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CINÉAST 2021

Michaela Pavlátová • Director of My Sunny Maad

“Animated characters’ performances can be as powerful as those of live actors”

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- The Czech director explains how important humour and subtlety were in creating this story about a European woman following her true love to Afghanistan

Michaela Pavlátová  • Director of My Sunny Maad

The animated film My Sunny Maad [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Michaela Pavlátová
film profile
]
by Czech director Michaela Pavlátová has enjoyed a very busy festival run so far and is also one of the special screenings at the 14th edition of CinÉast – Central and Eastern European Film Festival in Luxembourg. We talked to the director about the origins of the project, how she developed the characters and the visual concept of the film.

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Cineuropa: How did you first learn about the novel that you drew your inspiration from, and how did you proceed for the adaptation?
Michaela
Pavlátová: It was six years ago, after I had made many short animations. I wanted a new challenge and decided to make my first feature-length animation. First, I tried writing the script by myself, but I struggled with it, since I was too used to the short format. Then I thought I might be able to find a book or a script to adapt. What I was looking for was the story of a female main character. By chance, I found the Petra Procházková novel Frišta, My Sunny Maad while on a trip and fell in love with it. The book is written in the first person, and as a reader, you become connected to the protagonist very quickly. I learned that there was already a script for it intended for a live-action feature, but that didn't happen, since the two directors didn't get the funding for it.

I was able to take over and adapt the script, which at that point was more general, and adjust it to the perspective of the female character. I was interested in the private point of view that the book affords. The character sneaks into spaces that she didn't know before, and learns about various habits and very personal things. I was interested in her European perspective, which I imagined would be similar to my own. For me, it was important to keep the humour of the novel in the film. Moreover, I thought about having a voice-over in order to keep the protagonist as close as possible to the audience. In the beginning, there were more fantastical parts, illustrating the dreams and fantasies of Herra, but I realised it would have interrupted the flow of the film, so I reduced them and concentrated on her relationships within the family.

What was your main inspiration to make this animation?
I wanted it to be a story that was not meant for animation in the first place, and which would speak to all audiences. There are many nice festivals for animation directors, but it feels like we are trapped in a bubble, which not many people from outside the field of animation can get into. I didn’t want the film to be for children. Animations for kids are very well accepted, and they sell well, but they are not interesting to me. I consider that animated characters’ performances can be as powerful as those of live actors, and I wanted to show that.

How did you do your research?
It was not possible to go to Afghanistan and do research there, unfortunately. But I did find a lot of references to the country on the internet and used a lot of private photos that the author of the book, with whom I stayed in contact, gave me.

How did you develop the aesthetic style of the drawings?
My animation style is very close to hand-drawn sketches. I am not into puppets or 3D. The biggest challenge was that I normally work on my own, but for a feature, you need a whole team. It was difficult to relinquish part of the control, and I had to explain fully what I wanted the film to look like. I had to make a “graphic bible” containing all of the details for the characters and the settings. The aesthetics had to be as realistic as possible and as sketch-like as possible. I wasn't interested in bringing in new techniques or focusing on special effects. Normally in animation, there is a bit of exaggeration in the movements of the characters, but I wanted everything to be more subtle and to concentrate on what happens in their minds.

How did you decide on the look to give Maad?
I found it quite difficult at first to imagine how he would look. In the book, he is an invented character, while the others were inspired by real characters. So he is described more as a fairy-tale character with thin, shaky legs and transparent ears. I was inspired by a film I saw where a child appears who suffers from progeria: this means that the body looks very old and alters very quickly, while the mind is still that of a child. I used that to create Maad.

What do you intend the message of the film to be?
We imagine Afghanistan as a country that is not very friendly, which has issues related to politics and religion, but all over the world, I am sure people are all the same. Everybody wishes for a harmonious family life. Deep down in our hearts, we all want a nice life, and relationships with relatives are the most important thing for us. Afghan people do not want to be forgotten, and they care about tolerance, responsibility and love as much as everybody else does.

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