'Loving Vincent', the world's first fully painted feature length film, is a work of art, and a calling to push boundaries further than ever before.
Making a film about the life and controversial death of Van Gogh seems like a reasonable enough artistic endeavour. Including his art in the film also seems straightforward enough. But first time feature director, Dorota Kobiela, wanted to take her project a step further - paint the entire film, every slide, and in doing so set a world record and do something never before seen in film.
Amidst a landscape of rapidly evolving CGI and VR, where the materials that artists and animators use are rapidly becoming solely digital, there is something gratifying about the film's return to oil paint and paper. The viewing experience is certainly startling by contrast to what we are visually accustomed to. Characters melt into landscapes, which shiver in colour with quivering brushstrokes. Thousands of paintings appear and disappears in milliseconds. We are thrown into Van Gogh's work, and we swim through his world in southern France, and explore his anguish, and his death. Every movement of each characters' face takes on new significance in painted form, and we are enraptured.
The film was not always set up to have its gargantuan proportions. Initially, the film was set to run at only 7 minutes. But director Kobiela saw it grow before her into a project that she could no longer just paint herself. But the support that she received, the creative enthusiasm, enabled the project. In an interview she described her experience. 'To have people who go for it and just suddenly say 'Ok, let's do the film of a first time director, that will be fully painted, in 65,000 frames,' I guess that takes courage, you know?' (Kobiela, BBC, 2017)
Courage is the right word. It is the prevailing term I would use for both the film and Kobiela herself.
But how did they do it?
At Breathru Productions in Sopot, Poland, actors were shot in live action against a green screen. The film was cut and edited, then divided it between the painters, of which there were over 100. The artists worked in a warehouse at lit desks and took photos of each frame that were then digitally uploaded. They created 65,000 paintings altogether.
The love and labour put into the film has not gone unnoticed. 'Loving Vincent' premiered in October 2017, aptly hosted at the National Gallery. The film had already won a European Film Award for Best Animated Feature Film when it was nominated for an Academy Award, Golden Globe and BAFTA for Best Animated Feature.
Not bad for a first time feature director, no less a female one, who still make up a tiny minority of awarded directors. It is a film that signals to all female creatives in film that their ideas are possible, and can be realised given the right support.
Kobiela is certainly aware of the significance of what she has made as a female creative: “This all started in an attic just before my 30th birthday, when I felt lost about what I was doing with my life. It's unbelievable that it has led to this. I am so proud we are the first Polish animated feature film to be nominated for an Oscar. I am equally proud that this year I am one of two female directors nominated in this category, which until now had only 4 women nominees out of all the 72 directors nominated. Maybe this is the year that we can start to change this imbalance. Most of all I am proud of my painters (over 60% of whom were women)". (Loving Vincent website, 2018).
Watch the 'Loving Vincent' trailer here, and look out for it at the Academy Awards on 4th March!