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Fresh from the Festivals: March 2003's Film Reviews

Jon Hofferman reviews five short films fresh from the festival circuit: The Affectionate Punch by Thor Adam Goodall, Les Chasseurs de Poissons (The Fish Hunters) by Rosana Liera, The Dark Side of the Morning by Erik Rosenlund, Dog by Suzie Templeton, and From the 104th Floor by Serguei Bassine. 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:

The Affectionate Punch (2000), 6 min., directed by Thor Adam Goodall, U.K. Info: Thor Adam Goodall. Email: thor.goodall@btopenworld.com

Les Chasseurs de Poissons (The Fish Hunters), 6.5 min., directed by Rosana Liera, France. Info: Rosana Liera. Email: contact@rosanaliera.com

The Dark Side of the Morning (2002), 6.5 min., directed by Erik Rosenlund, Sweden. Info: Erik Rosenlund. Email: animator@spray.se

Dog (2001), 5.75 min., directed by Suzie Templeton, U.K. Info: Adam Boulter, Animation Administrator, The Royal College of Art, Kensington Gore, London, SW7 2EU. Fax: 44-20-7590-4510. Email: anim@rca.ac.uk

From the 104th Floor (2002), 3.5 min., directed by Serguei Bassine, Russia/U.S.A. Info: Karen Gocsik. Email: gocsik@dartmouth.edu

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Visual references to Hitchcock, film noir and German Expressionism are made in The Affectionate Punch. © Thor Adam Goodall/The Art of Darkness Studio 2003.

The Affectionate Punch

Director Thor Adam Goodall cites Alfred Hitchcock, film noir, German Expressionism and Russian puppet animation as influences, and they're all much in evidence in this, his debut film. A brief vignette about the murderous activities of the famous eponymous puppet, The Affectionate Punch, which was created with Lightwave and After Effects, is extremely well done. From his opening long tracking shot to his use of high-contrast lighting and portentous camera angles, Goodall, aided by his composer, Linda Christine Roast, has done a great job of capturing the look and feel of a highly stylized black-and-white suspense film (complete with scratches), while also benefiting from the extra layer of strangeness inherent in CGI visuals. However, The Affectionate Punch is as short on story as it is long on atmosphere, and despite its visual sophistication and knowing references, there's a ponderousness about the proceedings that belies the film's relatively short length.

Thor Adam Goodall studied design and illustration at Goldsmiths College in London and currently divides his time between commercial graphic design and filmmaking. A self-taught animator, he spent two years creating The Affectionate Punch, working at his home studio, The Art of Darkness, in Norfolk. The film has screened at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, the Sitges International Fantasy Film Festival in Spain, and at a number of festivals in England.

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Les Chasseurs de Poissons (The Fish Hunters) makes a great visual and aural impact. © Rosana Liera.

Les Chasseurs de Poissons (The Fish Hunters)

Using bold colors and a purposefully naive pictorial style, Rosana Liera has fashioned a myth about desert dwellers and the predatory fishermen who threaten them, despite the fact that no fish have been seen in those parts for eons. The film has great visual impact, and the several aural components including the African-inflected music composed and performed by the filmmaker work extremely well with the simple animation to create a sense of wonder and timelessness. Yet even after multiple viewings, the sequence of events and the moral of the story are rather hard to fathom. The fact that, despite appearances, the film isn't based on an existing folk tale, but was created by Liera from whole cloth, suggests that the problem may lie in the original conception, rather than in any failure of execution or interpretation.

Rosana Liera spent several years studying and teaching a variety of arts-related subjects in Italy, Germany and East Africa before receiving a grant to study at La Poudriere in Valence, France. Les Chasseurs de Poissons, which was created using both pastels and oil animated under the camera, and ink and pastels on cells, is her graduation film. Les Chasseurs de Poissons received the Renzo Kinoshita Prize at Hiroshima, and has screened at Anima Mundi, Annecy, Zagreb, Ottawa, City of Women (Slovenia), Siena and many other festivals.

hofferman03_darkSide.jpgThe Dark Side of the Morning shows the other side of dawn. © 2002 Erik Rosenlund.

