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TRIBECA 2022

Signe Baumane • Director of My Love Affair With Marriage

“I do appreciate crowdfunding because it makes the journey of animating for seven years less lonely”

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- The Latvian animator talks about her latest feature, which sets an examination of female rebellion within an animated and musical framework

Signe Baumane • Director of My Love Affair With Marriage

After her previous feature, 2014’s Rocks in My Pockets [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Signe Baumane
film profile
]
, which focused on mental health, My Love Affair With Marriage [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Signe Baumane
film profile
]
, the latest feature from renowned Latvian animator Signe Baumane, examines female identity and love in a work that blends humour, introspection and science. We talked to her about the movie, hot off the heels of its world premiere at Tribeca and its European one at Annecy.

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Cineuropa: Your work has always been intensely personal and biographical. How closely related are the experiences of the lead character, Zelma, to your own, and what inspired the film?
Signe Baumane: My Love Affair With Marriage is not a documentary, although it has a lot of autobiographical elements in it. The spark, the inspiration that started the film came from my desire to tell the story of my second marriage to a self-described gender-bending man, a fellow animator. It was a very dramatic story of East meeting West for the first time in 1991, but when I started to explore the question of why we wanted to marry, the story expanded beyond what I was initially going to write.

What made you decide to add musical elements?
One of the film’s themes is how culture influences us and shapes our nature. The most influential factor shaping a young person’s views on what love is and how to handle it are pop songs. So, early on, when writing the script, three singing, shape-shifting characters – “Mythology Sirens” – popped up on the pages and became an essential part of the story. I love working with composer Kristian Sensini. We collaborated on my previous feature, and I knew I wanted to work with him again. With his work (the songs and the score) on My Love Affair With Marriage, Kristian truly shows that the sky’s the limit for his talents.

What drew you to Dagmara Domińczyk, who provides the voice of Zelma?
First of all, Dagmara is immensely talented: she can do anything as an actor. But what really drew me to her as an actor was her Polish background. I knew I would not have to explain the characters or their backgrounds to her, and instead, we could spend that time and effort discovering the nuances of Zelma’s journey. Dagmara also has an amazing feel for comedy and a dark sense of humour, a true Eastern European way of looking at the messy life around us. I am super grateful that she agreed to be part of the project. Without her, the film would not have turned out the same. It rests on her shoulders.

Could you explain more about the style throughout the film? There's the contrast between the 3D sets, the 2D characters and the “scientific” sequences, for example.
All of those different styles represent four distinct worlds. The world in which Zelma’s life unfolds is represented by practical 3D sets, photographed in stop motion with 2D animated characters on top, with sketched-in shadows. The world of Zelma’s imagination is depicted by flat drawings and flat, colourful backgrounds; it helps her process the events around her. The world of biology is animated by a different animator, Yajun Shi, in a different style so as to emphasise that this world, however omnipresent and powerful, is not visible to the untrained human eye. The political world – the maps – are animated in an app called GeoMaps, showing the arc of Zelma’s understanding of the world and how it is related to her inner experiences.

You used crowdfunding to fund some of the film. How important is staying independent to you?
For me, being an independent filmmaker means I have the creative freedom to carry through my vision and creative impulses. I work intuitively, very often without storyboards, so people who support my projects would have to completely trust in my abilities. Being independent also means working with lean budgets and financial uncertainty, which can cause anxiety. I do appreciate crowdfunding, however, because it makes the journey of animating for seven years less lonely.

In the years it's taken to produce the film, its themes have become ever more prevalent. Has it surprised you how much the movie seems to resonate in the current era?
Yes. It astonishes me, and not in a good way. Back in 2015, when I started writing the script, I thought that we in the USA were going to have a woman president and was worried that the themes in my film would become irrelevant. It pains me that I was wrong, and that the film and its themes are even more relevant today than they were back in 2015.

Do you have any idea of what you want to work on next?
Yes, there is a story cooking inside me. I have filled up four notebooks trying to pin it down. But I think it is premature to disclose what the story is about so as not to jinx it.

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