In her short film SÆKÝR, Edith Morris breathes life into folklore-inspired creatures
I’m a chronic doom-scroller, I’ll admit. But I classify most of the time I spend aimlessly scrolling social media as “research” – this is precisely how I came across Edith Morris, a UK-based artist and designer. It was the weird-looking costumes she created that caught my attention first, but it turned out Edith, who goes by Edie, had done an artist residency in Iceland and made a film in the process – to say I was intrigued would be an understatement.
“I have always made films,” says Edie, talking to me from the Green Man festival in Wales where SÆKÝR (Sea Cow) premiered on the big screen. “Growing up that was my go-to way to have fun with friends,” she shares. “My friend and I would just make ridiculous short films, often quite similar to the premise of Sea Cow – someone being chased or very short horror films, which are obviously very cheesy and fun to watch back now.”
Once grown up, Edie decided not to study film and opted for a course in Design for Performance. “I’m so glad I did that. Because now, in my film work, I’m incorporating all those skills, which have allowed me to do the set, costume, design, filming and stuff.”
Similar to many other creatives, Edie’s career has been centered around clients in recent years. She admits she hasn’t done a project for herself in a while. This is what attracted her to an artist residency at the Fish Factory Creative Centre.
A fish factory reimagined
“The Fish Factory is sort of what it says on the tin,” says Edie. Located in Stöðvarfjörður, a remote village in the East Fjords, she’s quick to call it “the middle of nowhere” before correcting herself, “or what I would consider the middle of nowhere.” She goes on to explain, “It’s an abandoned fish factory, which has been amazingly turned into artist studios and workshops. You can do anything from ceramics, print, photography and they even have an amazing analogue synthesiser music studio.”
Artists from diverse backgrounds can apply for a residency lasting 1 to 6 months at the Fish Factory. “You can take any idea to the Fish Factory, and Una and Vinnie, the people who started and run it, would be up for trying to support you and making it happen,” says Edie.
She speaks about her experience at the Fish Factory with profound excitement. Despite the challenging winter and remote location, what truly stood out to her were the people she met during the residency. “Even though we were from completely different areas of the world, the thing that brought us together was the need and will to be in this sort of extreme climate and landscape, which was amazing,” she reflects.
Untamed creatures and landscapes
One of the things about SÆKÝR that immediately catches the viewer’s attention (aside from the fact that the film’s sole cast member, Annika Johnston, plays multiple roles) is that it was entirely created by Edie. She once again underscores the importance of creating a film for herself. “Because I’ve always worked for others like music artists, agencies or clients, I lost sight of making stuff just for me. Maybe that’s why I wanted to direct, edit, animate, record sound, film, among other things. It’s a unique time that I could do it all. Why not?” she ponders.
Originally from Wales, Edie is now based in Cornwall, U.K. – both places are deeply rooted in mythology and folklore. “Many of the stories are quite closely linked to Icelandic folklore as well,” Edie shares. “I was also really interested in the idea that these places with extreme climates, harsh living conditions, throughout history have needed story as a sort of guidance – as in ‘don’t walk down this path’ or ‘don’t go near this animal.’ I think a lot of that must have come from survival and rumour,” she says. “Obviously, the landscapes themselves lend to these amazing tales of trolls and hidden people.”
While residing in the Fish Factory during the cold and wintry months of March and April, Edie encountered some of the harshest weather conditions Iceland had seen in decades. Snowfall and extreme cold were the norm, adding an extra layer of challenge and inspiration to her artistic journey. “One of the weeks there was the coldest winter since 1948. It was so extreme – we had the most snowfall I’ve ever seen and I think some of the people in the village had ever seen,” she shares.
Despite not identifying herself as a traditional costume maker, Edie did spend most of the cold days in the Fish Factory creating costumes. “Finding materials in the East Fjords is not ideal, but I’m a big scavenger,” she chuckles. “I love to find things and make things from it.” Edie believes that creativity flourishes within limitations. In the film, the creatures wear costumes from items such as an old coat, a towel, boiler suits, and fishing ropes. The level of craftsmanship is evident; one can hardly discern that the costumes were made from various pieces found around the Fish Factory. On the contrary, regardless of their interest in folklore, viewers would be drawn to the film simply because of these eccentric, flashy and unique costuming.
Seeds of inspiration
SÆKÝR was shot on film with a clockwork Super 8 camera – the first time Edie worked with this medium. “I recorded all of the sounds on a cassette recorder which Vinnie from the Fish Factory gave me,” Edie explains. “It’s a very buzzy and clunky old machine, but I loved recording the sounds and then re-listening to them back in the UK.”
One might think that the film limits how you can interact with what’s in the frame, but Edie will prove you wrong. “There wasn’t really a narrative of such that I wanted to follow,” she says. “I wanted it to be a showcase for the costumes, to play around with camera trickery and scale – to show the costumes really close and far away.”
Edie lists several things when asked about inspiration, including old 70s films and Chinese horror sci-fi TV from the 80s. “I’m a huge Spaghetti Western fan,” Edie says. With SÆKÝR, she wanted to pay homage to some of her favourite films, like Picnic at Hanging Rock and A Trip to the Moon. Music-wise, Edie took heavy inspiration from a 70s folk-horror kids’ TV show, Children of the Stones.
Edie and pals
SÆKÝR was filmed at the end of Edie’s residency when she, along with two friends, rented a car and drove as far south as they could. “We stayed in hostels and filmed in the most amazing locations that Iceland has to offer,” she shares.
“My favourite thing about film is that I will always have a memory of my time in Iceland,” Edie shares. “Especially that amazing road trip with two really good pals I probably will not see for a very long time, but we’ll all have this thing to remember – that road trip and how much fun and silliness we had,” she says. “Maybe we will all meet up in Iceland again for round two.”
SÆKÝR will premiere online at grapevine.is on September 1.
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