Q&A: Director Elizabeth Hogenson on animated short DANI

By Josh Muchly

DANI centers on a 30-year-old woman who, feeling obligated to wear a brave face, delivers her grim breast cancer prognosis to her mother over a simple phone call.

This topical film won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Animated Short at Mammoth Lakes Film Festival 2019 and has screened at the American Documentary Film Festival and Film Fund 2019. DANI is now set to screen at the Oscar Qualifying Film Festival Palm Springs International ShortFest.

Director and producer Elizabeth Hogenson is a visual artist who was drawn to stop motion animation after taking a class whilst she was pursuing a master’s degree in Cinema and Media Studies at USC. Hogenson’s works explore women’s issues, using touches of whimsy humor. Elizabeth lives in Los Angeles with her partner and pug.

Informer Media Group: Hi, Elizabeth. Thank you so much for taking some time to answer questions about DANI! This is your first film project, correct? How do you feel??

Elizabeth Hogenson: Yes, this is my first real project, and I’m honestly still kind of in shock.  I was hoping to be able to get in to a few festivals, share the film with a few people, but the reactions have been beyond my wildest dreams.  I’m so honored that people are moved by the film.

Informer Media Group: That’s awesome. Your film is extremely powerful. Is DANI based on an actual recorded phone call?

Elizabeth Hogenson: It’s a real phone call. Danielle, the woman featured in the call, started a podcast as part of her coping process with her diagnosis.  The call to her mother was recorded for the podcast.  The actual call was twice as long and has two other women on it.  I edited it down to what I thought was the emotional core, while still preserving its integrity.

Informer Media Group:  What inspired you to create a film project around Dani’s struggle?

Elizabeth Hogenson: Danielle and I were roommates at the time of her diagnosis. When someone you care about gets bad news or has a life altering event, you want to be supportive but you’re also processing a lot of feelings.  So, watching her first hand, knowing what she was going through, but also her resilience and how important it was for her to share the process, made me want to help facilitate that process.

Informer Media Group:  Why did you want to make an animated film?

Elizabeth Hogenson: When I heard the recording of the call, I was so moved by it, I wanted to find some way to share it—to bring it to life.  It’s a moment that’s passed, but it can find new life.  I was taking a stop motion class for fun, during my graduate studies, and thought that animation would be a great way to breathe new life in to the call.  I sat on the project for a little while, though, because I wanted to wait until I got a little better at stop motion before taking on the project.

Informer Media Group:  Why stop-motion animation?

Elizabeth Hogenson: I’ve always been drawn to stop-motion animation.  I think that there’s just something really charming about its tactile nature.  You’re forming the world and the performance with your hands.  It really creates an intimate relationship with the materials and subject.  I think stop motion works particularly well for this subject, though, because it adds some physicality to the phone call.  I also chose to use materials like felt and yarn to add a warm and cozy feeling to the subject.  I think it helps the viewer feel a softness while ingesting such a heavy subject.

Informer Media Group: What are you hoping the audience takes away from your film?

Elizabeth Hogenson: Reach out to someone you care about who is going through a difficult time.  A phone call, letter, anything, can mean the world to someone.  The human connections in our life are what give it meaning.

Informer Media Group: What does DANI say about the growing unimportance of phone calls in modern culture?

Elizabeth Hogenson: I think that phone calls have just taken on a new role.  I certainly know that I panic or assume something is wrong if I’m getting a phone call.  It’s definitely a generational thing.  But, I think that it’s more that we now use different forms of communication for different purposes.  There is nuance and emotion that can only be conveyed through our voices, just as technology hasn’t replaced a need for in person contact.

Informer Media Group:  The end credits mention the “Bridge Arts & Science Alliance.” Can you tell us more about that?

Elizabeth Hogenson: “Dani” was generously funded by a grant from USC’s Bridge Art Science Alliance (BASA).  The foundation funds USC’s student art projects that seek to accurately represent science.  It was really lovely working with them, because, as part of the grant, I was assigned Dr. Stephanie Shishido, a post-doctoral fellow working in cancer research, to answer all of my scientific questions.  I have no science or medical background, so I could email her and be like, “hey! What does an MRI look like?” or “what is this cancer drug?” and she would send me pictures and a detailed explanation.

Informer Media Group: Very cool! What’s next for you?

Elizabeth Hogenson: I’ve been doing preliminary research and interviews for a project on Alzheimer’s and the ageing brain.  It started when I found out that a childhood ballet teacher was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, so I started talking to her (phone and email) about her journey, and then reached out to professionals working in the field and caretakers for their stories and experiences.  Everything took sort of an odd turn recently, though, when, after getting some blood work done, my former ballet teacher found out that she has arsenic poisoning and not Alzheimer’s.  What I’ve found, from talking to many different people, is that we tend to group a lot of issues of the ageing brain under one umbrella, either from lack of understanding or resources.  I’m also in the process of putting together materials for a family dramedy in stop motion.

Informer Media Group: Good luck to you! Where can folks go to learn more about you / your projects?

Elizabeth Hogenson: You can check out my work on Instagram or my website. Thank you!!!

Contact Josh Muchly



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