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The 20th Annual Animation Show of Shows Returns with a New Crop of Gems

This year’s provocative and inspiring program of 15 hand-picked films includes Oscar-winning director John Kahrs’ ‘Age of Sail’ and Student Academy Award winner ‘The Green Bird.’

‘Age of Sail’ by Oscar-winning animation director John Kahrs.

The Animation Show of Shows has returned to North American theatres with its 20th annual program, an expertly curated selection of thought-provoking, poignant, and funny animated shorts from around the world. The show presents the work of artists from six countries and includes six student films -- the program has a running time of 98 minutes and includes 15 films, four of which have qualified for Academy Award consideration (indicated with an asterisk* in the list below).

Beginning with the first ASOS screening back in 1998, founder, curator and producer Ron Diamond has devoted tremendous energy and resources to a simple ideal: find and share films he considers worthy of the industry’s attention. Not necessarily films he loves or understands, but films he feels are important enough to warrant people’s time. In any given year, he watches close to 1,000 short films, whittling down his list to a select few he screens for audiences -- as much care goes into each lineup’s presentation order as to the overall roster, with some otherwise notable films being skipped because there was no suitable place for them in the program. 

What began as a modest tour of West Coast studios like Pixar and DreamWorks has expanded to a bustling schedule of 50-60 screenings, which he presents in person, as well as, since 2015, a growing number of screenings at select theatres throughout the U.S. Each fall, Ron begins his thoroughly exhausting and logistically harrowing road trip, a crazy itinerary where he visits not only dozens of studios, organizations and related tech companies around the world, but dozens of schools and universities, where he has an opportunity to present not just to students of animation and film, but to students of humanities and social sciences, students of art history and literature, language and politics, students who are actively learning how to bridge rather than exploit differences in how people around the world interact and behave. Ron has always held firm in his belief that short films have the power to convey big ideas in mere minutes, making them an effective medium to quickly induce critical thinking and ideation in an increasingly fragmented world.

While my bias is obvious, having launched Animation World Network together with Ron in 1995 -- he also founded and runs the animation studio Acme Filmworks -- I witnessed the birth of the Animation Show of Shows more than 20 years ago, and have watched in admiration ever since, marveling not just at his acumen and ability to uncover hidden animated gems and the wonderful artists who created them, but at his tireless, almost relentless approach at hunting films down and piecing them together into a thoroughly enjoyable and inspirational program. My fawning appreciation aside, the devotion, passion and optimism he brings to the world of animated short films, have positively impacted the lives of countless people, often in subtle ways they might not be able to describe. Ultimately, making people laugh, cry, frown and smile, sometimes within the same 2-minute film, is the fuel that powers his efforts. 

Over the years, I’ve experiencing first-hand Ron’s determined pursuit of short film animators whose unique creative choices of design, technique and storytelling produce works that expose audiences to often uncomfortable ideas, often compelling them to consider notions about the world quite different from their own. Thousands of short films are produced each year, each based a vision, a message or maybe just a feeling -- ultimately, a small number are judged “the best” by audiences, juries and institutions looking to share their appreciation with others, and the Animation Show of Shows remains one of the premiere platforms of animated short film excellence. Through his efforts, over the years, 38 of the films showcased in his annual program went on to receive Academy Award nominations, with 11 films winning Oscars. Not too shabby.

Each year, Ron shares with audiences around the world a new collection of films each more different from the next, a cacophony of visual designs, narrative tones and musical styles that never fails to stimulate their senses and expand their imaginations, transporting them, again and again, inside the amazing worlds conjured up by some of the most talented and creative filmmakers in the industry.

The past year, more than many, has been filled with constant and ugly reminders of humanity acting at its worst -- this year’s program of 15 films is especially insightful, each in its own way reminding us of both the universality of shared ideals, as well as the diverse challenges we face. “Animation is such a flexible and open-ended medium that it lends itself to exploring the innumerable aspects of what it means to be human,” Ron notes. “And this year’s program, as much as any of our past presentations, really illuminates human strengths and foibles, and the bonds that unite us across cultures and generations.”

I encourage you to visit the Animation Show of Shows website and Facebook page to read in-depth filmmaker coverage, find a nearby screening you can attend, and browse through past selections of some of the best animated short films every produced, many available for purchase.

The complete lineup of the 20th Annual Animation Show of Shows, in order of presentation, is as follows:

The Green Bird * - Maximilien Bougeois, Quentin Dubois, Marine Goalard, Irina Nguyen, Pierre Perveyrie, France

The soundtrack alone is worth the price of admission in this mordantly funny computer animation, in which the eponymous character suffers an unfortunate series of setbacks when she finds herself a mother-to-be. Harking back to the classic cartoons of the 1940s and 1950s, The Green Bird features the great timing and superior slapstick that defined the mini-epics of the past and never gets old.

