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Interview with Gridlock director Ian Hunt Duffy

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The National Student was given the opportunity to speak to Ian Hunt Duffy, the director of 2016’s intense short film, Gridlock.

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The Irish director, who also made 2009’s The Euthanizer, has received praise for Gridlock at various film festivals across Ireland, picking up multiple best short film awards. Duffy spoke to us about some of Gridlock’s themes as well as the importance of short films as a medium.

When it came to the inspirations for the film, Duffy talked about how he and the film’s writer, Darach McGarrigle, were fans of television shows The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Duffy talks about how they "managed to fit in a huge amount of tension and suspense in a 20-minute episode” and that he and McGarrigle “wanted to see if we could achieve that with a short film and create an exciting mystery for an audience to solve.”

On the main themes of Gridlock, Duffy was able to elaborate on a lot of the film’s outlook on society as well as its apparent social commentary. He said, “Gridlock is about paranoia and mob mentality taking over, and how dangerous prejudices and stereotyping can be.” He goes on to talk about how, throughout the film, “we see how easy it is for people to turn on each other when they’re scared and panicking” as well as how the character’s rally together to “pick on those they see as weak or different.” Duffy noted that this feature is particularly relevant now, in the current political climate.

Although the film appears to include people from several different parts of society, Duffy insists that this was not done purposely. “There's certainly a satirical element to it where you have different parts of Irish society coming together, and the traffic jam as a setting was a good way to throw together these people who wouldn't normally interact.” The director instead said that the character’s backgrounds and interactions were more based around the idea that they were “united by their fear and suspicion” of one another and that although they have come together, it is for a far more negative reason.

Part of what makes Gridlock great is how its confined location contributes to the film's overall feel. When questioned on whether shooting at such a location helped add to the intensity of the film, Duffy answered “Definitely. The tighter and more restricted road that we ended up using, with walls on both sides, really boxed us and the characters in even further and informed the way we shot the film. I wanted the characters to feel a sense of claustrophobia throughout the story even though they’re outdoors.” He went on to explain how cinematographer Narayan Van Maele and himself got as close to the actors and the action as possible in order to utilise the space and “help exaggerate this oppressive feeling.”

After Gridlock’s success at various film festivals in Ireland, Duffy has stated his intent to continue to direct more short films in the future. “I have a few other short scripts that I am eager to direct, so hopefully I will be moving forward on one of those later this year. But I am also developing a feature film project with Darach that I’m very excited about. It’s another thriller set in a single location, where a group of characters must fight to survive.”

On short film’s as a medium, Duffy believes that they are perfect for helping “discover new talent and develop up-and-coming filmmakers and writers.” He says that they challenge writers to tell “impactful and engaging” stories in a limited amount of time and that the format “forces you to be creative and distill your story down to its bare necessities”. He also states that the distribution of short films to the mainstream is getting much better with “more and more platforms emerging online that are championing short films.”

With regards to his own favourite short film, Duffy chose Simon Elis’ 2006 film Soft saying that “it’s a great example of how to build tension in a short space of time. Ellis does a brilliant job.”

Hopefully, we will see more from Duffy in the future as Gridlock continues to pick up awards at each festival it is played at.

The director can be found on Twitter @ianhuntduffy and on Instagram @ianhighdefinition.

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