The fourth annual Staff Pick Award at the Ottawa International Animation Festival (Sept 22-Oct 3, 2021) goes to the coming-of-age film, “Ten, Twenty, Thirty, Forty, Fifty Miles a Day” by Mathieu Georis. Using an arduous, but gorgeous glass painting technique, Georis juxtaposes a personal story of his time in the Boy Scouts against evocative monochrome colors to build place, time, and subtext.

For many young kids, camping is a carefree and exploratory experience. Games are invented, friendships are formed, and nature is investigated. However, because of the close quarters and juvenile attitudes, being different can be a nerve-wracking experience. In “Ten, Twenty, Thirty, Forty, Fifty Miles a Day,” Georis explores the internal trappings of one boy’s bashful bladder. Unable to pee in front of his fellow scouts, the young boy attempts to distract himself with a slug and a game of “Red light, Green light.” At night, when no one is looking, he wets his sleeping bag, but with no one looking, his bag seems free to run away itself. Once the bag is found, this playful and personal story comes to a remarkable conclusion, highlighting the efficiency and storytelling prowess of this young director.

In lieu of dialogue, Georis relied on simple gestural lines and monochromatic backgrounds to imbue meaning and movement. This technique, mixed with the glass painting animation style, lend an air of dreaminess, nostalgia, and memory. In one memorable scene, the young boy uses an old squeeze action flashlight that tentatively rushes onto screen like a searing pee stream or slug’s mucus trail. The images, colors, and story are purposeful and evocative and we can’t wait to see what you think. If you’d like to see more, we can’t recommend Georis’ earlier Staff Pick “Alfred Fauchet, à droite, à gauche.”

Ahead of the release, we reached out to director Mathieu to see how the film came together and what it means to him.

On inspiration:

“The slug was the starting point for my film. I was mainly inspired by two characteristics related to its movement: it can travel up to 1.5 km in one night and it needs water to move, leaving a trace on its path (mucus). These two biological facts guided me throughout the development of the story.”

On personal experiences:

“It’s a mixture of different personal experiences. I composed it based on memories of my experience as a child in the scouts, but I had never played with slugs. The experience I had with gastropods is more recent. It was three years ago, it was a hot day so the slugs were underground, so I took a snail and put it on a leaf. I tried to watch it without blinking. After 15 minutes it had gone through the whole leaf. It had moved without me actually seeing it move. This gave rise to the idea of a “green light, red light” game with a gastropod.”

On the animation style:

“The film was made using glass painting. It’s a very slow technique that I thought was appropriate to experiment with for this subject. It allowed me to highlight several elements in the story: the slime aspect of the slug, the relief of the set, the light, the mucus.”

“I tried to be as accurate as possible in the body language of the children and the movement of the slug, while leaving the brush strokes visible. Thanks to the paint, the animation had to be delicate in the movements and more spontaneous in the lines.”

On the color palette:

“Each scene has its own color depending on the place or time of day. In fact, it was a matter of taking the dominant color of a place, of a moment, and blurring it over the whole set, like an imprecise, diffuse memory. In my opinion, memory acts chemically with colors in the same way that the sun absorbs the covers of books that are exposed to the window for too long.”

On the ending:

“I had done ten endings with ten different ideas before I came to this one. Once I had the idea, I started painting straight away the next day. The ending was an extra source of motivation to move forward with my film.”

On advice for aspiring filmmakers:

“I think we should be more interested in things we don’t understand. the filmmakers must accept his/her ignorance in order to develop his curiosity.”

On what’s next:

“I do some commissions like music videos. I’m currently working on an animated docu-drama with the filmmaker Théo Hanosset which will examine the place of folklore in a region of Belgium where neighborhood life is disappearing, and villages have become nothing but dormitories.”

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