"It has taken 33 years to write it," says animator Joanne Salmon, describing the process of telling her own story, "Chin Up", through animation, after winning the MoFilm Many Voices filmmaking competition.
The outlines of this story started decades ago. As a child Salmon would place tracing paper on the television to sketch out disney cartoons. That thread of love continues to the present day. Salmon, who has Treacher Collins Syndrome, has drawn her own experiences and created a film that shines a light on the pressures of growing up when you feel you don’t fit in. A creative endeavor which ensures the representation she didn’t see growing up happens now.
Getting your head up
Salmon says while it is easy for creatives to fall into the trap of simply "keeping your head down and getting on with it", the experience and supportive environment of LoveLove Films (where she works as an animator) has given her the confidence to tell her own story.
Salmon credits LoveLove Films for truly embracing her, enabling her to try new styles and take risks, which she attributes to operating within a team in which everyone has a voice and is equally respected. "I have learned that being different is not always about outside appearances, it can be on the inside too and everyone wants to feel accepted," she explains.
While, as a child, animation was an escape from the reality of everyday life, now it is the vehicle to reflect her life as it really is. "Throughout my childhood, I loved to draw myself as heroic characters to escape the insecurity and feeling of being different that came with my condition," she says. But all along the real hero was the girl holding the pencil.
Challenge as a creative fuel
Treacher Collins Syndrome effects approximately 50,000 babies. The symptoms, which are only physical, include little or no jaw or cheekbone, and eye and hearing difficulties.
Trak Ellis Hill, creative director at MoFilm, says Joanne stood out because of who she is and her approach to animation. "Her style is so beautiful and unique. I think someone telling their own story is a liberating creative and production experience."
For Salmon, the resulting story is very much her own and charts how she overcame the odds to get where she is today. "Chin Up follows my story from being one in fifty thousand babies born with Treacher Collins’ to currently living my dreams as an animator," she says.
MoFilm’s Ellis-Hill believes that there has never been a better time for female creatives to tell their story and in effect be the change they want to see. "The only way for creativity to be powerful is for it to be rooted in truth and reflect the true diversity of society. If we only ever hear one side of the story we are falling short," she says.
According to Ellis-Hill brands, creatives and media owners alike need to be more mindful of the stories they are telling. "There are centuries of habits we are seeking to break. My daughter is two and all the stories we tell are almost always about men, it is just habitual laziness," she explains.
The power of change
With gender equality, women’s rights, and female empowerment dominating the media Salmon believes real and positive change is happening. She says: "To me, the year of women means women are doing all the things they have wanted to do for years but haven’t been able to due to a backwards societal outlook. Now, women are standing up and working together in a number of different ways – which is fantastic.
"Chin Up, which is a story about my own life, aims to highlight that anyone can be whatever they want to be."
With a story that has been decades in the making what would be the message that Salmon wants the viewer to takeaway? "As a woman with a disability, I have been a full-time animator for three years and I am living my dream. So my message is just go for it – believe in yourself. There is a lot of change in society and there is a large acceptance of diversity."
Salmon says the film at its essence is a story of hope and self-acceptance. She explains: "It’s about following your dreams and persevering in the face of adversity and embracing all quirks that make you yourself.
"I hope people, no matter of gender, age, race and ability will be inspired that they can be whatever they want to be."
By creating the opportunity to tell her story Salmon believes the following message can get through – you are not alone, whatever it is you are struggling with.