By Katie Chambers
Signe Baumane’s My Love Affair With Marriage is a brilliant animated film for a decidedly adult audience. It’s a semi-autobiographical musical exploration of love, sex, romance, and gender as viewed through the lens of neurochemistry – not your average animated love story! A Greek chorus of Latvian village women and a friendly neuron inside the protagonist’s brain connect the film’s multiple thematic threads, as we follow young Zelma from childhood to young adulthood and into middle age, through several marriages and across multiple continents, in search of true love.
New York Women in Film & Television was proud to present Baumane with a NYWIFT Ravenal Foundation Feature Film Grant for the film, and even prouder to then see it premiere at the 2022 Tribeca Festival!
We sat down with Signe to discuss her wildly inventive, intelligent, and very fun film.
Congratulations on your Tribeca Festival premiere! What does inclusion in Tribeca mean to you?
To premiere a film at Tribeca Festival is a great honor and a thrill for me. Tribeca is quintessential New York – full of glamor, energy, creativity, and reflective of the contemporary world we live in. To be part of Tribeca’s feature film competition has been my long-time dream and now it is coming true.
Also, to open a film at my hometown is a great bonus – we can invite all our cast and team to be part of the celebration. It is like a family reunion combined with a wedding combined with a film festival. AMAZING!
I personally identified immediately with the little girl at the beginning of My Love Affair With Marriage, who recognized how traditional values of femininity can feel reductive but was still drawn to them. What inspired you to tell this story about conflicting feelings tied to love and gender, from this unique perspective?
When I started writing the script, I wanted to write about my second marriage to a self-described gender-bending man who kept it a secret. It was a very dramatic relationship, full of love and passion but the secret broke it. At some point writing the story I wanted to explore what made us want to get married.
Once I started to examine that, the whole other story of a young woman’s search for love, purpose and meaning emerged. I was surprised to discover how our ideas about marriage are tied to our feelings of love and how the concept of love is tied to a concept of gender. And our concept of gender very often is indeed quite restraining and rigid. Very binary.
How is animation an ideal format for this particular story? There is certainly an irony of seeing an animated musical comedy romance – reminiscent of the Disney films so many of us grew up with but spun in an entirely different way, showing romance and emotions as driven by biology and societal pressures. Biology is even a character in the film!
Animation is a perfect medium to tell complicated, layered stories for adult audiences. It irks me that general audiences see animation only as medium for children. At film festivals the majority of animated shorts are tackling adult issues with diverse techniques and daring visual approaches. But animated feature films, especially produced by major studios, all have similar look and approach. I understand it comes from financial considerations, you are not going to experiment with a film that has a multimillion dollar budget but still, it would be great to see more variety in bigger productions.
Animation is the most flexible storytelling medium there is. My Love Affair With Marriage follows a person’s life from age 7 till 29 – we are able to see inside her mind and her imagination, get insights from her Biology and sing along with the Mythology Sirens, all seamlessly incorporated into one story. Only in animation that is possible!
The voice cast, including Dagmara Domicnik, Matthew Modine, and Stephen Lang, is outstanding. What were your strategies in casting and working with these actors?
Yes, I agree, the film’s voice talent is astounding. It was a thrill to collaborate with such great actors. Sturgis Warner, my partner, also the film’s co-producer and casting director is a theater actor and director, so he knew a lot of NYC actors. He did his research and did a lot of thinking then gave me his suggestions. All of his choices were superb.
But for main character Zelma I was reluctant to commit to anybody. I felt the role was very demanding. What actor would have an Eastern European sensibility, would be able to do so many different ages, would be able to convey an independent spirit but also vulnerability and have a wicked sense of humor? It was impossible to find such an actor! Then Sturgis asked me to look at a video on YouTube of Dagmara Dominczyk reading a chapter from her book The Lullaby of Polish Girls at Montclair Public Library. Instantly I was transported into her world and I knew she was the actor we were looking for.
What was your favorite moment in making this film? And your biggest challenge?
Having to constantly fundraise was the biggest challenge. I could never slip into being just a director or an animator. Fundraising is like feeding coal to a locomotive’s engine fire. If you have coal to burn, you move forward, if you don’t you won’t. Once we had a great team in place we didn’t have the luxury to stop the production or to slow it down.
There were many amazing moments during the production, but they were overshadowed by anxiety of how it would all come together. Once the production part was done, we travelled to Luxembourg to work on sound at one of the best post production sound studios in Europe – Philophon in Luxembourg – and that’s when I started having chills of excitement. I always love working with sound but working with the sound designer Pierre Vedovato and rerecording mixer Loïc Collignon was an experience of the sort I never had before. They truly turned the sound part of the film into an incredible, essential element of the film. You have to see / hear it to believe it, and see it in a movie theater with 7.1 sound system!
I am super excited about the sound for My Love Affair With Marriage.
What do you hope audiences will take away from the film – specifically young women? And how about men in the audience, what do you hope they’ll walk away with?
