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Fresh from the Festivals — Special All-Annecy Supper Club Edition: May 2005’s Reviews

Peter Plantec reports back from fmx/05 in Stuttgart, Germany, after experiencing an invigorating and intimate kind of DCC conference rooted in real-world and academic synergy.

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:

Milch (2005), 15:30, directed by Igor Kovalyov (U.S./Russian Federation). Contact: Patrick Stapleton. Klasky Csupo Features, [E] pstapleton@klaskycsupo.com

Vent (2004), 4:40, directed by Erik van Schaaik (Netherlands). Contact: il Luster Productions, Herenweg 45, 3513 CB Utrecht, the Netherlands [V] +31.(0)30.2400.768; [E] info@illuster.nl; [W] www.illuster.nl

Safety Procedures (2004), 2:20, directed by Richard Fenwick, U.K. Contact: Richard Fenwick, 401 Centralofts, 21 Waterloo Street, Newcastle Upon Tyne, Tyne and Wear NE1 4AL, U.K. [V] +44.(0)191.261.5955; [F] +44.(0)191.21.8111; [E] Richard@unified-systems.org; [W] www.richardfenwick.com

Agricultural Reports (2004), 2:32, directed by Melina Sydney Padua, Ireland. Contact: Barry ODonoghue, Barley Films, 15 Hainault Park, Foxrock, Dublin 18, Ireland. [T] 353.1.289.9224; [E] info@barleyfilms.com; [W] www.barleyfilms.com

The Moon and the Son: An Imagined Conversation (2004), 28:00, directed by John Canemaker, U.S. Contact: John Canemaker [V] 212.874.7462; [W] www.johncanemaker.com

Before we get to the spinach and ricotta ravioli that is Fresh from the Festivals, please allow me the following breadstick:

In a few paragraphs Im going to rave about Milch, a new short from Igor Kovalyov. Maybe youre lucky enough to know this animators work already. Maybe, like me, you saw one of his Russian shorts on Bravo 10 years ago, couldnt read the Cyrillic credits, and never even figured out who made the exquisite mood piece youd just seen. Either way, youre probably going to want to see Milch.

It is playing at the Annecy festival in June.

Its time I leveled with you. Outside of the opportunities to promote animators and to turn people on to cool shorts they should see, theres one practical reason why I write this column. Track this concept with me.

When you read about a movie youd like to see, you can go see it, or wait nine months and rent it. Cost: between 99 cents and $10.

When a book is published that youd like to read, you can get it from a library or bookstore. Cost: from free to, say, $40.

Hear a good tune on the radio? Get the album overnight from an online retailer for $20.

Want to see Milch, Learn Self Defense or The Old Crocodile? Update the passport, get a visa, wait until June, hop a plane to France, book a hotel in Annecy, get a pass to a screening and enjoy. Cost: $1,400 and up.

Chris Landreths Ryan took the Oscar this year, and you cant rent it. Destino was nominated last year, and you cant rent it. The Hunger Artist from Tom Gibbons, The God from Konstantin Bronzit, Crimenals from Greg Araya cant rent em. On the whole, only writers who get review copies can see animated shorts for less than the cost of a new computer.

Friends, colleagues, stop what youre doing immediately and make up your own magazine. Make up your own trade rag, say youre writing a shorts column and tell animators to start sending screeners. Because the fact is that I write about shorts so I can see the shorts. If you want to see them too, do what I do and write a column.

Anyone can do it from the privacy of their shared computer area. All it takes is an opinion and a thesaurus. So what are you waiting for?

Which brings me to my cri de coeur:

WHY IN THE NAME OF TERRA FUCKING FIRMA ISNT THERE A HALF HOUR OF ANIMATED FESTIVAL SHORTS ON CABLE EVERY NIGHT?

GrrraaaAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAUGH!!!

Onward.

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Milch: Magical realism, plus two pints cream. © Klasky Csupo Inc.

Milch

Milch is a wordless but nowhere near silent dramatic piece from long-time Klasky Csupo director/animator Igor Kovalyov. Kovalyov was born in the Ukraine in 1954, and although he first came to Hollywood to work for Arlene and Gabors little animation shingle-that-could in 1991, in the intervening time hes made animated product on both continents. Milch could be Kovalyov mining his childhood, or it could very well be about Russia or Ukraine or Bulgaria as it lives and breathes today.

