Chris Lanier attends the SAFO Student Fest and uncovers lessons about life and art.
It seems impossible that real life could happen at a festival. Sure, connections can be made and business cards swapped, and lives thereby sent on different trajectories but these are all purchases against the future, not whats happening right now, in front of you. The bulk of the physical activity at a festival is so thoroughly passive, it can almost seem like sleep: there you are, seated in the dark, silently taking in someone elses version of the outside world. Real lifes gotta be elsewhere.
But a few times at past Ottawa festivals, real life caught up with me. Nothing happened that a camera could catch: I was still there, seated in the dark, mouth zipped and eyes dumbly screwed open. Despite this, there was (at times) a powerful feeling that that art does not stand outside of life: it is life. And the stuff that was argued over at dinner or over drinks wasnt just stuff to argue over at dinner or over drinks: we were really talking about life.
(There is also the sense, as an animator, that the flickering dark is like the only real place where you can come into palpable contact with your history; animation history is history in the dark.)
I was invited to attend the Ottawa 2003 International Student Animation Festival (SAFO 03 for short) as curator of a screening of Internet animation. My perspective, then, is hopelessly compromised, on top of being fallible for run-of-the-mill reasons of personal ineptitude, psychological obtuseness, and so on. Despite this, I hope what follows will give a general sense of SAFO 03, and a couple glimpses of real life some caught in the dark of the screening room at the National Archives of Canada, others caught in equally improbable venues.
SAFO or Not SAFO
The 2003 Student Animation Festival is the last student festival that will appear independently at Ottawa for the foreseeable future. That it took place at all is a testament to the dedication of the festival directors and staff. A few months before the festival opened, one of the festivals major sponsors, Telefilm, announced that it was going to cut its funding completely, having decided its funding mandate applied only to feature film production. Thanks to a letter-writing campaign instigated by managing director Kelly Neal and artistic director Chris Robinson, Telefilm was flooded with sufficient protest that they reversed their decision. On hearing that the festival had sold out all its advance tickets, Telefilm even sent a conciliatory letter to the festival, saying it was glad itd been brought around.
Looking toward the future the future of diminished funding that seems to lie ahead for most arts organizations in these financially pinched times the festival directors have decided to concentrate on the maintenance of the main Ottawa festival, which has in the past few years alternated with the student festival on a bi-annual basis. Now the International Animation Festival will take place yearly, with student competitions folded in.
One mightve expected a funereal air to hang over the proceedings of this final SAFO, but if anyone was stuck playing a dirge, I missed it. Enthusiasm seemed to be running high, and the collegial, friendly atmosphere that has been a fundamental part of the past two regular Ottawa festivals Ive attended was in full force. There is, nonetheless, legitimate concern that student work will become ghettoized at the main festival, and that the connections between students and established filmmakers wont be as easy to make. What festival-goers will certainly miss in the future is the very particular thrill of seeing work with an audience composed mostly of students.
John Canemaker put together two programs of Essential Viewing films he felt every student of animation should be exposed to. Seeing this collection of masterpieces (ranging from McCay to Trnka, McLaren to Jones), projected as they were meant to be seen, on a big screen, would have been enthralling in the company of any audience. But to be aware that most of the eyes around you are seeing these films for the first time and to hear muffled noises of surprise or assent, whole flocks of mental light bulbs flicking on, synchronized, in the backwash of the screen is to actually feel, in your body, art leaping across generations, and sweeping into the future. Its to feel the headlong, death-destroying momentum of art.
Pizza, Ice Cream and Aliens
One of the most delightful aspects of SAFO is the screening of work by young children. The charm of the nonsequitur is never more apparent than in childrens films. At times, it seems less like a naïve understanding of story structure than like a genuine grasp of the nature of reality: something we educate ourselves out of by learning the rules of storytelling. Isnt life just a bunch of stuff that happens? And isnt all that noise about motive and character and theme just what adults talk about, to fill up the time when stuff isnt happening?
