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A Little ‘Short’ Slice of Stuttgart

AWN’s Animation Pimp and Ottawa Animation Festival artistic director Chris Robinson takes a close look at six ‘under the radar’ animated shorts in competition at next week’s hybrid Stuttgart International Festival of Animated Film – ITFS – running May 3-8.

With the Stuttgart International Festival of Animated Film (ITFS) set to run May 3-8 as a hybrid event, here’s a peak at some under the radar films from the short and student competition selections.

A Guitar in the Bucket, Boyoung Kim, Denmark, South Korea

I’ve been a fan of Boyoung Kim’s minimalist, deadpan films (The Levers, 2019) since first seeing her hilarious and bizarre debut, Replacement, a 25-minute odyssey about a boy’s fear over his impending dental appointment.

Her most recent film, A Guitar in the Bucket, retains the same deadpan comic tone. Set in a world where shopping malls and box stores are gone, replaced by massive vending machines, everything is portable and disposable: homes, showers, cars, pets, friends, etc. People walk around with nothing but a white bucket to carry their most recent possession. One of those people is a woman who dreams of becoming a guitarist. To do so, she feels she needs to move into a musician's city. But she needs to make more money to afford it. She takes up a job as a taxi driver (yes, you can get a cab from a vending machine). Most of the passengers request to be driven to Experience Park. In the park, people can try an assortment of experiences: having a family, being a robber, boxing, driving a tank, etc.

"This is a story I wrote after seeing footage of a vending machine selling live crabs," says Kim. "The temperature was controlled to keep the crab alive, and I felt very weird, but also connected with the crab. Then I realized that I was like the crab in the machine waiting to be picked up by others because I used to be a much more passive person back then. The experience gave me inspiration to make a story about social isolation and the instrumentalization of humans. "

A gentle, ingenious, and comic ode to following your dreams and passions, no matter the obstacles and naysayers.

Anxious Body, Yoriko Mizushiri, France, Japan

Yoriko Mizushiri (Futon, Maku, Kamakura), one of the most distinct and unheralded voices on the international animation scene, returns with another delicate and sensual piece that should resonate with the ASMR crowd.

Like Mizushiri’s previous films, Anxious Body serves up a dreamy, surrealist, fetishistic landscape dominated by soft colors and subtle gestures. A finger nimbly pulls a tissue down against the backdrop of menacing blades; a finger obsessively pushes the top of a pencil until all the lead appears. There’s a tennis racket, a snake, a sliced piece of skin and an unclothed woman in a net. Pretty standard stuff.

“This animation work was created with the idea that we can feel happiness just by having a living body, in other words, just being alive is enough to make us feel okay,” Mizushiri notes. “I try to depict the movements of the animation delicately so that the audience can feel the movement as closely as possible, and also so that when I draw the animation, I can imagine touching the object to check it out. I am not particularly conscious of giving the impression of sensuality when I create it. It is the result.”

Watching Mizushiri’s work shifts between meditative and apprehensive. The clash of human touch and object is relaxing, hypnotic and sensual, yet shaded with an aura of menace.

Two Sisters, Anna Budanova, France

Twin sisters live on the edge of a dark forest. They dance, work, and play together. Life is blissful, aside from the menacing forest. Soon, though, danger will approach in another form.

“When I was in Japan, I saw one performance in the contemporary dance theatre in Tokyo (Butō) and I definitely wanted to bring this aesthetic of the strange movement of naked bodies smeared with white paint to my next film," says Budanova. "I realized that the highest form is to give the sensation of dance in the frame without the dance itself. The feeling of which can be achieved through the rhythm of action and editing figuratively, I decided to go even further into minimalism-my characters do not have clothes and household appliances, they do not speak."

With echoes of Caroline Leaf’s classic, Two Sisters (1992), Budanova (whose previous films Among the Black Waves and The Wound took home festival acclaim) explores a slew of themes related to loyalty, lust, desire, and the overall menace of the outside world. Strong feminist themes aside, you can view the forest in multiple ways: as a man, war, adulthood, the internet, the unknown corners of life.

Visually, Two Sisters has a languid choreography dominated by dirty, muted greys, browns, whites, and blacks, giving the piece a very earthy tone. Whereas the scattered moments of color are linked to desire, curiosity, and passion.  Says Budanova, "I think that color gives a stronger emotion when it appears only at the right moment in the film."

Slouch, Michael Bohnenstingl, Germany

"The most beautiful flowers grow on shit," Nuffi, the muse of Slouch, a struggling musician, says.

"While studying in Ludwigsburg," says director Michael Bohnenstingl, of this inspiration for his graduation film, "I hung around a lot with musicians and other creative types. Many of them (mostly in their late 20s, me included) felt, in some way, that their creative drive was connected to their despair, sadness, and misery. As if creativity was a parasite that feeds on negative emotions. And since we all identified ourselves very strongly through our creativity, we were haunted by a strange fear. The fear that maybe someday we wouldn't be miserable enough anymore to be creative. So maybe it was better to not be happy? This paradoxical feeling interested me, and so I embarked on developing Slouch."

See, Slouch thinks of himself as a musical wunderkind ala Robert Pollard, Nick Cave, and Daniel Johnston. Unfortunately, others find his songs boring.  To make matters worse, Slouch’s girlfriend Lisa is pregnant. As the birth draws closer, Slouch is faced with that age old dichotomy between following his creative passions and being a responsible family man (not seemingly aware that one is not exclusive of the other). When Slouch freaks out over the reality of responsibility, he lashes out at Lisa. The crisis stimulates Slouch. Pouring real experience into his songs, he finally finds success, but at what cost?

