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Fresh from the Festivals: January 2003's Film Reviews

Jon Hofferman reviews five short films fresh from the festival circuit: Le foto dello scandalo/Shame's Photos by Daniele Lunghini, Home Road Movies by Robert Bradbrook, Pasta for War by Zach Schlpi, Populi by David Russo and The Velvet Tigress by Jen Sachs. Includes QuickTime movie clips!

Within the world of animation, most experimentation occurs within short format productions, whether they be high budgeted commercials, low budgeted independent shorts, or something in between. The growing number of short film festivals around the world attest to the vitality of these works, but there are few other venues for exhibition of them or even written reviews. As a result, distribution tends to be difficult and irregular. On a regular basis, Animation World Magazine will highlight some of the most interesting with short descriptive overviews.

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

This Month:

Le foto dello scandalo/Shame's Photos (2001), 7 min., directed by Daniele Lunghini, Italy. Info: Daniele Lunghini, via Ruffini 10, 42100 Reggio emilia, Italy. Tel: 39-0522-33-7790. Email: daniele@lunghini.it URL: www.lunghini.it

Home Road Movies (2001), 12.5 min., directed by Robert Bradbrook, UK. Info: Dick Arnall, Finetake Productions, 110 Calabria Road, London, N5 1HT, UK. Tel: 44 (0)20 7359 5786. Fax: 44 (0)20 7503 9337. Email: info@finetake.co.uk.

Pasta for War (2000), 4 min., directed by Zach Schläppi, USA. Info: Zach Schläppi, POB 1098, New York, NY 10163-1098. Tel: 212-307-0998. Email: zach@twomills.com.

Populi (2002), 8.5 min., directed by David Russo, USA. Info: David Russo. Email: davidrusso@lycos.com.

The Velvet Tigress (2001), 11 min., directed by Jen Sachs, USA. Info: Jen Sachs. Email: jen_sachs@hotmail.com.

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The crime scene in Le foto dello scandalo/Shame's Photos recalls film noir and Weegee's photographic work. © Daniele Lunghini.

Le foto dello scandalo/Shame's Photos

Daniele Lunghini's brilliantly conceived and executed homage to film noir and the work of American photographer Weegee is a 3D computer animation that re-imagines the rules of narrative to create a visually stunning and highly original mode of storytelling. The film, which is rendered entirely in black and white until the very end, is essentially one long take in which the "camera" moves continuously, tracing the course of events, while the characters are frozen in time at key points in the drama. The story itself, which involves a photographer's bloody confrontation with one of his involuntary subjects, is not especially novel or compelling (and, even after two viewings, certain details of the scenario remain murky, at least for me), but the slightness of the plot doesn't diminish the film's mesmerizing impact. With computer-graphics collaborator Diego Zuelli and composer Complesso Residenziali -- whose minimalist score perfectly complements the action -- Lunghini has fully realized the potentialities of a great concept.

Daniele Lunghini is a director, illustrator and copywriter who has worked for a number of international companies and whose artwork was included in "Arti Visive 2," a national competition in Genoa. He is currently working on the 3D feature, Moon Energy Machines, based on his novel. His frequent collaborator Diego Zuelli attended the Accademia di Belle Arti in Bologna and has had his CG video works exhibited in many venues. Le foto dello scandalo has been screened at more than 25 festivals, including Annecy, London, Miami and Edinburgh, and has received a number of awards, including the Grand Prize at the 2001 World Animation Celebration and the award for Best European Video at I Castelli Animati.

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A festival favorite, Home Road Movies has already won many awards. © Finetake/Channel 4/Ace 2001.

Home Road Movies

Combining 3D computer animation, live-action and digitally enhanced family photos, director Robert Bradbrook has created a funny, poignant and bittersweet reminiscence of his father and the car trips he and his family took during his childhood. Though primarily a character study of his well-meaning but somewhat ineffectual parent, Home Road Movies succeeds -- in the best literary tradition -- in also treating larger issues, from the effects of a rapidly changing world (and in particular the waning importance of World War II in the British consciousness) to childhood illusions regarding parental omnipotence. The movie's distinctive visual style, featuring saturated colors and the blending of CGI and live-action to produce a kind of surreal veneer, is well-suited to conveying the deeply felt yet once-removed landscape of memory.

After an initial career as a cartographer, Robert Bradbrook enrolled in Coventry University in 1991, where he earned an MA in Electronic Arts and Graphics. In 1993 he was awarded a grant from the Arts Council of England, which he used to make End of Restriction, a 5-minute film created on his home-based Mac. Home Road Movies was made with the support of Channel 4 and the Arts Council National Lottery and has been shown at innumerable festivals. It won the Special Jury Prize at Annecy, Best Animated Short at the Toronto Worldwide Short Film Festival, and the Gold Award for Best Animation at the Houston World-Fest, among many other awards. In addition to making films, Bradbrook works as a multimedia designer and is a regular visiting lecturer at Coventry University.

