Combining Live Action With Animation: Tal Kantor at Animateka Festival (Gocritic! Review)

Tal Kantor at Animateka Festival 2022

Miha Veingerl reports on the acclaimed Israeli animation director Tal Kantor's masterclass at Animateka Festival 2022 (part of our GoCritic! review series).

Jerusalem-based animator Tal Kantor is a graduate of the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, where she also lectures in the Screen-Based Arts Department. She works as an animation director and concept artist. She kicked off her masterclass at the 19th edition of Animateka in Ljubljana by introducing three films to illustrate the range of her work.

Kantor’s graduation film, 'In Other Words' (2016), depicts a troubled father-daughter relationship. It was with this movie that she started to develop her film language, combining segments of live-action footage with hand-drawn animation. Kantor was continuing to research hybrid methods of combining different media when she was approached by directors Rachel Leah Jones and Philippe Bellaïche during the making of their documentary 'Advocate', a portrait of an Israeli lawyer who defends a Palestinian. For legal and ethical reasons, the trio were looking for a way to conceal some of the characters in their documentary film without blurring their faces. 'Advocate' later won an Emmy award and was also shortlisted for the Oscars. Concluding her introductory remarks, Kantor presented her most recent collaboration, Five Studies (May Zarhy, 2022), which sees an animator, a choreographer, and a photographer joining forces to develop a video art project exploring the 'language' of movement.

Kantor's masterclass at Animateka focused on her first film since graduating, 'Letter to a Pig' (2022), which was presented in Animateka's Best of the World programme. The story is based on a memory from the director's childhood. In Israel, Holocaust survivors regularly visit schools to discuss their experiences with pupils. Kantor vaguely remembers a survivor telling the children how thankful he was that a pig didn't give away his hiding place during a Nazi raid. Letter to a Pig centers on this memory and how the children perceive the survivor's trauma.

As Kantor explained, the idea began with a drawing 16 years ago. Although she had doubts about tackling a World War II-related subject, in 2017 she pitched the project to Annecy Festival. The funding she received for the animation side of the film transformed it into an Israeli-French co-production. While working on the development phase – which she recognizes as the most crucial part of the process, because it’s at that point that you decide what the film is about – Kantor went back to school to hear survivors’ testimonies from an adult’s viewpoint. She discovered that these lectures induced fear and a sense of victimhood. However, the children also felt pressured and bored by the stories, which she also documented on video. At the same time, Kantor couldn't find evidence for her particular memory, so she focused on traces of stories and memories in the subconscious more generally.

The main issue in production was the depiction of the protagonists. She drew the survivor as an outline which changed with the story's development: the deeper we get into the story, the more detail we’re given; and the angrier the character becomes, the meatier the illustration, with a higher rate of frames being used, as if to match the survivor’s heartbeat. Similarly, in order to question culturally prevalent ideas about pigs being either innocent or disgusting, for example, Kantor drew several different versions of the animal, depending on their function as the Other in the narrative.

Tal Kantor's method involves making two types of films. First, she makes a live-action film with real actors in front of a green screen. Only after that comes the phase of line animation, which is scanned back and blended over the previously shot material. As a director, she did find it rewarding to work with actors again. However, she now understands why filmmakers are advised not to work with children or animals, due to practical difficulties. Also, the more abstract the story becomes, the more the film relies on animation.

'Letter to a Pig' is the first project which has seen Kantor work with an (international) film crew, which helped her focus on specific visual contours, backgrounds, and the camera's movements, as well as on particular musical cues. Those attending her masterclass watched several excerpts from the film and saw how the director decided to evoke certain emotions and underline the story's progression.

However, the film wasn’t the only thing that left an impression on the crowd. With her light-hearted presence, Kantor drew attention to the team behind the project, their relaxed work atmosphere, and how she tried to make it easier for everybody to deal with such a complex subject matter. Judging from the smile on her face, she succeeded and is delighted with the finished film.

 (central image: Tal Kantor at Animateka Festival / Katja Goljat)

contributed by: Miha Veingerl

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