ECU Film Festival - Paris
European Animated Film - Slovenia
This is a film about a box and the flat-headed creatures that live inside of it. Life in the Box is boring and miserable. Until one day when a new baby boy starts to grow in the middle of the Box! This boy is very different from other flat-headed inhabitants of the Box.
He's happy, lively and curious. As the boy grows bigger, the flat-headed neighbours are becoming more and more annoyed with him.
Until one day when he literally grows over their heads...
How does it feel to have The Box on ÉCU Film Festival this year?
I’m very excited and hope that my film will get a good reception.
The Box has already started winning awards, what does it mean to you to get this type of recognition for your film?
It feels great to see that years of hard work weren't for nothing and it is surely a good start for the festival circuit. It also means that I have better chances to collect funds for my next project, which will be even more complex.
Has this added any additional pressure on you?
Actually not, I'm relieved. I'm quite happy how the film turned out. First I wasn't sure how the audience would react to it, because the storyline is a little unusual, the mood of the film is dark and heavy, the characters are not very likable... On the first festival screenings, I was very nervous how people will respond to my little experiment. But so far, it’s going great! On the first 3 festivals “The Box” won 3 awards. The international premiere was on Cinequest in San Jose where it won the award for "The best animated short film" and it is now longlisted for Oscar nomination.
Do you have any nerves ahead of the festival?
Maybe a little, yes, but not so much. I already did my part of the job - now it's not on me anymore. The film is finished and it has a life of its own now. It’s out of my control.
Can you tell me a little bit about The Box, how did this film come about?
It's a long story...
I was born in an old industrial town in central Slovenia, which was notorious as one of the most polluted places on Earth at the time. I still live here. As a result, I had health problems all my life. Name the illness and I've got it. About 15 years ago a multinational company Lafarge started to incinerate dangerous waste in the area near where I live. For me, that was the tipping point, so I joined a local group of ecological activists called Eko Krog (Eco circle). We fought the cement plant and corrupted government officials for many years and much to everyone's surprise we actually won at the end! (For this achievement, Uroš Macerl, the leader of our group, received the Goldman Environmental Prize for Europe in 2017, which is considered as the Nobel Prize for environmental activism).
We have put an enormous amount of time and energy into this fight and although it was for the benefit of the whole community, we were very unpopular among the locals. Beside other things, they accused us of putting workers out of work. We faced all kinds of threats on a daily basis. For me, those were very stressful times. I didn’t sleep very well and once I had a terrible nightmare; I was in a very dark place in a large crowd of people, whose legs were rooted in the ground and therefore couldn’t move. All of them were in some kind of catatonic sleep and I desperately tried to wake them up. All of a sudden they opened their eyes and started screaming... I woke up, all sweaty.
That was a very disturbing dream and I couldn’t get that imagery out of my head. Within the next couple of years, this nightmare repeated many times. Slowly I realized that there was some strange beauty in those disturbing images and that there must be a reason why I keep dreaming them. I decided that I would use the dream to make an animated film, but unfortunately, my nightmares didn’t provide any story! Then I remembered a short comic I made many years back. It was about flat-headed people and a little boy who gets on their nerves because he is so different. That story fitted perfectly with the imagery!
What has the experience been like for you making this film?
It was quite painful. Animation process took a lot of time and energy. This is quite a complex project and I had a limited budget, so I couldn’t afford to hire co-workers. I had to make most of the things by myself. At this point, I must mention music composer and sound designer Mateja Starič, who was practically my most important collaborator. She really liked the project and put her soul into it. Her work raised the quality of the film to another level.
Have you always been interested in animation?
I was always interested in visual storytelling. For years I was making comics, which is similar to animation in many ways. Comics are a great, fast and cheap way to master the craft of visual storytelling. I consider animation as a logical next step. It’s great to see your characters alive and moving on the screen.
How different was your approach to this film compared to your debut film?
It was extremely different. I made my first 3D computer animation 18 years ago, around 2000. That was practically the stone age of computers. They were 100 times slower and monitors were very small, software very basic... Of course hardware and software are much more powerful nowadays, but unfortunately, my ideas and ambitions are equally more complex. So it still took a lot of time and energy to produce the film. 18 years ago I was sure that by now computers would do most of the things for us, that the director would just command and the computer would do all the hard work by itself. Unfortunately, this is not the case yet. It’s still very hard and tedious work. I hope this happens in the next 18 years.
"...failures should be your source of inspiration and not the cause of your frustration."
Now you can be reflective do you have any advice you would offer a fellow director?
You must learn how to cherish your failures and defeats! It feels good when you win, but you can learn much more from failures. In your life, you will have more failures than wins. Therefore, failures should be your source of inspiration and not the cause of your frustration.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from this film?
The main message of the film is that you are the one who controls your life! Take your destiny in your hands.