Interview with Klaartje Schrijvers, director of the animation The Education

Screened last week at Film Fest Gent, The Education is a humoristic short animated film about a teenage girl living through the existential crisis of her family. In the animation we see the main character reflecting her thoughts about the destructive psychological and physical conflicts that she encounters. The simplistic, black-and-white style of the animation is gripping and entertaining, capturing the viewer’s attention immediately. For this reason, even though The Education is an animation about a pessimistic subject, it is told in an optimistic, black-humoured way.

Director Klaartje Schrijvers has studied animation film in the Royal Academy of Fine Art in Ghent. Her past works include animations Red Calvary (1991), Chiome d’Oro (1993) and Die Unschuld muss hier Schuldig sterben. She also has a PhD in history.

Cineuropa talked with Schrijvers about her newest animation The Education.

Cineuropa: What was the inspiration for The Education? Is it autobiographical?

Klaartje Schrijvers: Theteenage girl lives through the existential crisis of her family and the destructive psychological and physical conflicts that come with it. The inspiration of The Education was indeed autobiographical. Of course, life goes considerably slower and less structured than a fifteen minutes animation film. My life also had many truly happy moments!

I tried however to capture the essence of that part of my past but I did not want to make a film about me, myself and I. I hope the film is considered to be universal enough so that everyone can relate to the story as a whole or bits and pieces of it. We all had difficulties growing up, how minor or major they were. This film tries to capture that. From the responses I heard from the audience, I gather the impression I have succeeded.

Moreover, the ambition of the film was however not to lead to self-pity or self-loathing but to catharsis. That is why this story is told in a black humoristic way. I do not want people to leave the cinema hall with a feeling that a moral story was forced upon them. If people start to talk about their past (and in the case of young parents: the present), recollect memories, I think I will have succeeded in my story-telling.

The style of your animation is very minimalistic. Why did you choose this approach?

I always design a style in function of the story I want to tell or the atmosphere I wish to evoke. Each film is therefore preceded by a multitude of notes, sketches and finger exercises until style and story fully coincide and communicate with one another. I have not changed this way of working for The Education.

For The Education, graphic design is deliberately kept minimalistic. I have purposely chosen for simplification and stylisation of the image and I have tried to capture an essence of reality. Each individual drawing of The Education focuses on what matters for the story, skipping all superfluous elements in backgrounds and decor pieces, as long as the image remains understandable. Thus, the dinner table becomes a mere bold line, the chairs around it are left out. Doors appear or disappear when they have to and a piano is drawn as delicately as the instrument mostly sounds. The lack of superfluous elements also allows the viewer to visualize these elements, which add another dimension to the story. Animation really allows itself for these kind of exercises, which is why I like the medium so much. You can be creative yourself and you can allow your viewer to be creative too!

I have also chosen these simple, fluent and stylised lines, because it allows for great expressiveness of human figures. The lines capture emotions but leave ample space for the imagination and fantasy of the spectator. The style does not force one way of looking onto the viewers, just like the story does not force one morale on its audience.

By the way, sound design and voice recordings followed the same logic. The subtle rhythms and nuanced timbres of the voices contribute to a great extent to the overall rhythm of the film and were crucial for the decision not to have a musical score. In accordance with the graphical style, sound effects are minimally present in The Education

Can you describe a bit the process of making The Education?

The Education was initially a series of drawings I made during the summer of 2009 about my family history in female line covering 5 generations (so going back to my great-great grandmother who lived in the 19th century). The film, however, is considerably shorter than all the material I developed. In fact, it only deals with my story and for now leaves out the bigger family history. It was in 2011 I decided to make a short animation film about it and I contacted Annemie Degryse, the producer from Lunanime. We guaranteed funds from the Flemish Audiovisual Fund (VAF) in 2012 and I started working on the film in October of the same year.

Basically I did the directing, storyboarding, the voice directing and the editing fully on my own. For the animation itself I worked with co-animator Pascal Vermeersch. The animation was done on a cintiq (tablet and digital pen) with Animate Pro as the animation software.

For me it is important that image and sound match. Voice recordings were therefore done very early in the process so that the rhythm of the animation could adapt to the rhythm of the voices. Musicality in one way or another is always important in my films. Also for The Education, that contains no music in the strict meaning of the word, I deliberately chose to work with actors that were also singers or musicians. The recordings combined with my choice for a very tight montage resulted in an intrinsic musical film.

What does the future hold for you? Are you working on any new projects?

Making an autobiographical work can drain you mentally. You do not only present a work of art to an audience, you present a work of art that is about you! I have therefore taken some time off to recharge my batteries and to think about that question. I have been working on a project about migration (which will be on show in Turkey next year) and I have done some art works here and there. I also plan to write. I also have a background in academia; I plan to combine my artistic and my academic background into something…

Of course I also want to build on The Education. I mentioned that The Education started off as a series of drawings and that I only used some of them. I plan to create a graphic novel out of The Education. This will not only feature my life but the female line of my family. And of course, I will make another animation movie. I don’t want to hurry things however. Animation is a too dear medium for me to rush from one project to another. Needless to say that my way of working does not allow for rushing anyway. 

31 October 2014, by Saara Vahermägi