Mother-daughter team draws from life

Animated art films, as opposed to the commercial variety, play the film festival, museum, and art house circuits - but most of us rarely have the chance to see them.

One of the best things about the growing number of cable television channels is that more households can tune out the junk and tune in fine-art flicks.

Throughout March, the Sundance Channel will present animated films by an extraordinary team honored by the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York, the Cannes Film Festival, three Academy Awards, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

"Spotlight on the Hubleys" (Sundance Channel, check local listings) presents 20 years of works by this artful family. No two films are alike, and each is bound to enlarge our definitions of the animators' art - defeating expectations learned largely from Disney, Warner Bros., and other major studios.

Faith and John Hubley made engaging films together. In "Cockaboody," for example, they recorded an extended conversation between their tiny girls, Emily and Georgia, as they played together one morning, making up words, fussing with each other, and taking marvelous flights of fancy. Then the couple animated the soundtrack with delightful, flowing images of the children. It is one of those rare films that captures the beauty, imagination, and realism of childhood without sentimentalizing it.

The Hubley children worked in their parents' studio and learned the art firsthand, but only Emily grew up to follow the family trade full time.

After John died in 1977, mother and daughter continued to work together (and separately) making artful films that deal with everything from personal biography to ecology to the meaning of life.

In a telephone interview from New York City, Faith says that in many societies, past and present, parents and children working together (with children learning from parents) is natural.

"Our four kids had to work at the studio, which was never more than three or four blocks away," she says. "They knew what was going on; there was no mystery.... I love Emily's work and not just because she's my daughter. We don't see many personal films - and films that are truly felt. It's rare."

Their collaborations have yielded a marvelous array of work - reflecting their admiration of ancient and non-Western art as well as modern art. Their work sometimes pays homage to such modern masters as Miro, Picasso, and Matisse.

"I do seek out more experimental [works of art] to kick the mainstream conventional sensibility out of my head," says Emily, who lives in New Jersey. "If I feel plodding, it may be because I've been reading a magazine or watching TV, and it's put me into that deadened, consumer state. Then I do look through my collection of [art] books or postcards. MOMA is always showing new experimental work ... which helps keep me loose.... There are other ways to present ideas than in the straight narrative way."

Emily says the family connection is "not pertinent when we work together. We are colleagues and friends or support partners. It's separate from the family relationship."

But there's something marvelous about the way their talents play off each other. Both Faith and Emily draw on personal experience. Emily always starts with writing in her journal.

"I don't mean to express just my personal experience," she says, "but to use that as the fabric to express the universal experience."

And she does. Her stream-of-consciousness style; the graceful, simple drawings interspersed sometimes with photographs; and her use of music (provided by her sister, Georgia, and Georgia's husband, Ira Kaplan) is always vibrant and intelligent.

Faith's work is lyrical (she is an accomplished cellist), her drawings sophisticated and composed like individual paintings - but then, she is a painter. Her subjects reflect all the concerns of her life including feminism, children, and environmentalism.

As a young woman of 18, she went to Hollywood and worked as a script supervisor, film editor, music editor, associate producer, and documentary filmmaker.

But she found her life in animation. "There was so much one could do in animation that couldn't be done either with live action or still painting," she says.

Faith produces one animated film a year. "I'm always reading and thinking and loving life and wondering what kind of a planet we are leaving our grandchildren," she says. "And I have confidence that something will bubble up.... I have total trust. I feel I am meant to do this."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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