Creating platforms for women in cinema and beyond

Random Acts: Jessica Ashman’s TENDERFOOT

We see young Toni: a girl who has run into the night away from her mother. She navigates her way through a darkened city. A cloak of nighttime has been thrown over the landscape she once knew and it no longer looks or feels the same. She struggles to come to terms with this dislocation, in the same way that she grapples with her feelings towards her mother, who persistently calls her to come home. We are sharply reminded that even in a place you know well, when it’s dark it can feel alien. But the constant light in her hand, ringing at her, acts as a grounding reminder that nothing has changed.

Jessica spoke to me about her inspiration for the film, whose mother told her stories of how she would frequently run away from home to escape a tense relationship with her Jamaican mother. “How she felt when she was out in the city was my inspiration for Toni’s journey in the film, especially how becoming lost or out of your depth can provide a transformative, learning life experience.”

The film uses everyday sounds to create the rhythm of the story. It feels natural, and you become lost in it’s realness. The city itself is a soundscape – for instance the chugging of the trains creating the beat for her adventure, coupled with plinky xylophones and eery tones that round the story.

But what really makes TENDERFOOT special is the use of claymation: a choice that simultaneously reduces the threat and increases the emotional reality. Jessica has worked in animation for nearly 10 years, and it shows. Her understanding of using animation as a form of evoking emotion is faultless. “Really, one of the main reasons I am drawn to animation is that anything is possible; all you have to do is draw or build it, combined with movement and you have a narrative. It really is limitless.”

An ominous shadow follows Toni throughout this 5 minute short, as she tries to navigate the city streets, and get somewhere – wherever it is she is going doesn’t seem to matter. But the shadow is not all that it seems. The shadow is a reminder that you cannot run away from your problems. They catch up with you and entwine you in darkness. It is always better to face them.


TENDERFOOT will be broadcast in the next episode of Random Acts on Mon 4 Sep at midnight on C4

Random Acts strand commissions and curates some 200 creative short films a yearThe third series of the Random Acts TV show is part of a £6m, 3-year partnership between Channel 4 and Arts Council England, dedicated to finding and backing new filmmaking talent across the country and showcasing the best in creative short film. The new series features an international mix of new and established artists and filmmakers, with approx 50% female filmmakers. 

To watch weekly Random Acts selections or explore the entire archive, head to the Random Acts website.

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