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Filmmaker Focus: Hannah Jacobs

Illustrator and animator Hannah Jacobs graduated from the Royal College of Art with an MA in animation in 2014. After signing with Strange Beast, a London-based animation production studio, Jacobs’ diverse body of work includes the beguiling BAFTA-nominated Your Mountain Is Waiting, a journey of self-discovery written by Harriet Gillian, which played at ASFF 2022. Her latest project, Healing Classrooms, is a collaboration with the International Rescue Committee, based around conversations with refugee children from Afghanistan, Syria and Ukraine, as they discuss their experiences of displacement.

ASFF: How did Your Mountain Is Waiting start?

HJ: Harriet Gillian, wrote it and was the lead animator on the project. It was very much our baby – a collaboration from the word go. It was the first year of the BFI Film Fund. I was like, “Wow, this is amazing. You never get a big pot of money for animation. It’s really hard to come by. Let’s go for it.” I had this seed of an idea. I chatted to Harriet and said, “Would you be interested in working on this together?” We had a really short window, because of the deadline, which was actually really helpful. It kept us really focused. We met up in cafés and literally spit-balled ideas back and forth. It was a really organic process. The themes of intuition, trusting your gut and losing your way just really resonated with us at that particular moment in our lives.

ASFF: The animation for this is very different from other projects you’ve worked on. How has your style evolved over time?
 I’ve been doing this for nine or ten years, so I think I’ve reached a point where I am really, really interested in working with other designers and other illustrators. I like to see what collaboration can bring to a project and how that changes the original idea. But equally, I think I’ll always love the design side of things. Working on a longer form narrative gave me the opportunity to really delve into the design – you just don’t have that luxury on commercial jobs.

ASFF: Your recent work Healing Classrooms highlights the IRC’s programme of safe learning spaces for refugee children. You use interviews with these kids as your starting point. What did that feel like?

HJ: It was absolutely harrowing, hearing what they were saying about fleeing war and what they lived through. Obviously, this is a very condensed version of that – a bit more public friendly. These children have been through such horrific things. But the healing classrooms just seemed like a safe space for them to re-enter education. Part of the brief was to create something positive instead of fixating on the negative. They wanted to highlight the positive impact of these classrooms on the kids’ lives now. The piece is more focused on moving forward. I think that’s where the colour palette came in – I adopted blue and purple tones for moments in their lives that were harder. I wanted to use colour to really reflect the experience.

ASFF: You’re signed as a director to Strange Beast, which allows you to work on commercial projects using animation. Is this a route you’d recommend to fledgling animators?
HJ: There is a lot of animation in the commercial world, especially illustration. Big tech companies – Facebook, Google – are using animation more and more so there’s lots of commercial opportunities for anyone getting into it. In terms of funding, it’s very similar to live action. Those opportunities are few and far between. It’s about trying to find those pots of money. There are development funds, but even now it’s still something that I’m sort of wrapping my head around – how you can fund your own personal projects.

ASFF: How important have the short film festival platforms like ASFF been for you?

HJ: It’s really important to have these spaces and support for filmmakers. There’s less of a bias, I think, with film festivals. You can find graduate films and debut films alongside work from people that have been working in the industry for ten years. I really like that spectrum. It’s not elitist – it’s open for everyone. I guess these events create opportunities for people to have reach that might not otherwise have it. It’s super important.

Submit your Shorts, Features, VR and Games to Screen at BAFTA-Qualifying Aesthetica Short Film Festival.
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Interviewer: James Mottram