While you’re waiting for the last installment of The Hobbit to come out, you might like to check out a new film by newcomer Nye Green, available online this Sunday—for free. The short half-hour film speculatively explores JRR Tolkien’s struggles to overcome the trauma of World War I, the loss of his friends during that war, and how this relates to his writings about Middle-earth. The interview below is from an email conversion I had with Nye, and is followed by pertinent links and the trailer for the film. I plan to follow up with a review of the film this Sunday.
I just watched your short film, Tolkien’s Road, and was impressed by its cinematographic quality, especially for a “school project.” You also found some great actors to play the main roles. Have you been able to screen the movie at festivals as you planned? If so, what responses have you gotten to the film?
Tolkien’s Road has recently been accepted to the Machetanz Arts Festival in Alaska June 2015. The trouble with a 35 minute short film is that you are at the very cusp of being too long to be considered a short. When a festival programer lines up the block of shorts for their particular festival, they are looking to play an hour and a half to two hours worth of short films in one go. If they decide to play a film the length of Tolkien’s Road, that one film could take up a third of their allotted time—six or seven different, much shorter films could be played in that same amount of time. This leaves our film in a difficult place when it comes to festival programming. So, when it came time to send out the second round of festival entries, I decided I wanted to release Tolkien’s Road online before Peter Jackson’s final Hobbit film comes out in December instead. I thought that it was a perfect a time to get the film out there while people are getting excited for The Hobbit and Tolkien is on everyone’s minds. There are also two other bio-pics about Tolkien in development and the festival circuit would have potentially pushed our online release back another year. So I felt it was important to take advantage of this window of time.
The film portrays Tolkien being haunted by his experiences in World War 1, and the characters he created from Middle-earth. How did you come up with the idea for the film?
I started out with this concept of Tolkien interacting with characters from his books. A story began to unfold as I learned more about his life: the death of all of his friends during WWI, the heartbreaking letter sent to him by his doomed friend Geoffrey B. Smith, and his relationship with C.S. Lewis. Within these events I could see a story which I thought might hold a bit of truth about what Tolkien was really going through before beginning to write The Hobbit. In the film, Tolkien’s interaction with the characters from his books is multi-layered. On one level, it is an expression of what all writers go through, living with their characters as a story begins to formulate in their minds. On another level, after experiencing such terrible loss fighting in one of the bloodiest battles of the war, if Tolkien was not suffering from PTSD (the psychological condition was unlabeled at the time), then he was certainly forced to deal with a tremendous amount of pain. I wanted what Tolkien was struggling with internally to be reflected in what was going on around him. This takes shape in the stories he has yet to tell coming to life all around him. Tolkien described humans as sub-creators under God and he spoke of the importance of story in his poem “Mythopoeia” which he wrote to C.S. Lewis who, at the time, called myth worthless. I wanted Middle-Earth to feel real, because to Tolkien I think it was, and in order to tell the story of his life properly that has to be represented.
One minor negative criticism I have of the film is that Tolkien is called “John” throughout the film. From everything I’ve read about him, JRR preferred his second name, Ronald, and those who were close to him called him “Ron,” Ronnie,” or “Tollers.” I would think many fans who have studied his life will find “John” very annoying. (I found it very distracting myself.) How do you respond to this criticism?
Tolkien being called “John” instead of “Ronald”(“Ron”) or “Tollers”(by C.S. Lewis) is an oversight on my part during the researching/writing process. I did not realize the mistake until after the film was shot. Although I am annoyed by the historical inaccuracy I do not believe that it detracts from the film and I beg forgiveness from Tolkien fans who know enough about the Professor to notice the mistake.
I am always happy to promote young filmmakers just getting started. Do you have any plans to continue in this field? Any projects in the works?
I have been passionately pursuing a career in filmmaking ever since I received my first Hi8 DV camera when I was eight years old. My chosen fields are directing, cinematography and screenwriting. Since graduating in April ’14 I have been actively working on sets, learning and honing my skills as well as working on my own projects, including a new feature length screenplay. I recently shot and co-directed another short film titled Searching for Happiness which is currently in post production. I have a lot more films in me, so hopefully you will be seeing my name again soon.