The London International Animation Festival (LIAF) returns next week with its ninth edition of eclectic programming, spanning 30 countries and three London venues. This year sees a special focus on Japanese animation with a retrospective of filmmaker Koji Yamamura and special screening of Keita Kurosaka’s Tokyo-set feature, Midori-Ko, which presents an apocalyptic, dystopian city ravaged by food shortages. There will also be a series of shorts programmes that aim to showcase the diversity of recent works produced in the country. Several of the selected works provide poignant reflections on the effects of the 2011 tsunami: Florian Piento’s The People Who Never Stop shows human resilience through the persistent flow of pedestrians, who remain unfazed by earthquake tremors or engulfing sea water but finally stop in contemplation, looking skywards as cherry blossom petals fall; while Isamu Hirabayashi’s award-winning 663114 reveals the endurance of life through the tale of a 66-year-old cicada.
As usual, specific filmmaking techniques are also celebrated at LIAF with a flipbook challenge workshop and a special programme of live action/animation hybrid films. The use of live action also crops up in several films screening in this year’s international competition screenings. In Joseph Pierce’s The Pub , hand-drawn faces replace actors’ features to create a drinking cast of grotesque animals down a North London boozer: the local ex-gangster morphs into a chest-thumping gorilla and a raucous hen party become a group of clucking chickens. In Anja Struck’s How to Raise the Moon, actress Tora Balslev acts the part of a sleeping pianist enveloped in a surreal dream world of time-lapse camerawork and stop-motion puppets. Struck’s unique, otherworldly animation will be playing as part of a special strand – Into the Dark – devoted to the creepiest, darkest shorts submitted to the festival; a screening that promises to provide a nice complement to the festival’s much-loved Late Night Bizarre.
As well as welcoming back other popular annual fixtures such as the British Showcase, LIAF will be screening some new works from previous festival attendees. Theodore Ushev, who was the focus of a special event last year, returns with a beautiful, impressionistic short, Nightingales in December. Building on techniques displayed in Lipsett Diaries (2010), Ushev has created a stunning work of claustrophobic, pulsating paintings – with hints of Francis Bacon and World War I landscape painters – that fade into pixels with the crack and fizzle of an old television set straining to keep signal. Excitingly, there will also be an opportunity to see It’s Such a Beautiful Day, the final part of a much anticipated trilogy by Don Hertzfeldt, whom LIAF brought to London in 2009, and Max Hattler’s Spin, which was produced by Parisian animation studio Autour de minuit, who received a special LIAF retrospective in 2010. Spin begins as a simple kaleidoscope of toy soldiers spiralling through vaudeville zoetropes and Busby Berkeley formations into increasingly intricate and farcical set routines that powerfully and inventively portray the de-humanisation and mass murder involved in modern conflict.
These shorts – wide-ranging in their subject matters and techniques – are just some of the treats in store at LIAF. Other highlights will include a screening of unseen pilots by Arlene Klasky and Gabor Csupo (who created the first three series of The Simpsons) and the opening night screening of For No Good Reason , a feature film that explores the work of British artist Ralph Steadman through vibrant animated sequences. The organisers of LIAF always provide one of the most energetic and imaginative programmes in the capital and this year promises to be no exception.