Signe Baumane was asked by an audience member after a screening of ROCKS IN MY POCKETS about how to find meaning in life. It was a big question prompted by a provocative, insightful film about clinical depression. Her answer, which comes towards the end of our interview, was one of the most beautiful meditations on life that I have ever heard, encompassing the counterintuitively uplifting message of the film. And it has forever changed the way I look at pearls.
Making ROCKS IN MY POCKETS could be construed as a sort of therapy for Baumane. The animated film tracks the history of clinical depression in her family, starting with the grandmother in her native Latvia, and continuing through cousins, and her own bouts with the disorder. The film is forthright in the devastation that depression has wrought in her family, but her animation, paired with a wry voiceover by Baumane herself makes for a film that is enlightening and oddly charming. Even when Baumane describes in meticulous detail her own suicidal fantasies.
When I spoke with the filmmaker and her voice director, Sturgis Warner, on November 21, 2014, I found the pair as compelling, and as unexpectedly funny, as the film itself. I began with the question I ask of all animators, which is do you dream in animation. We moved on to the one country that had a different reaction to her film, how she doesn’t try to funny when dealing with tough subject, and why she chooses to deal with her depression by making friends with it instead of taking medication.
There was also some insight into how Warner helped to shape what she had written into something more personal, and how her family reacted to having events they had kept silent about for so long transferred to the big screen.
We finished with me learning why animators usually record the voice performances before animating the characters, and why that came up when the time came to record the Latvian narration.
ROCKS IN MY POCKETS is Baumane’s animated family history of madness, folly, and figuring out reality. With a history of women in her family succumbing to suicide, Baumane begins by acknowledging her own meticulous fantasies of suicide before going on to recount stories of five eccentric, brilliant and troubled women in her family in her native Latvia, starting with her grandmother, who traded an independent future for marriage with a dreamer, through cousins with a logic that is unique to them, and her own diagnosis. The result is a sharp, wryly observed meditation on family legacies, secrets that won’t stay quiet, and learning to fight insanity without the soft pillow of pills. Baumane was born in Latvia, earned a degree in Philosophy from Moscow University before marrying, having a child, and being diagnosed as a manic depressive and checking herself into a mental hospital. She moved to New York in 1995 and embarked on a career as an artist and maker of animated short films. Baumane wrote, directed, did the voiceover, directed by Warner, and animated ROCKS IN MY POCKETS, and this is her first feature film.