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Adam Elliot on characters: empathy and the outsider

By ACMI, 2010 2:47 minutes

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Adam Elliot tells stories about outsiders, inviting his audience to empathise with the characters and understand their differences. He appreciates the opportunity that filmmaking offers to educate and inform an audience, but he is particularly interested in making films that connect with people’s emotions.

Collection Screen Worlds


Discussion Points

Elliot’s characters struggle to survive in a hostile world, but the bleakness of their existence is tempered by the incidental comedy associated with their everyday lives. Elliot notes that he finds it fairly easy to make people laugh but that it is far more challenging and rewarding to get an audience to identify with and feel for a character.

  •  In Mary and Max, the characters’ lives are depicted as simultaneously comic and tragic. Focus on the way this works in a specific scene.
  • How does Elliot’s 'chunky wonky' animation style contribute to his compassionate portrayal of human frailty and imperfection?
  • Mary and Max’s letters are a significant feature of the film’s story. Think about how the way they look becomes almost as important as the ideas they communicate. For instance, what is the effect of the young Mary’s wobbly handwriting, her spelling mistakes and her postscripts such as ‘P.S. ‘Have you evar been teased?’ Choose a letter and examine it in terms of the way it is constructed and what it contains.

Adam Elliot attributes his preoccupation with making films about outsiders to feelings of injustice that he experienced as a child. Many other artists are similarly motivated by childhood events and experiences.

  • Search this site for Ivan Sen and listen to his comments on his childhood ambivalence about his Aboriginal identity and the way in which this early confusion has fed into his films.

Adam Elliot is the official patron of The Other Film Festival: new cinema by, with and about people with a disability.

  • Think about Elliot’s comments on the power of filmmaking as a means of representing people who feel like outsiders because of a lack of empathy and understanding on the part of others. With this in mind, consider the role and significance of a film festival like The Other Film Festival.