BSFA Interview: Lorna Nickson Brown for DOG RUN
The British Short Film Awards 2023
Having already won several awards*, Lorna Nickson Brown's poignant short film, which she wrote and directed, is an incredible example of how a very personal story can evolve into something even more transcendental. “Quoted as a "tender, beautiful, and achingly humane” tale by Sunday Times bestselling author, Kiran Millwood Hargrave, the film is, as perfectly summarised, “a short and expansive piece of cinema”. It is therefore of no surprise that such a thoughtful and economical piece of work has already been selected by BAFTA’s Albert as a case study and exemplar of best practices in sustainable short filmmaking.
Between the various international festivals “Dog Run” will continue to be screened at over the next two weeks**, Lorna took time out to discuss her film…
Aside from its wider context, what was the main inspiration?
“Dog Run” was inspired by my childhood dog, Tilly, who was a great emotional support for me when I went through a thyroid cancer diagnosis several years ago. Our friendship really developed during this time and I grew to really respect and admire her! My human family were wonderful, but Tilly offered something truly unique. It’s inexplicable and the bond between us was very special. Sadly, she passed away in recent years. During Covid, I was living with my mum, and missing Tilly very much. I knew I wanted to make a film which put her (another species) at the heart of a story. I wanted to tell a story that encapsulated the great respect and love I will always have for her, telling a story of equality between species.
During Covid, my mum was working for a charity supporting people in situations of labour exploitation, very similar to Jan. Through her work, I would hear a lot about these situations of exploitation and wondered why the world knew so little about it. So, I thought of juxtaposing a world of inequality between people against a world of equality and respect between species. And “Dog Run” was born!
Could you summarise the sustainable angle, which is perfect for economising on the production of a short film?
At its heart, this is a story of the interconnectedness of all things, the symbiosis between humankind, animal species and the shared natural environment. Sustainability is at the heart of the narrative and it was essential for us to keep it at the forefront of our production practice. We embedded the sustainability guidelines from BAFTA’s Albert throughout the filming production and are proudly an Albert-certified production.
I specifically love the use of framing. What are your main cinematic influences?
I am really inspired by Jane Campion and her ability to explore what is under the surface, the inner emotional world of characters often in conflict with their external environment. Her film, Bright Star, was a big inspiration for “Dog Run” in its depiction of the beauty of nature. Also, The Piano, in terms of a character who is silent (but lives a rich emotional inner life). Terrence Malick inspired me in his depiction of nature and use of wide-angle lenses, while Ken Loach and Mike Leigh are also big influences, in their truthful depiction of UK class divisions and focus on naturalistic performance.
I love the serene aspect of how the central character, Jan, is slowly awakening to his new surroundings and nature. There is something very childlike and nostalgic, despite the heavy subject matter of exploitation. How did you manage to balance this without one aspect detracting from the other?
It was a challenge, but with the help of editor Galina Chakarova, we were able to find a balance. It was important for me to see that Jan’s discovery of the natural world was found through his developing bond with Sabre. It is ultimately Sabre who inspires Jan to live in the world and find hope and meaning in nature. I needed that discovery to happen gradually but never leave an audience too long in the harsh, bleak and hopeless world of exploitation.
What are you expecting audiences to take away from your “Dog Run”?
In making this film, I wanted to explore ideas of freedom and equality for all people, for all species, and for our planet… but, ultimately, I hope audiences will have their own experience of the film.
*"Dog Run" world premiered in August at the 41st Flickers' Rhode Island Film Festival, where it won the Breaking Boundaries Grand Prize Award. It has since won the Best Supporting Actress Award for Paula Wharton at The British Short Film Awards, Best UK Short by a Female Director at Big Syn International Film Festival and nominations for Best Score for Jonathan Escoto Brown at The International Sound & Film Music Festival in Croatia, and Longlisted for Best Score at The British Short Film Awards. The film was also selected in competition at San Jose International Film Festival in October.
Big Syn International Film Festival - Nominated for Best Short Film (London, Friday 10th November) WINNER of Best UK Short by a Female Director.
International Film Festival The Hague - Nominated for Best Short Film (The Hague, Netherlands, Saturday 11th November)
Bakunawa Festival (Asia Premiere) - Manila, Philippines, Saturday 11th November
Catania Film Festival - Nominated for Best Short Film (Friday 17th November)
Visit the “Dog Run” Instagram page for more details of the filmmaking journey.