A Passion for Puppetry: Interview with Alba E Garcia-Rivas

Alba E Garcia-Rivas is a film director from Puerto Rico with a passion for puppetry in all forms. We caught up with her to find out where her fascination with puppet animation started and how her love for Puerto Rico has influenced her work.

You are an animation director, animator and artist who works primarily in stop motion. How did you get started and what appeals to you about stop motion animation?  Is it popular in Puerto Rico?

It all started in my childhood, when my father worked in a TV station and he taught me his love for film. I got to learn with him the tricks of the trade so to speak. For example: green screen, camera angles, special effects. I started as an oil painter at age 8, then did exhibitions and sold my artwork pieces at age 16. This got me into college and I studied Fine Arts, including acting. When I was at the University of Puerto Rico, I saw that computer animation was the thing to study, and the university didn’t have any computer courses at the time, so off I went to New York and graduated with a second Fine Arts Degree in Film, Video, and Animation. Here I won the Outstanding Dusty Film Festival Award at School of Visual Arts, NY. And no, stop-motion is not popular in Puerto Rico. I  learned about it when I went to SVA, NY.

Your latest stop motion film in production is ‘Dangerously Ever After’.  Can you tell us about the film?

As I was completing work on my short stop-motion film, Time Space Reflections, my 7-year-old daughter showed me a copy of a book she loved so much, she’d memorised it word for word. As a girl who loves science, magic, and danger, she found a kindred spirit in Princess Amanita. “Mommy, can you animate this book?” she asked.  

The book spoke to me as well. The beautiful botanical illustrations, the wild costumes, the danger and whimsy and, most of all, the message of acceptance, openness and joy. Princess Amanita looked like one of my own creations. I knew we had to make this movie — to inspire girls like my daughter to be the stars of their own dangerous and beautiful adventures.

Not all princesses are made of sugar and spice–some are made of funnier, fiercer stuff.

Princess Amanita laughs in the face of danger. Brakeless bicycles, pet scorpions, spiky plants–that’s her thing. So when quiet Prince Florian gives her roses, Amanita is unimpressed . . . until she sees their glorious thorns! Now she must have rose seeds of her own. But when huge, honking noses grow instead, what is a princess with a taste for danger to do? Well, she goes on a QUEST! This is an award winning picture book and the author Dashka Slater and I partnered to make it happen.

Stop-motion has a unique energy. It’s warmer and more intimate than computer-generated animation, imbued with the magic of solid, three-dimensional objects and the mystery of a doll’s house. Stop-motion allows artists to create miniature worlds and bring them to life with the freshness and playfulness of children but the artistry and technical wizardry of adults.  It takes up to two days to make 24 seconds of animation. But the result is like no other form of animation. 

You have also recently directed a live action puppetry film ‘Dak’toká Taíno’ (‘I am Taíno’).  Can you tell us about that?

I was animating my fourth film when Heather Henson (Jim Henson’s daughter and founder of Ibex Puppetry) asked me if I would be interested in making a short puppet film about my Taíno culture.  Soon after that conversation, on September 17th 2017, Hurricane María hit Puerto Rico and her winds were between category 4 and 5, which is extremely dangerous. It was  a shock to us all. Hurricane María destroyed homes, plantations and it is estimated that 4,645 people died. I was devastated for my Puerto Rico, the land were I grew up,  and the land I love.  We saw how the Trump administration abandoned  their own American, Puerto Rican citizens. During the making of the film I reconnected with my Taíno heritage, as my grandmothers were Taíno. Now, I have a daughter and I have a responsibility to teach her my culture, our ancestral Taino language and our traditions.

Stop motion takes years in the making, while in less than 9 months we finished the I am Taíno live puppetry film with 4 days of shooting. The live puppetry was shot at the Carriage house, Jim Henson’s house; it was such an honour to be there and feel the creative energy of the space.

What’s next? 

I am Taíno, Dak’toká Taíno was so successful that it won 3 awards and now we are trying to qualify for the Oscars 2020. I just partnered again with Heather Henson to do a new film! This one is a dark fantasy about the detention camps in Texas. We are using silicon monster animatronic design and a mix between puppets and actors.  Can’t talk that much about it but it is definitely an activism piece. I guess I found my voice by telling meaningful stories and helping mankind. 

Interview with Emma Windsor

To find out more about Alba’s work, visit the Fantasiation website: www.fantasiation.com and find out all the latest news on Twitter and YouTube.

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