Sam Huntley - Polish your shoes

11:00, 2004, Documentary
Born in London in 1979, Sam studied at Camberwell College Of Arts in London, before completing a BA [Hons] in Graphic Design at the University of Brighton in 2002.

He made his first short film, POLISH YOUR SHOES in 2003, winning 9 film awards [including Best
Experimental Short Film / Melbourne International Film Festival 2004, Special Jury Prize /
Mediawave Hungary 2005, Generations In Movement Award / 9th Siena International Short Film
Festival 2004, Italy and the Time Out Film Critic’s Award for Best London Film 2005].

In 2004 it won Best International Short / 49th Cork International Film Festival 2004, where it shared the award with Andrea Arnold’s Oscar-winning film WASP, and was short-listed at over 30
International Film Festivals. It was also acquired for the BFI Film Archives and was included in
‘London Calling’, a permanent collection of the 100 definitive films about London which launched the new BFI Southbank building.

DirectorSam HuntleyProducerSam HuntleyWriterSam HuntleyCameraSam HuntleyEditorSam Huntley

CountryUKEdition2010 ScreeningsANGEL Moving Image Festival, England
Big Issue Film Festival, England
Brooklyn Int. Film Festival, USA
Chicago Int Documentary Festival, USA
Clerkenwell Film Festival, England
Commonwealth Film Festival, England
Cork Int. Film Festival, Ireland
CPH:DOX Int Doc Festival, Denmark
DOK Leipzig Int. Film Festival, Germany
Elefest, England
EURODOC Film Festival, Norway
FACT, England
Festival International de Biarritz, France
Filmstock Int. Film Festival, England
Flickerfest Film Festival, Australia
Glastonbury Festival, England
Granada Int. Short Film Festival, Spain
Hawaii Int. Film Festival, USA
ICO/BFI Screening Day, England
Los Angeles Int. Short Film Festival, USA
MECAL Film Festival, Spain
MFA Europe Short Film Festival, Majorca
MEDIAWAVE Film Festival, Hungary
Melbourne Int. Film Festival, Australia
Portobello Film Festival, England
Raindance East Film Festival, England
Rushes Soho Shorts Festival, London
SEE Documentary Festival, England
Siena Int. Film Festival, Italy
Tiburon Int. Film Festival, USA
VISIONARIA Film Festival, Italy
AwardsSpecial Jury Prize - Mediawave Hungary 2005, Gyor, Hungary
Raindance East Jury Award for Best Short Film 2005, London
Time Out Film Critics Award for Best London Film 2005, London
Best International Short Film - 49th Cork International Film Festi

< overview


Who is Sam Huntley?
I am a 30 year old filmmaker from London.

How did you start with film, and do you have an educational background in film?
I have always wanted to work in film, and more specifically to direct, for as long as I can remember, although no, I don’t have an educational background in film. When I left school I studied for a year at Camberwell College of Arts in London which was a great experience. Although I would have loved to have gone to film school at that stage I was advised at the time that maybe it would be better to do a more varied degree and then possibly go to film school at a later stage.

I could have stayed at Camberwell or gone to Central Saint Martins but at the time I was really keen to get out of London and I chose to go to the University of Brighton to study graphic design. This turned out to be a big mistake and something I have really regretted ever since. The course had a really good reputation and was really hard to get into, so I was really pleased when I was accepted onto it. I made it clear in my interview that I wanted to make films and that I wanted film to be the basis for all of the work I did there, which I was told would be absolutely fine. Unfortunately this turned out not to be the case, and it turned into a really negative experience for me.

My tutors weren’t interested in supporting me whatsoever, and all of the briefs we were set were really narrow, typography/print specific. Over the course of the 3 years I just became totally disillusioned and really should have left before the end and changed courses. However, at the start of the 3rd year I bought a camera and taught myself how to edit and started shooting little ‘films’ which helped to just about keep me sane. It meant that when the course finished, I literally had nothing to show for it apart from the few short pieces I had shot. I was pretty gutted at the time and it probably took me quite a while to get over it. But I guess it did at least mean that I was in a position to try and make something else, which is all I was really thinking about at the time. That’s where the idea for Polish Your Shoes came from.

What is Polish your shoes about?
Its about my Grandfather, Percy Huntley. When I started thinking about wanting to make a short film I knew I would be pretty limited as to what I could actually do as I had no money, no contacts and no real knowledge about how to do it.

I come from a big family in Islington, North London, and growing up they would always talk and tell stories about ‘years ago’. Many of these stories always centred around my Grandfather who had died years before I was born. He was a larger than life character, and it always struck me how emotional my dad, his brothers and sisters and other family members would still get when they recollected memories of him. I began to think that maybe this could form the basis of a film, so that’s really where the idea for Polish Your Shoes came from.

How was is after receiving the first award, and did you expect so many would follow?
Winning the first award was really amazing, and a massive surprise at the time. I was really pleased with the film when I finished it and was desperate to start showing it to people, so I spent about 6 months sending it out on VHS to anyone I could think of –companies / directors / producers, but literally didn’t hear anything back from anyone. When you’re a competely unknown entity its really hard to get people to actually take the time to watch your work. I became really dispondent and had almost given up hope of anyone actually ever seeing my film.

