A stop-motion film about a mother-daughter relationship bursting at the seams with babies, poodles and flying spaghetti.
Interview with Director Alexandra Lemay
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
Thank you! I made Freaks of Nurture to give a voice to the angsty teens and overwhelmed mothers of the world. The mother-daughter relationship is so fragile and yet so powerful; I wanted to showcase that in a funny way. It’s hilarious that the things that drive you crazy about your mother are probably behaviours you’ve adopted as well without even realizing it. My film is also heavily inspired by my own upbringing with my mother, who is a foster parent. This was my weird way of bonding with my mom and, of course, it makes fun of my family and myself in the process.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
I’ve been told my film is like a roller-coaster ride; you will feel the chaos that the characters are living and you want to re-watch it as soon as it’s done to catch the details you may have missed. That’s a pretty cool thing to say; I don’t know if it’s true, but I’ll take it.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
Although my film is very personal, in theory, everyone should be able to relate to it on some level. Whether it’s a romantic partner, a sibling or a parent, anyone we love deeply can annoy us just as equally. Freaks of Nurture acts as a reminder of that. Hopefully it will help people laugh at their family and themselves as opposed to get angry or frustrated.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development?
I had initially intended the film to be much less personal. I had written the first draft as the audience coming to dinner at a mother’s house, and we would switch from her point of view to the guest’s. The idea was that the guest would find her lifestyle to be completely chaotic, whereas the mother finds comfort in it.
As I struggled with the structure, my producer, Maral Mohammadian, reminded me that there was no guest; this was my opinion about my mom. She was right, but it became even more challenging to write once I made it personal. In consequence, my process was a little backwards; I started animating scenes I knew worked in my head and building an animatic before the script was final, just to get an idea of the flow and style. At one point, I worked with a script consultant, Janet Perlman, as well as a script co-writer, Julie Matlin. This helped detach myself from the personal aspects.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
The film is just starting its festival run, so I haven’t received much feedback yet. My mom actually had the best reaction; “it’s animation, it works because it’s so exaggerated.” This is hilarious because reality is much stranger than fiction in this case. Her life is way more chaotic than the film (she has more than twice as many kids and dogs in real life). It’s quite fitting that she is in denial about it and doesn’t even see the irony. I did have some really positive reactions at my world premiere in Palm Springs. I think stop-motion nerds will have a kick out of the little details in the daughter’s studio and appreciate my little homage to Harryhausen.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
When I say I made a film with the NFB about my mom who’s a foster parent, people have a preconceived image in mind and are often caught off-guard when they actually watch it. They picture a sensitive and sweet mother-daughter story, and here comes Freaks with an adrenaline rush of self-deprecating humour and chaos. I think subconsciously, people get uncomfortable when they can’t put your film in a box, and Freaks of Nurture is, well, a bit of a freak. That said, the ones who get it seem to love it.
What surprised me the most was complete strangers, often grown men, coming up to me and telling me they could relate to the characters in their own unique way. It was really cool to hear them talk about their struggles and the personal links they made to my film.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
The film was produced by the NFB and they have a team that takes care of festival submissions. As I mentioned, it’s quite new to the festival circuit, so let’s hope it gets selected in many more. The ultimate goal is to have Freaks of Nurture seen by as many people as possible, and this is a great way to pique people’s interest.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
Anybody can have an important impact on your film. I think it’s wise to keep an open mind, because every film is unique. I always compare art to children; you create it and then you have to let it grow up in the world. You can’t really predict what it will become, but you hope for the best.
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
I want to make people laugh and look to my film to feel better. When I was younger, I’d always watch horror movies when I was sick. It made me feel better to see someone else in pain I could relate to, like, “Yeah, this girl feels like shit too, she’s got blades stuck in her eyeballs…” I hope this film has a similar effect on people.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
Who is the person you empathize with the most in the film and why?
Would you like to add anything else?
Thank you for this opportunity!
What other projects are the key creatives developing or working on now?
