An interview with Signe Baumane about Rocks in My Pockets

Signe Baumane showed with us in the Summer of 2010.  She showed quite a bit and there was good reason for it–her films are exacting, they’re funny, and they’re something you want to see again and again. Whether its sex (Teat Beat of Sex 2007, 2008), giving birth (Birth 2009), or the funny and absurd aspects of depression as is the case in her newest feature length Rocks in My Pockets, I’ve always wanted to share her with friends so that we might blush and laugh together.

Rocks In My Pockets is nearing completion but at the moment Signe and her stable of contributors are in the midst of a Kickstarter Campaign. Though they’ve raised nearly $35k they’ve still got some ways to go.  Send some money their way and they’ve got papier-mâché, paintings, drawings, and a whole bunch of great things to give back.  Your much needed money will go to sound design, coloring, and all of the things that go into making a project of this scope.  I had a chance to talk to Signe about her life and the nitty gritty of the project in its final stages of production.

I met Signe in her chilly Sunset Park studio just before the sun dipped down throwing beautiful light out onto the bay below us.  In the course of showing me the editing stations and production space she mentioned a flooding that had, some weeks after moving into the space in 2011, done damage to the loft.  She smiled at the story and spoke in detail about the storm and the absurd and fruitless work of keeping the waterworks at bay.  Though fluent in English, her Latvian accent is strong still some many years after having immigrated to the US  and her intonation sometimes feels forced. Listening to her speak can feel a bit like she’s matching her pitches and placing her inflection according to a database of sentence typologies. From the many options, each diagramming another chance to bend or arch her voice,  she isn’t yet proficient at matching her expressions to a mood directly expressing it.

Whether the damage to her new loft was a dismal event then or is still now painful, whether it has been been eclipsed by the pleasure of remembering her body as a porous object fretfully unable to stop-up broken window panes admitting pouring rains is unclear.  When she picks up a new space heater energetically extolling the virtues of infrared and the pleasure of being warm not cold, the drama of the leaky roof is replayed.  And so it is in her films: there is a clear joy in overcoming and drawing together the basic components of life especially when they relate to your body–and when do they not.  The cold, getting out of bed, depression–each prompts us to a new action and is a project inevitably crossed by absurd difficulty, difficult pleasure, and trying.

The amazing Rocks in My Pockets Kickstarter is here and a treat unto itself.

A bit of unreleased footage from the film showing off 2d and 3d animation, line tests, and a range of characters from Rocks in My Pockets. And the music! Oh, the music is wonderful and its from Ljova Zhurbin.

And now, Signe…

I’m making a feature film right now.  It’s called Rocks in My Pockets; I call it a funny film about depression but its not exactly always funny and its not exactly always about depression.  It has a lot of other story lines: Latvian history, love stories, adventure…All that sort of thing, but the basic thing is that yes, the film is about depression and its animated.

I have animated all of the film’s 90 minutes – animation is done and we have colored approximately 60minutes and we have 30mins to go on all the color.  But unfortunately we are running low on money so we are trying to raise funds for sound and music, and also for finishing the color.

We got early funding from NYSCA and The Jerome FoundationWomen Make Movies, a non-profit organization, is the project’s fiscal sponsor, so all donations are tax deductible, which helped us tremendously to raise money.  At a certain point we stopped fundraising and just went straight to work on the film.  Animation is so time consuming that you cannot distract yourself with other things.  But after two years of work the money is getting low.  We need $40k dollars.  We don’t want the money, we need it! We cannot finish the film without that money.  I wish we could go for $20k but its the $40k we need.

How do you make an animated film?

Rocks in my pockets is an interesting project because it combines 2d hand-dawn flat animation three-dimensional things like this tree (she is standing near a giant papier-mâché tree and is now gesturing towards it).  When you shoot it, or pan, or zoom, it moves.  We combine those visuals with the flat 2d drawings.  Its a process that is not used very much in animation but I don’t know why because it just seems an obvious thing to do.  We hand draw and then scan the drawings and color them in Photoshop; computers are involved but everything is really done by hand.

We have a very small team: we have Wendy Zhao who is the editor, compositor, and also colorist.  She has been with us from almost day one.

We have Rashida Nasir who is the one who makes the color decisions and also is the projector manager.  And we have Mike Zecca who is doing coloring-a lot of coloring.

The team is very dedicated and very hardworking.  They’re very young and we’re having a great time.

The other people who are working on the film:

Rob Daly.   He recorded my voice-over in the summer 2010 so he’s been with us since day 1.  When we finish the film he will do the sound design for the whole feature.

Sturgis Warner directed my voice-over.  He is a theater director and he directed for me about 7 weeks, everyday.  He also helped with the lighting and lit up the sculptures for the stop motion.

The film’s composer is going to be Ljova Zhurbin who is a very talented composer.  His music has recently played in Brooklyn museum, Carnegie Hall so he’s a big time, big name but he gave me a good discount and we’re very honored.  Since the film is handmade the music will be too. One thing that I really like about Ljova is that he never takes his work or himself too seriously.  For me earnestness can kill art but he never goes there, he stays delightful, light and very playful.  I think that kind of approach is quite amazing for a composer and it’s going to work well with “Rocks”.