I knew absolutely nothing about film festivals at the time, but I saw a call for entries for the Big Issue Film Festival, and out of pure desperation really, I sent a copy of my film off and forgot about it. I remember when they called me and said it had been shortlisted I literally couldn’t believe it. The awards night was held in Leicester Square and all of my family came and saw my screening, which was really great and I was really shocked when they announced that it had won the first prize.
One of the Judges was Michael Deeley [Producer, Italian Job/Deer Hunter/Blade Runner]. He really liked the film and was really supportive of it. He said that from now on, when I send it out I should say that he had endorsed it, and he also gave me a few contacts to get in touch with as well. So that really gave me a lot of confidence going forward, and from there I started researching and looking into other festivals, and because it had won an award it was suddenly a bit easier to get other people to watch it. I still had no idea at that point that it would go on to win other awards though.

You received a lot of awards, how did this influence you, did it gave you more opportunities, a certain pressure or .. ?
At the time I wasn’t really thinking about it too much, I was just enjoying it. It was spread over a period of about 2 years, so it was really great just going to loads of different festivals, seeing loads of films etc. In a way it did create a certain amount of pressure though because people are always instantly interested in what the next thing you are doing is, and because it was literally the first thing I had done I didn’t really know what I was going to do next. Although winning the awards opened up some great opportunities, none of them led directly to actually making any new work.

At the time I had started a new project which was going to be about this old Hollywood movie star who was now living in London. For one reason or another it dragged on for over a year and never actually got started, before it fell apart totally. It was a real shame because I think it could have been great, but apart from that it just meant that I had wasted a lot of time and had sort of lost some of the momentum that had built up around my film/awards wins. After that it took me some time again to try and work out the best way forward.

Your camera/editing style is not really standard, could you explain a little?
Well I was really conscious of trying to make the structure as tight as possible. Although I think it could have been longer, I wanted to keep the film to quite a short duration so I wanted to pack as much in as possible. I saw the editing as a way to do this. It was also a way to try and give it a bit more of a distinctive style. Some of the cuts are deliberately quite jumpy/harsh which I liked because I think it helped to emphasize the fact that it’s still really raw and painful for the characters to re-tell/re-live some of these memories, which in turn highlights how much affection they have for him.

Why did you choose to make it in black and white?
Again I felt it would help to give it a more distinctive look/style. It also felt like it lent itself well to the subject, and because I had only ever seen black and white photos of my Grandfather, that’s sort of how I identified with him.

It’s also a personal project, did that make filming easier or more difficult?
A bit of both I guess. Obviously I could get access to the story and I had a good idea of what I wanted to achieve. Also, I knew all the stories so well so I pretty much had the film edited in my head before I even shot anything. But I think filming with family and friends can also be tricky sometimes because they do not necessarily always understand exactly what you are trying to achieve or what the process is, or how important it is to you, so they may not always take it as seriously as you do.

How do you choose the subjects of your (upcoming) film(s)?
Its just totally by chance really. I’m always looking for new stuff, and I think that that can be the frustrating thing [especially with documentaries], is that I personally don’t come across that many ideas or subjects that really excite me. You have to dedicate a lot of time, money and effort into a project so it really needs to be something that your really passionate about.

I think with all of the films I’ve made I’ve known instantly that it was something that I wanted to make as soon as I came across the subject. It’s a really great feeling when you come up with an idea that you know you want to film, but then there is this horrible stage of uncertainty where you try and get it off the ground and you don’t know whether it will happen or not. The worst thing is when you put a lot of effort into an idea and then it falls through – that has happened to me loads of times.

How do you finance your projects?
Thus far, everything I’ve done has been totally self-funded. I’ve wasted so much time over the years applying for funding from various different bodies, and have never been successful. You end up spending so much time waiting around between applications to see if you have been successful or not, that you can just end up never actually doing anything. It can be completely soul destroying and also very frustrating, especially when you then see some of the rubbish that has had money thrown at it by the people that have just turned you down.

I’m at the stage now where I don’t really think about funding too much, and at the moment will just put everything I can into a project in order to try and get it made, then worry about the consequences later. Its far from ideal, and puts so much pressure on the project you are making – you feel like it has to be good/successful otherwise you will be wasting so much of your own time and money, but in a way, maybe that pressure is what will hopefully help to make it good at the end of the day.

What is your next film about, and when can we expect to see it?
My next film is called Zoomer It’s a feature-length documentary about an amazing woman called Mary DeBoutez Zellmer-Fenoglio, who runs a junk shop out of her front yard in rural Kansas, USA. It’s a portrait film about Mary’s life and her ongoing struggle to try and make a living whilst also trying to gain some sort of recognition for her artistic endevours.

Due to the struggling American economy, her business has really suffered so she has started building these huge, one-off pieces of furniture. She is so talented, and the film is really about her life long search for acceptance and also her wanting to escape the environment she was born into, which has really curtailed her artistic ambitions. You can see the trailer for it and get more info at the films website, www.zoomerfilm.com

It has just been selected for the ‘Breakthrough Strand’ at London Film Focus [LUFF] at the BFI at the end of June so I’m really hoping that that will get it some good exposure and hopefully help to get it out there. All being well, it will also be shown at a few good festivals after that.

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