The British Gymnastics Association
'Walk Tall re-invents the public
information film and improved my daily posture, through perfect unison of character and form.
As George would say, 'Well, there we are'. Quite wonderful.'
"A strong and original story with
an engaging and charismatic central character,
told with good humour and affection towards its subject.
The filmmaking style evolves gradually throughout with creative endeavour,
climaxing in a highly memorable and innovative tracking shot,
which very much lifted the piece into a cinematic realm."
Film London's 2011 Best of Borough Awards Jury:
BAFTA-winning producer Stephen Woolley, Film critic Fionnuala Halligan,
Chris Collins (BFI Film Fund), Producer & LFS graduate Olivier Kaempfer
All set for the London Olympics...1948
portrait of Olympic gymnast George Weedon.
Above: 85 year old George, (not stuck) up a tree.
The film focuses on his views about physical posture, but also paints a portrait of an amazing man and his positive attitude towards life.
Hounds-tooth. George just wont give up!
Although 90 George is still "challenging himself" and still clearly radiates all the elegance, poise and grace of a gymnast.
Bringing everyday objects into the gym hall, he demonstrates that we don't need to fork out for expensive gym memberships in order to be happy and healthy.
George feels that a bit of self sufficiency is a very good thing - that we shouldn't rely on expensive apparatus to get fit.
Instead we should focus on and listen to our bodies. He suggests that we learn some basic anatomy so that we can understand how different activities impact on our frame - and our well-being.
Once this is understood George maintains that things can be fine-tuned and adjusted through a series of simple and affordable exercises - exercises that do not have to be done in a gym.
He strongly believes that the key to good health is focusing on, achieving and maintaining good posture - and we can do this by utilising all sorts of everyday objects.
"If you haven't got good posture you're going to nullify all the hard work you do in the gym."
"Whether you're working, whether your exercising or just relaxing at home, you've really got to have good posture to get the best out of your body."
George is living proof that if we resolve to be mindful of our posture during everyday situations we can achieve some really quite dramatic results.
A few notes about the film's structure:
I worked hard to balance the instructional content of the film with more biographical elements.
George spent many years working as a builder. The graphics resemble that of DIY/exercise manuals.
George is far from "stuck in the past" (he's a very optimistic, forward thinking bloke), but he does have some amazing stories to tell and so I created a structure whereby we also learn more about him through a series of animated flashbacks and archive photos.
These illustrate how the young George, (unable to afford a gym membership), transformed his back garden into a gymnasium and then went on to qualify for the 1948 Olympics despite the loss of a kidney, tuberculosis, and a broken back!
George (far left). British Olympic Team - 1947
Kate & George:
Kate (the filmmaker) is an animator with pretty bloody awful posture.
Like many people she spends many hours a day slumped in front of a computer.
George disapproves. Not of technology as such - but more of mans' willingness to let it dominate their lives and ultimately have a negative effect on their appearance and general well-being.
George: "Well I just feel that man wasn't designed to sit in front of a machine like this for 8 hours a day... staring like that"
George is very pro "machines" being used to help folks - but it all comes down to self sufficiency again with him. He feels that it's unwise to rely on something that may not always be there.
I didn't want to push him on this subject - I like to think that the visuals have that side of things covered - I could talk for hours about what I like about the aesthetics of gymnastics - but I'm not going to waffle on about it here - got to leave room for some pics!
Last of the summer games
I first met George in 2009 at Vault, an event run by the East End Film Festival's Alison Poltock.
He was 89 years old and spinning on his back.
George was joined by three other awe inspiring guests that day:
Ron Cooper (boxer)
Robert Collins (rower)
and John Parlett (Runner: 800m)
All four men had been invited to speak about their role in the London 1948 Olympics.
To me George radiated 'gymnast'. He had such elegance, strength, poise and grace.
What immediately interested me was that the way he carried himself gave him an almost sculptural quality.
He seemed set apart from his surroundings in that he wasn't letting them have an adverse effect on his posture.
I'd never felt so physically inadequate in all my life (and that's saying something).
This all started me thinking about the stark aesthetics of gymnastics in which I see a lovely melancholic quality.
In fact I love a bit of bleakness so much that I was very careful to make sure that things didn't tip too far that way during the film.
