Toronto After Dark 2016 Profile: Dianne Bellino

“I wanted to create a world where the emotional and psychological experience of the main character — a kind of rawness, vulnerability, and imperfection — was really visible and upfront.”

“The Itching”

Film: The Itching

The Itching is a short film about a shy wolf who tries to befriend a group of hip, party-loving bunnies but finds that her body is in revolt. Though the wolf longs to connect with this enthralling group of strangers, she is overwhelmed with anxiety and descends into obsessive itching.

The Itching has screened at several film festivals already in 2016, including: Sundance Film Festival, Fantastic Fest, Fantasia International Film Festival, Independent Film Festival Boston, Maryland Film Festival, Guanajuato International Film Festival, Hamptons Film Festival, Animatou International Animation Festival, and more. It has racked up a number of awards as well, including the Debra Hill Film Grant from Women in Film LA, Best Short Animation at Sarasota Film Festival, the Grand Jury Prize at Nashville Film Festival, Best Short Animation at Athens International Film Festival, and the Bullet Award at Columbia Gorge Film Festival.

You can see The Itching at this year’s Toronto After Dark, screening as part of Shorts After Dark at 3:30pm on October 15th. GET YOUR TICKETS HERE.

“The Itching”

TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF AND HOW YOU GOT INVOLVED WITH FILMMAKING.

Dianne Bellino: I live in New York City and work at Pratt Institute (an art school) in Brooklyn. From the time I was little I wanted to be a fiction writer. I studied Creative Writing in college and loved writing but was worried that a life of too much isolation might not be a good idea. So after graduation, I switched to film.

I learned film in a really DIY way, with a cheap wind-up 16mm film camera, making films with my boyfriend and sister and close friends. A little later I went to a grad program in film, though it largely focused on experimental filmmaking. After grad school, I worked in the film and television industry for a few years. So, even though I’m a narrative filmmaker, I’ve come upon it in a roundabout way, and am influenced by a lot of different things (visual art and music, as well as fiction writing and film).

TELL US A BIT ABOUT THE ITCHING. WHERE DID THE IDEA COME FROM?

DB: The Itching was developed around the image of the blue wound in the Wolf’s leg. That was an image that I was thinking about that I told Adam about that resonated with both of us (Adam Davies is the animator and my main collaborator on The Itching).

Besides the image of the blue wound, I knew that I wanted to write a script that dealt with vulnerability and anxiety, particularly social anxiety, the simultaneous longing for and fear of connection. I wanted to create a world where the emotional and psychological experience of the main character — a kind of rawness, vulnerability, and imperfection — was really visible and upfront.

Being so emotional with humans in a live action script would have been too serious and melodramatic… there was something very fun and playful about the thought of being so emotional with a tiny clay wolf and bunnies!

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO CREATE A FILM USING CLAYMATION AS OPPOSED TO LIVE ACTION OR ANOTHER FORM OF ANIMATION?

DB: This project was conceived as an animation because though I frequently work in live action, I wanted to make something handmade and also to collaborate with Adam, and he is an animator.

Adam and I spoke about using clay from the beginning. We had both made super short videos in clay animation previously, and thought that its raw, visceral quality would be fun to experiment with and appropriate for expressing the kinds of strong emotions and hybrid tone I knew would be in the script.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO ANTHROPOMORPHIZE ANIMALS INSTEAD OF USING HUMAN CHARACTERS?

DB: I think I used animal characters for the same reason many fairy tales use animal characters — to try to get at something universal, and to try to appeal to people’s heart and instincts over their intellect/logic.

HOW DO YOU FEEL THE FILM BENEFITS FROM BEING DIALOGUE-FREE?

DB: The lack of words forced us to express everything visually, physically, and aurally. So there is a lot of mood and information in the costumes, sets, lighting, camera angles, music, timing, as well as in the expressions and movements of the characters. So, hopefully the audience having to ‘sense’ or experience our film more so than process dialogue helps with the goal of connecting with people’s instincts and emotions, over their rational brain.

WITH SUCH A LONG PRODUCTION PERIOD AND SO MANY COMPONENTS TO THIS FILM, WHAT WAS THE MOST CHALLENGING PART OF REACHING COMPLETION?

DB: I don’t think I could pick the most challenging thing because… financially, emotionally, technically, creatively, logistically, interpersonally — it was all super challenging!!! Seven years is a long time to spend on a film. And as it was mostly just Adam and I during those years, it’s a long time for two people to be in a creative collaboration, working in a DIY fashion in windowless basements and studios on an ambitious, organic project. Working on The Itching alternated between being terrifying and joyful, between being so stressful you could punch a wall out — to being goofy and fun. It was very intense.

But you know, we’re really happy with the finished film and so thrilled it’s been getting played and we get to share it with people, so what can we say? Except that hopefully each of our next projects will be easier!

TELL US ABOUT WHY YOU ARE A FEMINIST AND WHY IT’S IMPORTANT TO YOUR FILMMAKING.

DB: I’ve been a feminist for a long time. So, I don’t consciously think about feminism in relation to my filmmaking as it’s just a part of who I am, and so is reflected in my filmmaking to different degrees with different projects.

I do really treasure my friendships with other female directors and artists. I find incredible inspiration in their talent and bravery and am so grateful for the support we give each other. It can be lonely as a woman making creative work (and especially lonely as a woman directing), and the glow of friends and/or family is essential.

WHO ARE YOUR FAVOURITE WOMEN WORKING IN THE FILM INDUSTRY?

DB: An early inspiration was Jane Campion. I remember seeing her short film Peel and her first feature Sweetie and just being blown away. Current favorites are Andrea Arnold, Lynne Ramsay, Lucretia Martel, and Kelly Reichardt.

IF A MOVIE ABOUT YOUR LIFE WERE CREATED, WHO WOULD STAR AS YOU AND WHAT GENRE WOULD IT BE?

DB: It would be an experimental film that didn’t have much of a plot but had a lot of heart. And there would be various people and things that starred, including a dog and a seashell.

IF YOU WERE REINCARNATED AS A AN ICE CREAM FLAVOUR, WHAT WOULD IT BE??

DB: I like that this question has two question marks, marking it important! I’d be raspberry sorbet, in honor of Prince.

WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON NEXT? WILL YOU CONTINUE TO DIRECT?

DB: Right now I’m doing a lot of writing… for a live action short and live action feature, and also an animated short (hand-drawn animation). In June 2017, I plan to shoot the live action short.

I love directing, and I’ll continue to do it as long as I still feel that way. You never know where life’s going to take you, but right now it’s on.

RECOMMEND ONE #MUFFAPPROVED FILM FOR OUR BLOG READERS:

DB: Morvern Callar (dir. Lynne Ramsay)

“The Itching” poster

Follow The Itching’s official website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for up-to-date info on the film.


Lisa Gallagher is the Producer of The MUFF Society in Toronto and the Social Media Coordinator for Toronto After Dark Film Festival. She is a lover of cats, carbs, and laying down.

Follow her on Instagram and Letterboxd.