Interview with Director Charles Williams about his Palme d’Or winning film All These Creatures

Arts Muse Magazine was lucky enough to talk with award-winning director, Charles Williams, about his film All These Creatures.

What sparked the initial idea behind this short film?

I’ve always been kind of obsessed with these ideas. I think if you have a parent that is volatile or violent, you have to separate yourself from that impact and find some kind of deeper understanding – was this person ‘bad’, or damaged themselves or mentally ill?

And I think all of us reckon with these mythic images we have of our parents as we grow older. We try find ways of seeing them with more compassion, and as real people outside of who they were in our memories.

How did you come up with ‘All These Creatures’ as a title for your film?

This took me quite a while, but there was a line in the voice over that I had written referring to all these little creatures that make us up; all these separate alien things squirming around inside. It seemed like it hit the right note about seeing these issues through the lens of this curious young boy.

Tell us about the casting.

A lot of it hinged on the lead role, who is pre-adolescent and the qualities I needed are so innate, it’s not something you can just direct. The character is essentially passive, so you need this presence that is inherently fascinating – someone whose thoughts read on camera and who has this right mix of innocence and maturity. It was always going to be hard to find this in someone so young, so I opened the casting of the film up completely without bias to race or gender.

I knew if I found the right soul I could re-write the story around it. So after looking at hundreds of kids from very diverse backgrounds, I found Yared, who had done some acting at school but not on camera. Yared just has a nature that he can tap into something very deep. Off camera, he is just like any other 12 year old, but when he focuses there is this incredible depth to him that comes across visually which was essential for this film.

Then, after I cast Yared and his family, I brought on four Ethiopian Australian advisors from the local community to make sure the script was accurate and sensitive to their culture.

Why was it important for you to bring up and include such an important topic like mental health in this film?

Mental illness is an incredibly important issue that hasn’t been expressed very well on screen. It is something that we all are touched by in one way or another. I also wanted to show a compassionate understanding toward someone who causes damage and I think when we see it through this lens we can have a greater empathy.

Tell me what went through your mind when you won the Palme d’Or at Cannes? Did you expect to win?

I am still kind of blown away by getting selected in the festival, let alone winning the Palme d’Or. The film was made with basically no money, everybody working for free and donating services and equipment and we had no contacts or anything. So it’s all been astonishing to be able to see this film transcend it’s very humble origins.

What was the funding process like for the film?

It mostly involved getting sponsors on board and the generosity of the cast and crew. I really have to thank Kodak, Cinelab, Park Rd Post Production, Sound Firm, Final Sound, City of Greater Dandenong, The Butchery, The Refinery, Casting Sugar, Savage Rentals and Panavision for making it possible.

What are your influences as a filmmaker?

There are so many, and so different, everyone from John Huston to Charles Walters, Jean Renoir to John Cassavetes. This film didn’t have any direct influences that I was really aware of in the early stages, but later I could see elements of the Dardenne brothers, Terrance Malick, Andrei Tarkovsky and even a bit of Harmony Korine coming through.

Did you have any alternative endings?

I think the script sort of lacked a real ending and I was looking for it as we were making the film. The end in the sense of the story was there, but there was missing this final beat which I came upon later.

What were some of the challenges you encountered while making this film? How did you overcome them?

There wasn’t much about making this film that wasn’t incredibly challenging. Almost everyone in the film has never been on camera before, most of the cast are under 15, we had a lot of locations (one of which was bulldozed to the ground just before shooting), plus animals, insects, shooting on film – and all without a budget. But I worked with some wonderful people.

What message do you want people to take away from your film?

I hope the audience can experience the film and make up their own minds. I think spelling out an interpretation can be a bit limiting, hopefully it comes through.

Where can people see All These Creatures?

This week we’re screening in Denver Film Festival, Leeds, Tirana, Geneva, Stockholm, and Tehran – but please check out the website and Facebook for upcoming screenings

What projects are up next for you?

I’m just finishing the latest draft of my feature film script Inside, which will likely be up next for me. It’s really exciting and lives in a similar territory to the short film, so it will be interesting to explore some of these ideas on a bigger canvas.

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