~ Jelle Meys ~

Review: 10th Ó Bhéal Poetry Film Competition & Winner

Still image: James E Kenward – Borne

Lockdown and pandemic experiences have thoroughly honed and expanded Ó Bhéal’s experience of presenting events online (helped by their growing collection of technical kit that they have been fortunate to acquire over the last few years). The 10th International Poetry-Film Competition, and the wider Winter Warmer Festival it is now part of, was fully hybrid with all events running in-person at the beautiful Nano Nagle Place in Cork (Ireland), and simultaneously live-streamed. All events are available to watch indefinitely online.

The competition selected 30 films shown in two screenings. I left each screening with excitement, and a variety of films and filmmakers that I wanted to watch again or know more about. These are some of my personal highlights:

Selkie (Director Marry Waterson) had an unusual approach to image repetition. Rockin’ Bus Driver (Directors Mary Tighe and Cormac Culkeen) had a very satisfying, meaty voice in the soundtrack and a simple but effective graphic treatment of the visual material, while Borne by James E. Kenward had an incredible delivery of the voice – the pace and the pairing with the music were brilliant. The success of this partnership is perhaps explained by a YouTube of the recording session where you can watch James performing the text alongside the pianist. A brilliant way to create the soundtrack if feasible for a project. I particularly liked the lettering in There’s a Certain Slant of light (Director Susan McCann) – text cut from leaves and cast by shadows, and the words accompanied by just music. And as a final contrast to the varied treatments of sound in the selected films, there was Janet Lees’ powerful but silent film Descent.

Still image: Susan McCann – There’s a Certain Slant of light )

The effort involved in putting together a festival can never be underestimated, and Paul Casey and Colm Scully have done a brilliant job of making the selections as well as organising the event and keeping everything running smoothly and technically well throughout the day. My only desire as an in-person attendee is to be able to have more awareness of who in the room were filmmakers (name badges, stickers, or something more imaginative perhaps?) and little bit more time specifically programmed in to be able to meet and chat to them. Filmmakers were introduced and invited to stand at the end of the screening, but it is difficult to register everyone’s face (especially in a semi-dark room) and I think attendees do need the reward of interaction to make the in-person experience special. I noticed that the finalists of the All-Ireland Poetry Slam later in the day had the opportunity for a group photograph, and I think this would be an appreciated chance for the film competition too, for those that were there on the day.

Still image: Jelle Meys – La luna asoma

The winner of the competition was announced as La luna asoma (The moon appears), an animation by Jelle Meys of a poem by Federico García Lorca. I contacted Jelle to congratulate him on his win and ask him a few questions …

ME: The poem is read in Spanish, was subtitled in English, and you are Belgian. How fluent are you in Spanish? Were you aware of Federico García Lorca’s poem in a translation in your mother tongue, or in English? Which language version of the poem did you go to in your mind when you were thinking about the imagery for your animation?

JELLE: My mother tongue is Dutch, as I’m from the Flemish part of Belgium. When I decided to animate a poem, as a kind of practice, I hadn’t chosen a specific poem yet. So I just browsed through the poetry collections I own. One of those is an anthology of Federico García Lorca, with both the original poems in Spanish and their Dutch translations on the opposite pages. It was necessary to have the Dutch translation to ‘get the meaning’ (which is obviously relative with such metaphoric poetry), but I also wanted to stay true to the rhythm and the sounds of the original Spanish version. I can grasp quite a bit of Spanish, especially when written, because of my knowledge of French.

ME: In a YouTube video I saw, where you talk about your work (for another festival I think?), you mention that you are relatively new to animation but you have long been an illustrator … the sequence with the sea and the swimmers was just beautiful. Did you have a clear idea of how you wanted the movement of the bodies to happen before you began the animation?

JELLE: That YouTube talk was indeed for another festival, in Mumbai. Before getting into the animation, I drew a simple storyboard. So I did have some idea of what I wanted it to look like. But in the making of this film I learned a lot about animating, technically, which altered and influenced the final look. The swimmers sequence was a particularly tough one, because for that part I did have a clear vision in mind, and I didn’t want to compromise on it.

ME: What was your thought process on the colour palette that you chose?

JELLE: The colour palette was also very clear to me, pretty much right from the start. I’ve always loved the combination of brown and blue and considered it fitting for the somewhat melancholic tone of the poem. I also thought that a limited colour palette wouldn’t distract the viewer too much from the actual poem.

ME: The music is a perfect accompaniment. Was this pre-existing and if so, how difficult was it to find? Or was the music written or adapted for the film?

JELLE: My cousin, Michiel De Malsche, happens to be a composer and sound artist. He used samples and recordings from music workshops he had done in the past (hence why he didn’t ask for his name in the credits) and puzzled them together into a mesmerizing soundscape, which perfectly blends with that deep and warm voice of Joaquin Muñoz Benitez (a Spanish man living in Gent, Belgium).


Biography: Jelle Meys lives and works in Sint-Niklaas, Belgium. He studied Illustration and Graphic Design at School of Arts Ghent (2005-2009), where he also got his Teacher’s degree (2010). He currently teaches graphic design and illustration in high school, and works as a freelance illustrator, graphic designer and visual artist. He started taking film and animation classes in 2017, and has been infected with the animation bug ever since.