When the pandemic arrived previously this yr, artist Dave Russo, like so several other people, uncovered himself hunkering at residence in Ashfield. The relaxation of the family was upended as nicely: Russo’s spouse, Maddy Leue, a graduate university student in public plan at the College of Massachusetts Amherst, had to start off having classes online, and her 6-calendar year-aged daughter, Calliope Mary, could no more time go to university at Sanderson Academy.

So Russo and Calliope, who’s normally regarded as Callie, utilized all those to start with couple months of lockdown to collaborate on a shared art project — one which is now observed its way to various regional movie festivals. The most recent is the Boston International Young ones Film Festival, which requires place (pretty much) this Friday by means of Sunday, Nov. 20-22.

“The Magical Forest and the Things” is an animated shorter movie centered on Russo’s pen and marker drawings on watercolor paper. Russo then scanned and organized the drawings in movie application, incorporating a narration done generally by Callie, alongside with audio outcomes this sort of as breaking sticks, the recordings of which have been slowed down to audio like crashing trees.

The about four-minute movie is a parable about employing organic assets properly — and about folks using responsibility in their individual life for performing that, and not reinforcing their very own undesirable selections by peer acceptance. In the movie, the characters occasionally share large fives for the mistaken factors.

“It’s a enjoyable way of wanting at this challenge in a way that kids can recognize,” Russo claimed during a new cellular phone phone. “But what seriously helps make the movie is Callie’s narration — she’s just hilarious.”

In point, Russo says his concept of producing a shorter movie with Callie experienced been percolating right before the pandemic arrived, if for no other purpose than to test and capture the girl’s electricity, curiosity and strange phrases. “I would listen to her and assume ‘I want we ended up recording this stuff,’” he claimed with a chortle.

The Quarantine Attic 

The prospect arrived in March with the pandemic, at which point he and Callie secluded themselves in what he phone calls the “Quarantine Attic,” a makeshift studio he arranged at the Ashfield home he shares with Leue (he experienced formerly been living and working in Northampton but moved to Ashfield in March to assist Callie and her mother deal with the pandemic-induced chaos).

Artwork — off-conquer artwork especially — is central to Russo’s lifetime. He was the banjo player and frontman for the Valley Band The Primate Fiasco, which in the course of its about 11-yr run broke various musical boundaries by mixing banjo, tuba, drums and accordion to engage in a blend of New Orleans-fashion avenue jazz with upbeat pop rhythms. A number of yrs ago, for instance, they offered a “Dylan Disco” demonstrate at Northampton’s Iron Horse Audio Hall: superior-energy dance versions of tracks by the venerable songwriter. The band also once gained a Grammy nomination for a kids’ album.

Following the team called it quits about three decades in the past, Russo states he fell back again on drawing, one thing he’d 1st started off as a teenager, when he’d at times sketch crowds at concerts he produced his function further more in art faculty. Dusting off his pens and markers a handful of decades ago, he found out many Primate Fiasco enthusiasts identified his fashion and wanted to buy the operate, he states.

His illustrations and posters — of folks, pets, landscapes and cityscapes, interpretations of music lyrics — have a form of free-limbed, kinetic model that, as he writes on his web-site, relies as much on memories and emotional inspiration as immediate observation. An preliminary sketch generally “has an explosion of spirals and scribbles on it … Then I might switch colours and try out to wrestle it into form.”

He’s applied that strategy in “The Magical Forest and the Things,” a story he designed with Callie’s narration — she also contributed some drawings — and some concepts she initial mentioneda several decades back, these types of as a forest exactly where trees manufactured chocolate bars and bowls of dog food stuff, and in which turkeys wandered freely. “We employed a quantity she 1st coined a few many years back: 50 hundred hundred,” he mentioned.

The story Callie relates is just one of first harmony, in which “people” — curlicue figures with notable eyes and tooth — harvest meals from the forest and turn an occasional tree into a compact, picket cabin-sort house. Then one day a big appears, and people get started asking it to harvest a lot more trees to build even bigger and more substantial houses. The forest will become a wasteland of stumps, foodstuff disappears, an urban landscape rears up in the background, and the temper turns unattractive.

“No 1 desired minimal residences anymore,” Callie intones.

One scene shows the tendril-like people today arguing with just about every other more than the dwindling meals source, with some keeping protest symptoms. “99{462f6552b0f4ea65b6298fc393df649b8e85fbb197b4c3174346026351fdf694} of chocolate is eaten by 1{462f6552b0f4ea65b6298fc393df649b8e85fbb197b4c3174346026351fdf694}” a single reads. Counters one more: “But its MY foodstuff.”

Russo suggests Callie, who’s now 7, “did a excellent bit of acting” for the movie, imitating her speech from when she was youthful. “She’s a seriously clever kid, and she’d outgrown that kind of at times clumsy phrasing you have as a toddler, but she was ready to do a convincing occupation of sounding like she’s about 3.” She was also entertaining to do the job with, he included, and “learned a good deal about the process” of earning the film.

That mentioned, much of this was new territory for Russo. “I’d never ever worked with a kid on a venture like this,” he reported. It required some patience, like recording some usually takes of Callie’s narration “while attempting to get her not to spin and leap at the identical time.”

The two also had fun wandering outdoors their property to record sound effects 1 trick was to history domestic geese on their residence and then speed up their cries to make them seem like turkeys.

Close friends with whom Russo and Leue (she has a voice cameo in the motion picture) shared their film suggested they submit it to movie festivals, and immediately after investigating the process online, Russo did just that. “The Magical Forest and the Things” was approved at 7 festivals in the Northeast this 12 months, including one particular in Brooklyn, New York and yet another in Providence, Rhode Island.

Regretably, all of the festivals went to a virtual structure because of the pandemic, Russo notes, so Callie, whom he and Leue are homeschooling this tumble, still has not had the working experience of attending a reside film fest.

“She definitely has no notion of what a film festival is,” he mentioned. “She’ll say ‘How is it not the same as YouTube?’ You try out to convey to her it’s this large occasion exactly where a lot of persons come to theaters to check out motion pictures, but it definitely does not sign-up with her.”

At least not however: post-pandemic, Russo’s hoping he and Leue will be able someday to choose Callie to a real, dwell movie fest “and do all the other items we employed to just take for granted.”

“The Magical Forest and the Things” will play at the Boston Intercontinental Youngsters Film Festival on Sunday, Nov. 22, throughout a 2-3:30 p.m. block (#9). Tickets for specific blocks are $20, $55 for the total festival. To get, visit bikff.org.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at [email protected]