A Winner at Cannes: Charles Williams’ ‘All These Creatures’

When looking back at your life, you begin to wonder about all the different sides a story could show. In All These Creatures, a boy looks to unravel his father, who is implied to be mentally ill, but believes to be influenced by the strange creatures and animals who surround their home. The film was the winner of the prestigious Palme d’Or prize for Short Film at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival and was an Official Selection at this year’s Toronto Film Festival.

FRONTRUNNER spoke to director Charles Williams to get a look at the story.

Yared Scott as ‘Tempest’ in All These Creatures (2018)
Dir. Charles Williams
Photo credit: Mathew Lynn

What inspired this story?

All These Creatures came from my attempt, as an adolescent, to understand the destructive people in my life and my fears I had about what I was going to turn into and how much control I was going to have over that. My perspective on these ideas, particularly in regards to parents, has changed over time and I wanted the film to also reflect the older point of view, of someone looking back with a more compassionate understanding.

Mandela Mathia as ‘Mal’ in All These Creatures (2018)
Dir. Charles Williams
Photo credit: Mathew Lynn

What messages do you want to reach people with this film?

I want people to empathise with a more humanistic understanding of people that cause us harm in our lives, whether they be mental ill or not. None of us choose our genes or the experiences that form us and I think a better way to live is to have more compassion for even the most destructive people in our lives, and hopefully ourselves.

Due to the subject matter, were any of the scenes harder to film than others?

The film was incredibly difficult to make both from a logistical and creative perspective. The most important thing for me, given that most of the film includes kids who have never been in front of a camera before, was to create an environment that still felt like it was safe and playful.

There are a few moments in the film where we touch on some of the darker sides of the father’s nature that were really important to get right, so that we were showing the destructiveness without any melodrama. For me personally, in these moments what is remembered is not the explosion, but the aftermath. So we would script and perform these scenes, but only roll camera after the explosion had happened so there was a sense of catching the emotional residue left behind.

Can you give us some background about the burning bad thoughts scene?

This comes from something quite directly from my own life. The mother gets the children to write down their bad thoughts about their father and then they burn them as a way of letting go of their bad feelings, so they don’t hold onto the pain. The mother in the film is incredibly strong and emotionally intelligent. She understands that though she is also really hurt, it is bad for the children to hold onto hate, as that will eventually make them feel bad about who they are.

There were a lot of scenes involving small animals, notably the cicadas. What was it like filming these scenes?

I wouldn’t recommend it! All of these frogs, dogs, crickets and cicadas were very hard to wrangle. It’s also doubly difficult when you’re shooting film because each shot is so precious. However I also felt the combination of this kind of chaos and at the same time having to be very specific would lead to something special.

What was it like winning the Palme d’Or at Cannes?

Just being selected was already such an honour. Like me, everyone there are such cinefiles so they really appreciate what you’re doing. Cannes is more than a festival for me; there is this frenzied marketplace going hand in hand with this overriding idea of cinema as art, which I love. To win the Palme d’Or on top of all of that is wonderful, it’s incredibly encouraging and something you want to live up to.

Yared Scott as ‘Tempest’ and Mandela Mathia as ‘Mal’ in All These Creatures (2018)
Dir. Charles Williams
Photo credit: Mathew Lynn

Tell us about your future projects.

I am currently developing a feature which takes the themes and stylistic approach of the short and places them into a more dramatically tense prison environment. It’s a project I’ve been working on for a while now so hopefully not too far away.

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