Watching the films, I felt a cockeyed nostalgia for a number of things that once held a position of utmost importance to me. Why is it that I no longer feel a sense of pagan adulation toward pizza, ice cream and space aliens? This seems to be the most important trinity to the children of today. One disappointment: there were not as many dinosaurs as I had expected. Perhaps the space aliens have taken their place. I have to think dinosaurs were so appealing to me when I was young because they were the only things I could imagine to be more powerful than adults. But I suppose flying saucers and ray guns are just as good as a building-smashing brontosaurus tail or the serrated jaws of a t-rex.
Sex in the Dark
Since the rubric of the student film is wide enough to encompass childrens films and graduate work, the competition screenings made for some dramatic gearshifts. Exuberant kiddie squiggles sat cheek-by-jowl with fornicating chairs and instances of human/insect bestiality. As soon as an animator is old enough to have sex, they are compelled to draw it. Isnt animator just another word for pervert? Someone a couple rows down from me I assume he was a parent of one of the younger animators raised his right hand in a gesture of helpless supplication every time an animated breast or dick jiggled into an illusion of life. I am certain that, despite the profusion of sexual imagery nowadays, there were at least a couple young animators in the audience whose budding sexual imaginations received a few indelible marks at the competition screenings. If the breasts lasciviously bouncing in and out of her shirt belonged to the Mona Lisa (courtesy of Boris Despodovs Mitologia), does that mean it wasnt real life?
The Faux Pas of The Son of Satan Robinson was a little more protective when it came to violent imagery; he took the stage to encourage the younger audience members to leave before the screening of Jean-Jacques Villards The Son Of Satan. After the exodus of the impressionable, The Son Of Satan came barreling out of the projector like a load of buckshot. Based on a story by Charles Bukowski, it details the sadistic spree of three bullies, determined to torture a fourth boy, even to the point of death, to punish him for lying that hed fucked a girl under the porch of one of the bullies houses.
The film seems to sweat testosterone poison; the bullies are covered with so much acne, you figure theres as much pus running in their veins as blood, and the freckles on their victims face look more like raw keloid scars. As grotesque as it is from the get-go, it nails you to your seat by suggesting that things will get much, much worse. The visual texture of the animation is deliberately rough. Each new image seems like its been peeled out from under the scab of the previous one. As the violence ratchets up, theres no pleasure in it, not even for the perpetrators: the ringleader of the bullies wants to back out at a couple points, but pushes himself forward, driven by wolf-pack logic. If he admits any sign of weakness, he wont be seen as the leader. Hes terrified of what hes doing even as hes doing it. The only real misstep in the film is a needlessly glib bookend image: in a film like this, you know that if you see a pretty bird among flowers, its a foregone conclusion that at some point, the bird will have a bloody scrap of something in its beak.
Before the lights came up so that the director could be acknowledged (a customary procedure for the screenings, which most of the directors oblige by standing and taking a bow), two hands cut across the beam of the projector, throwing up black spider-silhouettes against the end credits. It took several seconds, after the lights came up, to realize that it wasnt some offended audience member raising a protest it was the director himself, now up on stage, strutting back and forth with hands still raised, like a prizefighter. His short, compressed frame seemed to send off waves of aggression the overlap between the end screen and the shadows of his hands heightened the impression that one of the sadistic punks from the film had managed to congeal himself off the screen.
He began a whole speech I hope you enjoyed my film its not like your typical animation film good lord, he believes hes peeled the scales of un-reality from our eyes I worked very hard on this film bowing theatrically at the waist, as though expecting the audience to genuflect in return.
He went on, with a mounting incoherence, as the lights were killed. An unfortunate pool of light remained at a mike toward the edge of the stage, and Villard flew to it like a moth. He continued to talk as even that scrap of light curdled and dimmed. Villard was thanking people, the audience was groaning, it was completely black, and Villard shouted in the darkness: And thanks to all the females out there! Someone in the audience replied, Sit down! The darkness coiled up, and shouted, in Villards voice: FUCK YOU!
