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Short Film Corner: Interview with Bernardo Britto (Yearbook)

For this week’s’s Short Film Corner, we feature Yearbook, which premiered at Sundance earlier this year, where it deservedly was awarded the Short Film Grand Jury Prize. Recently listedl as one of Filmmaker Mag’s 25 New Faces of Independent Film, writer/director Bernardo Britto’s densely packed, darkly prophetic tail of an average working man tasked with cataloging all of recorded history before Earth is destroyed by a retaliatory alien attack is a startlingly deep philosophic discussion of what keeping a record actually means.

It’s also a tragic, yet moving depiction of a classic man at work/wife at home trope, as well as an earnestly hand made animated short that calls on the tonality of Chris Ware’s hyper stylized tragicomic work and reaches far beyond its formative stricture to something of simple cinematic greatness. I had the opportunity to pose the young filmmaker with a few probing questions about his award winner and what else he has up his atypical sleeve. Find the interview below, as well as a lovely little trailer for the film itself.

Jordan M. Smith: The film poses the question, what if you were tasked with condensing the whole of human history into a single hard drive. What inspired this idea?
Bernardo Britto: The idea came from the obvious realization that everything will be forgotten eventually. And, with that in the front of my mind, it became really hard for me to create something new. The only thing that made sense was for me to make a movie about that feeling and confront it head on. I think the hard drive thing specifically was something left over in brain from the bit in Keanu Reeve’s really great documentary Side By Side where they talk about film preservation. I pretty much just ripped off Keanu for that one.

Smith: As part of the narrative concept, you were forced to select your own take on the most important people in history. How did you decide who would be spoken about and who would actively be written off?
Britto: It’s actually not my own take; I tried to make it so it was the character’s own take. So it’s very male-centric and also from a pretty American point of view. Initially there were a few more film people and Walt Disney and stuff and I had to sort of step back and think, “Who would this guy think is important?” So the only black people he writes about are the two most obvious Civil Rights leaders. And the only women are Jane Fonda–whom he seems to remember more for Barbarella than for her political activism–and Joan of Arc and Marie Curie–but only because of how they died. And then I snuck a few people in that I just personally think are interesting historical figures like Eugene Debs, Ninoy Aquino, and Tiradentes.

Smith: You present the government as these faceless men behind closed doors trying to maintain their own well being. Is this something that just happened to fit the story, or are you one to really keep up on politics, actively commenting on the goings on in Washington today?
Britto: I do try to keep up on politics and I try to be aware of what’s happening in the world. But I wasn’t trying to make any sort of comment on Washington with this movie. At least not consciously. It’s probably just something I’m regurgitating from movies and books that have soaked into my brain. I also think making the government men faceless and referring to them only as pronouns makes them somehow more interesting than if they were just normal politicians. Somehow making them faceless gives them more personality. To me, anyways.

Smith: You stick with a rough, hand-drawn style for almost the entirety of the short, except a single shot of the catfish that looks almost like an oil painting compared to the rest of the film. Was this a choice of taste, budget, just the look that suited the material best or what?
Britto: It’s a choice of taste. It’s a personal style that I like. Animation is special to me because it’s the most direct path from my consciousness into movie form. So it’s important for me that it’s coming from my brain, into my fingers, through my pencil, and onto my paper. And then I want that to come across to the audience– that rough, hand-drawn look. And I hope that makes it a more personal connection between me and whoever’s watching it. The catfish painting is a watercolor that I had to convince Alexa Haas to paint for me. She helps me a lot with the overall design for most of my movies. She just has a great eye that I really trust. And she’s really mean and harsh and will let me know when something looks awful.

Smith: The piano piece you chose really sets this odd tonal juxtaposition of listlessness and propulsion. Where did you find it? Did you have it in mind before you started animating?
Britto: The piano piece was composed by Matthew Cooper who makes really great music as Eluvium. I was listening a lot to his new album Nightmare Ending while I was getting ready to make the movie and so I reached out to him to see if he could compose something specifically for this. He sent back a track and then I timed the whole movie out to it. I’m really glad I was able to use it, it’s perfectly intertwined with the spirit of the movie for me.

Smith: What filmmakers or artists in general do you look to when looking for inspiration for you own work?
Britto: There’s a lot of people that inspire me and my work. Usually it’s not a conscious thing. In terms of animation I really love the movies that John and Faith Hubley made. For live action, it’s a lot of people–from Apichatpong Weerasethakul to Andrew Bujalski to Tarantino. For writing, it’s a lot of Camus and Vonnegut and Haruki Murakami. Also Daniel Clowes and Chris Ware. And then there are a lot of my friends and contemporaries that are always making things that blow me away, like everyone that I work with in Miami from Borscht. And all the people here in New York that I’ve been making movies with since I was 16.

Smith: We’re linking to the trailer, but is there any place where people can see the whole film?
Britto: It will be online at some point soon. Right now the only way to see it is at a film festival near you, unfortunately.

Smith: What are you working on next?
Britto: I’m working on a few new things and we will see which of those actually ends up happening. Possibly some live action stuff, hopefully some feature-length things. I have a whole hard drive filled with scripts. And a bunch of jpegs with my face photoshopped onto the bodies of good-lookin’ famous men.

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