What do I want to say?
After speaking with my supervisor Greg I really decided to lean into the creative process, and trust that the result would lead me in the right direction. by breaking my animated documentary down into segments I am able to dive right in, without becoming bogged down in the bigger picture, or what the whole piece might look like. I made myself the starting point, and over the course of a month I wrote down all the thoughts and feelings I had surrounding my research and my own identity as a Romany New Zealander. To the left of his paragraph is taken from musing I noted on my phone.
As well as more polished pieces that I saved to my online journal:
I used to think that only time and money separated me from England; the money for a plane ticket, and the time it took to fly there. In the wake of a global pandemic, I am discovering a complex and multi-sourced cause. A virus has stopped us in our tracks, caused borders to close, and government-issued orders to stay within your home. This virus has cut off our legs and prevents us from engaging with our neighbours, our friends, and distressingly, our extended family. This virus has caused many of us to reframe our perception of our world. Its taught us that the earth we live on is both smaller than we can imagine, and yet we are more separated than we ever have been.
The internet, this invisible highway, connects us in a way our ancestors could never comprehend. It’s been a tool that has reconnected us to the family we left behind. It has created a lens in which I can see the difference between the life we had there, and the way we live now. (A gilded cage, is still a cage) When my fathers family were corralled into a sedentary lifestyle, removed from their homes on wheels and funnelled into a housing estate, ‘for their own good’ he said it was like they had their legs cut off.
Any time we have our way of life removed from us, it causes feelings of resentment and anger. These feelings don’t go away overnight, they take generations to dissipate, and even then they leave us with this remnant of inherited trauma. When you belong to a race that has a longevity of the status ‘most discriminated’ ethnicity, it results in a lot to sort through.
All Romany are Rom, but not all Rom are Romany. Not all Romany are travellers; not all travellers are Romany. Sometimes I feel like I have to shoulder the responsibility of speaking on behalf of my entire race, which is ridiculous as it sounds. How can I speak for people I feel I am not a part? How much of this discrimination applies to me? How much of the negative media attention that being Gypsy garners causes me to suffer?
The short answer, as it applies to me right now is: It doesn’t; unless I open my mouth and tell people my heritage. The people who hear this are carrying around preconceived notions of what a Gypsy is.
There are plenty of self-styled activists who claim to have our best interests at heart, and scream at the injustice, and start petitions and tell people who aren’t Us they can’t use the word Gypsy, that it’s a slur, which in a way I guess it was/is. And some of these people are Romany, or Rom, or traveller, and some are not. Some have only just rediscovered a link. And some of them I agree with, and others cause me to roll my eyes, but the one thing I can agree with is that no one should say anything without us.
But that term ‘us’ isn’t big enough to quantify our divisiveness, and not adequate to encompass the issues of each branch. It’s like we need a made-up word like Google, with infinity pages of o’s to contain the voices of us all, a people spread across the world, in places as unlikely to travel as this virus that has swept humankind.
After recording myself, and re-recording myself, I just couldn’t crack it. Although I knew the truthfulness of my message, I still felt it lacked authenticity. It was during this phase that I recalled the audio I took when my Dad wanted me to ghostwrite his autobiography (which is something I keep promising him I’ll come back too) So I listened to this again, really listened. The first thing that stood out to me was how annoying I was, I kept interrupting him and trying to lead him in a direction I thought would be good for a book, and because of this, I think I really missed valuable stuff.
I narrowed my vision down to focus on a part that I felt really spoke to the research I have been conducting surrounding the English governments forced sedentary action they took against the travellers. The following extract sent shivers down my spine, and I knew I had found my lynchpin.
“They moved us all into ex army barracks, which was Eeiry Camp, it was actually an old prisoner of war camp and still had all the old dungeons, and what they done was turn it into a dump. It was a massive great big dump that they were land filling, to be able to build on. So, while they were doing that, now you imagine, dump trucks coming tipping rubbish everywhere, and then they put us gypsies there (pause) next to a dump. (pause) and when I look back on it now, it was bloody disgusting.”
Setting the scene
The camp is murky, dark, black, the travellers have brighter clothes (but close to what they would have been wearing, not stereotype like the figure on the left. It’s 44 seconds, so it navigates some of the camp, showing how awful it was until you get the centre, where an old vardo is burning. My original intent was to portray a part of the story my dad told me of the last proper burial right, where a deceased Elder’s body is burned within their Vardo. Dad has a vivid memory of this happening when he was a child, but when I showed my Aunt, my first mood board, for animation she said seeing the vardo on fire sent shivers down her spine, as this is something the Gorger (non-traveller) would do to their homes in order to make them leave.
My initial mood board was created before I had a solid plan in my head for what this sequence would look like, and the image in the centre is the one that resonated with my Aunt. I choose a blue, smokey ambience, offset with the orange and red glow of fire. I knew I wanted a backdrop of a rubbish dump, with a camp, sprung up around this, but I still needed to keep in mind that they were placed at a site that used to be a detention centre for Canadian prisoners.
From the few photos I had seen, and the description from my Dad a picture started to form in my head, one vastly different from the usual family stopping places. I still want to create my animation using 3D animation, but it is vitally important that I veer the visual aspects towards a tactile and textured landscape.
Due to my desire to create my own characters, I have begun to research children’s toys, and particular ways toys have been animated. Not the crips feel of Pixar’s Toy Story, or Warner Animation Group’s Lego Movies, I desire my animation to have a darker feel, more in the vision of the Quay Brothers, Henry Selick Coraline and the Czech film by Jirí Barta and Vivian Schilling Toys in the Attic.
A major theme that links these animations is stop motion, I think I am drawn to stop motion because of the strong link between the animator, and medium. That and its textuality. Creating my own characters allows me greater creative freedom to sculpt a cast best reflects the message I am trying to portray. As my sequences develop, so will perhaps my characters, giving them a mouth, and a voice of their own.
Rubbish Dump Gypsy is what I am naming my first sequence, I felt this a good reflection of the subtext, linking it to many people’s thoughts that Travellers are somehow dirty (which is an incorrect assumption). This is the first iteration of the animatic, my next step is to develop a more detailed storyboard, alongside working on the creating characters.