Chris Sullivan was one of 12 kids growing up in the hills of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania raised by a British mother and an Irish American father. Sullivan’s been an artist since he was young, having started out as a painter and a ceramicist before moving onto animation and later film, video and performance.
“Since my early twenties, my animation and performance work were very separate,” said Sullivan. “‘Consuming Spirits’ is the first time I really let the language ideas that I have developed in my performance writing and my visual ideas in animation exist in the same work.”
What it’s about: “Consuming Spirits” is an animated portrait of three characters in a rustbelt town, there interwoven present life, and their past history of, miracles and sins.
Director Sullivan says: “I am a fiction filmmaker, as in a fiction writer. The ideas in my work start from writing, and then the visual ideas rise up from that. One of the big challenges in my process as an animator is the speed of writing, and the snail’s pace of animating. I make work about the battles of power and love between individuals. I believe that as much as we worry about the enemy without (governments, criminals, armies), I believe that most of the dangers we face in our lives come from those we love, most of the healing too.
In my work I like to show relationships out of balance, and usually teetering. Doctor/patient, master/slave, parent/child, beloved/spurned. The search for mutual love and care is a driving force in the content of my work. I like to portray these moments, usually surrounded by many misfires.”
On the challenges: “I think the biggest challenge was sustaining the joy of making the film over many years. Animation is a cruel art. An idea pops into your head, and there are two months of work. There are scenes that I felt the film needed that literally were a year of work. Three years were added into the production of the film long after it’s beginnings. I do not know that I would recommend this, but the notion of taking 14 years to make a film that was locked into a storyboard would have been quite a sentence, as well.”
What would you like Tribeca audiences to come away with? “I really hope that the audience embraces ‘Consuming Spirits’ as a film, and not foremost as an animation. I hope that the film is constructed in a way that people are lost in good ways, and make discoveries along the journey of watching the film. Most of the characters are imperfect narrators, and I like that a lot, I think that the human experience is to be duped by what is really under the rock, (the over turned one) and I like films that work like that. Films that really inspire me have a moment in them, when you thought you knew what was happening, and then everything is rewritten in your brain.
“‘Consuming Spirits’ is constructed out of the impossibilities of my own social service childhood, memories robbed from others, and many elements made up completely. I do believe that lives are more implausible and unlikely than anyone could ever imagine, so I hope the audience will trust me, and consider that such things can and do happen.
Words of wisdom: “Sustaining a feature film through the various hurdles, financially, creatively and personally is very difficult. So my main advice to fellow filmmakers is that you make something you truly care about and also something that you are not sure what the end will be. Art does matter if you can manage to get something important out there.”
Indiewire invited Tribeca Film Festival directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they’re doing next. We’ll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2012 festival.
Keep checking HERE every day up to the launch for the latest profiles.