When looking for financing for her passion project, Jen Sachs quickly realized she already had three strikes against her in making an animated historical biopic about a little-known female French aeronaut. Then again, the aeronaut Sophie Blanchard always seemed to be going up against great odds and overcoming them.
Sachs and producing partner Ruby Lopez are hoping the balloonist who became a pioneer in aviation along with her husband Jean-Pierre during the early 1800s will take off once more in “The Fantastic Flights of Sophie Blanchard,” a feature currently raising funds on IndieGoGo through December 17th.
As it happens, the film will be a maiden voyage into the feature realm for Sachs, having already delved into the history books before for the shorts “Translations” and “The Velvet Tigress,” the latter of which had a particularly celebrated run on the festival circuit in 2001 culminating in a Student Academy Award. It was around that time that the animator and graphic designer first became aware of Blanchard and was frustrated by how historians chose to position the legacy of the pioneering female aviator as the first woman to die in an aviation accident (caused by pyrotechnics) rather than as the first to take to the skies as a career.
“Each fact that I was able to uncover about her journey made me want to learn more,” said Sachs, who began actual production on the film in 2009. “Even a short animated film can take several years to complete, but I soon realized that Sophie's extraordinary story was worthy of the work of a feature.”
For her research, Sachs traveled around the world to collect interviews with experts as intrigued by Blanchard’s unusual life as she was, including the likes of French balloonist Audouin Dollfus, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum senior curator Tom Crouch, and Aurelio Barbieri and Federico Marenco, the current and former mayors, respectively, of Montebruno, Italy, the site of Blanchard’s triumphant and somewhat miraculous landing in 1811 when she gave a flight demonstration for Napoleon in honor of his son's birth. With only a handful of personal letters written by Blanchard and just a few images of her to use as primary source, Sachs found the testimony of experts combined with animated recreations of Blanchard’s ballooning to be the best way of depicting her high-flying career.
“With animation, I also hope to convey the sense of wonder inherent in those early days of flight and to communicate how transformational an experience it was for Sophie,” said Sachs. “This medium is exceptional for communicating many levels of an experience simultaneously.”
In other words, the format is ideal to depict an experience as rich as the one had by Blanchard, who was believed to be a witch by some and hailed as the Madonna by others, and it’s safe to say at this point in the production, Sachs may be able to identify with the highs and lows. A self-described “one-woman production team,” Sachs has completed all of the live-action interviews and is pushing towards finishing three-quarters of the animation with help from grants from the Puffin Foundation and the Wolf Aviation Fund. But she’s turned to IndieGoGo since, in her words, “without additional funding to bring on another animator, I can see myself working on this in solitude for another 10 years.”
That fate might feel as if it shares an uncomfortable parallel to Blanchard’s own, seeing as though her tombstone was etched with the epitaph “Victim of her art and intrepidity.” However, just as Sachs is determined to change the way the aviatrix is seen by history, she’s equally as resolute in making sure “The Fantastic Flights of Sophie Blanchard” is seen, period, most likely in the spring of 2013.
“I won't give up on Sophie's story,” said Sachs. “Through this campaign, I hope to find others who will help this project take flight.”
To back this project and to see the trailer for "The Fantastic Flights of Sophie Blanchard," visit the film's IndieGoGo page here. And follow the film's progress of Twitter, Facebook and its official site.