Sunday, 13 June 2010

The films of Petra Freeman

Petra Freeman's early experience with animation is documented in Clare Kitson's book on Channel 4 animation:
When Petra Freeman graduated from Wimbledon School of Art, she went to the Royal College of Art to study for an MA in illustration... She would constantly produce lithographs in narrative sequences and seemed to want to tell more elaborate stories than could be expressed in a single image. Finally, her tutor suggested she should visit Professor Richard Taylor, who ran the animation department, to find out whether he could help bring her stories to life. Petra was a complete newcomer to animation. She had not even seen any, apart from Disney as a child (which she had not been keen on). However, some of her RCA works did suggest a specific animation technique. She had developed a way of drawing figures in soot on glass with her finger, and then photographing them in front of actual landscapes, and had loved this tactile experience.

Freeman completed her student film, Felt, Lifted, and Weighed, in 1990. The short showcases the paint-on-glass animation technique that developed from her illustrative work; by her later standards the film is somewhat rudimentary, but it remains an engaging and intriguing piece. Some of the motifs that would appear throughout her subsequent films - in particular the central image of the little girl interacting with the ever-shifting forms around her - are already apparent.

In 1992 Freeman completed a film for Channel 4, titled The Mill. Kitson's book goes into great detail about the short's background:
Petra applied, with a proposal for a film using this same paint-on-glass method, the theme a development from a series of lithographs she had made for a book while at the RCA. It would take as its central idea that of a mill, in constant motion - an image which related to Petra's Cornish childhood and a string of mills along a valley close to her home, where she would often play - and it would weave memories from this childhood into a dreamlike narrative... The overarching theme of the film is bees, a constant presence for the young Petra, since her father was a beekeeper. He rented a field near home for his hives and she spent a lot of time helping him with his work.
Commenting on the ways in which the film can be interpreted, Freeman has remarked that "I see new things in it all the time."

Two years later Freeman made another short for Channel 4, Jumping Joan. Although the title is lifted from a nursery rhyme (Here am I, little jumping Joan, when nobody's with me, I'm always alone) the film - like its two predecessors - has no dialogue. It can be watched online at the Animate Projects website.

Clare Kitson writes that, after completing Jumping Joan, Freeman "disappeared into motherhood for some years and is starting to re-emerge. The current project is a children's book; dark, mysterious, and with illustrations which cry out to be brought to life in animation..."

A few years beforehand, in 2005, Freeman had in fact completed another film: Bee Boy. The film is a heavy stylistic departure - it is mostly live action, although also containing animation (most noticeably a pair of stop-motion toy rabbits) - but is thematically consistent with her earlier work. Two key figures from The Mill, the beekeeper and the strange bee-child, make a return.

Freeman has recently returned to paint-on-glass animation with her 2010 film Tad's Nest, again drawing on her childhood in Cornwall. It can be viewed online here.

See this interview for Petra Freeman's commentary on Tad's Nest, illustrating books, and her creative process in general.

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