Interview with Lori Malépart-Traversy about her animated short “Le Clitoris”
By Oslavi Linares for Grad/Aperture
20 October 2016
While Lori Malépart-Traversy has just graduated from the Film Animation program at Concordia, her animated documentary Le Clitoris is already leaving its mark in the animation festival circuit. It has been part of the official selection of Ottawa International Animation Film Festival, Anima Syros International Animation Festival in Greece, Festival de Film d’Animation de Paris, Varna Festival in Bulgaria, KROK International Animated Film Festival in Russia, and others, including prizes at the latest edition of Womanimation Film Festival in Rhode Island, USA, and Animasivo Mexico City Contemporary Animation Festival, among others—and justly so. Through her animation, Malépart-Traversy calls attention to a very neglected aspect of female sexuality with wit, simplicity, and humour. In this interview Lori talks more about her animated documentary, her views on sexuality and animation, and her future plans.
Oslavi Linares: Please tell us about yourself. Where are you from? How did you started doing animation? How was your time at Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema?
Lori Malépart-Traversy: I’m from Montreal. I studied at Cégep du Vieux Montreal in Fine Arts. And then I went at Concordia to continue study in Fine Arts, and I didn’t know that an animation program existed at Concordia. I just started to do my own little stop motion animations by myself in my fibers class. I think I saw some animation here and there, but I didn’t know much about it, but just tried to do a little stop motion with no scenario, just with my camera.
After, I discovered, maybe in my third year in Fine Arts, that there was film animation at Concordia. I applied for the minor and they took me, and then, after doing one year, I was like “I need to do the major, the whole major,” so I switched and I did my second degree in film animation, and I really, really, loved it. I was finding my space more, and I liked that you learned specific techniques. I liked that in animation you learn the different techniques. You go somewhere, you have one product to do, it’s one animation short and you do whatever you want with that time-frame.
OL: How did you learn the technique?
Malépart-Traversy: I think I maybe googled how to… I downloaded free stop-motion software to plug my camera in. And so, I bought the camera and I bought a tripod, and it was all shaky but I didn’t know it was a problem. I liked the shakiness of it. And I just did it. I think I sent it to Art Matters Festival at Concordia, and they took my first film and I was like, “Okay, maybe I have some potential there.” And my classmates really liked it.
OL: What was the name of that film?
Malépart-Traversy: It was The Secret Life of a Chair. I did a second one in the same class. It had no title, it was not finished because there was the student strike… so I was a bit busy with that, so I didn’t finish it, but it was already a sexual subject. I created a little doll, a naked woman, and she just masturbated in front of the TV, no story. So, this kind of subject was already in my mind.
OL: Can you tell us more about your other animations?
Malépart-Traversy: Sparky Ketchup  was made in my second year of animation, so I think it was my last project of the year. You had to do four films in the year and the last one was a free subject. I wanted to do an animated documentary. My boyfriend recorded me telling a story about a contest I won when I was young, and I did a montage with that. There was just very simple movement, no planning, and I did a very simple drawing base. But it was fun to do, and that’s why after that I wanted to do some more animated documentary.
The consent videos were made this summer. So, I was not a student anymore this summer. With Daniel Sterling, he was also a student in animation, we applied to this [campaign]. They sent something to the film animation students to do animated videos about sexual assault. It was very fun to do. With fruits. We wanted to do light and funny characters to address something more serious with something that could attract people, and that’s why they took us because they liked this idea that it was warm and colorful but still with a serious subject. That’s what I kind of like to do, in general, I think. Attract people.
OL: How did the idea to do Le Clitoris came about?
Malépart-Traversy: It was for my final film in my third year. I thought that I should do something more personal that I really wanted to do. And female sexuality, sexuality in general, was something that was inspiring me. I saw an animated film by Signe Baumane. She did some few videos of like two or three minutes of her telling stories about her sexual experiences. That was the first time I saw an animated film about female sexuality told by a female, done by a female. And that’s something that brought my attention.
OL: Around what time was it when you saw it?
Malépart-Traversy: I saw it at the festival Les Sommets du Cinéma d’Animation [de Montréal]. They had a talk about women and sexuality in film animation, something that interests me. And they showed one of the films or maybe a couple of them. And it was funny, that’s what I like, but it was saying some truth about sexuality. I think it was in my first year in animation, like in 2013.
