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Entries in Animation (2)

Friday
Feb022018

INSECTS: THE JAN ┼áVANKMAJER INTERVIEW

Terry Gilliam says the surrealistic masterpieces of Jan Švankmajer are, “magical, because they make reality mysterious.” One of the most unique visual artists that world cinema has ever known, the Czech visionary defied the strict regime of his homeland with a wave of subversive short films throughout 60s and 70s. When censorship eased in the mid-80s, Švankmajer directed such unclassifiable, often nightmarish features as the Lewis Carroll reinterpretation, Alice (1988); an unforgettable vision of the classic tale, Faust (1994); perhaps his masterwork, Conspirators of Pleasure (1996); and, his family drama Little Otik (2000), in which a husband and wife raise a tree root as their own.

The International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) welcomed the 83 year-old master for the World Premiere of his first feature in eight years, Insects (Hmyz). Based upon the 1922 play by brothers Karel and Josef Capek, Švankmajer focuses on the group of amateur theatre players trying to resurrect the text, yet find theimselves being torn asunder by jealousy, greed, ego…and bugs. The director broke away from a Czech Film Industry function to sit with SCREEN-SPACE and discuss (via translator) his latest mesmerizing film…

SCREEN-SPACE: You are returning to material that you first explored back in 1970. What makes it relevant and still creatively satisfying to you in 2018?

ŠVANKMAJER: This was one of many, many ideas and subjects that I wasn’t allowed shoot back in the 1970s because of the regime and the strict censorship. The 1970s was a very fruitful, very creative time for me. Ideas were just flowing from me, so many interesting stories that I admit I took for granted back then. So I just put those interesting stories into my drawer, a very big drawer, and now, or more accurately from about the 90s onwards, I have been revisiting them one by one and shooting the movies. Of course, certain details have changed from what I envisioned back in the 70s, but the themes and characters are still very relevant to me. I’m not interested in fleeting themes, but material that is deeper and constant in all our lives. It was just my good luck that I stashed them in these drawers around my home, so that I could eventually open those drawers and use the ideas of a younger man to tell stories as an older one. (Pictured, above; a scene from Insects)

SCREEN-SPACE: I find those comments interesting because I found this is to be one of your most buoyant, even playful films, as if you are enjoying the storytelling process with renewed vigour.

ŠVANKMAJER: It is certainly true that I did enjoy the process and that the material inspired new creativity in me, which is perhaps what you have sensed when watching the film. But I don’t think ‘playful’ is the right word. Thematically, the film is actually one of the darkest I have ever made. There is humour, but to observe it more closely it casts a very dark perspective, seeks out the very darkest edges of our persona. I don’t want anyone going into this film thinking they will find the light humour you may find in an American film (laughs). (Pictured, above; Svankmajer, left, directing actor Jirí Lábus in Insects)

SCREEN-SPACE: Your decision to top-and-tail the film with your own direct-to-camera thoughts, as you say in the film like a foreword from a book’s author, is an inspired device. Was that always in the script or did it become apparent that the film needed context as the final edit drew near?

ŠVANKMAJER: Neither, frankly. Not back in the 70s nor recently when I was rewriting the original story to accommodate some new scenarios. Those moments in the film that adopt a documentary aesthetic or the scenes when the actors are relating their dreams are not passages you can conjure in script form. Those are moments that arise during the creative process on-set

SCREEN-SPACE: You draw from the Capek Brothers play, of course, and Kafka’s Metamorphoses. But I also noted Fellini-esque flourishes. What other filmmakers, artists, authors still inspire your work?

ŠVANKMAJER: I love Fellini! I still often think about his work, I have to admit. La Strada is wonderful, although Armacord is closest to my heart. But Fellini can be for me, and certainly for this project, too ornamental, too busy. Do you understand? I think the strongest influence on Insect was Bunuel. He is very close to my heart. 

SCREEN-SPACE: The online diary that wrote while in production gives fascinating insight into your directing methodology. I read with interest the passage, “I direct them as if they were puppets in an animated film…”

ŠVANKMAJER: (Laughs) I’m making imaginative films, works that draw upon specific imagery not always of this world. These are not ‘actor’ films; the story, and so much more, that is important to the film I want to make is not necessarily the responsibility of the cast. Each aspect of the production is equally crucial to what I want to make as any other aspect. Costumes, sound, editing – all those things have to combine for my films to work. My actors always take some time to get used my sets, because the way I make my films is something different. I play with them to get the effect, the end result that I need. I am their puppet master.

