How ‘Daughter’ Director Daria Kashcheeva Brought Documentary Aesthetic To Oscar-Nominated Stop-Motion Short

How ‘Daughter’ Director Daria Kashcheeva Brought Documentary Aesthetic To Oscar-Nominated Stop-Motion Short

An Oscar-nominated animated short from Daria KashcheevaDaughter is the product of the director’s longtime interest in psychology, relationships, and the lasting imprint of childhood experiences.

Examining the bond between a father and his daughter—which has frayed over the years due to miscommunication—Kashcheeva wrote the short after reflecting back on her own childhood, and those aspects of the experience of growing up that are universal. “I remembered moments when I needed something from my parents and they didn’t have time. I went to my room and I was insulted, thinking, Oh, if I died, they would cry. Very strange things,” the director says. “I have very good parents, but I think each child has moments when they need more love and attention, and that is okay.”

First-Time Director Rosana Sullivan Finds Her Voice With 'Kitbull,' SparkShorts' Oscar-Contending Animated Short 'Dcera (Daughter)' Courtesy of Daria Kashcheeva

For the director, the project was also the culmination of a journey she and her husband bravely set out on five years ago. Starting her professional career in Moscow as a sound designer, Kashcheeva found at some point that she wasn’t creatively fulfilled, yearning for an opportunity to work with her hands and express herself in a different way. “My husband was an actor, and he also wasn’t happy with his choice of profession. We were in this stage [where] we wanted to try to go somewhere from Russia, to study in Europe. At the time when I worked as a sound designer, I worked on an animated short film, so I met animators—these very kind and calm people who were staying in their studio all day, making strange things.” she explains. “It was such an amazing world, and it inspired me a lot.”

After this experience, Kashcheeva decided to commit herself to the craft, enrolling at FAMU, a film school in Prague, and ultimately making Daughter as her graduation film. “It was quite an uncomfortable time in the beginning, because we left our work in Russia, our friends. We came to [the Czech Republic] and didn’t know people and the culture—no money, no work,” the director reflects. “But now, I’m really happy that I dared to try this.”

'Dcera (Daughter)' Courtesy of Daria Kashcheeva

In contemplating a visual style for her latest short, Kashcheeva gravitated immediately towards stop-motion—a medium that would allow her to work with her hands, cultivating magic through the use of light and camera movement. Building her puppets and sets out of wood and wire, Kashcheeva then covered them with papier-mâché, drawing inspiration from the Czech carnival of Masopust. “It’s in the beginning of spring. A lot of people make masks by themselves, and often, they use this papier-mâché because it’s not so heavy, and you can paint on it,” the director notes. “I was thinking that papier-mâché is really artificial, but it is close to skin—closer than silicone or these materials, which I usually use in animation.”

For Kashcheeva, part of the challenge of crafting Daughter stemmed from her desire to bring a dirty, imperfect, documentary feel to her stop-motion world. The aesthetic she aimed for was inspired, in part, by the work of the Dardenne brothers—filmmakers who rehearse extensively, but strive to keep their shots organic, as if the action on screen is being captured for the first time.

'Dcera (Daughter)' Courtesy of Daria Kashcheeva

Driven to capture the sensation of handheld camerawork, Kashcheeva puzzled a great deal over the method by which this might be possible in the medium of stop-motion. Filming herself completing certain actions—like running down stairs—as a visual reference for certain moments, the director was concerned that this aspect of her vision might be impossible to bring to fruition, particularly when one of her professors laughed at the notion. Sticking to her guns, though, the filmmaker managed to pull off a number of ambitious sequences without any use of motion control, finding another key reference in Lars von Trier’s Breaking the Waves. “I studied this film, frame by frame, how this camera movement works,” Kashcheeva says. “Then, when I made tests before the film, I actually copied the movement from Lars von Trier’s film.”

Made over the course of a year and a half, Kashcheeva’s short was embraced in the end by film festivals all around the world. Finding new confidence in her vision as an artist with Daughter’s Oscar nomination, the filmmaker is currently enrolled in a master’s program at FAMU, and already has her next project in mind. “I’m going to make a short film, but also not so short. It’s going to be maybe 20 minutes. I don’t know,” she shares. “But I’m going to experiment again, and it’s going to be a combination of stop-motion with pixilation, and maybe live-action.”