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Fresh from the Festivals: May 2006’s Reviews

Taylor Jessen reviews five short films Fable by Daniel Sousa, Arrest Assured by Michael McCormick and Robert Taylor, Sunday Party by Sirirat Thawilvejakul, No Room for Gerold by Daniel Nocke, Never Like the First Time! by Jonas Odell, and. Includes QuickTime movie clips!

Within the world of animation, most experimentation occurs within short format productions, whether they are 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.

Fable (2005), 7:00, directed by Daniel Sousa (Portugal/U.S.). Contact: Daniel Sousa [E] contact@danielsousa.com [W] www.danielsousa.com, www.handcrankedfilm.com

Arrest Assured (2004), 2:25, directed by Michael McCormick and Robert Taylor (U.S.). Contact: Ian Transifguracion, Pendulum 2970 Fifth Avenue, Suite 320, San Diego, CA 92103, U.S. [E] iant@studiopendulum.com [W] www.studiopendulum.com, www.studiopendulum.com/arrestassured

Sunday Party (2006), 18:00, directed by Sirirat Thawilvejakul (Thailand). Contact: Sirirat Thawilvejakul [E] yoooom@gmail.com

No Room for Gerold (Kein Platz für Gerold) (2006), 4:55, directed by Daniel Nocke (Germany). Contact: Studio FILM BILDER, Ostendstr. 106, 70188 Stuttgart, Germany [T] 0049.711.481027 [F] 0049.711.4891925 [E] studio@filmbilder.de [W] www.filmbilder.de

Never Like the First Time! (Aldrig som första gången!) (2006), 14:30, directed by Jonas Odell (Sweden). Contact: [W] www.filmtecknarna.se

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Tit-for-tat gets morphological in Fable. © Daniel Sousa.

Fable

Two shapeshifters in a war of attrition meet in a forest glade in Fable from animator Daniel Sousa. Somewhere in a temperate clime theres a house at the edge of a wilderness. In the forest are a hunter and his dog; in the house is a woman living alone. The piece opens on the hunter, who is coldly raising his rifle and firing at an owl in flight, which drops through the tree branches to an uncertain fate.

Back at the house, the woman, whose solid figure resembles the sculptures of Henry Moore, put two feet gingerly on the tile floor. One foot is bloody. The house is a well-appointed affair with a main hall done in antique red wallpaper with a floral pattern that has a life of its own it expands and recedes as the mood takes it. She pours water from a cistern and leaves the room, and the camera transitions down through the floorboards, crawlspace, bricks, and stone foundation, into the soil beneath where tree roots are aggressively filling all available space.

Tilting up again, the scene shifts to the woods, where the hunters dog waits for its master. From the right comes a slowly lumbering stag, which disappears on one side of a tree and reappears on the other as the hunter, his gun at the ready. The man scratches the back of his neck, which is scarred by three vertical slashes, and then he puts one hand carefully on a nearby tree as if for reassurance.

The woman is still at home, sitting on her bed upstairs combing her hair as the wind blows the curtains around her open window. Suddenly she stops and inhales deeply. She moves to the window and surveys the countryside, her eyes moving from macro to micro, from near to telescopically distant. She grinds the fingers of her left hand on the windowsill, where the wood is already worried with three talon-like grooves. She sees the distant stag, blinks, and suddenly theres an owl perched where the woman had been.

She flies off to exact yet another revenge, and collect yet another souvenir of the kind that hunters everywhere mount on walls and car hoods - but this isnt their first confrontation and it wont be their last. When these two meet, its a brief, bloody fight with cries of pain and gnashing teeth on both sides but whats most beautiful about this short film is the idea that theres a third party here, someone arboreal who isnt taking sides. There are hints, before the violence and in the aftermath and in a tantalizing flash-frame in the middle of it - that someone with roots and a completely different set of priorities is keeping a close eye on this pair, at home and in the wild.