I’ve started writing a new proposal for my next project, which is inspired by my sister. It’s weirder and darker, but just as personal. I’m a little scared, but also really excited about it.
Interview: September 2018
We Are Moving Stories embraces new voices in drama, documentary, animation, TV, web series, music video, women's films, LGBTQIA+, POC, First Nations, scifi, supernatural, horror, world cinema. If you have just made a film - we'd love to hear from you. Or if you know a filmmaker - can you recommend us? More info: Carmela
Freaks of Nurture
Length: 6min 28sec
About the writer, director and producer:
A graduate of both Concordia University and Sheridan College, Alexandra Lemay is a freelance artist with a background in media arts, animation and practical special effects. Though she continues to dabble in different disciplines such as puppet and costume fabrication for TV, museums and costume shops, her true passion lies in independent filmmaking via traditional animation and SPFX techniques such as stop-motion. She works on personal and collaborative film projects as writer, director, fabricator and animator. Her selection by the National Film Board of Canada to be part of Hothouse apprenticeship program led to the creation of her stop-motion short, All the rage. The film has been featured in numerous festivals such as the renowned Ottawa International Animation Festival, and received a nomination for best animated short by The Gala du cinéma québécois.
Maral Mohammadian is a Producer at the renowned National Film Board of Canada’s English Program Animation Studio. She was recruited by the NFB in 2006 as the first Associate Producer of Hothouse, the celebrated apprenticeship program for emerging animation filmmakers which has spawned such gems as Sweet Talk (by Esteban Azuela), Git Gob (by Philip Eddolls) and Orange (by Sylvie Trouvé). Maral has nurtured artists in the Making Music emerging filmmaker program that created The Mixy Tapes (by David Seitz and Mike Wray) which toured as part of Best of Ottawa 2008.
Maral’s recent projects include The Weatherman and the Shadowboxer by Randall Okita, an innovative animation/live action hybrid which won Best Canadian Short Film at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival and Best Experimental Film at the NYC Shorts Festival. Maral’s latest project is BAM, a short animation directed by Howie Shia which follows a young boxer as he struggles to understand the violent rage within himself.
Prior to joining the NFB, Maral was the Workshop Programmer and Director of the Television Animation Conference at the Ottawa International Animation Festival. She studied Cinema at Carleton University.
Michael Fukushima has been making films since 1984. He joined the NFB in 1990 to direct the animated documentary Minoru: Memory of Exile (1992), winner of the Hot Docs Best Short Documentary award. Michael became an NFB animation producer in 1997, co-founding the NFB’s flagship emerging filmmaker program, Hothouse, in 2002 and was appointed executive producer of the NFB’s fabled Animation Studio in 2013.
Some notable films in his filmography include Genie Award winner cNote (2004), by Chris Hinton; Shira Avni’s animated documentary Tying Your Own Shoes (2009), which won the Golden Dove at DOK Leipzig and the prestigious NHK Japan Prize; Muybridge’s Strings (2011), by Oscar-nominated Japanese filmmaker Koji Yamamura; Oscar-nominated films Dimanche (2011), by Patrick Doyon, and Me and My Moulton (2014), by Torill Kove; and, most recently, Cordell Barker’s If I Was God… and Ann Marie Fleming’s Window Horses. Michael now mostly produces the producers and offers up sagacity, but he continues to keep his hand in—this year, on the first short film in two decades by Oscar winners Alison Snowden and David Fine, and on Oscar winner Torill Kove’s new film, Threads.
Alexandra Lemay (Daughter)
Claudia Besso (Daughter, looking back)
Amanda Plummer (Mom)
Looking for (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists): N/O
Social media handles:
Hashtags you use: #FREAKSOFNURTURE
Where was this filmed? Montreal
Where can I watch it next and in the coming month?
Freaks of Nurture will be playing at Festival Stop Motion Montréal this month, on Sunday, September 16, at 2:30 p.m.