The Blending of Worlds Through Animation
by MARISA SITTHEEAMORN
Animated films have the power to communicate stories in ways that live-action films and written stories cannot. The nature of animation has the magic ability to convey complex emotions and ideas in a seemingly-simplistic manner that appeals to both young and adult audiences. The imaginative foundation of the medium strips away existing borders and penetrates cultural barriers, granting limitless control over an artistic vision. The magic of creating a new and unseen universe takes away any preconceptions or restriction to free storytelling.
As the world’s population continues to diversify, it is vital for film mediums to be able to reflect the continuously changing social, political, and cultural landscapes. As people migrate and travel to explore lands far from home, traditions converge and families blend. Canada in particular is home to one of the most multicultural populations in the world, with families and their heritage transforming generations at a time. Pulled between familial expectations and social pressures, children of immigrants and newcomers are, now more than ever before, experiencing a crisis of identity.
Historically, film has been a medium through which people have turned to, to relate with characters and process emotion. It is no secret, however, that the lack of diverse representation onscreen is a major problem. Immigrant and mixed-race narratives are nowhere near as common or reflective as they deserve to be. This major gap is a motivator for Farsi Cinema Center, to promote the projects that highlight these narratives, and encourage connection between filmmakers so more titles can be developed.
Despite being home to many immigrant communities, the Farsi-speaking population is one of the largest sub-sects of the population across Canada. Bringing rich artistic and cultural knowledge, there are many Farsi-speaking or second-generation filmmakers who recognize the dire need for their stories and experiences to be developed on the big-screen. In the past several years, animation has been a successful way for a few Canadians with roots or interest in the Farsi-speaking region to do this. Window Horses (Ann Marie Fleming, 2016), and The Breadwinner (Nora Twomey, 2018) are two beautiful animated films involving Canadian producers and talent that explore Persian life and identity. The first is a film that captures the blending of culture and identity in our modern world, while the second transports viewers to Kabul during the Taliban rule.
Window Horses had its world premier at Annecy International Animated Film Festival, and North American premiere at TIFF in 2016. The film follows Rosie Ming, a young poet of Chinese and Iranian descent, living in Vancouver with her Chinese grandparents. Against the will of her grandparents, Rosie decides to travel to Shiraz, Iran to perform at a poetry festival. She immerses herself among poets and Persians, who reveal stories from her past, and share details about her father – who she has assumed to have been abandoned by. Rosie’s poems center around the limitations of her sheltered existence in her Canadian, Chinese, Iranian upbringing. She longs for clarity and understanding.
The director, Ann-Marie Fleming, who is half-Chinese and half-Australian, found herself living among Iranian communities in Germany. The exposure she had to other communities led her to respect and explore these various perspectives through the film. The film advances a Canadian perspective, while reflecting a mixed-race immigrant reckoning with the multiple worlds of her existence. In addition to capturing the hearts of audiences, the film received multiple Canadian and international awards, including the Jury Prize at Bucheon International Animation Festival, Best Animated Feature Film at the 2017 Asia Pacific Screen Awards, among many others.
The film to follow in 2018 was The Breadwinner – an animated coproduction between Ireland, Canada, and Luxemburg. Based on Deborah Ellis’ award-winning novel, the film reveals the story of Parvana, an 11-year-old Afghan girl living in Kabul under Taliban rule. When Parvana’s father is imprisoned for teaching, she is forced to disguise herself as a boy and become her family’s only source of income. Unpermitted from leaving her home without a male escort, Parvana is forced to find strength in her oppressive surrounding, and do anything she can to support her family and free her father. The film, which was executive produced by Angelina Jolie, premiered at TIFF in 2016, and later received a nomination for Best Animated Feature at the 90th Academy Awards in 2018.
Both Window Horses and The Breadwinner serve as reminders to the connection and authenticity animated films have the potential to evoke. The films align with FCC’s mission to cultivate stories from blended, borderless citizens and their experiences; not just from Farsi-speakers themselves, but from filmmakers around the rest of the world. We can’t wait to explore more multifaceted worlds.
If you live in the Toronto area, FCC and Reel Asian Film Festival will be co-presenting Window Horses at the newly opened Paradise Theatre at 10am this Sunday, March 8th. Visit our social media for ticket giveaways later this week, or get your tickets here!