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Fresh from the Festivals: September 2003’s Film Reviews

Greg Singer reviews five short films fresh from the festival circuit: Last Rumba in Rochdale by John Chorlton, Little Numba by Daniele Lunghini and Diego Zuelli, The Fall by Burak Sahin, Escapism by Avi Ofer and Dollsville by John Wray. 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:

Last Rumba in Rochdale (2002), 10 min., directed by John Chorlton, U.K. Info: Josephine Law, Producer. Tel.: 44 (0) 7747 848894. Fax: 44 (0) 208 896 1669. Email: josie@illuminatedfilms.com.

Little Numba (2002), 3.5 min., directed by Daniele Lunghini and Diego Zuelli, Italy. Info: Daniele Lunghini, via Ruffini 10, 42100 Reggio Emilia, Italy. Web: www.ondaonirica.com.

The Fall (2002), 1.25 min., directed by Burak Sahin, Turkey. Info: Burak Sahin, Kuzgun St. #1-13, A. Ayranci 06540, Ankara, Turkey. Email: sahinburak@hotmail.com.

Escapism (2002), 6.25 min., directed by Avi Ofer, Israel. Email: info@aviofer.com. Web: www.aviofer.com.

Dollsville (2003), 9.5 min., directed by John Wray, USA. Tel.: 310-592-3981.

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The dead can dance in Last Rumba in Rochdale. © 2002 John Chorlton.

Last Rumba in Rochdale

Last Rumba in Rochdale is a black comedy. It tells the tale of Bodney Brooks, a 12-year-old boy who lives with his father, sister and grandma (Gran) in the family-run morgue. Bodney always seems to be getting into trouble and grounded, for some reason or another. So, he wiles away his time in his room, reenacting the days events with computer-controlled puppetry. In order to make amends for his behavior, and to return to the good graces of his family, Bodney decides to organize a party for Gran where she can fulfill her youthful wish to dance once again with Federico Formaggio the greatest dancer in all of Italy!

Old-timer Federico reluctantly agrees to Bodneys imploring, but through an accidental turn of events, Federico meets with his demise. Bodney schemes to turn the untimely disaster into a hopeful outcome, reinvigorating Federicos corpse at the party with the forte of his computer-controlled puppetry. As the slow dance with drunken, clueless Gran turns to flash dance and breakdance, Bodney struggles to keep pace, and eventually the ruse falls apart.

It would appear that Last Rumba in Rochdale has been produced on a shoestring budget, but it is achieved with such professional flair that it is a clear indicator of the resourcefulness and talent of John Chorlton and his collaborators. Chorlton is a recent alumnus of National Film & Television School in England, and Last Rumba is his graduation film. With the help of producer Josephine Law, cinematographer Jon Driscoll, editor Richard Overall and sound designer Toni Bates, among others, Chorlton managed to animate much of the 10-minute, 3D stop-motion movie over the course of 10 months. Add to the project the volunteered time of local voice actors, recording studios and equipment companies, and one can begin to see how production value was layered into the film. Its overall direction, pacing, set design and camera work allow the story to unfold with wonderful quickness and humor.

Last Rumba has screened at such film festivals as Anima 2003 (Brussels), Cinanima (Portugal), Brief Encounters (Bristol, U.K.), and PISAF Animation Festival (Korea). It won the Gold Plaque at the Chicago International Film Festival (2002), and Best Animated Short Film at the 2002 Sitges International Film Festival (Spain). Last Rumba also won the Verna Fields Award at the Motion Picture Sound Editors Golden Reel Awards (2002) for Best Sound Editing in a Student Film.

Toward the end of the movie, as Bodney is grounded again in his room, we briefly see the hand of the stop-motion creator (John Chorlton) working the model of Bodney, as the boy himself manipulates his computer-controlled puppets. It is a welcome, wry wink.

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Little Numba shows the phallusy of unmitigated growth. © 2002 Daniele Lunghini.

Little Numba

Little Numba was created using pencil, china ink, 3ds max and Adobe Premiere. It has a very fast-paced quality suited to its story, culminating with the revelation that such frenetic energy is self-limiting. Everything that has a beginning, by its nature, also has an end.

The film starts with what seems a microscopic perspective, as what appears to be singular, cellular life vigorously divides, multiplies and grows. We watch in fascination as the miraculous machinery of life continues to build upon itself, creating more and more complex structures and foundations on which to support its expansion. Deep underground, the life pushes and splinters its way to the surface, taking hold, until humankind (or its sketchy facsimile) is bustling on the scene. On a macroscopic scale, the trend continues as human civilization builds upon itself, grows and hungrily occupies more of its environment.

Never content in its expansion, humanity looks to become bigger and bigger, to move higher and higher. Pointing to the stars, telescopes and missiles are invented to realize the growing conquest. Rocketships carry human beings to the heavens, and life takes root again, and each world becomes a platform for humankinds insatiable growth. Eventually, the exponential panspermia collapses, and what remains are the ruined monuments of the unquenchable, unconscionable growth of civilization.

Despite the general indifference, decadence or arrogance to the contrary, humanity behaves with the adolescent exuberance of life that will last forever. However, like some fast food buddha, Little Numba points to the sage, sobering reality that everything passes away.

With such animation influences as Karel Zeman and Bruno Bozzetto, director Daniele Lunghini gently alludes to the possibility that there are other, less foolish, ways for humanity to grow up and, in the reawakening of our intellect and conscience, for civilization to be reborn.

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The wind beneath ones wings is the saving grace in The Fall. © 2002 Burak Sahin.