The centerpiece of Milch isnt so much the milk as the girl who delivers it. Shes pretty, and the boy of the house is falling for her big time. Trouble is, Dad already has. In fact theyve probably had an affair. Mom knows, and shes bitter as hell, which doesnt make life any easier. Daily household living is the subject of the short, and every family dynamic is exposed, from the boys alternating admiration and rage at his father to Grandmas top-of-the-pyramid role as caregiver to grandson, son and invalid husband.

The narrative unfolds in a city where Russian words are shouted in the street and spelled out on storefronts, but the Cyrillic alphabet is missing; where Stalinist graphics could be archaeological holdovers or tongue-in-cheek advertising appropriations on the side of a bus; where theres pop music coming from a dozen car stereos but Mom sits at home listening to opera on what looks like a Vietnam-era radar scanner.

So much happens in so little time that its difficult to recount the days events, but Dad goes off to work and the boy stays home in the darkened flat. Each of them has a confrontation with the girl, and each meeting is folded into a strange moment of fantasy so we dont know if its a vision of narrative or just a wish fulfillment. There are recriminations, toasts, a picked scab, a spool of thread, a random beating in the street and cold cream for Grandmother that glows in the dark.

In contrast with his other shorts, which have featured chicken-human hybrids and worms with human faces who act like puppies, this is the most reality-based of Kovalyovs works. Like his other shorts Hen His Wife and Bird in the Window dialogue has been jettisoned in favor of a cavalcade of tiny gestures and postures that seem to pack the whole history of a relationship into the empty spaces between actions. Everything goes very fast: the most important moments seized, embraced and abandoned as in a Dogme film.

Whats extraordinary about Kovalyovs animation, and what separates him from geographical neighbors like Priit Pärn, is the depth, the subtlety of the physical motion. A simple scene of Grandma pushing Granddad in a chair across a floor to reach a glass of water, which he tips over, takes on a reality thats at the same time pathetic, electrifying and undeniable. Plus, and I cant remember the last time Ive seen this in animation, Kovalyovs characters breathe.

Milch is certainly an early contender for an Oscar nomination, and if were quite lucky, will appear on a DVD of the animators complete works in the near future. I hope so, because then we can all see Andrei Svislotsky again. I saw it once on Bravo 10 years ago, and it lingers in the memory like literature.

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A debilitating case of wind is felt in Vent. © il Luster Productions.

Vent

If youve living where the wind is constantly barreling down from the (insert your own compass direction here), youll appreciate Erik van Schaaiks Vent. Acted out completely in silhouette against a background of fast-moving cloud cover, a rectangle with a black bar down the middle frames the action as a man tries to get from the right side of the frame to the left.

A fierce wind full of leaves blows hard as the gaunt figure struggles over two minutes to get one foot in front of another and make headway into the gale. He finally makes it to the bar in the middle, and pulling himself to the other side the force of the wind is so great he is able to stand on the bar without falling, his body parallel to the ground. But on he must go, and he tries again to get a foothold, but is suddenly whisked off his feet and thrown instantly into the air and out of frame right.

Moments later, though, he appears with the wind-blown leaves on frame left and, still flying, disappears out of frame right. He cycles through again. Its a small planet, apparently, and full of characters with very different aerodynamic properties as well, because amidst all this, a small girl appears quietly on the right side of the frame and wanders, oblivious, into the heart of the storm. A diminutive child with pigtails and a dress, the air doesnt even disturb her hair as she wanders to the left, taking care to note the odd man endlessly coursing past.

Seeing the source of the problem, the girl casually walks to the left of the frame, takes the edge of the frame in hand, and slams it shut. Its only been an open door at fault all along, and peace now descends. The man knocks, but the door is locked, so he has to circle the world and come back in through the right. After a moment he catches his breath and all seems resolved, but as inevitably happens in enclosed spaces, something arises to make them yearn for fresh air, and the frame is opened up in an entirely new way.

