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Hot Docs 2024: Qs à la mode with… Charlie Hamilton James (Billy & Molly: An Otter Love Story)

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In Billy & Molly: An Otter Love Story, director Charlie Hamilton James documents the life-changing friendship that develops between a Scottish man and the ailing river otter he nurses back to health. We posed our Qs à la mode to Charlie, and here’s what he shared!

 

If I had to describe my film using only three adjectives, they would be: Love, connection, beauty.

I decided to make this film because: It was a story that just had to be told. I heard about Billy and his growing friendship with Molly through a mutual friend, and when i finally met them both, realized it was a story that needed telling.

The thing that surprised me most about my film’s subject/topic was: We set out to make a film about a man and a wild otter, and ended up making a film about complex issues of grief and loss, and how connection and love are the most powerful healers.

The toughest part of the shoot was: Waiting for Molly to show up was probably the most difficult part of the process. She is a wild otter and does exactly what she wants. Sometimes she’d come visit Billy twice a day, sometimes we wouldn’t see her for weeks. Which meant a huge amount of down time — which is always frustrating when making a film. But I have to say, I’m struggling to find anything that was particularly challenging as the whole process was just so lovely for everyone involved.

My favorite moment/scene/sequence in my film is: In the middle of the film, there’s a scene with Billy and Molly going out in the rowing boat at dawn. The light was so extraordinary that morning, and Molly showed up at exactly the right time. I was shaking controlling the drone while I filmed it, as I knew that I couldn’t screw it up. When we eventually cut it to Erland Cooper’s extraordinary track that he wrote for it, it just sang. Of everything I have ever shot or created in my life, it is the thing I am most proud of. I well up every time I watch it.

My most invaluable piece of doc-making equipment was/is: A small camera. Although we used a variety of cameras to shoot the film, including REDs and drones, most of it was shot hand held on a Panasonic S1H. Having the ability to move and reframe and not get bogged down with heavy equipment, allowed me to cover action as it happened, whilst also not bursting the emotional bubbles of the moments.

One piece of documentary-filmmaking advice I’d like to share with aspiring documentarians is: Emotion is everything.

 

Want to check out Charlie’s film, or just learn more about it?
Get the scoop, and your tickets, here!

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