The most artistic animation is made as shorts.
You’ve got to hand it to Ron Diamond. The veteran producer who heads up Acme Filmworks has been responsible for creating animation shorts in ads, music videos, TV programs and short and feature films since 1990. In that role, he’s worked with such award winning animators as Michael Dudok De Wit, Bill Plympton, Caroline Leaf and Raimund Krumme as well as Canadians icons Chris Hinton, Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis. You’re probably thinking who the heck are the animators I’ve just listed? They happen to have won Oscars as well as prizes in festivals in Annecy, France; Zagreb, Crotia; Stuttgart, Germany and our own top event in Ottawa. We should herald these artists but, sadly, they’re as well-known as poets. And please name three of them.
Diamond knows who makes great animated work. It is his life and he loves sharing it with audiences as well as friends and colleagues. Through Acme, he’s been running the Animation Show of Shows for, well, 21 years, which has brought wonderful films to non-festival goers who would never see them otherwise. This year’s festival is playing in Ontario: it’s starting tonight at the Fox in Toronto and the Apollo in Kitchener/Waterloo and will appear next week at the Playhouse in Hamilton. As usual, the quality is stellar and there’s a pleasing variety in the works.
The show stopper of this Show of Shows is, appropriately enough, the final piece in this animation anthology. Daughter, by Daria Kashcheeva, won two awards at Annecy and one at Sundance as well as being on the Oscar short list this year. It’s a deeply emotional piece about a daughter’s fraught relationship with her father. Kashcheeva used a hand held camera and painted the eyes on the figures, which makes this stop motion piece a highly emotional one. Just as beautiful but much more abstract is Le jour extraordinaire, a painterly piece by French artist Joanna Lurie. Her film is quite mystical involving a strange voyage by sea, an intense rainstorm and a sky lit up by gold. There are intimations of death and spirituality in the film, which Lurie chooses not to reveal. A third impressive short made by a woman is the quietly observational Five Minutes to Sea by Armenian Natalia Mirzoyan, which shows a young girl’s imagination at play during an afternoon at the beach. Highly visual, as were the shorts by Lurie and Kashcheeva, Mirzoyan drew frame by frame with alcohol markers to achieve a dreamy yet realistic quality.
Brothers Sam and Fred Guillaume created a 3D effect by scanning shots of both the outdoors and miniatures in the bravura piece The Fox and the Bird. Using virtually painted models for their two main characters, the Guillaumes avoid typical puppet animation while creating a tale which involves the unlikely bonding between an adult fox and a baby bird. Animals expressing human emotions is also the subject of the disturbing Hounds, which charts what happens when a domesticated dog literally hears the call of the wild and helps to attack his fatherly owner. Definitely a 2D project, drawn in black and white, it’s a film that was inspired by the male Ido Shapira and female Amit Cohen’s realizations that they both suffered as adolescents from not being able to communicate their desire to become artists to their parents. This is revealed in a short interview with the animators, which is inserted in the anthology, in a move to make us understand their motivations for Hounds. A similar use of documentary after an animated short is utilized with Israeli artist Gil Alkabetz’s classic Rubicon, the only older film in this animation celebration. In the doc short, Alkabetz explains that the impossible riddle in the film—how do you transport a sheep, wolf and cabbage across water without the sheep eating the cabbage and the wolf devouring the sheep—with the unraveling of the Oslo Accord inspired peace process between the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) and Israel in the Nineties.
The 21st Animation Show of Shows also features Michael Frei’s darkly funny take on group dynamics, Kids, and a very intimate autobiographical tale of trans identity, Recit de Soi, by Geraldine Charpentier. This wonderful anthology of animation is poetic, humanist and poetical. And did I say it’s all beautifully made? If you want to see truly personal animated shorts, this show of shows is a must-see.