'Such a powerful tool': The Breadwinner director creates animated film for adults
Irish filmmaker Nora Twomey adapts Canadian author Deborah Ellis’s eponymous novel about a young Afghanistan girl living under Taliban rule.
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Every once in a while, a movie comes along which reminds audiences that animation doesn’t always have to be aimed at children.
“It’s such a powerful tool,” Irish filmmaker Nora Twomey said recently. “It’s put in a (category) that’s just for kids and it’s absolutely not. It didn’t start out its life that way over a hundred years ago — it was always used as an experimental medium.”
In the film The Breadwinner, Twomey adopted animation to form a “study of families in conflict” through an adaptation of Canadian author Deborah Ellis’s eponymous novel about a young Afghanistan girl who must disguise herself as a boy in order to provide for her family during the Taliban regime.
“Things have changed to a degree for women,” said Twomey, noting Taliban-rule in Afghanistan ended in 2001.
“It was an important film to put out there because I don’t think any of us are too far from some of the elements of the subject matter in this film (and) it’s a symptom of conflict — the way that women and children suffer in times of conflict.”
In the case of The Breadwinner, animation was especially important to connect Western audiences with such disparate characters as prepubescent children confronting Islamic misogyny and oppression in Afghanistan.
“I was quite aware that had we made this in live-action, audiences might emotionally disconnect from it,” insisted Twomey. “Animation has a special quality — the more you simplify the human face, the more people identify with it on a personal level.”
That type of connection may be what’s leading the film’s much talked-about Oscar buzz. But one also can’t ignore the gravity of the film’s famous executive producer — Angelina Jolie — who not only supplied detailed direction through her experience as a United Nations Special Envoy, but also as a simple cheerleader for the film.
“Angelina recorded video messages every time we hit milestones in the production,” said Twomey. “For our cast and crew it really spurred people on and gave them a bit of extra energy when they needed it. All the way through, she was a guiding force.”
“I wanted (moviegoers) to keep their hearts open, so, for me, animation was the perfect medium,” said Twomey. “Some people come up and say they forget halfway through that it’s an animated film.”
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“Years ago it was taken as gospel that men and boys wouldn’t see a film with a female protagonist,” said Twomey, noting the recent success of Wonder Woman was a watershed moment. “I definitely feel there’s a shift taking place.”
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“I didn’t really get into the political or historical situation of Afghanistan because I don’t have any answers; I only have questions,” said Twomey. “It is a film of hope at the end of the day.”
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