I would like young women feel empowered after seeing the film. You know how they always tell you to connect with your own power, but they never tell you what it is exactly? I hope the film will shed some light on it. Yes, it is loving yourself, but it is also connecting with other people in a meaningful way. You cannot exercise your power if you are not treated as equal, legally and politically.
Since the film explores a woman’s interior world, I hope it would be interesting for men in the audience to see how busy our minds are. What we think when we kiss? Why do we return to toxic relationships?
I hope that everybody who sees the film walks out of the movie theater humming the end credit song “Lion” (sung by the one and only Storm Large), feeling inspired and hopeful that together we can make this world a better place.
About the Filmmaker
Signe Baumane was born and raised in Latvia when it was still part of the Soviet Union. At age 14, she began publishing short stories. At 16 she won poetry reciting competitions. At 18 she was singing and dancing with the folk group Skandenieki. Signe received a BA in Philosophy from Moscow State University. After graduating she started to work at Riga’s Animated Film Studio as a cel painter and later as a writer, director, and designer. Signe directed three animated shorts in Latvia before moving to New York. There she worked for independent animator Bill Plympton as art director and production manager. In 1998, Signe received U.S. green card as an ‘extraordinary ability alien’ and began making films at her own studio. In 2005 she became a U.S. citizen.
Signe has written, directed and animated 16 shorts and two feature films, many of them with a strong female point of view. She believes passionately that animation is a perfect medium for adult storytelling. Her films collectively have screened at over 560 film festivals including Sundance, Berlin, Venice and Karlovy Vary. She is a Guggenheim Fellow and a New York Foundation of the Arts Fellow in Film. Rocks in My Pockets (2014), Signe’s first animated feature film, is based on true events involving five women of Signe’s family, including herself, and their battles with suicide and depression. It played internationally at 150 film festivals, was distributed in the U.S. by Zeitgeist Films, and has been screened by many colleges and mental health organizations.
Learn more at www.signebaumane.com.
Read about the NYWIFT members featured in the 2022 Tribeca Festival here.
Welcome to NYWIFT, Aisha Amin! Aisha is an NYC-based writer and director. As a director, her work expands across narrative, documentary, and experimental forms to tell authentic stories built from real experiences. Her past film projects have explored and highlighted overlooked communities particularly in New York City, including formerly incarcerated mothers and communities struggling with the presence of gentrification in their neighborhoods. Amongst her directing, Aisha is an emerging screenwriting and was selected to participate in Cine Qua Non’s 2022 Screenwriting Lab. She is a 2022 recipient of NYFA’s Tomorrowland Grant and a 2021 recipient of the NYFA Women's Fund grant. She was a recipient of the 2019-2020 Sally Burns Shenkman Woman Filmmaker Fellowship at the Jacob Burns Film Center where she directed two short documentaries. She is also a recipient of The Shed's Open Call Fellowship where she expanded her film practice to installation art. Aisha spoke to us about her favorite styles of storytelling, the intersection of narrative and documentary, and her latest projects.READ MORE
Welcome to NYWIFT, Lorena R. Valenica! Lorena R. Valencia is a Mexican writer-director based in New York. Her directorial debut and MFA thesis film, Cuanacaquilitl (Dandelion), received the 2022 National Board of Review Student Award and is an Official Selection in several international film festivals, including the Morelia International Film Festival, the Atlanta Film Festival, the New York Latino Film Festival, and the NewFilmmakers Los Angeles Film Festival. Lorena is passionate about both narrative and documentary storytelling and is interested in addressing issues such as reproductive rights, identity, and belonging. Currently, she is directing Mi Ranchito, a documentary short film that explores resilience and love for the land, while she is developing her debut feature film, Mayahuel. Lorena spoke to us about inspiring empathy through storytelling, the overlap of narrative and documentary filmmaking, and her latest projects.READ MORE
NYWIFT Member Emily Sheskin’s return to DOC NYC 2023 is particularly meaningful. In 2017, she attended the festival with her short film Girl Boxer, about a 10-year-old champion female boxer and her adoring father. Six years later, Sheskin returns with a feature-length film following the same family, now facing an entirely new set of challenges. In Jesszilla, New Jersey’s own Jesselyn Silva, a three-time national boxing champion, is on her way to superstardom, dominating the junior ranks at the age of 15. With her every step of the way is her father, Pedro, a single parent who helps her navigate coaches, training schedules, and the angst of teenage life. When a devastating diagnosis threatens the father-daughter tandem, the pair turn to each other to fight their greatest opponent yet: cancer. Director and Executive Producer Emily Sheskin spoke to us about her unique journey following this family.READ MORE
NYWIFT member Ilja Willems heads to the 2023 DOC NYC Festival with not one but two exciting new short films. Friendly Fridges shows how the new heart of the community is popping up in every neighborhood—in the shape of refrigerators. And When the grass must go follows a landscaper from Nevada who is removing grass lawns under a first-of-a-kind state law that will save water during an ongoing drought. Willems spoke to us about how these two disparate films align with her creative sensibilities, the joy of screening in NYC, and more!READ MORE