Closing the first day of [email protected] on Monday 11th of August was an online short film screening and Q&A with Phil Spencer, available to watch online in full. The short films in question are titled Big Brother and House Hunting, a hand-in-hand pair of poignantly earnest illustrations of mental health in both the heart and the periphery of the military community.
Engaging, genuine and subversive
We’ve all seen tributes to and explorations of the struggles of servicepeople at war. Some would argue that there aren’t nearly enough, but what’s even less frequent are artistic acknowledgements of the struggles faced by their families. The people choosing to forge their lives fighting for their country inevitably pass on to their nearest and dearest a sacrifice of their own; spouses, parents, children and siblings of soldiers find themselves bereft of their relative’s company, in the worst cases, forever.
At only 11 minutes, Big Brother isn’t the final word on coping with grief for a family member, but this is to its credit. With the very opposite intention of being a conversation starter, it uses it’s micro budget and runtime to say the little that’s it’s trying to say with power. Music and setting are used to great effect, especially in the instance of a house interior decorated so starkly white as to foreground the very darkness one imagines the inhabitant was trying to banish. The real star, however, is the screenplay. Deceptively transparent at first, and lent prosaic familiarity by actors Rose Riley, Tom Leigh and Imogen Stubbs (who previously performed enthrallingly in Frantic Assembly’s Things I Know To Be True), the dialogue spills into poetry. The rawness and authenticity present in the simple rhyme scheme is bettered only by it’s counterpart in the corresponding short, House Hunting.
We’ve all seen post-traumatic stress disorder portrayed in Hollywood, with loud bangs and flashing lights triggering aggressive and paranoid episodes. Few are as sensitive as this one though, depicting the easy transition between an innocuous café and Afghanistan in the drifting mind of a marine. Perhaps nothing less could be expected from talented ex-military creatives behind the camera and a story drawing directly on truth, but the film is stirring nonetheless. In fact, despite slightly heavy-handed techniques and symbolism, both these films are more than worth your time.
Having watched them, my understanding of the nature of soldiering has been enriched and my compassion for those dealing with the fallout of it has been expanded. Having watched the full Q&A with the man behind them, those effects have been doubled by his explanations of the thoughts and processes behind Big Brother and House Hunting. Phil Spencer’s work is engaging, genuine and subversive, and has the potential of being a real force for good in the world if given an audience, so I’d highly recommend seeking it out.