The last thing I wanted was to make George appear to be a lonely old man cast adrift on a sea of blue gym-mats, because that he very much isn't!
But - I just couldn't help wanting to capture that sense of feeling well - almost naked out there alone on a stark stage - being judged.
George of course copes with all this sort of thing very well, which is one of the things that drew me to him in the first place.
Anyway, I was really relieved that George and fellow gymnasts liked the way the animation looked.
It's minimal in style, but I hope that it says more about George's incredible inner-strength than anything else.
(To be honest I think they might also say something about the production schedule and budget too!)
Luckily for me I think George's voice could give warmth to pretty much anything.
Silly Old Sod
I did a deal with the silly old sod, (his words not mine). He agreed to help me improve my (bloody awful) posture if I'd illustrate his book of affordable, simple and fun exercises for kids.
Children's welfare and fitness is really close to George's heart. He spent many years teaching gym class at schools in the Richmond area.
He's not another old duffer bemoaning technology and change, he just thinks that hunching over PCs and TVs and phones and suchlike should be balanced with other activities otherwise our kids are going to grow up a bit wonky.
So anyway, George started giving me a few posture lessons, during which we'd chat and he's tell me about his life.
The stories he was telling me were so inspiring. I wanted to share them with the world and so began starting to shape an idea for a short documentary.
George is the little boy at the top, the youngest member of Sheen TA gymnastics club at just 14 years old (1934)
In the film he tells us that he's been challenging himself since he was a youngster.
For example, he used to chase after buses on his bicycle.
One day whilst enjoying this game he happened to notice a workman in a manhole...
" I saw the bus and then looked up and saw a man in the middle of the road...
The bus driver apparently didn't see him and he was about 20 yards away and I called out - Oi!
He did what I now know is a dive-roll out of it." (The manhole)
I suppose I saved his life. He started to thank me and I said: Where did you learn that roll?
He said: I go down to the (TA) gym.
And I just said: Could I join?
So that's where I started off in my gymnastics.
In December 2010 I decided to follow George's advice and challenge myself.
I wrote a film proposal (for Walk Tall) which won me a place on the Eastern Edge training scheme run by Film London.
The month-long course (led by award winning film maker Anton Califano) is designed to help first time filmmakers make their first short.
Anyway at the end of said course we pitched our proposals in front of a panel of judges.
I was one of three lucky people who went on to win some funding and support.
Well even with the funding provided it was of course a real challenge to make a short ten min doc, but as the film was a portrait of someone who made their own gym equipment it seemed fitting that Walk Tall should have a bit of a hand-made quality!
"People can use everyday objects in the home and they can use them everyday to maintain good posture and fitness."
He had so many stories to tell - and so many tips to share - the biggest challenge I faced was probably having to let go of some real gems just to make the film's structure work.
Stories like this one:
George training for the 1946 British Championships.
In the '46 Championships George not only was the first bloke to put the splits in his routine (they were considered a woman's move) - he also was the first to wear shorts instead of trousers (his reasoning being that he trained in shorts - and they were comfy - so why not).
Anyway, the combination of shorts and splits had many of the judges up in arms and wanting to disqualify him (!)
Of course he triumphed George-style. He wasn't disqualified and now the splits are a mandatory part of the men's routine in all championship competitions including the Olympics.
"And you can wear shorts".
This tip did make it in:
George: "Well a good thing really is before you lock your door at night is to put your hands over the top fog the door and just hang down a bit and thats a really a good remedial way of getting your back nice and loose and strong"
How the vignette effect above was achieved:
shot the live-action in the gym over two days. Later on I visited
George to record the dialogue for the animated sequences in a more
relaxed setting (just the two of us at his son's house in Nottingham).
His anecdotes were obviously all great animate-able stuff but I was feeling that there just wasn't
enough live-action George in the film and that there also just wasn't
enough exercise tips...I didn't want things to swing too far into
exercise video, so I needed a way of keeping said tips quite pithy.
I decided to create a sort of exercise/DIY manual style vignette effect - where we see both George and the bite-size animated tips simultaneously. Trouble was - we'd need some kind of blue/green-screen set-up to achieve this and we had neither the time or money to hire one.
