In His Own Words – Director Lukas Schrank (Nowhere Line)

Crowdfunding films has completely revolutionized the way in which projects get made and provides artists and contributors alike avenues to new discoveries. This was how I found out about Nowhere Line: Voices From Manus Island, a new animated documentary short on two asylum seekers detained on Manus Island, which immediately struck a chord in me. I am deeply passionate about the Asylum Seeker/Refugee program in Australia, our Government’s methods and our reaction to it. I am also a fervent fan of the documentary format in a style that’s both innovative and accessible. You would’ve seen our post on the Nowhere Line Campaign from January 19 and since then, through the marvels on internet stalkage, I managed to track down the film’s creator Lukas Schrank and interrupted his hugely busy schedule to find out a bit more on his motivation for this film and who the man really is…

Ladies & Gentlemen. In His Own Words: Director Lukas Schrank. (Featuring Art from Shrank’s previous works)

What is your background?

I am a film maker and animator from London, currently living in Melbourne. After graduating as a designer I slowly shifted my focus towards film and moving image. I founded Visitor http://www.visitorstudio.co.uk a creative partnership with a close friend George Thomson in 2010. George trained as an architect so our work together spans from making films to building installations and sets for theatre.

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What attracted you to this subject matter?

I first became interested in the subject when I read an interview published on Sievx.com. The interview was with two asylum seekers, speaking shortly after the riots last February. I did some more research on the subject and found it astonishing that although there was a lot of coverage of the events, there had been very little air-time given to the accounts of people in detention – partly due the fact that journalists are not allowed to enter the compound. Around the same time, I came across the propaganda comic that the government distributed in Afghanistan, which was designed to discourage people from seeking asylum in Australia. The culmination of all of these things lodged the idea in my head that it would be possible to give people on the island a voice and create something which was a response to the comic – dealing with a lot of the same issues but from a different angle.

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Do you find that your position/voice is shared in the community on the subject?

Obviously we tend to surround ourselves with people that share similar viewpoints without consciously realizing it, but I think I was initially quite naïve about how many people have the exact opposite viewpoint on the subject. Because of the crowdfunding campaign and the publicity generated through Facebook and Twitter, I have received a lot of feedback from people who do not want to see asylum seekers settled in Australia. I don’t know what’s worse, the fact that these views are often based on a level of xenophobia and racism, or that they are based on incorrect information, but they tend to be a combination of both. Aside from that, the response has been extremely positive and I have been overwhelmed by the support that the project has received.

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You are using animation as a documentary style? What drew you to this decision?

There are many reasons for this choice, but when I step back and consider the alternatives, there are none – there is no other way that this film could have been created within the time frame and budget. One of the most important reasons behind the choice is that it allows for the detainees’ stories to be told in a way that engages the audience but also preserves their anonymity.

I think animation also has the potential to bypass many limitations of live-action when dealing with this kind of subject. By recontextualising a story, you can remove all of the audience’s preconceptions and prejudices. I hope that by engaging people visually, I’ll be able to tell a story which sidesteps their assumptions and retains a level of humanity that is often lost in the portrayal of asylum seekers.
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Were you influenced by anyone film maker/artist/concept?

People often compare the film to Waltz with Bashir but I was first exposed to the idea of basing an animation on interviews through watching Waking Life by Richard Linklater. Stylistically there a lot of elements that draw inspiration from graphic novels, manga and anime.

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How did you manage to make contact with the subjects in your short film?

It took a long time and a lot of effort, but I was eventually put in touch with an ex-detainee who left the island and returned home. He was able to put me in touch with two men still in detention, who were interested in telling their stories. I began speaking with them and recorded over 3 hours of interviews in October 2014.

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What do you hope to achieve by making the film?

With any film that addresses a contentious topic, a large proportion of the audience is going to be exposed to it because they already share the same views and knowledge of the subject. However I hope that many of the creative choices made in production will also mean that it draws a wider audience, maybe people that didn’t know that much about the situation on Manus Island, or people that share a slightly different point of view.
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What goes into making an animated documentary and the sorts of hours involved in creating this work?

There was a lot of pre-production involved, once I completed and transcribed the interviews I reviewed all of the copy and tried to edit it in a way that remained faithful to their stories but also had some kind of structure that could work as a film. The animation jumps around between Jakarta, Manus and a few other locations, so there was a lot of drawing and modelling involved to make the scenes feel real and immersive, but also stylised. I have been working with Illustrator Luke Bicevskis on the characters – we recently completely a commercial project together so we already had a workflow in place that allowed me to create the scenes and insert his character drawings at a later stage, with the correct lighting and perspective. There is also a team of matte painters, animators and modellers working around the world on the project, from Ukraine to the Philippines. It seems fitting that the film will be a global effort.

The film is being created in a very short space of time by a very small team, with a tiny budget – so everything is geared towards efficiency, from the choice of camera angle to the way shots are edited together. Although this is a limitation in many ways, it is just another creative challenge, and often it is the challenges that create a strong and consistent style and tone of voice.

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What is your favourite part of the film making process?

I generally enjoy the very start and the very end – so making the initial style choices and designing how the film will look, and then at the end, seeing it all come together with the grade, edit and sound design.

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Any words of madness/wisdom for budding content creators out there?

Not sure if I have much madness or wisdom to offer but I see a lot of projects that never come to fruition, and it is interesting to identify what separates those project that happen and those that don’t. There isn’t really any magic in it, it’s just hard, hard work, commitment, making a lot of sacrifices.

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What’s next on the horizon once Nowhere Line is completed?

I’m planning on going back to the UK to make another film ‘They Wait For Us‘, with my business partner George. This one is going to be a live action fiction piece. After that, the plan is to start slowly gearing up to making a feature film.

I am always going to feel a connection to the subject of Nowhere Line and I’ll continue to keep in contact with the men that I interviewed. They are both extraordinary people and I hope that their situations are resolved before any more damage is done to their lives, and that I get a chance to meet them in person one day.

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Visit the Nowhere Line: Voices From Manus Island Pozible Campaign Page to find out more and pledge to help Lukas reach the $15,000 target. We’re On Board and the tally is currently sitting at $12,480 with 15 days to go!

Visit the Nowhere Line: Voices From Manus Island Facebook Page

If you’re passionate about Asylum Seekers be sure to visit the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre for more information