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2017 SBIFF Movie Spotlight: “Window Horses – The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming”

“Window Horses – The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming” makes its U.S. premiere at the 32nd Santa Barbara International Film Festival, and it’s quite timely.

Given the political and emotional climate the world is currently in, this film serves as a mirror that displaces fear-mongering and gives precedence to kinship and similarities everyone shares regardless of where they come from.

“Window Horses” beautifully crafts a world of exploration with room to discover all the wonderful things that unites us.

Watch the movie trailer below.


Written and directed by award-winning filmmaker Ann Marie Fleming, Window Horses is a feature animation about love–love of family, poetry, history, culture.

Rosie Ming, a young Canadian poet, is invited to perform at a poetry festival in Shiraz, Iran, but she’d rather go to Paris. She lives at home with her over-protective Chinese grandparents and has never been anywhere by herself. Once in Iran, she finds herself in the company of poets and Persians who tell her stories that force her to confront her past: the Iranian father she assumed abandoned her and the nature of poetry itself. The film is about building bridges between cultural and generational divides. It’s about being curious. Staying open. And finding your own voice through the magic of poetry.

The film’s voice actors include Sandra Oh (Rosie), Ellen Page (Kelly, Rosie’s best friend), Don McKellar (a young poet named Dietmar), Shohreh Aghdashloo (Mehrnaz, a professor at the University of Tehran) and Nancy Kwan (Gloria, Rosie’s overprotective grandmother). More than a dozen animators, including Kevin Langdale, Janet Perlman, Bahram Javaheri and Jody Kramer, worked on the film with Fleming.

Q&A with the Filmmaker Ann Marie Fleming

What was the inspiration behind “Window Horses”? And how did you arrive at that title?

Window Horses was inspired by my time at an artists’ residency in Germany, where I was living with people from around the world and hearing so many people’s stories of exile and displacement. It was where I was introduced to the poetry of Rumi. Originally, it took place in Germany, but when I moved back to Vancouver, where we have a many people from the Iranian diaspora, I was struck by how similar they were to what I had heard from people all over the world.

I wanted to tell a story of building bridges across generations and cultures through poetry. My main character, Rosie Ming, is half Chinese and half Iranian. Both those cultures have rich poetic traditions, and the words written a thousand years ago are still part of the living culture. It’s like a great code that connects us across millennia.

Did you always know this was going to be an animated film? And can you talk a bit about what the process of making an animated film was like?

I am mixed-race and my family immigrated to Canada when i was a child. I have always been interested in the stories of where people come from and how they got where they are. When this film was first envisioned, many years ago, it was live action. When I wanted to set it in Iran, animation made it possible. I wanted to implicate myself into the story, in some ways “become” a part of the culture, if even as an observer. Literally, put myself in someone else’s shoes. And animation is the perfect way to express what I wanted to say about poetry and different points of view, different ways of seeing things. That’s why I wanted to work with so many different artists and styles. This is a film about the imagination.

Why did you decide to make Rosie Ming look physically different than all of the other characters in the film?

Rosie is my avatar, stickgirl, who I have been making work with for many years. We’ve done a lot of short films, webisodes…we’ve made a poetry iPhone app…this is her first feature dramatic role and the first time she has a name.

It is the first time she is voiced by someone else, the amazing Sandra Oh, who prepared for her role like she would any other character. Stickgirl was so thrilled to be voiced by her. Stickgirl came out of a car accident where I was unable to walk and she represents all the strength I could muster to draw her. In the film, she is an outsider. Always an observer. I think her simple form shows she is still forming. She doesn’t remind you of someone. She’s not based on anyone. She’s just a gesture. You don’t judge her.

What were the challenges you faced making this film and how did you overcome them?

I couldn’t get this film funded for the longest time. In 2009, after the violence following the elections in Iran, Canada cut of all diplomatic relations with the country, making it even harder to attract funding for this. Since then, I’ve been watching the world get more and more fearful of others. And, to put it bluntly, Iran and its people are usually portrayed in popular culture in a negative way.

I didn’t initially set out to make a stand against islamophobia or anything like that. I was just trying to tell the story of so many of my friends and family and my own experiences, and set it in Iran, a land with a deep love of family and filled with contradictions. I was just trying to find some understanding and common ground.

So the big problem was MONEY. I finally decided to interim finance it myself and try crowd funding. I started an indieGogo campaign. I know I would need some clout to help get this made and I reached out to Sandra Oh. The story really resonated with her and the rest is Window Horses history. The attention we got on IGG helped us get funding from Telefilm Canada and the national film board of Canada came on as co-producers. Mongrel Media came on as Canadian distributors. And Sandra also attracted our great cast to the project. Once it began, it ran like a wild horse.

Please talk about the casting process and how you arrived with the actors you did?

I mentioned how we attracted actors from the Iranian community. Ellen Page is someone who agreed to be part of the project because of Sandra. Don McKellar was filling in for the Dietmar character as I hadn’t successfully casted for that yet, because we had to record a scene with Mehrnaz (Shohreh Agdashloo) and we wanted it to feel like a real scene. When we heard him do a German accent, Sandra and I both knew he had to play the part. It’s ironic, as I was trying hard to cast people for who they were and how they sounded, and here was Don being German. Ironically, the one thing he knew was a song his mother used to sing to him as a child. I incorporated that in to the script.

But the real magic for me was when I approached the iconic Nancy Kwan. She was someone I thought would be perfect for Rosie’s grandmother, Gloria, who was based a little bit on my own grandmother. After I reached out to Nancy and she agreed to play the part, I found out that she had actually been taken care of by MY grandmother in Hong Kong, during the war when she was a baby, along with her brother. She sent me a picture of herself with my mother and siblings. This was when I knew for sure I was making the right project.

Four words that describe Rosie Ming.

Open. Curious. Courageous. Humble.

Do you see a bit of Rosie Mind in you? How so?

Well, Stickgirl is my avatar, but I have to say, she is much more brave and even-keeled than I am. There are a lot of amf-isms in her, for sure. Rosie may seem clueless at times, but she is willing to learn and grow. I hope I can be that open. Rosemary is my mother’s name. And my dad’s name is Fleming, so… Rosie is kind of a combo. (That wasn’t on purpose)

The film touches on many world and humanity themes. But if there’s one thing you really want audiences to leave with after watching this film, what would that be?

One thing! Compassion. Listen to each other. We are more the same than we are different.

What does it mean to you to have “Window Horses” make its U.S. Premiere at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival?

This is an interesting time in the world, and in the United States, in particular. I am very excited to show Window Horses to your festival audience. I hope it is a springboard for many discussions and for many other screenings, and hopefully, distribution.

What I most hope for is for people to discover some things they didn’t know and have a good time doing it. I have done my best to make a film that even though it goes to a place that is political and has images that are political, it is not about politics. Except with a small “p”. It is about human beings. Times change. Things cycle. People endure. Family endures. Art endures. The poets have always known it. Art can represent our better angels.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

This is a film that takes place in a poetry festival in Iran! And it is funny and touching and always surprising! I am hoping people who would never come to see an animated film about poetry will be converted. To quote a close friend: I have put the Kung Fu in Haiku. Peace through Poetry!


Thursday, February 2 – at 2 p.m. – Lobero Theater (Free Admission) Saturday, February 4 – at 8 a.m. – Metro 4 Theater, Screen 1

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