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In today’s Lockdown interview, Joseph Norman catches up with Astrid Goldsmith, director of the recent animated short film, ‘Quarantine’. 

During the lockdown, Astrid has started to work on a small personal film, under wraps at present, that she would not have started without this unexpected solitary time. 

Goldsmith explained that Quarantine was funded through the BFI/BBC4 Animation 2018 talent scheme, on the theme of ‘What is Britain like today?’ She began to consider the political context of this question, with Brexit looming, amid the sense of foreboding about what may occur in the port towns of Dover and Folkstone (where she is based). This region has a turbulent history of far right rallies, UKIP support and angry, divisive rhetoric. What changes would Brexit mean locally? Across East Kent, folk culture is alive, through traditions such as Morris dancing, and there is a firmly entrenched sense of patriotism.

A post-Brexit pagan dance fantasy about a troupe of Morris-dancing badgers forced to confront the animals quarantined in a facility built above their burrow - Film Synopsis

In developing her ideas for the animation. Goldsmith felt that using a badger as an anthropomorphic character would be an appropriate conduit for these issues, in reference to traditional British folk tales, as well as modern classics such as The Wind in the Willows. At the same time, badgers are well-established cultural signifiers of both cuteness and Nature under threat, and are very alive in the public consciousness through recent badger culls. Quarantine depicts a group of Morris dancing badgers, who are trying to evade the quarantine station built on top of their sett. The badgers dance in formation, digging deep into English folk culture and exploring the primal sense of connection through dance. The badgers try to distance themselves from what’s happening in the quarantine station above, but one badger feels compelled to forge a friendship across the boundaries. The story encapsulates contemporary conflicts relating to immigration and fortress Britain [UK audiences: Watch Quarantine at BFI FIlm Player page].

Having grown up without a TV, Goldsmith only discovered the work of Oliver Postgate's Small Films once she had already become interested in stop motion animation. She feels a strong affinity with 1960s/70s animation, from the UK but also from key Czech and Polish animators, including Jiří Trnka and Bretislav Pojar, with whose work Goldsmith’s work shares a delight in the tactility of fabric on screen. Responding to the magical wonder of stop motion, through imaginative use of textures and beautiful wood surfaces, Goldsmith also cites Svankmajer, in terms of his visceral use of materials, and surreal juxtaposition of the familiar with the uncanny, along with Ladislas Starevich. 

Goldsmith has recently been developing a new film, Red Rover: she explained that she had just completed the animation on the Friday two weeks ago; then on the following Monday, lockdown was announced. Red Rover is a colonial monster movie set on Mars, about a peaceful community of tiny rock creatures, whose lives are shattered by the sudden arrival of a robotic invader from Earth, sent to drill for signs of life. 2020 will be a pivotal year for Mars exploration, so this project feels particularly current in the public consciousness. Having previously been immersed in very English animated stories, involving woodland creatures and politics, Goldsmith feels that she was ready to explore an alternative setting and context, although there is a connecting thread of territorial invasion between her works. Red Rover is currently awaiting post-production, and its release through the BFI has obviously been delayed.

Astrid Goldsmith’s work explores the magic of tactile stop motion, and pitches sweet woodland creatures into the political turmoil of Brexit. Quarantine will be screened as part of Strangelove Festival, Folkstone; dates for re-scheduling to be confirmed.

contributed by: Joseph Norman

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