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Pictures from the Brainbox: A Weekly Dose of Indie Animation - 'Hipopotamy'

Every Tuesday, Chris Robinson digests and dissects (relatively) new indie animation short films. Today: Piotr Dumala's acclaimed and despised, Hipopotamy.

'Hipopotamy' by Piotr Dumala

Piotr Dumala’s Hipoppotamy is a horror story/meditation on male violence that finds human figures standing in for hippos (male hippos are known to kill their young in order to regain their dominance of the female/family). This balletic choreography of brutal violence sent minor shockwaves throughout the animation community for its perceived misogynistic tones. What seems to have annoyed some viewers is to have the women (except for one who remains downstream with her child) return to the men after the ‘battle’ and murder of the children. Why would women who’ve been beaten and had their children murdered return to the killers? On one hand you could excuse it all by pointing out that Dumala is merely replacing the brutal world of hippos with humans, so naturally it’s gonna be shocking…. but there’s gotta be more than that…I don’t have an answer and I don't really know where I stand with this film. Could it be that when you’ve both lost everything, what else is there to do but to ‘wash’ yourself off and start all over again? I really don't know.

I don’t discount the critics (the apparent negative depiction of women aside, I also think that the portrayal of men as violent cretins is a bit tiresome and perpetuates a different form of negative stereotype.) but I also see a film that seems to portray the utter stupidity of all of us. We keep making the same mistakes over and over again, keep killing each other…keep forgetting…forgiving…… on and on in the same vicious cycle. It’s not fun to watch children getting killed or people beating each other…but this is stuff that’s happened since the beginning of human history and continues to happen.  How do we break free of this shit cycle?

For me, the most interesting character is the dog... who just passes by, glances, takes a sip of water and moves on, looking bemused and disappointed. Are the animals better than us? Are we the real mongrels?

The negative reaction didn’t sway festival juries around the world from honouring Hipopotamy with a number of awards including a handful of Grand Prizes. But no one ever said juries were smart, so don't let that sway you from forming your own take.

I’m extra curious to hear your opinions about what remains one of the most controversial short animation films in years.

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.