Interview with 2016 joint winner Toby Tatum

Photo of Toby Tatum by Jo Israel

Interview with Toby Tatum

Toby, congratulations on winning this year’s competition! You have been a regular participant at the Swedenborg Film Festival in the past, being shortlisted several times and winning a prize for best sound (for The Sealed World) in the inaugural SFF in 2010—what does it mean to you to now win the competition outright?

Sometimes, making the work I do, in almost total isolation, it can seem like I'm engaged with what might well be an insane project or at least a kind of odd folly. When Mental Space won the prize it seemed, for me, like a blessing on my whole mode of production and the path I'd taken artistically.

And how did you first discover the SFF? What makes it a special festival for you?

Stepping into Swedenborg House in 2010 I knew I'd entered a curious world, one out of step with the one outside. Dim corridors led to chambers crammed with chests of yellowing esoteric manuscripts. Faces stared out from indistinct photographs. The sense of accumulated mystic time was palpable. In the main hall the bust of the unfathomable Swedenborg oversaw the screenings while initiates worked the projectors. Returning to the festival on different occasions I find the thought that has gone into the curation deeply impressive. The visionary works that the programmers continue to unearth suggests that they have developed a distinctly magical concept of film and video.

Your films often peer into forests, undergrowth and subterranean realms - can you tell us a bit more about your choice of locations and their significance to you?

A peculiar atmosphere seems to gather at these often unvisited places, lingering in the hollows of trees or under rocks. Shadows loom as powerful presences. Magic sparkles in the water dripping from secret grottoes. As I wander from the path into the woods the rational mind dissolves as the leaves begin to wrap themselves around me. The caves I crawl into with my camera could be seen as access points to a psychic underworld, and I sense that given the right conditions something might issue forth from the depths.

Can you talk about the role of music in your work and how your collaborations with Abi Fry come into being?

The films present dream states. The music is another conduit to the dream. Abi conjures up her sounds in her lair on the Isle of Skye. Abi is my only constant companion on my strange ongoing mission. We don't meet, nor do we really discuss the film we're working on. I leave it to her to intuit the atmosphere of the piece by herself. Some of the sounds might have direct relation to what is happening onscreen at other times the sound operates as another layer of potential meaning.

Finally, what are you working on now and where can we see your next films?

I am immersed in a new project but its true form has yet to reveal itself to me. A couple of years ago I had a dream where I saw a giant lizard squatting among swaying vibrating foliage. As the leaves of the plants shimmered with otherworldly colours the beast beckoned me forward. Although it didn't literally speak the creature did communicate a message, indicating a possible direction for future work. I await the return of this spirit animal and for further instructions. Until then I continue to work in service to the dream.

Still from Mental Space by Toby Tatum

Toby Tatum, Mental Space

A vision in a dream. Follow a stream of consciousness deep into a world transformed by the shaping spirit of imagination. View the trailer for Mental Space here.

For more on Toby's work, please visit his website