Interview with Filmmaker Ken Clark (SNIP)

SNIP played to rave reviews at the August 2018 Young Filmmakers Film Festival i Toronto.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Ken Clark: I like to tell stories that entertain but also prick the conscience of the viewer.

Due to illness I spent some time in hospital and in my ward was an old Jewish man who had come to New Zealand in the late 40s as a refugee. He told me a story which is the basis of another film idea that is lurking in my mind but, as we talked about life, experiences and the holocaust he said now they talk of numbers, only numbers, not about people. This stuck with me as many years ago I had read that three deaths is a tragedy, a thousand deaths is a statistic. When I came across Samuel and Ruth’s encounter I had my people story.

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this short?

It was quite fast, for me. It was about 8 months. My university course required at least one finished short film by the end of the year. This time restraint galvanised me into getting a film finished.

3. How would you describe your short film in two words!?

Man’s inhumanity.

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

The biggest obstacle was writing the script. It is basically a monologue of an 18-19 year old girl living in Poland in the 1940s remembering her life before the Nazi invasion. These were things I had never experienced. I was never a teenage girl or lived in Europe. I looked at some of “The Diary of Ann Frank” and talked with my mother, who was a teenager in the 1940s, about female thoughts and experiences and the expectations of that time. I tried very hard to make the script read not the way a male thinks a female should or would think but an honest representation of her thoughts in that specific time and place. Once I had the script all things seemed to fall into place. I had a crew from the university film school and actors available from my wife’s drama class and my lead actress from our involvement in many theatrical productions. The set was designed and built to be used by both the film and the play my wife was producing.

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

Wow. This is the best thing of the festival. It was so good to get this honest feedback. I found the first comment about a ‘Kiwi’ accent interesting. Phoebe and I talked about accents early on and I made the decision that we use our normal speaking voice, as “Ruth” would have used her normal speaking voice. While there isn’t often an association of Jews and New Zealand, our Prime Minister from 2008 – 2016 is the son of a Jewish refugee. There are more ties that bind us than walls that divide us.

It was so gratifying to see and hear people respond to the film. The audience appeared to understand the story I was trying to tell. Ruth is a person and not just a statistic.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

6. How did you come up with the idea for this short film?

While I had this holocaust, statistics not people, idea in the back of my mind, in 2012 I saw a documentary “Death Camp Treblinka – Survivor Stories”. It was about two survivors of Treblinka. Samuel Willenberg and Kalman Taigman. There was a short sequence;

(VO) “One day Samuel was ordered to work as a barber. He encountered a naked Warsaw girl fully aware of her fate.

(Samuel Willenberg) “She was about 19, maybe younger. I remember her name to this day. Ruth Dorfmann. I cut her hair. She asked me how long it would last. I said ten minutes. She looked back and said farewell…She was really saying farewell to the whole world. Then we heard the sound of the tank engine and that’s how it ended.”

From this short sequence I thought there’s the people story. All I had to do was work out what she could be thinking, what her conversation could have been while her hair was being cut and how to show the audience of her awareness of her fate.

I was also thinking of the broader historical implications. It took many years before the existence of the death camps was acknowledged. In the early years the ‘resettlement camps’ were shown as places of contentment and productivity, it was only at the end of the war that the dark truth was revealed. This progression, and the fact that modern audiences are used to seeing this time period in black and white was the main reason for the slow change from colour to black and white.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

“King Kong” is my favourite film. I guess this is because it is a film that can allow you to escape into another world, but films that have had an emotional impact on me have been “The 400 Blows”, “Medium Cool” and ”Jacques Brel is Alive and Living in Paris”

8. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are you feelings of the submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?

I think this is a very easy and simple way to get your films into festivals and they list a great number of festivals.

9. What song have you listened to the most times in your life?

“Only the Lonely” by Roy Orbison, I’m a sucker for a sob story.

10. What is next for you? A new film?

There are two films I’d like to make. One is from my conversation with Mr. Bergman in hospital. I don’t have it clear in my mind yet. He came to New Zealand as a refugee in 1949, he joined a Christchurch chess club in 1978. In 1985 a German immigrant joined the club. This German chess player was not only from the same village as Mr Bergman but was part of the police force that rounded up his family for deportation.

The other is “Picnic” an exploration of responsibility. If someone is unaware that what they do is criminal are they really criminals? Michael Hurst (Hercules: The Legendary Journeys) has agreed to star but schedules and finances are always a problem.

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