Harry Sanna Talks About "Yellow Jack"


Tell us about yourself. What inspired you to become a filmmaker?

I landed in the filmmaking industry initially through my work as a journalist working out of South Asia and the Middle East. I started out as a feature writer before picking up a camera. I quickly came to admire the multi-faceted approach to storytelling that film fostered through documentary productions I worked on in places like Afghanistan and Iraq during the height of America’s occupation in those theatres.


Talk about your last work. What are some of the challenges you faced during production?

Aside from the day-to-day travails of working in the commercial film industry, as I do these days, my latest work I’m most proud of is the short film Yellow Jack that recently won in competition at Tokyo International Short Film Festival.


Director HARRY SANNA

For starters, it is chiefly a fashion film, which is a far cry from any of the other work I’ve done to date. I enjoyed producing a film that was both constrained by the traditional formats of a fashion film (mainly, the commercial/narrative hybrid) and freed up to be able to write an original short films that have fun with niche interest of mine. In this case, an anachronistic maritime fable played as a Covid-inspired genre romp.


The primary production challenge we faced was the ever-present threat of yet another pandemic-motivated shutdown, but we got lucky there. Beyond that, I think weaving a story that takes place 90% in a single location (the old vessel) certainly threw up some limitations, though I enjoyed that challenge immensely considering the themes of claustrophobia and isolation.


What makes you want to tell stories? In other words, what are the themes/issues you want to incorporate into your work?

As a film watcher, I’m pretty omnivorous. As a filmmaker, I’m always endeavoring to take on projects that give me scope to explore new ways of shaping stories. I suppose if I had to boil my intentionality down to certain themes and issues, I would say I’ve got an enduring fascination with the internal lives of people influencing the external world around them, and vice versa.



Please tell us about your vision and your method of approaching a new project?

At the risk of sounding mercenary, I’d say I do always try to find scope and capacity to learn and expand on my knowledge and skill base with each new project. At this stage of my career, I’m eager to push myself in fresh directions whenever possible. This being said, I think my background in documentary journalism is always present when I am approaching a new project, especially when it comes to complexity of a character (real or fictional) and the choices a filmmaker makes when presenting them to an audience.


Who are your filmmaking influencers? What are the films that were influential for you?

Like I said, I’ve got a huge appreciation for so many filmmakers, genres and styles. When it comes to Yellow Jack, I wanted to scatter as many nods, homages or straight out rip-offs to the maritime film genre as possible within 7-odd minutes without breaking narrative flow.

There’s a few references to Ridley Scott’s original Alien (which is, in my mind, a sci-fi take on an old maritime tale – motley crew, floating in the abyss, ‘Here be monsters’). There’s a very direct shanty number pulled straight from Jaws. The Boccherini track that features comes from Peter Weir’s Master and Commander. There’s a bit of Mutiny on the Bounty, Das Boot, Titanic – a bunch of others as well. Some of the references are just a shot/reverse shot snippet, others are baked into the dialogue. I had a lot of fun trying to cram as many in as I could.



How do you think the industry is changing? How has COVID affected independent filmmaking/creation?

Coming from a documentary background, which can be so ‘long-game’ focused and can often rely on patience with a story unfolding slowly in real time, I’ve become really aware of certain films, tv series, any content really, feeling rushed and slapped together. I think that’s why really well thought-out, well-crafted projects rise to the top and become the last bit of monoculture in this space we have as a global audience.

Colour me an optimist, but I’d say COVID looks less like the industry-shattering global event that we may have thought it was going to be 12 months ago. The audience migration to streamers and web-based viewing might have gotten something of a boost given the circumstances, but there certainly appears to be a clear resurgence of cinema-attendance. Which is a win for filmmakers, because nothing beats an audience all in one place. I think the avenues have undoubtedly diversified, and that can be seen as a dire situation, but I don’t believe its cause for despair.


What advice would you give to aspiring artists? What are some of the things they must follow/avoid?

As trite as it sounds, and probably is, I’d say just backing yourself wholly and enduring the inevitable heartbreaks along the way. Follow your own sense of taste, even if it doesn’t find purchase initially, and be open to evolving at the same time. That will come naturally, it does for everyone so avoid fighting it.


Do you think films/stories can bring about a change in the world?

Unequivocally, yes. We’re all a semblance of lessons learned from stories experienced, be it on screen or in life. That’s a bit highfalutin, but I do believe it.



What do you think people like to watch these days? Has the pandemic changed people's taste?

If streaming algorithms are to be given weight (and your mileage may, and should, vary with that), there seems to be an audience for just about everything conceivable. Period dramas, survivalist reality shows, high concept horror – each have a dedicated fan base and still manage to draw in sceptics if they’re done well. I think the momentary COVID interruption of original content meant a lot more folks gave things ago that might not have been in their wheelhouse historically. And that is genuinely exciting for filmmakers of all stripes.


Please tell us about your upcoming projects.

Well, I’ve got a couple more of these genre-bending fashion-adjacent short films in the pipeline, most recently a familiar-but-fresh take on the Cold War-era espionage thriller.

I’m also working on a feature script that is something of a contemporary re-interpretation of early European colonial history in Australia and the dangers of nationalistic myth-making.