Rocks In My Pockets, the debut feature from respected animator Signe Baumane, will be the first animated feature ever to take part in the Karlovy Vary International Competition. Laurence Boyce spoke to her about the film.

Originally born in Latvia and now residing in New York, Signe Baumane is known in the animation world for her uncompromising and witty explorations of sexuality and the minutiae of life.

Her first feature Rocks In My Pockets continues this bold stance in being a witty and moving examination of the director’s battle with depression all narrated by Baumane herself.

The film is also a history of Baumane’s family and how their lives have been touched by the sting of depression.

Your work has always been personal, but Rocks In My Pockets seems your most intensely personal film to date. Tell us a little about how it came about and what inspired you to put your and your family’s story on the screen.

I actually never meant to put my family in the film. I thought I’d make a film about my personal experience of depression.

But as I started to tell the story I wanted to dig a little bit deeper into possible causes and reasons for my depression and started to write about Anna, my grandmother. It turned out to be some sort of detective story trying to pinpoint the depression gene in my family.

As to why make a story about this deeply personal pain, I guess I am in interested in inner matters, matters that aren’t necessarily seen from outside. 

Like, there are a lot of stories about a person going from point A to point C through B, but I am interested what that person felt while going from point A to C. Since the only person I can see from inside is me, I took myself as a subject.

Has any of your family seen the film yet? What has their reaction been to it?

When my extended family found out I was making a film about certain events that they would rather not talk about, they got very worried.  I showed the film to my Dad, Mom and sister to assuage their worries. 

Of course, as you know, no family members can agree on how really family events had happened, so my Dad disagreed with some depictions and my Mom disagreed with my Dad’s disagreeing and my sister said that this was not a documentary and as a piece of art it is allowed to take some liberties, and that was that.

During the recent Summer Solstice celebration in Latvia I saw my other concerned relatives. They were supportive and asked to be invited to the premiere - we are premiering the film’s Latvian version in Riga on August 21st, 2014.

How long did the film take to make? I know you’ve worked on Bill Plympton’s [renowned Academy Award nominated American animator] films but was it daunting making your first feature length film?

I finished the first draft of the script in January 2010, and we are premiering it on July 7, 2014. So it took four years to bring it to people. It was daunting. At times I was plagued with doubt and fear. It may not be easy to make a film but marketing and distribution is even more confusing and daunting.

Making 15 animated shorts doesn’t prepare one for the marathon of making a feature and the stakes are higher, too. With the amazing amount of hope, time and money invested you can’t just throw the film into the world and see if it sticks. You want it to stick, you work towards it.

Was it ever difficult during the making of the film knowing that you’d be opening up much of your life to audiences?

It is a story. When you tell a story about your life you sort of remove it from your own life and it becomes just a story.

People assume that one makes a personal film to get rid of one’s own demons, using filmmaking as some kind of psychotherapy. It is not my case. I make films to entertain, to engage people in a conversation, at times provoke, but mainly - to offer my point of view on the world.

Were you surprised by your selection at Karlovy Vary? What do you hope to get out of the festival when you’re there?

I was surprised and also very pleased as I think this is a perfect festival for Rocks In My Pockets - I am hoping that Eastern Europeans will relate to my subtle metaphorical humour and specific Eastern European historical references.

As to what I am hoping to get out of the festival… My biggest hope is that Karlovy Vary audiences will appreciate and understand the film. I hope to see the screening room full of people who after the screening will be delighted, happy and thoughtful.

Are there any current filmmakers / animators that you admire?

Of course, I greatly admire the king of independent animation Bill Plympton, he regularly makes shorts and features, he has boundless drive and ideas. He also is very supportive of young animators; he gives us his encouragement and advice. By organizing events he promotes animation as a medium.

I am also big fan of Miyazaki’s work. It’s magical.

I also greatly admire Persepolis, Waltz With Bashir and Sita Sings the Blues.  Those films prove that our misconception that animation is for children is outdated. Animation is a perfect medium for adults to reveal very complex ideas and stories.

What projects do you have planned for the future? Do you think any more animated features are in the offing?

I have four ideas for four new animated features, one of them is a feature based on my Teat Beat of Sex series. I have to see which of those ideas I could live with for the next four-five years and then see from marketing perspective if I can raise money for any of them.

Rocks In My Pockets is sold by New Europe Film Sales