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UC student beats communication barriers with filmmaking

Award-winning UC student beats communication barriers with filmmaking – Q&A


A still from Ricky Townsend’s TRUTH.exe which won Best Student Film at the 2020 Miami International Science Fiction Film Festival.

University of Canterbury (UC) student Ricky Townsend’s 2019 sci-fi film TRUTH.exe has won Best Student Film at the 2020 Miami International Science Fiction Film Festival, screening online to American audiences until 20 May. The film, about a young hacktivist on a special mission, was also selected for the 45th Boston Science Fiction Film Festival and the 2019 Sci-Fi Film Festival in Sydney.

A young filmmaker from Christchurch, Townsend is specialising in Film studies in his third year at UC’s Ilam School of Fine Arts, while also pursuing an Arts degree in Philosophy at UC.

Townsend was diagnosed within Autism Spectrum Disorder at a very young age and has found that filmmaking helps him understand other people and be understood in ways he could never achieve before.

His early work won the Overall Secondary Student Award for the 2016 New Zealand Young Filmmakers Competition and the Secondary School Runner Up Award for the 2016 FocusOnAbility Short Film Festival. Ricky also directed the comedic How To Bus social etiquette video with Metro Canterbury which has more than 260,000 views on Facebook.

Ricky’s recent short films, Tremble and TRUTH.exe, were selected for the 2019 Sydney Indie Film Festival, the 45th Boston Science Fiction Film Festival, the Miami International Science Fiction Film Festival, the SciFi Film Festival, in Australia, and the Changing Face International Film Festival. TRUTH.exe won Best Student Film at the Miami International Science Fiction Film Festival and Tremble was nominated for Best True Story at the Sydney Indie Film Festival.

Ricky’s short film on autism, Mr. Savant, is one of 10 winning films in The Outlook for Someday 2019 Film Challenge; a nationwide film competition for people under 24 in New Zealand.

How did you first discover film? What was it about film that attracted you?

My family had an arts background so I was brought up learning music, dance, drama and I had a strong interest in drawing and writing from a young age. My drawing turned into comics, which eventually became animation and by high school that interest had evolved into film. I always enjoyed exploring all these creative mediums and film allowed me to explore them all, to some capacity, as one thing. So my love for film evolved as I grew up.

Why did you choose UC? How has it been so far?

I wanted to find a course that was both practical in filmmaking but also embracing of the expressionist and philosophical side of the art; not just the technical. What drew me to UC’s Fine Arts film course was that it offers a unique opportunity for you to learn by making in the craft but also aims to challenge you at a conceptual and theoretical level.

The lecturers have certainly inspired me. It's been great to have lecturers who practice their craft out in the film and art world and are interested in passing on what they know to us students. One of the notable lecturers I've learnt from is [UC Senior Lecturer in Film] John Chrisstoffels who has experience as a cinematographer and has been involved in New Zealand film and TV such as the movie Human Traces.

You’re studying Philosophy as well! Can you tell me a bit about why you chose philosophy?

Going through high school, I had my world view challenged and thrown upside down; as happens with a lot of teenagers. This drove me to think more on why I believe what I do and that was how my interest in philosophy began. I wasn’t that good at it in high school however, a lot of it was due to communication challenges. Despite this I decided to take a STAR course in Philosophy at UC and found it suddenly made more sense to me; I’ve been continuing philosophy papers ever since.

I also use philosophy as a major inspiration for my film work as I believe in some ways the arts are a way to make philosophy more accessible and relevant for people.

What do you hope to do when you graduate?

My plan is to keep pursuing making the films that matter to me – whatever that may look like will reveal itself.

How are you keeping busy under lockdown?

I am currently working on what I can at home with uni and filmmaking. This includes a documentary absurdist piece on the lockdown and sound mixing/prep work on a sci-fi anthology piece in the works.

About TRUTH.exe

Ricky Townsend wrote, directed and produced TRUTH.exe. The film features actors Roanna Dalziel (Shortland Street, Court Theatre) and Felix Elliott (Court Youth Company), with music by Snow Valormae.

Director statement: I wanted to explore a world that contains a consistent, though fantastical, lore where through the eyes of the characters everything would seem absurd and surreal. The audience’s desire to know what this broader story is about allows us to sympathise with G1ll’s mission. He is just as much in the dark as we are and like us he wants to make sense of it all.

In the film, G1ll is confronted with a moral dilemma. Should we value our wellbeing over truth or is there value in knowing the truth independent of how it affects our wellbeing. This to me acts as a narrative anchor in an otherwise obscure story and is the heart of G1ll’s journey.

I also wanted to demonstrate that you do not need a big budget, with big cameras, with a big cast and crew to create a big story.

Read more about TRUTH.exe here


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