by Nancy Powell
Canadian-born and Berkeley-based filmmaker Trevor Jimenez’s Weekends runs a little over fifteen minutes long, but it is a breathtakingly mature film that satisfies on aesthetic and emotional levels. Set in 1980s Toronto, the film follows the emotional struggles of a young boy as he shuttles between his divorced parents’ homes. Since its debut, Weekends has captured a number of festival awards, including the Directors Prize at the SPARK Animate Film Festival, the Best Short Film Jury and Audience Awards at the Annecy International Film Festival, Best Animated Short from the Warsaw Film Festival and the Grand Jury Prize at the Nashville Film Festival. Weekends is Trevor’s first professional film and a labor of love that took nearly a decade to come to fruition. The Beat sat down with Trevor to talk about the making of the film.
Nancy Powell: Congratulations on the Annie nomination for Weekends!
Trevor Jimenez: Thank you.
Powell: Was it surprising…or expected?
Jimenez: Not expected–it was surprising, I think. There’s always a chance that you could get nominated when you apply, but it’s always good news and exciting when you find out about it.
Powell: Did you expect this level of critical acclaim?
Jimenez: No [laughing]! I think my focus is just making the film. I’ve been working on it for ten years before, and it was this thing I really cared about for a long time. I just focused on making it something that I was proud of, and then once I released it out maybe play it at a few festivals and win a couple of awards, but not what it’s done. It has really surpassed expectations.
Powell: How long did the project take from start-to-finish?
Jimenez: In 2007, I did a drawing of a kid walking from his mom’s house to his dad’s car, and there wasn’t a story at all. It was just based on my experiences and the memories of my parents. That initiated conversations with friends. I started sharing more of my stories about my dad, and that was when I thought it could be short. I drew in my sketchbook a bunch, did some storyboards. I didn’t work seriously on it for three years. Then five years ago I wrote a script for it, and from there it really started to steamroll.
Powell: The film uses a minimalist style. There are no words, but the result comes across as intimate and very emotional. Was the subject drawn from personal experience?
Jimenez: Yeah, the film is based on a lot of personal memories growing up with divorced parents. There are specifics, like how my mom’s house felt or the antiques at my dad’s apartment. The red horse was something I had in my dad’s bedroom. I wanted to capture that time for me, and also capture the experience of being confused, of trying to figure things out when your parents split at a young age. I just always like when things are left unspoken. I always envisioned it not having dialogue, just being quiet and matter-of-fact.
Powell: I loved how you captured that adoring look with each parent at different stages of the kid’s travels, but there is also a sense of loneliness, especially when each parent finds their respective partner.
Jimenez: I think that’s an honest feeling you have when you grow up with divorced parents. The two people are trying to figure out their lives post-divorce, which is normal. And as a kid it can feel isolated at times. But you sort of understand them as you get older. You get achy about it, but it’s more confusing. Especially being an only kid, there were no siblings around. Just the nature of that means that you’re on your own a lot, which is okay. There’s a lot that comes out of being alone and being by yourself. I never would want the film to feel sad, but honest. The kid kind of characterizes things, like the raccoon. His imagination is very alive. Those things aren’t depressing to me.
Powell: People coming from broken homes and non-broken homes have very different experiences of the film, which is wonderful.
Jimenez: It’s a specific experience. I’ve had people that haven’t grown up with divorced parents relate to or just really understand it. And with some people I think it does come across more sad. But I was never trying to make a sad movie. I just wanted to capture the kind of raw experience, what it really feels like. But to me it’s surprising, it’s weird, and it’s funny. Sometimes it’s sad. Really, it’s like anyone else’s childhood.
Powell: Let’s talk about animation techniques. You come from a Pixar background, but there’s an underlying simplicity that provokes such a strong emotional response. Can you talk about the artistic choices you made while creating this film.
Jimenez: It’s just the way I draw and the way Chris, my production designer, likes to paint. It’s not like we had this intent. We knew we wanted to make something that felt rough, like how childhood feels–impressionistic and really raw and emotional. And I only know how to animate 2D. I don’t know how to CG-animate, so that kind of limited it to being a 2D-animated film. Once we started working with the met-scope it was how do we want this 2D-animated film with drawings to look? Are they going to be refined, Disney-like designs, or are we going to go for something different. A lot of inspiration came from Michael Dudok de Wit, the director of Father and Daughter, and The Red Turtle. Paul Fierlinger was another big one for me too. He made a bunch of independent animated films, and his drawings are lot rougher and the animation not as smooth, but have a lot of emotion. I looked at that stuff and thought that’s what I want to do, too.
Powell: How did Chris Sasaki become involved in the project?
Jimenez: It was really cool. I had shown the film in animatic form to a few friends, and I showed it to Chris. We were friends, but not super close. I showed it to him at work, and he really liked it. His wife Megan also really liked it and wanted him to be a part of it. This pushed him to start doing a few paintings on the side for the film. At the beginning it was more exploratory and then evolved from there. He got more and more invested in the film as he started painting, and he figured out that he wanted to work on it more. It evolved into him figuring out the whole look of the film. Originally he was going to be doing some concept pieces for me, and I was going to paint it. It became obvious after a few paintings that I really needed him for the film and that he really wanted to work on the film. It was just a matter of finding the time, but that that’s how our relationship evolved. It was really amazing working with him.
Powell: Do you plan on working with Chris again?
Jimenez: I would love to work with Chris again! We work so well together, It pretty rare to have that combination. We have different strengths, and we really speak the same language. He makes me a better visual artist and I think I bring out his storytelling, so that’s great. We’re learning from each other, but also complementing each other.
Powell: Let’s talk about the music. You have two extremes going on–the classical, quieter comments with the mother which turns violent with her boyfriend. This contrasts with the father playing Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing,” the more stable parent until he meets his partner and neglects the boy.
Jimenez: It’s based off personal stuff again. My dad listened to that Dire Straits album in the car when he would pick me up, the same album every time. I remember hearing “Money for Nothing” and associating that with our rides together, so early on I always knew I wanted that song to introduce his place, his home. My mom always played piano in the home. She didn’t play that Satti song, but she played a lot of classical music and some musicals like Phantom of the Opera. That would always be in the house growing up. That actually filters more organically later to be a strong counter theme. I always envisioned the mom playing the piano in the film, but it kind of grew to where she was always playing. The story really evolved towards these two anthems, one fading and one growing stronger and more confident. That for me was a way to look at the structure of the film and helped consolidate everything. The dad has this song at the beginning, and it’s really loud and pulsing. Then it fades away until the dream at the end when it’s more echoey and empty. The mom is making mistakes playing music. She grows to a place where she can play it fluidly. I just like the growth and this distance with the dad’s and kid’s relationship. Music would represent both of those things. Music is such a huge player. That’s why those songs were so important for me.
Powell: Let’s say you hear your name and your film announced during the Oscar nominations. Where does Trevor Jimenez go from there?
Jimenez: I don’t know [laughing]. I can’t plan too far ahead. It’s never been in my DNA. If something feels good in the moment, then I’ll pursue it. I’ve wanted to do this film for 10 years. I finally finished it. I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next. I have other things I’m working on. Other personal ideas I want to do at some point. But just keeping on those, whichever one of those surfaces and needs to be made, I’ll pursue that.