Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby didn’t know it then, but a little blurb in a museum would serve as the inspiration for “The Flying Sailor,” which would net them an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Short Film. “It came up on our radar over 20 years ago when we happened to be in Halifax and visited the maritime museum and there was a whole section devoted to the Halifax explosion which was a huge event in Halifax,” Tilby tells Gold Derby during our recent webchat (watch the exclusive video interview above).
Amidst the section about the 1917 explosion was a small description of Charlie Mayers who was flung over a mile by the explosion and managed to survive the experience. “We thought it was pretty rich stuff for an animated film and we were interested in his trip. What was it like? It was, in essence, a near-death experience and so we followed near-death experiences as our template for what he went through in that journey.”
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In “The Flying Sailor,” which can currently be viewed on YouTube and the website for The New Yorker, a boat collides with another boat that is filled with dynamite causing a huge explosion. The explosion catapults a nearby sailor through the air for two kilometers (around 1.24 miles) and as he is airborne, views his memories and contemplates the fragile nature of his own existence. This effort marks the third Oscar nomination for Forbis and Tilby, who have been working together for over thirty years. They were previously nominated in this category for “When the Day Breaks” in 1999 and “Wild Life” in 2011.
Besides the near-death experience, the pair wanted the idea of memories to serve as the other main theme for the short. Forbis explains that they didn’t want the memories to be of life-altering instances but rather be little flashes of subtler moments that one might not even think to mention to other people. “We were trying to let you in on this private experience of his and to make you think about your own memories and how ephemeral they are,” she says. She adds that they also wanted to show the fragility of life and how miniscule our existence is when compared to the vastness of the universe that we inhabit. “Our lives are profound to us and yet they are absolutely nothing in the universe. They’re just little moats of dust.”
The pair are excited to return to the Oscars as nominees but Forbis told of how nothing would be as nerve-racking as their first experience on the red carpet of the 72nd Oscars in 2000. “The thing that blows me away is that Wendy lost her ticket to the Oscars! We go up to the door and we say to the guy, ‘Would you let her in?’ He said, ‘Oh, go in.’ It’s completely unimaginable today.” Ultimately though, the duo just want more people to know about and see the film. “It’s really meaningful recognition and we’re grateful for it because we’re doing this film so that people will see it and that it will hopefully mean something to them.”
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