British Short Berlin 2023
January 20, 2023
Curiosa tells the story of overly curious Mary, who visits her boyfriend’s flat for the first time, just to discover it’s been stripped bare of all personal belongings. After being denied an explanation, she climbs into his head.
Hi Tessa, it’s great to get to talk with you again, how has everything been going?
Hello! It's been nearly 4 years since Papaya Young Directors. Since then I've moved from Warsaw to the UK to get an MA degree in Directing Animation at the NFTS in Beaconsfield, where I spent the 2 Covid Years, the second one fully immersed in completing the graduation film, Curiosa.
I'm now embracing life in London but still working for a company in Poland, developing my feature film "Rainbow in Hell" and creating a comic book with some very talented polish artists.
The last time we spoke was for your award-winning film for PYC, what was it like to win one of the major awards during the competition?
It was glamorous when it happened and I think it was quite significant that it was the first animation ever done for the competition and that it achieved so much, proving that stop-motion is a feasible technique. During the production I was given an incredible opportunity to make a short commercial within a professional environment and with all the creative freedom I wanted and needed. The award brought a lot of recognition and I found it particularly satisfying that the company, DPD, appreciated the film to the point of buying the rights to screen it in polish cinemas for 3 months, so I could watch my add before going to see films by some of my favourite directors - a really geeky pleasure, I know.
I really hoped winning PYD would help me break into the advertising industry with my stop-motion style but unfortunately it has been quite challenging since.
Congratulations on Curiosa being at the British Shorts 2023, how does it feel to be part of such an incredible line-up of short films?
Thank you! I'm really grateful for the opportunity of presenting Curiosa to the audience in Berlin among so many wonderful British films. I hope they enjoy it.
How important are festivals like British Shorts in creating a platform for short films?
It's important to have platforms for short films to increase awareness of their quality and to broaden their audience. Back in 2019 I also created an animation festival (Warsaw Animation Film Festival) in order to change the way animated films are perceived and to bring the best shorts to Warsaw. These kind of films, even if they’re incredible works of art, are often not commercially successful as a medium and distributing them to wider audiences is difficult. I think there's still a lot of work to be done in convincing people to watch short films, but initiatives like British Shorts are definitely improving the scene as well as giving filmmakers a great opportunity to present their works.
Curiosa has already won several awards including Best Emerging Talent Film Award at Stop Motion Festival Montréal, what has it meant to you to get this type of recognition for your work?
It feels great, of course! I always try to remember that awards are never objective and they strongly rely on the personal taste of jury members, but nevertheless it's very motivating to receive appreciation for your work, especially at festivals with such a reputation and knowing how many great films are out there and how difficult it is to compare them with each other, especially with animation that's such a diverse medium. Awards are also key to receiving funding for future films.
"Even though I tried to take care of myself during shooting Curiosa, never working past midnight and taking weekends off, I was sick for weeks after graduating and it took a few more months to recover from the mental strain of the process."
Can you tell me how Curiosa came about, what inspired you to make this film?
The story is inspired by my personal experiences of maturing and seeking understanding, as well as learning that we'll never really know what's going on in another person's head. I've always been into psychology and I might have dug too deep in a partner's past in search of answers. I had also been researching retroactive jealousy, a fascinating concept I hadn't seen explored in art.
Some main inspirations were also surrealism and magical realism in the writings of my favourite authors. While developing the concept of the story I tried to find a simple one liner that would resonate with people and "a girl climbs into her boyfriend's head" felt good. Somehow everyone related to the idea as well as knew it wasn't going to end well.
When making a stop motion animation film what are the biggest challenges you’ve faced?
