Junior Reporter: Raise Your Words, Not Voices

March 9, 2018

Junior Reporter Maisy B. wrote about the Bay Area International Children’s Film Festival and the movie “Breadwinner”. Maisy says, “I would definitely recommend this movie to anyone eleven years of age and older. It is beautiful and thought-provoking but quite a difficult subject that might upset younger kids. It is a really well told and important story. As Parvana’s father says, “Raise your words, not your voices; it is rain, not thunder, that makes the flowers grow.”

Well said, Maisy!


The Bay Area Children’s Film Festival was held at the Chabot Space & Science Center in Oakland, California. This year, the weekend-long festival celebrated its tenth anniversary with a variety of movies made both for and by kids. The movie The Breadwinner was shown as part of the festival.

The Breadwinner is a feature-length animation based on the novel of the same name by Deborah Ellis. Ellis wrote her book after spending time in refugee camps in Pakistan talking with Afghan women. Set in 2001, it is the inspiring story of an eleven-year-old girl named Parvana growing up under the Taliban in Afghanistan.

A main theme of the movie is the power that stories have to help us in difficult times. “Stories remain in our hearts even when all else is gone … everything changes and stories remind us of that.”

The Taliban movement took control of most of Afghanistan, creating many unfair rules that everybody had to follow. In the story, when Parvana’s father is wrongfully arrested, she cuts her hair and dresses like a boy in order to provide for her family. She draws strength from the characters in the stories her father told her, which gives her the courage to look for him. The film has been nominated for an Oscar. The Breadwinner was made by Cartoon Saloon and directed by Nora Towmey. Cartoon Saloon is based in Kilkenny, Ireland. Their previous films include Song of the Sea and The Book of Kells, both of which I highly recommend.

As part of the festival, at the end of the movie, I was lucky enough to see a presentation by assistant director Stuart Shankly. Stuart walked the audience through the making of the film. He talked about why the film did not have a narrator. He said, “Narration in a film gives order … this needed to be unsettling.” However, it was important to include things that we all relate to, like eating, arguing with siblings, shyness, and the need to seek a safe place. He went through the stages of production from storyboards to scene planning. He then talked about animation, including adding shadows to build up the layers that make the movie come to life. Art direction for the film was difficult to research because, as shown in the movie, the Taliban did not allow photographs. Filmmakers asked Afghan people who had lived in the country at that time to be consultants. They tried to capture the mood of this gritty war-torn place using muted colors.

At first they used watercolor but changed to gouche to give more hard edges. When Parvana escaped to the stories in her mind, Stuart said that they wanted it to be like a second universe in the film. They used a different style based on paper cut-outs and brighter colors to make these fairy tales be completely different from the rest of the film. For the voices of the characters, the filmmakers went to Toronto where there is a large Afghan community—they wanted to cast actors with the correct dialect.

I asked Stuart if he always wanted to become an animator? This made him laugh, and he said that before he was seventeen, he didn’t know what an animator was. It was only when someone came to talk at his school that he learned what an animator does

. He had always liked reading comic books and drawing his own comics. Now he likes collaborating with other people and, most importantly, the storytelling part of being an animator.

I would definitely recommend this movie to anyone eleven years of age and older. It is beautiful and thought-provoking but quite a difficult subject that might upset younger kids. It is a really well told and important story. As Parvana’s father says, “Raise your words, not your voices; it is rain, not thunder, that makes the flowers grow.”

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