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We catch up with the award-winning filmmaker to talk new projects, feminism, absurdism and the power of the internet.

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Kate Jessop is an accomplished animation director originally from Manchester and now working in London. We screened Kate’s short Little Elephant earlier this year to much praise from our Jammers and it quickly became a favourite in Cinema Jam HQ. We also got the chance to discuss that particular project with her in depth and you can read about it here. Kate has been most recently working on a new web series called Tales From Pussy Willow which combines live-action and animation to focus on feminist and queer issues with an absurdist twist.

We had the pleasure of having a short chat with you in June before screening your wonderful short Little Elephant at our Jam Session. What have you been working on since then?

I’ve been really busy with my side project Animation Girl Band. I was awarded an Arts Council of England grant to make Queer Heroes which was a cross collaborative project between 13 other UK animators. It’s a celebration of queer figures in both historical and contemporary times who have helped push forward arts, politics or science in any way and was based on the old surrealist drawing game Exquisite Corpses (https://vimeo.com/185201333) and then of course developing the Tales From Pussy Willow web series!

How did Tales From Pussy Willow begin? What was the inspiration for the project?

I’ve been writing comedy sketches for years on the side just literally scribbling down in notebooks. I’ve had quite a few friends tell me that I’m funny when recalling anecdotes and that I should get it down. Then one January I downloaded Celtx and got down about 20 scripts in 2 days. I sent them out to some friends to read over because I wasn’t sure if they were funny or not. I had some very good feedback and was encouraged to make them. Initially I wasn’t sure if I should pitch them to a broadcaster as I was interested in making them live action (one of my big influences is Smack the Pony from the 90’s). However I realised my USP is my animation style and didn’t want to to stray away from that. I love the interaction between actors and wanted to keep that element so decided to create a live action/animation hybrid. Also it makes the situations a lot more relatable having a ‘real’ character, but then adds to the slightly surrealist moments (especially in the flatshare interview series) having it in these animated worlds. The inspiration for the project was mostly my own life experience!

You’ve described Tales From Pussy Willow as having absurdist themes. There was a time, not that long ago, when surrealism and absurdism was making an impact on mainstream filmmaking, do you think those days will ever come back?

I don’t think these themes ever left comedy – look at shows like Portlandia. They are quite satirical in their observations (i.e. Feminist Book Store) but then it does blossom into the surreal in some of the sketches (like when they realised they were part of an installation art piece!). There is a long history of absurdism in comedy, such as Monty Python. In regards to Surrealism in mainstream filmmaking, I’m not sure if you would regard him as mainstream but Michel Gondry has continued his music video signature style into his feature length films.

Speaking of the mainstream, Pussy Willow has feminist and queer themes at its forefront. Do you feel that the internet has enabled themes like these to be more authentic?

I think the internet has democratized the creative industries now so that everyone can have a voice meaning more underrepresented voices can now be heard. 10 years ago when I was first starting out I wouldn’t have been able to make this as there just wasn’t the platform for online streaming etc. This is liberating as it means you don’t have to follow the traditional channels or cross the traditional barriers to make work. Interestingly a lot of female directors are independent.

What was nice was when Parents Chat first came out it got a lot of really positive and emotive responses from people who could identify with it from their own experiences of having that conversation with their parents.  Even though some of the dialogue in that sketch is quite cutting and humorous, there is a serious undertone to the humour which is examining micro-aggressions in society. The staffroom chat (where the protagonist is accused of being “so pretty and normal”) is a regular occurrence for a lot of femmes. So yes I think in a way the voice is more authentic because it hasn’t been watered-down by having to navigate traditional channels, it’s fresh out the can. I’ve been told a lot of the episodes are quite close to the bone. I guess I have an underlying motivation to hold a mirror up to society.

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You spoke to us before about your love for Dada and Peter Blake, who would you consider to be your main stylistic influences?

I just really love collage so yes those two were the masters of that! I’m from an illustration background and still love tactile media. Even though everything is done on the computer now I like to give it quite a ‘timeless’ feel so quite textured and painterly. Vector graphics and really slick digital graphics just leaves me cold but that’s just my personal opinion.

In regards to influences in terms of the content I was pretty influenced by 90s comedy sketch shows such as Smack the Pony and The Fast Show (Caroline Ahern was amazing in general).  There has been some interesting work coming out of America recently such as Portlandia and I love Lena Dunham and Miranda July.

Pussy Willow has some fairly distinct characters and situations that will be familiar to anyone who’s worked in the artistic scene in a major city, how much of it is drawn from personal experience?

[laughs] Most of this is personal experience or situations I have found myself in taken and developed further. All of the pub episodes are influenced by guys I used to know when I was playing music in Manchester. In a way though it doesn’t matter that it’s contextualized by musicians or Manchester, the experience of being the only female sat in a group of men and not feeling listened to or taken seriously whilst they’re all back slapping each other over nothing is unfortunately a common one. It was Bjork that said “A woman has to say five times what a man says once” and we can see that in the Stephen Street episode.

What do you see for the future of Pussy Willow? How far would you like to take the project?

There are still more scripts to be made! I’d love to develop the characters further and make a second series.  In a way the first series was a bit of an experiment, I was doing something I’d not done before so was testing the water. Now I’ve seen I can do it and people like it I’m looking to build up the following of the series and look for some kind of funding or kick starter campaign to make the second one.

Do you have any other projects on the horizon?

I’m actually still touring the festival circuit with the Lovework films (the Duology that Little Elephant came from – 72 festival screenings this year!). But yes there’s two more projects on the horizon in addition to Pussy Willow but you’ll have to watch this space!

To find out more about Kate’s work visit katejessop.co.uk, check out her Twitter@KateJessopFilm and watch Tales From Pussy Willow right here.

Mark Birrell

Mark is the editor of The Spread as well as a copywriter, film-blogger and lifelong cinephile who received his bachelors in Film and Comparative Literature from the University Of London.

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Posted on Dec 5, 2016

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