“I am very divided in the face of the current situation. I wake up every morning feeling the pain and the gravity of the situation, the fear, the danger, the loss of loved ones. Because of the restrictions put in place because of the coronavirus, a friend of mine cannot see her mother, who has been diagnosed with cancer. I am sad for people who lose their jobs. I am worried about the migrants who are in refugee camps, so vulnerable…
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At the same time, I am very busy. I have lots of things to store, repair, tinker with. I also have my creative work which does not stop. It’s a pretty good time for me because in the area where I live, in Muswell Hill, in north London, there is an atmosphere of solidarity and peace that I find stimulating and friendly. As when winter comes, families find themselves in the warmth of homes in a friendly atmosphere. That’s how I feel too, a little selfish. In my neighborhood, which is like a village and therefore privileged compared to others, the locals appreciate the brotherhood that the situation creates between friends and neighbors. It feels really good after having lived through the deep divisions born of Brexit.
For me, life does not change too much, apart from the fact that I had to postpone trips for master classes. I am used to working alone for months in my studio, installed in a wooden hut at the bottom of my garden. It is comfortable, with a table that I built myself, a perfect light, the books I need. It’s a very stimulating place to work, my little “sanctuary” isolated from the world.
Loneliness, essential to create
Isolation is an essential condition for me to create. Making an animated film is a collective work, but loneliness is essential when you have to think about a new story or draw illustrations for a book. One of my favorite subjects when doing a master class is creativity. However, I have noticed that many artists need to walk alone in nature, in a museum or a religious building, in order to find themselves.
There is a reason for this. Ideas don’t come out of the blue. Creativity is the collective unconscious. This set of universal symbols brings up, in my case, images that tell a story, like a landscape for example. To get ideas out, distractions should be avoided by being alone, or sometimes by listening to recorded or live music. The wandering mind, the mind calms down and something lights up in our thoughts. It is a very sensitive process, close to a spiritual exercise. Over time, I realized that spirituality is infinitely more important than creativity. Because even if creative sources run dry, spirituality is still there. It gets back to basics, to what matters most in life.
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I have heard artists say that their art is meditation. In my case, it’s different. The art of animation is complex. I try to visualize symbols, but also to solve problems, contradictions. This task is more about concentration, with sometimes a few meditative moments. It is true, however, that I consider that some of my films, such as the short film The aroma of tea, are a form of meditation.
In my life, I have meditated a lot. I did meditation exercises with different Zen Buddhist or Hindu teachers. Meditating does not necessarily consist of sitting in a particular position, but of yielding to the natural desire to abandon oneself to the void, to the silence which, incredibly, is the source of all sounds and all music. As if you were going home, in yourself, without worrying about your worries.
Reconnecting with circular time
The current period can lead us to meditate on linear time and circular time. In the first one, we can project ourselves into the future or the past, as on a timeline. In the second, we feel the present time more by having the impression of living the same cycles, the rituals of everyday life, the cycles of the seasons. Our ancestors lived according to circular time. Time began to be detached from everyday life with the writing of history. The two temporal concepts live simultaneously. With confinement, we are forced to stay at home and reconnect with circular time, the natural rhythm that is more in line with our biological clocks.
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I say this with caution because we are trying to plan things, to predict what will happen after the virus. However, there are still many uncertainties over this coming period. We still have to relearn how to live with the unknown, not to make a problem of it, to accept it calmly. I think it would do us a lot of good. But I am well aware that I have a privileged position because I live in a detached house, I lack nothing, not even toilet paper!
When we are in a situation like today, the deepest desire is to return to normal, to what we experienced before the crisis. This is not enough, in my opinion. In my film Red turtle, the main character, shipwrecked on a desert island, tries to leave it at all costs to find his former life. He ends up accepting his condition when he meets a woman and starts a family. But above all, he realizes that he is no stranger to this island and that he belongs to nature.
Current confinement is very different because we are locked in our homes, but it may be a good time to reflect on our condition. We have passed the point of no return and must change the way we understand the world, develop greater respect for human beings and nature. It is crucial to learn from this period. “
What I rediscover: “The silence and the sounds of nature”
“I rediscovered the silence. It helps me to concentrate better, even if it always takes a little background noise, the ticking of a pendulum for example, to promote it. In the same way, the soundtrack of a film must never contain absolute silence, otherwise the spectator believes that the sound has been cut!
I also rediscovered the song of birds, the sounds of nature and those of everyday life, like the steps of people walking on the street. These are noises that I appreciate more than ever, because they come to inhabit the silence that reigns with the decrease in traffic. Life has slowed down so I have more time to listen.
As a teenager, I saved to buy a coil recorder with microphone to record all the sounds of my environment. All the noises fascinated me. Later, animation cinema allowed me to combine the best of drawing and a sound and musical universe. I also recorded some sound effects by myself Red turtle, like the song of a bird heard in the Tropics. For this film, the absence of dialogues made the sound work, which I wanted very realistic, all the more sensitive. At this moment, it is the silence that highlights the most ordinary noises. “
Michael Dudok de Wit, a multi-print work
June 15, 1953. Born in Abcoude, the Netherlands.
1970s. Studies of art in Geneva then in Farnham, in the south of England.
1978. The Interview, graduation short film.
1992. Tom sweep, pilot of a series that will not see the light of day.
1994. The Monk and the Fish, made in residence at the Folimage studio, in Valence, César for best short film in 1996.
2000. Father and daughter, Oscar for the animated short film and grand prize at the Annecy Festival in 2001.
2006. The aroma of tea, short film.
2016. Red turtle, feature film co-produced by Ghibli studios, special prize “Un certain regard” at the Cannes Film Festival, nominated for the Oscars in 2017. First animated film to be entered in the French baccalaureate program in 2018.