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MANIFF 2022: Balloon Animal

Balloon Animal is a coming-of-age film that speaks to the desire to escape family pressures and discover an identity for yourself. What at first appears to be a simple premise quickly becomes a story of family drama, romance and clashing communities.

Following Poppy (Katherine Waddell), the daughter of an excitable circus owner, the film narrates her growing disillusionment with circus life. Stuck making balloon animals for young children, her father suggests she take over the family business and run the circus. However, the offer pushes Poppy away from her caring, but slightly naïve father and quickly fuels a desire to discover life outside of the small town in which the circus is located. The opportunity arises when, after walking to the petrol station late at night, she meets a young man from outside the circus. In rather cliché, but endearing terms, he manages to awkwardly charm her and give her a lift back home. From here a whole ‘will they, won’t they’ plot arises which eventually culminates in Poppy leaving the circus and starting life as independent and away from the expectations of her circus community.

The film’s abrupt end is characteristic of the abrupt storytelling throughout. This bluntness captures a sense of frustrated humanness throughout, emphasising that despite its fantastical setting, the characters we see are real, relatable, and fundamentally flawed. Balloon Animal is not concerned with categorisations of good or bad but instead maps social the interactions of an unusual, but crucially not wholly alien, culture.

Producer and star Kathrine Waddell has already picked up the best actress award at MANIFF 2022 as the film looks on course to gain major critical acclaim. When we spoke, Waddell described the lengthy process of making the film with business partner and director Em Johnson. Originating in a simple idea Waddell had to make a film around a girl with blue hair who makes the titular creations, the project took two years to write but was filmed in just twelve days, a remarkably quick shoot for a feature film of this scope and depth.

When asked about the toxic male communities on show in the film, the star compared these spaces to some of the toxic sets she’d been on. As such, she was quick to emphasise how different Balloon Animal had been. Giving “opportunities to women” in strong, leading roles and creating a set “respecting passion and kindness” shine through in the emotional range on display in the film.

Emotionally intelligent, an unusual and engaging setting and a charismatic lead performance, this is surely one of MANIFF’s best.


Tags: circus, coming of age, emotional, katherine waddell, maniff 2022

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