Alongside his brother Jeff, Phill Simmonds has created a run of quirky short films, which utilise traditional animation to retell real-life stories. The films from the SPADA 2006 New Filmmaker of the Year (shared with Jeff) include family history tale A Very Nice Honeymoon and bickering band chronicle The Paselode Story. His latest project is an animated feature film based on Parihaka.
When we are animating we combine sound and pictures and when you put music and images together you have theatre. It’s coming at you through your ears and your eyes and that makes it potentially very, very powerful. Jeff Simmonds in Onfilm, February 2007
In 1881, after being met by the pa's children holding white feathers of peace, invading constabulary ended Te Whiti and Tohu's passive resistance at Parihaka in Taranaki. One of the darkest episodes of the NZ Wars, it is revisited in this documentary made by Paora Joseph, which follows another group of Taranaki children undertaking an emotional, modern day pilgrimage to the South Island jails where their ancestors were exiled and forced to labour. Footage of their hikoi is interwoven with their poetry, song, art and narration.
This Simmonds Brothers short film tells tells the story of Raumati South Kindergarten's beloved — but ill-fated — rooster. The early-rising hard-rocking cockerel's waking up of the neighbourhood sees complaints made to the council, and dog ranger Don Wolff is assigned to the case. The tragi-comic saga adds a surrealistic talking rooster twist to the Simmonds Bro's distinctive 'documation' style, which uses 2D animation and audio to portray real-life events. The 2001 shooting made national news, and Paul Holmes' and Carol Hirschfield's coverage features alongside local reaction.
This Simmonds Brothers short zips through five generations of their family history, from Croatia to the Kapiti Coast, plus a shipwreck near Auckland. Described as a 'documation', the voices of yarning family members are married to their cartoon likenesses, to comic and ultimately moving effect. The film opens with Mariano and Elizabeth Vella's great great granddaughter and moves to a dramatic re-enactment of the Dalmatian settlers' so-called "very nice honeymoon" on the steamer SS Wairarapa, when it was wrecked off Great Barrier Island in 1894 (131 people died).
On an evening stroll in 1996, two elderly Paekakariki twins suddenly encountered a ropey bull. Caught in an unexpected predicament, they tried patting it, praying, and holding onto its horns for dear life. Using an audio recording in which Pearl Mills matter-of-factly retells the experience, the Simmonds Brothers utilise colourful animation to bring the whole homely tale to life. Following on from their first film — based on interviews with people from Paekakariki township — this ‘documation’ short was again inspired by the stories of ‘ordinary’ people.
Wellington rockers Paselode certainly weren’t the first band to conquer, argue, then combust; but this film offers an unusual view on the group’s internal dynamics. Inspired by the legendary Creature Comforts films by Aardman Animation, The Paselode Story takes real-life interviews with bandmembers, and animates the results. Expect possibly tongue-in-cheek revelations of how singer Gerome Mills charmed — or bribed — his way into his brother’s band with his Dad’s help, before revealing his true colours. There are also live action scenes of Paselode in action.