A winner of Audience Awards at Manchester Animation Festival and KLIK Amsterdam Animation Festival, Sam Gainsborough’s NFTS grad film Facing It arrives online having become a real fan favourite of the festival scene. Featuring a relatable storyline, centred around themes of anxiety and relationships, and showcasing some exceptional craft, it’s easy to see why festival attendees have become so fond of this attention-grabbing short.
The story of a young man’s anxiety and how his upbringing has influenced his views of the world, though this film could have easily been just another story focused on the prevalence of stress in society, Gainsborough reveals he “wanted to make a film that celebrates everyone’s flaws and internal struggle”. Co-written with Louisa Wood, the pair’s story started when they jotted the phrase “repression will destroy you” down on paper, before identifying the premise of building a story around “a main character who would be seen to bottle up their emotions rather than living true to themselves”.
If that story doesn’t sound groundbreaking, then the craft more than makes up for it. Described by Gainsborough as a “weird mixed-media mask technique”, Facing It features claymation faces shot on green-screen and then composited on real-life actors. The result is not only stunning, but effective. It grounds the film in reality, whilst using the animated faces to perfectly highlight the emotions/reactions of the characters. They never speak a word (not one you can understand anyway), but you always know exactly how they are feeling.
A student film about anxiety, on paper Gainsborough’s film sounds like a clichéd piece that lacks the originality we look for here on Short of the Week. However, the fact that he’s injected life into such thoroughly explored subject matter is a testament to his creativity. Facing It never feels tired or imitative and the craft is something you’re just dying to see more of.
I first saw Facing It as part of an NFTS showcase, when it was still a work-in-progress and despite being rough around the edges, it was the still the stand-out film in the screening. Since that initial viewing, I’ve seen the film multiple times on the festival circuit and I’m yet to tire of it or find it less impressive. Here’s hoping we see more from Sam and his “weird mixed-media mask technique” soon.