AWFJ EDA Awards @ DOXA 2017 Filmmaker Interview: Elisa Chee on LUCY

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elisa chee filmmaker doxaVancouver-based filmmaker Elisa Chee uses masterful animation to recall the story of a domesticated chimpanzee called Lucy and a human named Janis Carter, the caretaker who made it her life’s work to rehabilitate Lucy and return her to her natural environment. Read what she has to say about her beautifully crafted short film, its subjects, animation in documentaries and her career.

How and why did you encounter and commit to the subject/theme of your film and the main characters in it?

I was actually approached by a NFB producer, Yves Mah, with the story of Lucy. It was he who imagined that the story would be told beautifully through animation. I listened to an interview of Janis Carter on NPR’s Radiolab and grew interested in the story, but after they set me up with an interview with Janis Carter, the project got terminated as a result of budget cuts. At this point I either had the option of giving up on the film…or purchasing rights to the story, coming up with funding and directing/producing it all on my own.

But I really couldn’t give up on Lucy. I felt that Janis had entrusted me with a heartfelt telling of her emotional experience, and that I had to try my best to share that part of the story.

What did you learn about the subject/theme from making the film?

The part about Lucy’s story that always intrigued me was how could anyone dedicate over a decade of their life to someone else’s well being. Janis was left in Africa with a very ill domesticated chimpanzee who would have died if she didn’t stay to help Lucy learn how to survive in the wild. When you make a film you really explore every aspect of an event, the whole situation was so complex…and I learned that the way you can feel about another being is so complex.

What did you learn about filmmaking from making the film?

While I was making this film, I started feeling like the film was this breathing, living thing that I was ushering into the world, rather than constructing it…maybe it was because it was someone’s true story. I found it easier to think of the film in this way when making creative decisions.

Do you think that being female gave you a distinct perspective and/or way of handling the filmmaking process?

I feel like my own experience of being a mother, and having close bonds with other females allowed me to understand how profound and selfless the love was between the two main characters in my film. I was passionate about telling the emotional truth in the story because of that connection.

What are your plans for the future?

I would love to make my next short animated film soon…also to be based on a true story.

Who are the filmmakers whose work has inspired/influenced your own?

There are too many films that have inspired me…I hope you don’t mind if I pass on this question.

What advice do you have for other female Filmmakers who are trying to make their way through a still male-dominated industry?

I’m not sure if this always the best course of action, but for me it worked so far to forge ahead as if there were no barriers.
elisa shee lucy still

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