TIFF 2014: Interview with Day 40’s Sol Friedman

So Darren Aronofsky’s Noah with Russell Crowe was a huge hit, grossing over $350 million so far this year. Seems like people respond to the story of God pressing the reset button on a wicked old civilization, drowning every living thing on Earth in a forty-day deluge save for a faithful family and the animals they take aboard their ark. Clearly, Mr. Biblical God has no sense of proportion. Sol Friedman has his own take on the classic Noah story, in his scabrous animated short Day 40. Appearing at the Toronto International Film Festival in the Short Cuts Canada Programme 5, it’s a laugh-out-loud reimagining of the story loosely told from the animals’ perspective. Darkly comedic, Day 40 is sort of a pencil-sketch Animal Farm meets Robot Chicken, and boy does it go to some crazy places in its brief 6-minute runtime. Catch the sort-of-not-safe-for-work-but-not-really trailer and my interview with Friedman, after the jump.

Day 40 is almost entirely animated excepted for its coda. Was it challenging to do a purely animated film? What drew you to the pencil and paper aesthetic for this short?

On an almost daily basis I work with VFX and animation. However it’s a bit rare for me to be able to focus exclusively on animating my own characters, so I was really enjoying the process. Sadly it went by really fast – the animations were completed in about three weeks.

In terms of the aesthetic it comes directly from my drawing practice which has been ongoing for many years. Recently, I actually began to collect and scan my drawings on paper and have, at this point, gathered more than seven hundred. I guess my wife can use these for a posthumous compilation of my drawn works. Stay tuned.

Where did you get your start working on animation?

I had my first experience with animation when I was pretty young but I’ve actually quit twice. My first experience was at day camp when I was about eight years old. I collaborated on a terrible stop-motion film called “Don’t Go There at Night!” It was a twenty second tale (maybe less) about a group of kids who enter a haunted house, are chased by a dracula and some other beasts, and then successfully trick the bad guys into falling into a hole. About 15 years later, I taught myself to animate when a friend needed a hand in the early stages of producing of the animated documentary “I Met the Walrus” (this version predates Josh Raskin’s Oscar-nominated version). A few months into the project, there were creative differences between the producer and director and when the project fell apart, I decided to shift my focus from animation towards experiments with live-action.

The short was written by Evan Morgan, who acted in one of your earlier films. What was your collaboration on this film like?

The collaboration was really smooth. In retrospect it’s maybe a bit surprising just how smooth because I think we can both be a bit bullish in our opinions and are usually ready to throw down in defense of a joke. But there was only one joke that we were really divided on which was about whether or not to depict God as an insecure gay cloud.

The movie has a hilariously bleak outlook on human/animal nature. Simply black humour, or is there a commentary that with or without the right circumstances, most beings are inclined to do kinda horrible things?

I guess in spite of my generally optimistic outlook, I believe that good people will do bad things. By most measures, people would say I’m a good person, but to promote the film I’ve been exploring my dark side. For example, I have recently been trolling pastors and evangelists (and Kirk Cameron) online, trying to trick them into boycotting the film and buying God-Shit-Hats from the film’s website in order to burn them as an act of protest against this perverted short film.

How many times do you think God has gone back to the drawing board? Or is anyone shepherding this anarchic mess? Less with the tongue-in-cheek theology, how do you see the Noah story relating to today?

Well since there is no evidence that god exists, we can say with confidence that only did he not go back to the drawing board, there was no drawing board to begin with. In terms of the story’s metaphorical/moral value, throughout the bible and within the story of Noah’s Ark in particular, God is depicted as a capricious, despotic tyrant who sets out to destroy literally every creature on earth as a vile, wicked sinner. Not particularly moral. Meanwhile, we are told that Noah, the hero is to be seen as virtuous for his faith. Christopher Hitchens put it quite well (and appropriate in the context of this project), “Faith is the surrender of the mind, it’s the surrender of reason, it’s the surrender of the only thing that makes us different from other animals.”

What is that coda about, as we discover an android is telling the story to a real-life child? A bonus layer of meta-dysfunction?

I like your term meta-dysfunction, and I think it more or less describes a creative sensibility that was in play while making the film. But I would also say that the ending is meant to speak to the absurd notion that a human, much less a robot, would read a story as brutal and terrifying as the Noah’s ark story to a young child before bed (or any other time for that matter).

Do you have any new projects in the works?

I have a few projects in the works…
A short film about the destructive powers of bacon…
A proof-of-concept towards remaking a classic Japanese film…
And I am actually in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign trying to raise funds to develop Day 40 into a fully-animated feature film about Bears, Zombies and the End of the World.
The God-Shit-Hat reward actually just arrived the other day… and they are pretty awesome!

Day 40 appears in the Short Cuts Canada Programme 5 at TIFF tonight, Wednesday, September 10th, at 9:30pm at the TIFF Bell Lightbox Cinema. The Programme plays again on Thursday, September 11th at 9:15am, again at the Lightbox. For more info, see here.

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