Very few inaugural outings for an animation strand of a festival make quite such a strong impression out of the gate as the team behind Cardiff Animation Nights’ managed to this past weekend, whose animation strand incorporated into the longer-running Cardiff Independent Film Festival proved a resounding success.
Since their first event in October 2014, CAN are one of a number of regionally-based initiatives dotted across the nation that actively celebrate and champion animated short and feature filmmaking. With a keen eye for standout student, indie and professional work, curators Lauren Orme, Chris Wright, Dani Abram and Adam Bailey have consistently organised some top-notch free-to-attend evenings at a variety of Cardiff venues (predominantly 10 Feet Tall) showcasing some of the best animation the world over. It’s no surprise, then, that their involvement in this year’s edition of CIFF has yielded some superb events and guest speakers. Taking place at the curiously-located (despite lying a little outside of the city centre it remains a hub of activity) Chapter arts venue in Canton, atmosphere was in no short supply as enthusiastic patrons flocked to meet new likeminded souls and reconnect with old ones.
As with many such events, a primary focus are the competition screenings themselves, the first of which boasting a broad array of international artists spanning the UK, US, Canada, Switzerland, China, Israel and South Korea. Though few of these selections featured much by way of story, many of these presented some arresting approaches to artistry and design, such as the warm illustrative vibe of Ao Li’s Olilo, the Flushed Away-esque CG-evoking-stop-mo dystopian landscape of Sam Southward’s chucklesome After the End and the technical excellence of Evanescent by Alice Parkes. Similarly Dafna Englander and Raffi Yaniger’s song-based All Beautiful Things features some very strong instances of shot composition and well-executed visual concepts, while Guanyu Li’s Apple fires on the most cylinders at once as a film that takes its audience on a satisfying, semi-abstract journey through a mix of playful design and comedic vignettes; it’s a strong example of how a perceivably quaint film can make more of an impact than one that strives too hard to impress or provoke.
The first guest presentation took place on Friday evening with Joanna Quinn, one of the UK’s most beloved animation artists, giving an anecdotal retrospective of her work that proved such a draw the festival were compelled to move it to the larger of the cinema spaces to accommodate demand. The projects shown were a mix of commissioned films, personal work and commercial projects that shone a fascinating light on how the visibility of one high-profile project can ensure and inform the next commission, as well as shedding light on the curious relationship between branding and animation; the style disparity between the first and later Charmin commercials Joanna helmed, for example, speaks volumes. Though it proved a treat to get to see a rare airing of some of her animation portfolio’s less visible projects, it’s her series of Beryl-oriented films Girls Night Out, Body Beautiful and Dreams and Desires: Family Ties that remain the biggest overall crowdpleasers, in which her brash Welsh heroine takes on the world in varying states of empowerment, artistic drive and inebriation (it’s also worth noting that taking the last train out of Cardiff on a Friday night gives one a true appreciation for just how perfectly on-point the antics and ribaldry of a film such as Girls Night Out remains to this day). Audiences were also given the unique opportunity to see Joanna’s working process firsthand during a live Cintiq/TVPaint demonstration, as well as some insight into her upcoming new Beryl film and a chance to get up close and personal with a vast array of original artwork and cels from the projects discussed.
Also worth noting was the festival’s Animation Panorama, an assortment of recent work playing out of competition that made for an excellent compilation. The screening showcased a variety of previously championed work such as Tomek Ducki’s Baths, Steve Warne’s genuinely affecting tale of torment Pombo Loves You, Joe Brumm’s quirky parable of co-dependence The Meek [interview] and Sarina Nihei’s pleasingly-offbeat Small People With Hats, alongside several other strong films such as the texturally-rich Haircut by Virginia Mori, Sarah Saidan’s Beach Flags (boasting some striking colour palettes) and Cesar Cabral’s Giz, in which the drudgery of a man’s routine flings him into a state of existential befuddlement.
Taking home the Best Animation award for the event was Conor Whelan for the gorgeously-rendered and oft-praised film Snowfall [interview], while Simon Cartwright’s manic NFTS masterwork MANOMAN [interview] received Special Mention from the Animation Jury.
Keep your eyes on Skwigly this week for part two of our coverage in which we look at the second competition showcase and further guest presentations from Aardman’s Peter Lord and The Amazing World of Gumball creator Ben Bocquelet!