The animalia theme is of a piece with the classic, very old-school Greco-Roman mythical influences present in Sousas other films. The Portugal-born animators short Carnal Ground from 1994 depicts a starving hunter in a deserted plain who finds a tantalizing but bewildering prey in the form of a great shape-shifting beast one that would make great food if he only had the courage to destroy a magical thing. Sousa also created a traditional/stop-motion short called Minotaur in 1998, where the well-known bull/human of Greek myth haunts a lonely labyrinth, and a little girl and another mysterious guest intrude on his solitude and upset his world.

Fable is a traditionally-animated short composited digitally, with original drawings in a variety of media including inks and oils, and its stunningly beautiful. The sound design is strongly organic and the music endorses and amplifies the emotion without calling attention to itself. Sousas character acting is strong, and though the emotions are clear and familiar, the story is surreal enough to remain open to interpretation.

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For the spur-of-the-moment criminal, Arrest Assured. © Pendulum.

Arrest Assured

Arrest Assured is a bright, cartoony piece of CGI with a big, brawny lummox at its center. It opens on a wide-load, lug-head criminal in an upstairs city apartment whos up late with insomnia. He looks ruefully at his alarm clock, then goes back to staring and staring out the window at a billboard, which is advertising Lord Parks Jewelry. On the billboard a massive cut diamond is perched delectably on a red pillow. The criminal has the beginning of a bright idea, which manifests itself as a light bulb over his head, but the bulb wont light so he strains, it shines, and it immediately pops. He shrugs and leaves.

Rushing down the stairs and out the door, dressed for an evenings robbery in tight stocking cap and heavy shoes, he stealthily approaches the back door of the jeweler in a deserted alley. Tiptoeing with utmost care, he upends an oil drum and lodges it under his huge right shoe, making a step-clang-step-clang ruckus loud enough to wake Peter Sellers. He approaches the back door of the jewelry store, which is padlocked, so he has to get in the old-fashioned way with a two-armed gorilla maneuver that sends the door flying.

He walks in, and ring goes the alarm bell, which he silences with another mighty lateral punch. There in the corner is his prize: the pillow that holds the giant diamond. He rushes to it, basks in its glory for a moment, then whips the pillow away and exits through the plate glass window. The diamond, meanwhile, falls to the floor behind him, cracking in two pieces. The criminal returns to his apartment and, relieved, puts the pillow down on his pillow-less mattress. He draws the blinds, yawns and prepares for a good nights sleep - and his alarm goes off.

Arrest Assured is cute and short, and wears its influences proudly (one look at that billboard and you know somebody loved The Wrong Trousers). The movements are smooth, the music is perky, and the production design is slick in fact the whole thing is so slick and inoffensive it handily greased its way right across my frontal lobes without generating the least bit of emotional friction oh well.

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Bring the family were eating in at the Sunday Party. © Sirirat Thawilvejakul.

Sunday Party

Sunday Party isnt an accomplished piece of CGI animation the character acting and shading look like they reached the animatic stage and stopped but the designs and the scope of the world are so idiosyncratic I cant take my eyes off it. This oddball fable from Sirirat Thawilvejakul, a Thailand native who produced her short at USC in Los Angeles, is a charmingly chunky and clunky trip to the outer limits where humans are no longer king of the food chain.

A pair of pigs tango in a brief prelude before the film moves to focus on a humanoid creature, naked as a fire ant and rail-thin, with a head like a kidney bean and skin the color of auto primer. Hes sitting at a long wooden table as a thunderstorm rages outside, and the lightning eventually reveals rows and rows of identical humanoids sitting motionless behind him. He and his companions board a little conveyor-belt car and are hauled towards a distant door, but our man hops clear before the car reaches the door, and he begins to wander around on his own.

Making his way down a corridor of metal grating, he meets a stray cat. He and the cat look on in terror at the sight of another cat being chased and eaten by giant airborne goldfish. The cat tags along as the man continues on all fours across a dangerous landscape replete with floods, giant crabs and pollywog-beasties that swim through the sky and eat stars.