Erik van Schaaik is a Dutch animator with credits in TV animation, drama and documentary. He animated Vent in 2D using the Moho software platform and composited in Mirage, and his universal-joint character movements and backlit dumb show staging create a look of ultra-clean shadow puppet theater. The music by Martin Fondse is half the treat in Vent; the soundtrack of piano, trumpet and hyperactive cello make an aural tornado to match the action on-screen.

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Brace, brace, brace in Safety Procedures. © onedotzero/Richard Fenwick.

Safety Procedures

Richard Fenwick created the CGI vignette Safety Procedures as a literal illustration of what the safety card in the pocket of the seatback in front of you wont say The planes going down, the waters rushing in and there are sharks. In his hilarious and brief black-comedy version of the flight attendants pre-takeoff safety spiel, Fenwick makes the little iconic men women and children move around their decorous little cartoon squares in a pantomime of what passengers can expect in case of emergency.

Its not pretty, this hypothetical scenario in primary colors. Do remember to brace yourself when the aircraft is on the way down, unless you forgot to fasten your seatbelt before the beginning of rapid descent, in which case do please have the courtesy to aim yourself down the aisle and not over the backs of the seats so as not to incommode those passengers with FASTENED seatbelts.

When the water begins to fill the cabin, please attach your life vest with the straps. Do this INSIDE the plane, underwater if necessary and be neat with your knots. The convenient pull-tab inflates the vest automatically. Do this OUTSIDE the plane, or youre going to the bottom of the sea stuck to the ceiling of the interior of the plane.

Fenwicks piece is in a simple and friendly style that exactly and cruelly apes the clean-line cartoons of that familiar safety card whose characters have beamed calmly out at us on flight after flight. (If youre going down, go smiling.) He and his team designed/edited/animated his sick little scherzo beginning with graphics cooked up in Illustrator and imported into After Effects for animation and motion blur. The zoom effects and realistic jarring of the camera generate an appropriately cinematic turbulence. The soundtrack is found sound captured on real international flights, and the automatic voices on the cabin P.A. get even funnier when those speakers start delivering the flight attendants calm and reassuring instructions from underwater.

Fenwick is the guiding light of U.K. design house Reference Point Studios, and he has directed music videos for Teenage Fanclub, Death in Vegas, Bent, and Timo Maas. As a responsible arts correspondent I must point out that I cant end a review of this sort without mentioning Fight Club, so I wont.

(I owe a few words to describe the DVD compilation from whence this came: its called onedotzero_select dvd and is highly recommended for animators, non-animators, or just any fan of the everything-we-do-is-animation generation of new media practitioners. In addition to Safety Procedures the DVD includes several dont-miss short subjects, including E-Baby from the Paris-based Pleix collective, a touching and not a little disturbing meditation on human and inhuman affection thats equal parts All is Full of Love and Moving Illustrations of Machines; Jonas Odells knock-em-dead Kurt Schwitters-inspired video for Franz Ferdinands disco stomper Take Me Out; Dan Chambers drolly eccentric furry-noir tale of rodents in the Underground, Tube Mice; and a dozen other unforgettable digital design mini-epics plus the live-action bonus of Rube Fleischers video for DJ Formats We Know Something, which you owe it to yourself to see if only for the opportunity to hear Chalie2Na rap while five break-dancers dressed like plushies throw down the righteous shit.)

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Agricultural Report: In the heath, no one can hear you scream. © Barley Films.

Agricultural Report

Cartooning, like William Faulkners As I Lay Dying, is all about giving voice to the voiceless. Shoes cant talk, or dead people, or a budgie, but when lifes drama demands a coherent response from the incoherent, animation is the handiest tool. Melina Sydney Paduas animated short from 2004, Agricultural Report, tackles the issue of foot and mouth disease from a previously unarticulated point of view weve heard from the scientists, the pundits and the beef-buying public, so why not the cow?

Agricultural Report takes place in a single scene in a lovely green meadow somewhere in Ireland (obviously this is a cartoon U.K., because it isnt raining). Alone in a patch of green stretching over hills that roll from horizon to horizon, a cow is contentedly munching away on the bounty of grass as she listens to the morning news on a portable radio. To her great dismay a human comes on the air to talk about a virulent new strain of foot and mouth disease. Its in the grass. Its in the clover. Its in all the low-lying greenery that one has a tendency to step on. Whats more, its spread not by ingestion but by simple contact, so all livestock need to avoid touching said flora from now on if possible.

