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Memories, Hooves, and War - Exploring Annecy’s Short Film Competitions

Ottawa Animation Festival artistic director Chris Robinson shares some of his under the radar picks competing at the Annecy Festival, now in full swing, running through June 15.

“First time in Annecy. Kinda nervous. There are so many events. There are too many receptions. Endless spam emails. Feeling overwhelmed”

Take a breath. Do the 4-7-8 routine. It’ll be fine.

Forget all the business blabber and just meander over to the cinema and check out the Official Short Film Competition. That’s what animation festivals are all about. That’s why they were created in the first place. It’s in those darkened spaces that you encounter the true nature of Annecy.

This year at The 2024 Annecy Festival, there are 67 films from 33 countries competing. Those films were selected from 1505 short film submissions. They’re divided up into 4 sections: official, off-limits, perspectives, and young audiences.

The centerpieces are the 5 Official Short Competition screenings (though you should check out the Off-Limits competition if you’re in need of a fix of experimental or abstract wonders). This is the best place to drench yourself with contemporary animation. You’ll encounter an array of voices and visions from all over the globe. Some you’ll love, and some you’ll want to punch. It’s good for you, trust me.

Okay, so on to the specifics. We’ve previously written about a number of the films in competition (including Drizzle in Johnson and Flower Show), but you should definitely look for the wonder that is Miserable Miracle by Ryo Orikasa (Short Competition 5), which took top prize at the 2023 Ottawa International Animation Festival. There are brand new works from some animation masters, the bittersweet memoir Maybe Elephants from Oscar winner Torill Kove (Short Competition 2), and the painterly underwater melodrama La Voix des Sirènes by Gianluigi Toccafondo.

Here are some other under-the-radar works to explore from the various short competition screenings.

Moral Support, Vuk Jevromovic, Croatia (Short Competition 5)

Jevromovic’s follow-up to his blistering ode to football, 11 (2022), is a raging stream of conscious, painterly punk ode to an early 20th-century conflict between communist miners and Yugoslav nationalists in Slovenia. Anger and frustration (undoubtedly fueled by our turbulent present) seep through the violently scratched, painted, and drawn scenes that are dominated by hard red and black colors.

Kawauso, Akihito Izuhara, Japan (Short Competition 1)

While walking in the country on a serene summer day, a girl encounters a Japanese river otter (Kawauso). It follows her on her walk. Each time she pauses in front of a building, she attempts to communicate with the otter in various ways (a ball, an origami bird). It doesn’t go well. It’s no surprise, really, since the otter is extinct. Their encounter is impossible.

The gentle and hypnotic dose of magic realism contemplates what we’ve lost to the dustbins of history as society drives forward in an endless quest for new stuff. As Yōko Ogawa wrote in her novel, “Memory Police,” “When everything disappeared, we also lost the world we used to see.

Gina Kamentsky’s Pinocchio in 70mm, Gina Kamentsky, USA (Short Competition 2)

Kamentsky is a vastly underrated wonder on the festival circuit. In her camera-less films, she injects a much-needed sense of lightness and humor into the too-often dour experimental scene.

Using a mix of collage elements and drawing on film, this playful twist on Carlodi’s beloved story finds the troubled wooden puppet dreaming of becoming not a flesh and blood boy but a girl.

Shoes and Hooves, Viktória Traub, Hungary, (Short Competition 4)

In a town of human-animal hybrids, a centaur woman who works, of course, as a pedicurist desires to have human feet. One day she meets a suave crocodile fella, and their instant love... Or is it?

How often do we suppress our true selves solely to keep the love of another? And is it even love if that person cannot accept you as you are? At some point, as a centaur woman discovers, the truth will catch up with you, and if you don’t face it, it’ll fuck you over.

This vivid, surreal, and sensual story ponders the price we pay when we sacrifice self-acceptance for the sake of someone else’s affection.

I Died in Irpin, Anastasiia Falileieva, Czechia, Slovakia, Ukraine (Perspectives 2)

With more and more animation shorts dealing with navel gazing, it’s refreshing to see a work that deals with more pressing matters like trying to exist and maintain some semblance of sanity in a world that’s engulfed by hate and division.

In this heartbreaking black-and-white memoir that fuses ink drawings with live-action footage, Falileieva and her boyfriend flee Kyiv for the town of Irpin following the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. The only problem is that Irpin is in the front lines. Seeming in a state of shock, she struggles to recall those early, terror-filled days living with a selfish boyfriend and his family, who refuse to evacuate. It soon becomes apparent that the Russians are not the only thing she’s trying to flee in her life.

Entropic Memory, Nicolas Brault, Canada (Off-Limits)

Canadian Nicolas Brault loves to tinker with different techniques. In Foreign Bodies (2013), he used medical imaging and video light painting. Two years later, he used sugar casts in Squame (2015). This time, Brault uses water-damaged family photo albums to explore not only these frangible and unreliable interpreters of the past but also the fog, fragmentation, and fragility of memory.

Brault reminds us of the problematic nature of using photographs as a stand-in for memory. When we rely on photos as a guide to the past, it threatens to overhaul our memory and understanding of those moments. As Susan Sontag wrote, “The problem is not that people remember through photographs, but that they remember only the photographs.”

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.