Film & Digital Media Program Director wins Best Animated Short at Cannes Short Film Festival
Professor Kristen Palana, Director of the Film and Digital Media program here at The American University of Rome, just won Best Animated Short at the Cannes Short Film Festival. We took a moment of time during this momentous occasion to understand from where she draws her inspirtation (from her experiences, of course!).
AUR: A lot of your recent work has been based on your experiences with relationships: relationships our society has with food (Veggie Propaganda), relationships in marriage (Larry and Roz), and the relationship between a son and his mother (This Too Shall Pass). How do you go through the process of turning your experience into art? When do you have the aha! moment that any given experience is something you can create art out of?
KP: I tend to have several projects going on at the same time that I switch around between over long periods. For me it’s even more complicated because I switch from film and animation to web and interactive design, to graphic design, illustration, and fine art. It’s hard to explain in words exactly how I know when to take an experience and turn it into art or design. It’s more of a feeling and an intuition that what I have to say will possibly resonate with other people who might be experiencing something similar or that it might be a way to educate others about an experience they never had. I know I’m on the right intuitive track with a project when I feel as if I’m being overcome with a fever to work on the project and get it out there. This is why I tell my students if they lose track of time when working on their own projects that this is a great thing. It means they are “in the zone.”
AUR: This Too Shall Pass was created when your sons were much younger than they are now. Is this because you need some time to distance yourself from your experience in order to reflect? Why? Does something stop you from being able to draw out the artistic creativity when you are actually in the midst of the experience you eventually turn into art?
KP: It’s true that I do like to reflect on experiences before turning them into a project, but actually the main reason so much time passes from when I start and complete an animation is because I am stubborn and insist on creating a fine-art, painterly sort of traditional 2D animation that requires much more time than other animation styles. Essentially every image you see is a miniature digital painting. For me it helps me stay true to my fine art painting roots and I feel it has a less computer-generated feel that is a bit warmer and more personal. I’m also stubborn about working independently as opposed to with a large team which is much more typical with animation. I just like wearing all the hats but it also means more work for me in exchange for full creative control.
AUR: You say in the beginning of the film that you created this video as evidence that your eldest son, Lukas, once thought you were wonderful, amazing, beautiful, the world. This is a line that sums up the feelings that many people confront when dealing with changes in relationships over long periods of time. How did you articulate this? Where did this come from?
KP: This comes from the fact that I found myself (then and now) becoming this cult-like, goddess figure called “Mamma” to my young Roman sons. It’s a strange and wonderful feeling to be so high on this pedestal, but it also feels sometimes to be lopsided and undeserved because it’s hard to live up to such an ideal. Italy is also world famous for this over-the-top mother/son dynamic and every now and then I mourn the eventual day when I will be replaced with other interests, best friends, girlfriends, partners/wives, etc. Yes, of course it is natural and normal for the mother/son or mother/child relationship to change over time. “This Too Shall Pass” is all about how time passes, both too slowly and also too quickly. In the end I wanted to make an animated document of sorts to record a very specific time in my life, to remember the good as well as the bad times.
AUR: What are you working on right now? Or rather, what are you experiencing now that you may work on in the future?
KP: I finished “This Too Shall Pass” just over two months ago and I immediately declared out loud for everyone to hear that I wouldn’t make another animation again for “a long time,” simply because my animation process is such a slow one. That said, I already starting thinking that I’d like to create an animation that helps educate people and create empathy for foreigners and refugees all over the world. I’ve been living in Rome now for over eight years and I thought I understood foreigners and the immigrant experience well before moving here, but actually BEING a foreigner (in a non-English-speaking country) has opened my eyes to just how much of a challenge it can be. Just one example would be my experience trying to set up a bank account my first week here, thinking that would be a challenge in and of itself, and then not being able to get in the door of the bank for a good ten minutes because it was a completely different system than what I was used to. Needless to say, the tone of the animation will be comedic.
I’m also very much into social activism and all the groups who are currently trying to make education accessible to underrepresented communities in the developed world and to the extreme poor in the developing world. I’d like to work with the Ashoka Foundation as they try to make empathy an actual 21st century skill taught to children of Elementary School age so I may begin creating multimedia projects based around this idea. Current projects also include my usual work with the grassroots online website aurashouse.com and experiments with using online teaching methods as a supplement for my offline University students and classes.