Miff 2015: She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry

6 Aug

By Jenni Kauppi

The documentary She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry opens in the present day on a demonstration in Texas for women’s healthcare and the right to choose; while women won the right to safe and legal abortion 40 years ago, contraception and abortion is still restricted in most states in America.

It then proceeds to tell the very rousing story of exactly how hard won these freedoms were, outlining the birth of the Women’s Liberation Movement in the late 60s and early 70s that made it happen. It’s expansive terrain: from the restrictive definitions of success for women in the 1950s – husband, children, waistline, spotless home etc. – to the right to control their own bodies, via abortion rights and contraception, to equal pay and childcare. Early feminists in the Women’s Lib movement were the first to put these topics into public discussion, and they were at the coalface for the ensuing backlash from men and women alike.

What could have settled for being a neat little 101 primer of second wave feminist history instead confronts and teases out the complexities that the movement faced, even within itself, revealing a host of growing pains in its attempt to encompass the myriad female experience. It unpacks the misogyny faced by women who were active in the Peace Movement during the Vietnam War, and the unique problems faced by women of colour. And it doesn’t shy away from the complications within the movement for queer women and radical lesbian feminists who agitated over the inherent patriarchy of heterosexual relationships.

Importantly, the documentary is told by the women who were there – the driving forces of the movement – and hearing from the women themselves in present day, spliced seamlessly with mint condition footage and stills of them in action, is a powerful conceit that vividly captures the explosive, hopeful and momentous feeling of the time. We hear from Muriel Fox, in charge of the movement’s public relations, (asked to take the role by Feminine Mystique author, Betty Friedan); Alta, renowned feminist beat poet and founder of feminist press, Shameless Hussey (at a time when only 6% of published writers in America were women) and co-founder of the women’s liberation newspaper, It Ain’t Me Babe; Mary Collins-Robson, who was the President of the Chicago chapter of the National Organisation of Women (NOW), and many other ordinary women who have made it their life’s work to advocate and fight for basic rights that women – even today – can never take for granted.

And while it’s endlessly informative about the broader historical and political context of women’s rights, it manages an intimacy too; ultimately it’s as much a tribute to the activism of that generation, as it is an education to the preceding ones. And by positioning itself structurally in the context of present day ongoing fight for reproductive rights in the USA, it may also be read as a call to arms. But even for those not moved to action, this is a documentary that shouldn’t be missed.

MIAF 2015 DAY 4: International Program #6 – Abstract Showcase

26 Jun

International Program #6 – Abstract Showcase

Edisonnoside

The human brain is satisfied when things make comprehensive sense, almost as if everything needs to have a reason. Art as a whole is a fascinating subject because it is proof that not all brains function exactly the same way; why did I love this film when you hated it? But then we get to abstract art where sense is deconstructed and the brain does not know how to react. This makes many blow their nose at abstract animation. To say that a film has no sense to be made can be a challenging concept to grasp. If one has the ability to switch off that part of the brain that wants a reason for why there are splotches of colour and scattered lines all over the cinema screen then there is a lot of pleasure to be found in the Abstract Showcase. This session is always one of my favourites, and this year is no exception. Here are my top picks:

Pluto 3000 – Enrico Ascoli, Fabio Tonetto. The deconstruction of Disney’s beloved dog. The evolving black and orange blob with demented barks is actually quite funny. Yes, abstract animation can be funny.

Line – Steven Subotnick. Another abstract animation that made me laugh. There is a square with some lines. These lines move. When they move they make the sound of vocal exercises attempting to find the correct pitch.

Edisonnoside – If You Leave – Christian Coppe. Truly amazing work of abstract art and my top pick for this session. It’s one of those films where words won’t do it much justice, but I will say that it is a music video that has a perfect harmony between sound and image, where the visuals are truly captivating in a nonsensical manner.

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A Very Large Increase in the Size, Amount, or Importance of Something Over a Very Short Period of Time – Max Hattler. This year I have discovered that I thoroughly appreciate minimal yet vibrant colours on a black background. So see what I mean, click the link.

Stopcycle – Benjamin Ducroz. Hypnotically soothing Australian abstract animation using wood sculptures spinning to emit the illusion of the rippling water effect.

MIAF 2015 DAY 3: Panorama – International #1; Tama University Showcase

25 Jun

Panorama – International #1

crowded

Here is a classic example of misconception. I have known about the Panoramas for 5 years and I have avoided them for 4 years. Why? Because these were international films that, for some reason, were not good enough to make it into the International Competition programs. Why would I want to spend my time watching inferior films? Well turns out I was too quick to judge (the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem, I’m getting better I swear) and I will explain why.

Think about all of your favourite films. Can you honestly say that each one of them has the potential to open the Cannes Film Festival? Of course not, because some of your favourite films are great but are not exactly award-worthy. Think about the guilty pleasures you might have, or the films that hold a personal attachment, or the films you know to be stupid but make you soil yourself in laughter, or the films that did not work overall but brought light to some ideas and concepts that spoke to you in a way that other films couldn’t. These are the films that make up the Panoramas. Here are films that missed out on official competition selection but were, for some reason, worthy to be viewed on a large screen.

Can you say you have seen Iranian animation? How about Afghani animation? Well with the Panoramas this is a possibility. Sure these films may not win any awards, but the Panoramas give these little-known filmmakers from unlikely countries the chance to have their work on the big screen where it belongs. This session was made up of playful and thought-provoking films, and these were my top picks:

Crowded – Andrew Khosravani, Cristina Florit Gomila. Playful looking cut-out animation that has a very real point to it. Planet Earth has a finite amount of space, yet population is rising exponentially. How long will it take before space runs out?

Pidge – Renee Zhan. Dark satirical animation about a pigeon trying to commit suicide by jumping from a building. With a hilariously deep, monotonous voice the pigeon reflects on his life, decides he wants to live, but is swooped by an eagle. There is a lot of dry humour packed into this film; the type of humour that doesn’t necessarily make you laugh but is appreciated as if it was. The characters are animated brilliantly given the film’s barren tone.

fantoons

Fantoons: Chasing Mr Big – David Calcano, Nacho Rodriguez. Why isn’t there more animation like this? I’m talking about the type of animation reminiscent of early Warner Bros. The animation with basic stories (in this case a fan boy wanting to see his favourite band, Mr Big, live in concert) but told in the playful, energetic, totally absurd manner that only animation can display. The animation where shoving a chilli pepper up a bulldog’s arse is the most logical mode of transportation.

Driving – Nate Theis. Another film taking a humorous look at a real issue – road rage. Seriously people, what is the point? There is something about being behind the wheel of a car that can turn innocent people into dicks, and for what? To get to your destination 7 seconds earlier? This film illustrates that not only do you look ridiculous but there is a likely chance you will hurt yourself and others.

Tama University Showcase

Tokyo Ondo

I’m just gonna put this straight – the Tama University Showcase may very well be the greatest single session I have ever witnessed in my six years of MIAF. That school has summoned all the power of Godzilla to stomp the shit out of any doubt you have that they are a force to be reckoned with.

Don’t you love having your high expectation not only matched but surpassed? Because I certainly do, and I have this ingenious college to thank for that. The high expectations were due to Tama University winning the student reel award at the Ottawa International Animation Festival on its first attempt. I tend to unfairly expect a lot when it comes to sessions dedicated to specific nations, as if every animator from that nation is on an identical diet of animation-genius supplements. Unfortunately these high expectation can fall very hard. Last year’s French showcases left a bitter taste in my mouth of blue cheese on a mouldy baguette. Japan’s showcase in 2013, however, left the delicious taste of warm sake with a side of takoyaki garnished with edible gold shavings. I am happy to announce that Japan has scored once again.

The students of Tama University spend the first three months of their animation course without drawing, sculpting, cutting, or digitally creating a single thing; instead they learn about music. They are taught that animation is all about rhythm and timing, and what better way to learn about these than having a thorough understanding of music. This principle plays a prominent role in every one of the films from this session. Watching this showcase is like consecutively watching every film from your favourite actor – although the films are slightly different they all share one vastly important element that pushes all the right buttons. In the case of the Tama films that element is the heavy reliance of music to provide the foundation for the animation. Every film in this showcase is fantastic in its own way, but these were my favourites:

Garden – Shungo Suzuki. Vibrant pastel colours of vegetation and animals on a black background with a cheerful score. Not a single frame skips on the detail. Suzuki has a masterful understanding of colours and knows when to mix and mould them together in a way that is challenging but never confusing. It’s one of those films that is so pleasant to watch that you can get lost in them.

Tokyo Ondo – Misaki Uwabo. Energetic and sporadic animation perfectly incorporating the crazy randomness that Japan is famous for to create a romanticisation of Tokyo. Can you see something 100 miles away that you want to get to? Then try riding a 10-billion yen coin as a unicycle on your stretched-out arm to get there.

airy me

Airy Me – Yoko Kuno. Music video to the song “Airy Me” by ambient pop artist Cuushe. A lesson that must have been taught extensively at Tama University is the importance of scale and space dimensions. Every student at some point demonstrates their understanding of space with fast-moving interior tracking shots; but no film does it better than Airy Me. Imagine seeing the point-of-view perspective of a fly as it is buzzing around hospital and you will have some idea of what this film looks like. It’s difficult to believe that the slightest angle or shift in a different perspective is an entirely new illustration. The fluidity is of such a high level that if it wasn’t for the yellow saturation or anime-looking characters you would forget that it was animated. Overall it is a sad tale of being drugged up in a hospital bed, but the animation and song connect perfectly on an emotional level and is my top pick for the session.

The Story That Might Be A Dream – Miryan Paku. Supposedly near-death experiences make your life flash before your eyes; but is your life really worth holding on to? In five minutes this animation teaches that life really is worth living, so you’re better off not arguing with your loved ones over petty issues like what channel the television is on.

Chu-Chu – Ryoko Tanaka. Continuing with the theme of vivacious colours with a dominant soundtrack, this film stood out for its heavy use of cut-out animation. I would say more about this film but I would just be repeating myself. These films had a lot of the same feel to them yet at the session’s conclusion I just wanted more.

MIAF 2015 DAY 1: Best of the Next – International; Best of the Next – Australian Student Showcase; Official Opening – Australian Showcase

23 Jun

Best of the Next – International

small people with hats

Admittedly I have a tendency to cringe whenever the “student film” thought bubble floats over my head. I fear the worst – the needless metaphors, the lack of editing for a more artistic feel, the use of actors who couldn’t act to save themselves but are used anyway because the director owes their day jobs’ boss a favour. Of course little of this is reality; they are only my fears and reservations on the topic. Call me quick to judge but my experiences have not been successful thus far. One of my main reservations is the artistic (or lack of) drive behind these films. Sometimes it is difficult to shake the fact that the main purpose of these films being created is for academic assessment. Compare this to the uninfluenced love and need for the art form from the filmmakers of the International Competition Programs and you might be able to understand why I haven’t dedicated my time to attending the festival-within-a-festival that is Best of the Next.

