Cartoon Brew is proud to offer the exclusive online premiere of Annecy’s 2016 Cristal winner for best graduation film: Depart at 22 by Wiep Teeuwisse.

Director Wiep Teeuwisse.
Director Wiep Teeuwisse.

Depart at 22, is a semi-abstract piece, a poetic collage on the transience of bodily beauty. Director Wiep Teeuwisse spent just seven weeks making the film at the HKU University of the Arts in the Netherlands, experimenting with paper and an ever-changing montage. “The process was very spontaneous,” she told Cartoon Brew. “It was fragmented and ambiguous, just like Depart at 22 is as a film. Instead of worrying about what the film was going to be, I reveled in the experiment.”

The unusually compressed production schedule was due to Teeuwisse having spent the seven previous months developing her graduation project. During that time she generated vast amounts of theoretical and design research for a biological concept about the way various people’s brains see different realities. The director’s desire for a factually correct story clashed with the need for poetic expression in storytelling. Realizing she was stuck in this contradiction with barely two months before graduation, she changed course and simply started animating what she enjoyed.

Poetic paper design

During a process of free doodling, the director found a visual interest in bodies, leading to exploring themes like vanitas (dark subject matter displayed through symbolic and morbid imagery), aging, and the loss of youth’s beauty. “I wanted to express those themes in a recognizable way, but not through a realistic style. The way animation is crafted and the way it looks plays a big part in a film’s meaning; telling stories through realism doesn’t interest me.”

Looking back at the earlier visual tests she had made for her concept about brains, Teeuwisse found the perfect technique of paper, sometimes layered, on light box. “As Depart at 22 progresses the paper becomes darker, increasingly showcasing its grain — from soft babyface to flaky elderly, so to say.”

A behind-the-scenes photo from during the production of "Depart at 22."
A behind-the-scenes photo from during the production of “Depart at 22.”
Semi-abstract storytelling

The storytelling in Depart at 22 is not really abstract but certainly not mainstream. While Teeuwisse does enjoy mainstream films, what often annoys her is the way they set out just one path for the viewer. “In my film I didn’t want to enforce one certain feeling by locking down the film fully. I gave the viewer some pointers and a certain degree of my opinion on my film’s themes, encouraging the viewer to fill out the rest of the film’s meaning. That’s also why the film has such a minimal audio track — music is so quick to force emotions on the viewer.”

While Depart at 22 presents Teeuwisse as an experimental filmmaker, she doesn’t see herself as one. “I realize the film is quite vague and appeals to a smaller group of people, and it’s not something my grandma can enjoy, which is a pity. But I don’t want to make clear-cut, generic films, and I haven’t quite found a way to combine broad appeal with a more poetic kind of storytelling. If I could manage to make a film like that — intellectually layered, experimental in design and understandable for all — when I’m 80 or so, that’d be the most beautiful thing ever.”

A behind-the-scenes photo from during the production of "Depart at 22."
A behind-the-scenes photo from during the production of “Depart at 22.”
Making changes

Even after winning Annecy’s biggest student honor, the talented graduate still has some things she’d like to change about her film. “I think certain shots communicate the feeling I want them to, but not the meaning. Take the shot with the eye and the hand — that hair between the eyes is a recognizable family thing for me, but it isn’t for most viewers. Also in that particular shot the action doesn’t communicate as clearly as it should.” But with just seven weeks to complete the project from start to finish, the deadline didn’t allow for changes. Teeuwisse adds with a smile that deadlines are great to have. “Otherwise I wouldn’t finish anything.”

A behind-the-scenes photo from during the production of "Depart at 22."
A behind-the-scenes photo from during the production of “Depart at 22.”
Working solo

Aside from the audio, Teeuwisse crafted the film all by herself. Working in animation very much fits her character, she says. “I enjoy the perfectionism and the solitude. My organic and experimental working methods wouldn’t work if I had team members to take into consideration.” Though she does clarify that after a day of working by herself she always makes sure to do something social. “Working on my stuff and not meeting anyone for more than one day makes me truly apathetic.”

What’s next

Following her graduation with Depart at 22 in 2015 the director has done a lot of travelling as well as commissioned work like As long as it takes, commissioned by the documentary agency Vossenfilms, which received a Vimeo Staff Pick, and The Importance of Affectionate Teasing (produced for The School of Life). Translating her free spirited working method and poetic style into a commercial environment has been an interesting challenge. “I quickly fall back on a more classic design and storytelling. It’s hard to make a commercial work feel like an independent, more experimental short. I admire people who can do that.”

Not that there’s a need for commercial work in the coming months — Teeuwisse just received word from the Dutch Film Fund that they’re supporting the development of her next short. For the fund application she developed her film in ‘the right way,’ with a script, but now it’s time to return to the drawing table. “Ultimately it’s the visual experiments that decide what kind of a film it’s going to be.”

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