An animator dissects his own body, extracting memories, emotions and fears that will nurture his work. As he cuts into his skin with a scalpel, various symbolic objects recalling his past emerge. Reaching the heart after cracking his ribs, he succeeds in identifying the burden he’s been dying to cast off.
Interview with Writer, Animator and Director: Patrick Bouchard
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
Thank you! There are any number of reasons for making a film. I began to feel the need to make a film like this when I turned 40. However, just like the anvil my character heaves out of the body toward the end, this film was extremely difficult to pull out of me. I wanted to address the notion of “being,” but beyond the body, it’s very hard to put anything so intangible into words and images. On another level, the film is also me questioning my life and work. After working in animation for 18 years, a project like The Subject didn’t just feel like something I needed to do, but was also entitled to take on.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
That’s a hard question, since each viewer will take away something different and personal. The Subject delivers an emotional experience rather than a message. This is due in part to the filmmaking process we developed. Some people are open to such an approach, others, less so. In that sense, I’d say that those who should see the film are those who are ready to take it as it comes.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
I want to make it clear that the film is not autobiographical. Sure, there are a handful of elements or objects of personal significance onscreen, but I think they can also reach people in one way or another. Take the anvil that my character wrests out from the body. It’s a metaphor for this kind of inner burden. That’s not something only I get to experience. We all have an ‘anvil’ lodged somewhere beneath the solar plexus. It’s directly linked to our feelings; it’s human nature in all its mystery. To rid yourself of this weight may seem just about impossible, but we’re all entitled to break free, however difficult it may be. That’s what this scene sets out to depict. Like the other scenes, it’s not a one-sided conversation. The film is both highly personal and universal.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development?
What was particular about this film was its process. I didn’t sit down and script it all out, and that’s what accounts for its distinctiveness. I knew only three things at the outset: how it began, how it ended and the fact that I would be working from a life-sized human form. The film was more or less created on the spot as we shot it, and so I never knew where I was going next.
My life, my encounters, my joys and sorrows, even current events—all of these fed into the process. Because of that, The Subject is specific to a certain period, which is an approach I find interesting in context. If I had to do it again today, it would be a completely different film.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
I was a little apprehensive about its reception and I have to say I’m surprised that, so far, it’s been mostly positive. I know some viewers may find the imagery difficult, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Of course, the film won’t appeal to everyone, but most of the time, it seems to elicit a response. I’ve received analyses and comments of every sort, and many go way beyond my own interpretation. Whether it’s about dehumanization, philosophy, existentialism, spirituality or just a failed film, I love getting feedback—it shows that my film is alive and well!
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
The film has only just been launched and hasn’t yet gone on to mass release. So I’ve yet to experience any real challenges to my point of view. That being said, during production, I was endlessly plagued by doubt. Since the film was unscripted, investing in it was risky, on all fronts. It was exhausting and sometimes scary. Now that the film is complete, I have to say with perfect sincerity that the result is what I’d hoped for. The Subject won’t mean the same thing to every viewer. I think that’s one of its strengths and actually, it was intended that way. Still, even if it feels like we’ve done a good job, we’re not totally impervious to criticism. And so whether it’s for my own good or not, I’m still very susceptible to being shaken up by another viewpoint. It can be hard, but it’s good to be challenged!
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
The film is just starting out and short films don’t always make it onto the public’s radar. I’m based in Quebec, Canada, and I’m delighted an Australian publication is interested in my film, since this will boost its visibility that much more. The more the media trains its focus on short films, the better it is for the animation community.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
Short films do not enjoy wide distribution, and this is all the more true for animation. I believe all levels of distribution have their part to play. Still, in terms of visibility and recognition, it’s only once a production is completed that the true importance of marketing and publicity comes to the fore. Getting the message out there is a colossal undertaking. When this link in the chain is strong and the film meets expectations, the message should take its place in the public eye and even in their hearts.
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
The Subject is a visceral film that shows more than it tells. I want people to take away more of a feeling than an idea. Feelings are real, whatever anyone says, and that’s the impact I want the film to have. This means getting festival programmers on board, sparking their interest so that they make it part of the program. Basically, the film has to be seen before we can gauge its impact. In that sense, screening at Cannes and Annecy will give the film an incredible leg up, especially at such an early stage.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
Formally speaking, one key question might address our decision not to script The Subject. Given the time constraints, can an animated film be a work of substance without being scripted beforehand? Is spontaneity possible, and if so, how does it translate into animation? I also think any questions touching on the relationship between space, time and movement are interesting for this kind of filmmaking. In terms of substance, I think it would be relevant to address the symbolism of the various scenes. Would that be enough to spark a debate? I don’t know, but it would surely bring forth some interesting observations.
Would you like to add anything else?
I’d like to highlight the work of my colleagues as well as my producer, Julie Roy. They were all just great. Whether in terms of set, sound or image, I’m a big believer in the talent and ideas of my colleagues. I get involved at every stage of production but I also consult, listen, and sometimes let myself be guided. I’ve been very fortunate in that I’m so well supported and advised by the National Film Board of Canada (NFB). It’s been a privilege.
What other projects are the key creatives developing or working on now?
Making this film took considerable personal investment, and I’m still coming down from it. Right now, I’m working on other people’s projects, which expands my horizons and lets me learn new things. At the same time, I want to experience my film in the festival context, meet new people and grow from it all. I have ideas for future works but they need to mature, since you really have to believe in an idea if you’re going to work on it for years. I’ll always love stop-motion but I’m staying open: there are so many possibilities!
Interview: May 2018
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Length: 10 minutes
Director: Patrick Bouchard
Producer: Julie Roy / National Film Board of Canada
Written, Animated and Directed by : Patrick Bouchard
Stop-motion master Patrick Bouchard (Bydlo, Dehors novembre, The Brainwashers, Subservience) has created with The Subject his most intimate work to date, for which he also wrote the soundtrack. Bouchard took charge of every aspect of the creative process for this rich, constructive, and creative experience—from inception to post-production, up to and including the film poster.
Julie Roy :Julie Roy is the Executive Producer at the National Film Board of Canada’s French Animation Studio. She has produced some 40 animated short films. Her recent productions include Patrick Bouchard’s Le sujet (2018), Justine Vuylsteker’s Embraced (2018), and Matthew Rankin’s THE TESLA WORLD LIGHT (2017), which was selected to screen in competition in the Cannes Film Festival’s illustrious Critics’ Week program.
Sets and props by Dany Boivin; offline editing by Sacha Ratcliffe and Theodore Ushev; sound design by Olivier Calvert.
Looking for (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival):
The film has only just been launched and hasn’t yet gone on to mass release. So, my goal is to circulate this one in festivals all around the world. I should say for now, looking for festival’s selection.
Where can I watch it next and in the coming month?
May 17 & 18, 2018 – 50th Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes
June 11–16. - in competition at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival,