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Fresh from the Festivals: June 2002's Film Reviews

Jon Hofferman reviews five short films fresh from the festival circuit: Carmelo by Jorge R. Gutierrez, Slava Ushakov's Hara Mamburu, Kitchen Katastrophe by Derrick Auyoung and Andrew Huang, Red Vines by Evan Mather and P Th's The Sexual Life of Fireflies. 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:

Carmelo (2000), 8.5 min., directed by Jorge R. Gutierrez, Mexico. Info: Jorge R. Gutierrez. Email: mexopolis@yahoo.com.

Hara Mamburu (1994), 4 min., directed by Slava Ushakov, Russia. Info: Slava Ushakov, 10980 Ohio Ave., #202, Los Angeles, CA 90024. Tel: 310-444-9367. Email: slavaushy@cs.com.

Kitchen Katastrophe (2001), 9 min., directed by Derrick Auyoung, Andrew Huang, China/USA. Info: Ted Vegvari, Palos Verdes on the Net, 30940 Hawthorne Blvd., Suite 101, Rancho Palos Verdes, CA 90275. Tel: 310-541-7992. Email: tedv@palosverdes.com.

Red Vines (2001), 4 min., directed by Evan Mather, USA. Info: Evan Mather. Tel: 626-395-9461. Email: evan@evanmather.com.

A Szentjánosbogarak Nemi Élete/The Sexual Life of Fireflies (2000), 7.75 min., directed by Pál Tóth, Hungary. Info: Pál Tóth, Paja Film Bt., 6724 Szeged, Vág u. 3/b, Hungary. Tel/Fax: 366-249-3658. Email: tothpal@elender.hu.

Carmelo. © 2000 SUPER-MACHO.COM.

Carmelo

Director Jorge R. Gutierrez brings a striking primitivist style and fine eye for detail to this fable about a young boy who dreams of becoming a famous bullfighter like his father, whose career was brought to an untimely end when he was gored by a bull. Based on a traditional tale associated with Mexico's Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), Carmelo is extremely atmospheric and Gutierrez's rendering of his characters as rough-hewn puppets is imaginative, if perhaps also somewhat off-putting. The narrative, while clear in a broad way, tends to get murky when it comes to specific actions and motivations, and it's possible that, without some prior knowledge of Mexican customs and history, a lot of the nuance, and some references, could be lost. Still, there's a lot of beauty in Gutierrez's dark, folk-art-inspired visuals, and the sense of place and purpose resonates, even if one might wish for a more lucid narrative structure.

Born in Mexico City and raised in Tijuana, Jorge Gutierrez attended

Hara Mamburu. © 1994 EGI Corporation.

Hara Mamburu

In terms of sheer visual exuberance, this music video for the Russian indie band, Nogu Svelo, is hard to beat. In another context, director Slava Ushakov's collection of eccentric, highly stylized characters and the film's breathless series of more or less inexplicable events could easily have turned out to be an unpleasant exercise in overkill. As it is, however, his freewheeling style and anarchic sensibility are the perfect match for Nogu Svelo's very funny -- if entirely incomprehensible (to me at least) -- song. Using old-fashioned cel animation, Ushakov plays with a number of wacky motifs that gradually take on obscure iconic significance, and he incorporates just the right balance of repetition and variation to both highlight the humor and keep things moving along.

Slava Ushakov began his professional career at the age of 17 as a cartoonist for the Moscow weekly, Soviet Circus. From 1987-1996, he worked in various capacities for the Pilot studio in Moscow and in 1996 established his own Nils studio. Since 1998, Ushakov has been based in Los Angeles, where he works as a director and storyboard artist for Kinofilm. Hara Mamburu was funded by the Metropolitan Bank in Moscow and received an MTV Award at the 1994 International Video Festival in that city; more recently it won an award at the 2001 DIRECTV LEVEL13.NET ANIMATED FILM FESTIVAL last December. Ushakov's other works include Earlier I Used to Live by the Seashore (1997), Aeroflot and Short Legs (1998), and Orange (2002). On Cartoon Network's Mike, Lu and Og, he served as storyboard director as well as in other capacities.

Kitchen Katastrophe. © 2002 Palos Verdes on the Net.

Kitchen Katastrophe

Kitchen Katastrophe filmmakers Derrick Auyoung (foreground) and Andrew Huang (at computer).

Continuing the ongoing love affair between animators and kitchen implements, this amusing and well-executed 3D entry chronicles the valiant but ultimately unsuccessful efforts of an assortment of pots, pans, cutlery and, yes, one brave little toaster to rescue an unfortunate fork who's been unwittingly imprisoned in the microwave. Though created with the usual assortment of high-tech digital tools, including Maya, Sound Forge & Vegas Pro, and several Adobe programs, the film has a nice retro look and feel that enhances its appeal. Narratively and visually, it's nothing we haven't seen before, but the well-shaped story, good comic timing, and clever use of camera angles (not to mention funny voices) contribute to its successful exploitation of a familiar genre.

A collaborative effort co-directed by Andrew Huang and Derrick Auyoung, Kitchen Katastrophe was made under the auspices of Palos Verdes on the Net, a nonprofit community technology center. Huang is a self-taught animator who has been experimenting with CGI technology since he was eleven. Currently a junior at Palos Verdes Peninsula High School, he's looking forward to a career in the visual arts. Auyoung is in his third year as a computer science student at UCLA, where, among other extracurricular activities, he teaches computer workshops. Both Huang and Auyoung also work as interns at PV on the Net.

Kitchen Katastrophe has screened at several festivals, including the Hawaiian International Film Festival and the Visual Communications Los Angeles Asian American Pacific Film and Video Festival, where it was nominated for the Golden Reel Award.

Red Vines. © 2001 Evan Mather.

Red Vines

With source material like this, it's hard to go too wrong, but Evan Mather's music video for Aimee Mann's "Red Vines" (from the album, Bachelor #2) is a worthy complement to this typically bittersweet song by the acclaimed singer-songwriter. Using a combination of hand-drawn and computer-generated animation, Mather transports Mann's story to a gas station/convenience store, putting Mann behind the cash register. While the particular interpretation is arbitrary to a large degree, Mather displays both ingenuity and discretion in his manipulation of the specific elements of this created world, so that the visuals neither overwhelm the music nor function as redundant illustration. The director's flat graphics and purposefully awkward movement may not be to everyone's taste, but his distinctive style and empathic sensibility jell extremely well here with Mann's story of unfulfilled love.

Evan Mather grew up in southern Louisiana, where, among other notable accomplishments, he was the first person in his high school to produce parodies of trendy European art films. Perhaps best known for his popular Star Wars take-offs, including Quentin Tarantino's Star Wars (1998), Godzilla vs. Disco Lando (1998), and Kung Fu Kenobi's Big Adventure (1999), Mather is a self-taught filmmaker who frequently combines traditional animation techniques with computer-generated effects. His other works include Buena Vista Fight Club (2000), Fansom the Lizard (2000) and Airplane Glue (2001). Red Vines has been shown at the Rotterdam, SXSW, and Fifi festivals, among others.

The Sexual Life of Fireflies. © 2000 Paja Film.

The Sexual Life of Fireflies

Without a doubt the most sparkling presentation ever of mating rituals, this 3D computer animation is most successful as a pleasing demonstration of a range of light effects, realized through Imagine and Adobe Premiere (run on a single 166 Mhz PC!). Using both anthropomorphized bugs and haloes of light as characters, director Pál Tóth sets up a number of small subplots with a few identifiable individuals, but for the most part the film is a largely undifferentiated and impressionistic sequence of (often lovely) luminous configurations, climaxing in a dazzling fireworks finale. This is enjoyable enough as far as it goes, but the funny/cute characters and the more poetic abstraction don't mix very well and, given the narrative limitations, the film feels overlong and rather shapeless.

Pál Tóth began his animation work in 1971 at Pannónia Filmstudio in Kecskemét, Hungary. After a period working in Belgium at the Graphoui Studio and as a freelance animator, he returned to Hungary in 1995 and founded Paja Film to produce 3D computer-animated films. In 1999, he received the Béla Balázs Prize, Hungary's most prestigious film award.

The Sexual Life of Fireflies has screened at Annecy, I Castelli Animati, Fifi and numerous other festivals. It received a Special Jury Prize and Audience Award at Cinanima in 2000, as well as prizes at Anima Mundi, Filmvideo, Matita, and Retina.

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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