Charlie Shackleton turns film into unforgettable live experience
He went from being a film critic in his teens to a non-fiction filmmaker with dozens of films to his name at an early age. Experimenting with many different forms and formats, his films are a fresh and new approach as to what film is and can be. Go Short proudly presents: Charlie Shackleton as Filmmaker In Focus.
You call yourself a “non-fiction filmmaker” instead of a documentary filmmaker. What is the difference between the two?
“I believe that there’s not such a large difference – I sometimes call myself a documentary filmmaker as well. It’s just that I see the term non-fiction film as being broader than just documentary – that’s a genre in my eyes. Documentary is more a genre. In non-fiction, there’s more room for using storytelling-elements from fiction films that inspired me into films about real stories from real people.”
You get inspired by fiction films. Is that also where you get your ideas from for your own films? Is that how you choose a subject?
“Not necessarily. I can get inspired by films, yes, but a film is barely ever enough inspiration to make a film myself. Mostly, I spend a lot of time in the archives. I go in there completely blank, stripped of any prejudices or subjectivity; as a blank page. I’m not looking for a certain story, point of view, angle or take. I just simply observe and see which subjects pass me by. I believe that when you keep an open mind and when you just listen to what the world has to say, you stumble upon the most interesting ideas.”
In your research phase, what kind of stories do you find yourself being drawn to the most?
“I enjoy stories about real events that happened in the past and still impact the daily lives of people living today. The way I see it, my way of working is an interrogation of the past. I feel like when I’m trying to grasp the zeitgeist and focus on something hyper relevant in the news, I’m almost certain I’d miss it completely. Fortunately, I believe history is cyclical enough that if it’s not relevant now, it will become relevant later on.”
You tell your stories in a peculiar way, often using unconventional forms or formats. How do you come up with that?
“So, I never come up with a form or format. I always choose my subject first. As I start writing and the story starts to fall into place, the form begins to reveal itself to me. So it’s always a surprise what the form is going to be, because I work in the order of content first, form second.”
“For example, As Mine Exactly is a VR-performance where I play a physical role in the entire film. This means that this film can only be viewed when I’m in the viewer’s presence. I could only have chosen this form, because the content of the film – about my mother getting epilepsy – is extremely personal and very close to me. I couldn’t work out this format with another subject.”
You have to perform the same lines every time during your VR-project As Mine Exactly. Is this repetitive for you?
“No absolutely not. Of course, the script is now seared somewhere in the back of my mind and I know it by heart. The reactions of the visitor, however, is always different. A little smirk, loud laughter, or a subtle tear; it’s never the same for me.”
“I’m certain though that, even though I thoroughly enjoy this project, this will probably be the last time I’ll attempt such an endeavor. The story I’m telling with this film is perfect for it, but I don’t see how any other subject could fit in that form without me losing interest in it.”
Say I won’t attend your film programs at Go Short. What will I be missing?
“What you’ll be missing? I don’t want to fuel the fear of missing out, but I think the fact that it’s a unique, live experience. These films are live events, live performances. You need me to do my performance – and I can’t multiply myself.”
“The Afterlight is another example that embraces singularity. This is a film of which I only have one analogue copy. This film is about watching old fiction films as documentary moments of someone performing a random certain act. The acts are all done by actors on screen who have passed away a long time ago, which gives a deeper meaning to it. And: each time it screens, the scratches on the physical film build up until in the end, it’s no longer viewable. Therefore, the film looks a bit different after each viewing, which makes each viewing – again – unique.”
What are you currently working on?
“I can’t go into detail about that yet. The only thing I can share is that it’s a non-fiction film about propaganda by the British police in the nineties.”
Thank you for your time. We’ll see you at Go Short 2023.