The winners of the Elton John: The Cut music video contest have been revealed at the Cannes Film Festival. The talent competition called for young filmmakers to create the first official music videos for three of Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s most iconic songs – Rocket Man, Tiny Dancer and Bennie and the Jets. AKQA worked closely with Sir Elton John, YouTube and production studio Pulse Films to create the global talent initiative, which culminated this week in the winning films being screened at the internationally renowned film festival. The Cannes premier included on-stage discussions with songwriters Elton John and Bernie Taupin, moderated by Spike Lee, with all the winners in attendance.
(from left to right) Bernie Taupin, Spike Lee and Elton John
The contest was launched with the aim to give aspiring creatives a unique platform to showcase their work for these much-loved hits, as well as giving the songs new meanings in 2017 – the 50th anniversary year of Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s writing partnership. Adhering to three specific visual mediums, the winners are Majid Adin for Rocket Man, which had an animation brief; Jack Whiteley and Laura Brownhill for Bennie and the Jets, which features choreography; and Max Weiland for Tiny Dancer, which has a live-action creative concept.
“Majid’s beautiful concept makes people think of the song in a completely different way” – Barry Jenkins
Majid Adin’s winning video for Rocket Man (above) is a poignant animated work which draws on his personal experiences as an Iranian refugee making his way to England – giving a new perspective to the lyrics and themes of travel and loneliness. A fine art university graduate working in animation production, Adin travelled across Europe during the 2015 refugee crisis, spending time in the infamous Calais Jungle camp before being granted asylum in the UK and now rebuilding his life as an artist in Britain. Majid partnered with animation director Stephen McNally to realise his vision for this achingly powerful and human story.
Adin said of his treatment: “Rocket Man is the story of a journey, and someone separated from those they love. 'I miss the earth so much, I miss my wife' As I listened again and again, I heard the story of a refugee. His family, his journey, his new life. Many refugees cross borders in search of safety, but find disorientation, loneliness, separation in a new world. The rocket is not just a rocket, it is a boat, a lorry, a train. The rocket is movement, Mars is London, a new city, a new world. The rocket takes him further and further away from home, but he only thinks about the people he loves and left behind. 'And I think it’s going to be a long, long time' I will draw on my own experiences. I hope that my video allows people to understand. I believe art can do this.”
“Jack and Laura’s choreography submission was full of wonderful things” – Elton John
The Bennie and the Jets (above) video has been interpreted by directors Jack Whiteley and Laura Brownhill as a futuristic talent show. The set and central structure takes its inspiration from Fritz Lang’s 1927 science-fiction film, Metropolis, while the synchronised choreography is inspired by Busby Berkeley films, and the black and white aesthetic is a nod to the classic Hollywood era.
Jack Whiteley and Laura Brownhill
Brownhill and Whiteley said of their treatment: “We want to tell the story of the formation of Bennie and the Jets. To do this we will tap into the mythology of the song through its lyrics and themes. Aesthetically, we’re in the future as if imagined from the past. The set and central structure takes influence from the sci-fi/constructivist/minimalism from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. The large-scale nature of the performance and the synchronised choreography is inspired by Busby Berkeley films. The camera work, lighting and black and white aesthetic is a nod to films of the classic Hollywood period.”
“We wanted something that had the spirit and colour of the time.” – Bernie Taupin
Max Weiland’s winning video for Tiny Dancer (above) is a tribute to Los Angeles, with the iconic track as the link between the city’s inhabitants. The video shows people experiencing the breadth of life, from Quinceanera to scattering a loved ones ashes, joined in their joy for the song as it plays through their radios.
Weiland said of his treatment: “LA is a driving town. It’s identity is in its highways, its boulevards, its cars and its people. This video is a bitter sweet love letter to the phenomenon of the city, and an attempt to capture it’s dynamic, elusive energy. We see L.A through the eyes of its people, their disparate lives unified momentarily as they listen to ‘Tiny Dancer’. It is their shared soliloquy. It connects their stories as we feel their struggle and their joy.”
Elton John said: “I’ve been moved and amazed by these re-imaginings of our songs and pretty humbled by the process overall. The future of creativity is clearly collaborative, fusing art and technology and it’s been fantastic to open up our work to the next generation of creative talent and to share that process with the world on YouTube.” YouTube’s global head of artist relations, Vivien Lewit, added: “The Cut shares so many hallmarks of YouTube’s ethos - it’s about openly inspiring ideas, providing a platform for emerging talent and people sharing their creativity with the world. But the heart and soul of this project are Elton John and Bernie Taupin - who brought their vision to life and are encouraging a new generation to express their versions of the legendary songs they wrote and recorded. And these videos are truly wonderful.”
The search for the video creators was launched in December 2016 with entries received from over 50 countries worldwide. Shortlists of potential winners were then whittled down by YouTube mentors that were assigned to each video category: Kurt Hugo Schneider for Live action – Tiny Dancer, Parris Goebel for Choreography - Bennie and the Jets and PES for Animation – Rocket Man. The mentors joined an all-star judging panel: Barry Jenkins, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Melina Matsoukas, as well as Bernie and Elton themselves to select the three final winners in February 2017. Once chosen, the winners were given the opportunity to realise their music videos and granted $10,000 for future creative endeavours.