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Home of the Heart Home of the Heart

Welcome to Cartoon Brew’s series of spotlights focusing on the animated shorts that have qualified for the 2024 Oscars. There are several ways a film can earn eligibility. With these profiles, we’ll be focusing on films that have done so by winning an Oscar-qualifying award at an Oscar-qualifying festival.

Today’s short is Home of the Heart from Iran-born, France-based director Sarah Saidan. The film earned its Oscars qualification by winning the jury award for an animated short at the New York International Children’s Film Festival.

Home of the Heart turns on Omid, an Iranian immigrant living with his wife and daughter in France. After learning that he has no heart in his chest, Omid goes back to his beloved home country in search of the missing organ.

Cartoon Brew: The film touches on some very serious subjects- xenophobia, homesickness, violent crime – but always with a strong sense of humor and whimsy. Was it always your intention to keep the tone of the film light?

Sarah Saidan: Becoming an immigrant, especially in the first years, is a bittersweet experience. Leaving your land and roots behind is already heartbreaking. On top of that, we can feel completely lost because of the language barrier or cultural differences. But from my own personal experience, I also lived many funny moments while I was learning the language and becoming familiar with the French culture. I met so many incredible people and felt lucky to be able to work towards a life I always wanted. I did not want to tell a sad story; I wanted it to reflect all these dimensions of trying to make roots in a new country in a poetic, funny way.

What was it about this story or concept that connected with you and compelled you to direct the film?

One day, years after I had moved to France, someone asked me: “When are you going home?” I wasn’t sure what time it was, so I looked at my watch. In that instance, while I was staring at my watch, I realized he meant, “When are you going back to your country, Iran?” while that question could have been perceived as inconsiderate, I had learned to ignore that kind of behavior after all these years. Still, that question stayed with me for another reason: I was reminded that I wasn’t even sure where “Home” was.

I decided to play with the saying: “Home is where the heart is,” and wrote a story around this concept, “What if you don’t even know where your heart is?!”

What did you learn through the experience of making this film, either production-wise, filmmaking-wise, creatively, or about the subject matter?

I learned that working with good producers can make the experience so much more meaningful. I worked with people who were always present, trusted me, and gave me confidence; this was priceless.

But apart from that, making this film was like therapy because I was trying to answer a question. The thought of home used to haunt me for years, and I think I finally found some peace after creating this film. My daughter was born during the development stage of the film, and my life was not the same after meeting her. The feeling of belonging was no longer missing from my life; this was something I never expected.

Can you describe how you developed your visual approach to the film? Why did you settle on this style/technique?

I mainly work with 2d, hand-drawn animation. I love hand-drawn animation. Even if we used software, it still was drawn by hand. I created the design and characters myself and afterward got help creating all the backgrounds. This film needed detailed environments to depict both countries that were presented. We had different color palettes and so much detail. Also, the dream sequence that reflected the character’s nostalgia for his homeland had to be perfect, vivid, and a bit exaggerated. The one about his fears needed to be detailed and dark, expressing the horror he felt so deeply. That required working with skillful background designers, which, fortunately, I had the chance to collaborate with.