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Ada (2001)


Set in a domestic dining room in Sydney over a number of years in the mid-1950s, Ada portrays a young girl’s observation of her elderly grandmother’s nightly ritual of shelling peas. Although the other family members, including a pet cat, come and go, the main focus of this autobiographical short film is the relationship between Ada (voiced by Isobel Lancaster) and her granddaughter, Lee.

Curator’s notes

This is a charming, quiet film set entirely in the dining room of a family home. The slow, laboured movements of the elderly Ada as she shuffles into the dining room aided by her walking stick are contrasted with the boisterous behaviour of her grandson Kent and the family cat. The world outside is suggested by the background sounds of children playing and the radio broadcasts which Lee and Kent listen to. The passage of time is indicated by long dissolves, subtle changes of light in the room, the occasional sound of rain, and small changes to domestic detail and the characters’ clothing.

Ada illustrates Lee Whitmore’s preference for making autobiographical films focusing on her childhood and family, using the traditional technique of drawing or painting on paper. In this film, she uses charcoal and pastel, in a straight-ahead process – drawing each image then erasing and drawing in. Consequently, a trace of all the drawings remains in the image (see Lee Whitmore’s website). Major influences on her technique include her father, who was an illustrator, and the Canadian animator Caroline Leaf – particularly her film The Street (1976), made by painting on glass under the camera.

Ada often focuses on the grandmother’s hands as she grips the chair to steady herself, as she shells peas for the family dinner, and as she waves an accompaniment to the music on the radio. In an interview for Women Do Animate: Interviews with 10 Australian Animators (Marian Quigley, 2005, Insight Publications) Lee told me, ‘The business of using one’s hands is important to my work as it was to Ada when she shelled the peas. For me, animation is very much a labour of the hands. I’ve always thought there was some connection between labour and love.’

Ada screened as part of Home Movies on SBS in January 2002.