New York Premiere Today!

Today will be partly cloudy, with 40% humidity, wind will blow from North with a West inflection. It will warm up to 30 Celsius (yes, after 20 years in USA I still think in meters and Celsius) with 0 chances of rain.

A fine day to have “Rocks In My Pockets” New York premiere at the IFC Center.

For the last 6 months there has been a never ending scurry to get everything on our to-do-list done: compiling lists of film lovers, mental health connoisseurs and our VIPs, engaging local communities that might be interested to see the film, making 42 paper mache rocks to throw at audience at the end of each screening (each screening gets 3 rocks), selecting original drawings from the film to give away to random audience members, doing interviews, thanking our 800 amazing Kickstarter backers, and of course, getting E&O insurance so that we can have legitimate theatrical screening and making a DCP (Digital Cinema Package, the glorious new screening format that replaced 35 mm prints). If we are lucky, we may get this all done by 4 PM today.

More and more this fine event, the premiere, starts to resemble a wedding. The film is wedding an audience – will she say yes? What if she walks away? Maybe 4 years of dating weren’t enough to convince her?

After four years of tremendous effort the film is finally going to be yours. I hope you’ll say YES and let yourself to be taken for the 88 minute ride. It is funny, although sometimes sad, but it’s also engaging and entertaining. Please say yes!

I don’t want to read reviews, good or bad (so that I don’t get self conscious about what it is what I do) but I was told that “Rocks In My Pockets” got a good review in The New York Times. If you have friends who need convincing, please share the review with them and bring them with you to a screening. If you have a family member with whom you haven’t spoken much lately, please take them along, too – you’ll have a lot to talk about after the film.

If you see the film, please write me a note – here or on Facebook. I made the film for YOU and I would be happy to hear from you.

THANK YOU!

 

 

 

 

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Negatives vs. Positives: An Epic Internal Battle.

You know how hard it is to stay positive when your mind has taken the dark road towards the Land of Bleak.

Recently I went to a women filmmakers gathering where the 25 of us sat around a hibernating bonfire in a Brooklyn backyard garden lit by soft spring evening light. The Ringleader said to go around the circle one by one introducing ourselves:

- State your name, the project you are excited about and something positive that happened to you or your project.

“What a wonderful idea,” – I thought. – ” To focus on positive. So feminine and nice!”

But soon, as women started to state their positives, I realized I had nothing positive to say. Earlier that day a person had called me to tell me for the second time that my voiceover in my film sucks.

- You are not an actress, – she had said. – And your voiceover lacked that soothing quality of a professional actor. It bothered me for the first 15 minutes of the film and although it’s hard for me to do this to you, I have to tell you the truth. You should change the voiceover. Hire a professional actor.

It really hurt.

The thing was that the person was my own mother and we had already had this conversation 5 months ago where she had stated her concerns and I defended my choices. I had thought she understood and was on my side.

The other thing was that my mother doesn’t speak English, so as she watched the film I was murmuring my Latvian translation in her left ear while her right ear was free to catch sounds of my English voiceover rushing ahead. Like a desynchronized Surround 5.1. Hardly the best circumstances to judge someone’s work.

Also, I don’t disagree with her statement. Like most normal people I hate my voice.

At this point I can’t change a lot in the film. The stage of welcoming a feedback is over. Choices, good or wrong, have been made and committed to. Now it’s time for film critics to rip the film apart and ruin my career, while my support group, if I have one, should be stuffing their first aid kits with band-aids and wounds disinfecting alcohol.

- The good news is that I just finished a book,- said a good looking woman in her mid thirties.

- Congratulations! – the envious murmurs went through the circle.

- Well, not writing a book, – the woman added sheepishly. – Reading a book. I know I know – it doesn’t seem like a lot, but with my money work, making a film and taking care of a baby I really hadn’t had time to read, so being able to finish a book feels like an accomplishment. Definitely a positive.

“Wow!” – I thought. “She found time to read a book while raising a child, making a film and having a full time job?! What a super SUPERwoman!”

For the last 4 years I had time to work only on my film and not much else. I get to see my sweetheart only occasionally. All my friends stopped calling me because I never have time for them. I have a pile of 50 unfinished New Yorkers on my kitchen table and reading books, my favorite activity besides sex, has been out of question. Why can’t I find more time like this super woman?

“And it’s amazing that she can see positives in small things. How cool,” – I thought.

The day before a filmmaker friend of mine who had recently finished a live action feature only to encounter a massive wall of festival rejection told me that he spend an hour and half that day staring at a wall.