Why is it important to make a film about depression?

Usually people want to make and see films about fantasy.  They want to have these romantic comedies, scenarios of which could never take place in real life. Since early age I was always wondering how come the things that I read in books about and the things I see in movies never take place in real life. And why is no one trying to depict or tell how it feels from inside. I wanted to focus on how the living process feels inside.

So I did.  I made Teat Beat of Sex which is 15 very short episodes about sex from a woman’s point of view. I wanted to demystify all those things that we are expected to do or society pressures us to do.  Like, not wearing panties for example. I think its complete bullshit that hot women don’t  wear panties! In reality very hot women HAVE TO wear panties because of how female organism works: you are horny, you produce a lot of juice. Thus, panties is an absolute necessity for hot women. No one ever explains that, these women’s magazines just say ‘not wearing panties is really hot.’  They dismiss what is natural and truly hot.

As to depression.  You know, I get depressed sometimes, like twice, three times a year.  It hits me unexpectedly and  I have to deal with with. I don’t know why does it happen, theres no reason. You go through this cloud of foggy thoughts, slow expression, slow speech, you feel fatigued and have pain inside.  I was wondering how would I describe that pain to other people. Not only describe but also visually depict it.

For me, a very honest take on depression is also very funny.  The absurdity of it: here is life and it is wonderful – why would you want to die? Still, every 12 seconds of my day I think of killing myself.
People should know that they are not alone in these kinds of thoughts. They can just reach out to find someone else that is going through what they’re going through and talk. When you are alone with depression the weight of the whole world lies down on you, you cant bear it. When you reach out to someone who understands, the weights is spread out, you can breathe.

Depression has a stigma attached to it.  You’re not supposed to be depressed, you’re supposed to be dealing with everything.  And you should be dealing with everything but, except, sometimes you cant.  I wanted to communicate that moment of truth when you can’t deal.

Why is the body always the locus of your work?

You know, I read somewhere that people are born certain way – one baby really feels her body, she is really physical, she really wants to move.  While other babies don’t want to move, they just want to lie and cry.  The other baby wants to eat all the time!  I was one of those babies who was very aware of her body. The moment I was born I knew that my body was a ship, a vessel, that was given to me.  I don’t see a separation between body and mind, my body has to be healthy in order for my mind to be healthy. I need to move, I need to exercise in order for my mind to perceive, remember, and to express whatever concepts I have in my mind.  So, that is a kind of a peculiar thing.  My body always tells me what it wants to do.

When I was younger there was always a fight between what my mind wanted to do and what my body wants to do. I wanted to be a writer but my body would always interfere.  It would say, “oh I’m hungry” or, “oh i want to pee” or  “I want to have sex.” So my body would always dictate and cut short my spiritual aspiration.

Then one day I discovered animation.  Someone had said, “I like your doodles, why don’t you make them bigger and more, and apply for a job as an animator”. I was very naive (getting a job as an animator is more complicated than making your doodles bigger), so I sat down to make a portfolio and made little storyboards.  I was so immersed in it that I completely forgot my body’s needs.  I forgot that I wanted to eat, or sleep or have sex, or move for 8 or 9 hours. I was just drawing and it was amazing. It made me realize animation is what I want to do because when I do animation, i am able to forget my body.  Unfortunately, my body always comes back with revenge. Once you have been animating for 3 nights without stopping or bathing, or doing anything else, it just collapses into a little pile. You have to respect your body. I have learned  how my head and my spiritual aspirations can unite with my body.  My body may slow down my aspirations but it propels me further on.  I don’t know, I am a body person, what can I say.

In my work the topic is the body but its also the fascination with medical side.  When a dentist looks in my mouth and sees my very bad Eastern European dental work, he asks, did you do this work yourself? In front of a doctor you feel very aware that you’re mortal. I’m a bit of a 5 year old in my heart and I reject the fact that you die so that every single reminder of that, I abhor it.

That said, the other part of me just can’t wait to die.  The two pulling forces are that I want to live forever and the other force is that I just have to die.  I guess that is maybe a control issue.  Why do I make films about sex?  Because when you think about it – sex is everything, life and death, all at once. There is a reason why orgasm is called a little death.  There probably is a relationship between an obsession with sex and that live and die thing.

How do you connect with other filmmakers?

I find that animators are the most charming, beautiful, warm, loving, generous, fun people.  When I think of the animation community here in NY, I have that fuzzy feeling inside of me.  Its just like everyone is a cousin.  Every time I get together with animators is like a reunion.  There aren’t any big egos. When you’re an animator you work stupid long hours, break your back and brain, and then you’re gonna have an ego? No!

As an animator you will never get to boss Matt Damon around.  People go into animation because they like the medium, the playfulness, they like how things go from their heads to the paper.  It doesn’t have to be anything realistic. A doodle can move! Its amazing.  Animators never lose the childishness, amusement.  When I go to animation festivals, I have the best time.

Animators know how to have a good time.