Whistler Film Festival Filmmaker Interview: Alex Anna on SCARS

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Alex Anna’s body is a canvas: her scars come to life to tell a new story of self-harming. Live action and animation intertwine in this short and poetic documentary, both intimate and universal.

Jennifer Merin: What your film is about — both in story and theme?

Anna: Scars is an animated documentary about my own experience with self-harming. It’s a story of struggling with a misunderstood form of addiction, trying to cope with reality, and healing through time and sharing.

Merin: How is your film stylistically distinctive?

Anna: For this film we decided to play with live-action pictures and animation – the body becomes the canvas to animated “ink drops” dancing around the scars and creating a whole new layer of meaning. These two visual aspects are also intertwined with the music and the sound material ; they’re all answering each other. While the cinematography is very slick, shot in a studio, the testimony recordings are home-made and raw ; and in this contrast lies a story of beauty and violence.

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

Anna: For me, making films and arts in general is about giving yourself a voice to stand up for what you believe in and trying to make things change.

I went through depression and self-harming during my teenage years. Later on, I noticed that although anyone could see my scars, no-one would talk to me about them – not even my partners or close friends. I realised the extent of the problem when I asked an ex-girlfriend why she’d never wanted to know about my past, even when I tried to open the conversation ; and she answered “I don’t like dealing with sad people”. I think that’s actually a quite common situation : it’s an uncomfortable topic, and there’s a big stigma and fear around mental health, which I really want to break.

That’s why this film was so important to me. I really hope it will give people tools to open the dialogue around self harm, whether they experience it themselves or know someone who does. I am convinced awareness and dialogue can help people heal, and to a greater extent even save lives. Silence kills.

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

Anna: When I started making this film I couldn’t even apply the word “self-harming” to myself, and now I can talk about it with people I barely know! It has been such an empowering and liberating journey. I have been able to discuss mental health openly and understand that a lot of people simply don’t know what to say or what to do when they’re facing a friend that is not feeling well – or even when they themselves are not in a good place.

Merin: What did you learn about filmmaking from making the film.

Anna: It’s my first documentary, and it’s very personal, so I’ve had to learn a great deal on how to deliver a “real story” – although there’s an infinity of different realities to start with, as there is an infinity of different point of views.

A true story can be told in so many different ways that it can even end up sounding insincere. No matter how “good” it is, as a director and storyteller you have to work hard in order to find the right shape to this story ; the one that will bring up the authenticity at the very core of it, and meet the spectator’s interest and empathy.

On a technical level I have also learnt a great deal about animation and the whole process involved. It’s been quite fabulous – the more we went into it, the more I discovered the endless possibilities it brings to a creative project, how you can explore them but also have to tame them in order to serve your point.

Merin: What were your biggest challenges in making the film?

Anna: I think that the biggest challenge was to keep the whole making of this film a secret. Due to its delicate and private topic, we wanted to avoid any unwanted comments and decided it was best that nobody but the team knew about it. For two years it was quite a gymnastic to make up lies and avoid questions. But it was all worth it ; it allowed us to take the time that was needed for this project to come to life, without any external pressure.

Once the film was all done and weeks away from its Premiere, launching it on social media was honestly another challenging coming out that I have dreaded for months, considering how personal it is.

Merin: What are your plans for the future?

Anna: I have just spent a year working and travelling in Aotearoa New Zealand, which has allowed me time to be inspired to build up new projects.

Amongst other things, I am now looking for producers to work on a documentary project about women’s sexual health, and on a fiction project about gender identity. These are once again two subjects that matter a lot to me and are way too little represented.

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

Anna: I find my inspiration and “fuel” in the empowering art created by other female, non-binary and queer filmmakers.

My favorite film is Julie Taymor’s Across the Universe. It’s a fascinating journey exploring dozens of different art styles without ever losing its own tone ; everything ends up forming a wonderful symbiosis.

I grew up with Céline Sciamma’s Naissance des pieuvres (Water Lilies) and remain a huge fan of her work; I love how bold, queer and powerful her films are. She explores human’s moments of life and stories that are rarely represented, and she does so with an amazing subtlety. And who wouldn’t fall in love with the poetry and extremely skilled cinematographic language of Le Portrait de la jeune fille en feu (The Portrait of a Lady in Fire)?

I am also ever-inspired by directors who are able to intertwine personal stories and History with a great dose of humour and no fear of experimentations; such as Marjane Satrapi or Taika Waititi. The expression of both creative and funny minds will never cease to amaze me.

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

Anna: I would advise them to bear in mind that our education, for those of us who were raised as little girls, has convinced us that there’s a ton of things we “can’t” do, while boys are told that they “can” – climb up a tree, build up a house, drive a car, be successful. But you know what we “can” do? Prove them wrong.

Our voices have been silenced for so long that everything we have to say now is unique and filled with power.

About Alex Anna:
Alex Anna is a director in love with cinematographic language and words in all their beauty. A queer and feminist filmmaker, she directed her first short film The Fruit of Our Womb in 2017 (as Laurie Mannessier), and uses art to give a voice to silenced subjects.

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