May 222010

SIFF’s Animation for Adults program last night did not disappoint (as much as their animation programs have in the past). Despite it being scheduled at 10PM, it was packed and I barely got one the last rush seats. Out of thirteen films there was: one I absolutely loved; two which I thought were very good; five which I thought were good, but someone else with different taste might have loved; and five which either left me cold or embarrassed. Nothing made me angry (unlike my last trip to an animated program, the Oscar Nominated Shorts I went to in March).

Let’s start from the top:

Wings and Oars, dir. Vladimir Leschiov, from Latvia. This one takes the cake. I haven’t seen an animated short that inspired me this much since… since…I don’t know, since the first time I saw a Michale Dudok de Wit short, or since Totoro made the rain fall on his umbrella, or, dare I say it, since Yuri Norstein.  I wish I could see it again. It had just the right mix of linear storytelling and fantasy so that I’m left not really knowing exactly what it was about, but captured in its thrall nonetheless.

Painted with what looks like watercolor on paper it was reminiscent of Michael Dudok DeWitt, actually, (see this interview with him I posted recently), but with more color. It starts with a man who gets in an airplane. There a lady who, running through a field, captures a butterfly in her net. Upon lifting the net, she sees, instead of the butterfly, a little man with feathers attached to his arms. There’s an older lady (is she the first lady older, or just her mother?) who walks to the top floor of a lighthouse, only to see a man jump out the window as she enters. There’s a pair of wings drying on a line alongside other clothing.

I just bought the director’s short film DVD at the above link.  It is 15 euros, but unfortunately only PAL system, and probably region 2 DVD. I don’t care, I bought it anyway. It is symbolic, lyrical, but still narrative enough that you can relate to the characters. I felt it was about wishes, longing, remembering.

Watch a clip of it at the bottom of this page.

The Astronomer’s Sun (dir. Simon Cartwright, Jessica Cope, UK) is a British short that could’ve been pretty cheesy, but instead was pretty darn magical. A stop-motion animated man with his teddy bear (the teddy bear is alive) enters a creepy, dark attic room lit by the moon, and remembers seeing his father dying inside one of those old three dimensional models of the solar system. Killed by beam of light? The comet in the night sky? He then proceeds to do the same, handing the teddy bear it’s wind up key and stepping inside the contraption. The comet passes the sweet spot, its light is reflected in a series of strategically positioned mirrors, and the man starts convulsing. We see a smaller comet now joining the larger comet. The teddy bear is left alone. As I said, the storyline probably sounds cheesy, but it was done so well, so subtly, that instead you jsut feel tremendous compassion towards both the man and the bear.

Dried Up (dir. Stuart Bury, Jeremy Casper, Isaiah Powers, USA) is another short that really surprised me. The 7 minute short spends about 5 minutes following around a stop-motion old man who is slowly hammering things in a set filled with odd gadgets that looks just like every other such set created by a college senior. He goes outside where the land is so dry trees turn to dust. Just when the viewer is getting bored the man returns to his workshop, and finishes creating something that is revealed to be a large organ. He sits down and starts playing. This is where the sound saves the day: the music was very well chosen. Just the right amount of beauty to surprise us, but not over the top. Clouds gather and rain falls. It was truly a nice moment because it was so unexpected.

Then there’s the two shorts that everyone laughed at, were very well received, as expected:

Santa, The Fascist Years by Bill Plimpton, and Wisdom Teeth by Don Hertzfeldt.

Santa runs like a fictional news bulletin, complete with eager and crackly narration. Evidence has just been discovered of Santa’s Hitler-like past where he took over the world, had elves build weapons instead of boring toys, and left Mrs. Santa for a showgirl called Eva. All evidence was later destroyed and he pardoned to preserve Christmas. It was funny, well animated in Plimpton’s signature flickery colored pencil.

Wisdom Teeth, as usual with Don Hertfeldt, was all about the comedic timing. One stick figure asks to remove the other stick figure’s stitch from a recent wisdom teeth removal. The thread has no end, though, and the stick figure keeps pulling. Let’s just say that this one is definitely not for kids and that Don uses a lot of red.

Others that deserve a mention are:

Man and Cat (dir. Adam Marr, Australia), a visual interesting and fast-paced short where a man sends his cat out to work for a change.

The Wonder Hospital (dir. Beomsik Shimbe Shim, South Korea), a cr-A-zy CG short about plastic surgery? reflections? creepy masks? one’s sense of self?

The Little Dragon (dir. Bruno Collet, France), an intelligently funny CG short about a Bruce Lee action figure who comes to life in a messy guy’s room.

As best I could tell the program was comprised of: 6 shorts that were either 3D or 2D computer animated; five shorts that were stop-motion animated (whether drawings or puppets); and two shorts that I’m not sure of: 0 (Zero), a Canadian short that was beautifully animated with ink drawings (either stop-motion or After Effects) was unfortunately terribly lame; and The Bellows March could have been simply filmed 3-D zoetropes (physical sculptures, not computer-generated) but might have used computer animation in some additional capacity. All in all, not a bad ratio.

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