One Small Step * - Andrew Chesworth, Bobby Pontillas, U.S.

 A young Chinese-American girl yearns to be an astronaut in this touching story about the importance of pursuing your dreams and never giving up. Featuring a bold formal design and sharp visual style, One Small Step is a universal tale that reminds us that all dreams begin with a single step.

Grands Canons - Alain Biet, France 

Composed of thousands of drawings of familiar objects painstakingly created by the filmmaker, this extraordinary, compulsively watchable film is a symphonic celebration of materiality in its innumerable forms. Deriving its power from motion, rhythm and sheer abundance, Grand Canons defies easy description, joining the ranks of those animated shorts that must be experienced to be understood.

Barry - Anchi Shen, U.S. 

How many of us have passionately dedicated ourselves to achieving a particular career goal, only to have our dreams shattered simply because we were a quadruped? Probably not many, but that doesn’t mean we can’t relate to the underlying universality of this wry and touching moral tale of an aspiring doctor who triumphs over the prejudices of his critics through talent and tenacity.

Super Girl - Nancy Kangas, Josh Kun, U.S. 

One of a series of short animations based on the writing of a group of preschoolers, Supergirl is an exuberant and gleeful exploration of the yearnings and imaginings of one irrepressible four-year-old poet. With a visual style that perfectly matches the free-flowing musings of the text, this whimsical film captures the magic and effortless creativity of childhood.

Love Me, Fear Me - Veronica Solomon, Germany 

This tour de force of claymation explores the ever-changing roles we play and shapes we assume in our continual efforts to impress others and be accepted by them. Conceived as a sequence of dances, Love Me, Fear Me displays a virtuosic command of form as it delves into the deeply emotional territory of interpersonal relations and expectations.

Business Meeting - Guy Charnaux, Brazil 

Based on a short story by Brazilian writer Rafael Sperling, this very funny animation may confirm your worst fears about business meetings, as well as possibly lead you to doubt the sanity of the short’s creators. The minimalist hand-drawn animation is perfectly suited to the dubious subject matter, which begs the question, “#+-4$#2?”

Flower Found! - Jorn Leeuwerink, The Netherlands 

A case of mistaken identity has seriously unpleasant consequences in this unsettling arboreal tale that might or might not be a parable of our times. When a special flower unaccountably goes missing, an ever-growing group of animals sets off in pursuit of the purloined bloom, but, as is often the case, the best intentions lead only to unforeseen catastrophe.

Bullets - Nancy Kangas, Josh Kun, U.S. 

A Table Game - Nicolás Petelski, Argentina 

A Table Game was partially produced during an exchange program at the Estonian Academy of Arts, supervised by the internationally known animator and director Priit Pärn, and inspired by the absurdity and black humor that characterizes Estonian animation. The film can be seen as an exercise in patience, not only for the spectators in the film, but for the film’s audience, who must sit through its monotone events in order to be rewarded in the end with an unexpected outcome.

Carlotta’s Face - Valentin Riedl, Frédéric Schuld, Germany 

Prosopagnosia is a rare neurological disorder in which individuals are unable to recognize faces, including their own. This poignant and beautifully stylized animation is based on the first-person account of a woman who suffers from this ailment, offering an intimate look at the difficulties she encounters in her life and, ultimately, the salvation she finds through art.

Age of Sail * - John Kahrs, U.S. 

Set on the open ocean in 1900, this hair-raising and poignant tale chronicles the adventures of an old sailor who rescues a teenaged girl after she falls overboard from a passing steamship. With a distinctive visual design inspired by the American illustrator Bernie Fuchs, Age of Sail is an inspiring paean to hope, and a timely reminder that redemption often arrives at the darkest times.

Polaris - Hikari Toriumi, U.S. 

Any film that opens with a polar bear hugging a penguin has potential, and in fact the sweetness of that image carries through the rest of this wistful and very touching film about a young bear setting out on her own for the first time. With the simplest of storylines and an understated, almost childlike, visual design, Polaris is an evocative celebration of the deepest bonds that persist throughout one’s life.

My Moon - Eusong Lee, U.S. 

This charming and ethereal short depicts the interplay among the moon, earth and sun in terms of human relationships -- a celestial love triangle replete with jealousy, recriminations, hurt feelings and, ultimately, forgiveness. Featuring a panoply of heavenly colors and beautifully stylized design, My Moon is a modern fairy tale, at once thoroughly contemporary and as ancient as the cosmos.

Weekends * - Trevor Jimenez, U.S.  

In this beautifully designed, hand-animated film set in 1980s Toronto, a young boy shuttles between the homes of his recently divorced parents. Mixing all-too-realistic details of a domestic breakup with surreal, dream-like moments, Weekends is a model of sophisticated storytelling that is both deeply affecting and admirably philosophical in its depiction of a painful period in a child’s life.

Dan Sarto's picture

Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.