The cow reacts with alarm that escalates from mild concern to exploding panic, first going up on tiptoe and eventually fainting dead away as the authoritative radio voice calmly reports Contact with a single infected blade can spread the disease to the sheep or cow, which would then have to be disposed of, then chopped into tiny pieces, then burned and the ashes dumped at sea.

She runs to and fro in terror, looking for any high ground from which to escape the scourge, but the only landmark is the portable radio so she perches atop its tissue box-sized crown and drives it into the soft ground. The final image is a lovely vision of the doomed bliss that radiates from those who willfully induce their own ignorance.

Padua is a Sheridan College graduate with seven years under her belt as a traditional animator for Warners Iron Giant and Osmosis Jones, as well as Eight Crazy Nights for Sony Pictures. Agricultural Report is her directorial debut, a two-and-a-half minute comic truffle in blazing color that she animated for the Irish Film Board. The acting is subtle and superb, with the cows huge eyes doing most of the legwork (if youll pardon my metonymic train wreck). Besides those all-important orbs of sight, Padua gets great mileage out of the cows lingering grimace of hysteria, which in a bovine context may be a unique moment in animation history.

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Too far away to hurt, but always shining bright: The Moon and the Son. © John Canemaker.

The Moon and the Son; An Imagined Conversation

Animated shorts are a personal art form. The Moon and the Son: An Imagined Conversation is REALLY personal. John Canemakers longform featurette tells the entire life story of his father John Cannizzaro, threading into the narrative John and John Seniors confrontational and tempestuous relationship as expressed in a continuing conversation between father and son. The trick is, John senior has been dead for 10 years. Canemaker could have dealt with this kind of interrogatory memoir by hiring an actor to voice his father, but the resulting conversations would probably have made his brain explode. His solution was to hire a second actor to play himself. Coen Brothers regular John Turturro plays John Canemaker and fellow Brooklynite Eli Wallach plays his father in Canemakers imaginary animated conversation, a devastating colloquy that mines the content of the animators childhood even as it matches the form of his childhood drawings.

The Moon and the Son is a confrontation, a history and a plea for understanding. The conversations begin after John Senior has passed away, and as father and son reminisce about John Juniors deathbed drawings of his stroke-afflicted father, the story moves backwards into their shared history of bitter recrimination until it approaches the defining moment of their relationship, John Seniors arrest and subsequent conviction for arson when John Junior was eight years old.

It takes 10 minutes of development for John Jr. to reach his Jaccuse moment; the next 20 minutes of this half-hour narrative form John Seniors apologia as he narrates his own life story, not to excuse but to explain how he ended up the way he did. John Senior was born in the United States in 1907 a fact that son and audience alike greet with disbelief, as weve heard John Senior talking in a thick Italian accent for the duration. In fact John Senior went back to the motherland at age two, and, while still a young man, he fell in with the local mafia, an event that would shadow him for the next thirty years and eventually bring him legal trouble and incarceration during John Jr.s childhood.

The Moon and the Son was traditionally animated in an idiom mainly defined by a childs crayons, built on fat lines and bright, enthusiastically messy color fills; but stylistically its completely liberated and roams freely between whatever media get the point across quickest still photos, stock footage, home movies and camcorder video as needed. Theres a potpourri of traditional non-digital techniques, applied to media ranging from cels to rough paper.

Canemaker is director of the animation program at NYUs Tisch School of the Arts, and you probably already have at least one of his nine books in your library. In 1989 he took home the Oscar for best animated short, and will almost certainly earn a nomination for his latest work. The Moon and the Son is playing at Annecy this June, and those who cant make it will likely get a chance to see it on HBO, which produced the work.

Taylor Jessen is a writer living in Burbank. There are four separate pilot lights under the metal lid of his stove, and theyre going to cook hell out of his apartment this summer unless he shuts the gas off. Also he should vacuum.

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