FIDMarseille: Co-directors Cristina Sitja And Cristóbal León Talk ‘Strange Creatures’

Co-directors Cristóbal León and Cristina Sitja arrive on Close-up Culture to tell us about their animated short film, Strange Creatures (Extrañas Criaturas).

Q: Are you looking forward to bringing ‘Strange Creatures’ to FID 2019? 

Cristina: Yes. It is the first time I am attending a film festival as a participant. 

CristobalOf course, I had the chance to attend last year with the feature La Casa Lobo and it’s a wonderful festival. So sad I cannot make it this year.

Last year, France won the world cup when I was there and it was total madness. Some people were standing on top of the cars (while the cars were moving). Others were starting fires.

Q: Strange Creatures is in the GNCR Competition and this will be your World Premiere. Does this add any extra pressure on you?

Cristina: I am just happy to have the film be shown at the festival, watch many films and visit Marseille. So no pressure.  

Cristobal: I hadn’t seen it as a pressure, honestly. I am always curious about how films are perceived in different contexts. We are looking forward to show the film.

Q: What has the experience been like making this film?

Cristina: I work as an illustrator, mostly for children’s books, therefore the experience of making a film was incredible. Working with someone whose work I admire and travelling to Santiago de Chile to shoot part of the film has been an unforgettable experience. Also, it was quite interesting to listen Diego Lorenzini’s music and sound interpretation for the film. 

CristobalIt was an intense year for me. I had to travel a lot to different festivals presenting La Casa Lobo and making a film at the same time proved to be an intense experience. I admire Cristina’s work very much and I am always happy about our collaborations.

Also, making a children-oriented movie is something new for me and I enjoyed the experience. We wanted to make something that can be interesting for everyone, not only for children. I hope we managed to do it. 

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about Strange Creatures what can we expect?

Cristina: Strange Creatures is based on the children’s book Etranges Créatures, published by Editions Notari in Switzerland. I illustrated this book in 2013 and Cristóbal and I wrote the text once all the illustrations were ready. 

The film is completely different in aesthetics, but the main story remains intact. There was lots of freedom for experimentation and improvisation, if needed. I am very fond of the textures in the film as well as the sound and music, which I hope will also be enjoyed by the audience. 

Cristóbal: Strange Creatures is a strange, cute, sad, sometimes a bit scary, ecologist fairy tale.    

Q: What was the inspiration behind this film?

Cristina: The book was created after a dream I had about animals building an artificial forest using things humans discard everyday, and from that image the story developed. 

I have always been concerned with the loss of animal’s habitats due to urban development. I felt the need to make a book to communicate to children and parents that, even though the future of the world looks a bit bleak, there is still room for hope. I hope the film does the same. 

CristóbalWe took inspiration from different sources. We wanted the short film to be as though it came from some indeterminate remote time. It looks a bit like painted celluloid from early cinema and the sound has elements of old cassettes and mickey mousing, which is how the sound was made for animations in the 30’s and 40’s, making a kind of foley through musical instruments.

Q: As co-directors what has the experience been like working together on this project? 

Cristina: I learned a lot from Cristóbal about the process of making an animated film. It was lots of work but it was very enjoyable. I had worked with Cristóbal before, but as a helper and on shorter projects. I was very flattered when he proposed making this short film together and understanding better the process of stop-motion animation . 

CristobalWe have collaborated a lot in different projects. I think Cristina has an immense talent. She is my favourite illustrator and I am always surprised by the things we create together.

Q: What was the most challenging part of bringing this film to life? 

Cristina: Since there was the reference of the illustrated book, Cristobal suggested not to make a drawn animation, but to build puppets, in order to create a different environment and feeling from that of the book. The book has scenes in which many things are happening at the same time, but in a stop motion film, one has to eliminate many of those things in order to prioritise time and aesthetics. 

We only had five months to shoot the film and hand colour the frames, so we had to create some scenes that could be quickly shot and would still look interesting and explain the story without too many complications. 

Q: Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?

Cristóbal: Making film and art in general is the only thing that entertains me. I cannot imagine doing something else. I enjoy cooking and playing football too. But sadly I’m not very good for either of them and nobody would pay me for that.

Q: How important is the collaborative nature of filmmaking to you? 

Cristina: I usually work alone as an illustrator, but do collaborate when writing the text for the stories. In film I guess it is even more important, considering how many more tasks one has to take on to make a film. 

I am sure this film would have been impossible to do it alone. It was great to collaborate with Cristóbal and also have the help of other friends for the 6-7 months we worked on it . 

CristóbalI think artworks shouldn’t be designed thing. They have to be living things. When I do art I think that I am helping a tree to grow and I have to do my best for this tree to grow strong and to give it what it needs.

When you do art by yourself, to think in this way is harder, because the work becomes a reflection of your personality and it is too much related to your ego. But collaboration is a way of understanding that the work is something else, an independent being. Like a child you don’t have to over control it.

Q: What has been the most important lesson you’ve taken after making Strange Creatures?

Cristina: How challenging it is to keep a film short ! 

Cristóbal: I wish I had lessons learned after making each movie. But, honestly, I feel that in every movie I start all over again. I suppose there is a learning of the body, an unconscious learning. I guess that feeling is what keeps me doing more art and more movies.

Q: Do you have any advice for any emerging filmmaker?

Cristóbal: I think art is the way that artists communicate with other artists. (I am ashamed to give advice in interviews.)

Q: And finally, what do you hope people will take away from this film?

Cristina: That our actions will affect every single living thing on earth. And  of course, that animals also know how to have fun at parties . 

CristóbalI hope you will have an experience that is like a dream in a nap after lunch. Like a very old fairy tale about a very urgent problem.

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