A Dog’s Life: A philosophical tale

Scene from Marona’s Fantastic Tale. | Photo courtesy of GKids

Marona’s Fantastic Tale, the latest animated feature film from director Anca Damian, will have its Canadian premiere at SPARK Animation 2019.

The event, one of Canada’s leading animation festivals, will gather top animators from around the world in Vancouver (Oct. 24–27) for films, talks, panels and workshops led by distinguished filmmakers.

Originally formed in 2008, the Spark Computer Graphics (Spark CG) Society has been working for more than a decade behind the scenes of Vancouver’s computer graphics community, organizing and hosting events that foster community, ignite the imagination and advance technology.

Among the films presented this year, SPARK will present Anca Damian’s third full feature film, Marona’s Fantastic Tale (France), a movie about an “average” dog and her extraordinary life.

Marona’s fantastic tale

Anca Damian, 57, is a critically-acclaimed director with a talent for reinventing herself and pushing the boundaries of her medium. She does so by exploring eclectic subject matters but also by the animation techniques and styles she decides to adopt in each of her movies.

“I try to find the best expression for each movie. I am not stuck in one technique. It makes my movies unusual,” she says.

Her first long-form movie, Crulic – The Path to Beyond (2011), was the first Romanian animated movie in over two decades at the time of its release. It presented the real story of Claudiu Crulic, a 33-year old Romanian man falsely accused of a theft and imprisoned in Poland, where he conducted a hunger strike to prove his innocence. Her second feature film, The Magic Mountain (2015), was about Adam Jacek Winkler, a Polish anti-communist who in the 1980s fought against the Soviet Union in the Soviet–Afghan War, alongside Ahmad Shah Massoud.

In light of these two previous efforts based on real cases and deep topics, her latest feature film Marona’s Fantastic Tale, a philosophical tale about a mixed-breed dog who the viewer follows through her life and her different homes and owners, might seem like a striking break.

However, the movie is “not just a dog story,” Damian explains.

“Under the coat of a family animated movie, this is a heavy story,’’ she says. “I was actually saving a dog in the streets of Romania (it’s a true story!), and it inspired me to write this story about happiness, life, relationships with others and the fact that the only lessons that we should be learning in life are love lessons.”

Through the depiction of Marona’s journeys, her unfailing empathy and love, and the deep traces her life leaves among the humans she encounters, the movie exhibits deep layers of emotions and meaning, both via the story itself and the visual experience brought to the viewers.

“Everything is deeply thought in the visual concept and there are many levels of lecture. Everyone watching will perceive their own and don’t need to understand everything,” she explains, referring to the visual cues and layers some of the audience might not be consciously aware of. “The emotion goes through the colors and visuals, even if viewers don’t understand it.”

A deep thematic connection

In many ways, Marona’s Fantastic Tale is fundamentally linked to the rest of Damian’s previous work.

“From one movie to another I try to reinvent myself, but there is a deep connection in themes,” she says. “My films are born from the answers I am looking for: Why are we born? What should we do to be better? What is the meaning of life?”

The themes of empathy, identity and how humans relate to each other are central to Damian’s work, and will be at the core of her next project, an upside down reinterpretation of Robinson Crusoe as an animated musical about refugees on a Mediterranean island, set to be completed in 2020.

About her work and the choice of the topics and subject matters she chooses to address, Damian is emphatic.

“I would never do a movie if I don’t believe it’s important,” she says. “I still believe art can bring change, by opening the hearts of the audience. It might not change the world right away, but it might open the heart of someone, and it is a start.”

For more information, please visit www.sparkfx.ca.