BASED on a true story, Abel Goldfarb’s short film Ian follows a young child born with cerebral palsy as he strives to overcome the discrimination and bullying that keep him away from his beloved playground.
Abel joins us on Close-up Culture to learn more about the film’s powerful message and real-life boy behind Ian.
Q: ‘Ian’ is based on a true story. Where did you first come across this story and when did you decide to turn it into a short film?
A: Actually Ian’s mother Shelia came to the studio (Mundoloco CGI) and told us about his story. Gastón Gorali, the co-founder of the studio, thought that it was the kind of story that could go very well with my type of work.
Sheila told us that when Ian first attended a rehabilitation center, kids at an elementary school across the street would mock him from behind their school fence as he entered or left. Their attitude inspired her to act. But, rather than fight ignorance with violence or anger, Sheila wrote a book titled The Gift, which shows the typical day of a family with a child who has a disability. Everytime a kid made fun of Ian, she gave them the book. She always says that it was amazing to see the impact it had on them.
She wanted to turn The Gift into a short film to reach a bigger audience, and we all agreed it was a fantastic idea. With Gastón, we noticed that while the The Gift described a common day for Ian and gave the audience an idea about his difficulties, the real reason that motivated the creation of the book was to connect emotionally with Ian’s feelings through that journey. From there we played with the metaphorical freedom of animation to give it a more profound meaning.
Q: Did you have much interaction with the real-life Ian and his mother Sheila while making the film?
A: Yes, Ian and his mother were a huge source of inspiration and motivation for the whole team. Everytime things got difficult – whether the budget wasn’t enough to cover our needs or the enthusiasm began to diminish and the complications seemed insurmountable – connecting with them was a vital way to remember the core of the project, to turn the compassion back to its place and renew our energies.
The Ian project is more important than any of us as individuals. We had the chance to make a small contribution to a bigger cause. So we had to honour that opportunity with everything we could – and more. Fatigue passes away, differences vanish and difficulties seem milder when you realise it is for a bigger and meaningful cause.
Q: This is a simple but moving story of courage, determination and compassion that I am sure people of all ages can connect to. What do you hope audiences, particularly younger viewers, take away from this film?
A: Our main objective was to allow audiences to emotionally connect with the experience of another person who struggles with a different and probably harder situation. Our goal was to help them realise that despite the physical differences, we all have similar emotional needs.
In some way we all are Ian. If just for a moment at least, we could achieve the empathy, the connection that pushes the audience to understand we are all equal in essence, then our goal would be achieved. A small contribution to help to promote the idea that the things uniting us are much more significant than what divides us.
Q: Could you relate to this story from your own childhood?
A: From my point of view, each one of us can relate deeply to this story from our own experience, even if you are fortunate to be within what society defines as the norm.
We have all gone through some kind of incident, and even if it was something small, being sensitive enough we can relate and imagine a projection of what a person with greater difficulties may be going through.
I say this without the presumptuous arrogance of someone who believes that he can know about the pain of others. Each person goes through their difficulties in a unique way and clearly some face much harder struggles than others. But as a human being we can empathise with the other person’s feelings and learn to be there when they need us.
Q: What has been the response to the film so far? Any notable audiences reactions?
A: So far it has been an amazing experience. We had the opportunity to show the film to audiences of all ages – from toddlers to seniors – at festivals and also to people from a variety of places and cultures. The reaction has been impressive as the connection seems to be universal and overcome any barriers to resonate deeply with the audience.
We had the opportunity to show the film at a few schools and clubs, and the responses were surprising, even in the younger kids. It seemed to have made them look at themselves in a very proactive way. We are really happy about that.
Q: Can you talk about the visual style of the film and using a mix Stop-Motion and CGI?
A: Once the main theme and the path of the story was decided, we began to work so each of the elements added up to the general concept of inclusion and integration. From the most structural level, to the smallest detail.
The combination between Stop-Motion and CGI led to a union of different universes and labour forces that allowed us to enrich from both fields. The CGI characters allowed us to play with the main concept of the little pieces that we are made of. The idea is that many small things make up who we are. Those things such as values, decisions and situations give us the possibility to change, redefine, grow and modify ourselves. Seeing this repeated in each one of the characters, even if they look different or come from different backgrounds, works as a factor that shows we are unified on a more essential level.
As I said earlier, the things that unite us are much more significant than what divides us. In essence we are all made the same way. The physically constructed Stop-Motion sets allowed us to create a lot of details with elements from different universes that mix together to create a new form, new shape and a new meaning for it – screws becomes benches, guitar strings, lanterns, disposables trays, hills, among many others.
Juan Elías was in charge of hiding the suture between both universes and unifying them into one unique aesthetic. To make everything coexist harmoniously and empower each other, just as the main theme of the film aims to.
Q: Juan José Campanella is executive producer on the film. Can you tell us about your collaboration and working relationship over the years?
A: I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to learn from Juan. I was able to work with him for several years, literally sitting beside him throughout the production of Metegol – an animated feature film (Underdogs for US release and Unbetables in the UK) that represents the largest Latin American film production to date. I am also grateful to have had the chance to help him in his classes and watch several of his live action shootings.
In my opinion, as often happens with mentors, what I learned from him probably was more than what he could imagine. It went beyond a technique or a cinematographic style as every filmmaker must find his own style. What I learned from him was more important, in particular, the human values and the type of leadership needed for directing.
Nobody makes a film by themselves, cinema is the collective art of creation. A team of motivated talents who focus on a specific concept are able to achieve the most wonderful things. I learnt from him the value of being surrounded by people you trust and admire, and then giving them the space to create.
Q: What is next for you?
A: At the moment, I am developing a TV series and a feature film, which will hopefully enter into production by next year.