‘My Sunny Maad': Making an Animated Film That Doesn’t Feel Like Animation

TheWrap magazine: “I wanted to make a film where people would forget it’s animated,” says Czech director Michaela Pavlatova

This story about “My Sunny Maad” first appeared as part of the special animation section in the Awards Preview issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.

Czech filmmaker Michaela Pavlátová has directed animated shorts, including the Oscar-nominated 1992 film “Reci, Reci, Reci…” She’s also made two live-action features, 2008’s “Deti noci” and 2003’s “Faithless Games.” But she’d never made an animated feature until “My Sunny Maad,” an Afghan-set story that was a surprise Golden Globes nominee.

And despite the success of the film, which also won the jury award at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival, she didn’t find the transition an easy one.

“I thought it would be the end of my career,” Pavlátová said of her first attempts to write an animated feature. “A feature is so different from a short, which you can make with a very small team, or by yourself. An animated short can also be symbolic and stylized and experimental, but I often considered an animated feature to be a little bit like an expensive product. When I tried to write a feature story by myself, I had no success and I felt sad and helpless.”

But she was attracted to “My Sunny Maad,” a book by Petra Procházková about a Czech woman, Herra, who moves with her Afghan husband to Kabul, where she experiences the huge culture shock of living in a patriarchal and repressive society.

“It was a theme that had nothing to do with animation,” she said, “and I knew that if I could respect the drama of the story, it could appeal to a wider audience. I wanted to make a film where people would forget it’s animated.”

To create the look of the film, Pavlátová had to find a style that could be reproduced by other animators. “I started with my style of rough sketches, but I saw that the animators could not do that,” she said. “Then I started to make the style more realistic, because I thought that a realistic story needed realistic characters. But that was a mistake, and it was not my style.”

She found a compromise that allowed her to focus on what really interested her. “I like not to make metaphors, but to make faces,” she said. “To express the mood of the character with simple tools, like a blink or an eyebrow going up and down.”

Pavlátová struggled to retain the book’s humor, which comes under dark circumstances. She toned down the cruelest sections from the novel, made the protagonist’s husband more likeable and embraced the intimacy of a story told from the point of view of a woman adjusting to a society that gave her almost no agency. (The film is set in 2004, when the Taliban was not in control and things were slightly more liberal for women than they were before or after.)

“In most of my films, I don’t like fantasy stories,” she said. “I like realistic stories based on observing daily life. And in this case, I could be inside a family that I could never be part of except through Herra.”

See a variety of “My Sunny Maad” images, from sketches to finished stills from the movie, below:

Negativ/Sacrebleu Productions/BFilm
Negativ/Sacrebleu Productions/BFilm
Negativ/Sacrebleu Productions/BFilm
Negativ/Sacrebleu Productions/BFilm
Negativ/Sacrebleu Productions/BFilm
Negativ/Sacrebleu Productions/BFilm

Read more from the Awards Preview issue here.

Tessa Thompson Wrap magazine cover
Photo by Matt Sayles for TheWrap