19th annual ASOS featuring 16 animated short films from around the world now playing in select theaters.
When asked how many films he watches every year in consideration for the Animation Show of Shows, Ron Diamond isn’t sure. “I know it’s more than 600. It’s probably less than 1,000,” he says casually, as if it could be typical for just about anyone to watch nearly a thousand animated shorts annually.
But it is typical for him, for which the world of animation is thankful. Since 1998, Diamond has been bringing the topnotch shorts of his yearly Animation Show of Shows to the attention of the American animation industry, including animators and execs at top studios like Pixar and DreamWorks, as well as more than 40 universities across the country.
“I just wanted to share it with creative people,” says Diamond, who is also founder and producer of animation studio Acme Filmworks, and co-founder of this very site. “I felt it was my community service job. Instead of picking up trash by the side of the freeway, I would bring films that I considered to be of merit to my industry and share them.”
And despite the sheer volume of work putting this program together requires, Diamond says it’s never difficult to narrow the playing field from hundreds of shorts to a select few. “It’s easy, because the vast majority of them just don’t meet the criteria,” he explains. “I don’t necessarily need to understand the film. I don’t even necessarily need to love the film. But I have to think that it’s important enough to take people’s time.”
So, what makes a short worthy of the audience’s time? For Diamond, it’s pure human emotion. “It’s good to have those emotions in a movie -- laughing and crying and feeling different ways about the characters, and hating them, and loving them, and having a crush on them. That’s how it is, I think, for a lot of people,” he says. “That’s why we go to the movies, right?”
Diamond certainly has a curatorial knack; of the shorts he’s screened for ASOS, 36 have gone on to receive Oscar nominations, and 10 of those went on to win, including 2008’s The House of Small Cubes and 2009’s Logorama. Those numbers are impressive, to say the least, but Diamond says that’s not why he does it.
“I don’t really regard the Academy Awards when it comes to picking the films that are in the show,” he says. “I choose a film because it’s important for people to see. One of my goals was to educate the public, and help them understand that there are high-merit films that are not just the Academy Award nominees each year.”
Sometimes, the films that meet his criteria aren’t necessarily people-pleasers. Diamond remembers a film called Hipopotamy by Piotr Dumała, which screened at the 16th edition of the Animation Show of Shows in 2014. The short’s violent imagery prompted Diamond to warn his audience that children and many adults might not be able to stomach its content.
“Some people heeded my encouragement and left, and some people didn’t, and they were angry with me afterwards for even bothering to put the film in there,” Diamond recalls. “But I felt it was important. The artistry… was exemplary and beautiful. People have since come up to me and said, ‘I didn’t want to see [Hipopotamy] then, but I have seen it since, and I’m so glad I saw it.’”
After showing the Animation Show of Shows at various studios and schools around the country for 16 years, Diamond decided in 2015 that it was finally time to bring his brainchild to the public. Now, in its 19th year, Diamond continues to bring some of the most wondrous animation from around the world to the American public. This year’s collection features 16 shorts from the U.S., France, Belgium, U.K., Canada, Switzerland, Germany, and Sweden, and everything from stop-motion and traditional hand-drawn 2D, to 3D and paint on canvas.
One of this year’s films, The Burden by Niki Lindroth von Bahr, is a stop-motion spectacle that’s close to Diamond’s heart. The short is a bizarrely dark musical that features the bored and hopeless inhabitants of a modern city. “It’s just such a peculiar film. You really feel sad for people in that universe; they’re all floating on that big rock -- which we all are anyway, right -- not knowing what they’re headed toward. The calamity that they’re experiencing in their everyday life may be nothing compared to what they’re about to face,” Diamond muses. “It’s such a beautifully produced film.”
Diamond went to great lengths to restore another one of this year’s films, Les Goldman and Paul Julian’s Hangman from the ‘60s, at the behest of his friend and renowned animation historian Giannalberto Bendazzi. Diamond remembered seeing the short in school as a child, but was wary when Bendazzi told him he didn’t think anyone knew where the negative was. Years went by, but in the end, Diamond hunted down the original 35mm print in the Library of Congress, aided by some film students, and even succeeded in getting the negative from Julian’s daughter.
Diamond says that The Hangman, which is based Maurice Ogden’s poem about the consequences of standing idly by in the face of injustice, is an excellent opportunity for parents to breach a difficult subject with their children. “People don’t have these conversations,” he says. “Kids won’t come to know what their parents are thinking. So it’s a chance for them to learn right from their parents’ knee what the film is all about.”
Even after having changed so much in just the past few years, Diamond knows there’s still far to go for the Animation Show of Shows. He dreams of bringing his program all around the world to inspire artists from all walks of life. His dream’s success, however, depends on the generosity of friends and strangers who contribute to the non-profit’s yearly Kickstarter campaign.
“It’s not yet a [financial] success,” he admits. “We don’t have enough money to take the world by storm, so we take it by drizzle. But a number of friends and a lot of people we don’t know have all participated in extremely generous ways, both large and small, because they want this to exist,” he says.
“It’s a tough mountain that we’re trying to climb. But we’re very committed to showing great films, and showing them professionally, and creating an atmosphere of respect, appreciation, and enjoyment for these films.”