Academy Awards nominees: ‘The Breadwinner’ |

Academy Awards nominees: ‘The Breadwinner’

"The Breadwinner" will screen Thursday at Aspen Film's Academy Screenings.

Adapting the best-selling young-adult novel "The Breadwinner" into a film, its producers — Angelina Jolie among them — made the inspired choice to bring it to life through animation. They put the story in the gifted hands of director Nora Twomey, the animation wizard behind "The Secret of Kells."

Twomey and a creative team numbering more than 300 spent four years painstakingly drawing "The Breadwinner."

This animated tale about a young girl in Afghanistan during the reign of the Taliban is now nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Film.

Like Deborah Ellis' book, the film deals frankly with the Taliban's tactics of terror, violence and subjugation of women. It's made with adolescents in mind.

"I wanted to take the lead from her book, in terms of not talking down to the audience," Twomey said in December phone interview before an Aspen Film Academy Screening of her movie. "It's primarily aiming at young adults and adults."

Rendering it in animation allows the film to do some subtle things it could not in live action.

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"It accesses a different part in your audience's facility for empathy, I think," Twomey said. "That's a very interesting place to be as a filmmaker. That's why I love animation and why it fit 'The Breadwinner' so perfectly."

An independent film in a field dominated by juggernauts Disney and Pixar, "The Breadwinner" is the rare feature made for young people who have outgrown the kids' stuff.

"We're quite used to seeing animation used for very young audiences, primarily," Twomey said. "But it's nice to stretch it. There's no reason animation can't be used to tell more complex, more challenging stories."

In "The Breadwinner," Parvana's father — a kindly, out-of-work teacher — is arrested by the Taliban without cause, leaving her and her family without resources. Unable to so much as go to the market without a male companion, Parvana begins disguising herself as a boy in order to provide for her mom, sister and baby brother.

The film is grounded in realism, rendered with an attention to detail and with a naturalistic aesthetic. But it also has a second, more fantastic storyline, where we follow a fable Parvana tells herself throughout — in search of both hope and of ideas for reuniting with her father — that is imaginatively rendered in a lively cut-out style.

"It's very much a film of contrasts, so to contrast the way we portrayed the real world with Parvana's inner world was quite important," Twomey said.

The filmmaking team interviewed people who lived in Afghanistan during the period when the film is set — 2000 and 2001— and also welcomed input from the majority Afghan voice cast of the film.

"Many of them had fled Afghanistan during the Taliban regime," Twomey said. "With so many perspectives, the way that we animated the film brought all those stories in and the layers of storytelling that you see in the film."

The Canadian actress Saara Chaudry, 13, voices Parvana in the film. The child actor had read the book when she was 9 and, coincidentally, met the author at her school.

"Saara raised her hand and asked if they were ever going to make a movie about the book," Twomey said, "because she wanted to go and see it."