Chris Dainty’s short film is a mesmerizing tale of grief, friendship and inventiveness.
For his first film in collaboration with the National Film Board of Canada (NFB), Chris Dainty tells the story of his departed best friend and queer artist Shannon Jamieson, who committed suicide in 2006. He reanimates her art and poetry, and does it with innovative techniques and poignant storytelling.
Shannon Amen seems like a very suitable title for the film. Not only does it feel like an elegy, but it also relates Jamieson’s struggles with religion and sexuality.
“I believe every word of the Bible and still desire a relationship with God but feel like I can’t because I’m gay.” Those are the words of Jamieson which the film uncovers. Dainty only realized the gravity of his best friend’s inner battles after her death.
“She felt like a different person almost,” said Dainty, when talking about his experience of going through Jamieson’s art and poetry, after her suicide. He had never known about most of what he found, and never suspected how tormented she was.
The film recreates some of Jamieson’s relationships and art projects. It starts as she climbs inside a church in Lyon, France, and sings, with her guitar.
One of the key settings in Shannon Amen is a farm, probably inspired by the rural town of Hawkesbury, Ontario, where Jamieson and Dainty grew up. Over the years, they worked on many art projects. One of them is beautifully told in the film, mixing animation and archival footage, when Chris went to take pictures of Jamieson and her girlfriend, portraying queer love gently and candidly.
Jamieson was a multidisciplinary artist who delved into poetry, music, painting and more. One of her paintings, Self-portrait, becomes animated in Dainty’s film, and seems to perfectly encapsulate her struggles with her sexuality and fierce personality.
The artist graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts at Concordia. She exhibited her artworks in various solo and group shows, most notably in Montreal, Vankleek Hill, and San Francisco.
While Dainty didn’t follow his best friend to Montreal, he still pursued an artistic career and has been living in Ottawa for most of his life. He has been practicing ice sculpting there for many years and, for the first time in his life, has combined that skill with his animation film career.
He developed a technique for Shannon Amen that he calls “icemation.” He literally animated ice sculptures, which allowed for more poetic possibilities, gorgeous images and unusual sound effects.
Dainty said he and his team carved up to 30 blocks of ice, which weighed about 300 pounds. It would take them three to six hours for each. Luckily, even though we only see them for a few seconds, the animated ice sculptures were worth all the effort. The scenes they create are quite beautiful.
It felt more organic, more natural, to use frozen water to represent the character of Shannon,” said Dainty. “The ice was her essence, her soul […] It was strong, yet fragile. It was the perfect analogy for Shannon.”
Dainty was very happy the NFB decided to take on his project. The desire of developing icemation was just one of the very challenging goals he had in mind when thinking about making Shannon Amen, and he thinks he could not have done it without them.
“They are the only ones that would support a project this ambitious,” he said. He also talked about how his producer would always question him and challenge his ideas, which resulted in them making “the right decisions” for the movie and making it as good as it could be.
The entire process of making Shannon Amen was supposed to take two years but turned out to be a four-year journey, because of the various technical developments and script rewrites.
Despite all the work and all the wait that it took before he could see his film come to life, Dainty said he is now very happy about it. It is indeed a beautiful film that will certainly resonate with the public. It not only tells a touching story, but also redefines the power of art and film, transcending purely temporal issues and giving a new life to important memories.
Shannon Amen will be presented at the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma on Oct. 17, at the Cinémathèque Québécoise, in the national short films competition. Chris Dainty will also host one of the free Artist’s talk of the Sommets du cinéma d’animation, where he will talk about animation filmmaking, at the Cinémathèque, on Oct. 24.