16 juin 2023

Shedding Light on the Rohingya Crisis: The Aesthetic Journey in 'Lost at Sea’


'Lost at Sea' weaves in less than 5 minutes a touching narrative of Rohingyas and all people cast adrift from their homes, portraying their nighttime voyage with vivid emotions and evocative visuals.

Based on actual footage, these compelling visuals piqued my cinematographer's interest, sparking a desire to chat with the artists who crafted this piece and to share it with you.

So here is an interview with the directors Andrés Alejandro BARTOS AMORY and Lucija STOJEVIC, conducted during the 2023 Annecy International Animated Film Festival.


PMO: I'm intrigued by your film, not just for its stunning visuals but also for its beautiful score and the narrative itself.

Andrés Alejandro BARTOS AMORY: I appreciate your comment. Our intention with this film was indeed to elicit strong emotions from the viewers.

PMO: It's quite a heavy narrative, filled with emotion, yet it doesn't succumb to pathos or heavy effects. That's a commendable achievement. And speaking of visuals, let's mention the animator, Richard Swarbrick. 

Lucija STOJEVIC: Indeed, Richard's talent significantly contributed to the unique visual style. But it's crucial to understand the process behind it. The film is based on an actual testimony. 

AB: Right. From that testimony, we began developing the script, concurrently conducting thorough archival research since the film's visuals are inspired by real images

We delved into various news archives, documentaries, and photography to depict the Rohingyas, especially during the COVID pandemic when travel was restricted. 

With no opportunity to travel, we had to rely on these sources to maintain authenticity in our storytelling.

LS: And accessing these materials wasn't always easy.

One of the key pieces of footage was from a boat carrying Rohingyas. It was a challenging process to obtain permission for its use. However, utilizing animation allowed us to provide audiences with a vivid experience without losing the emotional intensity of the refugees' plight.

PMO: I see. While the film specifically tells the story of Rohingyas, it seems to resonate with the experience of boat refugees universally. 

AB: Exactly. That was our intention. The Rohingyas, often depicted as masses of people fleeing their homeland, are generally perceived as an indistinguishable crowd. We wanted to break this stereotype by telling the story of an individual. 

We sought a personal perspective, which is why we centered the narrative around a Rohingya named Muhib.

Muhib's testimony about his childhood and his yearning for his Burmese classmates was a significant part of the narrative. 

LS: Yes, those human moments revealed the transition in his life and his environment. Another pivotal moment was understanding the Rohingyas' oral history tradition, which influenced the structure and narrative of our film.

We were aware that Rohingyas, due to the lack of a written language, often rely on songs and oral stories to pass down their history. So, we incorporated this cultural element into the film.

AB: That’s where we should mention Mayeux, a poet who contributed to the film while living in the Cox's Bazar refugee camp. 

Mayeux, now living in Canada, collected and converted people's experiences into poetry. He even composed a second book comprising lullabies, songs, and stories. 

LS: His wife is the one who sings in the film. She recorded the first version of the song in Cox Bazar’s camp.

PMO: Wow, that's remarkable. It seems like you've put significant effort into ensuring that the Rohingyas' voices are authentically represented.

LS: Exactly, we wanted the film to pay tribute to the Rohingyas by using their narratives and language. It was important to give voice to a community that often goes unheard.

PMO: And in terms of visuals, the archival footage was crucial in setting the emotional tone, right?

AB: Absolutely. We also played with two different color palettes to highlight the contrast between the harsh realities of the sea journey and the warmth of Muhib's childhood memories, in Rakhine State, in the western part of Myanmar.

LS: And to create these visuals, we worked with both actors and non-actors, some in a controlled studio environment, while others were filmed out at sea.

AB: Filming in a green screen studio gave us control over the lighting and sound, while shooting at sea, handheld, provided authentic and dynamic footage. This combination helped us in character building and setting the narrative's tone.

PMO: And throughout this process, animator Richard Swarbrick was involved, guiding you on what kind of reference footage he needed?

AB: Yes, it was an ongoing dialogue to understand his requirements. Since he often works with composite visuals, he guided us in creating the background and the main characters.

PMO: The technique used in your film does remind me of Rotoscopy, but it's not quite the same. It's not a photocopy of reality, but more of an interpretation.

AB: Richard Swarbrick, our animator, indeed captures movement and action in a unique way. He uses an approach that's almost impressionistic and dreamy, which is very different from the more literal interpretations in films like 'Scanner Darkly' or ‘Waltz With Bashir’. Richard's work can make you feel that there are real beings behind, but they are so much stylized that it feels both real and dreamlike at the same time.

We found Richard through a project he had done previously with archival work. His sensitivity in capturing expressions, especially the eyes of the characters, caught our attention. His approach to animation allowed us to show the characters' eyes, which was crucial to our storytelling.

