As the youngest in her family, filmmaker and animator Andrea Dorfman says she grew up looking up to others. But she wasn’t long into adolescence before she learned to seek out figures who carved out their own path, who would inspire the kinds of characters she’d create in her own work, filled with women who can’t be labelled or compartmentalized.
“I think the people I did look up to tended to be women who were non-conformist,” says the Halifaxbased artist, sitting down over coffee to talk about her new book Flawed, based on her 2009 National Film Board animated short.
“I had older brothers, and as a little sister you’re always at a bit of a disadvantage. You’re weaker, they’re older and more capable in so many ways, and then there’s the whole gender thing, and this was in the 1970s and ’80s.
“In some ways, things haven’t changed a lot, but in others they have changed a lot. But any time I saw women who to me seemed strong and powerful, doing things that didn’t seem to limit them . . .it was really feminism before I had a word for it, at a young age.” In her hand-drawn film, and now its vibrant new print version from Firefly Books, Flawed contrasts the present day story of a romance with a plastic surgeon with tales from Dorfman’s own childhood, when the onrush of puberty also brought on doubts about her own self-image. She describes how she went from being a pretty cute kid with a puffball of hair and a toboggan accident scar above her lip to a self-conscious teenager concerned about the size of her nose. When a close friend gets a nose job, Dorfman’s fears she is somehow flawed. Those fears follow her into adulthood until her newfound insights into the world of plastic surgery from her new love Dave help her realize the only flaw is in her own way of thinking about herself.
As with the film, the beauty of the book is its all-encompassing message, and the simple truth that everyone has something they don’t like about themselves. It doesn’t even have to be physical, but most of the time there’s a way around it.
“Sometimes people don’t feel confident, or don’t feel interesting, or funny,” says Dorfman. “I think there’s always something inside, so even the most pretty people or whatever will have some sort of issue.
“I do think it’s a really universal story, in this world where people are personally famous and popular via social media. I think this is
he moment where it starts, where you start comparing yourself to other people, and now we’re in this chronic comparative culture where we’re always evaluating ourselves.”
This new, reimagined version of Flawed is part of a project instigated by Firefly to turn beloved NFB shorts into books that also includes Cordell Barker’s The Cat Came Back and two Torill Kove titles, My Grandmother Ironed the King’s Shirts and Threads. For her volume, Dorfman created all-new illustrations, with stills from the film and images of the postcards she and Dave sent each other as an added bonus.
It’s the third major project this year for the NSCAD grad and director of uplifting features like Parsley Days and Heartbeat. She’s currently in post-production on her Halifax-shot film Spinster — starring Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Chelsea Peretti — and also debuts her new NFB documentary The Girls of Meru at FIN: The Atlantic International Film Festival on Sept. 16.
Due to the nature of the film (which shows Dorfman’s hands creating each image in stop motion and then painting over or augmenting each picture) artwork or stills from the film wouldn’t work as well as retelling the story with new graphics, which leap off the page in warm orange, cool blue and sharp yellow gouache hues.
“I suggested that I reconceive the book, maybe deviate from the script or embellish it in certain areas, and come up with a new visual concept,” she explains. “They were really into that.
“I think books are really different from film, and this was an opportunity to expand on (the story). As an artist, I don’t really want to do the exact same thing again, and this way I could create something new, and something different.”
Since its release, the film Flawed has been used as a tool in school health education programs, and now Firefly has prepared a detailed teaching guide to accompany the book into schools, aimed at Grade 7 and up.
For Dorfman, the book provides a rare chance to tell a personal story in a fresh way, and look at it from new perspectives visually, for readers who wouldn’t have been aware of the film a decade ago.
“I do think that some people who don’t look at YouTube or aren’t into films will suddenly be able to have access to the story. That’s what I really loved about this, it expands the audience.”