Langley animator Drew Christie explores homelessness through the eyes of a teenager in his new film “The Beast Inside,” debuting at the Seattle International Film Festival.
The piece is part of a project with Seattle University’s Film and Family Homelessness Project, funded by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The film will show on May 19 at the festival and will be released the same day online.
For Christie, owner of Kalakala Co. in Langley, this was a chance to learn more about a topic he wasn’t familiar with. Christie has created many documentary pieces for several media outlets including The New York Times and The Huffington Post. He said this piece is a more colorful take on his hand-drawn animations than his previous films.
“I hope it brings more awareness to the issue,” he said.
Christie was one of five Seattle-area filmmakers chosen to be part of the family homelessness project. The filmmakers collaborated with each other and learned about homelessness in Washington to tell the stories of thousands of families living without a home.
Christie worked with director Amy Enser to create an animated film from the viewpoint of a teenager in a homeless family. The four-minute film tells the story of Tilawn, living in Everett.
Lindy Boustedt, producer of the project, said the goal is to help people understand issues surrounding homelessness through different forms, such as animation.
“It provides a layer of anonymity by not asking one person to be the face of homelessness,” Boustedt said. “We’re trying to educate people about invisible families, they are closer than we think.”
Boustedt knew about Christie’s work through the film community and asked him directly to apply for the project.
“He has a distinct voice and is talented at telling powerful stories in such a short amount of time. Everything I’ve seen of his, I feel like I hear his message loud and clear in an entertaining way.”
Boustedt worked with Christie and Enser guiding them throughout the process.
“Amy and Drew really wanted this film to break down stereotypes and preconceived notions,” she said.
When someone is on the street, people automatically get a sense of who that person is, Boustedt said. She hopes the film challenges that assumption and brings that person face to face with someone who they may have been suspicious of.
“It really shows a deeper side people may not have a gotten a chance to see,” she said. “I think that is what they set out to do, and they do it well.”
Enser primarily worked on the narrative of the film and said it was hard to choose the main subject to interview.
“It was a tough process because everybody’s story is important,” she said.
She finally chose 19-year-old Tilawn because he represented a demographic of youth that’s underrepresented. For young adults who are just over 18 there aren’t a lot of services; they have aged out of the youth programs and struggle to find guidance, she said.
Christie listened to the audio countless times and began creating his world one layer at a time. He animated scenes Tilawn spoke about, including a bridge he slept under and a nearby Wendy’s where he applied for work.
“He’s a really compelling character who vents about life and his upbringing, but has a positive outlook,” Christie said.
Enser said Christie captured Tilawn realistically with his animation, which struck a deep emotional chord with her.
Christie wanted to grasp the settings of Tilawn’s experience and make the animation realistic, so he spent some time researching the area in person.
In the narrative, Tilawn describes applying for a job at a nearby Wendy’s but was turned down because he looked too intimidating. Christie hopes to show that struggle and shed light on the difficulty of applying for work.
It’s not the easiest thing to go get a job, and is a huge obstacle for some teens, but young people are resilient, Christie learned.
“They keep fighting,” he said.
Enser said she wanted to have the audience question if they would initially judge him, but in the end reflect on the changing perspective of what being homeless means.
“For me, it’s really about disrupting stereotypes,” Enser said. “We chose a subject that kind of fits that superficial stereotype.”
Christie said using the medium of animation makes dense subject material, such as homelessness, more accessible.
“When some things are difficult and intense, this is a way to approach it and view it through open eyes,” he said. “It’s a more digestible method, using moving artwork contrasting with a complex subject and pretty visuals.”
“The Beast Inside”
To watch “The Beast Inside” online visit www.americanrefugees.org on May 19. The film will show the evening of May 19 at the Harvard Exit Theater, 807 E. Roy St., Seattle.