Moving Feature Funded in Part by Kickstarter Campaign
By Samantha Samel
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Transplanted from Latvia, Brooklynite Signe Baumane has created the first-ever animated film, “Rocks In My Pockets,” to be chosen for the Official Selection – Competition program of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. The film, a dark comedy that focuses on the lives of five women in Baumane’s family (including herself) who struggle with depression, will have its world premiere as part of the 49th Karlovy Vary Festival in the Czech Republic on July 7.
Baumane, who resides and works in Sunset Park and Bay Ridge, tackles a sensitive and deeply personal subject in “Rocks In My Pockets,” but is able to portray her story with humor. While the other four women depicted in the film are ultimately consumed by their sadness, Baumane has lived on to tell their poignant story.
New York State Council on the Arts, The Jerome Foundation, and Women Make Movies all helped to finance the film through the animation and coloring stages. But when the funds fell short for sound and music, Baumane started a Kickstarter campaign to fundraise for these expenses. “Rocks In My Pockets” touched so many people that in just 25 days, the film reached its initial Kickstarter goal, raising $42,800 from 655 backers. The successful campaign eventually received the support of approximately 800 backers.
Baumane has been making animated films since 1991, but “Rocks In My Pockets” is her first feature film. Her 14 previous award-winning short films have appeared at Sundance and Berlinale, as well as numerous other festivals worldwide.
Baumane contextualizes the events that occur in “Rocks In My Pockets” by including a historical backdrop. Beginning with the 1905 revolution in Latvia, Baumane goes on to reference the country’s move to independence in 1919, the Soviet Union’s illegal annexation in 1940, the Nazis’ rise to power during World War II, and the re-annexation by the Soviets. Finally, the plot moves to present day New York.
Baumane’s film has a beautiful and distinctive aesthetic, incorporating over 30,000 of her handmade drawings against stop motion and photographed paper mache backgrounds.
In a 2013 interview, Baumane told the Brooklyn Eagle what she loves most about Brooklyn and why, since moving, she’s “never looked back at living in Manhattan.”
When did you move to Brooklyn, and why did you decide to settle there?
I have moved around quite a bit. From Latvia to Sakhalin (a Russian island next to Japan), back to Latvia, then to Moscow, then back to Latvia, then to Toronto, Latvia, then to New York. New York, though, is such a special place; it has held me down for the last 18 years.
I moved to New York in 1995 to be the most I could be. I guess some people would call it unabridged ambition, but I'd prefer to call it desire for growth. My first apartment was on Plymouth street in DUMBO, shared with two other people. It was in 1995, before gentrification. At that time it was still a very romantic location, with a feel of history, danger and cutting edge.
In 1996 I moved to Manhattan, in a loft a few blocks away from the World Trade Center, and I was there when 9/11 happened. The loft was rent stabilized and because of particular complications in 2011, I had to move out.
By that time, I had started "Rocks In My Pockets" and needed space to make and store the paper mache sets I was making. The only good-sized places that are affordable are now in Brooklyn, and I found one such amazing space near Sunset Park and never looked back at living in Manhattan.
Brooklyn is known to have a rich community of artists, writers and musicians. Do you find that your neighborhood is particularly inspiring and supportive of your work?
I love the neighborhood where I live. The diversity of people living here is just mind-blowing, more than you could even imagine in Manhattan.
One thing that is interesting for me to observe is the change inside me — when I lived in Manhattan, I was constantly stressed out that I was not wealthy enough. Manhattan is a showcase of wealth and it constantly reminds you of your own financial inferiority.
Brooklyn, on the other hand, at least the part I live in, is more real and grounded to earth. People living here are real people whose problems I can relate to: they work to survive and I work to survive. Right after I moved here, I thought I'd feel isolated from the rich cultural life of Manhattan, but very quickly I discovered that most of my animator friends have moved to Brooklyn, and we can easily get together, just in a 10 minute bike ride!
And there is Two Moon Café — I already had 2 screenings of my work there. And then Brooklyn Museum, where "Rocks In My Pockets" composer Ljova Zhurbin recently performed. There is Brooklyn Artist's Gym in Gowanus; I go there for life drawing (amazing deal!). In my building there are three artists at work, and we often see each other to exchange ideas and thoughts. So, in fact, my cultural life has gotten richer in Brooklyn!
But one thing I really LOVE about Brooklyn is the bike ride from Sunset Park to Owl’s Head Park to the Verrazano Bridge on the bike path along the water. Sometimes at night I stop under Verrazano Bridge and look at the sight, the lights from the bridge reflecting in the water, the dark sky and ocean behind the Bridge — it is so pretty! Sometimes when I bike back at night, something reminds me of Moscow when I lived there in 1989 — empty streets, quiet air charged with mystery. I also like that Brooklyn is windy, but the two storms I lived through (Irene and Sandy) were very scary and damaging.
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"Rocks In My Pockets" will be distributed in the U.S. and Canada by Zeitgeist Films. Locomotive Productions is co-producing a Latvian version. New Europe Film Sales is the sales agent for the rest of the world. Online streaming and downloads will be available through Yekra, Ltd.
"Rocks In My Pockets" is written and directed by Signe Baumane, and is co-produced with voiceover director Sturgis Warner. Other crew members include Rob Daly (sound designer), Ljova Zhurbin (composer), Wendy Zhao (editor), and Rashidah Nasir (production manager).