On Saturday evening we’re looking forward to a world of dark fiction, as Fairytales and Dystopia kicks off with Wolf, by Nadan Pines. Among this year’s selection we also find Sick To My Bones, a short film set in the distant future, where descendants of mankind find themselves in a post-apocalyptic world. We went for a chat with co-director Matt Leonhart, a.k.a. Nomattsland.

Sick to my bones by Nomattsland and Guy Davis

I guess you could call what I do existential sci-fi fantasy. Combine that with morality and allegorical storytelling and you get an idea of what my films are like.

We shot this film back in 2014. With a crew of 15 professionals we went to the Scottish Isle of Skye, to find that eerie post-apocalyptic feel that we needed for Sick To My Bones. The story is set millions of years in the future. A disaster wiped out most of humanity, and those that survived found refuge underground and in the skies. Over time, they evolved and adapted to their environment. The ones under ground grew into tall monsters, the ones in the skies grew wings. When the earth’s surface finally heals, both species come back, and get dragged into a battle for resources.

It’s easy to spot the metaphor for angels and demons in the script, and this story brings a different take on good and evil. It’s a critique of those concepts, a commentary on war in our own time. Why is it easy to kill someone who looks different, but is actually the same?

I wanted to create angels and demons in a real world

I borrowed from the mythology (or reality?) of Abrahamic religions, something that always fascinated me. I wanted to create angels and demons in a real world, through evolution.

Very original! How in the world did you come up with that?

I guess my background in puppetry and surrealist painting led to this. Thinking of how to combine these passions, I figured filmmaking would be the best path for me. For this film we used 2.5m tall puppets to show the monster-like creatures of the underground. We had an actor hidden in such a puppet, steering it from the inside, while the monster acted opposite an angel-like actress.

There’s no speaking in my film, but a lot of narration.

Inspiration for my filmmaking can be found with directors like Wes Anderson, Wong Kar-wai, etc. For cinematography I look to the work of Christopher Doyle, for narrative I look to Wong Kar-wai. There’s no speaking in my film, but a lot of narration. The pace is quite slow. Not much seems to happen, but our long shots allow the audience to really take in the scenery and immerse themselves in that world. Compare it to the Japanese Butoh theatre, where they move really slowly. It’s almost like tai-chi.

We’re now working on a sequel as well, hoping to make it into a trilogy someday. The sequel will be set in the present day, shortly before the apocalypse. This time we follow a man who finds out the world will end, and tries to make peace with that thought. We again use puppetry to show a metaphor for Death, and how the man befriends that concept.

This one will be shot in Hong Kong, starting in June. We’re in pre-production now, setting up a fundraising campaign and finding a crew to join my regular team. It’s not easy finding funds for a short film. Big investors usually look only at features. On top of that we’re not the cheapest production, as we work on a highly professional level, with every crew member getting paid.

Matthew and TCFF Co-Founder Harry
Matthew and TCFF Co-Founder Harry

You came to the Third Culture Film Festival. Would you say you are Third Culture?

Yeah, very much so. My dad is English, he moved to Hong Kong when he was twenty. My mum is from here. I was born here and went to Island School. Growing up in an international school, cultures and nationalities were always blurry concepts to me. I grew up among people from everywhere around the world. Add to that the local culture I was taught by my mum, and the Western culture of my dad, and you could say I was pretty confused. Then when I went to study in Los Angeles, I thought maybe that place could be a home to me. But even there people kept asking “So where are you from?”, and then I’d have to repeat that whole background story.

Home is not a place anymore. Especially to TC people. Home is… wherever your friends are I’d say.

I think Third Culture is the beginning of what’s to come.

I think Third Culture is the beginning of what’s to come. In the 20th century, the notion of Third Culture started to come up. By the end of the 21st century it’s going to be everywhere. And I think that by the end of the 22nd century, everyone will be a Third Culture individual. So much that the concept will not exist anymore. We are the first generation of that.

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