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Animated, Written & Directed by: Jo Meuris
Synopsis: The animated tale of a little girl who falls in love with a beautiful horse named Aurora and learns about love, friendship and growing up.
You’ve said this film has been in your back pocket for 25 years. Tell us more about that. Where did the idea come from?
Yes. This film had been sitting in my back pocket for about 25 years. It's kind of crazy now that I think about it. I'd written the story, done some preliminary design work, and storyboarded most of it at least that long ago. When I first got it down on paper, I pitched it to a producer and the feedback I got was pretty... well... complete disinterest would probably summarize it best.
That's okay. Sometimes you have to find the right producer for a film and this obviously wasn't the film for them. But looking back, I'm not sure it was the right time for the idea either. Sometimes you need to sit with a story for a bit for it in order for it to really become what it could be. I was so young then. I don't know that if I'd made it 25 years ago I would have done a good job with it.
And although I wasn't completely discouraged by that initial criticism, I did put the story aside. But I kept coming back to it. I knew that producer was wrong and that there was something in that story. Maybe the first iteration of it was a bit unrefined but the important part - the heart of it - was there. I knew it and I believed in it, even if they didn't.
And so it sat, in my back pocket, for years. Whenever the opportunity to make a film came up, I'd pull it out and look at it and then I'd stuff it back in my pocket. Until finally, a couple years ago, I pulled it out again and decided maybe now was the time. And here it is. I'm happy with how it turned out. It hit all the right notes. And Darren... God... he's so brilliant. He just wrote the most beautiful music to compliment it. He knew exactly what that film needed and the first time I heard his score, my heart broke in a dozen different places. It was perfect.
Aurora started out as a children’s film?
It did. I always thought it was a story for little girls. And more specifically, little girls who liked horses. I really thought that was the only audience for it.
But when I started making the film, some of my students found out I was working on it in the evenings and begged for a sneak-peek. I didn't show a lot of people. I think that first reaction to the idea 25 years ago made me kind of skittish about showing it to anyone unfinished. You know, when you're a creator sometimes it doesn't take much to sow that seed of doubt. But the people I showed it to loved the story. They made me start wondering if maybe it was a bit more universal than I thought.
And then when it was done, I was hanging out with these awesome guys in a garage band. They knew I'd finished it. I'd actually wanted to re-record my voice because the quality of the recording is pretty rough and one of the guys had a recording studio in his garage. So I showed it to them. I gave them an iPad and walked away because I was thinking: They're not the audience at all. They're going to hate it.
But then these tough guys, they giggled at some parts, and at the end they were like: "I need a moment." "I'm not crying. You're crying!" And then they were like: "Jo... It's really fucking beautiful".
And I loved that, because it made me realize: Yeah... Okay…If somehow these punk rock boys are connecting with it, then maybe it's not just a film for little girls.
Why do you think the film appeals to adults as well as children?
I think maybe because it's a story that's kind of universal. It's about love. That's something we all can connect to. It doesn't matter if you're a child or an adult or some badass guy in a band. We've all loved. We've all had to deal with the consequences of loving.
It’s very simple hand-drawn style of animation – what made you go for this rather than some high-tech Pixar style of animation?
Oh, my gosh, no! The art style really is not high-tech! But oh God... This film would so not work in another style! If the designs looked like the horses in Dreamworks' Spirit film from the 90s, or like My Little Pony, or like something all computer-animated and shiny and polished from Pixar, it would have been too much. The film would be so sweet everyone in the theater would instantly go into diabetic shock and die.
I knew this was definitely an aesthetic choice I needed to make from the beginning. I needed visuals that were a little rougher. I wanted to capture the nostalgia of childhood and maybe have a bit of a storybook feel to it. But it needed to be a little more raw so that people wouldn't tune out. I wanted them to focus on the emotions of the story and not have the visuals be distracting from that.
The initial sketches I did were just rough little child-like pencil drawings of a little girl and a horse playing and sleeping under an apple tree. I still have that initial artwork somewhere. As soon as I did those little doodles, I knew it was the right stylistic choice. I had made another film, when I was in undergrad that used a similar style and it was fun as balls to work with. Because when you aren't laboring over every drawing, your animation can be so free!
Don't be deceived though. It doesn't mean it didn't take a long time. It was still drawn frame-by-frame and I didn't cut corners with the movement. I knew I wanted the characters to have weight and move like something real even if the designs were very simple. So I was very careful and intentional with the animation and the acting.
What do you hope audiences will take away from this film?
I just hope people like it. I hope it makes them happy. Or maybe sad in a good way. I hope they connect to it on some level and maybe it creates a lovely feeling of nostalgia. And reminds them of what it's like to be a kid and what it's like to be innocent and to love for the first time. And if they've loved and lost, I hope it gives them hope. Or comfort.