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Fresh from the Festivals: April 2002's Film Reviews

Jon Hofferman reviews five short films fresh from the festival circuit: Boobie Girl by Brooke Keesling, Bill Plympton's Eat, FUV by Marv Newland, (it was . . .) Nothing at All, directed by Candy Kugel and Vincent Cafarelli, and Mona Mon Amour, directed by Michael Sporn. Includes QuickTime movie clips!

If you have the QuickTime plug-in, you can view a clip from each film by simply clicking the image.

This Month:

Boobie Girl (2001), 5 min., directed by Brooke Keesling, USA. Info: Brooke Keesling, 12400 Ventura Blvd. #189, Studio City, CA 91604. Email: brooke@boobiegirl.com.

Eat (2001), 9 min., directed by Bill Plympton, USA. Info: Bill Plympton, 119 W. 23rd St. #206, New York, NY 10011. Tel: 212-675-7643.

FUV (1999), 11 min., directed by Marv Newland, Canada. Info: Marv Newland, International Rocketship Limited, 204-1338 W. 6th Avenue, Vancouver, British Columbia V6H 1A7, Canada. Tel: 604-738-1778. Fax: 604 738-0009.

(it was . . .) Nothing at All (2000), 5 min., directed by Candy Kugel and Vincent Cafarelli, USA. Info: Candy Kugel, Buzzco Associates, 33 Bleecker St., New York, NY 10012. Tel: 21-473-8800. Fax: 212-473-8891. Email: info@buzzzco.com.

Mona Mon Amour (2001), 8.5 min., directed by Michael Sporn, USA. Info: Michael Sporn Animation, Inc., 632 Broadway, 4th Floor, New York, NY 10012. Tel/Fax: 212-228-3372. Email: MSAnimation@aol.com.

hofferman01.jpgBoobie Girl. © Brooke Keesling, 2001.

Boobie Girl

This sweet-tempered moral tale explores the old caveat about being careful what you wish for, in this case, large breasts. Director Brooke Keesling uses simple line drawings and straightforward exposition to present her quasi-autobiographical story of a little girl who discovers the many disadvantages -- from unwanted attention to poor balance -- of being well-endowed. It's clearly a contrarian point of view in these days of mammary-fixation, but, aside from presenting an unusual subject from an alternative angle -- and despite the talents of narrator June ("Rocky the Flying Squirrel") Foray -- Boobie Girl is too generic and its message too pat for it to rise much above the level of the mundane.

Boobie Girl is Brooke Keesling's Cal Arts thesis film, as well as her first attempt at drawn animation. Funded by a Kodak Film Grant, it won a Student Academy Award and a College Television Award, and has screened at Sundance, the HBO Comedy Film Festival, the Ottawa Animation Festival, and many other venues. Among her influences, Keesling lists John and Faith Hubley, Jules Engel, and Ray and Charles Eames.

hofferman02.jpgEat. © Bill Plympton Studios, 2001.

Eat

Anyone familiar with the work of Bill Plympton will have no trouble identifying Eat as a product of his distinctive sensibility. Essentially a chronicle of a (typical?) evening in an elegant French bistro, the film begins innocently, even poignantly, with some nicely understated characterizations, then rapidly degenerates into sociopathic mayhem and, finally, an exercise in disgust. (This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but if you're going to show voluminous vomiting, it's better if it has narrative justification.) The film features the familiar Plymptonesque concern with extreme anatomical distortion, as well as several funny and imaginative tableaux along the way. Ultimately, though, Eat is too disjointed and psychologically opaque to function effectively as a narrative, and too rooted in a specific context to be successful as the kind of free-form exercise in absurdity that comprises Plympton's best work.

Bill Plympton worked for many years as an illustrator and cartoonist before making his first animated film, Boomtown, in 1983. Since then, he has made a string of highly successful shorts, including Your Face, How to Kiss and 25 Ways to Quit Smoking and the animated features, The Tune, Guns on the Clackamas and I Married a Strange Person. Eat, which was created using cel animation, received a "Best in Show" award at ASIFA-East and the Grand Prize for Short Films in Cannes Critics' Week. It has also screened at Annecy, Anima Mundi, Edinburgh, Toronto, and many other festivals.

hofferman03.jpgFUV. © Marv Newland, 1997.