That is until I bit the bullet and attended this one. And I am glad I did. As an Australian it’s hard to believe that there are so many tertiary courses around the world that teach nothing but animation for 3-5 years. Not too surprisingly is that these courses are mostly in countries that understand the cultural relevance of the art form (Canada, France, Japan, etc). Maybe it’s the funding, maybe it’s the cultural understanding of animation’s relevance, maybe it’s the teaching, or a combination of all the above, but these colleges have to be doing something right to keep pumping out students who can make films like these.

Like all schooling there are clearly some students more gifted than others, however the overall standard was a lot higher than I was expecting. Best of the Next is split into three International showcases with one dedicated Australian student showcase. Of these four sessions it was clear that many of these were technique films that’s main purpose was to “wow” examiners with their technical abilities. Nonetheless there were some real standouts from these three international sessions and they were:

What’s Going on with Annie – Yin-Jia Hu, Meng-Xiong Cai. Playful film about why you need to keep your bedroom clean – you may just have to battle the mess monsters! This is typical Japanese-style anime. There is artistically nothing new about this film but it was a lot of fun to watch.

The Sand – Soohyeon Joo. The story of a failing relationship has never looked so beautiful. Although the story may bring a tear to the eye, it is impossible to look away from the use of paint and vibrant colours.

how to survive on an island that hates you

Small People With Hats – Sarina Nihe. I have mentioned before that in my opinion the UK is responsible for the most morbidly dark and disturbing films in the world. This student film is another example to prove my theory. This film appears to look metaphoric of exploiting teens and young adults in business, or how businesses exploit the lowest of the pecking order. I can’t say I’m fully aware of what is going on but I am not bothered by this. My favourite type of film is one where I thoroughly enjoy it, or am vastly intrigued by it, without having a clue as to why I feel this way. Not too many films induce these feelings, but this one does which is why it is my top pick for Best of the Next.

How to Survive on an Island that Hates You – Chris Frost. An extraordinarily average man wakes up on an island and finds himself wrestling an octopus, gambling with a sea star, sleeping in a hammock made from his own beard, all for survival.

Best of the Next – Australian

anima redux

The Australian session for Best of the Next, these were my top picks:

Anima Radix – Fernando Silva De La Cruz. Definitely the most unexpected film of the session in terms of both content and style, this delightfully sinister animation appears as if it was crafted from the sands of hell itself.

Watdat – Victoria Wu. Coloured chalk, an eraser, and a lot of time and patience are all you need to make something inspiring. A blob picks the wrong mystery box and is chased by a dragon. Not enough animation is done on a chalk board. This film is inspiring as it proves how uncomplicated animation can be.

the wolf within

Pond Scum – Catriona Drummond. All humans everywhere should watch this film. It is not socially acceptable to shout offensive or degrading comments to anyone minding their own business. There should be ramifications for these scabs on society, like maybe transporting them to another dimension and scaring them straight. This film illustrates how sweet that would be. Stand up for yourselves, people. No one deserves that treatment so don’t let it happen.

The Wolf Within – Jonathan Reyes. Everyone is a deer in art class except the wolf. He tries to fit in but his art isn’t up to the level of the deer. He even tries a vegetarian diet. Eventually his wolf instincts take over and he slaughters everyone. This is going to sound harsh but I enjoyed this film because it did not feel Australian at all. It felt like it had slipped out of the international program. The lack of dialogue, the use of minimal, ambient sound, the overall subtlety, it was my top pick for the session.

Official Opening – Australian Showcase

The-Orchestra-still_05-sml

And it officially begins!

2015 saw MIAF fold their wings of the usual structure by making the Australian Showcase the official opener instead of a gala screening to give us a taste of what to expect throughout the whole festival. Did it work? Ohh you betcha. In fact it worked far too well. This screening in ACMI’s substantial 400-seater Cinema 2 was, to many people’s dismay, sold out several hours before the doors opened. And when I say “sold out” I mean SOLD OUT. Even festival director Malcolm Turner’s reserved tickets were exhausted on special guests who were minutes away from declaring war on the ticket booth. People were piled in like the world’s largest game of Twister where everyone’s left foot had to be stomped on that last available red dot.

Newcomers to MIAF, or any other film festival for that matter, would have been the most disappointed because of how it functions. Having a season pass does not guarantee you a seat in every screening – you must use that festival pass to collect a free ticket from the ticket booth to be allowed into the cinema. Those who did not think to do this early sadly missed out.

As for the films themselves… oh Australia. To put it straightforward: there were minimal “bad” films, a fair amount of “forgettable” films, quite a few “decent” films, and a couple of “very good” films. It’s sad that the third international Best of the Next showcase screened just prior to the Australian Showcase because I enjoyed that a lot more. Without this turning into a spiel about Australia’s film industry I have to mention that the clear lack of funding, support, and interest in Australian animation makes me shake my head. These Aussie animators must be some tough nuts to crack to be running on empty the way they do. Although it’s clear the standard of animation is not that of many other developed countries, these artists deserve some credit. My top picks from this session were:

The Story Of Percival Pilts – Janette Goodey, John Lewis. A narrated poem dramatised with claymation telling the story of a boy who spends his whole life on stilts. Definitely a crowd-friendly way to kick off the festival, Pilts is an overall delight. Though despite its 8-minute run time I felt something was missing as the film’s conclusion left me a tad unfulfilled. Maybe I’m just getting hard to please in my old age.

city symphony noise poem

City Symphony Noise Poem – Paul Fletcher. Close to 0% of viewers will agree with me but this was my favourite film of the session. It is abstract, industrial, very messy, full of bass, and overall did more for me than the other films.