Im, Going, to, Kill, You!
The night before, at the Glue Pot (the designated nighttime rendezvous for animators and festival-goers a sports bar sharing a building with Barbarellas Diamonds, a strip joint), there had been a bar fight. Chairs were overturned, glasses emptied, beer foamed on contact with the floor. There were two men being held apart by other men; a knot of them writhed on the floor at my feet. When both men were upright, they glared at each other, making a lunge every now and again against the chests of the others who were separating them. One of the fighters, a middle-aged pudgy guy, his red face like a balloon leaking air and spittle, threatened, laboriously: When I see you outside, IM, GOING, TO, KILL, YOU!
Does real life happen during a bar fight? If both guys are too drunk to remember it in any detail the next morning, can they agree it never happened at all? Does shadowboxing in the dark of the National Archives count as real life, or is it just playing at it?
Lia Abbate, the kind and unflaggingly polite recruitment rep from Disney, happened to be standing next to me during the bar fight, and confessed that it was the first bar fight shed seen outside of a movie. It was the first time for me, too. We expressed profound disappointment that our initiation into the world of the beer-brawl had taken place in Canada, where people were supposed to be more civilized. Chris Robinson and Tom Knott took it upon themselves to apologize on behalf of the maple flag. The World Series had been playing on TV. If it had been hockey, that wouldve been one thing, Tom said. But baseball its a disgrace.
Likewise, a bar fight is one thing, but a National Archives Screening Room fight? Theres little dignity in either, but surely the latter has a ring of foppishness that fatally diminishes its macho bona fides. Fortunately, the post-Son of Satan fracas didnt come to blows. But between it, this bar fight and the impending Andreas Hykade retrospective, it looked for a moment that SAFO 03 was poised to become SAFO 03: The Festival of Male Rage.
Man is Soldier, Woman is Whore
There was some controversy when Hykade won the Best Film prize at Ottawa 2000 for Ring of Fire. Some accused the film of being sexist. The film is full of brutally ugly sexual imagery, and the first time I saw it, back in 2000, I was against it at least half of the way through. As a society were choking in debased, degraded images of one another, and Ring of Fire seemed to wallow in this. The story is a kind of Freudian-surrealist Western, where the women are whittled down to their sexual organs, and the men swagger through town swinging on the fulcrum of their gunbelts. But as the film progresses, the ferocious subjectivity of the film where every physical manifestation of the characters seems like a projection of raw male desire begins to eat into itself. The sexual epiphany that the film builds toward is a room full of dancing grotesques, lumpy Siamese twin creatures melded together in pairs, each punching the sexual organs of its twin in doleful rhythm to the music.
Hykades earlier student film We Lived in Grass is not as technically assured, but it cuts as deeply, tracing the young life of a boy whose fathers idea of worldly advice is: Man is soldier, Woman is Whore. With guidance like that, is it any wonder that the more the boy supposes he understands the world, the less he understands himself?
Theres a moment in Ring of Fire that didnt quite stick with me, till this time through. After one cowboy has raped a woman, he meets up with her again, and tries to pal around with her, trying to lure her into the jokey camaraderie they shared before he assaulted her. She ignores him, and hes dumbfounded. You realize that hes not just trying to lamely patch things up; he genuinely has no idea of the import of what hes done. He cant tell the difference between sexual masochism and sexual sadism. The world is still frozen in its stereotypes, but we can see through them, with a clarity that cuts like a knife. At that moment, the cowboy sees through them as well, and the implication is held out that this self-knowledge destroys him. To understand yourself can be a dangerous thing.
