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Caroline Leaf

(b. August 12, 1946 Seattle, Washington)

Using simple means – sand, silhouettes, paintings on glass and drawings etched directly onto film – acclaimed and innovative animator Caroline Leaf has created films that possess the disturbing power of dreams. Her films typically have a fluid, amorphous quality, whereby figures and backgrounds metamorphose into one another, and she imparts impressive narrative depth to her work by concentrating on carefully delineated shifts in her characters’ circumstances.

Leaf began making films as a student at Harvard University in 1968, when she attended Derek Lamb’s animation workshop at the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts. Her first film, Sand or Peter and the Wolf (1969), showcased her mastery of sand animation, a process she developed that involves manipulating sand spread over a light box to produce shapes and images, frame by frame. After spending a year in Italy, she used a fellowship from Harvard to make her second film, Orfeo (1971), made with ink silhouettes.

In 1972, she was invited to join the National Film Board in Montreal as a staff animator and director. While continuing to work on the Kafkaesque The Metamorphosis of Mr. Samsa (1977), which she had begun with a grant from the American Film Institute, she completed The Owl Who Married a Goose: An Eskimo Legend (1974), which was nominated for a BAFTA and won a Canadian Film Award, and The Street (1976), which earned an Academy Award® nomination, two Canadian Film Awards and the Grand Prix at the Ottawa International Animation Festival. Regarded as a masterpiece of paint-on-glass animation, The Street was also voted the second best animated film of all time at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Olympiad of Animation in 1984.

After completing Interview (1979), which won the Grand Prix at the Melbourne International Film Festival and the Jury Prize at the Montreal World Film Festival, Leaf took a sabbatical from animation to work as a producer and director on live-action and documentary films for the Board throughout the eighties. She also worked as a set designer for the Montreal theatre company Bouffon de Boullion before returning to animation with Two Sisters (1991), which was etched directly onto 70mm film stock.

She received the Norman McLaren Heritage Award from the Ottawa International Animation Festival in 1994 and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Zagreb World Festival of Animated Films in 1996. Her films have won countless international awards and been the subject of retrospectives at New York’s Film Forum, the Museum of Modern Art and the American Film Institute. In 1999, the British Film Institute released a compilation video of her animated films. She has taught animation workshops and served on festival juries around the world. Between 1996 and 1998, she taught animation at Harvard University. A naturalized Canadian citizen, she currently lives in London, England, where she teaches at the National Film and Television School.

Film and video work includes

Sand or Peter and the Wolf, 1969 (director)
Orfeo, 1971 (director; animator; producer)
How Beaver Stole Fire, 1972 (director)
Mister Roger's Neighbourhood, 1972 (director)
The Metamorphosis of Mr. Samsa, 1977 (director; writer; producer; animator)
Legends and Life of the Inuit, 1978 (animator)
Interview, 1979 (co-director with Veronika Soul)
Spirit of the Land, 1979 (animator)
Le Whisky Canadien, 1980 (animator)
Kate and Anna McGarrigle, 1981 (director)
A Right to Refuse?, 1981 (co-writer with Gerald Wexler, Clayton Bailey; co-producer with Wolf Koenig)
Friends of the Family, 1982 (associate producer)
An Equal Opportunity, 1982 (director; co-writer with Gwynne Basen, Clayton Bailey; co-producer with Wolf Koenig)
Pies, 1983 (writer; producer with Sheldon Cohen)
The Owl and the Pussycat, 1985 (director)
A Dog's Tale: A Mexican Parable, 1986 (director; writer)
The Fox and the Tiger: A Chinese Parable, 1986 (director; writer)
The Magical Eye, 1989 (appears as herself)
Creative Process: Norman McLaren, 1990 (scratched inserts)
I Met a Man, 1991 (director)
Two Sisters, 1991 (director; writer; animator)
Love in the Cold: Animation at the National Film Board of Canada, 1994 (appears as herself)
Brain Battle, 1995 (director)
The Passerby, 1995 (animator)