Jill Johnston will be joining us with her film Don’t Be Afraid of Bears. Here are some questions to let you get to know more about her!
What is your connection to the South?
I lived in St. Pete for 6-1/2 years, went to grad school in Florida (Tampa), visit St. Pete Beach every year, and love the old Florida south, the beach in the winter, the rivers (the Withlacoochee, Hillsborough, etc.), and the vegetation. I also spent a short time at a residency at Wildacres Retreat near Little Switzerland, North Carolina in the mountains while working on my animation. The generous, creative and gregarious group that runs Wildacres will never be forgotten, as well as a few writers and musicians I stumbled upon along the way. The pace is different, more contemplative, and welcoming.
Where did you get your inspiration for this work?
When I was about 8 years old, my parents bought a tiny cottage on Two Island Lake near Thunder Bay, Ontario where we spent the summers while my dad commuted back and forth on weekends. My mom tells me that my brother John and I were chased by a male bear when we were playing by the roadside and she ran out the back door (the cottage was on stilts) and threatened the bear with my dad’s hunting knife, which intimidated him. I also thought my mom looked like Elizabeth Taylor and so I drew her like Liz from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? I have no recollection of my mom’s version of the event. I thought John and I were coming out of our old outhouse, which was about 60 or 70 feet from the cottage (for some strange reason), encountered the angry bear and ran up the hill where my mom had a shotgun and fired into the air. Afterwards I was terrified to use the outhouse for a while and had bear running dreams for years and years.
In addition, several years ago I was interested in creating an animation about animal welfare and was being too literal. I thought I could somehow bring a little of that into this animation about lost memories.
How did you start making films?
I started as a teenager with both a super-8 camera and an old Brownie camera either creating series of narrative stills or short narratives with my willing 5 siblings. Eventually, after several years involved in the Detroit punk scene, I moved to Florida and started cinematography classes where I started making short animations with a Bolex camera.
Did anything interesting or funny happen on set during the shooting?
No set for me, but my bear dreams returned. Also I coerced two of my students to shout out the film’s chorus in an audio studio when all they thought they were doing was creating their own foley work with an odd assortment of utensils and stuff. They had no idea it would be used in my animation.
What do you look forward to the most during Indie Grits?
The chance to connect with other filmmakers if I get a chance to attend. I always enjoy attending the film fests, audience questions, meeting someone new. Also, have you heard about our winter up here?
Why should someone see your film?
To consider animation as an expressive art form and look at the frames as moving illustrations, it’s not just cartoons and comedy. Also to question what it’s about. Is it just a recounting of a scene from memory? What does the bear represent? I’m asking myself the same questions.