FUV

In FUV, Marv Newland continues to march resolutely to his own drummer with another minimalist narrative incorporating objects and events the exact meaning of which may be known only to him. With its deliberately slow pace, "poor" framing and often obscure imagery, FUV is clearly designed to test the patience of its audience, forcing viewers either simply to dismiss the piece or, perhaps, to reflect on the conventions of narrative, the nature of time, and the meaning of life (which could ultimately turn out to be the same thing if the key question becomes why one is spending 11 minutes of one's life trying to make sense of a largely impenetrable narrative). Still, one has the feeling that Newland's hand-drawn animation and Paul Plimley's subtle soundtrack are for the most part doing exactly what they're intended to do, and the director's obvious skill and conceptual ambition are admirable. Whether in the end the payoff is worth the investment of effort is a decision left to the viewer.

Best-known for the classic Bambi Meets Godzilla (1969), his first film, Marv Newland has worked in all aspects of animation in both a commercial and noncommercial setting. In 1975 he founded the production company, International Rocketship Limited, where he made Sing Beast Sing (1980), Anijam (1984), Hooray for Sandbox Land (1985), Black Hula (1988) and Pink Komkommer (1991). Recently, in addition to pursuing his own work, he has worked as a freelance director and storyboard artist, and has produced a number of films under the International Rocketship aegis. FUV has screened at Annecy, Ottawa, I Castelli Animati, and Anima Mundi, among others.

hofferman04.jpg(it was...) Nothing at all. © Buzzco Associates, Inc., 2000.

(it was . . .) Nothing at all

Based originally on a poem by director Candy Kugel, which was then set to music by Lanny Meyers, (it was . . .) Nothing at all was created scene by scene without a script or storyboards to guide the animation. Considering its ad hoc creation, the film, while episodic, is remarkably cohesive, and its theme-and-variations format poignantly explores the nature of loss. Kugel and co-director Vincent Cafarelli, working in Photoshop and After Effects, employ an endlessly imaginative series of techniques that effectively complement and expand on the meaning of the song, neatly avoiding the twin pitfalls of redundancy and the use of flashy effects for their own sake. If the film is a tad overlong and the sheer variety of transitions a bit much (and the ending dangerously close to bathos), (it was . . .) Nothing at all is nonetheless a happy example of a text-centered animation in which the competing elements achieve a pleasing harmony.

Vincent Cafarelli and Candy Kugel have bee n working together since the mid-1970s. As Buzzco Associates, their work has been seen on MTV, the USA Network, ABC, PBS and HBO. Among their other works are the multi-award-winning A Warm Reception in L.A. (1987), Snowie and the Seven Dorps (1990), Fast Food Matador (1991) and KnitWits (1997). Their current work includes commercials, PSAs, interactive projects for the Web, and network and cable productions.

hofferman05.jpgMona Mon Amour. © Michael Sporn Animation, Inc., 2001.

Mona Mon Amour

Director Michael Sporn describes Mona Mon Amour as "a reality-based Sex and the City," which sums up the film's subject matter pretty well. Based on a character created by author and illustrator Patti Stren, who also provides Mona's voice, the film is an extended monologue in which Stren mostly discusses the ins and outs (and shoulds and woulds) of dating in New York. The author's insights and observations range from the incisive to the banal, but overall the material is pretty funny and the whimsical drawings and minimalist animation are a nice accompaniment to the rambling narrative. Mona doesn't have the synergy of the best narration-driven animated shorts (the spoken monologue on its own would have much the same effect), but there are many amusing touches, as well as a number of nice moments when the visual and verbal components come together to create a greater whole.

Michael Sporn has been producing and directing animated films -- including more than thirty television specials -- for over twenty years. His first experience was in the studio of legendary animator John Hubley, where he worked for six years. In 1980, he founded Michael Sporn Animation, Inc., a studio specializing in adapting the work of children's book author/illustrators. Mona Mon Amour was created using watercolors and markers on cels backed with cel vinyl. It screened at the Shorts International Film Festival in New York.

Jon Hofferman is an independent filmmaker, writer and graphic designer, as well as the creator of the Classical Composers Poster (www.carissimi.com). He has a B.A. in Philosophy & Religion and an M.F.A. from UCLA's School of Film & Television. Appropriately enough, he is currently working on a documentary about the nature of religious experience.

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