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David Hirzel

“Rocks in My Pockets”–more than just an animated feature film

By November 23, 2014No Comments

Signe Baumane‘s new feature-length animated film “Rocks in My Pockets” makes good use of this medium to enter a territory that more conventional films cannot reach—that of your own mind. Her characters, simply rendered in two dimensions, wind their way through fanciful paper mache landscapes into some of the darkest, bleakest recesses of the mind—Baumane’s, her extended family’s, your own. Her deeply personal statement becomes universal.

It begins with the courtship of her Latvian grandparents and the unasked, unanswered questions of the madness in her family background, that we might today call mental illness. Their marriage evolves, as many do, into something less than romantic, with growing disillusionment and a concurrent resolve to do our best with the choices we have already made. There are moments of joy, but more of resignation, of sorrow, and they seem to resonate through succeeding generations in the film.

In 1941 war comes to Baumane’s native Latvia, laying waste with singular ravages such as we in 21st century USA can only imagine. Those who claim to defend and protect individuals and society instead betray and destroy them. These calamities give her family history a weight that bears down on her, and them. The hardships of their lives gave that depression, a richer, more fertile ground in which to thrive. We all of us have dysfunction in our families, in our own lives. Denial is woven through the narrative of this movie, as it is in all our lives.

The story takes place in Latvia. It is narrated in English entirely by Baumane; the accent of her native tongue places it outside our comfortable United States, in a foreign land where we find ordinary people in their inward human hearts no different from us. The artwork is entirely hers, thousands of handmade drawings moving through dozens of richly decorated paper mache sets giving a three-dimensional feel to this patient singleminded animation, produced in her apartment/studio in Brooklyn. Lighting, technical effects, script advice and voice coaching by Baumane’s long-time companion actor/director Sturgis Warner.

When asked how her family reacted to such exposure, Baumane indicated that some were aghast, some indifferent, and some appreciated that someone who know from inside who knew the truth had chosen to shine a light on it. This was one of the choices that she had to make on her own, free of the preconceptions of how others might respond drive her decisions of what to say, and how to say it.

Whether the film would make money, or find a wide audience, did not really enter into the decisions. This was a story she wanted to tell, in her own way. The essence of art.

There is light within, through, and beyond the darkness. Moments of joy, of dark humor, of connection and redemption. The rocks in our pockets have a dangerous weight, but with insight and resolve their weight can can be reduced; they can be cast away.

At Rafael Theater Monday, November 24 at 7:00.

1118 Fourth Street, San Rafael, CA 94901 415.454.5813 Main Office 415.454.1222 Info-Line for

Film Website:

Review by David Hirzel