Case Study: Sand Men

Tal Amiran on making his short documentary Sand Men.

Sand Men competed in official competition during Euregion Film Festival 2018. Director of this short documentary, Tal Amiran, talks to us about creating the film.

“The tone and the mood really emerge in the edit.”

Idea

“I first came across somebody making a dog sand sculpture on the pavement near my studio in East London. It stopped me in my tracks as it was such a surreal sight: a sculpture of a dog made of sand, which would normally belong on a sunny beech, was lying there on the grey dirty pavement, looking totally out of place. The idea for the film came when I discovered that all across the UK, in many major cities, there were other Romanian immigrants making the very same sand sculptures. I was intrigued to find out more.”

“By speaking to some of these men, I found out that their lives were very difficult – often living away from their loved ones who were back home in Romania, sending them their hard earned money from making these sculptures. For them, it’s a mean of survival. I also realized they were projecting their own emotions onto these dog sculptures – for example, they often sculpt female dogs together with their small puppies. I saw this as a metaphor for their own children back home whom they miss very much.”

“I saw this as a metaphor for their own children back home whom they miss very much.”

Shooting

“I had no shot list, storyboard or a script. I simply started filming them making the sculptures, from the moment they arrive on the street in the morning with a sand bag, till the moment they demolish the sculpture at the end of each day. It was like watching a life cycle, from birth to death in the course of 10 hours!”

“I usually operate as a ‘one man band’ – directing, shooting and editing myself. Since I also work as a freelance self shooter-editor, I feel comfortable shooting and editing and I enjoy fulfilling these roles myself. I filmed the sand sculptors over the course of about six months and it took about another six months to edit and complete the film, finding the time between other work.”

Post-production and distribution

“In the post production stage, I work closely with my sound designer Rick Blything, who I’ve also collaborated with on numerous other projects. We have a mutual understanding of what we want to create with sound design and he is a fantastic sound designer. For me, a film starts to take form in the edit, especially in a documentary when there’s no script to follow, so the tone and the mood really emerge in the edit. It’s a process I enjoy very much. In fact, it’s much like sculpting, similar to what the sand sculptors do with their sand – slowly the film starts to take shape and it’s a very creative, if slow (and sometimes frustrating) process. It’s extremely satisfying to see the film slowly come together.”

“The film was premiered in One World Romania – Human Rights Documentary Film Festival in Bucharest in early 2017. The screening was a very emotional experience for me, as all three characters in the film are Romanian, it was really moving to screen the film in their home country. People in the audience – school children as well as adults, were struck by how difficult the lives of these individuals in England were. I think that for local Romanians, London is perceived as a place where the ‘streets are paved with gold’, and here they were three men who struggle to survive. It was quite eye opening for them I think.”

“In fact, it’s much like sculpting, similar to what the sand sculptors do with their sand – slowly the film starts to take shape and it’s a very creative.”

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