TIFF 2014: Interview with Indigo’s Amanda Strong

In my continuing series on the Short Cuts Canada Programmes, today we look at one of the most visually striking films in the series, Amanda Strong’s Indigo. Filmed entirely in stop-motion, the hand-crafted figures in this dreamlike short are inspired by Native mythology. A confined woman finds herself liberated by grandmother spider, while her memories are projected in an effort to restore her spirit. Following its own archetypal images and logic, the film doesn’t conform to a straightforward narrative, but conveys a striking journey through several different coloured worlds in its nine-minute run-time. Strong has made several short films, each with an intense, dark visual style. Indigo was also selected for the 2014 Cannes Short Film Corner, and last year the National Post included her in its feature “Six emerging aboriginal artists in Canada who are inspiring change.” Catch my interview with her and the trailer for Indigo after the jump:

You work in a variety of media, with a broad range of interests and passions. What led you to film?

I started working in film when I got my heart broken. Haha. I decided to make a movie with some friends and had no idea what I was doing. I was trained in photography and illustration and always was drawn to creating characters in imaginative environments. I found film could be the most effective platform to bring these worlds to life.

I’m new to your work. It seems to be a fascinating hybrid of indigenous and western culture. Can you talk about how these disparate influences inspire you?

I am a mixed blooded person, so in a sense I feel like a living hybrid. I don’t aim for my work to be identified as one particular thing. I feel artistic expression is an outlet of what we experience so inevitably I encompass influences from both sides. I am proud to be an indigenous woman and am developing my relationship with its presence in my work and my responsibility as a storyteller.

Your visual style seems to draw on goth, Tim Burton, surrealism and constructivism, with a little steam punk thrown in for good measure. Are those schools and styles influential for you?

Inspiration comes from experience and many of these things you have mentioned I have experienced or studied, but I do not adhere to one school of thought or practice. I liked a lot of Tim Burton’s earlier films, and my work does connect to the dream-like aesthetic of the surrealists, but I wouldn’t consider myself a student of any of these people or institutions. I take most of my inspiration from the moon.

You’ve talked about the narrative (dream narrative?) being about Indigo’s personal struggle and revitalization, reflecting the medicine wheel and grandmother spider. Can you elaborate on those ideas in Native folklore and what they mean for you in the film? Who is the adversary or what does that figure represent? Can you describe the settings and colour shifts of Indigo’s journey?

To me the medicine wheel is about balance. The rooms and indigo’s dresses interpretively reflect the four colours, directions, elements, seasons and stages of life amongst other teachings. Though I do not claim to be following any story in its entirety I am intrigued by stores of grandmother spider. To me she represents the creator and life cycle as well as a catalyst for spiritual awakening. The adversary to me represents confinement and logic. Her character is the ruler of the house and tries to keep indigo (the imagination and inner child) stored away. As we age many of us lock away our creative side and spirit to grow up. I know the dolls may read as many other concepts dealing with duality or light and dark, which to me also work and I prefer to keep the piece open for each viewer to take their own interpretation.

There’s a tremendous group of collaborators involved with the film. Who were some of the people involved and what did they contribute?

With Indigo I have been fortunate to collaborate with highly talented artists to help create the vision.
Winston Hacking (Set Construction), Brett Long (Animator), Terril Calder ( Puppet Technician and Consultant), Luke Sargent (Editor), Jordan O’Connor (Original Score), Stephen Patrick Bosco (VFX), Sahar Homami (VFX), Alana McLeod (Costume Designer), Kevin Brown (Sound Design) JP Navidad (Spider Construction) are just a few of the admirable people involved in the production. I was involved in helping with the creation of the dolls, editing, VFX, illustrations and computer animation in addition to directing.

Stop-motion animation is an arduous approach. Each setting is really dense and richly designed, too, and the doll-figures and the articulated spider are fantastic. How long did it take to put Indigo together?

The film took nearly 2 years to complete. There were barriers along the way both within the process and from exterior forces that affected the puppets as well as the films schedule. Production took nearly a year with dolls and set construction and the actual animation. Post production took close to a year as well.

What’s your next project? Will you be doing more in film?

I will continue to take an interdisciplinary approach to my work with a focus on film. I am currently working on five film projects: three new short animations Haida Raid 3: Save Our Waters, Eyes of the Other World and Napoleon, a short doc called Mob Bounce and a hybrid feature film Honey For Sale.

Indigo appears at the Toronto International Film Festival as part of the Short Cuts Canada Programme 3 on Sunday, September 7th at 9:45pm and again on Monday, September 8th at 4:15pm. Both screenings are at the Scotiabank Theatre. For more info and tickets, see here.

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