the money to do rewrites on the script with Julie Hall (the story made some important leaps forward in that process) and to go location scouting for research. Realising I needed a concrete outcome to attract funding, I approached Mind’s Eye Creative to help with the pitch package. With Nick Cloete as producer, we’ll be applying to the NFVF for short film production funding. But this film will need a lot more financing to make it happen. So we’re looking into co-productions: Laurent Medea from Tiktak Productions in Reunion has expressed interest, which we are really excited about, and hopefully my pitch at Annecy will attract more support.
Q: What advice do you have for young South Africans hoping to make an impact in our thriving industry and how important was your own education/training?
My education helped inform the content and themes of stories I want to tell, but so did my life experience. Training wise, doing my MA in screenwriting was a way to get confidence, but nowadays even high schools offer workshops in scriptwriting. Joining Animation SA or the Writers Guild of South Africa also gives people access to networking and training sessions and also the opportunity to attend international markets. One thing I do is ceaselessly apply for funding and any sort of opportunity, find co-creators and nurture connections because it’s almost impossible to make a film alone. And of course, get in the loop by attending events like animationXchange in Cape Town or Johannesburg.
Q: Have you had any experience with public pitches before and how are you preparing for MIFA?
I got practice pitching to international production companies when I went to NATPE in Miami through the Writers Guild and the DTI SSAS scheme. But that was one-on-one, so this will be my biggest pitching challenge to date. I’m asking for advice from my producer as well as people who have pitched at MIFA in the past. There’s a workshop to help us refine our pitches a few days before MIFA, and I’m excited to meet and learn from all the talented and experienced people taking part in the pitches.
Q: Do you have any other stories or projects on the horizon you can share with us?
I entered Triggerfish’s Storylab in 2015 with a TV series idea called Green Ray Connector Kids. I didn’t get in but I’ve had some positive feedback. I’m going to take that to Annecy and hopefully get some interest. The idea is: in a world where negative emotions manifest into monstrous physical form, three kids from the Southern Hemisphere join forces with the Green ray to help reconnect people to their hearts.
Interview by Chris Wheeler