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Tin House Reels: Kirsten Lepore

Story from North America, this week’s Tin House Reels feature, seems to come from another moment in time. Animated to look as though it was created in Gustaf Tenggren’s studio, the film fluctuates between a Kafkaesque nigthmare and the giddy hallucinations of a college acid trip.

In creating the look of the film, Kirsten Lepore and her collaborator Garrett Davis employed the time-consuming process of animating individual drawings rather than going with a digital approach. The short is a departure for Lepore in other ways as well. “Story from North America was pretty much the opposite of my normal animation/storytelling process—which was a pleasant change,” says Lepore. “Usually I board every scene meticulously and stick pretty closely to my original plan. Even my storytelling process usually begins with some material or technique I want to explore, which I then develop a story around.”

Lepore and Davis met while attending MICA, the Maryland Institute College of Art, where they collaborated to animate Davis’ “The Spider Song,” which became Story from North America. Davis’ song was recorded only once, and Lepore wanted to extend the rawness of the song to the animation style. This resulted in a looser process, which Lepore found to be liberating.

“We decided from the beginning that we weren’t going to storyboard the film at all. Instead, we’d have a quick meeting where we each took a different verse, vaguely discussed the direction we wanted to go in for that scene, and then just split up and did our thing separately. It was really exciting to come together to shoot our verses as we would finish—since we had no idea what either one’s would look like. To keep with the ‘raw’ spirit, we also agreed that we wouldn’t pencil test or redo any animation. It was all about just going straight ahead and embracing any weird idiosyncrasies that would arise in the animation.”

There is a unique humor and openheartedness to much of Lepore’s work. Combining that warmth with Davis’ bizarre, Grimm-influenced storytelling instincts proved to be the perfect combination for the cauldron, as Story from North America casts the sort of spell that stops time and allows you to forget that feet are meant to stay planted on the ground.

Kirsten Lepore is a director and animator based in LA, with an MFA from CalArts. Her films have taken top prizes at SXSW, Slamdance, the Stuttgart Animation festival, Florida Film Fest, Arizona Film Fest, the Vimeo Awards, the Annie Awards and many others. She’s given presentations everywhere from Pixar to Portugal and has also been featured in Juxtapoz, Shots Magazine, Animation Magazine, Focus Features, and named one of the 50 most creative people by Creativity Magazine.

Alison Pezanoski-Browne is an editorial intern at Tin House. She is a writer and producer, focusing on music, documentary, and experimental media. She is currently pursuing her master’s in Critical Theory and Creative Research at Pacific Northwest College of Art.

Tin House Reels is a weekly feature on The Open Bar dedicated to the craft of short filmmaking. Curated by Ilana Simons, the series features videos by artists who are forming interesting new relationships between images and words.

We are now accepting submissions for Tin House Reels. Please upload your videos of 15 minutes or less to Youtube or Vimeo and send a link of your work totinhousereels@gmail.com. You may also send us a file directly.

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