Tag Archives: animation

Shorts in Edinburgh 2010


Edinburgh International Film Festival

16-27 June 2010, Edinburgh

EIFF website

The Edinburgh Film Festival once more delivered an excellent, wide-ranging selection of short films, organised in eight programmes, including international and UK films, digital and animation, and Cinema Extreme, an initiative from the UK Film Council and Film4.

The clear highlight for this writer was Maska, the new film by the Brothers Quay, whose achievements in the field of animation were celebrated by the festival in a special event on June 22. Based on Stanislaw Lem’s short story ‘The Mask’, it tells the story of a robot created in the shape of a beautiful woman by an authoritarian king in order to seduce and destroy a noble man who opposed him. The robot tries to work out its identity, ‘it’ coming to know itself as an ‘I’, then as a ‘she’, before discovering that she is in fact a metallic construction resembling a praying mantis, which violently erupts from her previous female shape. The Brothers Quay’s elaborate animation style lends itself remarkably well to a rich visual exploration of the fluctuating identity of the creature and conjures up disturbing echoes that connect the female, robot and insect natures she successively adopts. Artificially gendered, then born of herself, she leads us on a journey through the dark mystery of creation and metamorphosis. Parts of Lem’s wonderful story are narrated in Polish and although the Quays are generally wary of using large amounts of text in their films, the fusion of the sumptuous imagery with the poetic narration and Krzysztof Penderecki’s unsettling music is here perfectly realised and richly evocative.

Other animated shorts of note included the Brothers McLeod’s excellent Gothic fairy tale The Moon Bird, which was shown earlier this year at Flatpack, and Max Hattler’s witty, Busby Berkeley-inspired war satire Spin. Nick Cross’s Yellow Cake was another smart political satire from the USA about the consequences of big cats’ exploitation of small blue creatures, in which escalating death and destruction was contrasted with a cute, childish animation style that underlined the ironic tone. In The Astronomer’s Sun, Simon Cartwright and Jessica Cope told the story of a young man who goes back to his father’s observatory and revisits a traumatic childhood memory, with unexpected consequences. Bathed in melancholy blue tones, the enigmatic story was a true delight. In an entirely different style, Stewart Comrie’s Battenberg was an impressive example of digital animation which saw a squirrel and a magpie locked into a power game inside a miniature cabinet of curiosities within an abandoned house. The objects, evoking the human world, created a bizarre, disquieting setting for the cruel fight to the death between the two animals. A work of startling originality and technical mastery.

In the live action shorts, Cinema Extreme was a somewhat disappointing section – although it is a very laudable scheme – partly because the films seemed rather tame in contrast with what could be expected from such a label. Daniel Mulloy’s Baby won the UK Film Council Award for Best British Film. The story of a brief encounter between a young white woman and a black boy from a street gang, it played with viewers’ assumptions, but reversed them in such an unsubtle way that it was utterly predictable from the start. Scott Graham’s Native Son, which focused on an outsider in an isolated rural Scottish community, was mysterious and menacing but the pace was not quite controlled enough. Tony Grisoni’s The Pizza Miracle, about a man having an imaginary dialogue with his dead Italian restaurateur father, was humorous but offered no genuine insights or emotions.

Among the international shorts, Joyce A Nashawati’s The Bite (La Morsure, France) stood out through its masterful composition, sharp editing and atmospheric quality. A young woman takes a little girl to a park, where she meets her lover. While they talk, the little girl disappears into the woods and has an encounter with a man who is sleeping rough in the park. The story had a fairy tale quality and was told in a nicely elliptical, suggestive manner, which contributed to the unsettling, ominous atmosphere. Magnus von Horn’s Echo (Poland) opened with the reconstruction of the apparently motiveless murder of a young girl by two boys and ended with the confrontation between one of the boys and her parents. It was bleakly realistic and looked fairly drab, but the constant rainfall, timeworn face of the detective and striking finale made it worth checking out.

In the UK shorts, Ben Lavington Martin’s Dust was a particularly affecting and ingenious work. Using NASA archival footage, Martin constructed the story of astronaut Glen Gordon, who is stuck on the moon after his mission goes wrong. As we see images of the moon, a spaceship, an astronaut on its silver surface, we hear Glen Gordon talk to man on the ground Jimmy, fellow astronaut Alan, and his wife Patty. The dying moments of a man alone in the universe are captured with humour and pathos, as he poignantly describes the astonishing experience of walking on the moon, reflects on what is important and ponders the existence of God. A very full and rich 10 minutes.

