Layke Anderson’s latest gripping, poetic short film, Mankind, ambitiously juxtaposes domestic drama and science fiction. It revolves around a couple, Will (Ricky Nixon) and Evan (Alexis Gregory), as they experience a crisis, the source of which appears to have something to do with a mysterious journey to Mars. The concept for this film originated from a story a friend of Anderson had written about a man discovering a secret on his partner’s laptop. The director liked the idea but also thought he could go deeper with it.
“I was inspired by the idea of science fiction being like a mirror in which we can see our true selves and a reflection of a lot of things, including our own desires,” he explains. “And I was thinking a lot about Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia  and how it played with the idea of the planet representing depression.” In Mankind, the references to Mars evoke its traditional symbolism for masculinity, youth and the competitiveness of men, which Anderson believes is a particularly prevalent source of tension in gay relationships.
Although Anderson insists he did not consciously set out to make a sci-fi, Mankind looks spectacular even without having to rely on special effects. This is impressive, considering the director financed the film himself with the money he made from selling his first three shorts to a distributor: “They made me some money back, more than I ever expected,” he explains. “What they gave me back, I funded this film with. It was made for about £1000, while still managing to pay everybody. Except for myself, of course. So, I was broke for a year.”
Commitment and challenging conventions are both part of Anderson’s artistic identities and have marked his artistic evolution thus far. Having never gone to film school, he sees his short film as a type of formal education and over the years, he has experimented first-hand with different styles, techniques and approaches. His previous film, Epilogue (2017), was a seven-minute long-take. On Mankind, he returns to the much more fragmented style of his earlier works, and a much less linear storytelling that blurs the line between the real and the imagined. “I think that’s why I wanted to work with different camera people on this film,” he says. “I wanted each moment to have a different style. Some of it is very highly saturated and some of it is very washed out and milky because I wanted to experiment with what is real and what is not.”
Anderson, who also edits his movies, explains that this rather more experimental approach tends to set him up for more work. However, he compares the process to painting and believes it to be just as rewarding. “When you do a painting,” he explains, “you don’t really know where it’s going to go. You have an idea but you get caught up a bit and a little lost in it. It becomes like a Chinese finger puzzle. You have to go further in to get back out.” Finding the rhythm of a film, he says, is his favorite part of making a movie: “I can’t even dance, I’m useless! But I cut hair as well and I find rhythm with that. I find it really chills me out. It’s the same thing – cutting hair, cutting film, cutting scenes together. It’s about finding a rhythm and remembering that it doesn’t have to be perfect. That sometimes, little flaws, little things that don’t quite match in terms of continuity, are okay as long as the rhythm is there. That’s kind of a self-taught thing.”
Fragmented storytelling in cinema implies a different type of communication with the spectator. It also begs for a less linear reading of the work and encourages the audience to actively engage and interact with it, leaving room for open interpretation via grey areas and unanswered questions. “That’s the type of film I like,” Anderson says. “I like films that make me work. People tend to see things quite literally. Generally, human beings tend to approach things from a good or bad judgment point of view. But I always want to take things a bit further.” The fact the short is not dominated by the point of view of either character further encourages active engagement. A spectator is free to choose whether to be on Will’s side or Evan’s side. In fact, Anderson finds he experiences the same dilemma to this day: “I go back and forth between points of view. I get both points of views of the characters. There’s definitely not one I’m closer to. I’m close to both of them. They’re both elements of me and elements of the people I know.”
This open-ended extends to his collaborative working method with his actors. “I’m never adamant about what I think,” he explains. “I don’t ask for certain emotions with an actor. I let them find it and then we work on it together.” Much like the characters of the film, Gregory and Nixon have different personalities. They also come from different backgrounds – the former a more theatrical one, while the latter is more into film and had even worked with Anderson on two of his previous shorts. The real-life differences between them adds depth to their on-screen relationship. “I was really surprised by their chemistry. They are very different but I liked that energy and how they worked together.”
Mankind marks Anderson’s fifth short and though he claims he once never thought of becoming a film director, he looks set to continue on this path by reaching another landmark. “I absolutely love doing it but I never imagined myself directing a feature film. I’ve written one and now I’m writing a second one. A friend of mind is currently making his second feature and I went down to visit him on set. It made me think I’d like to take up a bigger challenge. I’ve been focusing a lot on writing and scripting. I’ve kind of been a recluse lately and writing, which is equally rewarding. But I’ve done the short film thing and maybe now I want to try something else.”
All pictures reproduced courtesy of Little Cricket Films