BA (Hons) Film Practice graduate Aaron Dunleavy has received great success with his new short film, The Truants. The film has won 4 awards and been screened at festivals all over the world with praise from director, Shane Meadows.

We caught up with Aaron to talk about The Truants, his past work and what he’s got planned for the future.

Tell us about The Truants. How did the project come about?

I graduated from London College of Communication in 2016 with a degree in BA (Hons) Film Practice. Whilst studying, I wrote and directed two short films which were both set and filmed in my hometown of Blackburn in northern England. Telling stories close to home has always been an integral part of my work, and both films have been childhood inspired, entirely improvised and street-cast with non-professional young actors.

My first short film, Throw Me to the Dogs, was produced during my second year at LCC. Winning 9 awards, with praise from Academy award-winning director Danny Boyle and the Guardian film critic Peter Bradshaw, the film was screened at prestigious BAFTA and Oscar® qualifying festivals around the world. It also achieved worldwide distribution via MUBI in over 240 countries and featuring as ‘Best of the Month’ in Vimeo’s Staff Picks.

The Truants was my graduation piece. Like my previous work, the film was street-cast with local kids who’d never acted before, and was completely unscripted.

A still from The Truants by Aaron Dunleavy.

Why was telling this story important to you?

I had the idea for The Truants in my head long before Throw Me to the Dogs, but as the film was heavily reliant on the improvisational skills of the two young leads, I knew I had to develop my technique and gain experience working with untrained actors. The two leads who play the truanting school kids had never acted before, and I never allowed them access to a script or gave them any indication of the storyline. The resulting film was a natural progression of events, shot chronologically in a spontaneous documentary style.

Above all else, the most gratifying thing about making both films has been involving local young people and giving them the opportunity to get involved in acting. At every film festival their performances are always praised, so it’s such a great feeling to know that I was able to bring that potential out of them.

It’s been such a rewarding experience to give young people who may never have believed they had the talent to act and put them on the big screen in front of thousands of people around the world.

What do you hope people who see the film take away from it?

I think it’s interesting to see how children can behave without any adults around, and how a lack of boundaries or control can lead to devastating consequences. The Truants explores some difficult themes and is definitely not an easy watch. The final film certainly came out darker than I had imagined, but I think the resulting piece is more powerful for it.

The Truants is an unrestrained look at how childhood boredom and naivety, escalated through a progressive turn of events, can result in tragedy, and how the characters portrayed are victims of environment and circumstance.

A still from The Truants by Aaron Dunleavy.

You’ve had great success with the film, with lots of recognition from the industry. Can you tell us what accolades the film has received and how does it feel to have industry recognition from the project?

The Truants has had a fantastic run on the festival circuit so far, with over 30 screenings around the world, multiple awards and praise from BAFTA award-winning director Shane Meadows. The film had its international premiere at the prestigious 46th edition of the Giffoni Film Festival in Italy, one of the largest youth film festivals in the world. With audiences reaching over 100,000 and industry guests including Robert De Niro, Nicholas Cage and Jessica Alba, the film was selected out of around 3,500 entries and was nominated for the Gryphon Award.

The Truants also recently won the Castellincorto Award for Best Short Film voted by the official jury at the 29th Castellinaria International Film Festival in Switzerland, as well as an official selection at the BAFTA qualifying London Short Film Festival. The film has enabled us to attend international film festivals around the world, including Italy, Switzerland and Poland, and we recently took the 2 young stars of the The Truants to the BFI Future Film Festival in London.

Tell us what’s next for you?

I was recently approached by a Production Coordinator at Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions in Los Angeles, who praised my latest work and began introducing me to industry contacts. Since then, I’ve been developing ideas for my debut feature film with support from producers at Anonymous Content, the Hollywood production company behind the Academy Award winning film The Revenant.

I’m also currently working on my next production, a short film commissioned for Random Acts Network Centre North as part of their education, training and production programme. A joint initiative between Arts Council England and Channel 4, the programme commissions “bold, innovative expressions of creativity” from young creative talent with strong ideas drawn from diverse art forms.

A still from The Truants by Aaron Dunleavy.

How was your time studying at LCC?

My time studying on the BA (Hons) Film Practice course enabled me to develop my films through critical feedback and advice, as well as providing invaluable collaborative opportunities with fellow like-minded students who were able to help me in achieving my work.

What 3 pieces of advice would you give a student filmmaker?

I’d say firstly, stick to what you know and try to make films about stories which mean something to you.

Secondly, don’t worry too much about money or big production values, just try to make something with whatever you can get your hands on.

Finally, make sure you put the work in afterwards to try and get your film out there as much as possible! There are loads of really great free festivals and competitions out there to submit to. Your film is much more likely to get noticed online if it has a bit of momentum behind it first.

Watch The Truants: