Fresh from the Festivals: March 2001's Film Reviews

Jon Hofferman joins us to review short films: The Dance of the Saracen Asparagus by Christophe Le Borgne, Maria Vasilkovsky's Fur & Feathers, Run of the Mill by Borge Ring, Andreas Hykade's Ring of Fire and Paul Fierlinger's long-awaited Still Life with Animated Dogs. 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.

This Month:

La Danse des Asperges Sarrasines (The Dance of the Saracen Asparagus) (1999), 4.5 min., directed by Christophe Le Borgne, France. Info: Cartooneurs Associes, 162 rue du Chateau, 75014 Paris, France. Tel: 33-1-45422356. Fax: 33-1-43206470.

Fur & Feathers (2000), 5.5 min., directed by Maria Vasilkovsky, USA. Info: Maria Vasilkovsky, P.O. Box 31035, Los Angeles, CA 90031, USA. Tel: 323-221-3797. E-mail: mvasilkovsky@yahoo.com.

Og møllen Drejer (Run of the Mill) (2000), 8 min., directed by Borge Ring, Denmark/Netherlands. Info: A.Film, Aase Moresco, Tagensvej 85 F, DK 2200 Copenhagen, Denmark. Tel: 45-35-82-70-60. Fax: 45-35-82-70-61. Email: mail@afilm.dk. URL: http://wwwafilm.suite.dk.

Ring of Fire (2000), 15 min., directed by Andreas Hykade, Germany. Info: GAMBIT, Alexander Funk, Konigsale 43, D-71638 Ludwigsburg, Germany. Tel: 49-7141 125-179. Fax: 49-7141-125-175. E-mail: a.funk@gambit-film.de. URL: http://www.gambit-ringoffire.de/.

Still Life with Animated Dogs (2001), 27 min., directed by Paul Fierlinger, USA. Info: Susan Senk PR, Susan Senk, 18 East 16th Street, New York, NY, USA. Tel: 212-206-8974. Fax: 212-229-0266. Email: SusanSenkPR@msn.com.

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

hofferman01.gifThe Dance of the Saracen Asparagus, directed by Christophe Le Borgne. © Christophe Le Borgne.320x240 | 160x120

The Dance of the Saracen Asparagus

In this humorous first work, director Christophe Le Borgne goes inside the brain of a psychotherapy patient as he confronts the vegetative demons from his childhood. Pictured as a downtrodden figure in a prison suit alone in a barren black and white landscape, the protagonist -- guided by the clinical, soothing voice of the therapist -- must deal with the incursions of an increasingly hostile environment. Eruptions and sinkholes gradually give way to the eponymous hordes of asparagus, which wreak their vengeance in a variety of multi-hued forms. Yet the little man survives the assault and, shaken but triumphant, prepares for the next step toward his liberation.

Le Borgne's film, made with pencil and aquavel on paper, again demonstrates the ability of simple drawings to create a very particular world and to serve as a powerful tool in dealing with sometimes recondite subject matter (and threatening vegetables). The Dance is helped immeasurably by a carefully synchronized score composed by Agnès Alouges and performed by a small chamber group of winds, strings and percussion, and by the voice of Catherine Mouchet.

The director studied engineering at the Ecole Centrale de Lyon and, since 1996, has been a member of Cartooneurs Associés, where he has worked on several series for French TV. He also publishes his cartoons in magazines. The Dance of the Saracen Asparagus was screened at Annecy 2000 and a number of other festivals.

hofferman02.gifFur & Feathers, directed by Maria Vasilkovsky. © Maria Vasilkovsky.320x240 | 160x120

Fur & Feathers

Using the low-tech medium of paint on glass, Maria Vasilkovsky has created an accomplished and evocative, if somewhat disjointed, romantic fable in which a man and a woman -- and their animal alter-egos -- go through a series of physical and emotional transformations on their way to a soaringly happy ending. While the particulars of this dysfunctional love story remain a bit murky, the often striking visuals display the kinds of pleasing metamorphoses, altered perspectives and shifting relations between figure and ground that distinguish this especially fluid method of animating. Rendered in shades of blue that give the whole an appropriately nocturnal feel, the film features a tango-like score by John and Kassandra Woodring Hawk that is an apt accompaniment to the animalistic mating dance.

