Cartoon Saloon, the Irish animation studio, isn’t afraid to take on challenging subject matter in its own unique way, as evidenced by last year’s acclaimed feature “The Breadwinner,” the story of a young Afghan girl who disguises herself as a boy to help provide for her struggling family during Taliban rule.
This year, the toon shop examines dementia in the animated short “Late Afternoon,” about an elderly woman who travels into her memories whenever she glimpses her reflection.
The short was something that played in the mind of writer-director Louise Bagnall, Cartoon Saloon’s creative director, for years. “It had been something I’d been working on for quite a long time, just in my own sketchbook, in my own small way,” she says. “I had been watching documentaries and reading up about dementia and it sparked a memory in me of when I was a child and watching my parents looking after my respective grandmothers,” she recalls. Neither grandmother had dementia, but exhibited some aspects of memory loss.
Bagnall was also inspired by thinking about what her grandmothers’ lives had been like as young girls and married the two ideas together. “I was trying to think of a way to represent a woman’s inner life on screen,” she explains. “It can be quite abstract, you know. And I wanted to show the depth of who they are and what life they’ve lived. That’s kind of where the nebulousness of where the idea came from.”
Once the idea coalesced, she pitched it to her colleagues at Cartoon Saloon and applied for funding in Ireland. The film got the funding and has since won a number of awards at various film festivals, including the Tribeca Film Festival, where it won the award for best animated short, which qualified “Late Afternoon” to be considered for an Oscar nomination.
Bagnall has heard from audience members at various screenings who have felt personally touched by her film. “After almost every (screening), there’s somebody who comes up to me and wants to tell me that ‘this is something I’ve experienced’ or ‘This is something that really means something to me.’ That’s been amazing. It’s been really lovely to have people feel they can say that, that they want to tell me how it has been for them or their family.”
Veteran actress Fionnula Flanagan, who worked with Cartoon Saloon on 2014’s “Song of the Sea,” voices the lead character, Emily. She was attached even before funding was in place. “We [recorded the vocals] early on, when we were boarding, and she just got it,” recalls Bagnall. “She was brilliant to work with.”
Other voices were provided by Bagnall, Niamh Moyles, Lucy O’Connell, Michael McGrath, Caoimhe Ni Bhradaigh and Aislin Konings Ferrari. It was produced by Nuria Gonzalez Blanco with music by Colm Mac Con Iomaire.