The Meek – Joe Brumm. Germ minions trying to keep warm by the cosy cigarette flame, it is a narrated story from a female germ in love with a male germ who happens to be a complete tosser. Initially he cares about her but he gradually ignores her, then abuses her, then forgets her entirely while he forces the local population of germs to work for him to keep him warm. Eventually the flame burns out to which the female uses the cigarette butt to nit tiny, germ-sized sweaters to keep warm. Although it is a straightforward story of a female building the strength to leave her turd of a partner, animation allows the film to possess a type of visual appeal which adds humour that wouldn’t normally be present given the subject matter.

The Orchestra – Mikey Hill. This will win best Australian Film, and rightfully so. Every individual has their own mini orchestra, literally, following them through every aspect of their lives metaphorically representing their entire being. Our main character is an elderly man residing the Lovely Hearts Retirement Apartments when an elderly lady, who he clearly fancies, moves in close to his room. It is a simple story of building courage and pushing past nervousness and self-doubt, but his mini orchestra playing music to represent his mental and emotional state adds an element of light humour that only animation can achieve. It really is an adorable film made successful by its subtlety.

Melbourne International Animation Festival (MIAF) 2015

20 Jun

miaf 2015

So this may be the coldest couple of weeks of the year for us Melbournians, but one place you are guaranteed to be kept warm is within the weather-proof walls of the cosy ACMI cinemas. While you snuggle up in these seats I recommend keeping yours eyes open because then you will be blessed with this year’s MIAF which runs from June 21-28.

And it is a rather special one this year because I was lucky enough to join the big leagues with an early-bird trial screening of some sample films of the festival before the actual festival begins. Turns out being an obsessive volunteer has its perks. I can personally confirm, before the festival even starts, that it is going to be a memorable occasion for any one who listens to that playful voice in their head that says “go along, what have you got to lose?”

There are a couple of aspects separating this festival from the last few festivals. This year MIAF is screening quite a few sessions in ACMI’s Studio 1 which is a gorgeously informal yet intimate 70-seater space for some of the less popular, less majority-friendly showcases. More importantly this year commemorates the centenary of Australian animation. For those who love animation, for those who love film, and for those who love this amazing country should get along and support this momentous occasion with 6 dedicated sessions highlighting Australia’s history with the art form.

MIAF has reverted back to the 8-day-long festival but has not skipped on the content. Like all years there are the new films making up the competition sessions and all the festival favourites like Late Night Bizarre and the Kids Program; and the curated sessions with special focuses on a country, an animation technique, an animation college, or a particular filmmaker/production company.

This year’s new films submissions came to around the 3500 mark from every corner of the globe. With an International Competition session playing every day (except Monday 22) be sure to catch up with the most recent additions to this ever-changing world of artistic, auteurist animation. The curated sessions this year are intriguing to say the least. The main nation focus is on Slovakia. Personally I have never seen any Slovakian films, and I’m sure many of us in Melbourne can say the same, but after these two sessions; one on historic films and one on new films; we will instantly become more cultured and having something unique to talk about while hosting our next dinner party. My most anticipated curated session is on Japan’s Tama University. 2013 blew my mind with just how amazing auteurist animation in Japan really is with their session on Tokyo University of Arts. That’s right, Japan is not simply a hub for anime, they have a hell of a lot more to offer. Tama University specifically has already made its stamp on the world animation circuit by taking out the Ottawa International Animation Festival’s prize for the best student showcase on its first attempt. Furthermore there is a showcase on Ireland’s Brown Bag Films (responsible for recent Academy Award nominee The Secret of Kells), as well as several animation documentaries and Latvian-American, Signe Baumane’s independent hand-made feature film Rocks In My Pockets. Of course there is much more MIAF has to offer, the best way to see what’s on is to check the website here.

MIAF 2014 DAY 10: 3 Days In Paris – Historical, Best Of The Fest

30 Jun

3 Days In Paris – Historical

clinic

As the last Paris experience didn’t go as well as expected, I thought I would give the French another chance. As I explained in my last Paris post, French animation is generally very well done. France is a nation that is not only passionate about the art form, but they have a widespread understanding of its purpose and relevance, which is why we are going to continue being blessed with its presence. So imagine my disappointment from once again being let down by sub-par French animation. I probably shouldn’t have got my hopes up about this session being “historic” seeing as the earliest film was from 1990, but in the past the historic session have been among my favourites and since this year’s festival didn’t have much in the way of history I was hoping that this session would fill the void. It did not. It’s bewildering, really. I don’t know whether it was a poor selection of films, or maybe the top studios in Paris were missed, or maybe Paris isn’t where France’s decent animation comes from (it is a very big country after all), but these films were soulless and lacked substance. The animation itself wasn’t bad, but it was pretty standard when compared to the rest of France and the rest of the festival. My biggest issue was that most of these films seemed utterly pointless. Too often when a film ended I asked the question “why would you bother going to all that effort for this?” I’m hoping there is something cultural that I am missing; that maybe you have to be from Paris to understand these films because right now I am lost. There were only two films from this session that even remotely tickled my fancy and they happened to be the two oldest films (now I really need my history fix). They were:

Le Balayeur

Clinic – Alexander Bubnov. Totally psychotic animation about medical fears. There’s the GP whose immunisation needle snaps off in the posterior of a patient, an optometrist who plucks eyes out patients and pins new ones in, and a whole lot of medical horror we can only wish will never happen to anyone. The animation is cartoony while being darkly humorous.

Le Balayeur – Serge Elissalde. Well drawn pencil animation about one freaky ape-looking street sweeper who attacks everything that comes near his sweeping area. He smashes things with his broom then shoves them down the drain. A young girl’s ball goes down the drain and the freaky man tries to fish it out, taking out everything he had shoved down there in the first place. He then goes to jail. The morel of the story is: assault and vandalism with a broom is not the best way to avoid prison.

