Fresh from the Festivals: May 2003's Film Reviews

Jon Hofferman reviews five short films fresh from the festival circuit: The Freak by Aristomenis Tsirbas, The Love Nest by Shelly Wain, Oblivion by FengTing Tsou, Pandorama by Nina Paley and The Tortoise & the Hare by Ray Harryhausen. 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 Freak (2002), 6.25 min., directed by Aristomenis Tsirbas, Canada. Info: Dane Smith. Email: dane@menithings.com. Web: www.menithings.com.

The Love Nest (2002), 11 min., directed by Shelly Wain, U.K. Info: Julian Roberts, Cog Ltd., 27 Beethoven St. London, W10 4LG. Tel: (44) 208 964 0234. Fax: (44) 208 968 7710. Email: cog@netcomuk.co.uk.

Oblivion (2002), 1.5 min., directed by FengTing Tsou, Taiwan/USA. Info: FengTing Tsou, Tel: 909-396-8220. Email: jazzinusc@yahoo.com.

Pandorama (2000), 3 min., directed by Nina Paley, USA. Email: nina_paley@yahoo.com. Web: www.ninapaley.com.

The Tortoise & the Hare (2002), 11.5 min., directed by Ray Harryhausen, USA. Info: Seamus Walsh & Mark Caballero. Email: contact@screen-novelties.com. Web: www.screen-novelties.com.

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The highly imaginative The Freak is irresistible. © Menithings Productions L.L.C.

The Freak

Aristomenis Tsirbas's celebration of nonconformity is a superb demonstration of CGI technology used to great effect. Both technically proficient and highly imaginative in its creation of a whimsical self-contained world, The Freak has enough visual ideas, interesting details and dizzying camera angles to supply three or four films. (For the most part the technique serves, rather than overwhelms the story; however, there were times when I would have been happy to just watch the myriad background events.) The film's treatment of the themes of individual differences, celebrity, and the media while not especially profound or new works well enough in the frenetic context, although it's possible that The Freak might have benefited from a more condensed exposition. However, the generally joyful tone and kinetic pace are pretty hard to resist and, even if the overall conception is a bit simple-minded, the visual and aural pleasures are rewarding enough in their own right.

Aristomenis (Meni) has been working in entertainment and the arts for two decades. After establishing himself in Montreal, Canada as a concept artist, visual effects supervisor and digital filmmaker, he relocated to Los Angeles where he worked on the visual effects for Titanic, as well as other features and commercials. He also made the short film, Full Tilt, for SIGGRAPH 2000. The Freak was created on three computers using LightWave 7.5 in a collaborative arrangement with the software developers. It has received numerous awards, including Best Animated Film and Audience Favorite at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, Directors Choice at Black Maria and an Honorable Mention at Sundance. Other screenings include the San Francisco International Film Festival, Taos Talking Pictures, the Philadelphia Film Festival, Clermont-Ferrand and Bumbershoot!, among many others.

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A man's love for his bird backfires on him in The Love Nest. © COG Ltd. and Shelly Wain.

The Love Nest

This quite charming and beautifully composed puppet animation ("with a little CG and Flash") employs a classical shooting style in the service of a bittersweet fable of avian love and revenge. Walking a fine line between preciousness and knowing irony, director Shelly Wain has succeeded in creating a childlike story that sustains interest through a series of unpredictable narrative twists and turns, while exploiting her limited set in a variety of imaginative ways. (I especially liked her use of animated Chinese screens to reflect the events taking place in the puppet world and the occasional sophisticated use of shadows to advance the story.) If the denouement seems a little too pat and politically correct, it's also well within the logic of the narrative, and the fact that it can be cause for discomfort is a testament to Wain's skill in bringing her characters to life.

As an animator at COG Ltd., Shelly Wain worked on the children's series PB Bear And Friends and Yoho Ahoy, and designed and created the pilot, 9 Kitten Mews. She also leads a workshop in filmmaking for children and is pursuing an MA in digital animation. The Love Nest, which was funded by the filmmaker and COG, is Wain's first film. It has screened at the World of Women Festival in Sydney, Animadrid and the Tehran Film Festival, among others.

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Oblivion explores memories. © 2001 University of Southern California School of Cinema-Television.