I decided, I did some research. I don’t now how I finally went to the clitoris itself, but when I read the Wikipedia page on the clitoris there was a bunch of weird information and historical facts that I’ve never read or knew about. And just to know about, to discover the actual anatomy of the clitoris, I didn’t know, that was inside with two roots. So I was like, “Oh!, There’s so much information I don’t know.” And by reading that I was, “I could do a film just about that. It’s short, we have to do a short film of two minutes. That could be my subject. Just the clitoris, fun facts, and things we don’t know about the clitoris.”
So that’s how I kind of wrote what I found, and I did more research. It was hard to find good information on the clitoris. I found one good book and I read it, and most of my information is based on that book. I wrote the name of the book in my end credits. It’s La Fabuleuse Histoire du clitoris [Jean-Claude Piquard, 2013], written by a French sexologist. It’s a guy, but I was surprised that it was good, even if it’s written by a guy. It was good, there was some feminist angle to it.
OL: Well, it seems that one of the points of your film is that it has always been something that men discover, there has always been a dismissal of that female perspective on their own bodies. Which added to the appeal of the film.
Malépart-Traversy: Yes, that was funny and not funny, because it’s a bit sad. But to see, how much men talk about le clitoris, as if females didn’t know about it, but females knew about their body for a long time. That made me realize, how much women don’t know about their own body, because of that, because all have this mysterious idea around it and it should not be mysterious; it should be scientific but the female body is made like that and the clitoris is make like that but it’s not the case, it’s mysterious. We don’t know how it works, how females have an orgasm. And with the G-spot, they invented a lot of stuff.
OL: Did you find a lot of sensationalism in your research?
Malépart-Traversy: Yeah, there’s a lot of that in women magazines. They have like, how to find your g-spot or argue if you are a vaginal or a clitorian person. There’s like false information that everybody kind of talks about, but true information is more important.
OL: How did you process this information in your animation? Could you tell us more about your process?
Malépart-Traversy: It was hard to put down the main information because there was much more, but I tried to divide the anatomy in the beginning; after a bit more the history of the discovery; and after, the history of how people talked about it and the orgasm; and after, Freud is just one part because he talked about it a lot; and after that now, how we treat the clitoris, what’s the future of the clitoris. I could divide it in those parts, but I had to put down some information because I had to do a short film. I think it worked.
OL: Could you talk more about the design aesthetics of Le Clitoris?
Malépart-Traversy: I wanted to do a film on paper because I think there’s something more natural to it, even if I was not used to do a film on paper. My past films were done with either stop-motion or the tablet, like drawn in the computer, but for this one I wanted something more tactile. Directly done with my hands.
I found it more alive, more tactile, more fun to do. It takes longer to do, but I like the result. At first I wanted to do just black and white but at the end I felt it was lacking a bit of pink, so I added a bit of color.
OL: In terms of aesthetics you have a lot of cohesion of the palette.
Malépart-Traversy: I wanted to have something simple. I think that is my personal style.
OL: What about the humour? Because there’s a lot of humour in it.
Malépart-Traversy: It came naturally I think. Some stuff I had to adjust and have it read by some other people, but the little jokes in the writing were a bit natural. And because I found the subject already funny, a bit absurd, that was coming like naturally. Some came really quickly, but for some I had to think like how I could illustrate that sentence. It’s interesting to watch and even more funny than just the sentence.
But I think it came with a lot of effort and trying. Because I had my class to show it each week that was my chance to show my jokes and test if it was funny enough. If people watch it and they laugh, even after the first time. If they watch it and still are laughing then that’s good. But some other jokes, I was like “maybe I’ll change it” because people were not laughing as much as I wanted. So, I had my public each two weeks and myself. I think it’s funny. I think I’m a good public for my film.
OL: How long did it take you to do the animation?
Malépart-Traversy: We had eight months. We had the first semester, four months, to work on the script, the scenario and the story board, and we had the winter, four months, to do the animation. Which still is short, but the longest time we have in the program to do a film. Eight months.
OL: After you finished it, you premiered it at the Concordia Film Festival. How was its reception there?
Malépart-Traversy: It was good. People were really laughing out loud. And I think people think it’s funny, but I also think people are a bit shy to have all these words in their ear, like clitoris, and vagina, and penis, and that’s why they are laughing so loud. They think it’s funny but they are also shy. It’s a taboo subject.
But the reaction was good.
OL: You mention that after it goes through the festival circuit it will go online.
Malépart-Traversy: Yes. It’s sad. I would like to load it quickly, but I have to wait. Some festivals ask that.
OL: How has been the festival circuit with your film?
Malépart-Traversy: It’s been good. It’s been now in twenty-five festivals and I even receive some emails with requests from people. It can be from festivals and also for interviews.
