In another of our focuses on Mel Hoppenheim students, we talk to twenty-four year old Daniela Monzon about her warming nostalgic animated film Wander. Told through the eyes of a giant child we take a short journey through Venezuela absorbing beautiful iconic places such as Angel Falls. And while we cannot ignore the current internal political upheaval in Venezuela, Daniela Monzon’s short animation reminds us that Venezuela is more than the negativity reported in Western media.
A person’s formative years can tell you a lot about the person they are. To that effect tell us about childhood what was that like and how it had an impact on you as a creative person?
I’m very lucky to have had a loving, easy-going childhood. I grew up an only-child, so besides watching a lot of tv and playing, I could almost always be found drawing and building miniature sets in plasticine or acting out puppet plays. My parents have always been very supportive and signed me up on arts-and-crafts classes from time to time, which helped develop my interest in art further.
Have you always wanted to work in film/animation?
There has always been an interest in animation, without doubt from all the animated films that I watched growing up, and from the drawing tutorials I’d see. However, there were almost no options to study such a medium or similar in Caracas, so I didn’t always envision pursuing animation, and considered studying architecture instead.
Can you describe what made you eventually decide on pursuing a path into the film/animated world?
Moving to Canada during my high school years was a key element, because it gave me countless options to study in an art related-field. While I was still very interested in drawing and sculpture, it wasn’t until my last year of high school that I started to focus on animation. When I worked on my graduation project, a four-minute video consisting of photographs, hand-drawn animation and cut-outs, I was completely captivated by the medium and all the possibilities it offers. Besides, I realized it was the perfect way to assemble my interest in different techniques. Still wanting to improve my skills, I attended a broad visual arts program in college, and then found Concordia’s film animation program to be the ideal way to continue.
It’s an obligatory yet cliched question but we must ask about influences be that film or other sources?
In recent years I’ve been especially interested in UPA’s style and animation, for their bold, graphic quality; as well as Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis (2000). I find her story quite relatable, and the animated adaptation is so elegant and moving. I’m also interested in the work of illustrators Isabelle Arsenault, Serge Bloch and Oliver Jeffers. In general, they all have in common a graphic look, but I particularly like the softness with which Arsenault illustrates spaces, Bloch’s use of line and Jeffers’ character designs.
Children and childhood seems to feature a lot in your work. Explain what childhood means to you and indeed why do you use children as protagonists in your films?
The focus on childhood is perhaps a result of having worked in a children’s library through most of my studies. The young readers who visited often told ingenious anecdotes, which inspired another one of my student films, Animation (According to Children). Their spontaneity and inventiveness are very fun to represent and to work with! Yet, while some of my films depict childhood, I don’t see myself only focusing on that theme. Both in that film and in Wander children are protagonists because their personality is central to the concept or tells the story more efficiently. In the latter, a child’s perspective helped present Venezuela with more positive tone, for example.
Why in Wander do you focus on Venezuela-and what memories or thoughts does Venezuela evoke in you?
Choosing Venezuela as a subject comes from many reasons. Growing up there, I always noticed the big sense of pride people have for Venezuela – a belief that is certainly shared, and that is completely unrelated to any political views. There is simply a deep attachment to the land. An appreciation of all the natural diversity it encompasses. In fact, this is so present in the collective consciousness, the country has two unofficial anthems that are odes to its landscapes, fauna and flora.
Following that tradition, I wanted to create an animated equivalent, as an effort to see my culture represented in that medium, which is something I have very rarely seen. Moreover, having immigrated, I’m sometimes nostalgic about all the places I often visited, or would have liked to visit, in my birth country – and I’m aware this is a common experience for thousands of Venezuelans nowadays. Working on the film was a way to revisit all these settings.
Your film Wander is a heart-warming short animated film-firstly explain why you use the playful imagination of a child to experience Venezuela?
From the preproduction stage, I knew I wanted to portray those places in a dream-like way, and for the protagonist to experience them with a sense of curiosity and admiration. A young girl as a protagonist was ideal. That’s the mindset children often have as they discover new things and spaces. Her imagination allows her to explore the country as a giant, which also highlights the grandeur of some of the landmarks she visits, like the Mérida cable car and the Angel Falls. It is her reactions, sometimes funny and others thoughtful, that lead the story.
It states on your bio that this is a “love letter” to Venezuela. How did you try and convey that love in the film?
My approach was to depict the country as detailed as possible, all within its stylized design. First, I wanted to portray many of the landmarks and regions Venezuelans are most attached to, in order to showcase its diversity. Through research, I tried to capture the essence of each setting through colour palettes, light and textures, and included elements that many viewers won’t probably notice, but I think locals will.
Sound design was an essential part as well. For example, the birds you hear on the film are specific to each region the girl visits, and the soft guitar music, which was beautifully composed by Changhee Lee, is reminiscent of a “Cuatro” guitar. Although the protagonist is young, the gentle and respectful way she interacts with the settings also conveys that appreciation for them. Overall, I wanted to create a glimpse of the country for audiences that are not very familiar with it and illustrate many of the things that Venezuelans remember fondly.
And where does your film sit particularly with the current crisis in Venezuela?
It is an idealized perspective, but its purpose is not to deny the crisis that is taking place there. It’s disheartening to hear negative news about Venezuela, but I appreciate its current situation is known internationally, since the media censorship there had left it very isolated. The sharp contrast between reality and my film concerned me throughout its production, yet I kept in mind its intention is to remember Venezuela’s beauty despite everything. Most Venezuelans, even abroad, keep present Venezuela’s beauty. The tone of the film is nostalgic, but I think it can also be hopeful.
As I’m writing this, the country is going through important political changes that could bring democracy again, after many years, and it could have not been possible without international support and attention. So, especially now, there needs to be positive images that encourage people to restore and care for Venezuela.