Well - I ended up having the honour of working alongside the maker of homemade gym equipment, rigging up a makeshift blue-screen using a cagoule and his walking-stick.
"Later on Chris Forrester keyed out the bg - adding the orange circle graphic behind George's head."
Make do and mend
At the time of filming the UK animation industry was on its last legs. We were hit by the recession and also the lack of tax breaks (all our work was being sent abroad).
In the film George tells us that as a young man he was incredibly upset by the fact that he just couldn't afford to go to the gym.
I'm not saying that we have things quite as bad as folks in post-war austerity Britain - but us animators are struggling to earn even minimum wage - and so I could identify with George's situation.
Happily in March 2012 the UK industry was granted tax breaks, so I hope we're all going to be okay.
Anyway enough about poor old little me and back to George!:
Young George was coming on leaps and bounds and soon wanted to start using equipment that the Sheen TA gym club just couldn't provide.
A friend of his recommended he enrolled at Richmond Polytechnic, which had better gym facilities.
He did and was lucky enough to be coached by ex-British gymnastics champion (name to be inserted!)
Sadly this wasn't for long…In 1938 George had no choice but to quit.
George: "Eventually I had to give up the gym. I hadn't got enough money for the bus fare and it really used to upset me.
"Well I went in the garden and I just thought for a moment and I thought well - the only answer is to try to make some gym apparatus myself.
I had a tree and I got an iron curtain rail and I put one end in the tree and another in a brick wall and that's how I started learning ring work.
I managed to get hold of a metal rod - inserted it into the wall and that became my high bar.
a gate you can do a flank vault or a through vault...
I used to do handstands on flowerpots - hand stands on gates handstands on piles of bricks - on awnings and billboards - on all sorts of things.
"Really it would have been nicer to go to the gym but doing all those handstands improved my posture so I could go onto more advanced things in the future."
George: "Well I was getting better at gymnastics and decided to enter a talent competition
And I was doing back-flips along a stage that I didn't realise was slanting.
I tripped on the floodlights - fell on the grand piano and everybody clapped (laughs)
It tuned out I'd broken a small bone in my back.I suppose (laughs) I'm just lucky!
Well I started training hard and entering competitions and eventually got to where I wanted to be.
Well I suppose it was more or less the same as any competition and I wasn't affected by the aura and I just got on with it."
Well I lost the use of my legs and I had to have an operation.
While I was in hospital they found out that I had TB and as a result of that I had a kidney removed.
After that I started exercising again and got back to normal.
George: "Challenge Yourself...When I'm at the bus stop sometimes I say:
'George you're an old man - stand up and present yourself!'
And for ten minutes I stand like that …and when your at home watching the television you want to re-asses yourself and think:
'Oh I'm a bit round shouldered - I'll sit upright.' "
George: "You can use all sorts of objects at home to help you improve your posture."
George: "I'm coming up to 91 at this time and I know I cant do all the things I used to do but I still keep trying and I don't want to give in.
I feel once I give in, I really will go down.
There's one movement I do occasionally just to test my self … perhaps you'd like to see it. Maybe this is the last time I'll be able to do it. I don't know...
But I'm still challenging my self so I'm going to have a go!"
(He throws stick away and spins on back)
"I can't do it as well as I used to do but there we are."
(He gets back up chair)
"…And fortunately I can still go along like that…get up there and I say, 'you're a silly old bugger at your age but still - don't give in otherwise that's it!' "
Bit more about that track
I'm so chuffed that people liked the tracking shot.
There was lots that I set out to achieve with it.
I'll spare you the essay but here's a few notes designed to impress potential funders/employers/admirers:
I have to admit that I was a little bit inspired by the library scene in Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire.
Since the film is so much about posture I wanted to at least touch upon the feeling of suddenly remembering to "adjust yourself" (for want of a better phrase!)
To me this moment feels almost cued by an external prompt...perhaps a kindly spirit?
George sees the beauty in everyone and wants to help make the world an even more of a beautiful place.
Here he is enjoying laying his healing hands on the already very beautiful Chloe Hopkins!
After George speaks to Chloe I cut in closer to him -after 2 mins 30 of continuous tracking, time and space is disrupted and the tighter shot also helps him appear to walk off the edge of the film (Tex Avery-style!)
