'Gramps' is our latest Film of the Month winner

08 Aug 2019 in Film of the Month

8 mins
'Gramps' is our latest Film of the Month winner

We are delighted to announce that our latest Film of the Month winner is Gramps, a very personal documentary from filmmaker Sam in Norwich. Watch the winning film above.

Gramps (engaging for ages 11+) is a gentle and meditative documentary made up of disparate, yet meaningful images, exploring the passing of time and ageing in relation to the filmmaker Sam's own grandfather.

A beautiful homage to a person's life, both past and present. The cinematography is simply stunning.

Film of the Month Judge on 'Gramps'

We got in touch with Sam to find out more about his film. 

Congratulations! How long have you been making films and how did you start?

Films have been a passion of mine for a while now. I started making films with my friends back in year 7 and haven't stopped yet. Gramps was a film project that I produced for my film studies A-Level. Through this, I found myself specialising in cinematography and have been told I have a keen eye for composition of shots. I am hoping to go to university this year to study Film and Moving Image, as this would open pathways into careers in filmmaking and television for me.

Gramps has a fantastic, subtle soundscape. What message did you want people to take from that?

Gramps explores many concepts using its subtle soundscape: the passage and passing of life are emphasised with a clock ticking throughout, symbolising time and depth. And this concept of time is highly subjective, creating an opening for imagination and freedom of expression. I had to find a balance in the film's narrative, so I chose to include a voice-over in the first section of the film. The inclusion of this strongly assists Gramps' lean towards visual storytelling. If it wasn't for the presence of the voice-over, the film would lack the passion and warmth that inspired it in the first place.

Your film is largely told with a static camera, and focuses on empty spaces or objects that seem to have a strong sense of personal history. How did you decide this would be the best approach for Gramps?

The structure of Gramps and its use of static imagery is all about me challenging regular mainstream narratives, and instead replacing them with a film where the stillness of time serves as the underlying narrative. This allowed me to challenge conventions such as linearity/non-linearity, open text resolution and three act structure. 

For me Gramps is an example of how creating a strong narrative can be achieved through meaninglessness, while retaining emotion and depth. So objects such as my grandma's watch serve as symbolic values of time, and this then feeds back into the sub-textual narrative of the film. 

Although dark, the restful nature of the hands suggest time has stopped, acting as a reference to my grandma. Juxtaposing this with the sound of the clock that runs under each shot echoes that difference of time between my granddad and grandma; where my grandma's time has come to a stop, whereas my granddad's continues, still present.

Gramps also uses soundtrack to create meaning and control a viewer's response, this is achieved through retaining those diegetic sounds and adding layers of non-diegetic sounds*. Short films such as Swimmer and the sequences of the room between chapters in Home take a similar approach in retaining those diegetic sounds and using them to form a sense of existential emptiness. While in Gramps, the ticking of the clock simulates both an eternal loss and continuation of time, and explores the importance of loneliness as an emotion.

* Diegetic sound is sound that is recorded naturally on location when filming, such as dialogue, background noise, etc - whereas non-diegetic sound is what is added later, such as music and sound effects. For more information, download our Film Language resource.

Can you tell us about the filming process for Gramps?

Gramps took me around 2 days to shoot. I had no storyboard or script, I just shot what I had in my head. Each day I would film objects and my grandfather to then later construct a narrative in editing. I asked my grandfather about shooting the film and he thought it was a great idea. 

One thing I felt was important when making the film was not to stage my grandad in shots; I would just allow him to naturally carry out his day. For the last shot of the film I was fortunate enough to pull focus at just the right time, allowing for a mirror effect on a framed bag stationed on his wall. As the focus pulls out, the spectator is presented with his face, two seconds later cutting to black. This makes for an emotional ending where the viewer has been following his journey for the whole film, despite him being absent throughout, and finally allows them to see his face for the first time just as the film ends.

What does your grandfather think of the film, and how did you feel when he finally saw it?

My grandad really liked the idea of the film. It's a little hard to grasp so I wasn't sure if I would be able to explain to him exactly what I wanted to do (turns out I didn't know either). My grandfather hardly noticed me shooting and I assume he most likely forgot I was making it. After finalising the film, I showed him and he seemed to like it a lot! It's always difficult showing family members films and especially if its about them, so I am extremely glad he likes it.

What are some of your favourite films, and what influence did they have on Gramps?

This Will Destroy You: A Line Rider Feature Film (by Benjamin Harvey) is an incredible piece of art and I believe it deserves way more recognition than it has. It heavily influenced the making and ideologies of my film through its use of meaning and narrative created through action and movement.

Like A Line Rider Feature Film, Gramps challenges our ideas of narrative, and instead of creating traditional meanings through a typical form, both films create meaning through symbolism and an absence of plot. I find Harvey's exploration of this absence of narrative extremely clever and its rejection of asking to be understood only furthers this. The film doesn't present the spectator with any story or questions, but is instead something closer to a statement on more common narrative driven media. 

That was the challenge for me - to create a film based purely on action and non-action, where the meaning of the narrative is interpreted by the viewer. I hope I succeeded. 

If you could make Gramps again what would you do differently, and why?

I feel that Gramps would be extremely difficult to make again. If I were to try, I would have definitely spent more time perfecting cuts and balancing the sound. Using a mic would have definitely helped, but I am not sure it would have added any substance to the film overall.

What advice would you give to a young person making their first film?

1) Something my Mum has always told me: a true filmmaker should be able to create just as much depth and meaning on a £1 camera as a £10,000 one. Your equipment does not define you as a filmmaker; it just makes your life easier, allowing for more mistakes. Use whatever you have.

2) Even if you think you have taken the perfect shot, take it again. It is only when you sit down to edit the shots that you realise whether you like them or not. YOU WILL THANK YOURSELF LATER.

3) Your head is expansive and it's difficult to keep all the ideas you have in there. Don't be afraid to write them down or talk to someone about them - they may even be able to help.

Sam's film will now be showcased to over 300,000 film club members online and all of our Film of the Month films are now on the Into Film YouTube channel, and he has also secured a £100 Amazon voucher to help further develop his future films. Think you could win Film of the Month? Find out more about how you can enter our ongoing Film of the Month competition.

If you've been inspired by Gramps then make sure to check out the following films:

  • Ping Pong (2012, 12, 76mins) Engaging for 11+
    Focusing on the ‘over-80' competitors at the world ping-pong championships, this is a wonderfully affecting, celebratory documentary.
  • Faces, Places (2017, 12, 94mins) Engaging for 11+
    Documentary in which filmmaker Agnès Varda travels around rural France with a street artist, capturing portraits of local residents and communities.
  • Synecdoche, New York (2008, 15, 119mins) Engaging for 16+
    Bizarre but brilliant existential tale of a hypochondriac playwright whose art begins to imitate life on a very grand scale indeed.
  • La Jetee and Sans Soleil (1962, PG, 28mins) Engaging for 11+
    Made by experimental filmmaker Chris Marker, these two unique films are made up of a series of still images - the latter through seemingly disparate scenes. 

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