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Filmmaker Letter

Filmmaker Letter

My Life as a Zucchini

by director Claude Barras

I wanted to tell a story that teaches children not to be afraid, not to respond to violence with violence, to overcome anger by extending a hand when we encounter difficulties. At the very moment when, in our democracies, the fear and the desire to build walls threaten our ability to understand each other and to live together with our differences, which are our true wealth.

The novel, from which the film is adapted, addresses adults and is much more explicit about the painful past of its heroes, the young orphans. We evoked it with modesty in order to focus on their rebirth to life after their arrival at the foster home. We wanted to open the film to the children without closing it to the adults, to tell the same beautiful story, so we can share together the values that help us understand the world.

Children live in the same world as us, a world that is sometimes cruel and violent. We must not leave them alone to face these subjects for fear of addressing them. With this film, I tried to talk to them frankly, but also with humor, tenderness and hope. Childhood is at the same time a lot of laughter and inconsolable sadness. The great success of Céline Sciamma’s script is due to this jumble of childish emotions. We laugh in the sad scenes and we cry in the joyful scenes. If sometimes there is darkness, it only serves to better show the light.

The technique of stop-motion is a bit like sculpture. Starting with a rough stone, we uncover the bigger shapes, then we work more and more on the details. At each stage, one must keep a margin of creativity that stands between the material to be removed and the stone that will remain to form the final sculpture.

We built the puppets and the sets after recording the voices. Then we bring the puppets to the film set for lighting. For each shot, the animator starts by analyzing the reference video where he has filmed himself in the action he is going to have to reproduce. He then goes onto the set to take pictures of the puppets in their main positions. This allows Kim Keukeleire, our animation director, to discuss and refine the acting and the timing with the animator and for our cinematographer, David Toutevoix, to check the lighting. Only at the end of this meticulous process of preparation, when everything has been thought of and calibrated, does the magic arise with each unique shot, frame by frame. This magic is created by the empathy that develops between the animator and the puppet in the intimacy of the lighted scene. Shamanism is not very far away.