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Encounters 2015: Animation Highlights (Part 3)

// Featured, Reviews (Event)


Shortly before this year’s Encounters festival kicked off my wisdom teeth decided to start shifting like tectonic plates, jolting their toothy brethren into a state of despair that no amount of clove oil could assuage. As such I found myself in the perfect mindset to rewatch Tom Brown and Daniel Gray‘s Teeth, an animated reflection of a lifetime of self-torture in which a man sets out to create the perfect set of dentures, methodically extracting his own teeth over the years and researching those of the animal kingdom for more optimal replacements. We’ve spoken fondly of this film in the past and said fondness won’t abate any time soon; for all its brutality there’s a mastery to its use of sound, the passivity of its narration (taken on by Richard E. Grant) and the strange beauty of the animation itself.

The film played as part of the Late Lounge, an increasingly appealing and delightfully appalling annual staple of the festival that groups together the darker and more bizarre films selected, both live-action and animation alike. The former category was well represented by such gems as Milk, a parade of comedic horror that somehow manages to make Rik and Ade’s Bottom antics seem quaint and understated. Bridging the gap was Simon Cartwright’s MANOMAN , as pleasingly psychotic as ever, with the fully-animated offerings including Priit Tender‘s House of Unconsciousness, his follow-up to 2013’s The Maggot Feeder. While his preceding film was rooted in ancient Chukchi folklore, his latest instead takes its inspiration from the dreams of chimney sweeps – y’know, that old chestnut. In truth this is more a film in which he has allowed his creativity to run rampant and unbridled and, as with many an Eesti Joonisfilm production, the best advice is to go along for the ride and have fun with it. A couple of films come across more like tests for projects that could have some potential – Seafood Porn, for example, uses something of a poor-man’s PES approach, and when a film is structured around literally one joke, though chucklesome (in this case hurriedly animating foodstuffs to look like they’re humping), less is always more. The film closest to getting the balance right is Sawako Kabuki’s Master Blaster, a sweetly relatable and poetic declaration of love and yearning to remain together forever. This one is fortuitously online already for us to relive and appreciate its haunting sentiment:

Going back to earlier in the week, one of the first screenings of the fest was a grouping of last year’s Cartoon d’Or nominees (preceding the announcement of this year’s winner) that set an altogether different tone. In most cases the screening was an opportunity to revisit some old favourites, such as the metaphysical ennui of Špela Čadež’s Boles, the playful ribaldry of Amélie Harrault’s Kiki of Montparnasse and the earnest thoughtfulness of Eric Montchaud’s Anatole’s Little Saucepan. Rather inexplicably I had somehow not managed to catch 2014 Oscar-winner Mr. Hublot (Dir. Laurent Witz and Alexandre Espigares), and while it is certainly a fine and well-realised film, expectation and hype perhaps made it a little hard to appreciate subjectively. Whether or not it was truly the best of the 2014 Cartoon d’Or crop, Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar’s Christmas Log is an outright joyful affair in which the frantically animated toy residents of A Town Called Panic find themselves enmeshed in a predictably chaotic seasonal heist adventure. While the recent feature film outing had, at 75 minutes in length, a tendency to inevitably grate in places, this special also benefits from being restrained to under a half hour. Overall this grouping of shorts serves as an entertaining slice of recent animation, though the screening was hampered somewhat by instances of rushed video compression and even delayed sound on occasion.

