Fresh from the Festivals: March 2001's Film Reviews
Ring of Fire, directed by Andreas Hykade. cbopy; Gambit Films.
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Ring of Fire is an impressive exercise in personal iconography, a kind of cubist Western that deals obliquely with male bonding, sex, masculinity and loss of innocence. Director Andreas Hykade employs an exaggerated black-and-white drawing style more commonly found in comics to excellent effect, creating a strange and ominous landscape in which two "cowboys" engage in a series of ritualized encounters. Traditional Western icons take on unexpected Expressionist forms, while an intermittent first-person voiceover explains little but suggests much. ("We never fell. We never even stumbled. We just waited for the spirits to rise from out of the ground.")
The film was made in widescreen format (!) using a combination of ink on cels and 3D animation over a period of about two years. The terrific score, which incorporates traditional Western themes and is a perfect blend of the heroic and the ironic, was written and performed by Steppan Kahles. Ring of Fire has screened at major festivals around the world and has won a clutch of awards, including the Grand Prize at Ottawa and Special Jury Prizes in Hamburg and Rome.
Andreas Hykade studied animation at the Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg. Ring of Fire, his first professional film, was produced by GAMBIT-Michael Jungfleisch, with which he's had an association since 1994. The film was funded by MFG Film Fund Baden-Württemberg and the German Federal Film Board and Ministry of the Interior.
Still Life with Animated Dogs, directed by Paul Fierlinger. © ITVS.
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Paul Fierlinger's autobiographical Still Life with Animated Dogs is a funny, bittersweet memoir that uses the dogs he has owned throughout his life as an organizing principle to explore his personal universe. Fierlinger's story (which was previously explored in his Drawn from Memory) extends from Czechoslovakia during the darkest days of the Communist regime through his current existence with his wife and collaborator, Sandra, in the eastern U. S. Moving between present and past, the film touches on such topics as the nature of love, political oppression and artistic freedom, as well as the animator's relationships with a variety of quadrupeds and bipeds.
Still Life features the same whimsical cel animation -- marked by loosely drawn characters and blocks and splashes of color -- that distinguishes Drawn from Memory and Fierlinger's other films like Drawn from Life for the upstart Oxygen network. It's the perfect complement to the animator's wry and frequently rueful voiceover, which has the eloquence and complexity of a written essay. Sandra Fierlinger served as painter, assistant animator and production manager, while the sound effects and music were provided by John Avarese, who has worked with the Fierlingers on at least a dozen films.
Paul Fierlinger has been a professional independent animator since 1958, when he made his first TV commercial in Prague. Since then he has produced roughly 1000 films of varying lengths, including the Teeny Little Super Guy series for Sesame Street. He received an Oscar nomination in 1979 for his short, It's So Nice to Have a Wolf Around the House. Still Life with Animated Dogs was funded by ITVS and had its premiere on PBS on March 29, at 10:30 pm.
Jon Hofferman is an independent filmmaker, writer and graphic designer, as well as the creator of the Classical Composers Poster (www.carissimi.com). He has a B.A. in Philosophy & Religion and an M.F.A. from UCLA's School of Film & Television. Appropriately enough, he is currently working on a documentary about the nature of religious experience.