 

Best Of The Fest

elephnats garden

All good things must come to an end. Best of the Fest is a joyous time where the greatest films of the festival are honoured. It is also a sad time because as the final credits of the final film reach the bottom, the festival disappears like a mirage. Attempts to organise an official after party ceased years ago, presumably because it took energy away from the more important event – the festival. Anyway, the festival is what we came for and the festival is what we get. This year’s MIAF brought some intense mixed feelings. Where there is normally a lot of variety within the session creating an overall feeling of “very good” or “not so good,” this year’s festival had more of an extreme feel to it where some sessions were “amazing” while others “sucked.” Those Paris showcases were nowhere near as good as anticipated and were the major disappointments of the festival. Late Night Macabre and Quickdraw’s 30th Anniversary (even with its positive back story and purpose) suffered from too many sub-par films. But on the other hand, the quality of the South American showcases was a very pleasant surprise. This year also had the best Australian Showcase, Kids Program, and Late Night Bizarre that I have witnessed in my 5 years of attending the festival. And let’s not forget the International Competition Programs that were packed with fantastic films, and International Program #2 being arguably the best single session of anything I have seen during my time at MIAF.

I am very proud (and a little bit smug) to announce that this year the judges got nearly everything right, many of the honoured films being those that I either predicted or mentioned as standout films. I don’t mean to toot my own horn or anything, but come on; you got to admit it’s a whole lotta fun predicting the winners at award ceremonies. Pity no one was taking bets here.

The Best of the Fest session begins with festival director, Malcolm Turner, announcing the best films and honourable mentions of each competition category, and then an assortment of the films are screened. After we view a handful of the top films there is a break where the judges announce the best Australian student film, the best Australian film, the best international student film, and then the grand prize of “Best of the Festival.” As I mentioned above, every film that won I have already written on, so feel free to Ctrl+F the film’s title to see my earlier review of them. The list of the festival winners can be found at the MIAF website.

It made me exceptionally happy to see the films To This Day, Land, and Ex Animo win their international programs as they truly were in the top tier of films for the whole festival. I was incredibly excited about The Elephant’s Garden being hailed as the best Australian film as part of me didn’t think it would win. That film winning best Australian film is like a David Lynch film winning the Academy Award for best feature – it’s that strange and different film that has a strong cult following, but deep down you know the award is going to go to the obvious biopic or drama that wins every year. Well done The Elephant’s Garden!

MarilynMyller

Marilyn Myller winning the Best of the Festival gave me some initial mixed thoughts. “Best of the Festival” means that this one film was of a higher quality than any other competition film. I have a history of allowing the Best of the Festival to go straight over my head; as in, I remember being in the session while the film played but the film did not leave an instant impression on me. This does not mean that I feel the top pick was inferior, just that many of these animated films don’t instantly slap you in the face with their awesomeness; they take a bit more understanding.

Thankfully MIAF does something that every award ceremony should do – explain why the winning film deserved to win. The judging for MIAF comprises of real industry professionals who are not part of a secret organisation and who are not afraid to reveal their identity. These are people are animators themselves who live animation. They travel around the world visiting many animation festivals and hence are given the opportunity to witness a lot of the competition films on multiple occasions. It also gives them the chance to dig deeper with certain standout films. To simply sum up the case of Marilyn Myller, the film was basically technical mastery on a level that is difficult to comprehend. Firstly, director Mikey Please used a type of foam as his animation medium; something that is insanely complex as it involves carving new sculptures for pretty much every movement. But the interesting lighting that I mentioned in my review of the film is ever more complex. Please’s lightning setup to create his amazing shadows and scattered patterns over a completely white landscape was so advanced that pretty much every frame has its own unique setup.

This explanation would divide the audience right down the middle for two reasons. Reason 1) The bonus knowledge of this film may give it an unfair advantage and for a film to be truly deserving of winning then it should have widespread appeal and not need to rely on all the behind-the-scenes extras that only then make you understand its worthiness. Reason 2) Here is an animation festival created by and attended by true animation enthusiasts and therefore the most unique and complex animation (with the explanation to help those less familiar to understand) should be more than deserving of the top prize. Admittedly I was initially in the first category. I felt that it was an interesting film but not my favourite of the festival. I have since come to change my mind on the matter; not that I now believe it is the best film of the festival (I still stand by my To This Day pick) but I respect the decision to name Marilyn Myller the best of the festival because if festivals like MIAF don’t publicly honour the tireless efforts and technical genius that some true artists of capable of, then who will?

MIAF 2014 DAY 9: Kids Program 3-8yrs, International Program #5, Quickdraw Animation Society 30th Anniversary Retrospective, International Program #6, Late Night Macabre

29 Jun

Kids Program 3-8yrs

my mum is an airplane

At the opening gala to thew festival, MIAF director Malcolm Turner did something he had never done before – play a film from the kids program. His main reason for the objection was the association that far too many people have with animation being something for children. He went on to say that this topic was the best way to piss him off following taking a drink out of his hand; and I wholeheartedly agree. Dismissing animation as “child’s entertainment” is downright idiotic, but this is a huge topic for another time. Malcolm then went on to say that of the 2700+ films that were submitted for competition only about 100 of them were specifically children’s films which really goes to show how little real animation is just for children. The point is that animation can be enjoyed by anyone. This session may as well be called “innocent, enjoyable animation for all ages that kids specifically will find appealing;” but for succinctness it has the title that it has. This year’s program was without question the best kids program I have ever witnessed. The creativity of these films is amazing, the innocence of them is sweet, the atmosphere of the cinema was comfortable; and yes, there were many adults without children who came along to enjoy these films, just like every other year. Very difficult to choose but these were my favourites:

Fresh Guacamole – PES. I have watched this film around 50 times since first seeing it. It only lasts 90 seconds but it is so captivating that I cannot get enough of it. To put it simply; this film involves an actual human making guacamole out of real household items. A baseball is sliced in half and then chopped up into dice. A green light bulb is sliced in half then chopped up into monopoly houses. It seems so simply yet it is animation mastery. There is only diegetic sound made by the man preparing the ‘food’. The most impressive aspect to this film is the editing; everything he prepares looks so convincing. This film is much deserving of its Academy Award nomination.