The Fall

Ah, sweet nostalgia. The Fall is hand-drawn animation, the student work of Burak Sahin.

A bird of prey descends on a wild horse as it drinks from a river. The bird turns into a man, presumably, and he attempts to lasso the horse. The horse then drags the man through the river, and whips him over the edge of a waterfall. As the man plummets, he gracefully morphs once again into the bird and screeches away.

You can lead a horse to water, no doubt, but in wrangling our passions and soaring to new heights, its not always the easiest adventure.

Sahin is a civil engineer from Turkey who went on to study classical animation at Vancouver Film School. The Fall looks much like a pencil test. Some coloring was done using Toon Boom USAnimation. The film is short and to the point, and shows much promise.

The Fall has screened at Anima Mundi (Brazil), the 15th World Festival of Animated Films (Zagreb) and Zoiefest Film Festival (USA).

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Escapism allows a soldier to dream of sunnier days. © 2002 Avi Ofer.

Escapism

Escapism is the story of a soldier who keeps guard in a watchtower, and who daydreams of faraway places and memories to overcome the interminable boredom and nothingness stretching around him. With no storyboard, with no cleaning or tracing of frames, director Avi Ofer used an electronic tablet and pen to draw the 2D traditional animation directly in Macromedia Flash. The animation is therefore scratchy and wiggly, but in no way compromised by its simplicity. Ofers use of minimal lines and colors offers an overall pleasing effect, and the essential emotion of the story is conveyed with economic ease.

The story begins with the characters 18th birthday, blowing out the candles of his cake and receiving the gift of a hair trimmer. With newly shaven head, he is straightaway conscripted into the military, manning his post amid the ceaselessly dismal rain. Pensive and lonely, he draws finger doodles on the foggy glass of his watchtower booth. He transforms one doodle of a hangmans noose into the smiling, happy face of a birthday balloon, a distant recollection of his childhood friendships. The character puts on his SUNY Walkman in symbolic search of that which is sunny but the music doesnt chase away the dreariness. The dripping ceiling of the watchtower soon catches his attention, and the shape of the light bulb reminds him again of his birthday balloon.

The young soldier notices a book taped to the ceiling, and so he fetches it down with the barrel of his gun. It is a backpacking travel guide for Australia. Fantasizing about a colorful, sunny Australian beach, he stands in the scene of his imagination with a surfboard and enjoys the wind blowing through his long hair.

The soldier then takes off his gun and uniform and climbs down from his watchtower perch. With a little dream of koalas in his mind, he walks through the rain along a barb-wired fence extending off toward the horizon. He comes across other characters also in their skivvies playing ball, building dirt castles, reading, bicycling. He keeps on going.

The story ends with flies buzzing around his partially eaten 18th birthday cake. On the dresser, someone places a framed picture of the boy smiling alongside a koala bear.

Escapism was accepted into Anifest 2003 (Czech Republic).

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Welcome to the dollhouse in Dollsville. © 2003 John Wray.

Dollsville

At the movies beginning, Dollsville advertises itself as a paper doll book in full color with 30 exciting environments!!! By the movies end, it assures the viewer that no astronauts or animals were harmed in the making of the film.

Dollsville is funny in much the same way that South Park is funny. Given our expectation for what animation generally is, the crudeness of its cutout technique comes as cathartic relief.

The premise of the movie is simple enough. Peter and Angela are going out on a two-dimensional date. They are each looking for someone different than they naturally find in their conformist, cookie-cutter world. All of the male and female characters in the movie look the same, move through the same environments, eat the same foods. As Peter prepares for the big night out, he rapidly mulls over the possible outfits he can wear until he settles on one which is the same as all the others he could have chosen. Angela, for her part, rifles through her wardrobe ballerina, bunny mascot, scuba diver until she settles on a simple dress that she originally tossed aside as too boring.

As their night together unfolds, Peter and Angelas affection for one another is founded on their mutual disaffection for everything else in their world. They soon go back to Angelas home, one thing leads to another and the sparks begin to fly literally. (Here, we are introduced to an age-old truth: the reason people sweat is so they wont catch fire when making love.) The friction from the heavy petting of their cardboard bodies ignites a conflagration that consumes their entire world. The town, the polar caps, the deep ocean, even the moon everything is engulfed in flames. When all seems lost, Peter and Angela must make a leap of faith beyond the confines of their doll book world. They do so, and they land safely among the pages of a neighboring magazine specifically, an advertisement for cigarettes. (Remember, kids: smoking is a leading cause of statistics.)

John Wray comes from a background of directing theater and comedy improv, and Dollsville is his first film as part of the UCLA Animation Workshop. Inspired by Don Hertzfeldts films, that he could have fun telling a story without the use of strong drawing skills, Wray created his characters using markers and cardboard cutouts. Never having taken a drawing class prior to his work at UCLA, Wrays intent was to turn his weaknesses into strengths. Working with cutouts allowed him to concentrate on the story without getting caught up in the technical challenges of full animation. Wrays improvisational background was helpful in animating directly under the camera, as he was able to make changes and add jokes with the same kind of dynamic spontaneity as on stage. His directing style also carried over from theater, unwittingly mimicking the proscenium vantage of the audience.

Dollsville has played at the L.A. Film Festival. Having won a Spotlight Award from the UCLA Film Departments 2003 festival, it also screened at the Directors Guild of America.

In addition to working on his next film at UCLA, Wray is working as a freelance writer for Disney. He has written three episodes for their new Lilo & Stitch animated series.

Greg Singer is an animation welfare advocate, eating in Los Angeles.

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