Virginie Sélavy

Short Cuts: Flatpack 2010

The Moonbird

Flatpack Festival

23-28 March 2010, Birmingham

Flatpack website

For its fifth edition, the Flatpack Festival conjured up another brilliantly inventive programme that made great use of the art spaces around Digbeth, Birmingham’s former industrial area. The selection included previews of Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, Mamoru Oshii’s latest animé The Sky Crawlers and the provocative Greek psychosexual drama Dogtooth. Live events encompassed everything from magic lantern shows to a plasticine party, which involved adults drunkenly attempting to mould rude/cute/disturbing shapes as the demented strains and visuals of punk combo Jackdaw with Crowbar mounted a double assault against the audience. The Belbury Youth Club, an event curated by the Ghost Box record label, featured rare 70s TV treats, including an MR James story and the exquisitely sinister Penda’s Fen. Music films covered everything from Mogwai in Burning to the Iranian underground scene in No One Knows about Persian Cats. There were also experimental movies by Paul Sharits and Takashi Ito, children’s films, talks, documentaries and archive footage, and an Odeon bus tour through Birmingham.

As Flatpack is organised by 7Inch founders Ian Francis and Pip McKnight, it was no surprise to find a treasure trove of short films at the festival. The programmes were curated by Flatpack as well as Glasgow’s The Magic Lantern and the Dublin-based collective Synth Eastwood. The Magic Lantern’s programme was entitled ‘Pandemic’ and, although the films covered a variety of topics, the two best shorts in the selection were the ones that actually dealt with apocalyptic scenarios. Javier Chillon’s Die Schneider Krankheit presented itself as a newsreel recounting the rapid spread of a deadly virus after a spaceship containing a chimpanzee crashes in West Germany. The 50s newsreel style was perfectly reproduced, while the reasonable tone of the reporter was brilliantly contrasted with the outlandish events depicted, including the creation of a tortoise/leech hybrid to cure patients. The zombie movie was given a comic and very British twist in Louis Paxton’s Choreomania, in which a man on his way to work tries to escape the dancing plague that has turned everyone in town into twitchy ravers.

Synth Eastwood brought ‘Darklight’, a selection of animation shorts that opened with Aaron Hughes’s Backwards, which told a failed love story from the tragic end to the unexpected beginning, with several comic twists along the way. Mike Weiss’s Debt was an excellent puppet animation in which a little boy becomes obsessed with collecting pennies, but soon finds out that the luck they are meant to bring is not without consequences. It had a whiff of Eastern European strangeness; the boy was both cute and creepy with his big button eyes and bowl haircut, and the story was original and well-paced. Croatian filmmaker Veljko Popovic created a striking dystopian world in the enigmatically titled She Who Measures. A column of identical big-headed men and women pushing trolleys are led across a barren moonscape by a clown, brainwashed by smiley screens attached directly to their faces. They march to the sound of a supermarket radio, putting any rubbish they encounter in the trolleys. A man who is not wearing a mask tries to encourage them to get rid of the screens but fails to stop the column of slave shoppers. The atmosphere was very dark, the vision pessimistic, the ending mysterious and the animation bleak and powerful.

Among the shorts selected by Flatpack, Andersen M Studio’s Going West was a great short film that made the story of a book come alive as it was narrated, animating its very pages to create all sorts of shapes, including houses and tunnels. The selection also included two interesting animated documentaries. David Quinn’s Twas a Terrible Hard Work used black and white animation to illustrate the experiences of a group of miners. The combination of factual realism and imaginary reconstruction was a great way to deal with the subject matter and the film was a very poignant evocation of life in the mines. Samantha Moore’s An Eyeful of Sound was less successful. The idea of conjuring up the perceptions of three women who experience synaesthesia through colours and shapes was excellent, but the realisation was not entirely satisfying: the animation was not very inventive and the narration provided by the women was edited in an unnecessarily repetitive way.

The final short treat of the festival was screened before Tomm Moore’s animated Irish children’s story The Secret of Kells on the last day of Flatpack. The Brothers McLeod were there to present their latest film, The Moonbird, which marks a departure from their previous work. A dark animated fairy tale in black and white, it told the story of a little girl who is kidnapped by a witch who wants her tears for a magic potion. The animation looks like chalk on a blackboard, the atmosphere is perfectly sinister, the story involves death, dismemberment and various transformations that culminate in a fight between two quasi-mythical birds, one white, the other black. Watching it felt like doors were being opened into strange and wonderful worlds, something that can be said of the Flatpack Festival itself.

Virginie Sélavy