The touching story of an Australian performer whose alter-ego is a talking robot will have its world premiere at the prestigious Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival next month.
Happy Android is a new 25-minute documentary from award-winning Brisbane filmmaker Jaina Kalifa. It focuses on Melbourne street performer Paul Cooper, who has entertained audiences around the world for 20 years as his loveable creation Tubby the Robot.
The festival program has just been released, with Kalifa one of only a handful of Australians selected.
The film candidly explores Cooper’s ongoing battle with depression and anxiety, and the sometimes stark difference between the bubbly Tubby, and the man behind the costume.
“Sometimes the boundary between the actor and their character is blurred, and for Paul it is very blurred because he’s been performing almost exclusively as Tubby for 20 years,” Kalifa says.
“Paul and Tubby are separate, but they’re also very intertwined, so the film sets out to explore that.”
In addition to observing Cooper in his element at festivals and markets, Kalifa has experimented with magical realism, and included interviews with Tubby as a character in his own right. This allows Tubby to offer poignant reflections on Paul’s challenges.
A former street performer himself, Kalifa has wanted to share Cooper’s story for 15 years.
“We found going through the film making process has been quite therapeutic for Paul. It’s a coming out in some ways, and he makes himself very vulnerable in the film.
“My mother is an art therapist, and I understand the power of the arts to transform trauma and to help manage emotions. I created this film to hopefully spark a different conversation around mental health.”
It is the second time that Kalifa has had a short documentary selected for the festival, following the screening of Strudel Sisters there in 2016. That film has since screened around the world.
The Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival is one of the world’s premier showcases of documentary filmmaking, and is an official qualifying event for the Academy Awards short documentary category. It takes place from April 25 to May 5.