Another special screening worth mentioning for its strength and consistency was Film Bilder‘s retrospective, bringing together some fantastic work from the studio spanning twenty years, compiled by Interfilm Berlin (fine folks with fine taste). Supplementing his newer work featured throughout the festival’s various shorts programmes were three classic films from the back catalogue of Andreas Hykade, beginning with 2000’s Ring of Fire, a tale of cowboys, danger and increasingly bizarre manifestations of sexual desire that, despite being fifteen years old, still holds up as fresh and contemporary animation amongst this year’s official selection. Also featured was Hykade’s The Runt (2006), a not-too-dark story of a farmyard rite of passage, and the almost obligatory audience crowdpleaser Love & Theft (2010), which remains great fun. Establishing an air of the surreal that never fully dissipates throughout the rest of the screening is Gil Alkabetz’s 1997 short Rubicon, a visual ‘solution’ to the classic wolf/sheep/cabbage river-crossing brain teaser that begins methodically, quickly blossoms into comedic absurdity and eventually unravels in a joyful celebration of pure chaos. Another film that takes a similarly no-holds-barred approach to the limitlessness of animation is Thomas Meyer-Hermann’s The Creation (1995); if you’ve ever wondered how daschunds reproduce, this film should be your first port of call. On that note, also worthy of mention is Daniel Nocke’s canine-breakup short Twelve Years (2010), the final moment of which hits an absolute home run with the crowd.

Accompanying the various screenings and retrospectives at this year’s Encounters Festival were a number of sellout events, including a fascinating talk by the talents of Nexus regarding their role in Google’s Spotlight Stories series. Joining such immersive stories as Windy Day, Buggy Night, Help and worlds apart from Glen Keane’s series launch Duet, In The Air is Christopher Gray director Felix Massie (with vibrant design work from Robin Davey) has taken the reins for the London studio’s contribution, Rain or Shine. With the release date not likely to be earlier than 2016, little can be revealed other than its central premise of a young girl who unwittingly brings rain wherever she goes, the viewer retaining an element of control over the speed at which the story is told, directly influencing how certain events of the film play out. We’ll be sure to bring you more developments on this one as we get them. Also contributing to the presentation were Liviu Berechet Antoni and Alexandra Stancu, creators of the Altergaze VR headset, who have recently been brought on board to develop the project further as part of Nexus’s interactive department. The crowdfunded goggles’ streamlined production approach (users can 3D print to their own tailored specifications) has a great deal of potential in their ability to adapt smartphones so as to be used as a stereoscopic, if not ‘fully’ immersive, viewing experience. Whether or not the potential will be realized depends tremendously on the quality and effectiveness of whatever content will be produced for it down the line, but in the ever-expanding world of VR it may certainly be worth keeping an eye on.

Perhaps the most effervescent event was Aardman’s Comedy Writing for Animation panel discussion, which aims to be the first of an annual series. Semi-moderated by Shaun The Sheep: The Movie co-writer/director Mark Burton, it proved a highly entertaining and enlightening look at the processes and considerations when approaching animated series and features for modern audiences. Also joining the discussion were meerkat manipulator Darren Walsh (known also for Angry Kid and Bob), Rob Sprackling and Johnny Smith (Gnomeo & Juliet). Though billed as a Terry Jones-led event, circumstances determined that co-directors Bill Jones and Ben Timlett (the duo who, along with Jeff Simpson, brought the multi-studio feature film A Liar’s Autobiography together in 2012) took the lead in the Q&A portion of Boom Bust Boom‘s screening. The film, penned (with Theo Kocken) and presented by Terry, serves as a successful breakdown of economic collapse, examining case studies throughout history leading up to present day and the eerie patterns that present themselves. Conveyed through a combination of archival footage, puppetry and animated sequences created by Made Visual, Arthur Cox and Moth Collective, the film provoked lively discussion from the economists in the audience, my own contribution to which would, alas, not have amounted to much more than “I liked the bit with the monkeys”, so I kept my monkey-loving mouth shut.

Stay tuned for a final smattering of Encounters 2015 highlights in the coming days. In the meantime have a read of part one and part two of our international animation picks as well as our recent podcast discussion:

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@lewisheriz
Lewis Heriz
@themooks @skwigly Yeah! That's when it becomes << actual magic >>
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@themooks
James Howard
@lewisheriz @skwigly That first time you see it move is such a buzz and then you add sound and it just enters a whole new stratosphere.
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@lewisheriz
Lewis Heriz
@themooks @skwigly I know it's kind of obvious, but I used to see it as 'important but secondary'. I don't see it as secondary any more.
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@themooks
James Howard
@lewisheriz @skwigly Sound does bring it to life.
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