He finds something really worth worrying about, though, when he and the cat stumble on a room with barrels full of what look like giblets. Theres a window looking into the next room, which turns out to be a kitchen run by pigs, who are busy with giblets going out and empty dishes coming in. A pig opens a panel in the wall revealing a revolving rack of humanoids, all still alive, hanging upside-down and trying hard not to be picked. The pig cook chooses one unlucky victim, takes him to the chopping block, and raises his cleaver high as the man in the next room averts his eyes.

The fugitive humanoid and his cat inch their way along the wall to another window where they can see the patrons of the restaurant pigs dining on humanoid eyes with chopsticks and eating fingers arranged aesthetically on their plates like asparagus. He waits quietly until the next morning, when he sees a conveyor belt appear from nowhere delivering a shipment of disembodied legs. He and his cat board the conveyor and ride it into another bizarre realm of flying hippo heads and man-eating hillsides.

One hillside swallows them up and eventually they land in a huge processing plant where hundreds of identical humanoids are being disassembled. Our hero climbs a ladder and tries to convince one of his counterparts on the assembly line that hes bound for the chop, but his new friend pooh-poohs him and tries to force him to stay. He breaks free, falls to the ground, and flees. Outside the factory, he takes one last look in a window at pigs having a nice cocktail party with humanoid eye hors doeuvres before walking off into the desert with his feline friend.

There are a million bizarre touches that are just part of the surrealist scenery in Sunday Party little boxed-in universes of blue sky rolling around on two wheels, a score that quotes melodies from Yaz Dont Go and The Temptations My Girl, and autonomous hippo heads floating in the water and flying with no bodies attached. The character movements and rendering are barely functional, but the overall aesthetic is so charming you cant help but be carried away.

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After years of peaceful cohabitation, theres No Room for Gerold. © Thomas Meyer-Hermann/Studio FILM BILDER.

No Room for Gerold (Kein Platz für Gerold)

No Room for Gerold is a miniature reality show from Stuttgart animation collective FILM BILDER, wherein reality as we know it has been skewed just a few degrees. Three flatmates Ellen, Armin, and Roger are sitting at the kitchen table waiting for their fourth flatmate Gerold to return. They agreed to meet for a little chat, and as they wait they bicker about whether he said hed be there at exactly half past of or just about half past. Clearly no ones looking forward to their little discussion.

At 20 of, Gerold finally arrives and apologizes for not remembering if they agreed on about or exactly as he sits down for what he thinks is going to be a friendly bull session. When they instead ask him to move out, he reacts sarcastically at first and then with resigned anger. The kitchens a mess, they say. I told you I have to tear my food, not chew it, Gerold retorts.

Accusations and counter-accusations fly, and a few minutes later Gerold simply walks out. No sooner does he leave then Armin accuses Roger of making a pass at Helen. Helen says she didnt act on it that time, and Armin explodes. That time? Helen leaves. Armin is sick of the games and he leaves as well, leaving only Roger, who acknowledges the cameraman for the first time: Turn that damned thing off. Roger leaves, the cameraman points the camera at the floor, and in a burst of jump-cut static the film is over.

Did I mention that Helen is a wildebeest, Armin is a hippo, Roger is a rhino and food-tearing Gerold is a crocodile? Its like a Fassbinder play on acid. Everything suggests that this is a real scene the perfectly-simulated handheld camera, the grainy picture, the motion-blurred whip pans and smash zooms, the claustrophobic location sound, the naturalistic lighting and eerily tactile texture of the worn-out kitchen table everything except that one thing, which is of course that these are animals who usually dont speak German.

The character acting is functional, but it could be stronger, which only becomes an issue because the creative team has set the bar so high with their attention to verisimilitude. Also, for what seems like something that was intended as your basic piss-take on the reality genre, the piece seems awfully serious. But its a technical tour-de-force as well as a mashup of genres that Ive never seen before, so bravo. If you can score a copy, try putting yourself and a friend at one end of the room and the TV at the other, then run the film after youve both had a few drinks and see if he spots anything wrong.

