History-making film by Chatham man now an Oscar contender

Photo courtesy Pixar Animation Studio

A man who grew up in Chatham is one step closer to being an Oscar winner for his groundbreaking work in animation.

Steven Hunter’s film Out is one of the 10 films that has been placed on the 93rd Academy Awards shortlist in the Animated Short Film category. The film features Pixar Animation Studio’s first LGBTQ main character.

According to Hunter, there were 96 films that were contenders for the Animated Short Film shortlist category this year. As one of the hundreds of people on the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences branch that vote on what films will advance to the shortlist, Hunter said it’s a great feeling to know that his work was appreciated by his peers.

“I’m on the shortlist branch of the Academy for short films so I got to see the 96 films that were nominated this year, I got to sit through a lot of them,” he explained. “There were some really great ones on the list, really, really great ones. There were some that I genuinely loved that didn’t make it to the top 10 of the shortlist. To be honoured to be on that shortlist was just fantastic.”

Out was released on Disney+ on May 22, 2020. The nine-minute short tells the story of Greg, a young man who is reluctant to come out as gay to his parents. He magically ends up switching minds with his dog which leads him to a heartwarming revelation of self-acceptance.

Written and directed by Hunter, Out is loosely autobiographical. Now in his early 50s, Hunter came out later in life at the age of 27 and said it was a topic he felt compelled to talk about and dig into deeper.

Steven Hunter (Photo courtesy Pixar Animation Studio)

Steven Hunter (Photo courtesy Pixar Animation Studio)

Hunter is no stranger to working on films that have garnered critical acclaim.

Born and raised in Chatham, he first got his start in the industry by attending Sheridan College in Oakville for animation in the late 80s, which led him to work in Canada’s television industry before eventually moving to California. During his over two decades in the business, Hunter has worked on Disney’s Hercules and Fantasia 2000. Since starting with Pixar in 1997, he’s been involved in several other major feature films including Finding Dory and WALL-E.

Hunter said it’s a special feeling to get recognized for a story so close to his heart.

“Especially something so personal. Helping people tell their stories has been great but when it’s yours, to be noticed like that just has extra weight to it,” he said. “It’s very touching.”

Since the film’s release, the story of Pixar’s first gay protagonist has received lots of attention from across the globe. Hunter’s own story is also featured in an episode of the Disney+ documentary series Inside Pixar, which takes a closer look at how his past experiences influenced the creation of Out. A behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film can be seen on Pixar’s official YouTube channel. 

Hunter said over the past year, he’s also heard from people who have reached out to share what the film has meant to them personally.

“So many parents of kids talking to us about their kids’ responses, the conversations they’ve had around the film and the older men like myself who tell me how much they wish they had that film when they were kids to see themselves in,” said Hunter.

The final five nominees for the Animated Short Film category, along with the rest of the 2021 Oscar nominations, will be announced on March 15, 2021. The ceremony itself will be held on April 25, 2021 but Hunter said he’s not planning out an acceptance speech just yet.

“You don’t even think about it because you’re like ‘there’s no way I’m going to get up on that stag,” said Hunter. “I’m going to work on other people’s movies and help them get on that stage. It wouldn’t be me, why would it be me?'”

Much of Hunter’s immediate family still resides in Chatham and he said they’re very excited for him and for the acclaim the film has received.

Whether he gets nominated and whether he wins or loses, Hunter said he’s just happy that more representation is starting to been seen in the mainstream media and more stories are being told from people of different races, genders and sexual orientations.

“Just to know that this kind of story is getting recognition is a long time coming,” he said. “I really hope there more of these kinds of stories, that’s what I really want to see out of it. This is just one story. There are so many other kinds of stories, trans stories, bi stories, there are so many stories that even happen in small towns like Chatham.”