As he exits the frame (which so far has been very composed around him) I also swapped to non-sync sound to accentuate his - well - 'ascent' as he gives us his final tip.
I wanted to create a sense that he's well died (!) -and also to infer that this man is more than the film /portrait could ever describe.
As George doesn't pause before his exit I also like to think that viewers sense that this man can't be stopped!
He just can't be captured - that almost as George chases the green bus as a boy - what drives him on is always just out of his grasp - and so in a sense as I am inspired by George, I like to think that he's always setting the pace - one step ahead of us all.
Then there's of course the whole hero returns thing - which was so interesting for me as a first time "writer" (well - more 'structure-er'!) to see working.
I have to admit that it's very nice to watch it with an audience as the excitement and tension builds - as if people are watching a gymnast do their routine - willing them not to incur any faults.
As we approach the end of the sequence the silliness also builds in three beats (three vignettes with escalating sillyness levels) which is my comedy side needing to end on a laugh - but also I think a fitting way to end the film as George is cheeky and playful - there was no two ways about it - I felt I just had to try to leave people smiling
I just look at it and think "shit! why couldn't the bloody washing machine work on the best take!"
(And of course George loves taking the mick about this!)
It's been really encouraging to receive praise for the more poetic/lyrical moments in the film like the track.
And finally I must also thank DoP Ewan Mulligan as we spent quite some time together planning it all.
"Turned out alright in the end"
I wanted to attempt a portrait of someone I've come to care a great deal about, and can't tell you how much I've enjoyed the process which led to this film.
What's been especially rewarding is that now it's finished there's been some very poetic responses to something that really did come from the heart.
For instance, as a direct result of making it, it now looks like George may be passing the torch to me in the 2012 Olympic relay - which is obviously a bit nice!
We've yet start work on George's book. We're hoping to find someone interested in helping us create that and/or develop similar projects.
Primarily he wants to promote his ideas about affordable ways to stay fit and healthy as teaching is one of his passions.
George has tons of ideas about what he wants to do next. I'm being thoroughly exploited here. Somebody call the union!
George: "If you make up your mind and stick to a routine and don't give in you'll be on your way and you'll say I'm glad I listened to that silly old man George and by God he didn't half help me"
Film London's Best of Borough Awards
2nd prize & special jury commendation
55th BFI London Film Festival
London, United Kingdom
October 2011 (Film Festival)
London, United Kingdom
5th British Short Film Festival
Audience prize - best doc.
London, United Kingdom
Lorraine Bowen's Comfort Zone
An Arts Council funded installation.
Nightingale Theatre, Brighton, United Kingdom
Lower East Side Film Festival
New York, USA
Clare Valley Film Festival
Clare Valley, Australia
Palm Springs, USA
Palm Springs ShortFest
No public screening as we're already in a Palm Springs festival.
Athens Film Festival
LA United Film Festival
Los Angeles, USA
New York United Film Festival
New York, USA
Loch Ness Film Festival
Loch Ness, Scotland
London United Film Festival
East End Film Festival
Film screened as part of day celebrating George & fellow 1948 Olympians.
Stratford, London, UK
Shortlisted (Best doc)
60th Melbourne International Film Festival
Feel Good Film Festival
Los Angeles, USA
San Francisco Untied Film Festival
San Francisco USA
Los Angeles, USA
Chicago Untied Film Festival
Finalist (top 3 films)
Overall winner to be judged by Danny Boyle
Winner - Best Non-fiction
Cannes in a Van
Nominated Best Director & Best Documentary
Tulsa United Film Festival
Winner Audience Award
Heartland Film Festival
Leeds International Film Festival
Competition - Best Short
St. Louis Film Festival
St. Louis USA
One of only four films selected
to represent Leeds International Film Festival
London Lift Off
Winner - Best Doc
East London UK
Best of Lottery Shorts
BFI, BBC and Arts Council England
May - October 2012
Best of Lottery Shorts
BFI, BBC and Arts Council England
May - October 2012
London film School Special
The Frontline Club
Liverpool Lift Off
Fargo film Festival
Winner: Best Short Doc
Cannes in a Van Special
'Film of the Month'
Judge: Danny Boyle
Thank you for being so bloody nice about my film.