"While doing research for the film," adds Bohnenstingl, "I read many interviews with musicians who were faced with this perceived decision: either cling to their misery and thereby risk the well-being of themselves and their loved ones or take a leap of faith and go to therapy. At some point, they all knew they were causing too much pain. So, they opted for betterment. And finally, these stories seemed to end with the surprising realisation that they kept being creative, regardless of feeling good."

Slouch won’t necessarily wow anyone with flashy techniques or visuals. The design is fairly straightforward and, refreshingly, unassuming. Instead, Slouch relies upon songs, characters, and plot to spark the film. The result is an inspired, loving, and personal nod to creativity and indie music.

Black Slide, Uri Lotan, Israel

Adolescence is a maddening emotional and physical experience on its own, but then toss in everyday tragedies like grief and loss. Eviah is a shy youngster approaching puberty. As he and his best friend sneak into the Aqua Fun waterpark to try out the terrifying Black Slide, tragedy is befalling his home.

"The idea was inspired by a formative moment from my childhood,” says director Uri Lotan. "It was an experience that shaped me to be the person I am today and has been ingrained in my consciousness ever since. It felt like it was time to get it out of my head and onto the screen."

The scenes slide gracefully between the common youthful experiences at the waterpark and the omnificent stillness of his home, where he eagerly awaits news of when his mother might be returning home. Lotan admits that finding the right balance between the scenes was challenging.  "I was very worried that the film would just end up feeling sappy and sad. To contrast with the sadder parts, I wanted to emphasise childhood naïveté and innocence. We went through so many different editing approaches, ones where we only saw home at the very beginning, some only at the end, and even a few versions with no home at all. Balancing the two timelines and clarifying the linear progress of the day was key to creating clarity.”

The story, pacing, and editing gently and succinctly convey the fears, confusion, and sorrow of the young boy as he prepares for his end of innocence and the foreboding uncertainty of adulthood. The use of a waterslide is an inspired metaphor, mirroring the experience of an MRI or CT scan procedure while also reflecting the boy’s growth, fear, and fragility as he slides into a new phase of life.

Lines, Ivan Stojkovic, Serbia

Another work, this time in the form of a personal diary, that deals with the struggles of childhood and youth, but with a wider net, casting an eye on family lineage and the lines connecting past, present, and future.

A boy is born. As he grows, he becomes obsessed with drawing, perhaps as a way to escape the volatility of his father. As an adult, he visits his father one day. Sitting together outside (yet, at a distance), the son draws his father as the older man peruses a family photo album. The album triggers all sorts of chaotic memories of war, death, and loss. We soon learn, as perhaps the son does, where the father’s own inner chaos stems from.

“I was actively looking for a story when I came across an old diary of mine,” says Stojkovic. “I found a page in there where I wrote about lines on my father's face, how those lines are the same facial features that developed and multiplied themselves across generations and how the faces are there to be shaped by these lines throughout personal family history. I thought of it as a nice challenge to try to illustrate such an abstract idea with image alone.”

Visually, Lines mixes collage, stop-motion, and digital tools to create unstable, cubist-inspired images appropriately draped with a rustic hue to reflect the ageing lines of heredity and reveal the imprints of rust, wrinkles, and wear that lessen but never entirely fade. “The technique,” adds Stojkovic, “came from combination of my background in digital cut out animation and a practice of collecting little bits of paper where I would test my colors and brushes during painting. I would find those random blotches and stains beautiful, so I would cut them up and collect them just for fun. Then this story came and it seemed like a good fit: to illustrate personal memories with bits and pieces of paper collaged together, because that's what memory feels like to me.”

The Seine's Tears, Alice Letailleur, Eliott Benard, Etienne Moulin, Hadrien Pinot, Lisa Vicente, Nicolas Mayeur, Philippine Singer, Yanis Belaid, France

A pleasant revelation on the festival circuit this year. Doubly so, because it’s a student film (Pole 3D school). Frantic, tragic, gruesome, and surreal, The Seine’s Tears is inspired by the Paris massacre of 1961, when Algerians took to the streets to protest a mandatory curfew imposed by the police. Now, this was all within the context of the Algerian War of Independence (1954–1962) against France.

Two men meet up to attend the demonstration. One of them, Kamel, is bringing his camera along to document the demonstration and its bloody aftermath. "My grandfather often spoke to me about the war in Algeria, and when I had the opportunity to make a short film, it was obvious to talk about this event," says co-director Yanis Belaid (who also wrote the script).

This blistering fireball of a film combines CGI with a hand-held camera style that gives the film an urgency and intensity not often seen in animation (and certainly the events in Ukraine add to the film's potency). The deliciously bizarre, blood-soaked musical finale is at once celebratory, defiant, and horrifically beautiful.

"The animation makes it possible to get a distance from a very heavy subject," adds Belaid. "We wanted to use stop-motion animation as a reference, but everything is done in 3D. We are very happy with the result, because many people ask us if this is really 3D. It is a victory for us to have brought together the content and the form."

Chris Robinson's picture

A well-known figure in the world of independent animation, writer, author & curator Chris Robinson is the Artistic Director of the Ottawa International Animation Festival.