Hedi is experiencing strange things. While her granddaughter is visiting, she suddenly embarks on a hiking journey, to the deepest parts of the Alps, revealing the reason for her devoted attachment to her hiking shoes.
Hey Kathrin, it's great to talk with you, how have things going?
I am currently on holiday in Salzburg where I grew up and I am sitting in my living room while it's snowing outside. So I would say I am not too bad.
Congratulations on In Her Boots being nominated for the BAFTA British Animation Short 2020 award, what was it like to hear this news?
Thank you so much. I think it's still hard to believe. I am always surrounded by people who are extremely talented and who I admire a lot. So it's even more unbelievable that my film got selected.
Are you been able to enjoy the attention/process of awards and nominations or have you tried to keep it out your mind?
The last year was a whirlwind of emotions. I was working on the film non-stop and often forgot to take breaks. And to be completely honest I was often frustrated and thought that the film wasn't good enough. So it is quite surreal to be shortlisted now. While I am not completely sure if I really deserve this I am of course very happy and feel extremely privileged.
How much has your approach to your animation evolved since being at The Royal College of Art?
I guess I came to the the RCA thinking that I am a storyteller, which I still am, but my approach has changed quite a bit. The process is not so linear anymore and more experimental I would say.
"My grandmother had these old hiking boots she was very attached to."
Your previous film The Woman Who Turned into a Castle won multiple awards as well as becoming a Vimeo Staff Pick, did you imagine your film would get this type of recognition?
No, not really. I am extremely grateful if people show interest in my work. At the end of the day, it's oftentimes a way to deal with personal emotions, my thoughts and experiences. And I like to see animation almost as therapy. And if other people can relate it is the best thing that could possibly happen.
Can you tell me a little bit about In Her Boots, what was the inspiration behind this film?
It's my grandmother's story. Or at least the film was inspired by my grandmother. I grew up in a very little village in Austria and it always bothered me that people care so much what others think about them. My grandmother had these old hiking boots she was very attached to.
They were almost falling apart and one day the neighbour called and asked my aunt to replace the boots, but my grandmother refused.
The neighbour was probably just caring but the fact that my family seemed worried that people might think that they are not looking after my nan properly somewhat bothered me and sounded absurd.
So in the film, the old hiking boots represent something fundamental about the main character Hedi. She seems a bit silly and confused but she is pretty self-confident and a strong woman and the hiking shoes represent something fundamental about her: Her strengths, her independence and her ability to maintain her autonomy despite her old age.
How did your character Hedi come about?
Hedi is in a way a bit like my grandmother. Stubborn, strong, independent. The head of the family.
What is it about animation that has interested you so much?
I am especially fascinated by the fact that animation can visualize the experiential. It can bring complicated topics to the surface and make the audience understand. I, for instance, do not understand what it means to suffer from dementia. Someone who has the illness can tell me what it feels like but I will never be able to fully understand. With animation, I can go a step further and visualize the feeling, the pain, the emotions and make the invisible visible and more accessible.
As a writer/director have you allowed yourself to be flexible on your projects or do you prefer to stick to what you've written?
I never really write a script. I work with animatics but the storyline constantly changes as the film progresses.
What has been the biggest challenges you faced with In Her Boots?
There were definitely some ethical issues. I wanted to avoid being judgemental by all means. I did not want to point a finger at someone and say: This is wrong what you did! And I know it so much better because I simply don't. And I did not want to hurt anyone's feelings, especially those of my family members. It is a complex, sensitive and difficult topic and while I was a bit worried about coming across like a smart ass I still wanted to make an impact. So I decided to take this film a step further, far away from anything autobiographical to tell the story and make a point without being constantly worried to do my grandmother's story justice. So while the film is indeed inspired by my grandmother, the main character Hedi is not actually my own grandmother.
What has been the best advice you have been given?
Work on films that really matter to you and are dear to your heart. Animation takes a loooooot of time and you have to find something that keeps you engaged for a long time.
As a filmmaker what advice would you offer fellow writer/director?
Show you're animatic to as many people as possible. Things that seem clear and obvious to you, aren't to others but don't overthink it. Have trust in your audience. And more importantly, have trust in yourself. Don't change anything in your film that feels wrong to you.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from In Her Boots?
I am hoping to challenge some preconceptions around dementia. I think it is important to emphasise on giving people with dementia freedom and responsibility to show that they are not passive but active members of society.
I often observe that we tend to forget that we all need to retain our identity and autonomy especially when we get older. And one way of this is to give everyone the power to make their own decisions. Caring for people with dementia in a way that gives them dignity.
For me, it was also important to add some lighthearted and humorous moments to the film. Of course, it is oftentimes heartbreaking and difficult but it is also not the end of the world and I think by adding humour to difficult situations it is oftentimes easier to cope with.
Suffering from dementia is horrible but it is not all black and white. So I am also hoping to make the viewer reflect on the subject matter.