Animated video poem shows us how to combat pandemic loneliness

How To Be At Home by Andrea Dorfman and Tanya Davis is a sequel of sorts

A filmmaker and a poet who collaborated on a viral video a decade ago may have another hit with their new pandemic project.

Andrea Dorfman, filmmaker, animator and artist, collaborated with poet Tanya Davis on their piece How To Be Alone in 2010. It went viral on YouTube with 8.4 million views.

The piece offered solutions to loneliness, such as visiting a library or café, or going out to dance. Now, in these unprecedented times, social distancing has limited many of those options.

Dorfman recalled several fans telling her, “I love this poem, but we can’t do these things anymore.”

Dorfman said COVID-19 didn’t change her working environment because she usually works from home. But it prompted her to shelve the project she was working on and change course. She described How To Be At Home as a film “essentially catalyzed by COVID.”

In their 2010 collaboration, Davis was the main subject on camera. This video is different.

“This time Tanya was in P.E.I.,” Dorfman said. “I was here in Halifax. We couldn’t get together.”

Andrea Dorfman works in her home studio.   Chelsy Mahar

Dorfman used animation instead of live action. She used books as the frame for the five-minute piece, with the animation appearing in the turning pages of the book.

“It’s almost as though the way the poem is written there are many chapters in the book. (Davis) moves from one subject to another so completely,” Dorfman said.

While COVID-19 hasn’t changed a lot for Dorfman, she recognizes its impact on others. Reflection, she noted, is part of her art.

“As an artist, I think we’re always looking out at the world and wondering how to interpret it,” Dorfman said, adding she thinks a lot about how people are coping. “There are a lot of vulnerable people and people who are alone during this time so I think about that a lot and try to come up with ways that I can help.”

How To Be At Home was released on the National Film Board website on Sept. 21, as part of a series of short films on the pandemic called The Curve.

Carsten Knox, a Halifax journalist and film reviewer, saw the original film 10 years ago and now the sequel.

“I think that Andrea and Tanya’s video is actually maybe the first piece I’ve seen that really does respond in an honest and a wonderful way to what we’re going through right now,” Knox said.

“It’s the first piece of art that I’ve seen and gone, ‘Oh yeah, that’s right, that’s connecting me to this experience.’”

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