TORONTO – It was a show-business moment Irish animator and filmmaker Nora Twomey had never experienced before.
Oscar-winning actor-director Angelina Jolie, an executive producer of Twomey’s “The Breadwinner,” showed up for the film’s premiere at the recent Toronto International Film Festival with five of her six children and posed with the cast for photos.
It’s rare to see Jolie on the red carpet with so much of her brood, and the moment made international headlines and provided a big boost to the independent Canadian co-production, which features various forms of 2D animation.
“For our cast, I think it was incredible for Angie to stand on the carpet with them all, and certainly for us it was fantastic,” Twomey said in a recent phone interview.
“I don’t think any of us had ever experienced cameras flashing to that extent ever before. But it was such a strong message to bring her children and to celebrate the film. It was a really, really great day.”
Opening Friday in Toronto, “The Breadwinner” features the voice of Toronto actress Saara Chaudry as 11-year-old Parvana, who disguises herself as a boy in order to support her family while her father is wrongfully imprisoned by the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001.
The story is adapted from Canadian author Deborah Ellis’s children’s novel, which is based on the testimony of Afghan women in refugee camps in Pakistan.
It’s one of 26 movies that have been submitted for consideration in the animated feature film category for the 90th Academy Awards.
Twomey said Jolie signed on to the film about three years ago, when they were in the early stages of script development. Jolie was a perfect fit, given her work with Afghan refugees and schools in the country.
She “shared our sensibilities and helped guide the process, from the casting all the way through to the exact sensibility of this story and where the story leads to,” said Twomey, co-founder and creative director at Cartoon Saloon, which is behind productions including the series “Puffin Rock” and the Oscar-nominated “The Secret of Kells.”
“As a female film director, to have another female film director to be able to ring up and seek guidance from was great. It was fantastic for our cast as well, because she very much asked me to, where I could, cast Afghan actors or at least people who had some kind of a story to tell in terms of moving from one country to another, or some kind of depth to them and intelligence to bring to the part.”
Coincidentally, Chaudry already had a history with Ellis and her novel before being cast.
After reading it with her mom she wrote to Ellis, who responded to her. Ellis then spoke at Chaudry’s school, and the actress told the author she’d love to see it be made into a film.
“Then a while later she got a call from her agent asking her to audition for the part,” said Twomey.
“Just the intelligence and sensitivity in her voice and her performance was just incredible.”
Acclaimed Canadian composers Jeff Danna and Mychael Danna did the score for the film, which opens in Vancouver on Dec. 1, in Ottawa on Dec. 8, and across Canada on Dec. 15.
Twomey hopes to bring it to Afghanistan next year.
“We’re in negotiations about it … and we’re certainly going to dub the film into Pashto and Dari,” she said, noting they recently screened the film at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C. for Rula Ghani, the first lady of Afghanistan.
“She was quite moved by the film and spoke really beautifully about it afterwards and the importance of girls’ education and the importance of women.”