At the Glue Pot, there was tableside debate about The Son Of Satan and Villards grandstanding. Heather Kenyon [director of development at Cartoon Network] was arguing that Villard had proven that he didnt understand his own film. If an artist seems to luck into his insights, do those insights really belong to him (a question thrown into sharper relief when the artwork is a work of adaptation, as The Son Of Satan is)? I found myself declaring that it shouldnt matter if an artist understands his art.
Improbably, I find myself using a Disney film to defend The Son Of Satan. John Canemaker had screened Wilfred Jacksons The Band Concert, and Id found myself not only entertained, but also deeply moved transported by it. In the depression-era cartoon, Mickey conducts a ragtag group of musicians performing The William Tell overture. The musicians all wear old, patched-up clothes (Mickeys conductors jacket has sleeves twice as long as his arms), and even their musical instruments show signs of having been repaired. These arent well-heeled orchestra musicians one gets the feeling theyve been living hand-to-mouth and concert-to-concert for a while.
Toward the end of the cartoon, they play the Storm section of the overture, and a tornado materializes, scattering their audience and sends the musicians spinning into the air. They play on, apparently oblivious to the fact that the earth has disappeared from under their feet. With no audience and no earth, they continue, buoyed by the void, and it becomes impossible to tell whether theyre the victims of the tornado, or its perpetrators. Its a perfect, transcendent image of the artist immersed in the substance of art.
I imagine Wilfred Jackson, and the animators, who worked under him, would laugh off a word like transcendent certainly theyd never explain the making of the cartoon as a chase after any transcendent image. And yet, there it was, plain as day and up on the big screen (perhaps brought more directly into focus because of the travails of the festival itself, the hurricane suddenly whisking away banknotes instead of audience members). Jackson wouldnt have been able to talk me out of seeing it, any more than Villard would be able to erase the scathing indictment of machismo that coils down the length of The Son Of Satan.
(This is all an attempt to trace, by example, the kind of weird chemical reactions that take place between films at a festival where films that you mightve assumed wouldnt be on speaking terms suddenly called out to each other. Son of Satan, meet your spiritual brother, Mickey Mouse.)
Who Needs History when Youve got Lucre?
One detail from Canemakers double program stood out as a kind of commentary-by-absence. The one print hed intended to show, but was not made available to him in time, was Pixars Luxor Jr. The absence of Luxor Jr. seemed symptomatic of a growing gap between the history and art of animation, and the industry of it. It seemed particularly ironic after a short conversation Id had with Canemaker, about his recent piece for the New York Times on Dali and Disneys Destino. I told him Id appreciated the piece, which diligently and persuasively dissolves the reflexive divisions between high and low culture (although Destino itself, which I saw a week after the festival, suggests that Disney and Dalis zip codes overlapped less in the ether of art than in the battlefield of kitsch). Canemaker expressed surprise that the high/low shibboleth still continues to maintain any cultural currency at all.
And yet, while Canemakers program itself showed by example how comfortably the high could lie next to the low (Alexieff and Parkers sublime Night on Bald Mountain segueing effortlessly into The Band Concert), the institutional priorities of the art and entertainment sides of the biz seem as segregated as ever. Could there be a higher compliment than an invitation, by a respected historian of animation, to be included in the stream of history, to have your work ranked among the most impressive achievements in the form, at the most eclectic and long-lived festival in North America? Perhaps Pixar had a compelling reason not to supply the print, but the message that was sent however unintentionally was that you dont need history, so long as you have box office.
I may be making too much of a minor detail, though since statistical studies of the state of art arent forthcoming, feeling ones way by anecdote seems the best recourse. I wouldnt mention it at all, if it didnt seem to reflect in some way the larger crisis the Festival itself is facing (Telefilms mandate for feature-length production seems like code-speak for more obviously commercially viable production), and if the struggle between art and commerce didnt seem to be such a vivid dilemma for the students attending the festival.
