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“The reason I make films is to communicate with people”

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Signe Baumane • Director


- Cineuropa spoke with Latvian animator Signe Baumane, who recently screened her first feature film, Rocks in my Pockets, at Brussels’ Anima Festival

Signe Baumane  • Director

Cineuropa spoke with Latvian animator Signe Baumane, who recently screened her first feature film, Rocks in My Pockets [+see also:
film review
interview: Signe Baumane
film profile
, at Brussels’ Anima Animated Film Festival.

Cineuropa: In the film, you talk about your family’s real journey into depression, as well as your own – but you modified some details from the story for dramatic purposes. How did you decide what to change and why?
Signe Baumane:
When you are telling a story, if you limit yourself in telling the actual facts it’s not a story, it’s citing facts.  As a storyteller, I am not concerned with facts, but with the truth. My vision is the subjective truth. Therefore, even if in the film some facts are known, a certain character’s point of view is more interesting. So in the end, I´m not claiming this is how it really happened, I’m saying this is how I see it. When you tell a story you must be subjective, because if you try to be objective, it’s just not going to work. Furthermore, if you’re trying to keep the audience’s interest, then you need a dramatic drive. That means that you may have to skip events that actually happened in reality because they don’t help you express what you want to express.

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Was everything as easy to say as it seems or were there some points that you found difficult or painful to say out loud?
At first, I started writing about different ways of killing myself. However, there was no dramatic drive to it. So I changed the subject and started writing about my family. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. Later on, the film director I was working with asked me to describe how it felt being depressed. At first, I refused; I thought it wouldn’t interest anybody and besides, I knew it was going to be painful for me. But he insisted and I gave it a try. So I pushed myself to put into words how it feels to be depressed and it was very difficult and tough. There were moments when, just by reading it, my voice would get stuck and I started shaking. I cracked down several times. The same happened during the recording. But in the end, I managed to get through it all.

The film and the subject are very complex, but the way that you narrate the story or even your voice intonation is extremely expressive and easy to understand by anybody. Why is there nothing “cryptic” in your approach of depression?
There is still always something you don’t understand about depression. But the reason I make films is because I want to communicate. I tried my best to describe it but, still, you can only understand a small part of it. I never felt it was fully expressed. Yet, I want to be clear and I want to lead the audience so they don’t get lost. You’re already lost in your life, why would you want to be lost in a movie? I think there are people that make films so people get lost in the movie, but I’m not that kind of filmmaker. I want people to know where they are.  That’s the whole point, where you are able to actually tell them something.

What has influenced your visual style, not only for Rocks in My Pockets, but in general for all your work?
Well, number one is Eastern European illustration art. There was this whole tradition in countries like Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Hungary, Czech Republic or even East Germany. They had this visual tradition that was somehow complying with the Soviet agenda, but they were actually subversive. You could see a hidden sarcasm if you closely looked at the poster. They also had a very unique use of visual metaphors, which is very distinctive of Eastern European. Another influence was, of course, Jan Švankmajer. But also a couple of amazing illustrators: one is Stasys Eidrigevičius, from whom I learnt that you don´t have to illustrate each word, but you make your own visual story. Then of course Bill Plympton, because he really showed me how to make films in a non-expensive way, and encouraged me not to be afraid of humour. As an Eastern European you can really get serious sometimes.

You were selected to represent Latvia at the Oscars. What did that mean to you?
To be completely honest, I don’t think I work for the Oscars. I think if I’m true to myself, my films will never be even close to nomination, because I do the work in a different sort of way. So when Latvia selected the film, I was very surprised. Even if I knew the film couldn’t have won an Oscar, I wanted it to be nominated because of the effect it would have on a mainstream audience. I want people to go to the cinema and watch the film! If this is the only way to make them come and see it…

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