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Henri Magalon • Producer of Calamity: A Childhood of Martha Jane Cannary

"Calamity is the story of a girl in a man’s world"


- French firm Maybe Movies’ head Henri Magalon discusses Rémi Chayé’s Calamity: A Childhood of Martha Jane Cannary, which is competing in Annecy

Henri Magalon • Producer of Calamity: A Childhood of Martha Jane Cannary

Rémi Chayé’s Calamity: A Childhood of Martha Jane Cannary [+see also:
film review
interview: Henri Magalon
film profile
is battling it out in the L'Officielle Competition of the Annecy International Animation Film Festival (unspooling 15-30 June). Henri Magalon, who produced the film in league with Claire Lacombe on behalf of Maybe Movies, looks back on the origins of the project. Maybe Movies is also taking part in Annecy Online’s MIFA Pitches with Saba by Alexis Ducord and Benjamin Massoubre (news).

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Cineuropa: Why did you decide to produce Calamity: A Childhood of Martha Jane Cannary?
Henri Magalon: The experience of making Long Way North with Rémi Chayé and his team was amazing, and we wanted to work together again. Soon after, Rémi told me about the true story of Martha Jane Cannary who later became Calamity Jane. It fascinated him as he often looks instinctively towards strong female characters. After a lot of reading, of biographies and other texts, the three scriptwriters realised that she had quite literally invented her own legend while she was still alive: she was always on the go, she had lots of incredible experiences in different places, she lived almost entirely on earnings from her shows where she was paid to talk about her adventures, of which almost 75% were clearly romanticised. We didn’t want to make a biopic, but to go into her childhood which there are very few historic records of. There were a few though, and we set the film between two dates which stood out: the time before she left the East coast of America with her family, headed for the west coast, and the moment when she began to make headlines. Between these two points, we set about inventing with all the freedom that her character allowed, not allowing ourselves to be constrained by the life usually reserved for girls back then.

Who is the film aimed at?
What I’ve always admired are films which are resolutely child-friendly, with sound values, but which aren’t a chore for parents to sit through, and where there’s a certain maturity to the story being told. Calamity is a film for all audiences, a western with all its wide, open spaces and the story of a girl in a man’s world. As her father is pretty much bedridden as a result of a wagon accident, she ends up having to take things in hand: the horses, the family… And then, when she’s told to go back to her role as a girl again, she refuses, because she wants the same freedom as the boys, but as a girl. It’s a universal theme which everyone will like, including parents, given the slightly more modern and societal dimension it brings.

What were the main lines of work on the visual side of things?
Rémi worked in all kinds of roles before he became a director: as an illustrator, a story-boarder, an assistant director, a team leader in various departments… For Long Way North, he settled on a pipeline, a production model, based heavily on Flash, which is a vector tool allowing you to zoom in on characters without compromising image quality. We carried on down this path with Calamity in league with Studio 2 Minutes, pushing the experiment one step further and adding much more 3D, hoping that you won’t be able to tell given the film’s overall visual coherence. It makes for a nice combination, and the film is a lot more ambitious in terms of volume as there’s a huge number of characters, of very different places and of wagons which are always on the move.

How did the funding process unfold?
Long Way North was a brilliant calling card, but expectations were very high. So we made sure we fine-tuned each step before moving on to the next. First, we checked whether we were considered to be legitimate in our intention to seize on a legend from the American West, given that we were French and European. We received some really positive feedback so we approached Cartoon Movie, first at the concept stage and then, a year later, in the development stage, but only with a pilot because we still needed to fine-tune the story, which was a risk as we’d already raised hopes. We decided to take an additional four months over it and bring a script along to Annecy. After that, things moved very quickly, and we sorted out funding within six months. I’m a huge advocate of screenwriters because everything hinges on their work: it makes the production process far more efficient because it means the animators can focus on quality rather than spending their time struggling with flaws in the script.

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(Translated from French)

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