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16 Thought-Provoking Short Films: The 19th Annual Animation Show of Shows Returns to Theaters

New program of 16 internationally acclaimed animated short films from eight countries includes Niki Lindroth von Bahr’s stop-motion musical ‘The Burden,’ David OReilly’s procedurally animated ‘Everything,’ and Georges Schwizgebel’s hand-painted deconstruction of The Battle of San Romano.

‘The Burden’ (‘Min Börda’) by Niki Lindroth von Bahr.

The Animation Show of Shows returns to theaters across North America this fall and beyond, presenting 16 exceptional and inspiring animated shorts from around the world. ASOS19 represents the work of artists from eight countries, including nine women. Funny, moving, engaging and thought-provoking, the Animation Show of Shows not only has something for everyone, but is also a remarkable and insightful microcosm of humanity at large.

“Because animation is such a natural medium for dealing with abstract ideas and existential concerns, the Animation Show of Shows has always included a number of thoughtful and engaging films,” says founder and curator Ron Diamond. “However, more than in previous years, I believe that this year’s program really offers contemporary animation that expresses deeply felt issues in our own country and around the world.”

For 19 years, the Animation Show of Shows has been presenting new and innovative short films to appreciative audiences at animation studios, schools and, since 2015, theaters around the world. Over the years, 36 of the films showcased in the Animation Show of Shows went on to receive Academy Award nominations, with 10 films winning the Oscar. Founded and curated by producer Ron Diamond, the Animation Show of Shows is funded by major studios, companies, schools and hundreds of animation lovers located all around the globe.

These films include Niki Lindroth von Bahr’s Annecy Grand Prix-winning The Burden, a melancholy, funny and moving film that explores the tribulations, hopes and dreams of a group of night-shift employees, uniquely capturing the zeitgeist of our time. At the other end of the spectrum, David OReilly’s playful and profound Everything, based on the work of the late philosopher Alan Watts, explores the interconnectedness of the universe and the multiplicity of perspectives that underlie reality.

Perhaps the most relevant film in the show is a 50-year-old short that was restored by The Animation Show of Shows with grants from ASIFA-Hollywood and The National Film Preservation Foundation. Hangman, by Paul Julian and Les Goldman, which is based on a poem by Maurice Ogden, explores themes of injustice and personal responsibility in its tale of a town whose residents, afraid to speak up, are methodically executed by the title character.

Other program highlights include Dear Basketball, Disney veteran Glen Keane’s animation of a poem by Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant, written on the occasion of his imminent retirement; Academy Award-winning Pixar director Pete Docter’s 1990 CalArts student film Next Door; and Casino, the latest film from director Steven Woloshen, who, for some 30 years, has been creating award-winning experimental films by drawing directly on film stock.

Here’s a look at the 16 animated shorts that comprise the 92+ minutes of the 19th Annual Animation Show of Shows, in the order in which they are presented.

Can You Do It – Quentin Baillieux, France

Joyfully mixing incongruous elements from the highbrow world of horse racing and the urban landscape, this beautifully designed music video produced in a mixture of 2D and 3D animation at Brunch animation studio in Paris explodes preconceptions of race and class as cultures gracefully collide on the streets and freeways of Los Angeles. The infectious track by L.A. artist Charles X, whose music combines strains of hip-hop, soul and jazz, is perfectly realized in the stylized blend of abstraction and representation, languidness and kinetic energy in this evocative nocturnal fantasy.

Tiny Big – Lia Bertels, Belgium

At once fanciful and disquieting, Tiny Big presents a series of seemingly unrelated vignettes expressed through simple black-and-white line drawings, punctuated with occasional surprising bursts of color. Underscored by a soundtrack featuring the sounds of nature -- wind, waves, crickets -- the 2D hand-drawn animated short eschews narrative, challenging viewers to draw their own conclusions about the significance of ritualized actions in a world that’s both hauntingly familiar and decidedly strange.

Next Door – Pete Docter, U.S.

Winner of the Gold Student Academy Award in 1991, Next Door follows an over-imaginative young girl who drives her middle-aged neighbor crazy with her noisy adventures, until a shared enthusiasm brings them together.

Directed by two-time Oscar-winner Pete Doctor when he was a student at CalArts, Next Door -- which presages the director’s future work with its striking design and highly imaginative visuals -- is a wonderful evocation of the power of imagination and the possibility of finding common ground.

The Alan Dimension – Jac Clinch, U.K.

Sometimes having special powers beyond those of most mortals doesn’t work out all that well (especially for your long-suffering wife), as this very funny tongue-in-cheek fable amply demonstrates. Blessed -- or cursed -- with the gift of precognition, the eponymous Alan discovers that being “the next step in cognitive evolution” can wreak havoc with your domestic life -- and lead to some hard choices.

Beautiful Like Elsewhere – Elise Simard, Canada

As much about light, color, texture and sound as it is about “story,” Beautiful Like Elsewhere evokes a mysterious dreamscape of shimmering tableaux that seem to exist just on the edge of consciousness. Populated by human and nonhuman organisms, classical images and pure form, this allusive world, which may be a vision of the afterlife, hints at a deeper level of awareness and meanings beyond words.

