Manhattan Short Finalist, Director Joe D’Arcy, talks Charlie Hebdo, freedom of expression and Whoopi Goldberg

In the lead-up to Sydney’s Manhattan Shorts screening, Director Joe D’Arcy of ‘Je suis un Crayon’ (I am a Pencil) talks about his film, Charlie Hebdo, and the Importance of freedom of expression.

‘Je suis un Crayon’ (I am a Pencil)  is a short film inspired by the three million people who marched in support of freedom of expression following the Charlie Hebdo massacre in France. The short was one of ten films from around the globe chosen as a Manhattan Shorts Film finalist.

Directed by Joe D’Arcy alongside family members Carol, Jazz and Byron D’Arcy, the short went on to receive recognition from Whoopi Goldberg, and won acceptance into the Tribeca Film Festival (founded by Robert De Niro, and producer Jane Rosenthal)

The short film will be screened at Sydney’s Glen Street Theatre on Sunday October 2nd at 3pm

You were inspired to create ‘Je suis un Crayon’ (I am a Pencil) by the three million people who marched in support of freedom of expression following the Charlie Hebdo massacre in France. As quoted in your piece “I will always express how it is, how I see it”. Can you tell me why it is important to you that artistic expression remains free? 

Expression is what gives us life. Without it, we are just functioning beings. Although artists are more likely to go out a limb with what they have to say, self expression is what gives all of us esteem and also enhances our awareness of our place in the world.

In these changing times, although freedom of expression has been challenged, attempts to repress self expression in others, makes little difference to the human spirit. Human beings have an amazing innate drive to express, irrespective of whether they have the rights or the permission. For as long as we can trace back, human beings have painted in caves, scratched their last words into prison walls-even when there was little chance that anyone would see it. Expression will always occur.

I am a Pencil was screened in Germany with members of the Charlie Hebdo crew in the audience, can you tell me what it was like having your film screened in-front of members of the crew? What was their reaction to the film? 

It was a great honour to have our film screened to the members of the Charlie Hebdo crew. The members of Charlie Hebdo dedicate their lives to freedom of expression through their hand drawn cartoon images; many of them paid a heavy toll in losing their lives. However,  to live without freedom of expression would have been a heavier toll and so they risked their lives to do this. The remaining members of Charlie Hebdo were happy that people still remembered them and did not see their tragic loss as just another story in the news cycle. 

Your film is told through the point of view of a pencil. Can you describe why you chose to portray the story from the pencil’s point-of-view, rather than the point of view of the artist? 

The pencil represents all people, including the artist. The pencil is representative of an ordinary person who has good days and bad days, but ultimately throughout life, we will always express-because, as people, that is what we do. 

Some of us are inspired to write or draw when experiencing beauty, others are driven to express when life is ironic or funny and others are driven to express in the face of hypocrisy. Like the pencil in ‘I am a Pencil’ (Je suis un Crayon), we express our experience of the world ‘as it is’ and just as importantly we express our experience of the world as ‘we see it’.

What processes are involved in creating a film that is told through a series of drawings and stop-motion style animation? Did you come across any barriers? 

Along with original hand drawn animation, ‘I am a Pencil’ (Je suis un Crayon) is a combination of filtered footage, digital film and 3D animation, all of which was then hand sketched by Carol D’Arcy and her team. Carol was supported by a team of artists from both her local art community on the Gold Coast and interstate artist, Maryann Cremen (Canberra) who then completed the sketches under Carol’s supervision.

The artist process involved hand drawn animation as well as filtered footage. The filtered footage and the hand drawn images resulted in thousands of individual images. Each image is equal to one frame of film. All images (hand drawn and CGI) were then hand sketched and/or shaded by Carol D’Arcy. She then created templates for her team of artists to complete.

These individual images were then re-filmed with a 4K Red Digital Cinema camera, before being recut in editing as single images. Each second of digital film footage comprises 25 single sketches (1500 images per minute of film). This was converted to 17 images per second, for effect.  VFX Supervision and 3D animation were created by Sterling Osment (frameworkvfx). The final colour grade was created by Byron D’Arcy utilising the depth of colour available with the ‘Raw’ footage.

Time was our greatest barrier. Carol put out an open call to her artist friends to help with the cel drawings in order to complete the film.

You produced this film alongside your family. Can you tell me a little bit about your family’s artistic background and how you came to a decision to create this film together? 

Each of my family are very talented, award-winning creatives: Carol is an accomplished oil painter, with paintings hanging throughout the world, Jazz is a singer songwriter and composer and Byron is a filmmaker and (ACS Gold award) cinematographer. 

My family members will often support each other in their individual creative pursuits, i.e. everyone will support one person — but with this project,  we were all able to participate on equal footing in our own respective areas. Fortunately, everyone happened to be available at the same time and our home was rich with creativity for the following four months. Although we worked very hard, it was a tremendous experience to work together as a family on the one project. 

How did you feel when I am a Pencil was selected by Whoopi Goldberg to be screened at the Tribeca Film Festival? Did you expect the film to receive the recognition that it has? 

It was a great thrill to be accepted into Tribeca. Tribeca was one of my life goals (wish list) and it was an enriching experience for Carol and I to be in the company of so many creative people in New York. Whoopi Goldberg has a beautiful nature; very down to earth, and happy to have a relaxed discussion about anything; as well as being very funny. When we were making ‘I am a Pencil’ (Je suis un Crayon), we felt compelled to tell this story and didn’t think much beyond just ‘doing the work’ and so the response has been an unexpected thrill for all of us. 

Are you currently working on, or do you have any plans for future projects? 

I am currently directing the feature film, ‘Life Goes On’ about a ‘screwed up’ family who struggle with life, each in their own way, but discover that in supporting each other, as opposed to going it alone, they can find their way through. 

Click HERE to find out more about Joe D’Arcy’s films

For more details about the Manhattan Shorts Festival, and its upcoming Australian screening, head HERE