By Claire Miglionico
CALGARY — Clyde Petersen likes punk rock and two-stepping to live country music. He is a self-proclaimed night owl who never wants to have to wake up before noon or before the mail arrives.
For those who are unfamiliar, Petersen is a Seattle-based multimedia artist. He is an active member of the transgender and queer communities in Seattle and works in film, animation, music and installation. His work has been featured around the world but he may be best recognized for his music videos for indie artists Kimya Dawson, Laura Veirs, The Thermals and Deerhoof, to name a few.
Torrey Pines, Petersen’s first feature-length stop-motion animation is based on his childhood growing up queer in the ‘90s with a schizophrenic single mother in the San Diego area. It is currently a touring theatrical show with a live score provided by Your Heart Breaks, Petersen’s own indie punk-rock band.
The film is a “queer punk coming-of-age tale” that unfolds in a “series of baffling and hallucinated events.” At the age of 12, Petersen is kidnapped by his own mother who, at the time, suffered from untreated paranoid schizophrenia. She takes him on a cross-country road trip that alters his family life forever.
The concept for Torrey Pines was fueled by the song of the same name Petersen wrote and recorded back in 2007 with singer-songwriter friend Kimya Dawson. The name refers to the Torrey Pines State Park where Petersen spent much of his time as a child by the beach it overlooks.
Petersen and Dawson toured the world with the song and people started responding to it favourably. “After the shows, [people] would come tell us stories about their lives; growing up with members of their family experiencing mental health issues, growing up queer, feeling lonely. These were all topics that came through in discussions around the original song,” shares Petersen.
Petersen, who studied ASL (American Sign Language) during the post-production phase of Torrey Pines, decided to focus on the visual “language” of the story rather than having it be driven by dialogue.
“It was important for me to make a film that could cross both geographical borders without a language boundary and tell the story to someone who might be deaf or hard of hearing,” he says.
As a visually-oriented individual himself, Petersen says he wanted the underlying familial tension to be “what is felt most” when it came to the communication portrayed in the film.
Although Torrey Pines comes from a deeply personal period in Petersen’s life, Petersen says he is able to separate himself from his past.
“It’s been a long time since I struggled with identity in such a teenage manner and dealt with familiar struggles in such a way,” he says.
Petersen also believes that, with the Internet, the present-day youth has already been exposed to similar personal stories. “It feels like the topics in Torrey Pines are nothing compared to what’s out in the world for people to find,” he says.
What makes Torrey Pines extra special is the live music Petersen provides with Your Heart Breaks, which is sure to make for a memorable experience.
“I just love when people play live music to a film. My favourite memories of festival events include [2006’s] Guy Maddin’s Brand upon the Brain! being performed with a live Foley team* and narrator,” he says.
Petersen liked it so much that he hired a member of Maddin’s Foley team – soundscape artist Susie Kozawa – to work on Torrey Pines.
All the sounds for Torrey Pines were built by hand. The same goes for the back to basics nature of the overall production. It was shot on a homemade multiplane animation stand. “The camera is mounted on top of a wire frame and shoots down several layers of glass,” says Petersen. Everything is handmade and hand-painted. Glitter, paint and paper were used and very little computer was used to animate.
On his thoughts on what makes animation still relevant to this day, Petersen feels that it is a beautiful and accessible way to tell stories that may be better told without living creatures and a ton of resources.
“Here in Seattle, we have a very strong independent animation scene. There is an organization I help run called SEAT (the Seattle Experimental Animation Team). We put on group shows, make collective films and share resources,” he says.
Petersen’s hope is to take Torrey Pines to Europe, Australia and Japan next.
Torrey Pines with live score by Your Heart Breaks will be playing at The Globe Cinema on Thursday, October 20. This event doubles up as the lineup announcement for this year’s GIRAF animation festival. GIRAF 2016 will take place November 24-27.
* Foley is the reproduction of everyday sound effects that are added to film, video, and other media in post-production to enhance audio quality. These reproduced sounds can be anything from the swishing of clothing and footsteps to squeaky doors and breaking glass. (source: Wikipedia)AB, Alberta, Clyde Petersen, GIRAF, GIRAF 2016, Globe Cinema, LGBT, Torrey Pines, Your Heart Breaks