Hangman – Paul Julian and Les Goldman, U.S.

A 1964 stylized graphic depiction of Maurice Ogden’s poem narrated by Herschel Bernardi, Hangman is about a hangman who sets up a gallows in front of a small-town courthouse and proceeds to hang people one by one, with the townsfolk too indifferent to protest.

Presented as an educational film for classroom discussion in the 1960s, Hangman has been beautifully restored by the Animation Show of Shows with assistance from ASIFA-Hollywood.

The Battle of San Romano – Georges Schwizgebel, Switzerland

Georges Schwizgebel’s “deconstruction” of a painting by Paolo Uccello (1397-1475) is a meditative and hypnotic exploration of the visual elements that comprise Uccello’s masterpiece, which itself is renowned for the skill with which the artist brings order to the chaos of armed conflict. Yet, with its deliberative pacing and haunting score, the film is more than simply a masterful exegesis of color, form and space, evoking deeply felt emotions about the nature of conflict and the horrors of war.

Gokurosama Clémentine Frère, Aurore Gal, Yukiko Meignien, Anna Mertz, Robin Migliorelli, Romain Salvini, France

Channeling the spirit of Charlie Chaplin -- or perhaps Jacques Tati -- this very funny student film produced at MoPA is a tale of a series of unfortunate events in a Japanese mall that displays both an impressive attention to detail and great comic timing. Gokurosama combines grown men dressed as fuzzy animals, automated conveyances, garish décor, and robotic cleaning devices to provide highly entertaining animated mayhem.

Dear Basketball – Glen Keane, U.S.

Directed and animated by Disney veteran Glen Keane and scored by legendary composer John Williams, this moving short film brilliantly brings to life a poem written by Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant on the occasion of his imminent retirement from the sport he loves. Chronicling Kobe’s journey from a young boy shooting baskets with rolled-up socks to his arrival at the pinnacle of basketball celebrity, Dear Basketball pays tribute to the ideal of pursuing one’s dream, as well as having the wisdom to know when it’s time to move on to the next challenge.

Island – Max Mörtl and Robert Löbel, Germany

Giving new meaning to the term “rhythms of nature,” a host of fanciful flora, fauna and geological formations go about their daily lives in this engaging and highly imaginative foray into the wilds of a strange and colorful world. Accompanied by hissing, wheezing, whistling and tweeting, the action takes on increasing urgency, ending in a surprising climax that’s as natural as it is unexpected.

Unsatisfying – Parallel Studio, France

You know those times when everything just seems to go right, when you feel like there really is an order to the universe and that everything really does happen for a reason? When you feel like the world is flowing and you’re flowing with it, everything just clicks, and the most difficult challenges can be accomplished with surprising ease? This film isn’t about that.

The Burden (Min Börda)Niki Lindroth von Bahr, Sweden

If Ingmar Bergman had made stop-motion animations with singing, dancing animals, they might have looked a little like this. Set in a small commercial park, this melancholy and mordantly funny film (which could have been titled Existential Angst – The Musical) explores the tribulations, hopes and dreams of the denizens of this downscale microcosm of Western society. At once bitingly satirical and genuinely moving, The Burden is a beautifully realized paean to despair.

Les Abeilles Domestiques (Domestic Bees) Alexanne Desrosiers, Canada

Usually it’s not a good sign when a film opens with death walking in the door; however, in this wry short, the appearance of the Grim Reaper (who exits again as quickly as he arrived) is just one of several intersecting stories that unfold within the hive-like confines of the film’s tranquil universe. Deftly playing with narrative structure -- while challenging the viewer to keep up -- Les Abeilles domestiques is a masterful exercise in “deconstruction” that’s both extremely clever and highly entertaining.

Our Wonderful Nature: The Common Chameleon – Tomer Eshed, Germany

“The common chameleon is equipped with double-sided vision, a remarkable camouflage ability, and a tongue that can stretch out twice the length of its body. Despite all of its advantages, it has yet to develop appropriate countermeasures against its biggest weakness…” This CG-animated cautionary tale reminds us yet again that sometimes there can be too much of a good thing (especially if our powers of discernment leave something to be desired.)

Casino – Steven Woloshen, Canada

This jazzy, impressionistic depiction of the iconography and energy of a gambling casino (a favorite destination of director Steven Woloshen’s late father, to whom the work is dedicated) is all the more impressive for having been created in Woloshen’s signature style of drawing directly onto the film. With Oscar Peterson’s “Something Coming” as its upbeat soundtrack, the film is a breathlessly kinetic and visually dazzling representative of the possibilities of nontraditional animation techniques.

Everything – David OReilly, U.S

Based on the work of philosopher Alan Watts, who was instrumental in popularizing Eastern religion in the West, this brilliantly conceived and executed short created using procedural 3D animation explores the interconnectedness of the universe and the multiplicity of perspectives that underlie reality. Like Watts himself, the film is both playful and profound, and its unique iconography -- from somersaulting bears to interstellar flora -- allows it to convey weighty ideas with lightness and lucidity.

Jennifer Wolfe's picture

Formerly Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network, Jennifer Wolfe has worked in the Media & Entertainment industry as a writer and PR professional since 2003.