It's a long process so you need to enjoy it and maintain your motivation for an extended amount of time. That's why it's so important to know why you're making the film and do what you can to stay motivated. Sometimes the process is so long that you change from who you were at the beginning and you realise you'd like to tell a different story. Having a wonderful and supportive team really helps. It's also important to take breaks and stay healthy. Short nights, bad diet, stress and lack of expertise might be fine during work on a short shoot, but if you're working for months then it can really take a toll. Even though I tried to take care of myself during shooting Curiosa, never working past midnight and taking weekends off, I was sick for weeks after graduating and it took a few more months to recover from the mental strain of the process. Sometimes I wonder about the things I'm missing out in life while being engulfed in the film. It does feel like your mind doesn't have the capacity for other topics when it's so focused on completing a film under a tight deadline. I don't like to find myself in that place, but sometimes it's unavoidable for creatives. I'm still learning to find the balance there.
Because of the time it takes to make a stop motion film, how much flexibility are you able to give yourself once you start shooting?
Working closely with an editor we would be very precise in deciding what shots are crucial, as we'd be animating 2-8 seconds of footage a day and couldn't afford the time to animate shots that would not make it to the final edit. Although we had the core of the story clear from the start, we had a tight shooting schedule and had to start building the sets before we had the animation completed, so we would apply changes to the story along the way if we felt we found good ideas to improve it. The final touches in tightening the story were done in the last week, during the crunch time of adding music and sound. It was only on the last day when we felt that the pacing of the ending really landed as it should.
Looking back at the process of making Curiosa, what would you say have been the most valuable lessons you’ve taken from the experience?
To listen to feedback, but also to learn to filter it and keep to the ideas you're convinced about. It’s a risk I’ve seen people take when they have had very strong ideas that might not have been clear to the outsiders eye, but when they came together, they worked and were exceptional. But not listening to feedback can also be a recipe for disaster.
One lesson that keeps coming back to me is to keep things simple and focused on the goal of what you’re trying to say with the film.
Do you think filmmakers should continue to push the boundaries of the films/stories they want to tell?
Of course. On a technical side I think it's important to take risks and discover new visual languages. I think stop-motion offers a wide spectrum of possibilities in being creative and the course at the NFTS really puts focus on finding fresh and original techniques of storytelling. In Curiosa we combined stop-motion animation with pixelation, an animation technique where we had actors wear the 3D scanned and enlarged copies of the miniature masks. The style had its constraints - it wasn't possible for the animation to be as smooth and precise as the stop-motion but it was a fresh approach and I think some audiences appreciate the surprise of realising how the film was made.
I believe it's even more important to push the boundaries of whose stories we're telling as the industry is becoming more inclusive and allowing underrepresented groups to bring forward their perspectives.
Where did this passion for stop motion animation come from?
When I was a seven-year-old I wrote down in my diaries a few ideas of who I'd like to be in the future - a writer (I was a proper bookworm), a film director (seemed like fun) or a dentist, as I found it appealing to sculpt miniatures. Later on, while working on my first film I realised there are quite a few stomatologists working in stop motion as the professional puppet armatures require very precise components. As a teenager I was also very passionate about photography and wanted to become a cinematographer. I think it was the moment when I joined a local film group in Poznań's Castle and went to my first animation workshop that steered my career towards stop motion. The first animation I ever made, a cynical fairy tale parody of a love story with an unhappy end (who would have known), won a few completions and got me a scholarship to study fiction at the Warsaw Film School. I moved to the capital at the age of 18 and during the course realised I preferred working with puppets than people ;) Animation offered endless possibilities of world creation and I loved the physicality and materiality of stop motion textures and the way they reacted to light.
For any fellow animators out there what would your top three tips you would offer them?
I really don't know. When I was in middle school my head teacher told us that if they close doors for us then we should climb in through windows. I think that looking back at my learning process I've constantly encountered closed doors, but also met mentors and windows toward alternative destinations that eventually led me to where I am now. That could also mean that I should never have become an animation director and chosen a career as a dentist instead. Who'll know.
And finally, what would you like audiences to take away from Curiosa?
It's a cautionary tale about wanting to reach out further and know more than we're allowed to. I guess the moral would be that sometimes it's better not to ask and if you do, be prepared to pay the price - burn your wings of wax and drown in the sea or become confined in a deep dark dungeon of your beloved one's subconscious. It's not a happy ending, but audiences laugh often throughout the film, especially during the most tragic scenes and I think that’s an adequate reaction.