Festival Season looms across Europe, and with it comes a wealth of work from ambitious young talent, looking to establish their reputations across the industry. Mac Nixon is one talent whose work is quickly capturing the attention of said festivals. His short, Leonard's Neighbours, graduated from BBC Wales’ It’s My Shout Productions with full commendation; winning the Award for Best Short Film at BBC Wales Awards night, and received wide acclaim across its audience.
Written by Jodie Kay-Ashdown, Leonard’s Neighbours tells the story of a reclusive old man, residing in a derelict apartment building with a mysterious and level-headed young boy. Here he is plagued by the relentless piano-playing of the faceless neighbours beneath him.
Kay-Ashdown birthed the idea from a short story she wrote as part of her thesis for an MA in Creative Writing. “I was living in an old house at the time and the sound insulation was so bad, I could hear exactly what all my neighbours were doing around me. I was interested in how we all lived so close to each other and yet barely spoke.” In particular, Kay-Ashdown took influence from an elderly lady who lived in the flat next door. Jodie dedicated the piece to her after she passed away during her dissertation. After pitching her script to the It’s My Shout competition, she was paired with Nixon, who quickly got to work, bringing the words to life.
Tony Leader stars as the titular Leonard and young Dylan Duffield as his mysterious companion; both giving powerful and, at times, haunting performances. Nixon recalls casting Leader, “[During initial casting] we didn’t really manage to find someone who we could really see playing Leonard… a name was passed around, Tony Leader. He just had a presence. I arranged to meet with him. He was very eager to work with young talent and we took it from there really.”
Leader is compelling to watch, conveying a perturbed and paranoid Leonard, tormented by a nuisance we never see nor hear; masking a lonely and vulnerable figure at heart. Duffield gives a wonderful supporting role performance, acting as carer and counsellor to the disturbed old man. “Dylan is a fantastic young actor. I fully expect to see a big future for him; one where I’m viewing him on a screen and I can turn to the person next to me when I’m much older and say "I discovered him,"” Nixon laughs.
We noticed the cinematic beauty of the film. The colour and look of Leonard’s Neighbours is undoubtedly stunning. From the yellow beams of sunlight peering through dishevelled curtains, to the soft blue highlights illuminating the neglected hallways at night; the feel is almost dystopian. Nixon found the setting in the shape of an old school. “The location was one of the key characters to the film itself. We weren’t restricted by reality. The outside world was an unknown and mysterious entity.”
Nixon credits much of the look of the film to designer, Luned Evans, who turned the setting into the decaying ruin we see on screen. This contrasts to the distorted white of the same room in Leonard’s flashbacks, conveying his father, James (Matthew Doman) clashing with his mother, Violet (Abbie Hirst) over his intensive piano lessons.
The thematic context of the film surrounds mental health. However, the contextual ambiguity of the plot is what mainly attracted him to the project in the first place. “It is actually a very simple plot, with complex themes. It was a very visual script.” When asked about how she felt about the script's translation to screen, screenwriter Jodie Kay-Ashdown said, “I was surprised that some people saw it as a ghost story. For me, it was only ever about loneliness and mental health but for others it came across as quite spooky. I'm completely happy for viewers to interpret it as they wish, after all, it is quite 'concept'.”
The reception of Leonard’s Neighbours has been evocative and capitulating to many. Being nominated for the Brian Hibbard Award at the Cardiff Independent Film Festival, Leonard’s Neighbours has a flying start to its time on this year’s festival circuit. Mac Nixon has made a prominent mark on the Welsh short film scene, and has promising prospects to take Leonard’s Neighbours further across the United Kingdom and more.
As for the future, Producer Ed Casey weighed in on the young director: “[Leonard’s Neighbours] went beyond what I had ever imagined. I think Mac has got a really exciting future ahead of him. He’s used the resources that he’s had and made really fantastic work.”
Nixon has another project nearing completion for an online release, Ben; also starring Dylan Duffield. The attention of the film festivals, however, remains solely on Leonard’s Neighbours. This original concept of isolation and mental illness is turned into an artistic masterclass that will definitely be one to follow across the year.