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Things I Have Learned

Branchage Festival Preview: Amiina On The Animation of Lotte Reiniger
Luke Turner , September 29th, 2009 10:24

Icelandic Sigur Ros collaborators Amiina will be soundtracking the films of animator Lotte Reiniger at this weekend's Branchage International Film Festival. Maria Sigfúsdóttir tells us more

The fairy tale is a big part of Icelandic life

It's a big part of our culture here in Iceland, the storytelling and the fascination with supernatural beings, something alive in nature that you can't really count on. It's something that we're close to.

East and West met in the animation we grew up with in Iceland

Maybe half the televisision is more commercial and comes from America, but we still have our European routes as well. Most of it was cartoony or Disney orientated, not the advanced Disney as it is now. There was some stop motion that was shown, some of them from the Czech republic, and some of the more hands on and crafted ones were shown.

Czech animation had a particular impact on me

There was one piece of animation from the Czech Republic about these two carpenters who are always making mistakes, it's clay stop-motion. Then also, it's hard to know the names in English, but there are a couple of these animation films from the Czech Republic that were really something else, because obviously we had Tom & Jerry and we had more sugary ones from America, but those from the East were so much more dark, and had so much more atmosphere. The difference between them was so obvious, and how differently they approached it. I remember being really drawn to these darker films, even though I was scared, because they had so much more atmosphere.

Preparing the soundtrack to Lotte Reiniger's films has meant rediscovering animation divorced from technology

For me, it was really good to see the older Lotte Reineger films to see what the animation is all about, and where it's coming from. I think animation has become such a huge thing, to do with video games or the internet, it's been so connected with the computer world, which for some people isn't really something they fancy getting into.

I have an appreciation for the craft of making them

One of the films we're going to do is one of the older films that she did, and it starts with just shadow images of her cutting out the main character, so it's really hands on, when you can actually see the hands of the maker.

Soundtracking animation requires a new musical approach

Because most of the films are narrated with original music already there we had to find pieces that have a story but no narration. We were really hooked on things like the big movements and long scenes and sequences that were basically just atmosphere. Some of the films where the fairytale is quite simple there are long stretches of movement and repetitive things that are simply beautiful. Like a flock of birds just flying about. Something like that which is really inspiring to work with musically.

Reiniger's animation is dark and magical, and we want to reflect that

It's going to be both live and pre-recorded. We're going to focus on the atmosphere, and of course there will be some narrative synchronised with what's happening, and supporting the story, but as I said we'll be focussing on the atmosphere we find in the films, and put some things under the magnifying glass and bring out more parts in the films rather than going exactly by the narration of it. These are magical and sometimes quite dark atmospheres, because these are Grimm's stories, most of them, and I think we're just going to try and put together a wallpaper of sound, and then put some lines and musical characters over that.

There's a natural link between Lotte Reiniger's films and Amiina

I would believe because some of the sounds and instruments we use are quite timeless. Animations and fairytales also have this timeless quality to them, and we use instruments that don't belong to a certain decade. And it's how we use it, some people think it reminds them of childhood, or some time far away but not exactly knowing where and when. It suits this world of animation, and especially Lotte Reineger, because you know I don't think it will go out of date, even though it's a really simple form of animation.

Disney took the teeth out of animated fairy tales, but they're still important

I really like the Hans Christian Andersen ones, or the Grimm ones, because some people might say that they don't suit children, and that's why Disney have started editing them so they always end happily ever after. I remember being really scared reading a book of Grimm's fairy tales as a child, and it was something that really sticks in your memory. Obviously it's the good and bad battling, but some of them are a little dated, with the message of the little girl who becomes a queen, but I think that fairytales will go on being a big part of children's lives

I want to introduce my daughter to fairy tales

...but I think I'm going to wait a bit for the Hansel and Gretel, because it's really something that scared the hell of me. Even the Lotte Reiniger flms are really dark, and you can feel it today as an adult.

Amiina play their soundtrack to the films of Lotte Reiniger at this weekend's Branchage Film Festival in Jersey. The Quietus will be there blogging from the event, and our film editor David Moats is on the jury for the Branchage Emerging Talent prize. Find our more about Branchage at the Festival website. Lotte Reiniger still courtesy the BFI.