Animated Encounters, Film Festival Review, Bristol

A coming-together of budding and established filmmakers, industry professionals, and unabatedly inspired audience, Animated Encounters 2012, Bristol, has once again provided a welcome platform from which to fully appreciate the electrifying potential of animation. The 2012 shortlisted films push the innovation bar even further than 2011, in subject, model-making, and choice of animation style to name but a few: films such as Seven Minutes in the Warsaw Ghetto and Head Over Heels showcase the leaps and bounds of progress achieved in rendering highly nuanced expressivity to models’ eyes and facial movements; while The Fat Cat exemplifies a refreshing break from traditional animator materials.

Animated Encounters kicked off in style, with a screening of heretofore unseen colour animation from Soviet Russia. Painstakingly restored at Gosfilmofond, the films included Ptushko’s The Fox and the Wolf and The Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish. The restoration has brought to life the minutest details, from the bruising on a fruit on a banquet table to the moss on a tree stump; the films brimmed with expressive charm and uniquely Russian humour, the textures, colours, and motions so vivid they could have been made yesterday.

Perhaps even more so than the short films, the animation demonstrated dynamic use of camerawork to develop the subject-matter. In Easy Way Out, the cyclical movement of the camera accentuates the tedium of repetition, which in turn brings into sharp relief the eventual disintegration of the set into smouldering rubble; in 663114, the camera drags almost painfully upwards as it follows the ascent of the cicada in one long shot, reflecting the latter’s determination by making the audience aware of the arduousness of its task.

The 90-second challenge of DepicT! has once again given birth to some masterful work, proving that the imposition of strict time-limits enables powerful innovation and artistry. Mole Hill swept up the DepicT! Award for his socio-political satire The Fat Cat: a sardonic comment on the present state of the economy, the film utilises the ostensible innocence of wax over glass etching and rhyming couplets to lull the audience into a false sense of bedtime storytelling. The punchiness of the piece is revealed in the last shot, as the camera moves back to reveal the mountainous cat looming over a Victorian London-style cityscape, with the last line concluding: What the fat cat gets, is fatter.

Grotesquely inventive and unnervingly entertaining, winner of the UWE New European Talent Award, Joni Männistö’s Kuhina is an absurdist exploration of the boundaries between inner and outer, of the permeability of the body and its openness to decay by its physical surroundings. The choice of light palate and plain lines intensifies Kuhina’s hilariously terrifying premise: a toddler is being besieged by insects that eventually take over his body from the inside. In a postmodern twist, the toddler becomes insects: his cut-off finger is replaced by a pink caterpillar, his eyeballs turn into ladybirds and move about on his face.

Omer Ben David’s exquisitely poignant For the Remainder implements the elegance of abstract painting towards a tender depiction of a cat saying goodbye to its home in its last moments. Rendered exclusively through wide brushstrokes of paint, the animation demonstrates a wonderful fluidity (exemplified in the movement of the cat, the gentle rise and fall of its ribcage), complemented by the minimalist frames and deft combination of muted and vivid colours. The sound effects, economically used (a ticking clock, the cat’s quiet purr, the scratching of claws on upholstery), permeate the piece, imbuing it with unexpected mournfulness.

Udo Prinsen’s Audition takes inspiration from the work of Auschwitz prisoner Josef Szajna’s work Our Life Stories to tell the heart-rending tale of a boy auditioning for an orchestra in a death camp. Combining the melancholy sounds of jazz with the innocence and vividness of animation done in the style of a child’s crayon drawing, Audition achieves the no mean feat of negotiating a harrowing subject to tell a genuinely moving tale without ever veering into easy sentimentality or cliché.

A special mention is due to Don Hertzfeldt’s It’s Such a Beautiful Day, for masterfully combining a poetic yet unaffected existentialist script, dotted with moments of genuine pathos, with plain-line animation and breath-taking film footage; an animation short with the rare ability to leave you speechless.

Encounters is based in Bristol and ran 18 September until 23 September 2012, see the website for all the inside information.

Regina Papachlimitzou

1. Courtesy of Tale of the Fishermen and the Fish, MOSFILM.
2. Courtesy of Fat Cat Mole Hill