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Latvian-born Brooklynite moves hundreds with funny film about depression

Illustration by Signe Baumane

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Transplanted from Latvia, Brooklynite Signe Baumane just might be the only independent animator who is making a feature entirely in Brooklyn. The artist resides and works in Sunset Park and Bay Ridge, and is about to finish her new film, a dark comedy titled “Rocks In My Pockets.”

The feature tackles a sensitive subject, focusing on the lives of five women in Baumane’s family (including herself) who struggle with depression, but Baumane 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.

Baumane documented the campaign process through hilarious blog posts. On her decision to turn to Kickstarter, she writes, “…one sunny day you run into a financing wall. And you turn to Kickstarter as the only possible savior, because, all things considered (we have considered them all) it is, indeed, your only option.”

On her blog, Baumane details Kickstarter’s “all or nothing” approach: if a campaign fails to reach its proposed goal, the project loses all of the funds raised. “This makes you desperate and you work harder,” Baumane contends. “But working harder is not the trick…It is the ability to get out of your zone of comfort…Like, making cold calls…emailing strangers…Tweeting the same thing 12 times a day.”

Baumane writes that about half the time during the campaign process, she felt encouraged and supported, while the other half of the time she felt “rejected, poked at, and shunned…But without that pain you can’t get to the wonderful part of your Kickstarter campaign – the support of your amazing community. Connecting with the people who believe in the film – and by taking part in the campaign they make the film their own. And that’s the idea.”

Indeed, Baumane found tremendous joy in her response from supporters.  After seeing the first donation come through, she writes, “A jolt of energy ran through the studio, we danced the jig.” When her editor noticed that the film’s Facebook page got its 888th ‘Like,’ Bauman says, “we danced some more.”

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.

“Rocks In My Pockets” reached its initial fundraising goal on Friday, Feb. 8 at 6 p.m., five days before its deadline. Now, the campaign has expanded to include a new “stretch goal” of $52,8000; if the goal is reached by the morning of Feb. 14, these additional funds will cover the costs of the film’s promotional campaign. In one blog post, Bauman aptly articulated her motivation to continue campaigning: “An unfinished project is like a beached whale – if you don’t push it back into the water at the right moment, it may be no more.”

As incentive, backers are promised original artwork for the film, as well as a personal note from Baumane herself! She writes, “In the spirit of this connectedness I sit down a write each backer a personal note. I love them for loving the project, how could I not write a note? They are part of ‘Rocks’ family now!” 

In celebration of the campaign’s success, Brooklyn Eagle spoke to Baumane, who tells us 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 Owls 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. 

Where else (other than Manhattan) have you lived, and how would you compare it to Brooklyn?

I’ve written a blog since 2010, and I described in great details (with pictures) my move from Manhattan to Brooklyn. Here's my blog entry on my impressions on Sunset Park, and here's my blog entry on where I was in Manhattan and why I had to move

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"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).

February 13, 2013 - 3:36pm


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