This week’s Staff Pick Premiere comes from Estonian animator Chintis Lundgren, a 4-time Staff Pick alumni. The film, “Toomas Beneath the Valley of the Wild Wolves,” exists in Lundgren’s unusually charming, interconnected world of anthropomorphic animals. 

As the title suggests, this short focuses on Toomas, a sexy wolf plumber who has made appearances in Lundgren’s “Manivald” and “Life with Herman H. Rott.” In this latest depiction, the newly unemployed Toomas must figure out how to support his family without burdening his pregnant wife, who is also struggling with her own disillusionment. After a number of false starts and unexpected sexual advances, Toomas realizes his value and secretly starts working as a “Deluxe Plumber,” who fixes faucets and lays pipe as the local gigolo. Vivi, his wife, also finds herself flipping a script when she joins a female empowerment group that utilizes BDSM and male sex slaves. 

While the premise may sound salacious, the execution is decidedly playful, with a homegrown feel and off-kilter humor. Lundgren, a self-taught animator, has never let anyone tell her what she could or couldn’t animate or joke about. She founded Adriatic Animation, an independent studio in Croatia, with her creative partner Draško Ivezić when traditional opportunities didn’t arise. On this film, they did everything from write, produce, direct and even voice the two main characters of Toomas (Ivezić) and Vivi (Lundgren). 

Ahead of the release, we reached out to Chintis about her process, inspiration, and style. 

On inspiration:

“After making ‘Manivald,’ which was kind of a kammerspiele, quiet and not too full of action, I just wanted to make something more wild and crazy for a change. A big inspiration for ‘Toomas Beneath the Valley of the Wolves’ were the films of Russ Meyer and especially his ‘Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. ‘This is also how my film (and the posters on Alejandro’s wall) got its name. I love that moment where Z-man Barzell goes crazy and the (so far quite mellow) film suddenly turns into horror. That was the inspiration for the moment where Alejandro goes berserk and starts to chase Toomas.”

On the writing process and humor:

“I think the humor just comes from growing up in the Soviet Union, watching a ton of Priit Pärn films every night before bed. Humor is not something I try to put in my films in a conscious way, it’s just the only way I know to approach storytelling.

The last three films I have written together with Draško Ivezić. We also live together, so that makes the process quite organic. Sometimes we wake up during the night and start making changes to the script. It was a bit difficult for me in the beginning to let someone else interfere in my stories. But my films have become way better since I met him, so I think that it was a good decision. In terms of the process, usually I’m the one who starts. Then I present it to Draško and he always has something to say about it. We fight and scream and break all the furniture. Then I rewrite it. Sometimes it’s him who rewrites it. And then I rewrite what he wrote in my own way. And like that for a million years. Or until it’s ready.”

On style and being self-taught:

I developed it by being really bad at drawing. Even though I used to be a painter, I always hated drawing. (Not the same thing at all!) I didn’t really expect that I would one day be making animated films.

I think being self-taught is an asset. They say you should first learn the craft and then later you can break the rules. But in my experience once you know the ‘right’ way of doing something, it becomes the easy way out and there’s no pressure to find a different way to express yourself. But if you don’t know what the ‘right’ way is, then you’re forced to experiment and you might end up with something unique. You can always learn the rules later.”

On challenges faced:

“The challenge is always time. I was so much behind schedule with the production of this film (because of a million rewrites) that I had already accepted the film will not be done in time for the deadlines for Annecy and Animafest. But since Annecy accepts works in progress we decided to submit an animatic and see what happens. And it was accepted. After that the challenge was to finish the animation before the festival. And to write reassuring emails to festival programmers.”

What is your best piece of advice to aspiring filmmakers?

“My advice to aspiring filmmakers is to just do it. Don’t spend too much time on your first film. It’s better to make a bad film than to spend seven years (some people have!) making a film, which in the end might not be any better. And you learn a lot more from mistakes than from making a perfect film. And then move on and make another one.

Also, pitch your idea and show your animatic to a lot of people. Feedback is invaluable.”

What’s next? Any upcoming projects? 

“Me and Draško have been working on the development of a TV series for adults, called ‘Manivald and the Absinthe Rabbits.’ Toomas is also one of the main characters there. We have just finished writing tons of material for it. All we miss is George Harrison (‘The Life of Brian from Monty Python’ connection). A broadcaster would work too.” 

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