Romanian animator Anca Damian’s psychedelic, musical take on the Robinson Crusoe’s story, “The Island,” will be accompanied by an AR exhibition inviting the audience to further explore its colorful universe, Variety has learned. A board-game based on her seventh feature has also been developed, mirroring its protagonists’ search for paradise in the film.
Set to bow at Rotterdam Film Festival, “The Island” was produced by Aparte Film, with Best Friend Forever handling international sales.
Despite referencing his most famous creation, Damian doesn’t care for Daniel Defoe’s 1719 novel, she says. “It was written a long time ago and it has no meaning now. It’s awful. The way Robinson Crusoe thinks that he is saving the so-called ‘savage’… The whole thing is unacceptable.”
The project – her first since 2019’s “Marona’s Fantastic Tale” – was inspired by a concert performed by Ada Milea and Alexander Balanescu, itself based on the play by surrealist poet Gellu Naum, also called “The Island” (“Insula”).
“There is a thread of all these other interpretations, but I changed the set-up,” says Damian, who kept the musical structure and updated the story. Now, Robinson Crusoe is a doctor, holding onto his iPad, and his faithful companion, Friday, a refugee – the only one who survived after his boat capsized on the Mediterranean Sea.
“Europe’s attitude towards refugees is so hypocritical. I tried to immerse myself in these issues and eventually met real-life Friday, who inspired me,” she adds, mentioning the film’s “Promised Land for Refugees Made With the Best of Intentions,” a camp where they are surrounded by guards.
“They are viewed as strangers invading this territory. Robinson is not allowed to help – these are the rules. But at the end of the day, we are all connected. Robinson and Friday are the same character, in a way.”
For all her allusions to people’s growing indifference towards each other or environmental decline, exemplified by mutant animals trapped in plastic bottles or cans, Damian still wanted to deliver a beautiful film for her viewers.
“When you pay for a ticket, you don’t want to see something ugly. I believe that you should make people laugh, even though I talk about difficult subjects here. If you say that life is pain, it’s wrong. If you say that life is joy, it’s wrong too. They co-exist.”
Populating her story with soldiers, smugglers, pirates who take other people’s belongings and in exchange lose parts of their bodies or carnival people, searching for never-ending pleasure, Damian let her imagination run wild, inspired by Monty Python or the Burning Man community. She also created a booklet describing her main characters, from Robinson (“He is always lonely, he wants to do good”) to Friday and the Mermaid (“She is the imaginary woman so she is the perfect companion.”)
“I like going into the unknown, but it means you need partners who are willing to take the risk. If they can’t imagine the project, it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t exist,” adds Damian, currently working on her next animated project “Starseed,” a venture to Africa with an extraterrestrial twist.
“We are used to saying: ‘This is reality.’ But even with documentaries, the choices you make are always subjective,” she says, mentioning her acclaimed previous films, Annecy-awarded “Crulic – The Path to Beyond” or “The Magic Mountain.”
“Some called them docu-dramas but they weren’t really, in the same way ‘Marona’ wasn’t just a story about a dog. It’s a philosophical tale! When people are stuck in their ways of seeing the world, they lose child-like joy. ‘The Island’ aims to break that a little. It’s surreal and you don’t know what’s happening, but everything is meaningful story-wise. It points out that we tend to think we are the center of the universe. And unless we change that approach, our civilization will come to an end.”