37th Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival - April 12-28, 2018In Focus: Ann Marie Fleming

By Jan Willms
Subject: Ann Marie Flemming, director of Window Horses

Ann Marie Fleming’s animated film Window Horses is the story of Rosie Ming who travels with her Chinese grandparents to a poetry festival in Iran, is playing at MSPIFF this year.

Many things in the film have been borrowed from Fleming’s own life, and the lives of so many other people she knows. “The most autobiographical bit is that the poetry festival really stands in for the international film festivals I’ve been invited to, the types of discussions we get to have about art and life, and the wonderful people I’ve met who’ve shared their cultural histories with me,” Fleming noted.

She also has as the heroine “stickgirl,” her avatar. Fleming said she and stickgirl have been making films for almost 30 years. Stickgirl is an animation figure Fleming started drawing many years ago when she had been injured in an accident and was only able to draw short lines. “We’ve made a lot of shorts, webisodes, and an iPhone app. She’s narrated a graphic novel,” Fleming continued. “This is our first feature film together, and her first dramatic role voiced by someone else…the great actress, Sandra Oh.”

Fleming was able to draw together a remarkable cast for her film, including Oh, Ellen Page and Nancy Kwan. “When Sandra got on board, she was able to bring a lot of actors. But she didn’t know Nancy Kwan,” Fleming said. “I thought that Kwan’s voice, because of her specific background, would be the perfect voice for Gloria, Rosie’s grandmother. I remember my aunt, who lives in Honolulu, mentioned that she knew her. I emailed her, and she said Nancy was coming over for dinner that night. She had been invited to Oahu by the Hawaii Film Festival.”

Fleming asked her aunt to ask Kwan if she would be in the film, and she graciously accepted. “I called my mother to tell her,” Fleming said. It was then that she found out that her grandmother had watched Nancy as a baby in Hong Kong, during the war. Kwan had been abandoned by her mother and parked at Fleming’s family’s place by her father, who was a spy and knew her grandfather. “And here she is, playing a character based on my grandmother, in the film. I have to say, I had goosebumps,” related Fleming.

Window Horses was created to bring a message of peace and understanding. “This message is essential in our uncertain times. That’s why I made the film,” she said. “It took years to fundraise and make. It was important then. People say it is more important now. It is always important. We have to remember that we live in cycles. That we are more the same than we are different. That art shows us who we are.”