We’re continuing our spotlight series on the professional artists who have taken it upon themselves to tackle the monumental task of creating a personal short film outside of the studio system. This week we sit down with Director and veteran Story Artist Cinzia Angelini to talk about her beautiful, heartfelt new film, “Mila”.

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Where did the idea for this project come from and how has it developed?

“Mila” is inspired by true WWII stories that my mom told me as I was growing up. One story in particular really stuck with me. It’s not a story about specific events but more about a re-occurring feeling she felt as a child while bombers were attacking her city. How she froze and could not think, move or breathe until an adult would pick her up to bring her to the shelter.

This emotion that my mom mentioned so many times always made me think about the impact that war has on kids. What is going on in their heads? What are they feeling? What are their fears? What are the massive consequences of the trauma they live through, and how much that childhood experience changes their future, their personality and life? At a certain point, all these questions pushed me to write the film that I knew I had to make. Of course, I couldn’t just show a child that is passively waiting for someone to pick her up. A character has to be proactive and change within the story, or change people around it in order to be interesting. So I used that emotional reaction my mom experienced as she lived that war, and built the story from there. The film is set in her hometown, Trento Italy, in 1943, when she was four.

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The character Mila represents the best of humanity. She goes through hell, yet has the strength to move on, to help and be helped. She is a child that lost everything, her family, her house, any form of stability – yet she manages to survive. What I wanted to show is the strength and resilience that kids have. Even when they are alone, abandoned and lost.

Sadly, even though I wrote it more than five years ago, her story rings truer and is more poignant today than ever. With current events being what they are, it resonates with people around the world. Just look at the list of artists who contribute their time and talent to the project.

Mila_Image_11The story of “Mila” is a very  personal one. How do you stay respectful of the source material and the strong emotional core of the story while still making it your own?

Because the film focuses more on the emotions of the story that inspired it, rather than specific facts. I really needed Mila to live in an environment that was historically accurate. We had to give the story the realism and believability that it deserved. We did tons of research using historical photos and created our version of Trento of that era. We not only recreated the city once, but twice, because the film has both war sequences (where the town is in ruins), and dream sequences (where the cityscape is normal). It’s definitely a very ambitious project considering it’s a short. We have multiple locations, three main characters and seven background characters with two looks, alternating from dream to the reality of war.

I think that it’s important to stay as true to the facts as possible when treating an historical moment. At the same time, it’s just as important that it becomes your own story, as unique and special as possible. There are no limits to the creativity, and you find that counter-balance with the facts, the results can be powerful.

You’re currently freelancing as a Story Artist for several animation studios, including Illumination Entertainment. How do you balance the demands of feature film production with your own creative projects? 

It’s definitely not easy, but after all these years I’ve got pretty good at multi-tasking – jumping from one project to the other without losing concentration or the vision. I think that it’s a great exercise and helps me improve time efficiency. I have to wear multiple hats throughout my day – story artist, director, executive producer, recruiter, animation supervisor, mom and wife! It’s challenging at times but the enthusiasm that I feel from my team, and the “Mila” fans, every single day keeps me going and gives me the strength and the focus that I need. The secret is to have unlimited support at home. I could never do this without my family. They have been big fans of “Mila” and help me get through it, one day at a time, every day.

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What have you learned about yourself as an artist by undertaking this personal project and how has it informed your professional work?

Working on my own project has enriched me immensely as an artist, and as a professional in animation. I recommend the experience to anyone in this industry. When you work in a big studio, you tend to be isolated from the rest of the production. You might know a bit about the department ahead of yours in the pipeline, and the one after. But that’s pretty much it. Working on my own film exposes me to ALL the aspects of production every day.

This brought me invaluable experience and knowledge, giving me a better perspective as an artist. I am more aware of what it takes to create a film, and I know I am prepared to anticipate challenges and issues better. The fact that so many volunteers have been working on “Mila” daily, for so long, has taught me how to respect each artist, even when part of a big production.

