Genevieve Anderson on Passion Projects, Wrangling Puppets, and the Importance of Community

“If it won’t leave you, then don’t leave it.”

Twelve years ago, a friend handed Genevieve Anderson a copy of Bohumil Hrabal’s Too Loud a Solitude and suggested it would be perfect for “one of your puppet films.” The award-winning filmmaker and director was enchanted by the book, which tells the story of a reclusive paper crusher who rescues banned works of literature from the paper mill, from its very first passages.

“The book gets at the core of the beauty in any form: it is as vital as it is ephemeral, and it is the one thing that we all understand, regardless of our affiliations or circumstances,” she says.

Hanta, the protagonist of “Too Loud a Solitude”

Anderson had already made three films using puppets — 1998’s Boxed, which won a jury award at the Berlin Film Festival, Sunlight (2000), and Ola’s Box of Clovers (2004) — and she felt Too Loud a Solitude’s lyrical imagery and themes of imagination and escapism would lend themselves beautifully to a fourth. Supported by a grant from the Rockefeller Media Artist Foundation, she created a seventeen-minute film adaptation. Actor Paul Giamatti lent his voice to the puppet protagonist, Hanta.

Now, with the support of a global community of fans, Anderson is adapting this beloved novella into a feature film, with Paul Giamatti reprising the voice of Hanta. Here, Anderson tells us more about her twelve-year journey to make this film and offers advice for aspiring filmmakers who might be undertaking similar, seemingly sisyphean labors of love.

Rebecca Hiscott

“Lost in my dreams, I somehow cross at the traffic signals, bumping into street lamps or people, yet moving onward, exuding fumes of beer and grime, yet smiling, because my briefcase is full of books and that very night I expect them to tell me things about myself I don’t know.”
—from “Too Loud a Solitude”

Her introduction to puppetry

“I was studying movement theater in Mexico, and I had a harrowing experience in a remote village where I was hunted for many hours by a person who wanted to kill me. I thought I was going to die. I didn’t die. When I came home I created Boxed, my first film using puppets, as a way to process that experience.

I was introduced to bunraku puppetry — which is three puppeteers on one puppet — through a friend of mine. He took me to a performance of a show called One Thousand Cranes in Sacramento, CA. It was captivating. There was something about this disembodied life force that came into the puppet body through the collaborative effort of these puppeteers that was pure magic.

The desire to express what had happened to me is what informed the technique. The impulse was kind of a life-and-death impulse. The puppets convey something that no other medium can.”

Why puppets are perfect for “Too Loud a Solitude”

Too Loud a Solitude is a story that occurs primarily in the imagination of Hanta. The book is situated in and bookended by real time, but in between are Hanta’s memories, fantasies, and hallucinations. It is perfect for puppets and animation because these forms allow us to weave in and out of real time and reality elegantly and fluidly, as in dreaming.

Even though the book was written in a very specific historical context, the themes Hrabal is working with — loss, love, the persistence of indomitable ideas, the inevitability of progress — are universal and timeless. I feel we have better access to the full scope of these themes when they are unhinged from physical reality.”

“… when I read, I don’t really read; I pop a beautiful sentence into my mouth and suck it like a fruit drop, or I sip it like a liqueur until the thought dissolves in me like alcohol, infusing brain and heart and coursing on through the veins to the root of each blood vessel.”
— from “Too Loud a Solitude”

Connecting with a global community of fans

“One of the things that kept this project alive when it went dormant was the community of people around the world who sent me emails about how much they love the book. That community had to be engaged in the filmmaking process, and with Kickstarter we can now do that.

Ted Hope, in his book Hope for Film, writes about how film communities need to come together to create the content they want to watch. We can create the communities that we want to inhabit, and we can participate in the content that fills those communities. There’s this beautiful give and take [between creators and backers] that I find almost spiritual.”

Costume and set design sketches

Advice for independent filmmakers pursuing passion projects

“Perhaps my only real advice is that if it won’t leave you, then don’t leave it. In my experience, you only do this work if you have to. Otherwise it is too difficult, too expensive, too uncertain. It is an act of faith from beginning to end. Sometimes, as in my case with this particular film, it can go on for years. In my opinion, any creative endeavor worth its salt is a hero’s journey, to borrow from Joseph Campbell.

It’s so expensive to do anything creative. You have to be impractical to want to make a thing, and the part of you that’s impractical has to be nurtured and fed. The reasonable voice will kill the unreasonable voice if you don’t find a safe place for the artistic impulse to live and thrive. Over the years I’ve been lucky to have a team of people who really related to what I was doing. Ideas are vulnerable and delicate, so it’s important to find the people who can help protect your idea. Keep looking for your people.”

Anderson on set

Making art is hard

“The Kickstarter campaign is kind of like childbirth. You have to work so hard. Then again, I feel like it should be hard. Making a work of art is hard. You have to recommit every day. You have to go, ‘Why am I doing this?’ The people out there want to hear that — they want to hear why it’s important. Anything worthwhile is challenging.”

Too Loud a Solitude is live on Kickstarter until Nov. 2.