Steve Dovas, an animator who teaches at Pratt Institute, told me the student audience was near revolt by the end of the panel (which he conceptualized and participated in) Congratulations on Your Graduation: Youre Unemployed! In what must have been one of his trademark strokes of impishness, Robinson (I never intend to tick people off, I just do!) assigned Jean Detheux as the moderator of the panel, which was billed as an examination of what, if anything, are animation programs doing to prep and expose their students to the real world of the workplace and the market? I love Jean, but hes as interested in the workplace and the market about as much as cat is interested in the latest figures from the stock exchange. His Calvinist stance on art an artist doesnt have to worry about making a living, an artist just has to worry about making art! seemed to provoke the response: SCREW ART, I NEED TO FIND A JOB!
And the job market is certainly no joke. Its not surprising that some students voiced confusion and not a little bit of fear. Everything is in flux. If you dont learn a whole battery of technical skills, how will you be prepared to enter the industry? And with the stack of technical skills to master, how is it possible to break through all that technical apparatus, into your own voice? And arent those basic technical skills the sorts of things that are being farmed overseas now, anyway?
Jeans advice might have been more practical than even he realized (though, regardless, its fated to erode the health of the form if making a living in animation and making art in animation become mutually exclusive categories). Is it more important that animation gets you a job, or that it gets you a life? Can real life happen at a day job?
Not to relentlessly ring the bells of gloom and doom. After the festival, several of Dovas students shared their enthusiasm with him. As one student put it how terrifying and great it was to see people my age, doing work thats better than what Im doing. Dovas himself came away buoyed by the student work hed seen. Theres a vitality to the students films, a way they hit close to the nerve, said Dovas. Theres maybe less self-indulgence, a less jaded quality.
If there werent any definitive answers at the Congratulations! panel, there were perhaps tentative suggestions to be found, obliquely, at the retrospectives and other screenings. Any casual viewer at the festival was bound to see the relationship between art and commerce attacked from a number of angles, without ever being solved.
Oscar Grillo introduced his retrospective by saying that what he was going to show was not art, but merely an imitation of it and screening it was going to be a bit like showing off my underpants. (There was a bit more genuine art, hidden among the TV commercial work, than he let on not just in his labor of love Parkers Mood, but also in Monsier Pett, which is a heartfelt fable about misunderstanding the nature of ones talents, wrapped in a series of fart gags, and Rembrandt, which finds a perfect correspondence between the painter and Mood Indigo).
The program note, written by Richard Meltzer, took an axe to Grillos commercial work, even going so far as to suggest Grillo might make a cartoon for Bushs invasion of Iraq, if the price was right (its obvious this low blow is misplaced excess animosity for the videos Grillo directed for several Linda McCartney songs Meltzer cut his teeth as a rock critic, and deep down Im sure he considers a Linda McCartney video a more desperately mortal crime than any imagined advert for Bush & Co.).
My impression is that Grillo has no illusions about the ultimate worth of his commercial work its destined to disappear, skid-free, into nothingness if he invested well, perhaps not even outlasting the money he made from it. Two weeks after the fact, consulting the program notes, Im hard pressed to remember any of the commercials the McCartney videos stick to the minds eye more persistently, the music being vividly awful, and the wrestling match between naively bad singing and supremely sophisticated drawing being the stuff of genuine (if foregone-conclusion) drama. I feel obliged to underline the fact that Linda McCartneys artistic failings have nothing to do with her worth as a person Oscar took it upon himself to declare onstage that McCartney was a fine human being, generous, kind, concerned none of those qualities are debased by her terrible singing. (Grillo, who is something of a force of nature, shook his program in his fist with irritation, declaring the program note had gotten everything wrong. Robinson, whod tapped Meltzer to write it, mightve begun to second-guess his impish streak. I think Grillo could take him in a bar fight.)
It is, perhaps, Grillos clear-eyed ability to see that there is no contradiction in being both a terrible singer and a good person that has allowed his commercial work to stand apart from his Genuine-Article Art. If good works and bad songs can cohabitate in the same body, theres no reason an artists mind cant contain both a Cheetos-cheetah and a disquisition on the transmigration of Charlie Parkers soul.
