Carl Joseph Papa Talks About How Richard Linklater Influenced His Rotoscoped Animated Film The Missing in This Interview

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Listeners should note that the following interview contains discussions on childhood sexual abuse and trauma.

Writer-director Carl Joseph Papa’s The Missing follows Eric (Carlo Aquino), a young man who lives alone, maintains a crush on his coworker Carlo (Gio Gahol), and has a strong bond with his mother Rosalinda (Dolly De Leon). Rosalinda’s request for Eric to check in on his uncle who they haven’t heard from in some time coincides with the presence of an alien. These unexpected events cause Eric’s repressed memories of trauma from his childhood to reemerge, amplifying the other aspect of his life that’s causing him alarm: he’s starting to lose body parts. When we first meet Eric, his mouth is missing, and then as his hold on life and reality starts to slip, other parts of his body start to go missing: an ear, a hand, and more.

Narratively, The Missing is a layered and emotional experience that resonates long after the credits have rolled, but it’s how Carl and his creative team use the form of rotoscope animation to create tonal and thematic layers to Eric’s story that makes it all the more memorable. Eric’s life is presented in a Richard Linklater-esque style of animation, but as his memories of his youth come back, they’re presented with a childlike animation that represents the discovering of a creative identity. Carl then uses a smothering black border that creeps in on those memories as Eric’s traumatic events stifle that sense of self and creativity that would otherwise have flourished. Equally, Carl uses the open possibilities of animation to reflect Eric’s missing body parts: his hand gets replaced by a glitching png image, file not found.

While animation is an open playground for creative minds, it’s rarely utilised to explore the aspects of humanity and our inner-self in a way that live-action filmmaking simply cannot do. The Missing then becomes a truly unique experience that lingers because of its creativity and honesty.

In the following interview, I ask Carl about where that creativity comes from, how his journey into filmmaking began, and on honouring the survivors of trauma and abuse in his work. The Missing is screening at the QueerScreen Mardis Gras Film Festival on Wednesday 21 February 2024.

Andrew F Peirce

Andrew is passionate about Australian film and culture. He is the co-chair of the Australian Film Critics Association, a Golden Globes voter, and the author of two books on Australian film, The Australian Film Yearbook - 2021 Edition, and Lonely Spirits and the King. You can find him online trying to enlist people into the cult of Mac and Me.

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