In a 15-minute film to be shown on Nov. 19 at 1:15 p.m. at the Carrboro Film Festival, the idea of social anxiety is explored through the eyes of the titular main character — who is half-man and half-squirrel.
Director Shaun Swift said the writer of the film decided to explore anxiety through a squirrel because they are anxious creatures.
“(Chester) kind of secludes himself away, and he doesn’t really mingle with people, but one night he hears a girl from his apartment crying in the hallway, and he tries to console her,” he said. “She instantly becomes intrigued and works her way into his apartment, and they connect from there. But something happens to where Chester believes something is stolen from him, and he immediately assumes it is her, and it goes from there.”
Swift said the film had a personal connection for him.
“I was inspired by it because I have sort of been in that boat myself because I used to be really overweight, and I ended up losing 200 pounds in my twenties,” he said. “But just being that overweight, I understood what that is like, and you kind of shelter yourself away and are not as open to talking to people.”
Made through the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, the film took about a year to get to the place that it is today.
The actor and voice of Chester, Drew Matthews, said at first he heard that many people thought Chester was too complicated to be a student film.
“I didn’t think anything was going to come out of this,” he said. “I heard rumors from other students at the school who said it was too complicated, the faculty didn’t like the concept of it and it was just too much for a student film.”
Matthews said Swift’s story and personal connections to the film were the reason he really got involved with it.
“(Swift) opened up and told me the story about the connection between how he never felt he fit in in his world, and Chester finally fit in where squirrels are normal but he still didn’t feel like he did. So when Shaun told me that I was like, ‘OK, I’m in,’” he said. “I want to tell the story of the person who doesn’t fit in, and what better way to do that than throw in a squirrel head?”
But that squirrel head was no small feat to create.
Made with donated real fur and prosthetics, the squirrel mask was somewhat claustrophobic at first, Matthews said.
“I remember we did a screen test with the mask, and they used alginate to form-fit it to my face, which was an interesting process in and of itself because I wasn’t prepared for the scale of it and breathing through straws in my nose,” he said. “They pour this liquid gel over your face, and you can’t open your eyes, you can’t open your mouth and so you are breathing through these straws in your nose.”
Producer Matt Kenney said everything eventually came together in the end for the film, which was approved in May 2015 and began filming in the middle of November.
Kenney said even though it is odd to have the main character be a squirrel hybrid, the story of finding one’s place and the simplicity of the film is what really strikes audiences.
“The fact that he is a squirrel kind of just goes away,” he said. “You just see the character. That’s all you want, really — for people to connect with things further than just what they see.”