Writer-director Torill Kove spoke with CanScreen soon after her animated short film “Me and My Moulton” received Oscar and Canadian Screen Awards nominations. (UPDATE: The film won the Canadian Screen Award for Best Animated Short.)
Much like the fine balance between the humour and poignant moments in her film, Kove moved by seamless turns between laughter and pensive consideration throughout the interview, as she spoke about the process of making the short and the personal inspiration behind it.
Congratulations to you on your Oscar and Canadian Screen Award nominations for “Me and My Moulton.” I understand that the Internet was able to share the moment of the Academy Award nomination announcement with you. How did that come about?
The group of us (from the National Film Board of Canada) in front of the (television) screen of the nominations – that was quite funny, actually, because the executive producer (of “Me and My Moulton” and the NFB Animation Studio), Michael Fukushima, had told me the day before that he was organising it and we were going to have it up on the screen in the big conference room for whoever was going to be around. Then he told me, “You know what, you don’t have to be there if you don’t want to. I can understand why this would be sort of an awkward moment.”
I decided I wanted to be there because then, when it didn’t get nominated, I could just deal with it right away with everybody who’s there and then just get on with my life!
People always say they’re surprised, but I really was! I just didn’t think (the film) was going to get nominated. Partly, it was because it just seemed crazy to be nominated three times (“My Grandmother Ironed the King’s Shirts”  “The Danish Poet” [2006, won], “Me and My Moulton”)!
We ran into trouble because we couldn’t get the big screen in the conference room to hook up to the Internet. We scrambled around to find a screen somewhere, which we did eventually. So that’s where we ended up. It was fun! I’m glad I went.
Waiting is the worst. Hearing your film named, the BEST! https://t.co/KNqhkeEWfG Woo hoo for Torill Kove and ME AND MY MOULTON!
— Michael Fukushima (@NFBFukushima) January 15, 2015
Could you talk about the semi-autobiographical elements in the film, the inspiration for it?
It’s a story that’s put together from several smaller stories from my childhood that have to do with my parents doing things that I felt they had done “differently.” Things that I thought were kind of weird. And they centred on my feeling, “I wish my parents would be a little different,” but not different in a big way because they were really fine. More than fine. They were great!
But there were those little things like my dad’s moustache and those those pesky three-legged chairs. And the dresses that my mom would make for us, which were beautiful but just kind of wrong on so many levels, if you’re 7 years old and just want to look like everyone else. They are funny, funny memories. I thought it would be nice to tie it into something that’s a bigger story about family and the dynamics of it.
Did you set out to make it for your family?
I was just thinking that I would make this for an audience. I made it as a kind of an hommage to my family but I didn’t really make it for them.
My sisters were involved in a little bit of the script-writing phase. I ran things by them to make sure everything was okay. I didn’t want to bombard them out of the blue; I wanted them to be in the loop. But I didn’t necessarily make it for them.
I made it hoping that it would resonate with all kinds of people because it touches on a well-known aspect of being a kid and having parents. And most of us have parents. That’s a large population group!
What about the Moulton itself? Is that taken from your childhood?
Yeah, we got a bike like that! I’m not exactly sure, but I think that we got it at a time when we didn’t have a car. It always puzzled me. What’s the point of having a bike you can take apart and put in the back of a car, if you don’t have a car? That was actually taken directly from history.
All of those things in the film are true, in a sense. There are just a few that I made up. The sequence of events is not necessarily right. There was no particular summer like that, where all of those things happened at the same time. They were scattered memories that I put together.
There are some spectacularly humorous parts in the film, but there are also elements of it that brush with some very touching and sad moments. Was is difficult to strike that balance?
That was one of the huge challenges, that I wanted to have those sad, tender moments in there, but I didn’t want it to be a sad film. Bridging those two – the comic elements and the quite poignant and vulnerable elements – I wanted them to work together. It made it difficult to find the right voice because I did not want the delivery to be too sing-songy playful. But, at the same time, I didn’t want it to be too dark. There were still parts of the story that made me really sad while I was writing it, actually, and I thought, “Ugh! I can’t believe I’m being this sad!”
The story of the downstairs family?
Yeah, the downstairs one. But I think it’s also very sad when (the girl) is lying in bed, worrying about her dad’s moustache, and she admits that she wishes she had a mom who was at home all the time, like the mom downstairs. That stuff runs really deep with me because it’s so complicated – the longing for the parent who’s always there. That, I decided to put in the film because it was part of how I felt when I was a kid. But at the same time, it’s difficult to admit, especially for women with kids who are working. So, to me, that’s the most sensitive moment of the film – the (girl’s) envy of the stay-at-home mom.
What was the search like for the actress that you found to do the voice-over?
It was really complicated. I started out in Montreal with an actor who I really, really like. Her name is Sara Bradeen and she did the guide track. It was her voice that helped keep it together during the editing process. She just came in and she did a pretty fast read of it without that much direction from me. I’m a horrible voice director anyway because it’s not something that animators train to do. I really liked her voice. It had a nice tone to it and she was very funny! Great delivery of the lines and nice nuances in the more sensitive parts.
