In this months Animators Unearthed, Chris Robinson travels into the fantastic world of Mait Laas, which gave birth to his new film, Generatio.
The synopsis of Estonian animator Mait Laass new film, Generatio (2005) sounds straightforward: An architect tries to help his wife as she gives birth to their child. As he does he slips into a fantastic journey and experiences all manner of wondrous things between the stars and the sea. As you might expect from the Estonians, things arent exactly as simple as they appear to be.
Generatio is actually a complex, visually dazzling allegory about history, culture, freedom and the cycles of life. While Laas innovative use of mixed-media techniques is a refreshing blast of fresh air on the Estonian animation landscape, his philosophical and ecological concerns follow in the footsteps of his predecessors, notably Estonian animators Heino Pars and Mati Kutt.
Generatio was made for a German-produced feature film called, Lost and Found. Laas was one of six Eastern European filmmakers invited to contribute to the film. I was invited to a meeting with Nikolaj Nikitin, who is the delegate from Berlinale (the one of the biggest film festivals in Europe), says Laas. At the meeting he asked me if I would be interested in joining the project and doing the animation part of the feature.
Laas was excited by the request and jumped at the opportunity. It was really surprising for me, says Laas, that feature film makers were interested in having animation in their world! Laas was given some guidelines for the project it had to deal with problems between generations in new societies but beyond that he was given almost total creative freedom. The producers and other filmmakers have trusted me, adds Laas, and I had the possibility to do basically what I had written in my script.
From the beginning, Laas wanted to use a mix of animation techniques in Generatio. The idea, says Laas, was to have all the techniques in the film because they also represent the different generations. Also, because Generatio was split up in short segments for Lost and Found, so I felt that it would be smoother technically if I used different styles. Different techniques will build different atmospheres for the viewer. The main idea, though, was to show that even beneath these different forms or clothes, the line in life is the same. I think its important that we recognize and respect how important that is.
While issues of tradition and history lie at the core of Generatio, Laas also addresses complex philosophical and ecological themes. Water plays an essential part of the film. We are made of water. We rely on water to survive. Many philosophers have also suggested that water is the key to harmony in life, that our search for our own rhythm and flow in life is deeply connected with the flow of the rivers. This ecological viewpoint is very important issue as the continuity of the most important values the life in the earth, says Laas.
On yet another level, Laas also explores the relations between masculinity and femininity, creation and destruction, and our desire to bring these cycles of life into harmony. Generatio is filled with a variety of odd characters (men, bees, a cat, matchstick men, a fetus and a naked woman) that seem completely disconnected, yet, in truth, they are all connected, all part of the same stream of life.
What interests Laas is uncovering this mysterious essence that unites and separates us all. Nobody knows, for example, exactly about the soul of the bees and how they know to act collectively, it is not pure ratio, nor is it entirely biological, it is something in between and it is mysterious that is that.
What is even more intriguing about Generatio is how Laas vision and approach speaks to both the future and past of Estonian animation. Laas refusal to abide by a singular style is far removed from the recognizable style of, for example, Priit Pärn or Riho Unt, and shows a willingness to explore new technologies. However, Laas interest in philosophical and ecological issues links him to earlier generations of Estonian animation, particularly Mati Kütt (Underground, Buttons Odyssey) and Heino Pars (Songs to the Spring, River of Life). The clothes might be different, but the essence remains the same.
Finding answers is not Laas primary goal as an artist; he is more interested in stimulating his audience. For me it is actually very important to activate the viewer to inspire them to feel or think or follow something on their own. Sometimes art makes people very passive, but sometimes active dreams or visions can follow us through life even when we will never find the dream book that will explain it in logical way through words.
Engaging viewers has not been an easy task for Laas. His films are complex and somewhat abstract. Audiences especially in Estonia have struggled to embrace his films I dont try to make esoteric films, says Laas. For me, they are quite clear. I dont like to destroy things. I think its more interesting to unite. Everything has a connection with something else. I like people to talk and communicate so that we are not alone or separated. This is my basic aim.
Chris Robinson has been with the Ottawa International Animation Festival since 1991. A noted animation critic, curator and historian, he has become a leading expert on Canadian and international independent animation. His acclaimed OIAF programming has been regarded as both thoughtful and provocative. In May 2004, Robinson was the recipient of the Presidents Award given by the New York chapter of animators for contributions to the promotion of independent animation.
His books include Between Genius and Utter Illiteracy: A Story of Estonian Animation, Ottawa Senators: Great Stories from the NHLs First Dynasty, Unsung Heroes of Animation, Great Left Wingers and Stole This From a Hockey Card: A Philosophy of Hockey, Doug Harvey, Identity & Booze.
An anthology of Robinsons Animation Pimp columns will be published in 2006. He is working on Fathers of Night, a novel about angels, devils and everything in-between. Robinson lives in Ottawa with his wife, Kelly, and sons, Jarvis and Harrison.