After playing in more than 80 festivals and winning 25 prizes since premiering at Annecy in June, the stop-motion animated short “Negative Space” will be available for viewing online for two weeks beginning on Monday.
“Negative Space,” co-directed by Max Porter and Ru Kuwahata, is an adaptation of the poem by Ron Koertge. The poem’s tale about a boy who connects with his father by learning to pack a suitcase touched each of the filmmakers in different ways.
For Kuwahata, it was especially personal. “As an airline pilot, my father traveled often when I was growing up. I don’t really remember things like trips to the zoo or theme parks, but the image of him packing a crisp, white shirt is burned in my memory,” she recalls. “I remember my dad adjusting his watch precisely before leaving the house and I remember the packing list that he pinned to the wall of his study. My most vivid childhood memories are connected with objects, textures, and ordinary routines.”
The connection was less specifically tied to packing for Porter, but was no less significant. “The text spoke honestly to me about the way parents and children often ritualize connection,” he explains. “We’ve heard people refer to the father-son relationship in ‘Negative Space’ as cold or strange, and maybe it is by some standards, but that doesn’t negate the importance of the connection to the main character. ‘Negative Space’ made me consider my own relationships and the small things that represent a big part of those connections.”
Kuwahata and Porter, who are currently based in Baltimore, made “Negative Space” in France, so the film, while voiced in English to preserve the poem’s exact wording, is subtitled in French. The short has qualified for Academy consideration by winning the grand prize at this year’s Anima Mundi.
In their production notes, Kuwahata and Porter say that with all the travel during production they have themselves become professional packers.
“I’ve moved nine times internationally since the age of five, so I’m definitely not a packing novice,” notes Kuwahata. “But packing large-scale sets and delicate props three times during the production really pushed me to step up my game. For example, large sets needed to be constructed in modular pieces so they could be broken down and we developed a complex coding system for each section. With the system, whenever we assembled and dissembled, it was done as quickly and efficiently as possible. We also had the mother-of-all excel sheets so we could track where each piece was boxed and stored. I’m proud to say that nothing was broken or lost along the way. (Though we did have ecological regrets about the amount of bubble wrap that we used.)”
Kuwahata was inspired by that system in her personal packing. “I started to plan my clothes when I travel and consider different types of combinations ahead of time.” She even included a drawing with her packing plans for a recent trip to Los Angeles to attend the Animation Is Film Festival, where the short played as part of a “Songs of Love and Death” package curated by Women in Animation.