This is the first film ever that I saw which is set in a poetry festival. Why did you choose this environment?
Well, of course, this film is about how poetry connects us across cultures and generations, so of course it happens at a poetry festival! But also, this is a parallel to my experiences in film festivals all over the world, where artists get together and share stories about history and culture and ART. We talk to strangers/audiences about what is in our heads, and the state of the world in a spirit of openness, curiosity, co-operation and respect. How amazing is that?!
How did Stick Girl, the character who you consider to be an altergo, transformed into Rosie Ming?
Stickgirl has transformed to many different characters over the years, but this is her first feature film and the first conventional dramatic role, voiced by Sandra Oh. I wanted to insert myself into the narrative, as this is really a very personal film even though it takes place in a land I’ve never visited. The film is about listening to the voices of others, to staying open and curious and i felt that this little avatar, barely a gesture for a face and body, allowed the most empathy. You don’t judge her.
This in some ways a very archaic story, an orphan finding her roots. Do you think we can identify with the character with our everyday struggles to find our own self/identity?
Absolutely. This is a coming of age story that asks the ancient questions: who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going? Although Rosie’s story is so specific, I think that everyone can relate to a sense of searching for belonging.
I understood Rosie Ming as a blank page, a person who doesn’t have a lot of experience but goes out to the world with a lot of curiosity and openness to learn all the things she can from other people. What do you think about this idea?
What inspired you to create such extraordinary characters? How was the process?
These characters are almost all based on people I’ve met in my life, snippets of stories I’ve picked up along the way. If I am any of these characters… maybe a mixture of Rosie and Mehrnaz. We are always both the student and the mentor.
You mentioned in an interview that the idea of Window Horses first came to your mind when you were in an artist residency in Germany and felt that you are in a privileged position to be there and listen to other people’s story about their ethnical backgrounds. What do you think how can we, from the Western world, could be more open to these kind of experiences when currently in our socio-political environment fear and xenophobia is growing?
This is the beautiful thing about art. Where we show ourselves to each other, and in the case of poetry, it is like a code that is reinterpreted across languages and ages and cultures. It is a non-threatening way to approach each other, and can be a powerful tool for change, for empathy, for understanding. We are more the same than we are different.
In your view, poetry and animation are in any way similar art forms?
The language poetry can show us what is essential in a way that common speech may not always do. Animation is the same. Neither are necessarily linked to the laws that guide our daily lives and views, or the physics of how we move. They can be that, and more. They show us the way we think, the way we create. They make the impossible possible. I don’t think that poetry does has to be manifested in language, only. But what oral poetry and animation share is the human, they are both performative, time-based.
In our festival one of our topic will be literature, adaptation and animation. Can you tell me about how did you work with Bernice Eisenstein’s illustrated memoir to create I Was a Child of Holocaust Survivors?
This was a strange process as this was not exactly a collaboration between Bernice and myself, except that I had access to her words and illustrations in her memoir, and she saw the rough cut of the animatic. But it was essential to me that her voice be part of the film, to give it authenticity, and for her to feel that this film represented her well… i was i child of holocaust survivors was such an extremely personal, intimate, provocative and funny (!) work. It is a first-person account of a cultural history i share, only as a fellow human being, not as a member of the Jewish diaspora. It was a great honor that Bernice was willing to voice my edited version of her own words. We worked very much as director and actor on the final product, as much as she was the writer of the original text.
What was the concept behind working with multiple animators to create different segments and how was the process in the case of Window Horses?
This film started off with a very simple design, where Kevin Langdale and I would make the whole film ourselves, with him doing the lion’s share of the animation, and me doing Rosie. That was maybe a bit of a crazy idea, but it got us started. I always thought that the poetry sections and history sections would be done by different artists, as they all reflect a different point of view. I wanted to show how different people’s realities and imaginations are… visually and sonically. I asked animators that I knew and asked if they wanted to participate. in most cases, people were given pretty much free reign of the styles that they could use. There was a storyboard and an animatic, but I wanted to let people bring their own interpretations to the poetry. There was a lot of back and forth discussions of what i was necessary/appropriate for the story. My job was to blend these pieces in to the film seamlessly. To get them gently in and out of the narrative, I had lots of discussions with Kevin and he executed almost all the transitions personally. He is so good at that. While we landed up bringing on a team of animators to help get it done, eventually, Kevin was the chief animator and designer, and we had been collaborating on the design of this film for years. It all started with some edo period prints i saw at the LACMA and Persian miniatures, both that were influenced by art from the Tang Dynasty in China. Of course, our design veered wildly from that, as it evolved, but that was it’s original inspiration. The segment animators were from all over the country and worked from their respective homes. I always wanted to accentuate the “hand-made-ness” of the animation, while if is almost a wholly digital experience. Louise Johnson did the underlit sand animation, which is the only under-camera animation that was done. Bahram Javaheri’s intricate paper cuts were ultimately animated in After Effects by Michael Mann. The different styles celebrate the art of creating and the endless possibilities of our imagination.