Filmmaker and artist Marieka Walsh is obviously someone who doesn’t take the easy option too often. Her stop-motion sand animation The Hunter was created using approximately 30,796,232 grains of sand, a light box edged in cardboard and a 35mm film camera and took around two years of dedication. “Being inexperienced, I thought it would only take a few months. I'm the eternal optimist, to my own detriment,” she laughs.
The completion of the animation meant overcoming disastrous sneezes and a week of shooting with the shutter accidentally closed, but Walsh’s dedication paid off with The Hunter chosen to be screened at SXSW and the 2012 Sydney Film Festival Dendy Awards among numerous other screenings.
Each frame is meticulously crafted in the sand, sometimes taking up to four hours per frame. But while painstaking, the process was also incredibly rewarding. “I really like the aesthetic look of the translucency of sand combined with light…I like it because it's a medium I can work with directly; I use my fingertips, the palm of my hand and tiny paintbrushes to move the grains of sand around. It's very satisfying.”
With time, even the impermanence of the medium began to appeal to her. “I also kind of love that these incredibly detailed images can be destroyed at any moment – if I cough or drop something onto the image, the picture is ruined and just becomes a box of sand again. It means I can't get too precious about the images. [Being a perfectionist means] working with an ephemeral medium like sand is good for me.”
The film is a moody ode to nature and our human desire to control it. The Hunter tells of a hunter’s search for an outcast village child and the complications that arise. “The central character has seen the wilderness as a threat and can't understand how a young boy could have a bond with such a creature,” explains Walsh. “The film is about him learning to understand his fear and question his relationship with nature. While it has an old fable-like feeling to it I think this story is [still] quite relevant to today.”
With powerful imagery – no doubt cultivated during her studies in fine art at the Sydney College of the Arts – Walsh has created a thought provoking, challenging yet incredibly beautiful work. “I think coming from a visual arts background definitely influences my filmmaking,” she says. “I’d like to think the films I make aren't just telling stories; they also have elements that could be considered art.”
But what drew her to such an ambitious and time consuming project? “It was naive excitement really. I was introduced to the technique through watching some old sand animations from the 70ss and straight away I wanted to work with that medium…
“I'm happy to be proved wrong, but I don't think you could exactly replicate the look of sand animation digitally and if you could, it still wouldn't have all those beautiful imperfections that come with making something by hand”
The Hunter screens Saturday June 16 at 2.30pm and Sunday June 17 at midday as part of the Sydney Film Festival.