My Mom Is An Airplane – Yulia Aranova. Adorable Russian animation about a child’s mother who is, you guessed it, an airplane. Everything about this film works so well; the simple character designs, the sketchy backgrounds, the minimal dialogue, the playful music, the humour and imagination… It will no doubt wake your inner child.

Hidden Talent – Mirian Miosic. A whole lot of meowing from a cat whose meowing sucks pretty badly while surrounded by many talented cats that are able to meow tunefully. His meowing continues to suck yet he never gives up his passion for music. He is given a shot at conducting and whaddaya know; now he really is the talented one. The film sends a positive message of following your passion in your field of interest because there may just be something you excel at.

twins in bakery

Shape – Przemyslaw Adamski, Katarzyna Kijek. This is absolutely mind blowing stuff. It is the music video from Shugo Tokumaru’s song “Katachi” (from the fantastic album ‘In Focus?’) which was animated in Poland. It is a scarily well detailed cut-out film similar to The Me Bird in terms of insane amounts of detail. There’s not necessarily a story here but then it is a music video; and in this case it is all about the synchronicity between sound and image, and wow did they nail it.

Twins In Bakery – Mari Miyazawa. Fantastic Japanese stop-motion about two sausage partners who turn a temporarily closed bakery into their own zoo. A bread roll becomes a monkey by slicing it up and adding some olives for the eyes. Adding a full slice of ham, some cut up ham and pieces of sausage to a bread roll makes an adorable hedgehog. My favourite part is watching the bread dolphins swimming in the rolling blue paper towel. Hopefully this will teach children that if done properly you absolutely can play with your food.

 

 

International Program #5

365-mcleod

The fifth of the competition programs. Again there were no festival winners, but a few standouts. They were:

365 – The Brothers McLeod. Fantastic way to start the session, this film was a project set by The Brothers McLeod to make one second of animation every day for a whole year, which they did. Essentially you see 365 short films in one. You could see this film many, many times and spot something new each time. Funny, cartoony, random, crowd-pleasing; check.

Soup Of The Day – Lynn Smith. We all know fussy eaters, and now there is a film about how difficult they can be to deal with. This is essentially a music video to a comedic song, but then surely by now we all realise how much I appreciate music videos. What is so captivating about this film is that whether you love it or hate it, you’re going to remember it. Yes, the catchy song may get stuck in your head, but the vibrant and flowing pastel colours that don’t rest for a second throughout the film should leave an impression on anyone who watches this with their eyes open.

soup of the day

Freitag X – Mas Movies – Claudia Rothlin, Yves Gutjhar. Good advertising can really leave a lasting impression. This is a compilation of Freitag commercials and with stop-motion animation this good it won’t be a name soon forgotten.

 

 

Quickdraw Animation Society 30th Anniversary Retrospective,

nude defending

Every year MIAF has some sort of studio/organisation focus. This year it was Canada’s Quickdraw Animation Society. Based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, Quickdraw is a fantastic organisation that simply loves animation and wants to share it with the world. Their purpose is to teach the common man how to animate. They have courses, workshops, lectures, and a solid team of dedicated animation teachers and mentors (like special guests Kevin Kurytnik and Carol Beecher) all set out to make YOU an animator. If only Australia had something like this. Understandably the films produced by Quickdraw may not be of the highest quality as they are made by common people who are not professional animators (or at least didn’t start off as such during the making of these films) but they really stand for something special. The highlights of this session were:

Nude Defending A Staircase – Scott Higgs. It is exactly as it sounds; there is a staircase that is approached by a man, and a naked man spring from behind the staircase to deliver a fly-kick to he who was daring enough to approach the staircase. Sure this may be a novelty film to some, but to me is it the perfect simple technical exercise from an amateur animator that will leave a lasting impression on whoever views it.

C’est La Vie The Chris J. Melnychuk Story – QAS Collective. A collaborative film by some of the Quickdraw crew about one super unlucky person. Chris J. Melnychuk was an animator who came down with mouth cancer and then experienced the awful ordeal of an “assectomy” (he basically had a chunk of his posterior amputated). The entire film is narrated by Melnychuk who has a strong, positive, and inspirational attitude to everything that has happened to him. The different filmmakers give this film an evolving array of styles, and Melnychuk himself gives this film enough humour for anyone to enjoy.

linear dreams

Raw – Don Best. Beautifully minimalist abstract animation involving black and green colours with spots of yellow and white. With the smooth ambient soundtrack accompanying the direct-to-film streams and spots of colours makes this an immersive film. Direct-to-film films are normally erratic but the minimalism of this film made it quite peaceful.

Linear Dreams – Richard Reeves. OK, yes, I’m a sucker for abstract animation. This film was quite similar to Raw though it has more colour. Again the minimal sound does the film justice.

