Saturday, 7 February 2009

Encounters Short Film Festival

Encounters, which I think is a fairly high-profile event, takes place in Bristol, which is a fair way over to the left for me, but thankfully my stay there was made simple by my good friend Michael Rokes, who worked with me at Cartoon Network earlier that year (incidentally, their offices are really fucking nice, and the hot chocolate from the coffee machine is top-notch). I remember it being spectacularly cold while I was over there, and it was a fair walk from Michael's place to the Watershed where the festival took place, but nonetheless I braved it for the two-and-a-half days I was there.

I lost my copy of the program which has all my notes, my plan for what I was going to see, and Richard Williams' signature (more on that later) but somehow I can actually remember almost all the films I saw. I'll try to pare it down as best I can.

I got there for the first evening, on Tuesday the 18th, and saw the Opening Highlights and Waltz with Bashir. My opinions on the latter are pretty well documented. I'll keep accounts of what I saw in the former to their own sections, as I would see all the noteworthy ones again later. The Emerging Talent 1 screening, which included my own film, was also on that evening, but I was going to see it again next day anyway so I didn't bother.

First thing on the next day was Emerging Talent 2. Keith Reynolds Can't Make It Tonight was kind of like xkcd, in that it used stick figures and alot of very dry humour. The Weatherman was a likeable, if inconsequential stop-motion film. I've had the stupid music from Last Time in Clerkenwell stuck in my head all week, and was only able to remember where I'd heard it when I came to do this entry. The most noteworthy film was Khoda, which I actually saw at Bacup (and would later see again at exposures), but failed to mention in that entry. It's basically a full oil painting for every frame, or at least looks like it. It's pretty pretentious, but it could've been a really good film rather than just a stunning technical achievement if the soundtrack weren't so unimaginably awful. I don't understand how anybody could be so painstaking in the visuals (apparently it took two years and over 6000 paintings) and then allow it to be so completely ruined by such an awful soundtrack. He also never picks the best frames for the promotional images. Oh well.

Next I saw the Cartoon D'Or Finalists. There were just 5 films here, but I only really liked one, A Mouse's Tale.

The red, white, and black art direction is pretty clichéd at this point, but it's still effective, and it was a well told story, and the cut-out style animation was extremely well executed (this is the kind of thing it really works for). It went on to win the Cartoon D'Or, too, so looks like I wasn't the only one who felt this way for once!

Next was Emerging Talent 1 (which I skipped the previous evening, as mentioned). I think this was interrupted by a fire-alarm, which led to it overrunning, and me leaving early to catch the next thing on, fruitlessly as it turned out as subsequent screening were sensibly pushed back. This would have led to me missing the one really good film in this selection, but thankfully it was shown again in another screening. That was Stand Up (why I'm having to provide a MYSPACE video link I can't fathom, it's not even complete, but it gives you an idea).

I think it used rotoscoping, but it really pushes what can be got out of the technique, as it didn't just put a graphic style over the top, the animators really pushed the movement. It's hard to explain but even the brief clip I posted gives a pretty clear idea of what I mean. It's a real treat visually and very funny. It seems to have won a good few awards too, which are well-deserved.

After this was a talk and screening on the work of Alexander Shiryaev, who was a ballet dancer by trade, alive in the latter half of the 19th century, but, after the recent rediscovery of his work, seems to have pretty much been doing animation of any sort before anybody else. He did hand-drawn animations of dances for instructional purposes , and ridiculously elaborate stop-motion films (up to 15 minutes in length!) at least two years before Ladislaw Starewicz, traditionally credited with having invented the medium, produced any of the sort. Pretty interesting stuff.

The last event of the day was Desert Island Flicks, a talk with genius British animator and film-maker Joanna Quinn (who some might know for films such as Girl's Night Out [flashing imagery warning] and The Wife of Bath, which I sadly have no link for). The format, as one might expect, was borrowed from Radio 4's Desert Island Discs, so we got to see a bunch of films that have inspired Joanna.

Highlights included Bill Plympton's Your Face (which is the only film of his I can't find on Youtube, TRAGIC as it's his best), The Hill Farm, and the Tex Avery cartoon King Size Canary. All in all the selection was great, and Joanna's a very entertaining personality, so it was a highly enjoyable talk.

Thursday started with Best of British: Made in the South West. This one was pretty high-standard on average, though there was alot that was included in others screenings, and the only film that really stood out for me was Leaving, about a woman trying to build up the courage to leave her abusive husband. Like most of the live-action films I've been picking out, it was the acting in this one that made it stand out for me. Hilariously, the male actor's name is Johnny Harris.

Best of British 2 was up next. Apart from Stand Up, nothing in this really stood out for me, though there were some points of interest, such as Time is Running Out (which I had to see twice to get) and Akbulak...though sadly I have a video link for neither of those, so a fat lot of good that is!

Next, however, was the Canon of World Short Films, which had some very interesting shorts. Au Bout Du Monde (At the End of the Earth) is an unspeakably hilarious 7 minute animation about a house perched on the top of a mountain (an interesting parallel to The Hill Farm).

Balance shared a similar theme, about 5 men stood on a floating platform, with every tiny movement changing its tilt.

La Vis. Almost too weird for words. Here's a synopsis stolen from here. "Mr. K is very good with his hands. He is kept busy building a UFO (in French: Voluntarily Unidentified Object). He was about to stick the sharpened strip of his screwdriver into a screw, when he realized there was no slot in it. How horrible and disappointing. After an unforgettable dispute with his wife, he decided to go and fight with General Administration of the State Department Stores of the Non Ferrous Metals... " One of those films where the whole world and all the characters in it have this great feeling of complete artificiality and contrivance. Worth seeing.

The next (and, for me, penultimate) screening was International Panorama 2. Most of these were actually pretty interesting, but this entry is getting very long and I want my dinner so I'll only pick out Szalontüdö (Tripe and Onions), worth seeing just for the punchline.

Last up was International Panorama 3. There were two films here really worth mentioning.

Dennis (partial video) , about a massively muscled man with a very young mind, who still lives with his mother. Sounds standard, and it is, really, but it's so sweetly told I have to mention it.

Skhizein, where a man his hit by a meteorite and ends up displaced 91cms from where he should be. This was, besides the Joanna Quinn talk, the highlight of the festival for me. Genius concept, very well executed. If you get a chance to see it I'd very highly recommend it.

Wow, that was alot of writing and pictures, wasn't it? Well, it was one of the most memorable of the festivals. I might even go next year.

Now, earlier I mentioned Richard Williams' signature, which I lost. Yes, the man himself was actually there, promoting his new 16-DVD box-set The Animator's Survival Kit Animated. And, as I mentioned, I got his signature in my encounters festival program (I didn't have my own Survival Kit with me as I didn't know Williams would actually be there). I then lost it. Truth be told, though, I'm not actually bothered. While it may not be my place to criticise somebody who's been in the business as long as he has, and as helpful as the original Survival Kit book is, I'm not sure about Williams anymore. I tried to watch
Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure (which he directed) for the first time in well over a decade a while ago, and found myself unable to stomach more than 20 minutes. It wasn't just the constant insipid musical numbers, but the animation itself is just so...excessive. Constant, RIDICULOUSLY elaborate movement, often for no reason other than itself. It feels too much like hollow showing-off for its own sake. Masturbating onto animation paper. I mean, check out the intro to the animated Survival Kit: all the characters from the cover of the book spend a whole two minutes elaborately joining a grand walk-cycle bumsex parade. It's all very well but

What's the fucking point?

I need to check out Who Framed Roger Rabbit again.

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