But the problem was that I was living in Norway when I was doing the post-production. For practical reasons, we decided that we would have to find an actress who could do both the Norwegian and the English version, which made sense to me. Also because I liked the idea of having the voice with a Norwegian accent. It would make it feel more true to me somehow.
So we only auditioned Norwegian actors. The one that we ended up choosing was Andrea Braein Hovig. She’s a well-known Norwegian actress. The reason that we chose her was because she read through the Norwegian version of the story without stopping and it was so good! She was dead on! I couldn’t have, in my wildest imagination, directed a better voice-over for the Norwegian version than she did on her own, after having just talked to me briefly about it. So we picked her based on her performance of the Norwegian version.
The English was a little trickier because she’s not used to speaking English. The Norwegian was a walk in the park, really, but the English one was more difficult. By then, I had gotten so used to Sara Bradeen’s voice that part of me just thought, “I want it more like that.” But Andrea got used to doing the English and, with practice, we got it right. The tone then was very similar to the Norwegian version, which is nice – to have the two versions be quite similar.
It’s lovely with the Norwegian accent.
I think it works really well because there aren’t many references to the fact that it is taking place in Norway. I really only say it once and after that there are no place names or anything like that. (The accent) gives it additional Scandinavian flavour.
Are there any differences between the English and Norwegian versions of the script?
It’s a fairly straight-ahead translation so, no, I wouldn’t say that there are any differences. But there are language nuances. There are things that you can say in a certain way in English that really nail it. In the guide track with Sara’s voice, especially the dialogue with the kids and the parents towards the end, it was dead on. She knew how to do that because English is her first language, and she knows how kids talk and was able to mimic them. You have to have a very good grip on language to be able to do that convincingly. But, by and large, it’s the same story.
The film is a Canadian-Norwegian co-production between the National Film Board of Canada and the Oslo-based Mikrofilm. In terms of the filmmaking process and production, with people involved both in Norway and in Canada, how did it work?
Every now and then it’s very nice to get together to all be in the same room. But these things are getting so easy. We work in paperless animation now. We work on tablets where drawings can happen. You put them in a file and you share it and everybody can see what everybody else is doing all the time. We talk on the phone. We Skype. We stay in touch.
The biggest hurdle is the time difference because Norway is six hours ahead. During the day in (Montreal,) you have a tiny little window where you can communicate; everybody’s working between 9 and 11 (a.m. EST), basically. After that, in Norway everybody goes home. So that’s a little difficult. But other than that, I have to say it’s a pretty smooth operation. And, of course, this is the third time we’ve done it at the Film Board with Norway so we’re getting good at it. I wouldn’t say that’s problematic at all. I think it’s working great.
Are you able to talk a little bit about being a Norwegian filmmaker and a Canadian filmmaker and what that means to you?
I feel like I have two feet planted in both of countries really solidly, both in the Norwegian animation community and the Canadian one. I live here (Canada). I don’t live in Norway but I go there a lot. Mikrofilm, they’re close colleagues and friends. I have lived longer in Canada now than I lived in Norway. In fact, I’ve lived in the same apartment in Montreal longer than the years that I lived in Norway! That’s a scary thought! I am a Norwegian citizen. I can only become Canadian if I give up my Norwegian citizenship and I just can’t bear to do that because then I could never go back.
I feel very much like I belong in both places. And I feel very much like this is a Canadian film and it’s a Norwegian film. In terms of people working on it, it’s a cut right down the middle how many are from here and how many are from there. I think, more and more, this is how people make films: co-productions, many countries involved, crossing oceans – by air preferably! The truth is I don’t know any other way to make a film; I’ve only ever done it like this.
The film screened at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival and that was your first time attending. What was that experience like?
It was really exciting. I felt really special. Of course, it’s a huge festival and it’s got so many good films. It was a lot of fun. I really liked TIFF. That was really great.
Do you have anything slated for up next?
I have a project that I’d like to do next, although I don’t exactly know what it’s going to be yet.
I would like my references for the story in my next film to be more home-based in Montreal. And I can’t quite explain what’s happened lately . . . . This is kind of a weird story – I recently had to move furniture around in my living room because I wanted to hang new curtains. For years and years, we’ve had rather a big couch. We have a bay window that faces straight east from (a high) floor. For years there’s been a couch in this bay window. So I moved it away and put it in different part of the room. I realized that I never get to stand in that window and look out. I’ve never really done that before. And then I realized, “This actually kind of a nice view!” It’s not a beautiful view; it’s an interesting one. I’m looking out on one of the most densely-populated urban neighbourhoods in all of Canada, which is what we call the “Lincoln Village,” just on the western edge of town. I can see the mountain (Mount Royal). I can see the Montreal General (Hospital). If I look south, I can see Mount St. Bruno, almost. In front of me is a whole crazy jungle of these unbelievably ugly high-rises that came up in the 70s and 80s. And I was thinking, “This is my home! This is my home, in the same way that my hometown (in Norway) is my home.” I’ve lived (in Montreal) for a really long time. I have so many stories and references to that neighbourhood that I want to use it for something. Although I can’t tell you anything about any particular story, I know that’s where it’s going to be.
Read CanScreen’s review of “Me and My Moulton.”