Q&A with Valerie Barnhart, dir. The Girl in the Hallway - ClermontFF 2020
Tuesday 4 February 2020, by
Why does "Little Red Riding Hood" give Jamie nightmares? It’s been fifteen years, and the girl in the hallway still haunts him. This is a testament to locked doors. A lullaby sung by wolves with duct tape and polaroids. Not all girls make it out of the forest. There are stories children shouldn’t hear.
A remarkably effective, inventive and haunting animation about a real-life case of child abduction.
More on the film...
How did this retelling come about?
I’m a big poetry fan, and I came across Jamie DeWolf’s live spoken word performance on YouTube. I just knew this had to be a movie – problem was I didn’t know how to make a movie or animate for that matter. So I reached out to him, and after getting his blessing, I crawled under a rock and taught myself animation.
Is the story based on a real person who lived in the same building as Xiana Fairchild?
I was very thorough when I fact-checked this story and sadly every piece of this nightmarish witness testimony is true.
What sort of research did you carry out?
The true crime community is very detail-oriented. There are data bases holding archives of newspaper and court testimony which are available with a simple Google search. I’m also an incredibly research heavy creative. I spent months studying how smoke moves. I created dozens of reference videos of pantomime acting. I went to museums to draw. I researched murdered and missing indigenous women and girls. I spent a fair time studying anatomy. I studied the master artists and filmmakers especially from the German Expressionist Movement. I don’t feel the need to reinvent the world, so I take details around me and use them to solve all the problems during production. Some days were nice – like spending time in a meadow (when I was observing the area a body could be dumped). Other days were harder – (when I had to study infant autopsy photos, and burned cadavers). In the end I got really good at being able to identify the approximate age of a skull and other disturbing skill sets because of the visual research involved with this production.
Tell us a bit more about your animation style and your use of painting and collage.
2D stop motion was an adventure. I broke rules. I got my hands dirty (seriously, they became permanently stained by charcoal at one point). I experimented. I had to, I was learning, and my only teachers were textbooks and Instagram. The visual key to my entire animation is the attention and time I spent on my transitions between different techniques and styles. I animated this straight ahead (so frame 1, 2, 3, etc.) and in one take. Nothing was done in composite. Everything animated was animated at the same time. Of course that crazy decision was something I made so early on I had no idea what tomfoolery was in store for me when I made these decisions in the first place. In the end I’m glad I worked it out that way. There was so much failure – but learning to not be attached to my work was an interesting shift in my creative practice. I had to destroy everything I was making in order to take the next frame and it taught me how breath life into my drawing. When I allow it to live and die. It’s humbling having a sort of “ego death” as a creator. Animation and the meticulous attention to detail really suits my temperaments. So I absolutely want to animate my next film. (This time I have a better sense of what I’m getting into.)
Are you interesting in exploring different animation genres? What do you have in mind for the near future?
I am having so much fun developing a comedy about the sex problems of monsters in Hell. Naturally, it is animation. This time around, it’s 2D digital animation. I want to learn how to work digitally – so that will be a good creative challenge for me.
Would you say that the short film format has given you any particular freedom?
I came to a story that was already locked down into a short format. So I never had a chance to reflect on filmmaking in a short form format vs. long form as a director. Because the story was in a short format, it was less intimidating and became far more realistic for me to pull off.