Continuing an astonishingly prolific streak of new film work following his 20th Century Trilogy as well as last year’s Blood Manifesto and Sonámbulo, Bulgaria-born experimental animator and artist Theodore Ushev‘s latest film Blind Vaysha premiered this week at Berlinale – Berlin International Film Festival.
Produced by Marc Bertrand and executive produced by Julie Roy at the National Film Board of Canada in conjunction with ARTE France, Theodore’s latest work is adapted from a short story by Bulgarian writer Georgi Gospodinov. The story of the film is of Vaysha, a young girl afflicted with the ability to see only the past out of her left eye, the future her right. The narrative is paired with Theodore’s well-established propensity toward visual experimentation and fine arts, drawing on religious paintings and linocuts to create a typically stark and engaging piece of work. Skwigly reached out to Theodore Ushev to learn more about his latest work.
Blind Vaysha will get its premiere this week at Berlinale, though it may be a little longer before it reaches our shores. Can you talk a little bit about the story of the film?
It is the story of a girl who has a slightly uncomfortable disability: with her left eye she can see only the past, and with her right eye, only the future. So basically, she is blind. That’s what people call her: “Blind Vaysha.” A metaphorical fairytale for kids from the ages of 9 to 99.
How did Georgi Gospodinov’s original story come across your radar, and what about it felt suited to an animated adaptation?
I’d been working with another text by him for my next film. Then, a group of friends and I had the idea of making an omnibus out of some of his short stories. While I was reading them, the one that caught my attention was the story of Blind Vaysha. I immediately imagined it, every scene – afterward, the film just developed itself. The way Gospodinov writes corresponds very much with my conception of filmmaking. Very simple phrases, but with a rich construction, quotes and games. Absolute postmodernism play with the narrative and the visuals.
The linocut look of the film comes across with a lot of authenticity, how did you manage to replicate that so effectively using digital processes?
It’s a field I started exploring in one of my first movies, The Man Who Waited, then Gloria Victoria, and now Vaysha. It is just a very natural fit for me, because I’ve been making linocuts since I was 12 years old. Of course, today, it doesn’t make sense to use such an elaborate technique for an animated film. So, I draw on my Cintiq in the same way that I’d carve the lino or the wood. Cut the white part out of the black. Basically, I animate every colour separately. The trick is not to follow precisely the rest (because with linocuts, it is practically impossible to fit them). So, I recreate the artefacts of the linocut technique. For example, I never use the “Undo” command on my computer while drawing. Because with linocut, once your hand carves it, it is gone. You cannot put the black back. This creates a natural feeling of the unpredictable, of mistakes and the holy imperfection of the image—which is the basis of every creation.
Was this your first time designed a film stereoscopically, and if so did it present any unique challenges when weighed against the production of your prior films?
No, I did it before with Drux Flux and Gloria Victoria; they were all designed in “space” with stereoscopy in mind. But this is the very first time (in animation itself, I think) that stereoscopy is being used not only as a gimmicky trick but as a component of the narrative. It is part of the story itself. Especially at the end. But not only that: this is a film in four dimensions. The three dimensions are obvious: stereo XYZ. But I extended it into the fourth dimension: time (T). The ability to measure and physically visualize time, as Einstein imagined it. The film extends into time, past and future, like relativity theory. In every moment, you are able to feel time, to touch it. But there is a price to pay for this ability: you cannot feel the present. That’s what the film is about; the capacity to see the Z dimension diminishes with notions of T (time).
As an overall viewing experience do you feel the film benefits from being viewed as a 3D projection?
There is no 2D projection of the film – it is 3D (XYZ) or 4D (XYZT)
Is the idea of further adaptations of Georgi Gospodinov (or other author)’s work something that you may pursue in the future?
I’m proceeding with the filming of his epic work The Physics of Sorrow. I think I found someone who explains in words what I design, draw, animate. I only hope that I draw what he writes. I just did the illustrations for a “cahier” by him, published by the American University in Paris. Also, I’m preparing my first “live-action” film, based on another story he wrote. I feel that he is my soul brother. He was born just a few days before me. We breathed the same “socio-political-cultural” air. We ate the same food—and missed it very much during the hungry Communist years. It may sound strange, but there was a deficit of information, food, freedom (bananas, oranges, chocolate, cartoons) – these things were missing from our table as kids; they did not exist during the Communist period. This made us hungry; people starved for information and freedom. For everything…
So, it is an absolutely natural collaboration. It is very rare… I feel happy and privileged to have him on my side. We both believe in only one cause: that of unlimited EMPATHY.
The 66th Berlinale runs until February 21st, with upcoming screenings of Blind Vaysha taking place tonight at 5:30pm, tomorrow (Thursday 18th) at 1pm and Saturday 20th at 2:30pm. To see more of the work of Theodore Ushev visit ushev.com