Sunday, June 24, 2012

Animating My Demons

by Signe Baumane
The subject of depression is very important to me, personally.  I have obsessive suicidal thoughts almost every minute of my day.  At age 18, I tried to commit suicide, and was hospitalized. I was diagnosed as manic depressive at 22.  The last time I took pills for my mental affliction was six months after release from the mental hospital. I do not take pills anymore - I can't afford them, and they dull my mind.  The fact that I live and am able to work is a result, partly, of years of hard inner work - I am determined to be happy - and partly because of my education - I have a BA in Philosophy and am trained to think, analyze and persuade. The person I have to persuade the most is myself.
Every day I wake up and have to find a new meaning to my life. Luckily, I have been able to find it.  My three cousins were not as lucky, and they were more successful at their suicide attempts than me. Over the years I have pondered whether there was any connection between us, the suicidal cousins from my father's side of the family.  I started to ask questions and unravel old family secrets.  This is what Rocks In My Pockets, my first feature film, is about. I call it a funny film about depression, but in fact it is sometimes serious, sometimes funny, but overall deeply personal, just like my film Teat Beat of Sex.

You know, I feel that depression has the other side of the coin - creativity and brilliance.  Yes, you struggle through the pain, fuzz, and fog, but there are moments when there is a rush of ideas and images and poetry, excitement!  Our minds need to be constantly occupied with making creative solutions.  Maybe we get depressed because our jobs are so mundane, repetitive, without a challenge to our minds?  But then - I don't really know why we get depressed. I certainly have no reasons to get depressed, but I do.

When you tell a personal story it transcends the personal, it becomes more than just your own feelings, fears and obsessions - it becomes a shared experience.  Once you put your darkest secret in words, the light shines on it. Once light shines on it, the healing begins.  I am a big believer in keeping your inner rooms well lit. Even with all that light there are some corners that are left dark, and under beds and tables there will always be monsters hiding.
So, I don't really have a problem to tell a very personal story. Nothing is personal - we all have been depressed, we all know that feeling. The biggest challenge for me was to describe, in words and visually, how does it feel to be depressed.  The feeling of that unbearable pain - how do you put it in words or images?  How do you successfully share it so that people understand what you mean?  An audience will let me know if I have succeeded at this.

The real problem of this project is that I am telling a story of my relatives, and what is MY truth of the events may not be THEIR truth.  So I changed the names and looks. But I feel that may not save me from the family getting upset.

Technically the project is mixed media, stop motion and drawn animation.  First we do paper mache sets.  Then, with digital photo camera, we shoot them as stop motion, frame by frame pans and zooms.  Later, we combine the pictures of moving backgrounds with hand drawn animated characters on top.
Financially... well well well…don't we all want to know how people get their money for their ambitious projects?!  I'd like to know it too, as my experience is limited to my project only.  The Rocks In My Pockets budget is about $100,000. We got a grant from NYSCA, and a grant from the Jerome Foundation. There were many grants we applied for, but didn't get.  Also, the project is part of the Women Make Movies fiscal sponsorship, which means that every donation to the project is tax deductible. We raised about $10,000 from small donations, and one single larger donation covered the missing hole in the budget.  As the producer of the project, I spend many sleepless nights worrying about money.  It looks as though we might run out after paying music and sound fees, and we still need money for transfers, color corrections, and festival submissions.  Money is the blood in the projects system. If the project runs out of money, it runs out of life.

I had set the completion date for December 21st, 2012, the end of Mayan Calendar, as I find that date ironic and fitting for completing a funny film about depression. But we might not be done with the film by that date, as we were able to secure the music recording only for December, so the future will only begin on December 21, 2012. 
No matter what I do, I get severely depressed twice a year. Having a project actually helps to focus on something other than that inexplicable inner pain and suffering. 
Although lately, I have been mildly depressed about the project. A train of obsessive thoughts go around and around....
"Who do I think I am, doing what I am doing?"
"This is 90 minutes I am asking an audience to sit through!"
"The film will never be liked by more than three people."
"It is too strange, too artistic, too metaphorical to be appreciated by a wider audience." 
"I am sure my voiceover will put off festival programmers after five minutes, and they will turn the film off before allowing it to sink in and take them for the ride."
"If the film is not selected by any film festival, how will I look in the eyes of my backers and my young assistants who came to believe in this project?"
"I should kill myself right now, before the shame of major failure comes and gets me." 
….and so on and so forth.

But, if I had never got this project rolling, I'd be depressed that I never tried it.
So, I guess, if one has a tendency to get depressed, doing or not doing causes the same mental strain, except, by doing you actually get to be doing which is much better than not doing.

"Rocks In My Pockets" trailer from Signe Baumane on Vimeo.