- What did you feel when you did that? – I asked. Just staring all a wall sounds more fun than anything I had in the last year.

My friend gave me a startled look and faintly smiled. He didn’t answer but I pressed on.

- Did you feel inside a pain so immense that it paralyzed your Soul like a rabbit struck by a scorpion’s toxic stinger, a pain so unbearable that it prevented your wonderful lungs from taking a smooth breath so that you either gulped the air down like a drowning person or stopped breathing completely?

- Yes, – he said. – How did you know?

I know because I am a Master of Self Pity that am able to project on others.

The introduction in the circle was coming closer to me and I was getting frantic. What are the positives I could share with these upbeat, chirpy women? Although they are filmmakers they seem so sunny as if they never encountered the pain of filmmaker’s postpartum depression with their project near the end, the pain of rejection and uncertainty of their filmmaking future. They shared their successes that went from microscopic (- I combed my hair today!) to gigantic (- Meryl Streep agreed to be in my new film!) and each painfully reminded me of Facebook boasting posts, and of a social media popularity game that I could never win because I am unable to post anything that would connect with wide variety of people, oh that stinging recognition of truth that my work never goes viral because it’s either too bizarre or not bizarre enough.

I guess the good news are that I paid my rent a few days ago, so I won’t be homeless for the next 30 days. But I had to borrow money to pay that rent and I dont know how to return it or where the next rent will come from. 30 days will be over in a blink of an eye.

- Hi. My name is Signe Baumane, I am finishing my first animated feature “Rocks In My Pockets”, a funny film about depression.

Wow, that does sound a lot like an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

And now – the positives.

- Maybe you know this feeling or not, but at the end of my project I feel like the Mob had kidnapped me, tied by my feet to the rear bumper of a race car and drove on dirt roads and highways the whole night. I have no skin left and have internal bleeding.

- Positives! – shouted the Ringleader who just started an extremely successful festival run for her amazing feature so she had not a bit of sympathy for losers like me. – State what’s positive in your life right now!

- Well … I guess a good thing is that this is rock bottom so what worse can happen. From this point things can only get slightly better.

Women cheered, it’s a support group after all, and continued on to share their positives. I felt deeply alone surrounded by complete darkness on a road that I was not sure was even a road.

Why do people make films on their own and go through this suffering? Why such taste for self-punishment?

But, like the pain of childbirth is notoriously forgettable, I hope the pain of making the film with be forgotten, too, and soon I’ll conceive another one in one joyful hour of pure fun and self abandon. Can’t wait.

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Bi-Polar at Work.

Bill Plympton called me the other day and asked if I was interested to make a music video and before he could even finish his sentence I said YES YES YES feeling a surge of manic energy rush through my body and brain. The heavy lid that for months was keeping me in the cold coffin of being depressed and unfocussed slid off and I was was let out to fly. Yippee!

All of sudden everything was amplified. A minute idea seemed like a gigantic one. Everything was exciting and everything had to be made right now, on the spot.

I cranked out the storyboards in super intense 3 hours and presented them to Bill. I do know that with a mind on fire like this I need a reality check. Bill liked the boards and approved. Reality, check.

Next step – animating.

Animating requires a strange kind of focus – on one hand you have to look under your fast moving hands to make sure lines flip with each other. On the other hand, you can’t think too much about what you are doing, because over-thinking kills life and art, so you must think of something else. Which in my case forms a flow of obsessive, highly emotional thoughts about politics (- Why the hell Chris Christy fucked it up like this!?), friends (- Is Pat still my friend if he snubs my emails?!), Facebook (- Chris Robinson posted a grumpy comment to my post!) and film festivals (-They hate me they hate me they hate me and my film!).

The faster the thoughts run, the faster my hands move. It’s a miracle the paper doesn’t get thorn to shreds in the process or doesn’t set on fire.

At some point the walls start to hum then start to vibrate. It’s annoying, so I stop, get up and touch them. They vibrate or not? Not sure. The vibration stop.

I sit back at my light box and walls start humming again. Fuck. It’s annoying. But the annoyance fuels me with a manic speed. I discover can block out the vibration if I match it with rhythm of my work. The irritation gets pushed to the edge of my consciousness. Papers flip faster and faster.

Then music starts to play. A beautiful, gentle piano. For 2 seconds. I barely catch it. The moment I raise my head, it’s gone.

I get up, walk to the door and pop my head into the hallway. No way anyone is playing piano in this warehouse. Carpenters drill holes in they furniture projects and lay smelly layers of varnish on surfaces.

