“I really admire her as a filmmaker and looked to her for guidance” - Nora Twomey on working with executive producer Angelina Jolie and bringing #TheBreadwinner to the big screen. pic.twitter.com/SjcqkA2wDG— STUDIOCANALUK (@StudiocanalUK) May 22, 2018
Irish director almost turned down the chance to work with Angelina Jolie https://t.co/cxcq3imeQ2— DublinLive (@DublinLive) May 22, 2018
Oscar nominated director Nora Twomey has admitted she almost had second thoughts about joining forces with Angelina Jolie to make The Breadwinner.
The feature length animation based on a best-selling novel by Deborah Ellis has catapulted Kilkenny-based Cartoon Saloon into the international spotlight.
But founder and company director Nora says she was a bag of nerves before her first meeting with Hollywood A lister Jolie before she came on board as producer.
She revealed: “The idea of it is like when you don’t know them and what they actually turn out to be like when you meet them.
“I had a lot of those thoughts on the plane ride going over to meet her the first time thinking about what was going to happen to the film.
“Whether it was going to be something that we could continue to control or what was going to be the situation. But you know once you get beyond the flashing lights…”
When Jolie first read the script she said: “I wanted to work with Nora and the book was special to my children so I already knew the story.”
The Breadwinner goes on general release in cinemas here on May 25 and is the third Cartoon Saloon film to be Oscar nominated along with The Book of Kells and Song of the Sea.
Nora tells John Kelly on RTE’s The Works Presents that the partnership with Angelina Jolie gave the project a phenomenal level of exposure.
She said: “Our film was made for less than ten million dollars. We had a tiny publicity budget with it.
“When you see the light that somebody like Angelina Jolie can shine on a film like The Breadwinner it’s incredibly powerful.
“She’s had an interest in Afghanistan going back decades and she set up a girls’ school there. That is very aligned with what we were doing with this film.
“She became a mentor in the whole process. I think there’s a wisdom there that comes from somebody who actually does care and who does think quite deeply.”
Director @nora877 of Kilkenny’s @CartoonSaloon on Oscar nominations, working with Angelina Jolie and using animation to help children make sense of the world. https://t.co/u4YPRLPsIb— Irish Times Culture (@IrishTimesCultr) May 19, 2018
The Breadwinner was lucky enough to land a rather well-known adviser. Early in production, Twomey got in touch with Angelina Jolie through mutual friends Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer, the Egyptian filmmakers behind Oscar-nominated documentary The Square. Jolie, as a UN goodwill ambassador, has built schools for girls in Afghanistan, and was uniquely placed to talk Cartoon Saloon through Afghan culture, and to lend her not inconsiderable marketing clout as an executive producer.
“We had less than $10 million [€8.3 million] to make this film,” recalls the director. “We knew we weren’t going to have millions to spend on publicity. She came on board very early – we just had a first draft of the screenplay written – she understood the film we were making immediately. She knew we were after some kind of truth, that we didn’t want to tell a story about one ethnic group in Afghanistan. We wanted to tell a story that would connect with people all around the world.”
The story and Twomey’s work with Cartoon Saloon resonated with Jolie, who ushered in the first trailer for The Breadwinner with an impactful statement: “I know [Cartoon Saloon] will do justice to the richness, creativity and strength of Afghan culture and to little girls like Parvana. 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 was more than a brand and brain to pick, insists Twomey. She listened to tapes during the casting process so that they might get closer to the “soul of the character”. She gave feedback on early designs and musical cues. She organised for Twomey to screen the film for the First Lady of Afghanistan and for an Afghan educator who also dressed as a boy in order to attend a secret school.
“She wanted to help and she helped shape the sensibility of the film,” says Twomey of her A-list fairy godmother. “She wanted it to be hopeful in its sensibility. It would be easy for a film like The Breadwinner to be extremely dark, but we wanted to show the strength of young girls. We wanted to show courage, not fairy-tale courage but real courage. We wanted to show how much love was in the family in the film. She helped guide all those things and she also encouraged us to get as many Afghan voices as we could.”
The Cork-born film-maker is a huge fan of Jolie’s own directorial output. There’s Angelina Jolie, she says, and there’s Angelina Jolie.
“When you watch First They Killed My Father you can see her hand as a director and storyteller,” says Twomey. “You can see that she’s a listener. There’s not an ego sprawled all over the film. The reality of Angelina Jolie and what you see in the magazines are two very different things. She’s a thoughtful person who tries to use whatever influence she has to make a real difference. She came to The Breadwinner as a mother and a storyteller.”