Oblivion

Using DV footage processed with Alias|Wavefront Maya, this very short film is an attempt, according to the director's notes, to explore the vicissitudes of memory, specifically the problems inherent in trying to forget. Director FengTing Tsou has come up with some striking and suggestive images, including the shifting matrix of rectangular shapes that frames his manipulated footage, but whatever meaning he intends to convey is recondite at best. The track, consisting of a series of recognizable sounds (e.g., a phone ringing, a baby crying) isn't much help in interpreting his intentions. This kind of ambiguity isn't necessarily a bad thing, and the fact that Tsou lists Andrei Tarkovsky, among others, as an influence implies at least some seriousness of purpose. Yet the film feels very sketchy and, (this could be a first), is altogether too brief. While a longer duration might or might not make this a more successful effort, it seems like a minimum requirement to effectively treat the subject at hand.

FengTing Tsou received a BA in Naval Architecture from the National Taiwan Ocean University before beginning his studies in animation and digital art at USC's School of Cinema-Television. Oblivion, which was made for a 2nd-year experimental animation class, was created in two weeks. At one point the filmmaker worked straight through four days without sleep. The night before the film was to be shown Tsou borrowed nine additional computers to generate the film's 1,887 frames in time for the screening.

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Non-stop images and energy are found in Pandorama. © 2001 by Nina Paley.

Pandorama

The winner of this month's Manic Energy Award (narrowly edging out The Freak), Nina Paley's exuberant and impressionistic jeremiad cataloging the manifold ills loosed on the world with the ascension of humankind is despite its rather depressing subject matter an inspired and thoroughly enjoyable assault on the senses. Comprising more than "2,500 individual images, hand-drawn, scratched and rubber-stamped directly onto 70mm clear leader and junk footage," and featuring an appropriately lunatic score by The Revillos, Pandorama deconstructs (sort of) the dual myths of Eve and Pandora, two of the alleged perpetrators behind our species' loss of innocence. The idea of "cameraless animation" has taken on a different meaning with the advent of CGI, but Paley's adoption of the technique pioneered by such filmmakers as Len Lye and Norman McLaren (and more recently employed by contemporary animators such as Caroline Leaf and Bärbel Neubauer), coupled with her familiar environmental concerns, yields an extremely lively, funny and intelligent film that you can dance to.

Perhaps best known for her alternative comic strip, Nina's Adventures, which ran for seven years in a number of American weeklies, and the shorter-lived daily strip, Fluff, Nina Paley began animating in 1998. Her other films, which often incorporate environmental themes (particularly overpopulation) include I (heart) My Cat and Luv is... (1998), Fetch (2001), The Stork, The Wit and Wisdom of Cancer (2002) and Fetco (2002). Pandorama received the Louise White Prize at Veyrier (Switzerland) and was also shown at Bilbao, Ottawa, the Kyiv "Molodist" Festival, the KROK Festival, and the Berlin Interfilm Festival, among others. It was screened in 70mm at the Berlin Cinestar IMAX Theater, the Large Format Cinema Association Conference (Los Angeles) and other venues.

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The Tortoise & the Hare each compete in their own way. © Ray Harryhausen & Screen Novelties Int'l.

The Tortoise & the Hare

More an historical curiosity than a film of much aesthetic interest, this rendering of the famous Aesop fable by legendary stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen has a certain retro charm, but, by any contemporary standard, feels exceedingly labored and slow-paced. Begun in 1952 and after 50 years on the shelf finally completed last year by Harryhausen and collaborators Seamus Walsh and Mark Caballero, The Tortoise & the Hare is clearly a labor of love that required a great amount of reconstruction and research to accurately reproduce the director's original sets and characters, as well as special care to match the original footage. The result is a relatively seamless effort that's an admirable tribute to one of animation's great pioneers. However, like the journey of the persevering protagonist who finally wins the race, it's pretty slow going.

Born in Los Angeles in 1920, Ray Harryhausen found his life's work when, at the age of 13, he saw King Kong and discovered the stop-motion process that brought the giant ape to life. During a career spanning four decades, his visual effects work was featured in such landmark films as Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956), The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958) and Jason and the Argonauts (1963). In 1992 he received the Gordon E. Sawyer special achievement award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. Harryhausen lives in London, where he is currently completing a book on his life and work. Mark Caballero and Seamus Walsh have been collaborating since meeting at UCLA in 1993. Their films include The Old Man and the Goblins (1997) and Graveyard Jamboree (1998) and they've contributed to such commercial projects as MTV's Celebrity Deathmatch and The Flinstones: On the Rocks! The Tortoise & the Hare received ASIFA's 2003 Annie Award for Best Short and was screened at Sundance, Ottawa, Annecy and Anima Mundi, among other festivals.

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.

Attached Files 
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1790-oblivion.mov1.66 MB
1790-oblivion.mov1.66 MB
1790-pandorama.mov1.77 MB
1790-pandorama.mov1.77 MB
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