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VIFF 2017 Interview: THE TESLA WORLD LIGHT director Matthew Rankin

by Jason Whyte

"New York, 1905. Idealistic Serbian inventor Nikola Tesla desperately tries to complete his Electrical World System while spiraling into nervous abstraction and falling in love with a bird." Director Matthew Rankin on THE TESLA WORLD LIGHT which screens at the 2017 Vancouver International Film Festival.

Is this your first VIFF experience and will you be in Vancouver to attend your screenings?

My films have played at VIFF before but I have never been able to personally attend it. Same this year, sadly.

Tell me a bit about yourself and your background, and how you got into the whole filmmaking business.

I grew up in Winnipeg and studied history in Montreal and Quebec City. I have been making films my whole life, first at the Winnipeg Film Group, now in Montreal.

While you are working on a movie, what keeps you going? What drives you, creatively? How much coffee?

I have devoted the very best energies of my consciousness in this, the only life I can reasonably expect to live, to making very difficult images. That is what excites me and keeps me going. I am naturally lazy, in fact, so if the images are just easy to make I would really rather just listen to music and drink coffee and read books and snuggle up with some sweet person. But when the images are really, really difficult to realize, it ignites something in me, drives me forward. It is about trying to creating new images, instead of the standardized, processed images we see every day. That keeps me inspired.

What was your biggest challenge with this project, and how did you overcome it?

The primary animation technique in this movie was light painting frame by frame. It's really hard and labour-intensive. It requires long exposure times and often each frame contained upwards of five separate exposures of different elements of the image. It's very time consuming and athletic. Overcoming challenges is a group effort and I just had a great team on this.

If you had to pick a single favourite moment out of the entire production, what would it be?

We burned 15,000 sparklers to make these images for your viewing pleasure. I don't know if you have ever breathed in that much sparkler exhaust in an enclosed space, but I think my favourite moment of the entire production was when we could all go back to breathing normal oxygen.

For the aspiring filmmakers who read our site, I would love to know about the technical side of the film

The film was shot on 16mm black & white film using a wind-up Bolex camera. 16mm is my very favourite film format and I love black & white so much. TESLA aesthetically references Tesla's own self-portraits as well as early avant-garde animation, all of which is black & white and on film. So there was never any doubt about using those formats on this movie. There are very few digital interventions and ZERO CGI. All of the animated images was created in camera and on film.

Where is this movie going to show next?

Right after VIFF the film will play at Festival du nouveau cinema in Montreal. The market for shorts is tiny so it's all about getting it out there in every way possible.

If you could show your movie in any theater in the world, which one would you choose and why?

My favourite movie theatre in the world is the Capitol Cinema in Winnipeg. That's where I would most like to screen this one. Unfortunately the Capitol was demolished in 2003.

Movie theaters are the best place to see a movie, but sometimes they can be distracting! What would you say or do to someone who is talking, texting or being overall disruptive during a screening of your film?

I usually just fester silently and allow such people to totally destroy the experience. People don't like to be told what to do. If you tell somebody to be quiet, they usually don't like that and you can really feel their hatred. But the tyranny of Netflix is that everyone is so used to watching things alone that they forget how to behave in a collective setting. I guess people should just try to remember that watching a movie in a cinema is different from watching a movie on your phone in your kitchen.

There are many aspiring filmmakers reading us for our articles and reviews for inspiration. If you could offer a nugget of advice to them on how to get their start, what would you say to them?

I think it's important to have LOTS of projects at the same time. Funding comes together so slowly that if you focus yourself 100% on one, single, sacred project you can become impatient, discouraged, depressed and, eventually, the very worst thing an artist can ever become, bitter. So it's better to have LOTS of projects going at the same time; shorts, features, commercial stuff, music videos, experiments, residencies, workshops etc, so that everything stays fun and busy.

And finally, what is the best movie you have ever seen at a film festival, and why?

I remember in 2006 watching LIGHTS IN THE DUSK by Aki Kaurismaki in a gigantic, packed cinema TIFF. It was one of the most overwhelming and sacred experiences of art, ever in my life.

This is one of the many films screening at the 2017 Vancouver International Film Festival taking place in beautiful Vancouver from September 28th to October 13th. For more information on this film screening times, point your browser to

Jason Whyte,
Twitter: @jasonwhyte / Facebook: jasonwhyte / Instagram: jason.whyte

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originally posted: 10/05/17 02:53:22
last updated: 10/05/17 02:55:59
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