I sit back at my work table. The piano plays again. All right, let the music be. I won’t ask where it’s coming from.

It stops.

At the end of the day I have 2 huge piles of drawings – one on the floor, sketches and tries. The other on the table – final animation. One minute. In one day. Done.

I wake up at 2 AM. Everything is vibrating – walls, my body, my thoughts. From this maddening vibration a sense of urgency emerges. The world might end in 5  minutes. I need to scan all the drawings right now otherwise I will never see the results of my work.

I jump of of bed and walk to the scanner. The room is ice cold. I open the scanner’s mouth and place a drawing in it. The scanner blinks and says in a high pitch voice:

- Why are you making me work in the middle of the night? There is tomorrow, trust me.

Arguing with a scanner all of sudden seems like too much of an effort and I go back to bed.

 

A color sample of work in progress music video:

Tarzan try

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Accident

When I got on the bike I knew something terrible was going to happen. The vague premonition that I had every time I got on the bike this time was amplified by specific somatic nervousness. The man I was living with had been evasive lately. To gain his attention few days ago I told him I wanted to break up. He just smiled, put on a coat, walked out the door and hadn’t been back since. The mutual push and pull that had lasted for years, the routine reciprocated manipulations were’t working anymore. Was it over?
It was a frightening thought. What was outside the structure that this verged on abuse relationship provided me with? I had no other friends but him.
I rode the bike carefully, weaving through the Saturday shopping fever traffic and stupefied by a weekend pedestrians who absentmindedly ventured into the bike’s path.
But riding slowly is not quite an option for  competitive person like me. In the distance I saw the green light turn red and saw an opportunity to cover 2 more blocks before the light went red on me. I picked up speed.
Just then a cab pulled by the sidewalk leaving a space for me to pass between it and the parked cars. I aimed to pass when the passenger door opened right in front of me.
The bike hit the door and I ascended into the air.
Briefly released from the pull of gravity I looked to the ground. The dark gray asphalt looked hard and unwelcoming.
– If I fall, I’ll break my neck or 76 other bones, – I thought.
I pulled out my cheap cellphone, flipped it open and pressed “send”.
It connected right away.
– Terminal 5. Give your report, – a mechanical but still feminine voice said.
– New York. Broadway, – I said fast, trying to be efficient. – While riding a bike I hit taxi door. In the air.  Distance: 8 meters.
– Report accepted. Connecting you now.
Elevator music version of Beatles “Let It Be” filled the pause.
Then music stopped. I was connected.
– What is going to happen? – I shouted into the cellphone.
My anxiety just like my flight trajectory was reaching it’s peak.
For a long while I heard nothing but wind. In fact, 734 winds because my cell phone’s small screen indicated that’s how many connections I was on right now.
Then the last digit changed to 735.
– Kiev. Boryspilska street, – a mature man’s voice said urgently. – Construction site icy, no safety harness. About 20 meters to go.
– Kiev, anything to soften your fall? – a cracking voice of a man or a woman said with a neutral expression of resignation.
– I fear for the worst. Heading towards a pile of bricks, – Kiev said.
– Brother, I am in Bangladesh, – a male voice came in. – A construction site accident, just covered 73 meters, 3 more to go. Going towards a parked cement truck. You are not alone, is all I wanted to say. You are not alone, brother.
A mumble of many voices came in as a confirmation:
– You are not alone.
– You are not alone.
– You are not alone.
The number changed from 735 to 734 then to 733.
Then back up to 735.
– Vietnam. Lao Sai. Crossing a rope bridge in high wind. The bridge flipped. 23 meters to cover.
– How old are you, Vietnam? You sound awful young.
– A year and half.
A murmur of horror.
– Water will soften your fall.
– River is shallow with rocky bottom. Water too fast.
A murmur of hasted prayers.
But I had my own pressing need. I wanted to live.
– Hey, – I said. – Sorry for butting in. 6 meters to go for me, any suggestions?
– New York, chill. Only 6 meters? You may only break couple of bones.
– I have no insurance. I’ll be left rotting on a sidewalk. I might as well be dead if I break a couple of bones.
– Your mother has a third cousin in Ohio. Ask her
The number changed to 736.
– Bordeaux. Roe Boulan. I slipped on a bathroom floor with nothing to catch my fall. I am 87 and one meter for me is like 68 meters for the 20 year old. I fear for the worst.
I switched lines.
– Emma! – I shouted into the receiver.
– Emma speaking, – a distant voice said with suspicion.
– I am falling, 4 meters to go. save me!
– What do you want me to do?- the voice said grumpily. – Catch you? I am in Ohio, you dumb nit.
– Tell me what to do.
– Can’t you just slow down your fall?
– I can’t!
– Then I don’t know what to tell you. Wait. My first husband was an alcoholic, he fell many times when he was drunk, but never broke a smallest bone. A doctor in a hospital once told me that when drunks fall their muscles are relaxed because of the booze. A normal person always tenses her muscles at fall. Try to relax, sweetheart. Have a drink or something.
– OK.
I got off her line.
– She told me to relax! – I shouted into the other line.
An approving murmur:
– Relax.
– Relax.
– Relax.
Without closing my eyes I imagined sipping from a glass of wine. I felt my body accelerating towards the pull of asphalt and thought of landing on a soft mattress of hay and flowers.
Then I hit the ground, rather, the ground hit me with a brick fist. The phone disconnected.
I stayed on the ground for a few seconds, then moved one limb after another, as a test. Nothing seemed to be broken. I got up and looked at the taxi.
After navigating my fall and gravity I was back to navigating social interactions.
I speed dialed another number and started to approach the cab.

