|"Marcel, King of Teruvuren" filmmaker Tom Schroeder talks the real life Marcel, the allure of animation and an enduring Camus quote.
What is the most rewarding aspect of being an independent filmmaker?
I am an animator working in a traditional, drawn character style and often drawing off of an analysis of documentary sound. Animation attracted me initially because it demands multi-disciplinary thinking. My educational background is in literature, so I first approach a film as a narrative form. Because the films are conceived and executed one frame at a time, the process of making them often resembles the work of a painter or illustrator more than it does a live action filmmaker. Each film challenges me to develop my storytelling skills as a filmmaker, my design intelligence and also to explore the expressive relationship between the style of the animation and the content of the story.
Which filmmakers inspired you to get behind the lens?
The first filmmakers that really attracted me were Ingmar Bergman and Jacques Tati. As far as animated films in particular the first big impressions came from Norman McLaren, the Brothers Quay, Yuri Norstein and Caroline Leaf.
Could you list three films that all independent film supporters should take the time to see?
To keep it simple (because there are so many) I’ll stick to the filmmakers above …Norman McLaren “Begone Dull Care,” the Brothers Quay “Street of Crocodiles” and Caroline Leaf “The Street.”
What do you hope the audience comes away with after seeing your film?
I hope that they appreciate the individuality in the style and approach to the story content. I wanted to find a visual equivalent to Marcel’s dilemma and so, as Marcel fights to stay alive, his representation in the film struggles to fight against breaking into an abstraction of line and color. Form and chaos, life and death, matter and energy. I’ve always felt that the most successful animated films demonstrate awareness of the relationship between the technical aspects of the production and the narrative content.
How did you draw the connection between Greek tragedy and Marcel’s story?
Marcel is a rooster who belongs to a friend, Ann Berckmoes, in Tervuren, a suburb of Brussels, Belgium. Whenever my wife Hilde and I would visit Belgium, Ann would tell us a new installment of Marcel’s escapades. At the point that Marcel is blinded in one eye by his son Max, I started to think, “ah, Greek tragedy enacted by Belgian roosters,” but I also remembered a line from Camus’ essay on Sisyphus. I’m paraphrasing now, but it’s something to the effect “There is no fate that cannot be overcome by scorn.” Marcel’s will to survive was impressive.
What do you think audiences find most interesting about Marcel and his trials and tribulations?
The reactions I’ve enjoyed the most have been the feeling that something so familiar and potentially mundane, if seen in the right manner, takes on a drama and allegorical significance. I like to make films that find a universal resonance in a seemingly insignificant situation or event. I also like the surprise that people have in the idea of an “animated documentary,” which initially seems to them a contradiction in terms. I believe that animation is an ideal form in which to capture Herzog’s idea of a “poetical truth” in documentary, as opposed to the “truth of accountants.”
What was the most difficult aspect of “Marcel, King of Tervuren” to film?
Technically, “Marcel” was drawn rather than filmed. The most difficult aspect of the film’s production was my transition from drawing on paper to drawing digitally with a device called a Cintiq. I’d drawn on paper for 20 years and decided to use the experience of making this film my education in the new technology. At first it was very alienating, but in the end ironically it was working with the Cintiq that led to the painterly style of the film.