Dreams and Desires: Family Ties
Dreams and Desires: Family Ties

Director: Joanna Quinn (UK)
2006 Grand Prize Winner

The Emancipation and Liberty of an Animated Woman!
Essay by Julie Roy

In 40 years, only three women[i] have won a Grand Prize at the Ottawa International Animation Festival. With her film Dreams & Desires - Family Ties (2006), Joanna Quinn is one of these women. This is a rather seductive way to start talking about a strong, resolutely feminine work.

A notable personality in animation in the United Kingdom, Joanna Quinn is originally from Birmingham, but has lived and worked in Cardiff for many years. In the last three decades, she has produced seven personal animated films, two of which have been nominated for an Academy Award (Famous Fred, 1996 and Wife of Bath, 1998). In 1987, she founded Beryl Productions with Les Mills, which enabled her to alternate production between her own films and commercial films.

Dreams & Desires - Family Ties - her most recent film to date - has received the most recognition of Quinn’s films, earning more than 40 international awards, including three awards at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival (Audience Award, Special Jury Award and Fipresci Award). The film brings together many familiar themes, characters and traits that can be traced back throughout Quinn’s work. There are assertive and extroverted female protagonists who do not follow the usual cinematic standards of beauty and personality. Quinn's women are plump, they have faults, they accept their bodies, they drink, they talk and laugh loudly.

This is an apt description of her alter-ego Beryl, the main character of Dreams & Desires - Family Ties, who makes recurrent appearances in the animator's filmography (Girls Night Out and Body Beautiful - 1990[ii]). A middle-aged woman from the working class, as eccentric as she is assuming, Beryl is not content to stay home next to her husband, “slumped” in front of the TV, or to let herself be humiliated by a macho trainer. In Girls Night Out, faced with a male stripper who is very sure of himself and strutting his alpha male assets, Beryl gets the last laugh by pulling off his thong in front of all the frenzied women! Triumphant, she takes this scrap of leopard-printed fabric home like a hunting trophy. Her victory is just as brilliant in Body Beautiful when after months of hard training, she wins a beauty contest, crushing the pretentious, curly-haired bodybuilder in the process!  

In Dreams & Desires - Family Ties, Beryl reaches new heights of excess. After receiving a video camera as a gift, the amateur filmmaker has the ambitious desire to film the marriage of her dear friend, measuring herself against the big names and major trends of the seventh art: Eisenstein, Buñuel or even Kino-Pravda. Between reveries, fantasies, and reality, her project is clearly a total disaster.

Not only does Joanna Quinn place women at the forefront,[iii] she also uses provocation and saucy humour – something that remains rare in animated film made by women. Without undermining all the affection that the filmmaker has for her muse Beryl, she never hesitates to reveal her faults (for example, showing her drunk to the point of collapsing, her face falling heavily onto her plate). Without restraint or censure, Quinn takes irreverence to extremes whether in terms of language - it's one swearword after the next; at the symbolic level - Beryl, nude, holding the hand of Christ nailed to his cross; in terms of staging - the camera focused down, revealing Beryl on the toilet, underwear down and glass of wine in her hand; or through scatological scenes - farts and the dog defecating in front of the bride, etc. The success of the film is unquestionably connected to the very earnest and affectionate manner in which Quinn takes on her politically incorrect work.

It is interesting to note that while Dreams & Desires - Family Ties was travelling across the world, Michaela Pavlatova’s sexually charged, Carnival of Animals and Signe Baumane’s raunchy, Teat Beat of Sex were making the festival rounds. The success of these works clearly illustrate - in Quinn’s dreamlike way, Pavlatova’s use of anthropomorphism, and in the falsely autobio-didactic manner of Baumane's short episodes - the broad spectrum and freedom of feminine expression that directly addresses, through the medium of animation, the intimacy of eroticism and sexuality.

Joanna Quinn’s wizardry of animation has been a hallmark of all of her films – personal or commissioned. This virtuosity is asserted with even greater assurance in Dreams & Desires - Family Ties. Working with traditional drawing on paper, she was able to create a unique visual identity that is evident in all her work, even her commercial work - for example, the bears in the Charmin advertising campaign. The great fluidity and elasticity of her animation, its “sketched” look that allows us to see flexibility in the gesture of the animator, the soft, yet nervous lines; all of this is the result of the special attention Quinn affords to movement. Paradoxically, we sometimes feel the desire to stop the image in order to fully appreciate the fixed drawings, especially the plump nudes that recall sketches of living models and express with vigour the filmmaker's great love of drawing. Like her characters, the animation is exuberant and movements exaggerated. Quinn has a great sense of caricature in movement.

Joanna Quinn is an extraordinary artist who – even if she stopped making films today -  has already left her stamp on the international animation community. Fortunately, Quinn is currently at work on a follow up to Family Ties. We are thrilled to know that the endearing Beryl - and her creator - will return; just as free, uninhibited, and provocative as ever.


Julie Roy is Executive Producer of the French Animation Studio at the National Film Board of Canada.

[i] Caroline Leaf won this award twice. In 1976 for her film The Street and in 1992 for Two Sisters. In 2015, Sarina Nihei won the Grand Prize of the OIAF for Small People with Hats.

[ii] Beryl is set to reappear in the film Joanna Quinn is currently working on as I write this.

[iii] The films Elles (1992) as well as the magnificent Wife of Bath (1998) also have female main characters. In the first, it is two models of painter Toulouse Lautrec, and in the second, an ugly, wrinkled old woman who saves a knight from King Arthur's court.