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Andrea Dorfman, Filmmaker
“I am an artist and filmmaker and I've made experimental and dramatic short films, two feature fims - Parsley Days (2000) and Love That Boy (2003) - as well as a documentary, Sluts (2005). I'm currently working in animation at the National Film Board of Canada and developing my third feature film, Harmony, with screenwriter, Jennifer Deyell. I sometimes teach film and video at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and I'm one of 4 co-creators of Blowhard, a thematic storytelling series. I live in Halifax, Nova Scotia, with a cat, a dog, some fish, my boyfriend, Dave, and (half of the time) his kids Max and Sydney.” – Andrea Dorfman
You are a filmmaker that creates experimental and dramatic short films, feature films, animations and documentaries. When making a film or animation, what is the one thing you always try to keep in mind?
Good question... it's a tough question to answer because every film I do is so completely different. But I think for each piece I do, I am always trying to answer the 'big question' that compelled me to make something in the first place. My films all start with a big idea or a theme that I am exploring. Usually there is a big question that keeps me up at night and this is what I try to answer in making the film.
Which movie / animation was the most fun to create?
It's whichever movie I am working on right now. Seriously! With every new project, I always learn something new - whether this is a new technique or genre. I love the challenge of approaching art from a new angle. I love the experimentation, not knowing how it's going to end. By the time I'm finished the movie, it's no longer fun for me. I'm done with it and my brain is already focusing on the next thing.
Your video “How to be Alone” has had over 3 million views on YouTube. Why do you think this video reaches people on such a real level?
I think people really responded to the beautiful honesty of Tanya Davis' poem. To grapple with loneliness, to make sense of being single in a world that flaunts couple-dom all around us is something everyone has come up against. Even when in a relationship, we can feel intensely lonely. This is something everyone needs to explore and Tanya gave the perfect antidote - a touching and sincere 'how to' list that makes us feel normal for feeling these feelings.
Your latest film, “Flawed”, a 12 minute animated film about your own love story, is about being imperfect in a world that expects perfection. What would you want to say to someone who feels unable to accept their own flaws?
Nothing is permanent. We are changing all the time and what might seem like a big deal now will fade over time. One of the responses to the film has been a lot of people who came up after screenings and told me that they had changed something about themselves at a vulnerable time in their life and now they wish they hadn't because they feel differently now. When we're consumed with the present, it's sometimes hard to imagine feeling any different...but we change. I also think that feeling flawed is part of life. There will always be things about ourselves that we're not happy about. How we cope with these feelings is going to determine the quality of our life experience. If we put ourselves under a magnifying glass, no doubt we will come up with a few things we'd love to change. It sometimes takes willpower and strength to NOT focus on these things so that they don't get in the way of the more meaningful parts of our lives.
Are any of your other films based on your personal stories or experiences? What are some other sources of inspiration for you?
All of my films are strongly rooted in autobiography. If I had to look at my life as a series of really dramatic peaks - moments where, for whatever reason, I felt the most, lived in an extreme way - these are the things I've made films about. However, they aren't all documentaries. I often add fictional elements, characters and storylines that move away from my personal experience and allow me to tell a more expansive story.
Have you or someone close to you ever struggled with depression or anxiety? If so, how did you deal with it?
A few people close to me have struggled with depression as well as bipolar disorder. Personally, when I was nine years old was diagnosed with separation anxiety. I actually made a film about this called 'nine'. I had suddenly become afraid that my parents would die and I stopped letting them go out at night. The anxiety escalated to panic attacks, depression and suicidal thoughts. At this point my parents took me to a psychiatrist who I saw for two years. It took me years before I could talk to anybody about this. I felt ashamed and deficient - like there must have been something wrong with me. When I finally started to talk about it, I discovered that other young people experienced similar forms of anxiety...eventually I made the film, 'nine', with the idea that it was the film I wish I had been able to see when I was going through separation anxiety.
Your films are not typical. They are artistic and go against the norm in many creative ways. Was it ever difficult for you to choose a non-conventional or experimental style?
Experimentation is one of the joys of creating. I am happiest when I don't know what's going to happen next. I have always loved this about animation. No matter how vivid I imagine something before I create it, it's always a surprise when it's done. Filmmaking is pure magic.
What helps you to get into a creative “zone” or “space”?
Sometimes I'll get inspired through research before a project, look at images on the internet, watch movies, read books. Otherwise, music! When I do animation, I listen to a lot of podcasts.
A lot of your films contain bicycles. Is there an environmental message you are trying to convey?
Yes! I think bicycles are beautiful. The perfect invention and I am convinced that if more people rode bikes, if cities were more bike friendly, we'd all be a lot better off.
What other messages do you hope people will take away from your films?
If I had to distill this to one point, I would say: honesty. I think we all connect to honesty. I think for a story to be conveyed from one human to another, there's been the willingness for the creator to go that mile, to dig deep inside themselves, to ask tough questions and to come up with an honest answer. This is what will resonate.
Who is your favourite filmmaker?
This is such a tough question!! I admire so many filmmakers but one filmmaker who I am always amazed by is Jane Campion. She is an Australian filmmaker and has made a career or telling profoundly moving and honest stories about women - and believe it or not, even in this day and age, this is rare.
Another impossible question!!! I could never come up with a single film...but I always loved watching the old nfb films when I was a kid. Maybe it was because when we'd watch it in school, I would always offer to be the 'projector monitor'. Those were the days when we watched films on film. I used to whirrrr of the projector and the light as it shone through the film....pure magic.
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