The highlight of the Grillo retrospective was actually a work-in-progress; an animatic of Parkers Mood, an animation of five takes of the Bird performance of the same name. Can real life occur in a studio, with a reed between your lips? Of this, we have demonstrable proof, which Grillo elaborates upon with some snatches of biography, and some jagged, bitter flights of symbolic fancy. The thing is so beautiful as it stands, I almost dont want to see Grillos vibrant, energetic paintings set into full motion. The music is motion enough. Mickey Mouse, meet your spiritual brother, Charlie Parker.
The Price of Your Knees
Martha Colburn came from the other side of the equation as Oscar her DIY films were made outside of any commercial system, and yet the raw materials theyre made from are the ephemeral castoffs of commercial productions. Her collage films resurrect magazine photo-families, cute-kitty calendar art, scraps of porno films and clippings of masked Mexican wrestlers. She undercuts these images in ways that are simple, but devastating in Evil of Dracula, the addition of fangs to that forced, open-mouth smile of consumer enthusiasm thats pressed on the faces of catalog models turns that enthusiasm into an insatiable vampire lust. The women in porno loops are painted over so that their bodies are skeletons, and then men groping them are suddenly groping death. Giant cocks spring from the leotards of Mexican wrestlers and the ringside crowds are cheering gay porn.
Most of her films seem to spring from the same impulse that spurs kids to draw moustaches and black out teeth on the faces of supermodels. More than defacement, Colburns vandalism seems like an unmasking the shallow gods of Consumption and Cute are revealed as another species of sex pervert. Hilariously, at the end of the screening, Colburn seemed genuinely surprised by the content of her films: I never realized how much sex there was in them, till I saw them all together, just now, she admitted. Aside from one film about asthma and smoking, there seemed to be nothing BUT sex in her films not just Mexican wrestlers and skeletons, but cat-girls and dog-boys, hairy skull-faced spiders, and even crucifixes get in the mix. Colburns unselfconscious abandon was bracing, but she did sound one note of caution these films have cost her knees. All that time, manipulating her cutouts under the camera, she was on her knees as if in pious supplication: You dont think about it in your twenties, but when you get a little older, Colburn said.
A Piece of Gouda and Other Awards
Awards night proceeded with typical Ottawa charm and lack of pretension.
A special Gouda award (meaning, an actual piece of Gouda cheese smuggled illegally into the country by one of the judges) was given to Pallas Bane for The Big Cheese, a childrens film. Featuring floating wedges of cheese, the soundtrack is a digitally distorted mantra of cheese cheese cheese cheese cheese cheese a piece of singsong that wedges itself under your medulla oblongata and refuses to shake loose (I fully expect to be humming it to myself a year from now in the dairy aisle of some supermart). Pallas lifted the round of Gouda for the immortalizing flash of the official SAFO photographer and then, unsure whether to exit stage left or stage right, took seriously Robinsons tongue-in-cheek suggestion to jump directly off the middle of the stage, into the audience. Fortunately, no bones were broken, and SAFO managed to avoid ending its independent run under a cloud of litigation.
The non-edible awards were given as follows:
CHILDRENS FILM: a tie between Joeys Adventure by Rachel Everitt, and Paz em Jacarezinho, made by several Brazilian schoolchildren. The former is a story about an abducted child, where everything turns out all right; the latter is a plea for peace in a violent shantytown, where children are cut down, matter-of-factly, by bullets.
HIGH SCHOOL/SECONDARY FILM: WHAT? by Rocco Pisano, a collage film that uses scratching and bleach on found footage (and perhaps some footage shot specifically for the piece). Squiggles chase a child across a playground, fish gills are probed for maximum sqeam and the question is raised (though not answered): what is so funny about a beaver scratching its butt?
