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Interview with Sander Joon, director of Sierra

Friday 29 April 2022, by Elise Loiseau

Parents often push their children to follow their steps. In this case, the father’s obsession with the rally turns the kid into a car tire. Loosely inspired by the director’s childhood, Sierra takes us into the surreal car racing world.


What inspired you to make Sierra, an animation film that deals with the pressures parents can put on their children?

After talking to my friends and acquaintances I found that the pressure from their parents to choose the “right career” is quite common. Especially for those who studied arts or film. Having the pressure from parents to find ways to support yourself is good, but the change of work-field and the generation gap can often lead to pretty big misunderstandings. I’m hoping that the film captures this frustration from both perspectives. The film also shows a couple who have trouble communicating with each other which only makes things worse.

The synopsis mentions you were inspired by your own childhood. Was it cathartic to make the film?

A red Ford Sierra was my first car which was passed around in my family for years before it was finally given to me. This car holds many fond memories and the fact that it was eventually stolen(!) turns the film into a deserved eulogy for the long-gone fellow. Another definite memory is where my father taught me how to ride a motorcycle. He gave me only a few tips on how to do it and set me off. I had no idea what a clutch was, or how gears worked – the things my father told a man should know just by being born as a man. I survived the ride, but I was left quite frustrated. I felt my father was thinking I wasn’t a man enough to do it. The scene where the father teaches his son to drive is inspired by this memory. It’s probably caused by the fact that in post-socialist countries owning a car became not only a symbol of status but of stereotypical masculinity.

There is obviously a universal scope to your film. How would you like the audience to react to your film?

Yes, the goal was to capture a universal feeling. In Sierra, I’m showing the rally through irony and a disconnected family, but I think the overall topic will translate to other fields. I hope the audience can reflect on their conversations about their future with their parents. I’d say that as an art student it would’ve been very helpful for me to see this film, to realize that I’m not alone with my anxieties. While the film is about anxiety and frustration, I wanted the outcome to have a playful touch. The idea of Sierra is essentially miscommunication. This gave me a good opportunity to play around and capture the feeling in my artistic universe – full of irony and dark comedy. In the end, I wanted to create a soothing, happy feeling for the audience.

I have read that Sierra includes fragments of an old 16mm rally-themed puppet your father animated 40 years ago. Can you tell us a bit about this aspect of your film?

The 16mm stop-motion animation is a sort of bridge between me and my father. He used to make lots of home videos with his 16mm film camera. As a quick test, he made this short animation about a car race in his kitchen and bathroom. It’s the only animation he did. And it being about racing was a perfect fit for telling a story about striving to be a successful son or a supporting father. After WRC driver Ott Tänak’s successful career, the dream of becoming a successful rally driver has become a quite recognisable life goal here in Estonia. Seeing my father’s animation as a kid was probably the other cathartic moment for me to become an animator. I remember being amazed by it and it probably led me to believe that I could do animation, too. I’m very happy that I could include it in Sierra. I orchestrated a sort of dance with his animation in the film.

Is there a particular short film that has made a strong impression on you?

David O’Reilly’s Please Say Something (2008). Watching it then and now still feels refreshing. It gave me the confidence to continue making films using only a computer and creates a feeling that there is still a lot to discover in animation and storytelling overall.

What’s your definition of a good film?

For me, a good film brings something new and unexpected to the field, be it either form or a story. When talking about shorts, I feel like filmmakers often take it as a steppingstone to make a feature film. I think they miss out on the chance to go crazy and experiment with their ideas. With shorts, the audience is more open to unclear plots than with feature films.

Any message or comments?

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