Wannabe astronauts simulating free-fall bouncing on the beds in their dorm like trampolines. A free-thinker on an assembly line who dares to scrawl squiggles in a world of striped boxes. A clone from the future visits her originator’s child self, because time loops but really loneliness. Animation opens so many windows on the world, expressive, vivid and unique. It’s a demanding, labour-intensive, expensive medium, keeping animated features down to four or five a year. There’s a burgeoning world of animated shorts out there, though, artists who take a sliver of time and conjure up something wonderful. For seventeen years, veteran animation producer and founder of ACME Filmworks Ron Diamond has put together a program called the Animation Show of Shows. Each year he scours the globe for animation talent to work in his studio. In his travels, he’s constantly discovering vibrant new work, which he curates for his annual series. The past sixteen years Diamond has taken his Show of Shows to major animation houses like Pixar, Dreamworks and Disney, and also to animation schools, showing established and up-and-coming animators rare and hard-to-find films to challenge and inspire them. This year is different though. While Diamond’s pulled together another stellar slate of shorts, this time around the Animation Show of Shows has gone public, and is touring theatres in the U.S., Canada and even further abroad. With three films short-listed for the Oscars in the program, it’s a bite-sized treat.
The show is wide-ranging and more thoughtful than a comedic romp. While humour figures in most of the shorts, deeper themes are on display, delving into friendship, loneliness, conformity, fleeting love, destiny, self-empowerment, spirit of place and deforestation. With eleven films from seven different countries, there’s a striking array of visual and story-telling styles. Techniques range from hand-drawn, paint on glass and stop-motion, to the latest computer-generated imagery. Four of the shorts are followed by mini-documentaries about their making, each a charming introduction to filmmakers who so often are completely invisible. There are a number of standouts for me in a strong program. Konstantin Bronzit’s We Can’t Live Without Cosmos is funny and poignant, exploring the relationship between two astronauts competing to go into space. Stripy from Iranian filmmaking brothers Babak and Behnoud Nekooei is funny, almost a classic Warner Brothers cartoon in its animation style, and a clever presentation of standing against conformity. Behind the Trees is a suitably weird and enchanting offering from Amanda Palmer and Avi Ofer, an animated telling of Palmer’s conversation with her poor husband who talks in his sleep, the clearly dream-addled Neil Gaiman. Melissa Johnson and Robertson Zambrano’s Love in the Time of March Madness captures the 6’4″ Johnson’s misadventures in romance, a former basket-baller doomed to date shorter men. It’s stark black-and-white style and Johnson’s hilarious autobiographical musings are memorable and insightful. And tied with Bronzit’s We Can’t Live Without Cosmos is my other favourite, Don Hertzfeldt’s bracingly strange and dryly funny World of Tomorrow. That’s the one with the clone that visits her originator’s child self. The future it envisions is strange, a little horrific, and entirely plausible. And it’s got some of the best deadpan one-liners I’ve heard in awhile.
The 17th Annual Animation Show of Shows is being presented in Toronto with the assistance of the Toronto Animated Image Society. It’s running at the Magic Lantern Carleton Cinema from Friday, January 8th to Thursday, January 14th, with screenings at 2pm and 7pm each day. January 6th and 7th is playing at the Nightlight Cinema in Akron, Ohio. The festival’s next listed engagement will be in Johannesburg, South Africa, at the Bioscope from January 15th-20th. For more info, check out the Show’s website here.
Here’s the full program:
The Story of Percival Pilts, Janette Goodey & John Lewis, Australia, NZ
A whimsical story about living an impractical life based on a childhood promise. While playing on stilts as a child, Percival Pilts declares that he’ll ‘never again let his feet touch the ground!’ He stays true to his word and compelled ever higher, he builds his stilts so tall that he no longer fits into normal society.
Tant de Forets, Geoffrey Godet & Burcu Sankur, France
Based on the poetry of Jacques Prévert and originally part of the “En sortant de l’ecole” series, the “Tant de Forets” (So Many Forests) poem denounces the destruction of forests to make paper pulp, but paper is used to alert people about the threats of deforestation.
Snowfall, Conor Whelan, Ireland
An anxious young man has a moving experience at a friend’s house party. A story of fleeting love, mixed emotions, and of how we interact with each other.
The Ballad of Holland Island House, Lynn Tomlinson, USA
Animated clay paintings tell the true story of the last house on a sinking island in the Chesapeake Bay, a large and important estuary and waterway in Maryland, on the East Coast of the United States. In an Old-Time Music ballad, the house sings of its life and the creatures it has sheltered during its lifetime journey from tree, to timber, to home, to an ultimate return to nature. It contemplates time, environmental change, and the rise of the seas.
Behind the Trees, Amanda Palmer and Avi Ofer, US
An imaginative animated short created from a found voice memo, “Behind the Trees” features Amanda Palmer’s reflections on the curious things her husband- Neil Gaiman- mutters while he sleeps.
We Can’t Live Without Cosmos, Konstantin Bronzit, Russia
Two cosmonauts, two friends, try to do their best in their everyday training life to make their common dream a reality. But this story is not only about the dream.
Messages Dans L’Air, Csabel Favez, France/Switzerland
A universe made completely of paper is the starting point of this love story, as past, present and future events emerge from the folds in the paper. A young woman discovers a message of love enclosed in a folded paper bird. She then witnesses the tragic fate of her admirer‘s goldfish. What can she do? This riveting love story is told through the medium of line drawings.
Stripy, Babak Nekooei & Behnoud Nekooei, Iran
At a massive factory, the workers have all been given one simple instruction: paint stripes on the boxes. The work is getting done in the usual, monotonous way… that is until one of the workers decides to paint his boxes a little differently.
Ascension, Thomas Bourdis, Colin Laubry, Martin de Coudenhove, Caroline Domergue, Florian Vecchione, France
In the early years of the 20th century, two climbers make the traditional ascent, carrying a statue of the Virgin Mary to the top of the mountain. Their trip does not go according to plan.
Love in the Time of March Madness, Melissa Johnson and Robertino Zambrano, US/Australia
Melissa Johnson hit 6’4’’ tall in 8th grade. Although this made her an instant basketball star, “Love in the Time of March Madness” follows her hilarious and awkward misadventures in romance as she dates shorter men and gets cheered or jeered wherever she goes. Blazing with honesty and dark humor, this animated “tall short” is a true story about embracing difference that is certain to disarm and delight.
World of Tomorrow, Don Hertzfeld, US
A little girl is taken on a mind-bending tour of her distant future.