Brooklyn Film Festival Coverage: Xstine Cook and the Bum Family

By Adam Yuster

Lilly has to get home. Why? She doesn’t say, but as the friendly orange cyclops notes to her trusted pet Fluffle, it’s very important. At first, getting home seems like a simple task. All Lilly has to do is traverse the Canadian countryside in her tiny red car. But once Lilly is abducted by aliens, it becomes apparent that this is no ordinary road trip. To complete her mission, Lilly will have to escape the aliens and conquer such adversities as heavy traffic, suspicious hitchhikers, and even a brief encounter with Spock.

Such gleeful inanity could only come from the minds of Calgary-native writers, directors, and animators The Bum Family. Led by actress and performance artist Xstine Cook, The Bum Family consists of Xstine and her daughters, Maezy (14), Medina (13), and Zaiyah Dennie (11), as well as Xstine’s sister Heather Demuth and her daughters, Berlin (14), Ocean (12), and Sol (7). Though the majority of the collective isn’t even old enough to drive a car, make no mistake: The Bum Family’s films display a deft mix of sophisticated humor and detailed animation that most adult animators could only dream of. They have perfected the Pixar formula of appealing to both adults and kids in their work, as proven by their newest animated short, Lilly Hits the Road, which recently screened at Brooklyn Film Festival’s Kidsfilmfest and received an overwhelmingly positive response from both age groups.

Xstine first became fascinated by animation while watching animated films with her children when they were young. After taking a couple of animation classes on her own, she brought the kids to the 3rd Annual Quickdraw Animation Society’s 48-Hour Lockdown, an event wherein participants are given the course of a weekend to animate a film. There, they animated their first short together, The Birthday. It didn’t take long for Maezy, Medina, and Zaiyah to catch the animation bug. After producing three more shorts with their mother, Heather, Berlin, Ocean, and Sol wanted in on the fun. Taking on the moniker of “The Bum Family” (a fake surname, á la the Ramones, conjured up by Berlin and Maezy), the eight relatives entered the next Quickdraw Lockdown as a group, resulting in their first Bum Family short, The Garaseal. This was followed by the Bum Family’s first two films featuring their signature character Lilly, Lilly’s Big Day and Lilly Gets a Pet.

Though most of their films are animated within Quickdraw’s 48-hour timeline, The Bum Family’s films enter development about a year before each lockdown. The family typically holds production meetings twice a month, during which they generate ideas, write the script, and storyboard. Though the process for each film is subject to change, there a few mainstays that remain in place throughout each film’s development: Xstine always assembles the concepts, scenarios, and dialogue that the kids come up with into a script; Ocean always voices Lilly; and the family always splits into the same pairs to animate – Sol works with Zaiyah, Maezy works with Berlin, and Medina works with Ocean. The Bum Family’s loosely structured approach to filmmaking allows each team member to inject their own creativity and flair into their assigned sections of each project, resulting in the razor sharp humor and packed-to-the-brim cut-out animation style that’s become a staple of the family’s films.

The Bum Family doesn’t like resting on their laurels. They’ve already created a follow-up to Lilly Hits the Road. The latest installment in the Lilly series was completed at the 2017 Quickdraw Lockdown, where it took home the lockdown’s prize for first place. They are planning on submitting it to this year’s Calgary International Film Festival, where they hope it will be featured next.

About The Author

Adam Yuster is a junior at NYU, where he studies Dramatic Writing. He is currently president of the Motion Picture Club @NYU. His favorite movie of all time is Raiders of the Lost Ark, and he not-so-secretly wishes he could be Indiana Jones. His Twitter handle is @filmdude5, and he'll give you candy if you follow him.

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