 

 

International Program #6

marilyn myller

The sixth of the competition programs, only this was especially rated 18+ because there were some animated tits and dicks, and some pretty dark themes. Some of these went right over my head, others were intriguing and I will need to re-watch, the rest were awesome, and they were:

OA – Reno Armanet. Extremely in-your-face film complete with hectic amounts of constantly flashing colours and a metal soundtrack with French narration. This narration is an ominous godlike being sent to preach to those wasting their lives. The whole film is negative to humanity in general looking down on war, conflict, and pretty much anything that can be considered pointless. As a result of this film some may get fired up and motivated to do something with their lives, though the film may be a bit too much for others as it doesn’t tread lightly on how pathetic some of us can be.

raw data

Marilyn Myller – Mikey Please. Here is a standout film. It is made entirely out of foam and is lit in a way that I have never seen before. Marilyn Myller is a sculptor who kinda snaps when things don’t work out perfectly for her. Oddly enough the destruction of her work leads to popularity. It is a humorous story that has several laughs through it, but I can’t get over how different it looks to anything I have ever seen before.

Raw Data – Jake Fried. Just wow. This is possibly the most detailed single minute of animation I have ever seen. It needs no explanation, just watch it.

 

 

Late Night Macabre

LaBete

Knowing that Late Night Bizarre has its own strong cult following for its crazy weird films, I had high hopes for this session as it promised an evil, morbid, gothic theme that no doubt many would find appealing. Sadly I was disappointed with this session overall. One aspect of this session that I didn’t realise right away is that all of the newly released films that aren’t part of the competition showcases didn’t make it because they weren’t good enough to be in the running for Best of the Festival. With this in mind this session can be best described as films with consistent dark themes and atmospheres that lacked something to be included with the competition films. A lot of these films felt like they were missing something important or trying too hard to achieve something they just couldn’t reach; though like all disappointing sessions there were the odd standouts, and they were:

Placement Of The Grain – Mitchel A. Kraft. The first film of the session showed a promising start, unfortunately it was short lived. This creepy Canadian film showed little story, but focussed more on creating a morbid insane asylum atmosphere. It achieved this with its dark ambient soundtrack, different shades of grey in front of black or white backgrounds, and horrifying images of tortured faces silently screaming.

La Bête – Vladimir Mavounia-Kouka. Here is one horrifyingly sexy film. The whole film is in black and white, and I don’t mean shades of grey here, I mean there are only the two colours black and white. It begins with a woman inspecting the scratch wounds on her shoulder while a beautiful piano score can be heard. She drifts off and wakes in a forest where she is chased by a hell hound accompanied by an industrial soundtrack. Haunting silence follows as she lay on the ground until the beast emerges from under her and violently fornicates with her with the industrial soundtrack again accompanying the scene. Maybe it is a metaphor for rape, or bestiality, or sadomasochism in general, but however it is interpreted the fact stands that this is one fantastically memorable film, and by far the best of the session.

the-maggot-feeder__003

The Maggot Feeder / Ussinuumaja – Priit Tender. I did enjoy this film though not for the reasons the film probably wanted me to. Technically the film was well done; the animation was interesting, and the use of real human faces on the animated characters’ bodies was quite different; though the standout aspect of this film was the story itself. It’s amazing the kind of stories than can be found if you dig deep enough. Based on an ancient Chukchi fairytale, Ussinuumaja tells a story that is so utterly random and seemingly pointless that I can picture Tender reading it and thinking “what the fudge? I must turn this into a film!” It begins with a woman and man, who has metal hooks for arms, living isolated in the middle of the snow. The woman is unable to have children so the man decides to kill her by feeding her to a pack of killer maggots he feeds seals to, that he keeps hidden in a stone building he made right near the house for this purpose only, without the woman knowing. Then a magic spider tells the woman this plan and explains the strategy to help her overcome it: go out hunting with the man, place a special slipper on the ground than will inevitably fascinate him and make him search for the other, throw the other to him, then run to the top of the stone building so he will come over and fall in getting eaten by the maggots; a plan that she executes perfectly. So then the spider’s house magically appears next to hers and he introduces her to his son, a reindeer herder, who says she can touch anything in the house except a special pouch hanging from the wall. Naturally, she touches the pouch where spiritual animal hides come out of. The spider’s son comes back, puts the hides in the pouch (with absolutely no repercussions for doing what she wasn’t supposed to do) and the two of them have many babies and live happily ever after. No doubt this will be a story to tell the grandkids.

MIAF 2014 DAY 8: International Program #4

28 Jun

International Program #4

baths

The fourth of the competition programs. This particular session was rather strange. There were no obvious festival winners that stood out and most films left no impression on me. There were a few standouts though, and they were:

 

Baths / Łaźnia – Tomek Ducki. An elderly woman goes for a dip in a pool, but while she in under water the world is inverted, she is younger and she is racing for the win. Possibly a flashback to her earlier life, possibly a fantasy of something that never was; but whatever the story is it is told in a delightfully unique fashion with the use of colour separating the inverting worlds, and the camera work showing the fantasy world as up-side-down.

 

Sea Of Letters– Julien Telle, Renaud Perrin. Even though this film did have an interesting story behind it; that being the Spanish letters that never got sent thanks to the French during the Spanish civil war; the animation style is the most memorable feature. The film is animated using water on walls and pavement during sunny weather. The effects are amazing as fresh water is added while the rest dries up. It is also a good effort to prevent any stray drops of water ruining the shot.

sea of letters

History of Pets – Kris Genijn. Quirky film about the horrible luck a family has had with their pets. The tragedies include a budgie that died from pancake fumes, a rabbit that became dinner, fish that were polluted, and a cannibalistic tortoise. The cartoony animation suits the slightly morbid humour brought on by the subject matter.

