Mexican Animation Doc Home Is Somewhere Else’ Bows at Annecy

In what promises to be an incredibly busy Annecy, Brinca Animation Studio will premiere its animated feature “Home is Somewhere Else” at the French animation meet’s Contrechamp section, its major sidebar.

Co-directed by Carlos Hagerman and Jorge Villalobos, the Mexican animated feature reflects on the lives of the many undocumented Hispanic immigrants arriving in the U.S.; less interested in simply stating the immense difficulty that this means for them and keener on observing with care the emotional consequences that it entails. Built around the voices of real characters and their families, the toon’s varied styles become deeply intimate. Seen from the protagonists’ worldview, the film becomes an earnest call for empathy in a country that is witnessing an unprecedented influx of immigrants.

A portrait of four different characters presented by a sharp-witted narrator called “El Deportee,” voiced by José Eduardo Aguilar – whose real-life story is also told in the film – who with playful lyricism swings between English and Spanish, pondering, both in form and text, the elusive nature of the immigrant: living in between worlds, never truly accepted, always confined to an outsider status.

Variety interviewed Hagerman, Villalobos and Eduardo ahead of their feature’s June 13 Annecy premiere.

The film is divided into three chapters in which you use very different styles and animation techniques to portray the characters’ experiences and dreams. How was the process in finding each style? 

Jorge Villalobos: It was a very organic process that started with meeting Jasmine, the protagonist of the first story. When we interviewed her for the first time, she was eleven years old and was somewhat nervous, so we began drawing with her. She drew her family, her house, her cats, and once we saw those drawings, everything clicked. It was clear that it wasn’t just about hearing her voice but seeing through her eyes. So her drawings went to the animation department and we had to redesign and make it work for an animated movie but it all stems from her perception. Of course, for each story it was somewhat different.

Carlos Hagerman: ‘A Tale of Two Sisters’ was kind of a big question mark on what the graphic style was going to be like. And then by coincidence I found an exhibition of an incredible watercolor painter, Aura Moreno Lagunes who has focused mainly on doing portraits of women. We immediately looked for her and convinced her to work on the chapter because her work has a sort of naive quality to it that suited the voices of Evelyn and Elisa. And that’s what you’re searching for, that emotional quality in the graphic style or the graphic answer to the narrative that is already speaking to you through the very real interviews and conversations.

Villalobos: In the final episode, there’s a further evolution in the style. We went from a very simple color stroke to a more complex, more elaborate style through watercolors and we knew that the third style had to be very different from the previous ones. There is a progression in the drama of the stories hence a progression in the complexity of the animation

There are very interesting narrative devices in the structure of the film yet the entire dialogue comes from interviews with real people. Could you comment on finding that narrative? 

Hagerman: It was very challenging to have all these long conversations and to make them fit in 25-minute stories. So we approached it as we did the animation – to have three different teams of animators. We also had three editors working independently. They coordinated on the approach to the material as they tried to shape them into short films. ‘The Tale of Two Sisters’ was particularly challenging because most of the audio we had was just conversations between them. So creating that clear and concise narrative between mundane phone conversations took a long time and a lot of patience to find the key emotions.

The vast influx and plurality of ethnicity that has arrived over just a few decades is rapidly changing the demographics of a nation. As a second generation Hispanic, how do you see these new North Americans who are deeply Hispanic? 

Aguilar:  It’s interesting that you mention generations because this issue is definitely not the same as when I was growing up in the nineties, and it’s not the same from those growing up in the 2000s to those growing up right now.  Technology and the political climate have a lot to do with it. So it’s generational but it’s also regional. Growing up in a little white Mormon town, or in New York City or in California means a completely different experience for an undocumented. It was one when I got deported that I realized how different our lives were in the U.S. Some of us couldn’t get a driving license, some couldn’t even attend school. But it’s not all sad either, there’s a music scene growing, and there are new spaces for it, there’s a growing identity among those who stayed.

Now that you’ve been deported, how has your experience been back in Mexico? 

Aguilar: I grew up in a predominately white, small Mormon town, amongst white people, being one of the very few Mexicans there. And yet when I met Mexicans, they treated me as if I was trying to be white, as if I didn’t belong to them either. This generation or this identity that was created by the migration of our parents that took us over there and also by also the U.S.’s oppressive laws, which separate you in a different way. We kind of got stuck over there, in the U.S., with this lack of mobility between both of our spaces, both of our countries. So you’re neither from there nor here, we’re bicultural but we’re not binational, we don’t have two nationalities. And once you get deported, you live in a different kind of shadow. I think Mexico still has a long way to go when it comes down to recognizing this identity, to understanding the reality of these people that are coming back. And that’s what I’m trying to do, either through poetry or film, to say “we are here.”

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