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Animated drama Breadwinner could earn a haul come awards season

The animated movie is set in Kabul

In a year with a small number of animated films that were both financial and critical successes, the forecast looks sunny for The Breadwinner this awards season.

The animated drama, based on the book by Canadian author Deborah Ellis, is set in Kabul and follows defiant 11-year-old Parvana (voiced by Saara Chaudry), who disguises herself as a boy to help support her family after the Taliban captures and arrests her father.

Ellis wrote the novel after working in Pakistan refugee camps, where she had access to the stories of courageous Afghan women. In some of those tales, girls cut their hair and took on a new identity so that they could buy food at the markets – a freedom only allowed to men during years of Taliban rule.

However, an inspiring story about female resistance in the Middle East was not always an easy sell, admits producer Andrew Rosen of Toronto’s Aircraft Pictures.
After securing the rights to Ellis’ novel in 2009, Rosen and producing partner Anthony Leo spent a couple years trying to get a live-action version made, before deciding on a new path.

“The book was for kids nine to 12 years old,” Rosen tells The CJN. “We wanted the film to be for them as well.… So then, we thought, let’s do it animated.”
Rosen cites the Oscar-nominated Persepolis, also about a young girl navigating tumultuous changes in the Middle East, as one influence.

The producers soon got in touch with the animators at Irish studio Cartoon Saloon, the company behind Oscar-nominated Song of the Sea and The Secret of Kells.
Nora Twomey, co-director of Kells, got a copy of Ellis’ book and was soon helming The Breadwinner.


Rosen says the time is right for this feminist story, which also features women in many key creative roles. Besides Twomey, Anita Doron wrote the screenplay and Ellis gets a story credit.

Meanwhile, one of the executive producers is Angelina Jolie, who has helped to fund schools and promote education for girls in Afghanistan.
The film currently plays in Toronto and Vancouver, and is set to expand to other Canadian markets beginning Dec. 8.

Rosen says that although the film has intense and violent scenes, The Breadwinner is good family viewing, as it opens up discussions about serious matters with children.

“Seeing movies like this gets you to empathize with other cultures,” he says. “It shows how special film can be, to create a dialogue for kids.”
There were many key Canadian contributions to The Breadwinner. Animators at Toronto’s Guru Studio worked on the film, while the entire voice cast consists of Canadian actors. Laara Sadiq (Remedy) and comedian Ali Badshah give terrific vocal performances as Parvana’s mother and father.

Even with Jolie’s pedigree helping sell the film alongside good reviews, The Breadwinner could have a hill to climb when it comes to securing an Oscar nomination for animated feature.

A new rule revealed this spring will give any Academy member the chance to nominate films in this category. In past years, a small animation branch got to select the five nominees. This update could mean that popular studio fare may receive more votes due to their notoriety and exposure.

Nevertheless, Rosen says the animated drama still has a good shot at getting nominated.

“You still have to sign up for the committee and promise that you’ll see all the (animated) films,” he explains. “GKIDS, who’s our (American) distributor,… they’ve taken a very aggressive stance to make sure we’re out there.”
The Breadwinner may also shine at the Canadian Screen Awards in March. Rosen says the Canadian academy recently allowed the producers to submit the voice actors into the feature acting categories.

“We actually recorded the faces (of the actors) when we were filming them for the animators, so the animators could (use) those expressions,” Rosen says. “I just want them to get the recognition that they deserve.”