Official Selection - Short film competition
Annecy International Animation Film Festival, 2021
How to Be at Home
Lean into loneliness—and know you’re not alone in it. Filmmaker Andrea Dorfman reunites with poet Tanya Davis to craft tender and profound animation on the theme of isolation, providing a wise and soaringly lyrical sequel to their viral hit How to Be Alone.
Hi Andrea how have you been keeping during these strange Covid times?
For me, to be honest, nothing much has really changed. I usually work from home and have been quite busy with a few different films, as well as mentoring some up-and-coming filmmakers, teaching animation online… as always, it’s a mixed bag of creativity. I think a lot of visual artists would agree that we have to spend a significant amount of time alone to get our work done, so with having to isolate because of the pandemic, I continued to work.
Has this time offered you any new creative inspirations?
Absolutely. Because the world was in crisis with the pandemic, as an artist, I was inspired to respond through my art. Hence, my collaboration with poet Tanya Davis on How to Be at Home. A lot of artists I know felt too anxious to work, and I completely understand this, but for me, creativity was an outlet. It was grounding.
Do you still get nerves ahead of a festival screening?
I do. Less so, when the festival is online. But it’s always a little unnerving showing work to others. It’s such a privilege to have an audience, and I feel torn between not wanting to disappoint and knowing that my work might not resonate, and that’s okay, too.
How does it feel to be at Annecy with How to Be at Home?
Exciting! Annecy is an incredible festival and although I’ve never been, I’ve watched it closely over the years, trying to find the films they program. I just can’t believe they’ve programmed one of mine this year!
Can you tell me a little bit about How to Be at Home, how did your film come about?
Ten years ago I made a film called How to be Alone, based on the gorgeous poem of the same name by my friend and collaborator Tanya Davis. It went on to become a viral hit, and when, because of Covid, we all found ourselves at home, sometimes alone, people sought out the film a second time, many letting Tanya and me know that they’d like a follow-up: not just about how to be alone, but how to be alone—at home. I was already working on a pandemic art project, posting weekly tiny memoir books on Instagram, when Tanya and I began to discuss a follow-up. A week or so later, she emailed me an audio recording of “How to Be at Home,” and it stopped me in my tracks. Her writing speaks straight to the heart of our humanity, and something about her words always conjures imagery for me. I immediately got to work on a film. At around this time, the National Film Board of Canada was looking for films from filmmakers across the country, responding to the pandemic, so we pitched this to producer Annette Clarke, and our film got the green light. We would have made it anyway, but it was incredible to have the resources and support behind it that the NFB could provide.
"I went on to learn how to develop my own prints in a darkroom, and then I took over an old Super 8 camera that my dad had tossed aside when the video era began."
How flexible do you allow yourself on a project once you move your project into production?
Hmmm, that’s hard to answer…Because I only know my own process, how I work. Generally, I give myself a lot of space and time before I commit to a style, technique, a way forward. I don’t like doing a lot of planning or storyboarding, preferring instead to just start and figure things out as I go. This means I make a lot of mistakes, so I end up revising and reanimating. Whatever time I lose in the beginning I make up in the making! I’m a self-taught animator and fall more on the experimental side of animation, and I like to invent, play with different materials, and I’m okay with not knowing where I’m going. I suppose to others this might seem flexible but to me, it’s my process.
What was the biggest challenges you faced making How to Be at Home?
When I first began exploring ideas of how to animate How to Be at Home, I was going to use traditional animation paper but, because of the pandemic, the shipping was going to take too long… this is when I turned to animating in books (which I had no problem finding!). So I guess that was a challenge in the beginning, but like a lot of art-making, the solution was to be resourceful and use what was already on hand. I would say another challenge was the heat! We had a heat wave in Nova Scotia last summer, and I couldn’t keep the window open in my tiny studio, so with all the lights I was using to animate, there were times I felt like I was animating in a sauna!
Where did your passion for filmmaking come from and is it ever hard to let go of your films and hand them over to audiences?
When I was a kid, I loved stories and I had a few great storytellers in my life, my grandfather, in particular. I was also a huge lover of books and movies (I tended to read and watch the ones I loved over and over). When I was around eight or nine years old, I got a camera for my birthday. It was just a little plastic pocket Kodak camera, but to me, the entire process of taking photos, sending them off to be developed and then opening the envelope of prints to finally see the photos was magic. I went on to learn how to develop my own prints in a darkroom, and then I took over an old Super 8 camera that my dad had tossed aside when the video era began. This was all before I was a teenager, so my love of filmmaking, image-making and storytelling goes way back.
You had an amazing run with Parsley Days winning multiple awards, did you imagine you would get such a response to your film?
Parsley Days was my first feature film, and I went into making it like I do with everything I make: thinking of it as an experiment with very few expectations. For me, filmmaking is process driven. Most of it is making, with very little of it being the sharing part, so the ‘making’ is the most important part. I loved making that film. I knew absolutely nothing about feature filmmaking and learned so much. I was surrounded by an incredible group of creative people, many friends who I’d gone to art college with, and we were all learning from the creative process. Because I went in with no expectations, it was such a surprise when I got such a positive response. That's the amazing thing about making art, you just can’t predict how it will be received. I think that’s why the process of making it is so important to me.
How much has your approach to your films changed since your debut?
Not much. Of course, I have learned so, so much along the way, but my approach, to go into the process wide open to whatever comes my way, to try to learn something new every time, to treat everyone I collaborate with with deep respect, to look for the happy accidents… that’s all stayed the same. No matter how much I try to anticipate the outcome, I am always totally surprised at what the film ends up being. This is the beauty of art-making and collaboration.
Is there any advice you would offer an emerging filmmaker?
Just do it! If you have an idea, don’t wait, just get to work and put it out there. Procrastination is, for the most part, fear. I know it well! But if you can not worry about the outcome, if you just go ahead and make something, you’ll figure so much out along the way.
And finally, what do you hope audiences will take away from How to Be at Home?
I hope that they’ll feel seen, that they’ll feel understood and that through Tanya’s poetry they’ll feel a little less alone and a little more connected, despite this time of isolation.