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Sure youve had it good, but Never Like the First Time!. © 2006 Filmtecknarna.

Never Like The First Time!

Everybodys gettin laid! Jonas Odell, four-dimensional graphic designer from another planet and director of the Infadels Love Like Semtex, Franz Ferdinands Take Me Out and several other music videos that make life worth living, has corralled Stockholms Filmtecknarna animation team into making a funny/scary/poignant short film called Never Like The First Time!, which tells four stories of men and women showing their virginity the door.

In story one, an eighth-grader is invited to a party with a 1950s theme and he goes dressed as Buddy Holly. When Buddy arrives his pal cant shut up about his recent sexual adventure. At that time in that place, it is the defining moment of his friends life, and like a Hollywood scenester talking about his Johnny Depp sighting its a story that the teller shows no signs of getting sick of. Buddy, meanwhile, takes an old grade-school acquaintance onto the dance floor, and when they both unexpectedly find their hands getting interested in each others curves, they adjourn to the washroom.

The girl wants it right there, and asks if he brought a condom. He didnt, so in a nightmare moment he has to rush to find a friend with one to spare and hope that shes still there when he gets back and even when she is, and they begin to do the deed, there remains the issue of what the other guests will do when they realize why no one can get in the bathroom.

Story two is a droll little tale of a couple who go steady, steadier, and steadiest, building up to that home run not one base at a time but in six-step jumps through the dirt from first to second to third over gulp 18 months of Saturdays. First they sit in his room and he plays guitar and she looks at his posters. A month later theyre sitting in his room with the guitar and the posters and kissing. A month later theyre in with the guitar and the posters and kissing and taking their tops off.

Months pass and theyre in the room with the guitar and the posters and kissing and taking their tops off and taking everything off. And finally theyre proceeding to the final step in their mission. He holds out a hand with her choice of condoms, she picks a color and. Finally. They. Do. It The next day, their great work finished, they break up.

The third story is one of those truly scary virginity-loss stories so bleak the girl telling it doesnt even know if It happened. Shes in a pack of punks trolling for action in the park one evening when her crew meets some older guys with tats looking for a good evening in. They go back to the mens apartment, and do a lot of drinking before splitting into separate parties in different rooms. The narrator of the story is eventually talked into administering oral sex to her host, but he repays her with a smack to the head, and when the girl tries to get her companions to split they refuse. She wakes the next morning stark naked as one of the men cries in the kitchen over a framed photo of a woman. He throws it, the girls get dressed and, with great relief, they piss off.

Story four is the reminiscence of an elderly man recalling his first time in the 1920s, back when the general sexual I.Q. left room for serious confusion as to whether 1) two parties could get stuck during intercourse and never unbuckle; 2) inconvenient penetration could cause the woman could start bleeding and never stop; or 3) pregnancy by mail was the menace everyone thought it was. Despite all this cultural ignorance he still manages to hook up with a nice girl hes met at school, and they return to his room with its tiny bed and coax a good time out of their inexperience through careful deliberation and attention. The next morning theyre both alive and well, and the streets of the city are bursting with color in a way he thinks hell never forget (and, clearly, he hasnt).

If you thought the Dadaesque mind behind the Take Me Out music video was all about cuttin and pastin and makin em dance and character animation wasnt part of the equation, nix that line of thought but quick. Jonas team use a number of techniques, from simple modified rotoscoping to subtly morphing and shifting cutout animation to full traditional 2D animation, all in service of creating memorable character moments.

The visual delight weve come to expect is simply icing on a very rich cake a table full of disappearing/reappearing beer bottles makes an apt metaphor for the missing memory of a drunken evening; a remembered sunrise from eighty years ago is as bright and bold as only an inner vision can be. All the stories are based on one-on-one interviews that the filmmakers recorded around 2002, so theyd be compelling as monologues even by themselves; add Filmtecknarnas eye candy and prepare to pop your cork.

Taylor Jessen is a writer living in Burbank. I dont care what the recipe said, Im not using three cups of chives.

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