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Rigatoni and macaroni ready themselves for battle in Pasta for War. © Zach Schläppi.

Pasta for War

Though in some ways more an exercise than a finished work, Pasta for War is both very funny and extremely well-done, a mock propaganda film that's part Leni Riefenstahl and part Chef Boy-Ar-Dee. Director Zach Schläppi has done a great job of re-creating the look and feel of 1930s-era wartime filmmaking, using sepia tones, triumphalist camera angles and slightly stilted editing and narration to good advantage. However, instead of phalanxes of young men, his forces are composed of rigatoni and butterfly macaroni, marching and soaring resolutely to their appointment with destiny. Schläppi used a variety of programs to create Pasta for War, including Softimage/Maya and Adobe Photoshop and AfterEffects, as well as a self-designed C-Shell script to facilitate rendering.

A 2000 graduate of the in New York, Zach Schläppi worked on Blue Sky Studios' Ice Age and Big Idea's Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie. Pasta for War, which is his thesis film, screened at SIGGRAPH, the World Animation Celebration, Ottawa and Melbourne, among other festivals, and won the Grand Prize in the DIRECTV/LEVEL13.NET Animated Film Festival. It also earned him a Rhythm & Hues Scholarship Award in Cinematography.

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The journey of a carved wooden head through space, time and landscape is exuberantly presented in Populi. © David Russo, 2002.

Populi

David Russo's hyperkinetic "environmental pixilation" film is, like Godfrey Reggio's groundbreaking Koyanisqaatsi (which the director cites as an influence), a kind of alternative travelogue and a tour de force of time-lapse animation. Using a carved wooden head as a focal point, and the inexorable "Mars: Bringer of War" from Gustav Holst's The Planets as a soundtrack, Russo charts his icon's travels through the Pacific Northwest, presenting an overwhelming number of variations on a theme. Perhaps even more impressive than the visual cornucopia, however, is the fact that Russo created almost the entire film in the camera (a 1958 Mitchell GC 35mm), a production method that required such feats as rolling a 300-pound steel buoy through the freezing rain of Puget Sound for months at a time. It's not clear whether this single-minded pursuit of a self-imposed ideal -- and awesomely labor-intensive process -- is apparent on the screen and, ultimately, there may be more meaning in the exercise for the creator than for the audience. However, the film's exuberant nonstop motion, variety of images and landscapes, and underlying sense of gleeful obsession easily supersede any concerns about semantics or means of production.

David Russo is an independent filmmaker and artist living in Seattle, Washington, whose other award-winning short films include Eggs and Soup, Ode to Crude and MANZWERLD. Populi was one of several public artworks commissioned for the new Seahawks Stadium in Seattle, funded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. On the festival circuit, Populi won the Grand Prize at the Northwest Film & Video Festival and a Special Jurors' Award at South by Southwest, and was screened at Sundance, Taos Talking Pictures, and the Cleveland, Atlanta and Florida film festivals, among others.

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Winnie Ruth Judd does some creative littering from a moving train in The Velvet Tigress. © Jen Sachs.

The Velvet Tigress

Working primarily with flat black-and-white drawings, Jen Sachs has produced a highly imaginative and accomplished film that documents and deconstructs a particularly gory episode from 1930s America, the so-called "Trunk Murders" trial of Winnie Ruth Judd. In particular Sachs explores the way the events were covered in the popular press, and her inventive use of newspaper imagery combined with the layering of graphics and occasional perpendicular camera movements serves to advance the narrative in an integral way, as well as to provide a lot of visual interest. She sometimes makes some strange choices (e.g., a transition involving mannequins seems rather forced, and her highlighting of the ironic juxtaposition of the trial with a contemporaneous beauty pageant doesn't entirely pay off) and there were times when the virtuosity of the design was in danger of overwhelming the story. However, for the most part all of the elements -- from the two-dimensional graphics and Sachs' judicious use of color, to Heather Donahue's nicely understated narration -- come together successfully to create a very engaging (and informative) piece of work.

Jen Sachs is a recent graduate of the MFA program in Experimental Animation at Cal Arts, for which The Velvet Tigress was her thesis film. In this film and in her previous works (Translations and Fantasy Piece), her goal has been to "explore contemporary culture by evaluating the lasting influence of established images and themes from the past." Winner of a Student Academy Award, The Velvet Tigress also was voted Best Animated Film at the Ann Arbor Film Festival and Best Student Animated Film at the Nashville Independent Film Festival. It has also screened at Taos Talking Pictures, Black Maria, Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art, and the 9th Biennale de L'Image en Mouvement in Geneva, among others, and had its North American premiere at Telluride.

Jon Hofferman is an independent filmmaker, writer and graphic designer. He is also the creator of the Classical Composers Poster (a unique work of art that makes a wonderful gift for anyone interested in or learning about classical music, available at www.carissimi.com) and a shameless promoter.

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