    

Wednesday
Sep062017

WINDOW HORSES: THE ANN MARIE FLEMING INTERVIEW

Canadian multi-media artist Ann Marie Fleming has been on a three-decade journey with her creation, the indefatigable Stickgirl. The latest incarnation of the character is Rosie Ming, a mixed-race 20-something poetess who faces a new life experience when her fledgling work gains her entry into a poetry competition in Shiraz, Iran. Window Horses: The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming is Fleming’s debut feature, a beautifully humanistic journey of discovery bought to life by vibrant animation styles and the voices of Ellen Page, Shohreh Aghdashloo and, as Rosie, Sandra Oh, who calls the film, “Pro-girl, pro-tolerance, pro-diversity and pro-art.”

The softly-spoken Fleming (pictured, above) chatted to SCREEN-SPACE about poetry, Persia and the little stick girl that allows her a booming, creative voice…

SCREEN-SPACE: Where is your relationship at with Stickgirl? After decades together, how would you describe the life you and your creation share?

FLEMING: She’s very much who she has always been. She’s my avatar, sort of a braver, more together version of myself. She is somebody who is able to step into situations and not judge them. Having worked with her for thirty years, this is the first time she has this must exposure and the first time she has had someone els’e voice. A lot of people now associate her with Sandra’s voice, and not my own. So this is a time where she needs to go on a walkabout, reassess who she is, re-evaluate her goals.

SCREEN-SPACE: What does a ‘stick figure’ design allow you to explore about Rosie Ming?

FLEMING: Because she is just a stick character, you can put anything on her, allowing her to develop into anything you want her to be or that she wants to be. She’s an actor in this film; she’s not really Persian, her mother didn’t really die. Yet her experiences are more alive to so many people because so many people can understand and wonder about her. She is such an excellent way to enter different worlds.

SCREEN-SPACE: Was it easy to see this film to fruition? Was a humanistic portrait of Iran and its people as tough a sell as it sounds in today’s climate?

FLEMING: Many years ago, I did get development money for the film, working with my artistic collaborator Kevin Langdale, who did a great deal of the design for the film. Then, in 2009, the Iranian election happened and there was all that violence, leading to Canada cutting off ties with Iran. Suddenly, financiers and sales people were saying, “Wow, great project, but could you make it in China?” (laughs) But it was important to me to have Iran as the setting for her story, not just for political reasons but because this is a film about poetry. It is about being connected over millennia and about how deep and relevant this poetic tradition is. There aren’t too many countries where poetry is such a part of everyday life. (Pictured, above; Fleming, far-right, with voice actors Shohreh Aghdashloo and Sandra Oh).

SCREEN-SPACE: What are the benefits of animation as a platform for your narrative and the film’s message?

FLEMING: Animation is perfect for showing the imagination. So much a part of what this film is the representation of so many different points of view. Having so many different artists do the different poetry sections, coming with there own backgrounds, from different cultures, with their own skill sets, was so important. And setting the film in Iran was only possible through animation.

SCREEN-SPACE: In a world so divided by nationalism, and an administration in The White House setting such a divisive tone, are international audiences likely to be open to Rosie’s journey?

FLEMING: This story started 20 years ago, and has survived through many administrations (laughs). That’s part of the story, evolving through change. I don’t dwell on it too much in the film, but if you look at the lives of each of the poets, they each survived many different regimes or leaders or conflicts. That seems to be the story of so many artists; you are in or you are out, depending on what you say and who is willing to hear it. There have been so many wars and strifes yet through it all, poetry shows us we are still the same people, still looking at the same moon, still caring about the same things. Different software, same hardware, right?

SCREEN-SPACE: Window Horses is ultimately a film that transcends its setting, that goes beyond the borders of Iran…

FLEMING: For at least the last thirty years, most of what we hear in western society about Iranian culture is not positive. This is not a political film, but I did want to convey that point in every society where we come together as people. The poetry festival in the film is really just my experience at film festivals, where you get to listen to what artists from all over the world have to say, which is crucial if you want to converse with them. It is an environment where you can have respectful discussion, actually talk about ideas and be open to them. It is pretty special.