Swedish film adopts heartfelt approach to animation

At this year’s 72nd Annual Cannes Film Festival, attendees at a luncheon put on by Scandinavian producing partner Film i Väst were given a sneak preview of an upcoming and uniquely animated film centering on the theme of adoption.

Animated stills from “The Ape Star” created by Swedish filmmaker/producer were presented at the event, which also showcased previous and future international film projects invested in by Film I Väst. Among them were this year’s Cannes opening film, Jim Jarmusch’s zombie satire The Dead Don’t Die and the upcoming film by recent Palme d’Or winner Ruben Östlund, Triangle of Sadness.

Swedish animator Linda Hambäck is adapting the children’s book The Ape Star for the big screen.

Hambäck’s animated feature, set to be released next year, is based on the award-winning 2005 book by the Swedish children’s writer Frida Nilsson. “She is one of Sweden’s most talented writers and she has her own voice in her way of telling stories that really appealed to me,” said Hambäck, who bought the rights to the book in 2015. “I seldom fall in love with a book but it’s a funny story. She writes fast, rapid and very humorous.”

The story, about outsiders and unconventional love, focuses on the feisty young orphan Jonna who wants nothing more than to be adopted and to have a mother. But when her potential new parent arrives at her orphanage, Jonna is shocked to see a gorilla step out of the car and becomes reticent about leaving with the big clumsy primate.

“For me the gorilla is really both a gorilla and a mixture of a person,” explained Hambäck, likening her to a ‘bull in a china shop’. “She is definitely a gorilla, but she can speak and she is part of the town. You will have to define wherever you think she is human or a gorilla.” Said Hambäck of the young orphan or anyone parentless, “You’re wishing for a mother – someone you know you feel you can trust.”

Yet at the point of first contact for little Jonna, she is not sure she can. Then, however, once the two actually overcome their physical differences, they’re challenged by a local bully, out to separate them. Hambäck said she and scriptwriter Janne Vierth, who she has collaborated with on many projects, strove to keep the tone of the book as much as they could in Vierth’s adaptation.

The Ape Star, a 2D hand-drawn animation, is scheduled to be released in 2020

The animated film is completely hand-painted and illustrated, a process that is very time-consuming. “Storytelling in 2D animation especially takes tons of time… it’s hand-painted and frame by frame animation,” said Hambäck. “But I have always found animation to be as a moving scrapbook for me as a director – having to make choices and stick to those for a long time, slowly working the whole film out, with the pace, music, sound design, colours, characters, backgrounds and animation.”

“We work in a big team with creative and highly talented artists, and it’s really a fantastic way of making film,” she added.

During Cannes, some casting decisions were announced for The Ape Star, including two of Sweden’s leading actors, Pernilla August and Stellan Skarsgård, who’ll be lending their voices to two of the main characters in the original Swedish-language version of the film. “We are hoping that if we do an English-language version, they will be our voices for that version too, but we have not decided that yet,” Hambäck explained.

Hambäck, who herself was adopted at six months-old from South Korea, said she never questioned that her Swedish parents were her family but that many people have asked her if she wanted to go back and find her birth parents. “All children want to ask ‘How did you and dad meet?’ but I could not really identify with that but I do of course respect everyone that wants and needs to do that journey,” said Hambäck. “However, I have always thought that everybody can be your family if they love you. It might sounds simple – but I do believe in that strongly. Everybody can be your family if they love you.”

Before founding Lee Film, Linda produced several critically acclaimed and award-winning shorts, TV series and commercials. At Lee Film, she has served as scriptwriter, director and producer.

Film i Väst is Scandinavia’s leading film fund based on the Swedish West Coast. Since 1992, the company has invested in and co-produced more than 1,000 films and television dramas. Among them was the award-winning “Dancer in the Dark,” “Melancholia,” “The Hunt,” “In a Better World” and Ruben Östlund’s “The Square.” Audience successes have included “The Woman In Black,” “A Man Called Ove” and “Atomic Blonde.”

“Film i Väst is a part of all my productions,” said Hambäck.