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Binocular Briefs - Spotlight on Torill Kove

This month’s edition of AWN’s survey of under-the-radar animated shorts that are currently travelling the festival circuit or are new to online viewing looks at the Oscar-winning animator’s new film and revisits her award-winning body of work.

In this month’s special edition, we look to the future and past of three-time Oscar nominee (she won for her 2006 film, The Danish Poet). With Kove’s latest film, Maybe Elephants, set to debut at this year’s Annecy Animation Festival, we revisit her award-winning body of work and take a sneak peek at an excerpt from her latest film.

Kove’s films are deceptive. She lures viewers in through her humorous and relatable stories and vivid minimalist visuals. Yet, within those digestible delights are musings on the tricky themes of identity, memory, family dynamics, and history.

With that let’s revisit Torill Kove’s body of work from her earliest success to her latest.

My Grandmother Ironed the King’s Shirts, 1999

Legend has it in Kove’s family that her grandmother might have ironed the King of Norway’s shirts and, by doing so, helped fight the Nazis. Underneath the lighthearted story is a breezy contemplation on memory, history, and family and how little we really know about, well, anything.

The Danish Poet, 2006

I sometimes think about how random each individual's existence is. My own birth involved a whole slew of crazy twists and turns. In Kove’s Oscar-winning The Danish Poet, she ponders the very same theme via a love story between a poet (yes, he’s Danish) and a woman he meets via his obsession with a Norwegian poet. This kickstarts a series of unlikely events that may lead to Kove’s own emergence from the womb.

Me and My Moulton, 2014

The middle child of three girls is having stomach problems. Could it be because of the stress of having well-meaning but eccentric parents? All she wants is for her clan of oddballs to be like her friend’s family: normal. But she soon discovers that life is not always greener on the other side and that appearances can be deceptive. A beautifully designed and whimsical contemplation on the struggles of youth and that desperate need to feel a sense of belonging.

Kove also made some brief shorts featuring the Moulton family:

Party Time (2015) features the family getting ready for the Oscars.

5 Sure Signs That Your Parents Were Architects (2014)

Threads, 2017

At the start, it’s just the child and parent. A bond is formed. Over time, that connection changes as the child steps into the outside world and develops new relationships, goals, and identities. For parents, it’s not an easy path to watch their child drift away from them.

Threads refers to that powerful, invisible connection between a parent and child, in this case, Kove’s role as an adoptive mother. As a child grows into a youth and then an adult, the thread is stretched, yanked, and twisted. There comes that tough moment when the parent has to let go, trusting that the thread will remain strong as the child transforms into an adult.

Maybe Elephants, 2024

In Kove’s latest autobiographical tale, she looks at a family on the verge of change. It’s the early 1970s. Three teenage daughters are on the cusp of adulthood. They need their parents more than ever as they navigate the world outside of family. The parents, though, especially the mother, are also at a crossroads of their own. This restlessness leads the family to Nairobi for three years. The family will never quite be the same, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s funny and personal, and it also has elephants. Well, maybe. I don’t want to spoil it for you. It’s a mature, touching, and humorous work that is ultimately about coming to terms with parental choices that once seemed strange at the time but that make more sense as one gains distance from those memories. Kove, as with other films, also touches upon that tricky thing called memory (a story told a second time). Our memories are uniquely ours, and somehow they are both truth and fiction.

Chris Robinson's picture

A well-known figure in the world of independent animation, writer, author & curator Chris Robinson is the Artistic Director of the Ottawa International Animation Festival.