Film

Stairs to No End: Interview with Daniella Koffler

by Joy Bernard | 14.04.16

In a mere 6 minutes, director Daniella Koffler has managed to guide viewers into the multi-faceted, charmed, quirky and emotional journey her young heroine goes through: “The stairs of knowledge lead to the light. A curious girl in a dark world tries to reach it, but must face those for whom light is an obstacle.” Prepare to fall in love with the puzzling odyssey of a young girl full of questions, doubts and hope.

We had an interesting conversation with Daniella Koffler, who took us into the depths of her creative magic.

Hi Daniella! Please tell our Telavivians a bit more about you.

Daniella: “My name is Daniella Koffler. I’m a visual storyteller. That is- I’m an animation artist and director.

I was born in Jerusalem and studied at the Hebrew University. After I graduated, I realized that I must follow my heart and my true calling. So after I finished writing my Master’s thesis I started another first degree at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design. I graduated from the Screen-Based Arts Department in 2011, and have been an animation artist ever since, working as a director, screenwriter and designer.

I’ve also co-founded the first Israeli online magazine to introduce animation to the Israeli audience.  I’m among the three editors of the site: moonfash.com

Currently, I’m directing and producing a German-Israeli animation co-production based on my relationship with my father. It’s about a young Israeli woman who wants to move to Berlin, and her father, whose parents are Holocaust survivors, objects her decision very much.

I don’t limit myself to animation only. Another project of mine that I’m truly proud of are my hand-crafted material art-boxes that I sell in several galleries in Israel and abroad: www.daniellakoffler.com.

Your film exudes a very mystic and mysterious air, where most things are implied rather than said. Could you please expand a bit on the plot? What is the story that you wanted to tell? What is the message that you want the viewers to get?

Daniella: “In Stairs to No End I aimed to create an atheistic children’s tale for kids and adults.

The plot is quite simple – a curious girl lives in a dark world, she is very attached to her uncle who travels the world and encourages her to explore and research everything. One day, a light beam appears in her dark world. The girl feels they should research it and understand it, but her father who is the village leader thinks differently – he convinces people that the light is a religious sign of some sort and they should worship it, not understand it in any scientific way.

The father creates a religion around the light, and the girl is the only one who refuses to participate in it. She must find a way to get to the light and true nature of things, even if her father and the rest of the world object to it.

The world around us, every aspect of it, is so complex and beautiful. And the way to obtain knowledge is like stairs – you start with a one step and work your way up. I wanted to encourage people to see that. To go that marvelous way of learning, of experiencing new things and looking for their truth.”

If I’m not mistaken, it’s your voice that’s doing the narration. How did you decide to lend your own voice to the story? Is it because of your personal connection to it?

Daniella: “Yes, it is my own voice as the girl-narrator in the film. This was the second film where I used my own voice as a narrator, after I tried several voice actors, including young girls, and it just didn’t sound right. I guess it was simply easier to direct myself in this film. I was the one who wrote the text so I felt like I could provide the delivery that was closest to my own original vision.”

Why did you decide to construct the narrative the way you did- poetic, a little ambiguous? How did you make the decision to make your film in animation?

Daniella: “The “choice” of animation was a no brainer – I’m an animation artist.  

I love creating my own worlds and to combine in them bits and pieces from the ‘real world’ like in this case – the real eyes of the characters. I feel I’m getting the best of of both worlds this way.

Once I decided to write a children’s tale for adults, and set the visual tone to be something like Tove Jansson meeting her dark side (the Moomin Valley meets it’s dark side..) it was a smooth sail. The tale just told itself.

In terms of the design it was really important to us to create a world that is identified with no specific religion. So we took the liberty to get inspired by them all at the same time. You can find in the film references from all 3 monotheistic religions and some aspects are taken from non-religious but fascist regimes…”

The film’s main theme is the complex, emotionally-wrought relationship between a father and his young daughter, but the relationship between the two is also symbolic of many things: the struggle between curiosity and censorship, dark versus light, curiosity versus narrow-mindedness and so on. How did you choose that sort of relationship?

Daniella: ”It was obvious from day one that the protagonist would be a young woman. If for no other reason, than for the reason that women suffer the most from censorship in institutionalized religions. Can you think of a single monotheistic religion where women are not told what to do, how to be, what to wear etc?

I was very inspired by Ayan Hirsi Ali’s biography “Heretic” where she tells her own story with Islam. But growing up in Jerusalem, I saw many women who dealt with the same issues in Judaism. Later on, after being screened at festivals and when the film became a Vimeo Staff pick, I received e-mails from several girls and women from very religious Christian communities around the world who felt the girl represented them well too, so I feel I’ve achieved my original goal of creating a film where all monotheistic religions are sort of “blamed equally” in blocking women, curiosity and search of the truth. For the most part, men are the religious leaders and hold the authority and the last say in how one should live in religious societies.

So it made sensethat the antagonist is a man who has power on everyone’s lives in the film, especially the main character. It’s often very complicated to oppose someone whom you love and is close to you, like in the girl’s case, her father. But if you know he is wrong – I think you should oppose and go your own way. Life is too short to live someone else’s dreams.”

Please share an especially uplifting and/or challenging moment from the work process.

Daniella: “Both uplifting and challenging was the part where we decided to challenge ourselves with the real eyes of the 3D characters.

I wanted to have this in the film to give them a strong human expression. As you can see, eye actors did a fabulous job, very expressive. But technically it was a nightmare. We had to find the right way to video shoot the actors, not to have a single shadow on the faces that we didn’t need and so on. After we solved that, came the part where I searched for the perfect eyes for the girl. And believe it or not – every female actor just wasn’t right for her. So eventually we ended up understanding that eyes are the most androgenic part of our faces.

The girl’s eyes are actually male eyes, the uncle’s eyes are actually female’s eyes. And it’s truly about the character of the actor/actress’s attitude – they really resemble the character they play – gender had nothing to do with it….”

I love the music in the background! It really adds a lot to the suffocating, anxious air of mystery and doubt. Who composed it?

Daniella: “The music is the work of talented musician-designer Eitan Shefer. He also produced the film with me. I’ll let him add his own thoughts.”

Eitan: “The film’s soundtrack was made to work with the environmental setting of the film. It sounds tribal and has various religious motifs that are not necessarily affiliated with a specific religion. The musical elements are synthesized instruments that sound like traditional instruments but which can not be recognized as specific instruments, specifically for this reason.

To help achieve the fairy tale feeling of the narrative the various elements of the soundtrack are fused together, where the music acts also as environmental sounds, follows the actions of the actors and becomes descriptive of the world, which does not sound like the ‘real world’ but is detached from what we are familiar with.”

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Watch ‘Stairs to No End’ on Telavivian Cinema.

Telavivian Cinema is a project which will unveil work of cinematic art crafted by local directors.

From animation to drama to comedy, Telavivian short films will be streamed weekly and accompanied by our conversations with the their talented makers. Make sure you stay tuned for the screenings, as the films featured in the magazine will change on a weekly basis.

Telavivian Cinema is curated by Joy Bernard.

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