“Mila” has made me a better artist, and enriched me personally like no other production could have.

I love every single moment. Even when we have crises, difficulties and issues to solve. Even if we have zero budget and no studio, we come together as a family and make it work. Going through these experiences on a daily basis, making the most out of any situation, and surviving that, is incredibly rewarding. It’s the best kind of fertile ground for an artist, on so many different levels.

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So far, 250 artists in 25 countries have been involved with the project. What are some of the challenges and/or benefits of working so internationally?

The benefits far outweigh the challenges. This project would have not been possible to make just a few years ago. Nowadays we can all be connected so easily. Most countries have decent internet access, and more and more user-friendly applications are available to keep the team in touch. We’ve become a virtual studio that never closes. At any given moment, I can guarantee there is someone somewhere on the planet who is working on “Mila”. It’s quite remarkable when you think about it. I love the idea that we are such a diverse group, with no borders or limitations of any kind. It’s probably a big part of what attracts artists from everywhere to the project. It’s all about the ability of the artist and his or her willingness to be part of this adventure.

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How can people find out more about “Mila”? Are there types of artists and/or staff that you’re currently looking for in terms of helping out with production?

I recommend visiting our website www.milafilm.com to read more about “Mila”, as well as our facebook page. We are currently in need of senior layout artists, animators, FX and Character Effects Artists. We are also expanding our communications team. And, we are always in need of Production Assistants to help in various aspects of the production. Both my email and that of “Mila” Producer Andrea Emmes can be found on the website. For the work done we offer screen credit, the use of the work produced on “Mila” before the release of the film, (as long as it’s password protected), and a great experience!

What is the one thing that you’re hoping people take away from “Mila” when it’s finally completed?

If “Mila” could change even one decision maker’s mind about the consequences of violent action, or instead, to consider alternate opportunities available that allow for a future for these kids, then all of our efforts will have been worth it. This is what keeps us going every single day.

We want to talk about the kids caught up in war. It’s a pretty unconventional theme for an animated short film. I’ve been told that this topic, the forgotten kids, the most innocent victims of conflict, won’t “sell”. But I don’t care! We don’t care! We want to encourage kids to ask questions of their parents and create an opportunity for parents to explain to kids what is happening to Mila, to the millions of children like Mila around the world today!

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Besides the artists, who else has been involved with the production of “Mila”? 

What makes this project so unique is that so many artists from so many countries want to be part of “Mila” because they have been touched by it’s theme and what this little girl represents. They are united by that one goal. They want to make a difference, contributing with their time and talent. It creates an incredible energy.

People feel it, want to be part of it, and contribute. They want to help in any way they can. Since we started, many sponsors joined the two production companies Ibiscusmedia and Pixel Cartoon. The Trentino Film Commission and the Fondazione cassa Rurale in Trento contributed with grants that help cover rendering costs. Other sponsors help with man-hours like Baraboom Studios, Arpaint Creative Studio, Squashnstretch, Afnewsinfo and StayNerd. Others help with online storage, or contribute software licenses (a BIG thank you to Egnyte and Solid Angle!)

We’re thrilled that Zerply has recently joined the project and become a sponsor by tying us into their artists community. As many of you may know,  Zerply is a fabulous online resource for finding great talent. And since we do need so many talented artists, this collaboration is huge for us!

We may not have a budget, nor a studio, but we do have the power of the audience – all of you!

We invite everyone to support the “Mila” team and to support our goal by following the project on social media, by subscribing to our newsletter for bi-weekly updates, and by spreading the word.

Peace!

For more information about Cinzia and the “Mila” film project, please visit the following sites:

Cinzia’s Zerply Profile: zerply.com/cangelin

Cinzia’s Official Website: www.cinziaangelini.com

Official Film Website: www.milafilm.com

Subscribe to the Mila Newsletter.

Facebook: www.facebook.com/officialmilafilm/             

All images courtesy of “Mila” film team.