OL: Did you know about these twenty-five festivals before, or did they contact you?
Malépart-Traversy: Most of them I knew about. I’ve done a lot of work in distributing my film. And it’s just lately that some have asked me. It’s more small festivals. But the ones I’ve been to are mostly because I looked at a list of animation festivals.
OL: Besides Ottawa International Animation Film Festival, which other festivals have you personally been to?
Malépart-Traversy: I’ll be at DOK Leipzig. I’m going to Germany to assist the festival. They invited me. It’s for the first week of November. It’s the first time I’ll be to a festival besides Ottawa [OIAFF]. I’m going to DOK Leipzig because they invited me, they are paying the trip.
OL: Has anyone approached you for posterior distribution?
Malépart-Traversy: I would like to send it to schools, to high schools. I had a request from a teacher who wanted to show it to high school students. I think that could work well.
OL: Do you think your film has brought greater awareness to women’s sexuality?
Malépart-Traversy: I don’t know yet. I hope so. I think people, like me, discover some stuff by watching the film. First, the anatomy in the film really interests people. Like, “Oh, I didn’t know it had roots inside.” It’s not clear now, because people are still shy. They are able to come to me and say “I like your film,” but it stops there. I think they are shy about it.
But I think it can work There’s something in the air about the clitoris and female sexuality, about knowing more about your body. I didn’t know about then. It’s just when I started to do my film that I started to do some research. It was something in the air. That’s good. Maybe it has to do with a bit more feminism in the public space. It becomes, just a little bit more mainstream, just a little bit so it goes with talking about sexuality.
OL: What is the potential for animation as a tool for feminism?
Malépart-Traversy: It’s a good way to spread message, I think. When I was in Fine Arts, I thought I was a bit closed in the milieu of fine arts, but when I went to animation, I saw it as a potential to show it to more people. I can just put my film online and anybody can watch it, it’s free, and you can have different messages. I can show my film to anybody—anybody could watch my film on the internet.
OL: Do you think animation had a unique way to tell your story compared to live-action?
Malépart-Traversy: I think you can be more creative in the way to represent what you want to tell. Because, you can do whatever you want. You can have any type of character. They can be genderless, with no racial type, they can be anything. And my film could not have been done in live-action because the clitoris is alive, it’s suddenly alive. It could have been a stop-motion, but not live-action.
OL: Having the clitoris as a character made it easier to assimilate.
Malépart-Traversy: You remember it also. You think it’s easy, it’s cute, it’s attractive, you may even want to have a toy of it. Like a plush toy.
OL: A plush clitoris?
Malépart-Traversy: Yeah. But people need to be open to animation, because animation is sometimes not accessible in the way that people think it’s just for kids. But I think that if you show it to anybody, they can understand it. Even if they don’t know about animation.
OL: So it becomes a more universal way of telling things?
Malépart-Traversy: Yeah, I think so.
OL: What are your future plans/projects?
Malépart-Traversy: I’m going to start a small residency at La Cinémathèque [Québécoise], and it’s going to be five weeks. I would like to start another project. I won’t have time to do the project in five weeks, but I want to start another project, and I would like to continue with the subject but this time I would like to do, maybe interviews, or taking women’s voices talking about masturbation. And putting that in an animated documentary again.
OL: Maybe in a way completing your second project, the one you left unfinished.
Malépart-Traversy: Yes. That’s it. But this time I don’t want my voice because [it’s been] enough of my voice for now. I would like to have other voices and play with that. I have a book I bought last year. It’s a small zine, like a small publication, and it’s from Montréal. It has anonymous stories of women talking about the way they masturbate. When they did it, how they felt. Just anonymous. And I thought it would be a great start for a new film. Taking these and make them be read by some women or maybe interview women, but I’m not sure because then. It becomes personal. Maybe something more abstract, more fluid, in terms of the representation, but I want to keep the humour side of it.
http://lorimalepart-clitoris.tumblr.com/ Lori Malépart-Traversy’s blog.
http://artmattersfestival.org/archive/ Art Matters student-run festival of Concordia
https://vimeo.com/126881517 Vimeo upload of Sparky Ketchup
https://www.concordia.ca/students/sexual-assault/consent.html Concordia Consent Campaign
http://ici.radio-canada.ca/emissions/medium_large/2014-2015/chronique.asp?idChronique=373646 Link to interview with author of La Fabuleuse Histoire du Clitoris Jean-Claude Piquard
http://www.dok-leipzig.de/en/ 59th International Leipzig Festival for Documentary and Animated Film