...SONG OF THE SEA director Nora Twomey talks about working with Angelina Jolie and the upcoming film THE BREADWINNER: https://t.co/wVJyPqUsvX pic.twitter.com/3veSxyM3Ds— GKIDS Films (@GKIDSfilms) June 14, 2017
I first met Nora Twomey in early 2015 when she was starting in earnest to work on The Breadwinner. She showed me drawings of what the film might look like and, even in such a rudimentary state, you sensed it was going to be special. But all the talk then was of Song of the Sea, which had been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film. Twomey had been the voice director on that film and she was looking forward to attending the Oscars ceremony and wearing a dress specially created by Irish designer Laura Jayne Halton.
Looking back, she says that night in Hollywood's Dolby Theatre comfortably lived up to her expectations. "It is strange to be in a room with all these very famous people," she says, "but it is a very big room.
"And there are two red carpets: one for the celebrities and the other one for industry people." Despite the nomination, she walked down the lesser of the carpets. "I've never worn as much make-up in my life," she adds, "but I suppose if you're really going to get done up, that's as good a place as any to start."
In the end, Song of the Sea failed to win an Oscar. It lost out to Big Hero 6, a movie that pulled in $650m at the box office. But such nominations - the second for Cartoon Saloon, following the nod given to The Secret of Kells in 2009 - helped get the studio, and Twomey, noticed in Hollywood and among heavy-hitters like Angelina Jolie.
A-lister Jolie is one of the producers of The Breadwinner and, Twomey says, has been dedicated to the project since day one. "She really gets it," she says, "and, like me, she wants to be true to a story that's an important one for our times. She has been to Afghanistan a number of times, and has always been keen for this film to be as authentic as possible."
Twomey has met Jolie "on several occasions" and says she is warm and down to earth. The meetings have happened abroad, although she jokes that Cartoon Saloon is open for tea and biscuits too. She acknowledges that having a heavyweight backer like Jolie can help with funding. "I'm an animator," she says. "It's what I'm trained to do and it's my passion, but you have to learn to be a diplomat and a salesperson too because you're trying to sell the idea of this story and why it's worth investing in it."
Jolie came on board in the summer of 2015, initially as part of Plan B - the production company she ran with Brad Pitt before their acrimonious split last year. "I know they [Cartoon Saloon] will do justice to the richness, creativity and strength of Afghan culture and to little girls like Parvana," Jolie said at the time. "Millions of young girls like Parvana are growing up today under oppression or conflict and helping their families to survive in those conditions. This story is a reminder of the immense value of their contribution."
Jolie is not the only big name to take an interest in the project - Cartoon Saloon had some royal visitors last month. "Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall called to see us during a recent visit to Kilkenny and they were fascinated by The Bread- winner. Camilla had read the book and really liked the story and Prince Charles has set up a charity for the arts in Afghanistan called Turquoise Mountain, so you really sensed that the film meant something to them and they weren't just being polite. Their questions were intelligent too - he asked one of the animators a very technical question after seeing a demonstration. There was an engagement there for sure."