7 Things We Learnt from Nora Twomey, Director of 'The Breadwinner'

Nora Twomey, Oscar-nominated animator

Nora Twomey, Oscar-nominated animator

What’s it like creating award-winning indie features and working alongside Angelina Jolie? Check out these 7 things we learnt from Irish animator Nora Twomey (The Secret of Kells, Song of the Sea) before the release of her powerful and spellbinding Oscar-nominated animation The Breadwinner – in cinemas Friday 25th May

From executive producer Angelina Jolie and based on Deborah Ellis’ bestselling novel, The Breadwinner tells the story of Parvana, an 11-year-old girl growing up under the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001. When her father is wrongfully arrested, Parvana disguises herself as a boy to support her family in an inspiring, timely tale about the power of stories.

Read to the end for a competition to win The Breadwinner goodies including books and DVDs.

1. Director and animator Nora Twomey only took one evening to decide that The Breadwinner would be her next film project

Given Deborah Ellis’ bestselling young adult novel by her producer, Twomey was hooked and read the book in one evening. She knew instantly that the tale of strong, loving yet flawed Parvana was a unique story that needed to be told on film. With animation studio Cartoon Saloon, which Twomey co-founded, and screenwriter Anita Doron, the journey to bring the novel to the big screen began...

2. The Breadwinner _Parvana and Shauzia.jpg

2. Angelina Jolie was Executive Producer on the film and helped cast the lead role of Parvana

When Angelina Jolie boarded the project as Exec Producer, she was able to offer Twomey her own insights into Afghanistan as a U.N. Goodwill Ambassador in support of girls’ schools in the region. Jolie was also involved in listening to audition tapes to find the right voice cast, including Canadian newcomer Saara Chaudry who voices Parvana. “When she auditioned for the part I put the picture of Saara on the computer screen and listened to the voice – she was Parvana”, Twomey says. “She has such empathy, intellect and emotional depth, a unique talent for an 11 year old actor”.  

The Breadwinner

 3. Speaking of the inspirational women behind the film, the Producer of feminist classic Thelma and Louise was also on board

Already a fan of cult road movie Thelma and Louise, Twomey was pleased to have Mimi Polk Gitlin on board as as one of the Exec Producers alongside Jolie. In light of recent movements for women in film, The Breadwinner is a work with a complex young girl as lead. However Twomey is keen to stress that Parvana “isn't someone who sees herself as female” in her act of disguising herself as a boy to support her family, and she is not solely defined by her gender: “Parvana is always Parvana”. We guarantee you'll be rooting for her on her journey.


4. Actors with Afghani heritage voiced the characters and helped shape the screenplay

The Breadwinner team took great care to make sure the story and dialogue was authentic and reflected the local culture, and many of the voice cast were of Afghani heritage. “There was so much input from people there at the time, to make sure it was not judgemental but also empathetic”, Twomey explained. Dialect coach Kawa Abu, who was born in Kabul, shared his own experiences of the conflicts, as well as himself voicing the character of Razaq. Other crew members told their own stories of girls who dressed as boys to attend school in secret. 


5. The animation doesn’t shy away from the brutalities of life under the Taliban, but children and adults alike have connected with the story

For Twomey it was important to represent the violence and oppression of women in Afghanistan, while creating a universal animation that resonated with both child and adult audiences. She invited groups of school children to early screenings of the finished film. “After the film, the students were chatting, smiling, talking – the adults were red-eyed and traumatised! Children take their cue from Parvana and her point of view”. As the plucky girl declares in the film, “Raise your words, not your voice. It is rain that makes the flowers grow, not thunder.”  Prepare for an emotional – and uplifting – 95 minutes.

The Breadwinner

6. It’s a celebration of the universal power of storytelling (with a dash of Pan’s Labyrinth)

As co-director of Oscar-nominated Irish fable The Secret of Kells (2009), Twomey was struck by the likeness in both tales: “with everything around you destroyed, how do you hang onto hope and meaning? When you find similarities between stories of two different countries, it shows universal humanity.” One of the beautiful touches to The Breadwinner is the story-within-a-story about the mythical Elephant King, animated in cut-out style, which takes you into Parvana’s imagination as she copes with the troubles around her. There are shades of Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, which Nora has previously called a “touchstone” for the making of this feature. 


7. Nora has some exciting new projects on the horizon...

Cartoon Saloon studio, co-owned by Twomey, is working on Wolfwalker, the final part of the Irish mythology trilogy which began with the beguiling The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea. Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart direct a "creative, adventurous, beautiful" story which looks set to draw further comparison with Studio Ghibli.

She's also working on a feature with Meg LeFauve, screenplay writer of Inside Out and Captain Marvel – stay tuned!

The Breadwinner

[Words by Megan James]


This powerful animated feature unfolds in Taliban controlled Afghanistan. When her father is inexplicably detained, young Parvana (Saara Chaudry) must disguise herself as a boy in order to earn money for her family. It’s a moving exploration of the plight of women in this country from the makers of The Secret of Kells, and was nominated for Best Animated Feature at the 2018 Oscars.

The Breadwinner is in cinemas from Friday 25 May.


To celebrate the release of The Breadwinner we've got a superb bundle of goodies from StudioCanal UK to give away to one lucky winner.  The prize includes:

  • A Breadwinner poster
  • DVDs of Song of the Sea, Persepolis, The Red Turtle 
  • Four books from the 'Parvana' series by Deborah Ellis
  • A copy of The Breadwinner graphic novel

For a chance to win, simply fill in your details and answer the competition question below:

Name *
Competition question: which country is The Breadwinner set in? *
Please tick only one box. Only entries with the correct answer will be eligible for the prize draw.

This competition ends on Wednesday 30 May at 12noon. 

With thanks to StudioCanal UK.