TELLURIDE, Colonel – Words fail Jenny Slate. It’s Friday night at the Telluride Film Festival and the actress has just flown from her first flight in 17 months, still foggy from quarantine, a time when she became the mother of two different but equally profound projects: a brand new baby and a full-length one Movie she made for a decade.

Slate is here for her vocal work on Marcel the Shell, the most unlikely of all internet sensations. No bigger than a nickel, this stop-motion clam with a single googly eye and shoes stolen from a Polly Pocket doll set the internet on fire when she and filmmaker Dean Fleischer Camp uploaded a three-minute video to YouTube in 2010, Illustrating Marcel’s silent optimism – “I like myself and I have many other great qualities” – attracted immediate interest and ended up receiving more than 31 million views in total. (Two more short films followed in 2011 and 2014.)

Marcel’s voice is different from Slate’s other animation works, be it Harley Quinn in “Lego Batman” or Tammy Larsen in “Bob’s Burgers”. (She spoke to Missy Foreman-Greenwald on “Big Mouth” until she resigned in 2020, saying, “Black characters in an animated series should be played by blacks.”) Marcel has a high, melancholy timbre that could make you cry as easily as laugh. (“Some people say my head is too big for my body and I say, ‘Compared to what?'”) And it was so contagious that it led to appearances on the late night talk shows, two bestsellers, and memes , Tattoos and offers for television shows and commercial sponsorship.

But Slate and Camp, who first started Marcel as a married couple but are now involved in other relationships, protected Marcel so much that instead of taking a simple payday – Slate offers that they would have helped them when they had problems with artists had – they spent the next decade turning it into a feature film.

It was an arduous process that involved a bunch of animators and designers. Friday evening marked the climax of all this work when “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” had its world premiere. The 90-minute mockumentary shows an aspiring documentary filmmaker, Dean (Camp), who moves into an Airbnb only to discover 1-inch Marcel with his memory-tormented grandmother Nana Connie (voiced by Isabella Rossellini) and his pet. named Alan, grieving after a mysterious tragedy that ripped the rest of their community out of their cozy home.

Slate likens the process of making the film to watching one of those science videos of a flower blooming in fast motion.

“One morning you just wake up and there is a flower and it’s blue,” said Slate. “That’s what it feels like.”

Slate, a little more shy and reserved than you’d expect, is still thinking about her life after the pandemic. Slate is happier than when she and Camp first created Marcel as a fun piece for a friend’s comedy show is the result of the “love infinity loop” she is currently with her baby and fiancé Ben Shattuck experienced.

“We’ve been in the process for so long and this character has so many different roles for me,” she added. “At first I think I just had to prove to myself one more time that I was funny. And then I realized that I was doing something that was actually very personal to me. So the film tried to show that inner part of me. I just can’t believe it worked. “

And it worked. The Hollywood Reporter called it “a cute, no-nonsense movie whose message about self-compassion and community feels particularly forward-looking.” And IndieWire called it a critics’ recommendation, calling it “the cutest family grief movie you might ever see all year round.”

“Marcel” is one of the few films that debuts on Telluride and is looking for a buyer. And while it’s been in the works for nearly a decade, it’s one of many films at the festival, including Mike Mills ‘”C’mon, C’mon”, Joe Wright’s “Cyrano” and Peter Hedges’ “The Same Storm”. feel like a reaction to our current mood of fear and alienation. “I’m really excited that the film is arriving at this moment,” said Camp, who argues that the lucky timing suggests that “even before the Covid success, we felt increasingly isolated and vulnerable”.

In 2010, when Marcel first appeared, Slate said, “She was waiting to be fired from Saturday Night Live,” which she had been working on for an unhappy year. But the voice that Marcel activated was one she never used on the sketch show.

“I felt like I had given every voice I could have done to save myself, and suddenly this voice that I had never done before came out of my mouth,” she said. “In retrospect, it was a real decision to just use it for myself privately. That wouldn’t have belonged to ‘SNL’ anyway and it was this very nice opening to the belief that there is a world outside of the tiny, narrow hallway that contains what you perceive as your own failure. “

To make the film, Slate and Camp spent a year and a half recording improved audio sessions. Then their co-writer and editor Nick Paley and Camp devoted just as much time to turning those improvisational snippets into script form. This eventually became an animation (audio with music and storyboard visuals) that they could watch and perform for the test audience to make sure everything was working before they filmed the live action and eventually the stop motion animation. “Ultimately, we adjusted to an indie version of the Pixar process,” said Camp.

However, the basic premise always remained: Marcel had lost most of his mussel family to an argument with people.

“We have always liked that the overabundance of emotionality from the human world caused this major disruption in the clam world,” said Slate, adding that creating Nana Connie had long been part of the plan. “The idea was what you do when your life as you know it is broken and the only person who remembers it wouldn’t remember at all.”

It is this urgency and this heartache that gives the film its center. It’s also the creative project that Slate is most proud of. Today she sings her daughter songs in Marcel’s voice. (She thinks he’s a better singer than she is.) And while she doesn’t know what’s next for that cute but stubborn avatar of herself, it’s clear that Marcel is buried deep inside her.

“I always see Marcel as my real self and how I would really like to be if my ego and the insignia of being a woman in patriarchy didn’t get in the way.”