Tahir Rana: 5 Films That Influence Me As a Storyteller
Tahir Rana
Tahir Rana

Tahir Rana has always loved animation. He began his career in the form, working on various series like Max & Ruby, Looney Tunes Cartoons, and George of the Jungle, before making his feature length animation debut, with co-director Eric Warin, Charlotte.

The film tells the real life story of German Jewish artist Charlotte Salomon, who created what is considered the first graphic novel with her series of over 750 autobiographical expressionistic paintings titled “Life? Or Theater?” Her life was cut tragically short when she was killed at the Auschwitz concentration camp during WWII. 

Salomon is voiced in the film by Oscar-nominee Keira Knightley, with a supporting voice cast that includes Mark Strong, Brenda Blethyn, and Oscar-winner Jim Broadbent. Knightley also serves as an executive producer, alongside Marion Cotillard, Xavier Dolan, and others.  

Charlotte premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2021 to positive reception for Rana and Warin’s exploration of Salomon’s all too brief life, utilizing animation to capture her unique view of the world. Rana told the CBC, "Her story, to me, it really resonates now, even as a refugee story, as, you know, somebody who's been marginalized because of her religion and her race. These are themes that are still echoing in the world today, unfortunately."

Below, Rana shares with A.frame the films that spurred his love of animation, and the ones that inspire him as a storyteller.

Empire of the Sun
Empire of the Sun
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Directed by: Steven Spielberg | Written by: Tom Stoppard

Based on a novel by J.G. Ballard of his own experiences in a Japanese prison camp as a youngster during World War II, Empire of the Sun successfully showcases the spectacle of war on an epic scale while being told through the lens of an innocent child idealist. For me, this gem of a film by Spielberg is criminally underrated and serves as a masterclass in achieving tonal harmony. Balancing themes opposed to each other is no easy feat - a coming-of-age story full of wonder and spectacle amid the horrors of armed battle - and Spielberg pulls it off effortlessly.

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Directed by: Ron Clements and John Musker | Written by: Ron Clements, John Musker, and Ted Elliott

Without question, Disney's 1992 masterpiece Aladdin is the film I was most inspired by as a youngster, and arguably laid the foundation for the direction for the rest of my life. While this may seem like hyperbole, I can assure you that, after watching this film as a 12-year-old, I knew I would be an animator and immediately began to look at drawing no longer as a hobby but as a genuine lifelong pursuit. I remember being so incredibly moved by the stunning animation and visuals, but what really made this film stand-alone was how much life was breathed into the characters. These were not merely two-dimensional drawings on a screen, but larger-than-life characters whose performances eclipsed anything I had ever seen before. Musker and Clements had imbued each of the characters with a strong and distinct personality equipped with believable motivations, and their arcs were well-developed and satisfying. This movie was and still is a 10/10 and, in my opinion, the best Disney movie of all time.

Back to the Future
Back to the Future
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Directed by: Robert Zemeckis | Written by: Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale

I'm a real sucker for bulletproof story structures full of setups and payoffs, so it should probably come as no surprise to have this film on my list of inspirations. One of the rare Hollywood films where everything works. And there is no fat on this bone; everything on-screen is purposeful and integral to the storytelling and plot. It's a film that never takes itself too seriously, and moves at a breezy pace. Zemeckis takes advantage of the perfect chemistry between Marty and Doc to create a film that is truly unforgettable and timeless - pun intended.

My Neighbour Totoro

Written and Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki

There has never been a better world-builder than Hayao Miyazaki. And, in Totoro, he lovingly handcrafts a place that's so full of wonder and enchantment that, as a kid, I'd often dream of taking up residence there. Miyazaki plots a narrative with no antagonists, no evil villains, or fight scenes. There are no conflicts of any kind in this story, and the plot is driven only through the various situations the girls find themselves in. Miyazaki is a master at creating a world, setting up the rules, and never violating them. With this film, the filmmaker boldly claims that the wonderment of life and the resources of imagination supply all the adventure you will ever need.

The Shawshank Redemption
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Written and Directed by: Frank Darabont

This film is my answer for what VHS cassette I would take with me on a deserted island if I could only choose one. Its repeat viewing value is that immense. In Shawshank, Darabont never loses sight of the film's central themes of hope and freedom, despite the dreary realities of prison life. The characters are beautifully rendered and developed and, as a viewer, you experience all of the highs and lows of Andy's tribulations almost as viscerally as he does - I've never rooted for a character more in any story. This film is flawless, and I still get goosebumps when Red meets Andy on the beach.

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