The Dark Side of the Morning

Erik Rosenlund's caustic tale of practical jokes and the tenuous nature of humor starts off promisingly with a nicely stylized rendering of dawn in the city, with light slowly creeping down the sides of buildings. Using pencil on paper to create an appropriately . . . well, dark . . . black-and-white milieu, Rosenlund displays a good visual sense. There are a number of imaginative ideas in the film, from the cubist-inflected characters to some unexpected plot twists, but The Dark Side of the Morning suffers from a strangely elongated sense of timing that seems misjudged rather than deliberate, and the gaps in narrative logic (e.g., the almost instantaneous appearance of a just-shot home video on broadcast TV) tend to undermine the film's effectiveness.

Erik Rosenlund attended the Konstfack University College of Arts, Crafts and Design in Stockholm, for which The Dark Side of the Morning was his graduation film. It has been shown at Annecy, Zagreb, Anima Mundi and the Ukraine's KROK festival.

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The faces on the puppets in Suzie Templeton's Dog are especially poignant and haunting. © The Royal College of Art 2001.

Dog

Giving new meaning to the word "bleak," Suzie Templeton's haunting and perfectly pitched puppet animation employs minimal means to explore a troubled father-son relationship transpiring amid surroundings that give new meaning to the word "squalor." Yet, though the extremity of the characters' circumstances borders on a kind of very black humor, the film is in fact remarkably effective at conveying a real sense of sadness and loss, an impression made more powerful by the ambiguity that informs the dialogue and the equally meaningful silences. Comprising half a dozen short episodes, Dog derives most of its impact from Templeton's incredibly expressive characters, but everything from the lighting to the voices to Kostas Kyriakidis's otherworldy music is extremely well judged. Ultimately, Dog is probably too slight and a bit too sketchy to be judged a completely successful finished piece; however, Templeton demonstrates great skill and control, and a remarkable ability to generate complex emotions from nonliving actors.

After completing a science degree at University College London, Suzie Templeton spent several years having assorted adventures before deciding, while working at a women's refuge in India, to be an animator. Returning to England, she attended the Surrey Institute of Art and Design, where she made her first film, Stanley (1999), and then the Royal College of Art, where she made Inside (2001) and Dog. Among her influences are Jan Svankmajer, Jean-Pierre Jeunet (specifically Delicatessen), Tom Waits and Alan Sillitoe. She is currently working in association with Channel 4 on a "darkly comic version" of Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf.

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A woman must make a horrifying decision on 9/11 in From the 104th Floor. © Serguei Bassine 2002.

From the 104th Floor

It's hard to know what to write about a film on such a loaded subject the events of 9/11 and in particular the imagined thoughts and actions of a woman who jumped to her death. The text, read by Rosie Perez, is a heartfelt and beautifully understated poem written by a 14-year-old girl, Leda Rodis, and I'm tempted to think that its power is in some ways tied to its original form as words on a page, or as a piece to be read aloud, and that its effectiveness has been somewhat diluted by being given concrete visual form. That said, however, director Serguei Bassine has created a film that's both moving and discomfiting, not only due to the intimate depiction of a fellow human's final minutes, but also as a result of the surreal contrast between the horrific reality being depicted and the almost serene quality of the narration. The simple black-and-white images, which were hand-drawn except for one rotoscoped sequence, are eminently appropriate to the subject matter, and the film effectively transmits the strange mix of mundane observations, memories and emotions being processed by the narrator as she contemplates her severely diminished choices.

Serguei Bassine is a recent graduate of NYU's graduate film program. His first short film, the multi-award-winning Because of Mama (2001) premiered at Sundance, where From the 104th Floor also had its first screening. Bassine recounts that in the wake of the World Trade Center disaster, before making this film, he would often stand up and recite Leda Rodis' poem to his fellow passengers as he rode the subway between Brooklyn and Manhattan. Invariably he was touched by the feelings of hope the poem inspired. From the 104th Floor was funded by Showtime Network, for whom it was initially produced.

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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