March 5, 2007

Cornell Cinema

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TV cartoon episodes; brand advertising; YouTube videos; E-cards — animation is a very versatile media, one which captivates the attention and captures the imagination with its pinwheel of colors, its cavalcade of light and sound. If cinema is truth twenty-four times per second, then animation is one big lie. It is all subterfuge; there aren’t (usually) even any real objects or people before your eyes, yet a well-crafted piece of animation can work wonders on the heart and imagination. And with panache and brevity, that is exactly what (most of) the animated gems of the Ottawa International Animation Festival — the best of which has been collected into one film — accomplish.

It is interesting to note that nearly all of the animated shorts aren’t appropriate for kids — whimsy and imagination do not die with youth. Dreams and Desires: Family Ties (UK) uses fast-sketch animation to capture the whirl and fury of a wedding, and it is about a woman who tries to capture a friend’s wedding on film but who just can’t concentrate or stay in the real world long enough to do so. Mr. Schwartz, Mr. Hazen & Mr. Horlocker (Germany) is one big multimedia joke about three very naughty tenants trying to hide their transgressions from the angry policeman pounding on their door. And guy101 (UK), the most impressionistic and subversive of the shorts, is a narrative of overlapping digital images about a cyberphile named Keith who is sexually assaulted after picking up a hitchhiker.

A few of the films are little more than feasts for the senses. The best of these, Tyger (Brazil), is a visually stunning metaphor of city-as-jungle about a giant wooden tiger (manipulated by shadow beings) that prowls through a city, transforming everyone into animals. Lightning Doodle Project (Japan) is visually inventive, but it would make a better commercial than short film. Jason Forrest: War Photographer (USA) imagines a Viking rock war, fought out with drumbeats and chords instead of spears and swords.

Many of these animated shorts carry powerful messages. Rabbit (UK) is animated like a children’s storybook, and it is about greedy kids who discover a little man inside of a rabbit they kill who turns dead animals into jewels. It is a brilliant modern-day fairy-tale and, like many of its European precursors, a tale of caution for naughty children, one which does not end so happily. The Runt (Germany) is surely the result of a tragic experience of the director, and it tackles the age-old problem of children getting too attached to the farm animals they must one day eat. The Carnival of the Animals (Czech Republic) is an orgiastic paean to the wonder, oddity and strange beauty of the human body and sex, replete with lots of whimsical and bizarre sexual imagery.

And of course, many carry no direct import, but are rather exercises in style and humor. The Possum (USA) is a wonderfully quirky piece with no dialogue and a classical music score about the war between a pilfering possum and an apple-harvesting human. Crossing the Stream (USA) is so faintly-sketched and formless that it makes it hard to follow and rather insipid, kind of like a Monet painting whose colors ran together. Finally, Who I Am and What I Want (UK) follows the life of a misanthrope and naturalist who is cast out of society and finds that he’s happy living isolated in a forest.

What’s clearly evident from these short animated films is that they are carefully crafted with the passion of their creators. I’m sure many long, painstaking hours went into the creation of these films, and I’m thankful for it. It is a refreshing experience to watch films — no matter how short or unconventional — which rely less on plot and more on impressions, less on thought and more on the evocation of emotions. Many of the shorts feature little to no dialogue, and you’d be hard-pressed to guess from which country each come. Perhaps animation, with its reliance on emotion and imagery, is the universal language, appealing closer to our primordial instincts than any other medium. And maybe that explains why it is so easy not to concentrate on thinking of what each film is about and instead just feel its power.