 

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Merry Winter Solstice!

Yesterday at 12:11 PM I was with my sweetheart, on N train crossing Manhattan bridge, going from Manhattan to Brooklyn.  It was the exact time of the 2013 Winter Solstice officially taking place. The Sun is now slowly turning back to us making the days longer.

I like to celebrate Solstices, it connects my inner moods with the outer, Cosmic events. Like the mood of deep despair and darkness hits it’s peak at Winter Solstice and then starts to give way to lighter, brighter mood.

In the push and pull between those moods, the Sun always wins, although never completely:

Winter Solstice 2013

There is also another thing. Many years ago I read that people who have house plants are happier than people who don’t. So I went ahead and rescued one plant from a garbage pile, was given another as a gift, impulsively purchased the third one at Home Depot and grew 3 more from grapefruit seeds. But I did all that in a sunny summer time. The plants were happy till the cold hit. My studio doesn’t have heat and the huge windows let the winds blow through. When in the last few weeks it reached 40 F inside I put a coat on and turned a small infrared heater facing me on. But had to leave the plants unprotected in the cold. I saw their leaves shiver and shrivel. I knew at least one of them will loose all it’s lush greens by the end of January. The others will go pale and yellow.

- Just wait and hold on to your roots, – I told them. – The Sun will return one day soon and will hug you again. Your greens will spring back.

It is the same thing I tell myself when I go through mentally dark time and can’t bear the pain anymore:

- Just wait and hold on tight to the crazy hope that make you alive. Your film will premiere and reach it’s audience. You’ll be able to pay rent by Summer Solstice. All will turn out well.

And so I grab the things that keep me alive and by stretching my arms try to get sunlight on them. Without a hope I won’t be able to get through the winter.

Winter Solstice 2013 2

But sometimes all I want in an empathy. Please hold my hand and tell me all will be all right.

Sun and moon

Happy Winter Solstice!
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Parental Guidance in Filmmaking.

Do you show your work to your parents?

I am sure American parents are super supportive, otherwise how would you explain the unfathomable self assurance of most Americans? The school system conspires with the parents, too.

- Both teams have won! – a referee announces to 2 competing groups of 9 year olds.

- Everybody gets a prize! – an arts teacher ends a drawing competition in a kindergarten.

- You are so pretty, you should be next Shirley Temple! – all girls in the class get the same note on Valentine’s day.

But I was brought up by Eastern European parents, the tough breed that doesn’t shell out encouragement easily.

- Did you draw this with your toes? – they say after you give them a handmade Happy Birthday card.

- You were 0.2 seconds short of the school’s previous year record, – after you win a 500 meter distance race.

- You look like an ugly teenage boy, – when you (a girl) are about to go to your first date ever.

- It’s not true and you embarrass our family, – my mother told me after my short story was published in a local paper. I was 14 at the time.

It was a personal funny story about me clearing out our pantry from perceived useless stuff like old burned pans, moldy jars of lard and rusted sieves only to have my mother upon returning from work to retrieve all the junk from the trash bin.

Since then my mother was always quite weary of my stories, they always revealed too much personal information for her cautious Eastern European self.

I don’t have a problem writing stories about imagined people, in fact, I LOVE writing pure fiction, imagined characters in fantasy events that never took place outside my head.

The problem is that no one is interested in my fiction. It is sappily emotional, overly romantic and it roots for an underdog (poor, old and disabled) whose psychology is not well comprehended by the writer.

