Nicolas Schmerkin • Producer of Shadows
"Tackling such a topic in a symbolic, universal way and at a child’s height is a challenge"
- The head of French company Autour de Minuit discusses the project Shadows, winner of the Eurimages Co-Production Development Prize at Cartoon Movie
Since its creation in 2001, Nicolas Schmerkin has been heading Paris-based company Autour de Minuit, specialised in animation and equipped with two studios (one of them in Angoulême). It is behind, among other titles, the 2010 Oscar-winning animated short film Logorama and its productions have won more than 500 awards at festivals. Executive producer on Unicorn Wars by Alberto Vazquez (in production), Autour de Minuit also counts among its projects Shadows (Les Ombres) which has just won the 2021 Eurimages Co-Production Development Prize at Cartoon Movie (read the news).
Cineuropa: How was the project Shadows born?
Nicolas Schmerkin: Five years ago, a friend recommended I read the comic Shadows. I did and I was struck by it: the graphics were gorgeous with an important social and political story, treated in a dreamlike manner. I immediately wanted to make a film based on it. I very soon met with literary author Vincent Zabus, from Belgium, and with the artist Hyppolite who is French, and I suggested that direction should go to Nadia Micault, whom I’ve been working with for about ten years and who has worked on short films and on animated segments in documentaries, such as the series Les routes de l’esclavage. Very quickly, the idea of working with a Belgian co-producer imposed itself and I looped in our friends from Panique !, whom we’ve also been working with for about ten years in co-production and who took charge of the writing, with Vincent Zabus and Vincent Tavier. They kind of went back to the source material, which was a very politically engaged play written from the basis of real migrant stories. Once the first treatment and script drafts were ready, we got started with the designing part with Nadia and Hyppolite, who started to create the references for the animation of the pilot. So we started off from the storyboard for a 2-minute pilot and we began work in our Angoulême studio, which is called Borderline Films. The first 45 seconds constitute the teaser presented at Cartoon Movie, and we are now working on the rest which will be completed within a month. There is still a lot to do in development, and this Eurimages prize isn’t just very encouraging, it also arrives at the perfect moment for us: we have to continue our graphics research, but also our musical research because there will be four or five sung musical parts in the film. And of course there’s also the storyboard, the animation, all the elements which will allow us to move on with the financing of the production. At Cartoon Movie, we got some excellent feedback and great interest from many international sales agents. This gives us some relief as we were a little apprehensive about the reaction at the market to this kind of film, tackling a delicate subject. This isn’t necessarily the kind of topic that people expect in a kids’ film and it isn’t a feel-good movie either, even if it concludes on an open-ended and positive note. Rather, the audience we are aiming for is that of My Life as a Courgette [+see also:
interview: Claude Barras
film profile]. We think that we can tell stories that can be tough at times, but that are important and which can be told in a way suitable to children from the age of 8 so that they can understand the stakes for the characters. In any case, we’re always treating the dangerous moments in a metaphorical way and from the angle of the fairytale, with an ogre, mermaids, talking objects, songs. We don’t want to water things down, but to tell stories in a different way and without hiding the difficult things or moments, in order to avoid the situation where children and parents alike reject a topic out of fear.
What will be the exact topic of the film?
It is a story about identity, intergenerational transmission and uprooting, following two children, a brother and his younger sister, who are forced to flee from their village and who go looking for their father, who left before them towards what we call the other world, seeking a better life. Their village is an unspecified place, like in the comic: it does not take place specifically in Libya, Sudan, Nepal or Venezuela. It’s a story of migrants, a trip, an adventure with encounters and obstacles, and which also talks about how we can pass on our identity when we move from one place to another. This touches me since I am myself a political refugee, having fled the Argentinian dictatorship with my parents when I was little. Tackling such a topic in a symbolic, universal way and at a child’s height is a challenge that is particularly close to my heart. And the entire process of transformation, these true migrant stories which become a play, which becomes a comic, which then becomes a film that we will show to children, that is also the topic of the film, since the brother comes from a family of griots and his goal is also to tell his own story: should he water it down to make it more palatable and be better accepted by others? Or should he not deny where he comes from? This kind of transmission is a big theme of the film.
(Translated from French)
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