VIFF 2018 Interview: TURBINE director Alex Boya


“TURBINE is the story of a husband who returns home after a war in which he served as a pilot. Unfortunately, he returns home to his wife with a turbine awkwardly sticking out where his face once was. To make matters worse, he has an affair with the kitchen ceiling fan, because they are both turbines. Watch this wholesome romantic comedy to find out if their marriage can/should be saved.”

Congratulations on your film playing and welcome to VIFF! Is your first time here and are you planning to attend your screenings?

Thanks, Jason! It’s a privilege to be screened at the 2018 Vancouver International Film Festival for the first time. I thank the whole team in Vancouver for this opportunity to exhibit the aerodynamic man’s romantic turbulences. I will be premiering Turbine at the Ottawa International Animation Festival and will regrettably be unable to come to Vancouver, as the two festivals’ schedules overlap.

So how did you get into this business? Talk to me a bit about how you got your start and what you have worked on in the past.

Drawing has been my thing ever since I was in daycare, smearing oily crayons on construction paper. In my early twenties, I landed a job in medical illustration and followed that fascinating path, learning about the body’s systems and visually “masticating” everything I could about it. That wasn’t enough; moving these drawings led to animation and a bunch of stories came up. I made a film called Focus at the National Film Board in 2015 and Turbine is my second project with the NFB, at the Animation Studio in Montreal.

How did this project come together for you? Give me a rundown from the preparation, to shooting, to post-production to now!

Practically in a dream journal, most of the ideas were documented on paper the moment I would wake up. These thoughts were collected and made a complex mythology depicted in countless drawings. The story of the turbine is the result of distilling an aftertaste from these dreams and funneling that universe into one window. I worked with producer Jelena Popović and filmmaker Theodore Ushev from the conception stage.

After defining the product, I got back to the drawing table, assisted by artist Daniela Zekina, to create 4,000 frames derived from the tradition of copperplate etchings. The final touch that electrified the stern visual content into the emotional realm was the magnificent music and sound design, a blood transfusion from Judith Gruber-Stitzer and Olivier Calvert.

The film is a labour of love of so many more people at the NFB’s Montreal Animation Studio. A whole team of professionals carved this sculpture every step of the way, making it into what is now Turbine.

What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you?

I love making films and get cravings similar to the ones in situations when you pull out your phone to take a photo, to mummify a good memory. If you have some idea that keeps bothering you, I feel animated film is one way to snapshot it and simply deliver the “document” to people who are interested in the idea.

What was your biggest challenge with this project, and the moment that was the most rewarding to you? 

Conceiving the faces and allure of my characters was a thorough process of specialty breeding. The designs mutated again and again. The current designs are like optimums of several factors, from the desire to have a controlled amount of textural (instructional) realism, to inspiring empathy and complicity from the viewers when looking into the eyes of our protagonist, the wife. Feeling how the audience feels for our heroine was gratifying and really gave me goosebumps.

I’m about to get technical, but I would love to know about the the visual design of the movie; what camera did you film with, your relationship to the director of photography and how the movie was photographed.

I express myself with a language I define as “Medical Expressionism.” To me, an animation is like the fossilization of internal processes that lead to the final images on the screen and, more specifically, the ones that don’t exist between frames. As someone who initially drew medical images, expressing emotions in animated films strictly implies the internal processes of a language initially reserved for physical things. How do you illustrate trauma or a dysfunctional relationship between two characters in a culture that increasingly gives exclusivity to materials? Technically, this means you draw a lot and scan the drawings to desperately talk about something that can’t really be drawn.

After the film screens at Vancouver, where is the film going to show next? Theatrical, online, more festivals?

Since our world premiere is in Ottawa, screening as part of OIAF’s Short Film Competition 2 on September 27, Turbine’s festival run is still young. We know it’s going to Berlin and Denver. My fingers are crossed for Turbine to benefit from the feedback of many cultures.

What would you say to someone who was being disruptive through a movie?

Good question! I don’t mind disruptive behaviour, but I feel I shouldn’t say this in public.

We have a lot of readers on our site looking to make movies or get into the industry somehow. What is the ONE THING you would say to someone who is wanting to get into the filmmaking business?

It’s a sequence of frames with audio. Focus on an output for these frames and sound using what you have, as soon as possible.

And final question: what is the greatest movie you have ever seen at a film festival?

I have seen so many great movies that it is hard to pinpoint the one film. This one perfect film is a moulting variable that follows me throughout my life. I was lucky to see a lot of the Criterion Collection as a kid because my parents love films and always had some of these lying around. Recently, I’ve realized that the controversial 1949 film Le sang des bêtes by Georges Franju has marked me profoundly and likely made me start animating, although it’s a documentary with little connection to animation. Inspiration works in indecipherable ways, in my opinion, so I can’t really answer.

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