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Inside Dirty Little Animals with director J. L. McLean

By Sheroog Kubur, September 1 2022

After weeks of workshopping, filming and creative juices flowing, NUTV’s Student Film Festival is fast arriving. The festival will be composed of submissions and the results of their summer workshop series. One of the films premiering is Dirty Little Animals directed by J. L. McLean, the perfect blend between horror and the exploration of female friendships, all told within the span of around 10 minutes. 

The premise of Dirty Little Animals is simple enough — four university students decide to go on a camping trip to commemorate their friendship after the passing of another friend. McLean cites the series Yellowjackets, Netflix original The Ritual, and Julia Ducournau’s Raw as inspirations. They also credit their experiences on social media platform Tumblr as motivation behind the film, stating they “need to make something for the Tumblr girls.”

If those titles don’t ring any bells, they’re the most horrific kinds of horror. Yellowjackets and The Ritual are stories of young groups of friends trying to survive while being stranded in the wilderness with something sinister lurking in the trees. Raw is a graphic film following a vegetarian’s descent into a dark family legacy. Suddenly, the original premise becomes much more sinister. 

“I want people to take it as a juxtaposition between beauty and horror, the complexities that exist between female friendships and relationships that need to have an expiration date that people try to maintain,” McLean said about what their vision was for the film. 

The creation of the film was done through NUTV’s summer workshop series, where volunteers were able to direct and produce a short film from start to finish. This meant that the process of directing, writing and editing a film from start to finish was a first for many participants, including McLean. 

“I do a lot of freelance work, so working with a team of people and having to take everyone’s schedules and merge it into a two-day shoot was a lot, but it was exciting,” they said about the creation of the film. 

The freelance work mentioned takes the form of short-term film festival challenges or projects for classes. It includes Girls in Film and TV, a program dedicated to providing young femme-identifying and non-binary filmmakers guidence in the craft, and Calgary Underground Film Festival’s 48-Hour Film Challenge. 

“Everything I’ve done was very compacted, you didn’t have a lot of time to sit with it,” McLean said reflecting on their experiences. “But with this one, I’ve seen this footage a million times — I’ve watched it, I’ve seen it happen when we were on set — but now I’m actually sitting and taking it in and I think this is gonna be sick.”

However, McLean had been interested in film long before participating in any challenges or festivals. They recall making stop-motion shorts similar to Coraline as one of their earliest experiences with film. Throughout high school they transitioned between different filmmaking aspects, including screenwriting, makeup, costuming and directing. During their time in university, they opened the Vimeo page SadVampFilms as a record of their assignments that have taught them different aspects of filmmaking, ultimately all contributing to the creation of Dirty Little Animals

“I am hoping that I get a very strong visceral reaction — I want people to pass out, throw up or walk out of the theatre,” McLean says about the reaction they hope to get from the film. 
Dirty Little Animals will premiere as part of NUTV’s Student Film Festival on Sept. 15. In the words of McLean, coming out and watching a film in a cinema is an underappreciated experience and this festival offers a prime opportunity to do so. Add in the chance to support local directors and you have a perfect September evening planned.

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