MIAF 2014 DAY 7: International Program #7 – Abstract Showcase

27 Jun

snail trail

This is animation in its rawest form that doesn’t rely on characters or story to be engaging. A huge pat on the back to MIAF for being one of the few animation festivals in the world with a dedicated screening for abstract animation. Festivals may show some abstract films, but to have a whole program dedicated to them is something that makes MIAF quite unique. This session is always a must for me, and these films are examples of why:

Snail Trail – Philipp Artus. We follow a vector-filled snail-like shape on a journey around a large rounded minimalist landscape. The film has an evolutionary feel to it as the future path of the snail is mapped out while the path it has already taken still remains after it has moved on.

Koukou – Takashi Ohashi. I first saw this film last year at Estonia’s Animated Dreams festival which it received an honourable mention as a standout abstract film. I loved it then and I still love it now. In simple terms it is strange animation accompanying even stranger music; though there is nothing simple about this film. The synchronicity of everything going on here is well deserving of an honourable mention.

Barcode III – Adriaan Lokman. Picture a sizeable black & white digital landscape made entirely of poles and light either illuminating the poles or being bent by the poles and you will have an idea what this film looks like. It has a ‘journey to the centre of the modem’ feel to it where the flashes of light is all the information being carried. The entire 8½ minutes of this film (which is quite long for an abstract film) had me totally immersed. I was hypnotised by the landscape accompanied by ambient or upbeat techno music that always synchronised with the speed of the camera. The experience is made perfect by getting to watch it on the big screen.

barcode

Virtuos Virtuell – Thomas Stellmach, Maja Oschmann. What initially looks like a simple work of black ink splotches expanding to the music “Ouverture: The Alchemist” by Louis Spohr becomes quite a complex work of art. As the film progresses it becomes obvious that it has been animated over several layers; and then the layers cross over creating a three-dimensional space in what began as two-dimensional.

1000 Plateaus – Steven Woloshen. Woloshen is a Canadian experimental animator who is known for his cameraless films. He puts his artwork directly onto film stock and plays them like that. His films are energetic colour explosions that always have the perfect soundtrack to them. This particular film took 10 years to make. Woloshen started in 2004 and made this film entirely in his car waiting for actors or film crew members.

MIAF 2014 DAY 6: South American Showcase #3: Indie Showcase, 3 Days in Paris – New #1

26 Jun

South American Showcase #3: Indie Showcase

zooz

Surprisingly this compilation of indie films was the best of the South American showcases, and one of the best sessions of the whole festival. Not only did this session have a lot of variety in animation techniques but they quality of animation itself was at a very high level. These films all carried strong messages making them strong in story and aesthetics. My top picks were:

Zooz – Pablo Delfini, Luis Guillermo Gonzalez. Sometimes you see a film and you enjoy it but cannot explain why. In a way that is the ultimate way of enjoying something. Who says you need to have a reason for enjoying something? This film is a bit of a mystery. I’m sure there is a message in there someone even if I can’t put my finger on it. It combines cut-out with stop-motion and has a nature/human destruction theme to it. What’s interesting is that this is all set in a chest of draws.

Bear Story – Pato Escala. Quite an emotional story within a story told through computer animation involving a bear’s autobiographical tale displayed through a marionette show. The bear was taken from its wife and child and forced to join a circus but was able to escape. It leaves us wondering whether this bear really did have a happy ending.

Pintas / Freckles – Marcus Vinicius Vasconcelos. I have little to say about this film because I didn’t really understand the story. I’m sure I would get it after a second viewing, but I had to mention it here because visually it was too awesome to leave out; but even that is hard to explain! Most of the film was in black & white, and colour was used subtly but when it was used it was very effective. The colour pointed to where the action was happening and when something was changing, and it wasn’t always what you thought it would be. A bit mysterious, I know, but trust me, it was an awesome film.

pintas

The Gift – Julio Pott. Minimal colours, simple animation, tells a basic story of love and loss, yet it all works so perfectly. Noticing a theme with this festival? Sometimes less is more.

Dancing Graffiti – Rodrigo Eba. This was my favourite of the session. It delivers exactly what it promises; the film is made up of graffiti all over Brazil that has been heavily edited to make it look like it is dancing. The slums of Brazil come alive, and in typical protest style, the film ends with public workers painting over the graffiti.

 

3 Days in Parts – New #1

5 metres 80

French animation is quite amazing which is why I had high hopes going into this session. Festival director Malcolm Turner explained that during his time in London co-hosting LIAF (London International Animation Festival) he jumped down to Paris for three days and visited as many studios as he could in the little time that he had. Given this knowledge it’s understandable that this showcase didn’t quite live up to my expectations. Considering the South American showcases took several years to put together while the Paris ones took 3 days it’s no surprise that these films were a little sub-par. There were a few standouts, they were

A Quoi Ca Sert L’Amour / Edith Piaf – Louis Clichy. Cute music video of a couple who have their high highs and low lows but the love is always there. It’s short, it’s simple, there is virtually no colour, the animation is playful, and it is all round an adorable film.

TheChant1

5 Metres 80 – Nicolas Deveaux. Director Nicolas Deveaux makes a living from animating giraffes and elephants. That is all. Talk about cool jobs to have! It’s no surprise considering he does it so well. This film is set in a swimming pool and consists of high diving giraffes. It’s quite entertaining.

The Chant – Ines Sedan. This was definitely the standout of the session. A woman stands up to a disgusting pig of a husband and breaks free of the stranglehold he has over her. It was made with paint and pastel and has so much detail that it hurts to watch. At one point the woman washed an apple in the sink; it’s mind blowing to watch. Aurally the sounds of the man create a feeling of discomfort, though the woman’s singing ultimately prevails.

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