UNDERGRADUATE FILM: Cats, by Chris Choy, sets a cat rebellion to the music of Ennio Morricone. It shows off some very charming character animation, and the way it visually built upon the music is a pure adrenaline kick.
NFB PRIZE FOR BEST GRADUATE FILM: Le Faux Pli, by Francois-Xavier Lepeintre, Antoine Arditti and Audrey Delpuech, is an impressively designed computer animation, set in a city where the people are paper-thin, and are sent on the streets on wires, like sets of clothes being sent down the rack at a dry cleaners. Its quite clever, though the interesting themes that begin to emerge (as the protagonist is treated more like an object than a human being in his traverse through an office) are sidelined by a climactic police chase. Hopefully the filmmakers wont feel the need for such secondhand thrills in the future: the sense of mystery and atmosphere they develop in the beginning is quite sufficient for holding the audiences attention.
FIRST PROFESSIONAL FILM: The Stone of Folly, by Jesse Rosensweet, uses Boschs painting of the same name as a departure point. A patient with a stone lodged in his brain is ground through the gears of a medieval hospital one isnt sure if hes being cured, or simply tortured. The film balances a sense of genuine dread with some sharp black humor, and Rosensweet manages to imbue the doctor and his two assistants with a real sense of personality, despite the lack of intelligible dialogue (everyone speaks in the consonant-free groans and grunts that make up a kind of Animators Esperanto in films where the characters speak without making words).
GRAND PRIZE FOR BEST SCHOOL: Awarded to Turku Arts Academy, which was something of an upset: it was the first year when the award didnt go to the Royal College of Art.
GRAND PRIZE FOR BEST FILM: This went to The Son Of Satan, as the jury explained, because sometimes crime pays, and the jury would like to keep this guy off the streets. To the trepidation of practically everyone in the audience, Villard ascended to the stage. He was offered the podium, which seemed to catch him off-guard. He seemed a bit chastened by his previous performance, and expressed genuine surprise that hed won, thinking the jury would never reward such subject matter. He confessed that, Son of Satan to the contrary, hed had a pretty easy life, and he gave a round of thanks to three ghosts: Jules Engel, Charles Bukowski and Johnny Cash. A black shadow at the back of the auditorium could be heard to say, Dont worry about it, kid I never shot a man in Reno, either. Oscar gave Villard a big bearhug, and the rest of the jury dog piled on.
Listen Bud, Hes got Radioactive Blood
Ill end with a detail from the beginning of the closing night ceremony. During the festival, the College for Creative Studies had a table set up in a sort of lobby in front of the screening room with a Lunchbox, an animation tool that gives instant video feedback for stop-motion animation (and pencil tests as well). A local kid, living across the street from the National Archives, kept coming back to the Lunchbox, day after day, with an armload of toys: Spider-Man, dinosaurs, some monster with a popsicle-stick body. By festivals end, hed clocked four or five minutes of footage monsters battling, then taking out time for some Travolta-style dance moves, and so on. Robinson had gotten wind of this, and screened an excerpt of the mini-epic on closing night. The auteur, Marco Farren-Dai, was invited on stage, and gave a small speech, making sure to thank his parents for letting me skip school to work on his opus. He got a standing O, of course. While the rest of us had been watching animation, arguing over its future, weighing our portions of inspiration and annoyance, he'd been in the middle of it all, doing the work.
If it seems impossible that real life could occur at an animation festival, it seems doubly impossible that real life could occur during the process of animation itself. From the outside, it appears to go so slow, practically nothing happens at all. At best, the animator seems to be at play, at worst, the animator seems to be in the grip of some compulsive autism. Its only in retrospect, when the film is run, that we can detect the flow, and conclude that yes, something has, indeed, happened here something that looks a bit like life.
Chris Lanier is an animator, writer and cartoonist living in San Francisco. His work can be seen at www.chrislanier.com.