With the London Short Film Festival’s tenth anniversary fast approaching, i-D continues to showcase the nine filmmakers who have won Best Short Film by delving in to the weird and wonderful mind of Tom Geens.
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You’re The Stranger Here was the seventh film to win Best Short Film Award at the London Short Film Festival. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it certainly isn’t like anything you’ve quite seen before. And being everyone’s cup of tea sounds awfully dreary anyhow. We caught up with Tom to find out more about his black comedy, and where he’s heading next.
How did You’re The Stranger Here come about initially? It was part of the now dissolved Cinema Extreme short film scheme funded by the UK Film Council and Film4. I initially had entered the competition with another story written by a friend of mine, but they came back to me and said they wanted a story written by me. So I thought, “Ok, they want extreme? I’ll show them extreme” and I went through all my notebooks and picked out the most extreme images/scenes I could find. I put them together and out of that grew You’re The Stranger Here. I honestly thought they’d hate it, but to my genuine surprise when I arrived at the first workshop, the opposite was true, they loved it. Ha ha ha, I couldn’t stop laughing.
Fahrenheit 451, and the more recent Hunger Games come to mind after watching the film. Have you always been interested in dystopian fiction? Not particularly, but I do think we live in quite dystopian times. Our consumer society is a double-edged sword. On the one hand it makes things very easy and comfortable for us, but then on the other, it also put us out of touch with our surroundings and ultimately ourselves. We derive a lot of meaning from the process I think, from seeing and understanding where things come from, to working hard to achieve goals or creating from scratch. But increasingly in this quick fix world of ours, the having is favoured over the being and that creates a nihilistic vacuum. This seems especially acute in the middle classes. As I’m mildly obsessed with their plight, these are amazing times! It’s fascinating to observe how we deal with/make sense of it all. You’re The Stranger Here was very much an attempt at reflecting that state of mind.
The film straddles the horrifically dark and grotesque, with a sense of farce and the ridiculous. Could you talk a bit about this meeting of styles? The clash of styles is very deliberate as it gives a lot of energy, a sense of constant anarchy and punk simmering underneath. When the viewer isn’t sure whether to laugh or cry, it makes everything unpredictable. Like life I guess, or like when an angry old elephant finally manages to break free out of a zoo and runs amok in a nearby village.
Who are your cinematic heroes? Pier Paolo Pasolini, Louis Malle, Abel Ferrara, Lars von Trier, Claude Feraldo and many more… All true cinema punks. They took and take massive risks without any compromises. Their films will always be as modern and thought provoking as they were when they first came out. I have to mention Themroc in particular by Claude Feraldo. There’s no dialogue in this film, only gibberish. Michel Piccoli plays an urban caveman who grunts his way through the film. Inspiring stuff!
What are you working on currently? Hopefully by the time this is published I’ll be in the midst of shooting my next feature film Couple In A Hole. It’s the story of a middle aged, middle class English couple who live like savages in a hole in the middle of a vast forest in Eastern Europe. It’s very exciting, I can’t wait, as it will be new, unchartered territories in my own personal storytelling journey. A real adventure! And as such for everybody else I hope! I’m also developing two other scripts at the moment, Bleach and Sing. As you probably guessed, more close to the bone observations of the middle classes.
Text: Joe Cohen