On The Surface

4mn animation about a young Black woman who goes swimming in the Icelandic sea and reflects on her experience of raising a child in a country that feels nothing like home. As she enters the freezing water, she relives her traumatic pregnancy and postnatal depression. Soon her swimming eases. Being in the wild and facing her fears is helping her heal.

  • Fan Sissoko
    We The People
  • Fan Sissoko
    We The People
  • Enid Mbabazi
    Key Cast
  • Tariqh Akoni / Red Wagon Music
  • Arnar Guðjonsson
    Sound recording
  • Hafdis Bjarnadóttir
    Sound recording
  • Project Type:
  • Runtime:
    3 minutes 56 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    April 15, 2021
  • Production Budget:
    5,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
  • Language:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • Art With Impact
    United States
    June 21, 2021
    Official Selection
  • Fringe of Colour
    Edinburgh (Online)
    United Kingdom
    August 1, 2021
    Official Selection
  • Encounters Film Festival
    United Kingdom
    September 1, 2021
    Official Selection
  • Mom Film Festival

    United States
    August 20, 2021
    Official Selection
  • Ottawa International Animation Festival
    September 22, 2021
    Official Selection
  • Festival of Animation Berlin
    October 1, 2021
    Official Selection
  • Margate Film Festival
    United Kingdom
    October 27, 2021
    Official Selection
  • Rex Animation Festival
    October 29, 2021
    Official Selection
  • Our Heritage, Our Planet Film Festival
    United States
    October 12, 2021
    Heartwired Award
  • London Migration Film Festival
    United Kingdom
    November 25, 2021
    Official Selection
  • Lyth Arts Center Northern Lights Festival
    Pulteneytown People's Project
    United Kingdom
    October 14, 2021
    Official Selection
  • Animae Caribe International Animation & Digital Media Festival

    Trinidad and Tobago
    October 28, 2021
    Official Selection
  • TIAF - Tbilisi International Animation Festival
    October 30, 2021
    Official Selection
Director Biography - Fan Sissoko

Fan is a French-Malian artist and filmmaker based in Reykjavik, with a background in social design and visual ethnography. She uses film and audio storytelling as a means to record intimate stories that can inspire social change. She has been commissioned by the Migration Museum, the Museum of London, the Science Gallery Dublin and the National Trust. Her last project 'On the Surface' was awarded a grant from Art With Impact, an organisation using short films to start meaningful dialogue among young people about mental health.

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Director Statement

Response to 'On The Surface' by Cathy Brennan

"There’s an excellent shot of the water washing over toes on the shore. Such tactility reinforces the theme of the body’s relationship to the land it inhabits. A Black woman swimming in the lake is a part of this land, even though she may simultaneously see herself as apart from it, reflecting one of the potential peculiarities of the immigrant experience."

Response to 'On The Surface' by Xandra Robinson-Burns

"This film is my breakthrough in understanding that perhaps what matters most is not where we come from, but where we choose to be. Sometimes, I get angry, overwhelmed even, by the complexity of belonging, for myself and for other marginalised people. The thing is, I can’t be angry while watching On The Surface. It’s too beautiful: the colours, the landscape, and the sounds of the sea are all too calming. Even as difficult topics of trauma, medical racism, and postnatal depression arise, the film’s setting feels like a safe space for our narrator to explore them. Her memories grow more challenging, and the waves around her do too. She reminds us that the mountains are scary, and the water is cold. Her body disappears and reappears as it navigates her swim. Nature appears to absorb her struggles, which ring out to the depths of the ocean and the peaks of the mountains."