My Life Changed
Working with the Steve Sinnott Foundation, an Education For All charity, in December 2015 we successfully crowdfunded a suit of films to raise awareness of the difficulties of accessing education for people in various parts of the world. We made three animated films of some of the personal stories we found, exploring the journeys to change lives through education.
We don’t give up in Haiti
First of the My Life Changed series for the Steve Sinnott Foundation.
We wanted the film to celebrate Haiti, because it is often portrayed as a tragedy, and the spirit and determination of the people are rarely celebrated in our media. So I wanted to include the bright colors and carnival spirit abundant there, as well as the determination illustrated for example in students studying by security light during a power cut.
An important way of understanding people is to engage with their culture, so I wanted to reference Haitian painters, and Haitian music. I have directly referenced the Haitian painter Philome Obin, whose work often makes political comments, in particular the following paintings: Rue 0 (Zero) Du Cap-Haitien, Peasants going to the market, Crossing the stream on donkeys, Toussaint Lourverture, Maison de Odette Lapommeray Acul-du-Nor. I was also influenced by the painting style of Claude Dambreville, who celebrates the ideals of the country.
Haiti has a very important place in history, and as a backdrop to the main theme of the film I wanted to make reference to some of this. So we have tent city, survivors of the earthquake surrounding the statue of Toussaint Lourverture, leader of the Haitian Revolution, with a group of children defiantly making their way to school. In order to understand Billy’s mother, I also made reference to what was happening politically around that time in the street behind her and her baby.
One thing we hadn’t envisaged was the challenge of access. I wasn’t able to directly interview Billy, so I pieced together various parts of his story and the situation of education in Haiti. Some of it I had to record from a mobile phone, so I wove this into the film style, showing the audience that this is like a scrapbook of conversations, there are lots of different aspects to education in Haiti. Thats why it is important to let people speak for themselves and find solutions that work for them.
I spent a couple of weeks studying Haiti, its culture and its incredible history, to make sure that the film reflected Haiti in the best way I could, to find reference material and the backdrop for the story. The opening section, based on sketches of composites of recent photos of Haiti, give a feel of documenting the current situation there. The memory scene illustrating Billy Jean’s story is based on a composite of paintings by Philome Obin, a naive style painter who included political subjects and observations of Haitian life in his work. It references the political events around the time Billy was born. He is more interested in how things can be improved than in the details of his own story, so I have included some of his comments, focusing on the lengths parents go to, to get an education for their children.
Second of the My Life Changed series for the Steve Sinnott Foundation.
We tried to overcome the problem of access by using WhatsApp to interview Isata, but it was a little impersonal, and difficult to get to the bottom of things. However we succeeded and wrote the story between us which Isata recorded on Whats App and sent to me. It has a classic Hero’s Journey structure so I called it Isata’s Journey.
Again it was important to have some of this as a backdrop to Isata, as it would have had a big influence on her, the civil war was raging around her as a child, and her response was to want to work for human rights. (The woman Isata is aspiring to is reference to Wangari Maathi) referring to the context helps to understand the deeper motivations of a person.
As inspiration for the visuals I looked at William Kentridge (South African animator) and Gibril Bangura (painter from Sierra Leon), two very different styles! Kentridge makes an interesting observation about using other people’s stories as material for a film, he calls it “an appropriation of other people’s distress” but the hours spent making an image makes it become a compassionate act, “there is a sympathy towards that subject embodied in the labour of the drawing” and I used hand drawing for that reason. Bangura on the other hand talks about his paintings spreading happiness, an escape from the darkness and a belief in a bright future, so I used bright colors to separate the scenes.
Equal access to education in Nepal
Third of the My Life Changed series for the Steve Sinnott Foundation.
As it is less personal, I took a more information based approach. I have however made reference to the culture of weaving, and colors from traditional religious paintings.
All of the Steve Sinnott films use relevant photo journalism as a basis for researching the content of each shot.