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Kharmic Backlash?

Sunday 11 April 2010

I suspect we jinxed our run at this year’s AIFF by talking about how good it’s been. We finally hit a stinker, and man was it a doozy. Let’s recap the day:

Locals Only 1: Lots of good work here by mostly young, mostly local filmmakers. This is the main educational event at AIFF, and is focused on young filmmakers (K through college; don’t discount the youngest ones–they do good work). The highlight was Alley Dog, an animated short by two SOU students about a mechanical dog (it would be right at home in Terminator) that chases after some flying electronic rats in a futuristic city. Really excellent animation. Sleeper hit was Amore Story, a sweet look at finding one’s true love, done with no dialogue. The other big hit in this group was the claymation short Have A Ball! These claymation guys are seriously nuts–the camera moves around the stage, the characters have multiple balls in the air that are constantly in motion and changing form, not to mention the ways the characters change form. Seriously fun.

Family Shorts: A bunch of excellent shorts here, all animated. How to Play Checkers, from the same crazy team that did Have A Ball! If doing two complicated claymation films for one festival isn’t a sign of madness, I’m not sure what is. The Falcon, a really complex stop-motion piece using parts from vintage cameras to show a number of characters in a fantastical play that reminded me a bit of certain scenes from Yellow Submarine. Don’t Let The Pigeon Drive The Bus is a cute piece about a (talking) pigeon that really, really wants to drive a bus. It almost lost me in the main part of the film as too cute for adults, but rescued itself at the end with a fine finish. Kites, the story of a young boy who has a last visit with his grandfather. Feels a lot like Up, which is not surprising given the Pixar credit. Manantial is the story of another grandparent/grandchild pair, this time trying to get water from a diverted stream. This one had decent animation, but felt like a childrens-only animated short, not a whole-family short. Otis v. Monster, on the other hand, another big claymation short, had a lot of Wile E. Coyote feel to it, although the Monster is no Roadrunner (more like Homer Simpson). But the winner of this block, hands-down-going away, was The Mouse That Soared. This is the really freaky tale of a mouse that has a carnival job as a flying mouse act, and the back story of how he got there. Incredibly funny, animation rich in visual asides, and excellent animation quality (looks a lot like Ratatouille in the visuals).

Animation Shorts: Another ton of great animation in this block. Repeats of Alley Dog, Horn Dog (from AIFF 2009), The Falcon, and How to Play Checkers. New to this block:

  • Bits and Pieces – a short from Jordan, which uses stop-motion to capture the creation of illustrative mosaics, narrated by various residents of Jordan.
  • Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty, a story about a young girl who gets an unexpected–and frightening–bedtime tale from her somewhat eccentric grandma. Crazy wacky fun.
  • The Incident at Tower 37: A sort of interesting story about an encounter between an industrial pumping facility and two characters who really, really want to turn off the taps. Eco-correct but just so-so storytelling.
  • Tales of Mere Existence: More insane mereness from Lev Yilmaz. His line art character (no relation to him, really) has yet more challenges with women, his mother, and existence in general. Highly recommended.
  • The Cow Who Wanted to be a Hamburger. This is not a rehash (mmm, hash…oh, later) of the famous bit from Restaurant at the End of the Universe, in which the concept of an animal that can make an affirmative statement that it wants to be eaten is presented. Rather, Bill Plympton here shows the story of a young cow who becomes enamored of the idea of being a hamburger as a way to fame. But when he is rejected by the meat packer, the way he gets into the factory makes for a typically Plymptoonish work. No, Plympton is not a vegetarian (and says so, affirmatively, in the film).
  • The Cat Piano. A really unusual animated piece based on a poem, which serves as the text of the narration of the piece. Cats are disappearing from the bars, stages, streets and alleys of town, but for what diabolic use? The reluctant hero gets involved when his amor-to-be become one of the missing. Really excellent work.

I’d say just about all of these animated works are good to outstanding, there’s not a real stinker in the lot. The Plymptoon, Granny O’Grimm, and Tales are stand-outs for laugh-out-loud funny, and Cat Piano is just a fine piece of work.

Obselidia: [SPOILERS] Tedious is one word that comes to mind for this. Another is preachy. It’s too bad–the film started strong; I even thought it might be a contender for my favorite of the festival. But then it fell into the abyss of its eco-message, delivered with the subtlety of a solar flare as seen from the hot side of Mercury. Guys, we know global climate change may be, is likely to be, a really big problem. But when the film dives into complete fatalism about it, and then suggests that the answer is to enjoy the time we have left while treading as lightly as possible, I give up. Either we’re all doomed, in which case the rational answer is to party hearty, or we’re not, in which case change is still useful. The reaction of the hermit-author to his son is also irrational–one would think that we would have wanted more Buddhist monks in the world, living lightly on the land, than fewer (what did he want him to become?) The ghost town as metaphor for a depopulated Earth was ill-formed and ill-managed; it comes off as possibly just a mechanism to get the principals back to the hermit. Oh, and massive foreshadowing throughout (bees/dead master; girlfriend/not girlfriend) that belongs in a sophomore film-school work (and one that gets at most a C+). We both almost walked out, and probably should have–we were both trying to figure out (without talking) if the other one wanted to leave. This is one where I really want the almost 2 hours and $10 back. A consolation is that this film will be obsolete one way or the other: either the world will end as it predicts, or it won’t; either way, no one will care in a few years.

The Last Train Home: Strong documentary about the largest human migration in history: the annual travel by millions of Chinese factory workers to their rural homes at Chinese New Year. It follows one family over a couple of years, showing not only the trek but really highlighting the upheaval that results, in the form of separation of parents (who go to the factory cities to work) and the children (who stay home). This isn’t like a quick ride on Southwest at Thanksgiving; it’s several days at train stations, plus days on standing-room-only trains, on trips that are well over 1,000 miles each way. Also a revealing look into how one of the last Stalinist countries takes care of its ill and elderly (ans.: not at all). Recommended for anyone who wants to know more about how modern industrial China works, as seen from the bottom of the factory food chain.

That’s it for day 4. On balance, it was probably positive; the enjoyment of the shorts, and even of The Last Train Home, made up for Obselidia, but it took many and mighty bulwarks to buttress against the gaping chasm left by that truly wretched work.

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