Beginning July, Star Movies Select HD has been screening a series of Oscar-winning and nominated short films for the first time on Indian television. The line-up of Select Short Stories has included Peter McDonald’s Irish short film Pentecost, which was nominated for an Academy Awards in 2012, Timo von Gunten’s 2017 nominee La femme et le TGV and Jochen Alexander Freydank’s German-language Toyland, which won the Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film in 2009.
Through September, the channel will be airing Irish filmmaker Benjamin Cleary’s Stutterer, which won the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short in 2016. The film follows a lonely but quick-thinking typographer who has trouble communicating because of his stutter. He faces a dilemma when his girlfriend, whom he has only spoken to online and who does not know about his speech impediment, arrives in his town to meet him.
Stutterer was Cleary’s first short film, which he financed from the money he raised working in a burger bar in London for two years. He has since made the short film Wave, about a man who wakes up from coma with the ability to speak an unrecognisable language that confounds linguists across the globe. Wave was long-listed for the 2018 Academy Awards.
Winning an Oscar does open doors for filmmakers, Cleary told Scroll.in. “But it’s not going to get the funding for you if the funders don’t like the projects,” he said.
Cleary studied sound engineering and music technology in college and then worked as an engineer, producer and instructor at Windmill Lane Recording Studios, owned by Dublin’s Pulse College. Audio direction, thus, plays a big part in Cleary’s films.
In Stutterer, for instance, sound design often communicates what the protagonist cannot. In one of the film’s final sequences, where he meets his girlfriend, a lot of the nuances of the screenplay came alive after hours of sound designing during post production, Cleary said.
The musical connection continues in Wave, which is narrated by British rock musician Jarvis Cocker, of the now-defunct band Pulp. He also used David Bowie’s Rock n Roll Suicide, “almost [set] to the rhythm”, in the climactic scene, where the protagonist realises how his discovery of a new language has impacted people around him. “Music is such a huge part of me and it’s such a huge part of a movie,” Cleary said. “If you take the sound out of the movie, it just doesn’t make sense.”
The challenges of human communication are a recurring aspect of Cleary’s work – whether it’s a speech impairment in Stutterrer, an alien language in Wave or a struggling writer’s friendship with a super-intelligent mosquito in the 2015 short Love is a Sting, which was written by Cleary.
“I am intrigued by how humans communicate,” Cleary said. “We have this intricate and beautiful audiovisual code that we are all able to decipher and it has so many layers to it, so nuanced.”
His protagonists, too, are recluses. Cleary said that the isolation is caused by the communication barrier. “It harks back to personal moments in my life where I have kind of felt that isolation,” Cleary said. He traced this to his childhood, when he was bullied in school because he would take time to open up, unlike his peers.
Cleary is now working on his debut feature film, an American production. The project is yet to get on floors. “I need actors so that’s kind of where I am with that,” he said.