Fresh from the Festivals: July 2000's Film Reviews

by Maureen Furniss

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.

Letter to an Agony Aunt, 6 min., directed by Phil Croxall, the U.K. Info: S4C International, Parc Ty Glas; Llanishen, Cardiff, Pays de Galles CF14 5DU, the U.K.; Tel.: ++44 1222 74 7444; Fax: ++44 1222 75 4444; Web:; E-mail:

Stanley, 7 min., directed by Suzie Templeton, the U.K. Info: Royal College of Art Animation Department, Kensington Gore; London, SW7 2EU, the U.K.; Tel.: ++44 171 590 4512; Fax: ++44 171 590 4510; Web:; E-mail:

Brother, 8 min., directed by Adam Benjamin Elliot, Australia. Info: Adam Elliot Ply Ltd., Flat 2, 1/a Kingsley Street, Elwood, Victoria, 3184 Australia; Tel.: ++61 3 9525 6209; E-mailL

Furniture Poetry, 5 min., 15 sec., directed by Paul Bush, the U.K. Info: Ancient Mariner Productions Ltd.; 93 Lausanne Road, London, SE15 2HY, the U.K.; Tel.: ++44 20 7635 7533; Fax: ++44 20 7635 7533.

In/Dividu, 7 min., directed by Nicole Hewitt, Croatia. Info: Zagreb Films, Vlaska 70, 10000 Zagreb, Croatia; Tel.: ++385 1 46 13 689; Fax: ++385 1 45 57 068; Web:; E-mail:

The 2000 Annecy Animation Festival's competition for short fiction films included animated works made with a wide range of techniques. Among the most interesting to me were the numerous puppet, clay and object animations. This month I will review five of these films.

Letter to an Agony Aunt
So often, cel animation feels very 'invisible' in terms of technique. Storytelling is foregrounded and the actual cels and paints themselves become a means to this end. Part of the reason that 'traditional' 3D objects (such as puppets and clay) are increasingly of interest to me is that I find that these works more often seem to employ the animation technique -including the actual objects used to enhance the storytelling.

Such is the case with Letter to an Agony Aunt, a mixed media film directed by Phil Croxall, which employs puppets, photos, pixilation and live-action footage. The film is about a live-action woman who responds to advice given by a newspaper columnist. She reads her letter to the audience, which meanwhile sees a re-enactment of a situation she found herself in because she followed the columnist's advice to 'act on one's feelings.' Her friendship with a man was strained when he misread her gifts as a sign of romantic interest, when in fact she just felt like thanking him for being such a great friend. The situation is typical enough, but here's the twist: this male friend is a small puppet.

At first I wondered if the use of the puppet was an ill-conceived attempt to symbolize this man in some manner. Much to my relief, I quickly realized that, no, she is friends with an actual puppet -- a puppet that moves very little and really is a puppet, as opposed to a small-animated man. In terms of the narrative, then, the woman somewhat unusual, but her character is further enhanced by pixilation of her movement. She is also animated through a series of photos of her figure, which are used outside a small store set (that is, a model). The animation techniques, objects used and narrative have a cohesiveness, which makes the film feel well rounded and thoroughly developed. It runs 6 minutes and contains English-language dialogue, having been produced in Cardiff, Wales, by Harmchair Cinema.

See a clip of Stanley. Suzie Templeton

From the Surrey Institute of Art and Design comes a first film by director Suzie Templeton. It employs puppets and a few objects -- in the form of fresh meat -- to tell the story of a man obsessed with growing a gigantic cabbage and his maniacal wife, equally obsessed with chopping animal flesh for dinner.

Both characters are designed to be sweaty, greasy and-overall-rather unpleasant to look at. The wood and brick backyard and dingy kitchen sets in which the action takes place add to the visceral feel of the film, as does the flecks of 'blood' that appear on the characters and on the meat itself. It seems that the use of Beta SP for recording the animation probably added to the grainy quality that seems to pervade the environment in which the story takes place. Since the 7-minute film contains no dialogue, the setting, puppets and animated movements are all the more important to the development of the narrative.

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