An Interview with “The Breadwinner” Director Nora Twomey at the Spark Animation 2017: Film Festival

From left to right: Marge Dean, Co-President of Women in Animation, and Nora Twomey, Director of Breadwinner

Written by: Ping-Ping Wong & Dechen Khangkar

Nora Twomey is an Irish animator and filmmaker. Her company Cartoon Saloon, has been Oscar-nominated twice for its short film The Secret of Kells in 2009 and its feature The Song Of The Sea in 2014.

We caught up with Twomey at the Spark Animation 2017: Film Festival where she was awarded the Women in Animation Diversity Award – an accolade highlighting and celebrating organizations and artists who are making a positive contribution to diversity in filmmaking. As women of color, it was deeply encouraging to see this much-needed beacon of light in an industry dominated by white, male filmmakers.

Upon arrival at the Scotiabank Theatre in Vancouver, there was a snaking sold-out crowd pressing their way into the theatre. Twomey’s “The Breadwinner” premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival 2017 and counts Angelina Jolie as an executive producer. Based on the bestselling novel by Deborah Ellis, “The Breadwinner” is a moving story about a young girl in Afghanistan masquerading as a boy to provide for her family. During the powerful film, we could feel the outrage bristling from the audience followed by people reaching for their tissues. Covering issues such as misogyny, state abuse and children in war zones, “The Breadwinner” was a film that will stay with us and linger in our conversations long after the lights in the theatre went down.

Interview with Nora Twomey

Do you have any advice for women who want to join the animation industry?

Getting into a good college is the key really. It’s not necessarily the college itself; it’s the people that you meet. The people that I met in college I still work with to this day. So those relationships can be extremely important. So my best advice is to go to college and get a degree as well.

Your film is about adversity and overcoming challenges. I was wondering what was the greatest challenge you faced when making this film and how you overcame it?

I had lots of challenges making this film and certainly, one of them was not being able to go to Afghanistan. In order to overcome that I listened to people and listened to as many Afghani people as I could – making sure that their voices became part of the story and that made things quite simple for me.

So I think it’s important to look for the universal in the story as well, finding things that people can identify with and just have compassion for the characters.

It is amazing that you can encourage other women of color to make films like this. Just wondering what changes you would like to see in the industry – in terms of diversity in animation?

I would love to see a level playing field where it wasn’t an issue and we didn’t need to have a quota system. I think we do (need a quota system) in order to reach some kind of balance in a 100-year-old industry that’s always been slanted in one direction. We do need to take action to correct it. For my children’s generation, I would like it not to be an issue anymore and have it more to do with making films about what’s in your heart I guess.

The story has such a meaningful message. Are there certain issues that resonate with you?

As a storyteller, I evolved. With this one, it was such a big challenge and I feel like my life changed since I became a mother and it made me more interested in kids in different parts of the world and in other mothers’ struggles. That’s the kind of perspective I came at this film with. The idea of family is certainly one that is really interesting to me at the moment and the idea of having not particularly happy endings but to convey a complexity in our storytelling that acknowledges the complexity of conflict.

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