Honesty over Comfort: The Animated World of Signe Baumane
Signe Baumane is a New York-based independent animator, illustrator and writer. Her first successful attempts in animated film date to the beginning of the 90s when she was still living in her native Latvia. Baumane’s unique approach to visual storytelling in the form of a cartoon can be detected in her short film Birth. This is a film about the state of the mind, pregnancy as a psychological process as well as a physical one. It is darkly and brutally honest. The lived experiences and fears of women matter more than society’s expectation of clean, uncomplicated joy in the creation of family. In the film, there is, notably, no speaking role for the biological father of this child. He is the silent image crafted by a young girl’s hopes, wonderful but also irrelevant. Baumane animates these various fantasies and anxieties with an unusual, dreamlike sense of physical space and emotional logic.
Having initially marked herself out as an animator uninterested in staying within the confines of mainstream wholesomeness – her first short films invariably dealt with sex, pregnancy, madness, and dentists, Baumane’s feature debut is a poignant and stunningly frank exploration of mental health often described as ‘a funny film about depression’. Opening in Latvia during Soviet Union-era 1920s, Rocks in My Pockets sets about telling the true story of the director and her family’s fraught battles with depression and mental illness, conveyed by telling the stories of five women suffering from the same affliction. This autobiographical film has led her family to struggle with the way she effectively stolen their secrets; it’s outweighed by how much the film has controversially incited a conversation about mental health in her home country, a taboo subject that was rarely acknowledged let alone spoken about publically. For a film made on a modest budget, the combined stop-motion and hand-drawn animation style is remarkably accomplished, delving into the minds of the characters and visually illustrating how they actually feel inside, something impossible in live action approaches. The whole experience is tied-up together by a vivacious voiceover from Baumane herself. As the author explains: “The idea for Rocks In My Pockets came from my stream of consciousness. Like most people I think about a wide variety of things, some fantastical, some mundane, but my mind keeps coming back to thoughts of “ending it all” and the ways I could go about doing it. Why? Why do I think this way? And why I am still alive despite such thoughts? I find the fragility of our minds fascinating. Life is strange, unpredictable, sometimes absurd and I try to see the humour in it all.”
In the whole of her career, Signe Baumane has been committed to honesty over comfort and that is the main reason she managed to distinguish herself and proudly survive within the difficult world of independent filmmaking. (Igor Prassel)