LS: Our initial approach towards the project was quite different. We initially thought of finding a famous voice-over artist related to the conflict zone. However, we later realized that it was more important to let the voiceless, stateless Rohingyas speak for themselves. So we decided to focus more on authenticity rather than finding a star for the voice-over.

AB: Once we reached picture lock, the stage at which the edit cannot be touched any further because the animation and sound work are based on it, we agreed on the direction of the project. Sound design was also an ongoing process during this time.

The project had four main elements, and we needed to find a balance among these within our resources and budget. There were our ideas, Richard's needs, the binaural sound design, and the music. 

LS: The binaural sound was a vital aspect of the film, as we wanted to create spaces for the audience to be immersed in through the sound. However, this desire for immersion led to a question of balance. Richard, used to a more commercial style of quick cuts, was concerned about having prolonged sequences that may not be visually engaging, like a two-minute scene of just the sea. We were striving to extend such sequences for a deeper immersive experience, and striking a balance between these two perspectives was crucial.

AB: Lastly, music was another critical element. While we had the mother's song, there was also composed music. Richard's work is significantly influenced by music and rhythm, so integrating these musical components effectively was a significant part of our process.

PMO: Why did you start the film in darkness, during the night ?

AB: This decision was largely informed by the nature of our archive footage. The most powerful footage we had was captured by a film crew on a boat with Rohingyas escaping in the night. Shot in night vision, it gave us a single point of light with everything else almost hidden in darkness, and the people appearing as just silhouettes. This was the first time viewers get to see mothers with their children, people praying, and the sparks from the boat's diesel engine, details that make the situation palpable.

We saw it as a metaphorical 'dark night of the soul' for the world, which we gradually unravel throughout the film. It provided a stark contrast and a way to focus on the subject matter, instead of presenting a highly detailed picture.

PMO: The lighting by zones and layering used in the film is something not typically seen in animated films. It focuses our attention, and is both artistic and functional due to the situation being depicted.

AB: Richard's use of lighting in the film is indeed very captivating. The transitions between the adult and child characters, which happened mostly through the face, were done very effectively. 

Unfortunately, Richard could not be present here for this interview, but he's always busy with multiple projects, including advertising and Netflix series.


This article will be completed with Richard's interview if his commitments allow him the time.

Credits: all pictures are © Noon Films S.L

12 juin 2023

Audacity and Emotions: A Look at Virtual Reality at the Annecy Animation Film Festival 2023

  •  The Annecy Animation Film Festival celebrates animation in all its forms, including in Virtual Reality (VR), in a dedicated and optimized space. 
  • This year's selections stand out for their more experimental and daring approach, tackling sociopolitical subjects such as abortion in the United States. 
  • While VR holds significant potential for creators and audiences alike, there are still challenges to overcome, including investment in hardware, broadcasting rights, and content availability. 

I met with Yves Nougarède and Gala Frécon, the selectors of the competing works. 

Pascal Montjovent (PM): VR experienced a surge a few years ago, before becoming less prominent to the public. Have you felt a slump in VR film production recently?
Gala Frécon (GF): Not really. We always receive a constant stream of about ninety works since the beginning. However, this year is characterized by a more experimental and bold approach to subject treatment. We are less in a logic of large productions using famous voice-overs than in the past.

PM: Could we conclude that budgets have decreased?
GF: It’s not so much a question of resources, but rather an evolution in form and scriptwriting. For example, we have a film named "I Took a Lethal Dose of Herbs" which discusses abortion in the United States. The audience is immersed in the conflict between an anti-abortion group and a woman going through a difficult post-partum.

PM: These subjects weren't often addressed in VR before. Is this a sign of the medium's maturity?
GF: We believe so, and we are very proud of this selection.

PM: What is your reaction to Apple's proposal?
GF: I believe it’s more about augmented reality than VR. But all these media are complementary. Personally, I hope that VR will never replace cinema, but I believe it has a lot to offer, especially to young creators. It's essential to open spaces to broadcast these films to the general audience.

PM: How long has the Annecy Festival been following the evolution of VR production alongside that of animation cinema?
GF: It's been seven years. I have been a co-selector for the third year, with Yves Nougarède who has held this position since the beginning.
YN: I was selecting short films for the Festival, which suddenly offered me to switch to VR.

PM: Who are the main VR distributors in France?
GF: They are mainly Astrea Immersive, Diversion Cinema, and Lucid Realities.

PM: Do you have films this year that combine gaming and cinema?
GF: No, we only present films.

"Red Tail" directed by Fish Wang (Taiwan)

PM: Do you have the opportunity to circulate these films in France?
GF: For the Annecy Festival, best-ofs circulate worldwide (young audiences, award-winning films). In VR, it's more complicated because of the necessary equipment and broadcasting rights, which are often high.

PM: Can we see a selection of Annecy's VR films at home with a PC and a headset?
GF: No, our catalog is designed for collective experiences. Even though each viewer has their own headset, the experience remains collective and human, with mediation on our part. 

