Make a film, make a difference

Team Generous tells the Habitat story

Each year Team Generous, a creative collective based in Denmark, creates a short animated film to support a nonprofit organization.

This fall, the team premiered a new film raising awareness for Habitat for Humanity. Professional animators and filmmakers volunteered for two weeks in British Columbia to produce this animated short, after a kick-off day of working on a Habitat build site on Vancouver Island.

“The film truly encapsulates the essence of Habitat for Humanity and the hand up we provide to low-income families in communities nationwide,” says Mark Rodgers, chief operating officer of Habitat Canada.

At the film’s October premiere, Team Generous Canada executive director Jericca Cleland said, “A safe, decent and affordable home is the foundation for stability and success, and we saw the potential to spread this idea though animation and visual metaphor.”

Habitat Magazine spoke with Jericca Cleland about the film’s genesis and creation.

Q: How did you get involved with this project? 

A: Team Generous is the brainchild of a friend of mine, Frederik Villumsen, and it came from a very simple place: people getting together to give back. We choose a charitable organization whose work we support and whose story we feel can effectively be told through an animated short. One of our rules is that the director of the film — in this case, me — must have a connection to that organization. The reason I chose Habitat is that a friend of mine has been passionately involved in Global Village trips for a number of years, and I always found that very inspiring. The more I researched the organization and the work they do in our community, the more impressed I was, and I felt that I could say something important through film for Habitat.

Q: The film is wordless, except for some background talk. Is that how you conceived it, as specifically visual rather than spoken or captioned? 

A: Wordlessness isn’t a rule of ours, but of course animation is a very visual medium, and we want these films to be globally translatable. Personally, for artistic reasons, I really wanted it to be no-dialogue, narrative-based, with stand-alone visuals. In short pieces in particular, I think you can go deeper emotionally, just fall into something and be quiet for a couple of minutes.

Q: What were some of your thoughts as you put together the film’s elements: the sea, the shells, the castle, the neighbors. What did you hope to get across? 

A: The heart of the matter, for me, in any collaboration between artists is: We have the responsibility to communicate something vital. So I had conversations early on with Habitat Canada about what they felt was important. They really wanted us to focus our message on those people the organization reaches out to — potential Habitat partner families. I met some Habitat families, listened to their stories, spoke to a lot of local Habitat workers about what they do day-to-day, and I also thought about who’s going to see this film. It can be a peer-network situation — it isn’t necessarily the person in need but the person who knows the person in need who would see this film and be impacted by it. Because we all know people in this circumstance. It might be someone you work with, someone who cuts your hair, the mother of a child your child goes to school with, but we may not be attuned to recognize what the signs are. So maybe someone will watch this film, and it will resonate with them, they’ll say, “You know, I know somebody like that, with that sense of desperation or drowning under the pressure of keeping a family strong and healthy without adequate resources” — and they’ll know Habitat could break that cycle.

Q: Why did you show people coming to the family where they were, rather than the family moving near other houses? 

A: We wanted to represent a functioning, hard-working family, where the answer is bringing resources to them. If you think of the tideline as the poverty line, we can all see that it’s impossible to build a stable sand castle there. It wasn’t about moving them above the tideline, it was about bringing in resources to lift them up and build a stronger foundation for success. That’s where Habitat and the community come in: the idea that we should all take responsibility. And that every one of us deserves a decent, comfortable kind of place to grow and thrive in.

Q: What’s been the reaction to the film so far? 

A: It’s been on the big screen now twice. It’s wonderful for any small film to get that kind of exposure. But what I’ve been most touched by is that Habitat itself feels that it represents them. That’s extremely gratifying. And now a local church has chosen adequate housing as their next subject to focus on, writing letters to the city council, and they’re going to screen the film as an event opener. When a film can be used to open conversations and shift perspective, that’s what I think it’s really for. We want our films to be admired as films, but what we really want is for people to say “Oh, I didn’t think about it that way.” That’ll make it worth everybody’s effort. 

“Coming up with images and metaphors” 

Read more about the creative process that went into the production of this Habitat video on the Team Generous blog, and view some of the work in progress.

How it all came together 

“On the first Sunday, we worked on a Habitat house. In fact, we recorded sawing and drilling from that build, and it shows up in the film during the building of the castle. What you’re hearing is actually us building that house.

“Then we started brainstorming, coming up with metaphors and images: plants surviving but not thriving, a child drawing with chalk on a sidewalk, dollhouses. We decided we really needed to emphasize families and a child’s perspective.

“The sea is something I go to all the time, and at one point I asked, “What happens if we move this to the ocean?” Rapidly, the dollhouse became a sandcastle, and the ephemerality of chalk became the effort to build something out of sand — not a battle you can win — and the struggling plants became a solid working family.

“The intention is there, and the work ethic, they just don’t have the resources. And in lifting them up, building a stronger foundation, we wanted to emphasize the community’s role, the man and the dog and so on. Because it’s very isolating — you’re trying to make ends meet and just can’t get past the walls around you, and then someone steps in. It really came together after that.”

— Jericca Cleland