In my long history of writing and telling stories I have discovered that people prefer narrative from my personal life, and they find it funny. My critical, unforgiving Eastern European eye makes it for a good comedy.

So, I write personal stories and sometimes I make personal films like “Teat Beat of Sex”. Perhaps that’s why I moved from Latvia to New York and make films in English – so that my mother wouldn’t understand them.

But the word got to my parents that their daughter is making a film based on family events.

- Relatives are worried, – my mother warned me a year ago. – They don’t want the family secrets fly out all over the place like drunken bats.

- Don’t worry, – I replied. – I’ll never release the film in Latvia.

But we don’t live in an age of Iron Curtain, and languages don’t create safe barriers anymore.

When we run a Kickstarter campaign, about 150 of our 800 backers were from Latvia. They unambiguously stated their interest to see the film translated and released in Latvia.

In campaigning heat one makes big promises like a horny man who temporarily loses his mind and promises marriage to a woman he intends only to “enter and exit”. Of course, I said YES we’ll translate the film!

But in the after-campaign sobriety a different thought had entered my mind. How could I upset my family? Latvia is a very small country of 2 million, everybody knows everybody else. Latvians, like their parents, are an opinionated and critical bunch, their comments can be skin scraping harsh. One of the infamous proverbs in Latvia is “The most delicious food for a Latvian is another Latvian“. I live in a safe distance from the place but my family members would have to pay consequences for my indiscretion.

However, translating the film is tempting. After all, I could lend my voice to 2 translations – in Latvian and Russian. It would be exciting to see how the film works in language other than English. Also, Latvians would probably be more appreciative then Americans of the strange visual metaphors and symbols used in the film, as they are coming from the same culture.

On my recent trip to Latvia for a brief (weeklong) visit, my parents insisted I show the film to them.

- We want to see this baby of yours, – they said. – To check if all the toes and fingers are in place. If something is missing, we’ll tell you.

I had no doubt they would.

Shivering with an apprehension, I set up my laptop for the screening on the kitchen table. I knew they had no power to stop me from releasing the film, but there is this 5 year old inside me yearning for parental approval. Some very small but still a part of me thinks that if they put veto on the project, that will be it.

The film started to roll and my worries were pushed aside by the hard work of trying to simultaneously translate the dialogue. It’s an impossible task for an inexpert like me, a lot of subtlety got lost. “It was the brief moment around Summer Solstice when everything explodes with blooming – nature’s way of assuring that seeds and fruit ripen just before the first frost in late August kills life and growth” was translated as ” ehr… Summer Solstice short… flowers… seeds… ehr… frost kills”.

20 minutes into the film I noticed my father’s face relax. Since it was HIS side of the family depicted in the film, I was anxious to know his thoughts, so I stopped the film and asked how they felt.

- It is fictionalized, – my father said simply.

- Are you concerned what your sibling might say about it?- I asked.

- No one would recognize this story as our family’s, – my mother said.

- Just wait till we get to the part with you, Mom, – I replied. – We’ll see how fictionalized it will seem to you then.

But when the part with her came on she just wanly smiled. She didn’t think it was her.

At the end of our kitchen screening they said they liked the film.

- It is an important story that should be told to Latvians as well as everybody else, – was their verdict. – Go ahead, translate and release the film here!

Such support and encouragement was unexpected. What is going on?

Have my parents got Americanized after watching too many American shows on Latvian TV?

 

 

 

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Thankful THANKSgiving!

Thanksgiving is one of those holidays that we celebrate without admitting to ourselves that it is one of the greatest and most ancient pagan celebrations, like Solstice. In the old times this was the time when people stored the fall’s ripened fruit and vegetables in cellars, and braced for the winter. Birds and pigs were slaughtered and stored, too (it’s cheaper to keep dead, salted and smoked meat around than livestock that demands hay and grain).  And then  of course, there is the notorious fattening up ritual – eating up as much of those dead birds and pigs as possible in one short pre-winter day, to transfer the fat from their bodies into ours. Before Global Warming the winters were harsh and the skinny folks risked not seeing the spring.

So yes, lets grab our axes and go to find those birds! Hopefully they are big enough to feed the whole village, because it took a village to make “Rocks In My Pockets” and oh boy that village is now hungry!

For this THANKSgiving I want to THANK YOU for following this blog. You are amazing and your support matters as much as coloring and compositing to make “Rocks In My Pockets”.

THANK YOU!!!

THANKSLegLETTERs

 

 

 

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