BusLine35A - Interview with director Elena Felici
BusLine35A is an animated short film directed by Elena Felici in collaboration with a team of ten students from the Animation Workshop of the VIA University College in Denmark. The short was distributed to the public on the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. The film blends a stop-motion style and 3D animation with a sparkle of 2D animated sketches. It handles a case of verbal harassment,not from the points of view of the victim or the perpetrator, but from that of the passive spectators, the other passengers of a bus.
BusLine35A handles a case of sexual harassment from the point of view of the passive, and so complicit, spectators. Why did you choose to explore this particular point of view?
EF: While I was doing research to enrich the story of BusLine35A, I circled back again and again to the idea that we aren't as great as we think we are. I found myself focusing on themes revolving around the human condition: egoism and individualism. I personally experienced both perspectives shown in the short, that of the victim and of the spectator. The latter one bothered me the most, I felt as if I wasn´t in control of my own actions, and as such I decided to make the “bystander effect” the core concept of the short, hoping to encourage the viewers to reflect in a more introspective way on the complexities of episodes of sexual harassment.
The short approaches an extremely serious and complex theme with a veil of irony and calculated simplicity. What was the reasoning behind this choice of tone?
EF: The idea of implementing a satirical undertone comes from the same train of thoughts that led us approaching the story from three distinct points of view and to include a narrating voice. Our objective was to not only highlight the practical problem lying around the bystander effect, but also treat it from the psychological angle.
We focused on depicting the detachment and embarrassment felt by the passive spectators: there is a duality between the violence happening in the background and the comical inefficacy of those who witness it. The tone we chose aims to create that same contrast within the viewer, who doesn't know whether to laugh or despair. In a similar way, the Narrator is the voice in our head making up justifications in order to avoid intervening.
The format itself is particularly interesting. Is there a precise reason behind why you chose to create a short film?
EF: The challenge of conveying a message to the public in only 5 minutes is stimulating. There is something particularly interesting in creating a short film, the format allows the director to transcend the conventional rules of storytelling and cinematography. It is difficult to find a single short that does not reflect the soul of its director: in creating a short one remains focused, without losing oneself in artistic cuts and mise-en-scene. It is so possible to understand what the director's approach to reality really is.
Furthermore, there is a link between the length of the short and the material it deals with: the short asks a short span of attention from the audience, a frame of time comparable to that of most episodes of verbal harassment. It wants to show on one side the impact a few minutes of violence can have on the victim, and on the other how brief a short film can have a consequence on the viewer.
More importantly the shortness of the film wants to highlight how people tend to bide time instead of taking action and how easy it is to miss the time frame to be impactful and end up being just another complicit spectator.
And why an animated one?
EF: There is a certain abstraction and introspection required to tell a story through animation.
Aim of our art direction was to exude cuteness and make the viewer feel comfortable, to drop their guard. This allowed us to put them in a difficult position where they felt vulnerable, and as such more likely to relate with what they were seeing on the screen.
In our character designs lies the contrast of our plot. The protagonists are ordinary people and are meant to amuse the viewer as well as bonding and interconnecting with them. We wanted to create a link between the bystanders in our short and the audience, making it realize it could be them sitting on the bus and acting pathetic, impotent and apathetic towards the backseat scenario.
Lastly, notice how the characters are shaped by the excuse they use to justify their inertia. For example, the old woman is round, rough and spotted exactly like her meatballs, on which she forcibly directs her thoughts to avoid confrontation.
The passengers of the bus are defined, geometrically and in thought, by the lie they tell themselves in order to not feel obliged to intervene in the horrific scene taking place behind them.
BusLine35A took part in more than 80 festivals in the past two years. It is also in the running at the Siggraph Vancouver 2022, at Animafest Zagreb, where it received a special mention from the jury, at Los Angeles Shorts International Film Festival, PÖFF Tallinn, Manchester Film Festival, where it won the prize for Best Animated Student Short Film, at the Piccolo Festival Animazione of San Vito al Tagliamento in Friuli Venezia Giulia, where it won the ‘Opere Prime’ (´First Works´) prize, and at the Imaginaria Film Festival of Conversano in Puglia, where it also received a special mention from the jury. It is freely available on Youtube, Vimeo, on Shortvers and on the director´s web page (www.elenafelici.com).
Edoardo Mazzini is a student based in Munich.