Animated documentary short features 91-year-old Winnipeg woman

An animated short documentary featuring a 91-year-old Misericordia Place resident premiered on Friday.

“Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying” is the brainchild of filmmakers Natalie Baird and Toby Gillies.

Produced by the National Film Board, the film is made up of interviews with resident Edith Almadi and explores themes like creativity, and grief.

“It’s a story of her experience of losing her son, and how she uses art as a way to reconnect with him. And while that’s a very personal story, I think it’s quite universal,” said Baird.

The duo first met Almadi in 2013 while Artists in Residence, and bonded over creating art together.

From 2014 to 2019, they recorded Almadi as part of a project capture her unique stories and poetry.

In 2020, due to pandemic-related visitor restrictions, Baird and Gillies were no longer able to directly create art with the residents. But the separation spurred an idea: They decided to interview Edith through her ground-floor window with the help of health-care staff.

“Our way of interviewing her over the years has been to show her her (own) drawings, and then to let those spark memories, or stories, or things she’d like to share with us,” Baird said.

The format of the film soon became apparent.

“Because the storytelling is based on drawing artworks that we’ve made together, we thought that this film had to be an animated film. We had to bring those drawings to life,” said Gillies.

Art featured in the documentary “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying” (Natalie Baird/Toby Gillies)

Creating a cohesive work proved to be a painstaking, yet meaningful process.

“We spent four years basically developing the story with her, finding the animation. The actual production of animation took 14 months, because the entire film is drawn frame by frame. So it’s all drawn on pieces of paper with ink that we put together into the animation,” said Baird.

The end result was comprised of around 8,000 drawings.

Although the narrative is driven through the lens of Almadi’s personal grief – it also delves into the concept of aging.

“I think it’s as much about Edith’s story, as it is about a story of how to connect with people older than us, and how to have intergenerational connections. And also, what she talks about in the film, is about how we can hold both grief and love in the same moment, and the importance of imagination, even later in life,” said Baird.

The filmmakers hope the project can also shed a spotlight on the importance of art in the realm of health care facilities.

“We thought it was important to share with people, and also a way to highlight the importance of art, in these kinds of health care settings. So Edith isn’t someone who had done art before. And so she came to art later in life through programs like these. And it brings her so much joy and meaning and happiness. And it’s just really important to be able to share that,” Baird explained.

The seven-minute film is now available for viewing online.

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