PM: So these are primarily individual experiences, where you don't perceive other viewers as avatars?
GF: Exactly, these are VR short films. We try to prioritize short films because VR tends to produce long works, which can become tiring. But the audience is very receptive, and many discover VR for the first time.

We truly defend the idea that the immersive aspect of VR can convey plenty of powerful emotions.


XR Space, Bonlieu Palace, from June 12 to 16, 2023

Insider tip: If you're short on time to see everything, prioritize "Red Tail," a Taiwanese tale reminiscent of Tim Burton and David Lynch.

Audaces et émotions: le point sur la Réalité Virtuelle au Festival du film d'animation d'Annecy 2023

  • Le Festival du film d’animation d’Annecy célèbre l’animation sous toutes ses formes, y compris en Réalité Virtuelle (VR), dans un espace dédié et optimisé.
  • Les sélections de cette année se démarquent par une approche plus expérimentale et audacieuse, traitant de sujets sociopolitiques tels que l'avortement aux États-Unis.
  • Bien que la VR ait un potentiel considérable pour les créateurs et le public, il reste des défis à surmonter, notamment l'investissement en matériel, les droits de diffusion et la disponibilité du contenu.
  • J'ai rencontré Yves Nougarède et Gala Frécon, les sélectionneurs des oeuvres en compétition.
Pascal Montjovent (PM): La VR a connu un engouement il y a quelques années, avant de se faire plus discrète auprès du grand public. Est-ce que vous avez ressenti un creux dans la production de films VR récemment ?
Gala Frécon (GF): Pas réellement. Nous recevons toujours un flux constant d’environ quatre-vingt-dix oeuvres depuis le début. Cependant, cette année se démarque par une approche plus expérimentale et audacieuse dans le traitement des sujets. Nous sommes moins que par le passé dans une logique de grosses productions utilisant des voix off connues.

PM: Pourrait-on en conclure que les budgets ont diminué ?
GF: Ce n’est pas tant une question de moyens, mais plutôt une évolution dans la forme et l’écriture. Par exemple, nous avons un film nommé “I Took a Lethal Dose of Herbs” qui aborde l’avortement aux États-Unis. Le public est immergé dans le conflit entre un groupe anti-avortement et une femme qui traverse un post-partum difficile.

PM: Ces sujets n’étaient pas souvent traités en VR auparavant. Est-ce un signe de maturité du médium ?
GF: Nous pensons que oui, et nous sommes très fiers de cette sélection.

PM: Quelle est votre réaction face à la proposition d’Apple ?
GF: Je crois qu’il s’agit plus de réalité augmentée que de VR. Mais tous ces medias sont complémentaires. Personnellement, j’espère que la VR ne remplacera jamais le cinéma, mais je crois qu’elle a beaucoup à offrir, notamment aux jeunes créateurs. Il est essentiel d’ouvrir des espaces pour diffuser ces films au grand public.

PM: Depuis combien de temps le Festival d’Annecy suit-il l’évolution de la production VR en parallèle de celle du cinéma d’animation ?
GF: Cela fait sept ans. Je suis co-sélectionneuse pour la troisième année, avec Yves Nougarède qui occupe ce poste depuis le début.
YN: Je sélectionnais les courts-métrages pour le Festival, qui m’a proposé du jour au lendemain de passer à la VR.

PM: Quels sont les principaux distributeurs de VR en France ?

PM: Avez-vous des films cette année qui combinent gaming et cinéma ?
GF: Non, nous ne présentons que des films.

"Red Tail" réalisé par Fish Wang (Taiwan)

PM: Avez-vous la possibilité de faire circuler ces films en France ?
GF: Pour le Festival d'Annecy, des best-of circulent dans le monde entier (jeune public, films primés). En VR c'est plus compliqué à cause du matériel nécessaire et des droits de diffusion qui sont souvent élevés.

PM: Peut-on voir une sélection des films VR d’Annecy chez soi avec un PC et un casque ?
GF: Non, notre catalogue est conçu pour des expériences collectives. Bien que chaque spectateur ait son propre casque, l’expérience reste collective et humaine, avec une médiation de notre part. 

PM: Alors ce sont surtout des expériences individuelles, où l’on ne perçoit pas les autres spectateurs sous forme d’avatars?
GF: Exactement, ce sont des courts métrages en VR. Nous essayons de privilégier des films courts, car la VR a tendance à produire des œuvres longues, ce qui peut devenir fatiguant. Mais le public est très réceptif et beaucoup découvrent la VR pour la première fois.

Nous défendons vraiment l’idée que la VR peut transmettre beaucoup d’émotions profondes, décuplées par l'immersion.


Espace XR, Palais de Bonlieu, du 12 au 16 juin 2023

Conseil d’initié: si le temps vous manque pour tout voir, visez en priorité “Red Tail”, un conte taiwanais qui rappelle Tim Burton et David Lynch. 
Depuis la publication de l'article, le film a d'ailleurs remporté le Cristal de la meilleure œuvre VR (2023).