Maria Vasilkovsky was born and raised in Moscow and, after emigrating to the U.S., attended the Rhode Island School of Design and Cal Arts, from which she received an MFA in 1998. Fur & Feathers is her thesis project. Her influences include Alexander Petrov (The Cow), Mark Shagal and Caroline Leaf, to whom she gives credit for her technique. Vasilkovsky is based in Los Angeles, where she works as a freelance animator.

hofferman03.gifRun of the Mill, directed by Borge Ring. © A.Film A/S.320x240 | 160x120

Run of the Mill

An earnest and at times somewhat heavy-handed and overly literal anti-drug film, Run of the Mill employs traditional cel animation, supplemented by Toons and Photoshop, to look at the effects of drug addiction on a typical nuclear family. The main character is a young boy who succumbs to the seductive powers of chemical stimulation, growing up inside a bubble that allows him to float above the prosaic events going on around him. This symbol also effectively helps to portray in stark terms the family dynamics of the situation, as the ever-growing bubble becomes the center of everyone's life -- an insular world that the boy's increasingly desperate parents are unable to penetrate.

Veteran Danish director Borge Ring uses a pallette of greens, browns and yellows and simple line drawings to tell his story of unrealized potential and frustrated love. In his notes for the film, Ring refers to an autobiographical element, and it's possible that both the film's power and its weaknesses derive from his own experiences as a parent and his closeness to the subject.

Originally trained as a jazz musician, the director -- who also composed the music for Run of the Milll -- has worked on a large number of shorts, commercials and features, including Heavy Metal (1981) and Valhalla (1986). In 1984 he won an Academy Award for Anna and Bella. He cites Norm Ferguson, Art Babbitt, Ward Kimball and Eric Goldberg as favorite directors and John Hubley's Moonbird and Crac, by Frédéric Back, as two favorite films.

hofferman04.gifRing of Fire, directed by Andreas Hykade. cbopy; Gambit Films.320x240 | 160x120

Ring of FireRing of Fire is an impressive exercise in personal iconography, a kind of cubist Western that deals obliquely with male bonding, sex, masculinity and loss of innocence. Director Andreas Hykade employs an exaggerated black-and-white drawing style more commonly found in comics to excellent effect, creating a strange and ominous landscape in which two "cowboys" engage in a series of ritualized encounters. Traditional Western icons take on unexpected Expressionist forms, while an intermittent first-person voiceover explains little but suggests much. ("We never fell. We never even stumbled. We just waited for the spirits to rise from out of the ground.")

The film was made in widescreen format (!) using a combination of ink on cels and 3D animation over a period of about two years. The terrific score, which incorporates traditional Western themes and is a perfect blend of the heroic and the ironic, was written and performed by Steppan Kahles. Ring of Fire has screened at major festivals around the world and has won a clutch of awards, including the Grand Prize at Ottawa and Special Jury Prizes in Hamburg and Rome.

Andreas Hykade studied animation at the Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg. Ring of Fire, his first professional film, was produced by GAMBIT-Michael Jungfleisch, with which he's had an association since 1994. The film was funded by MFG Film Fund Baden-Württemberg and the German Federal Film Board and Ministry of the Interior.

hofferman05.gifStill Life with Animated Dogs, directed by Paul Fierlinger. © ITVS.320x240 | 160x120

Still Life with Animated DogsPaul Fierlinger's autobiographical Still Life with Animated Dogs is a funny, bittersweet memoir that uses the dogs he has owned throughout his life as an organizing principle to explore his personal universe. Fierlinger's story (which was previously explored in his Drawn from Memory) extends from Czechoslovakia during the darkest days of the Communist regime through his current existence with his wife and collaborator, Sandra, in the eastern U. S. Moving between present and past, the film touches on such topics as the nature of love, political oppression and artistic freedom, as well as the animator's relationships with a variety of quadrupeds and bipeds.

Still Life features the same whimsical cel animation -- marked by loosely drawn characters and blocks and splashes of color -- that distinguishes Drawn from Memory and Fierlinger's other films like Drawn from Life for the upstart Oxygen network. It's the perfect complement to the animator's wry and frequently rueful voiceover, which has the eloquence and complexity of a written essay. Sandra Fierlinger served as painter, assistant animator and production manager, while the sound effects and music were provided by John Avarese, who has worked with the Fierlingers on at least a dozen films.

Paul Fierlinger has been a professional independent animator since 1958, when he made his first TV commercial in Prague. Since then he has produced roughly 1000 films of varying lengths, including the Teeny Little Super Guy series for Sesame Street. He received an Oscar nomination in 1979 for his short, It's So Nice to Have a Wolf Around the House. Still Life with Animated Dogs was funded by ITVS and had its premiere on PBS on March 29, at 10:30 pm.

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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