Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Animated Thoughts: An Animated October, Part Two

So, the weekend of October 20th found me back in Canada as TAIS had brought Signe Baumane to Toronto for an evening screening where she discussed her filmmaking history as well as her current project: a feature length film called "Rocks in my Pockets". As Signe's previous work (seen on the "Ten Animated Films" and the "Avoid Eye Contact" DVDs I'd purchased years ago) had been a little hit-or-miss for me, I had not planned on attending this screening. Eh, some films run closer to your tastes, some don't. I admit it, I just don't understand a good chunk of her work. But, as fate would have it, I had dinner with Madi Piller at the Ottawa Fest and she convinced me that a weekend in Toronto would be a good investment of my time--and was she right!

Early in the evening, Signe graciously had dinner with a group of us and spent no small amount of time answering our questions and discussing her filmmaking process--both over dinner and after her screening. It was an experience you can't get from reading an article on the Internet. Unless you are fortunate enough to arrange a skype meeting, experiences like these can only be had at society screenings and festivals. Then it was off to the Cinecycle. With the NFB closing their location on John Street, the Cinecycle opened their doors to the TAIS events. I wasn't complaining, the Cinecycle is closer to my usual hotel anyways.

As Signe introduced her films, she took the time to discuss her filmmaking history, her inspirations, and her process. Hearing why she made the filmmaking decisions she did and what inspires her to make the films she does added a new depth to her work and allowed me to appreciate it on a level I hadn't before. Two of her films had nuances that I've missed in the past but came alive with the addition of the knowledge of what was going on in her life at the time she produced them: 'The Dentist' was created as she dealt with having a root canal--which led to her making the decision to completely remove refined sugar products from her diet. And 'Birth' dealt with her hopes, and more importantly her fears, while being pregnant with her first child. Throughout all of her work, Signe's early experiences of being mentored by Bill Plympton shone through.

An unexpected treat was how Signe presented her filmmaking history leading up to her feature film. You could see how she was growing and maturing as an artist, both in style and content, as she worked toward developing a visual style of her own. Of particular note was how Signe showed several of the films from her 'Teat Beat of Sex' series which discusses various aspects of the sexual experience from a woman's perspective. Laughingly, she admitted how she discovered that sex sells, unless you're being honest about the experience--the good, the bad, and the awkward.

The high point for me though was towards the end when Signe showed two seven minute clips from her upcoming feature: "Rocks in my Pockets", due to be finished in March 2013. With just those two clips, I was hooked on her film. Signe narrated two stories from her family history--both about relatives who had epiphanies about suicide in relation to the situations they were in, and all against the backdrop of the Russian revolution and World War II. Signe's feature film has her narrating the history of mental illness and episodes of suicide found in her family history doing so with her Lativan accent that lends an air of authenticity to the stories as they unfold.

Honestly I was transfixed by the stark honesty that she was presenting on the screen and wanted to see the entire film just based upon those fourteen minutes. Adding to the fascination with her story, her hand drawn characters were seamlessly composited with three dimensional, papier mache backgrounds, giving the film a quality that sets itself apart from both the realm of classic 2d cel animaton and the polished 3d computer animation that we see so often in the theaters. When asked by one of the attendees, Signe replied that her papier mache backgrounds are almost life sized so that she can show more detail and perform more complex camera movements without specialized equipment. When reviewing photographs of the camera rigging and sets built for films like Paranorman, her decision makes perfect sense--especially if you don't want to contort yourself into a pretzel in order to animate that one character or spend your entire budget on camera equipment.

Signe Baumane & Chuck Wilson
Later that night, as I sat in my hotel room and feverishly copied down notes from Signe's screening, I looked up at the television and was greeted with a pleasant surprise: Jerry Beck looking back at me. I had expected to miss his presentation of classic animated films on TCM since I don't have the expanded cable t.v. channels back at home. However, I was fortunate enough to stay at a hotel in Toronto that did. While I didn't see the entire program, I saw a couple hours worth--enough to know that Jerry really put a lot of effort into gathering a fantastic selection of film.

The next day, my roommate and I walked around Toronto, visiting old haunts and enjoying one of the last warm and sunny days of Fall before arriving at the ROM about 90 minutes before close. Given the time, they were kind enough to comp our tickets and we enjoyed a late afternoon, taking photographs, and discovering parts of the museum that we had only breezed by during our last visit years ago.

All-in-all, a wonderful end to a weekend experience that I almost didn't have.

End Part Two