The 19th Annual Animation Show of Shows
Tue & Wed February 6 & 7, 7:30 PM
The Animation Show of Shows returns to theaters across North America presenting 16 exceptional and inspiring animated shorts from around the world. At a time of increasing social instability and global anxiety about a range of issues, the works in this year’s show have a special resonance, presenting compelling ideas about our place in society and how we fit into the world. These films include Niki Lindroth von Bahr’s Annecy Grand Prix-winning “The Burden,” a melancholy, funny and moving film that explores the tribulations, hopes and dreams of a group of night-shift employees, uniquely capturing the zeitgeist of our time. At the other end of the spectrum, David O’Reilly’s playful and profound “Everything,” based on the work of the late philosopher Alan Watts, explores the interconnectedness of the universe and the multiplicity of perspectives that underlie reality. Perhaps the most relevant film in the show is a 50-year-old short that was restored with grants from ASIFA-Hollywood and The National Film Preservation Foundation. “Hangman,” by Paul Julian and Les Goldman, and based on a poem by Maurice Ogden, explores themes of injustice and personal responsibility in its tale of a town whose residents, afraid to speak up, are methodically executed by the title character. Other program highlights include “Dear Basketball,” Disney veteran Glen Keane’s animation of a poem by Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant, written on the occasion of his imminent retirement; Academy Award-winning Pixar director Pete Docter’s 1990 CalArts student film “Next Door”; and “Casino,” the latest film from director Steven Woloshen, who, for some 30 years, has been creating award-winning experimental films by drawing directly on film stock. Founder and curator Ron Diamond says, “Because animation is such a natural medium for dealing with abstract ideas and existential concerns, the Animation Show of Shows has always included a number of thoughtful and engaging films. However, more than in previous years, I believe that this year’s program really offers contemporary animation that expresses deeply felt issues in our own country and around the world.”
The playlist for tonight's animation show:
- Can You Do It - Quentin Baillieux, France
- Tiny Big - Lia Bertels, Belgium
- Next Door - Pete Docter, U.S.
- The Alan Dimension - Jac Clinch, UK
- Beautiful Like Elsewhere - Elise Simard, Canada
- Hangman - Paul Julian and Les Goldman, U.S.
- The Battle of San Romano - Georges Schwizgebel, Switzerland
- Gokurosama - Clémentine Frère, Aurore Gal, Yukiko Meignien, Anna Mertz, Robin Migliorelli, Romain Salvini, France
- Dear Basketball - Glen Keane, U.S.
- Island - Max Mörtl and Robert Löbel, Germany
- Unsatisfying - Parallel Studio, France
- My Burden - Niki Lindroth von Bahr, Sweden
- Les Abeilles Domestiques (Domestic Bees) Alexanne Desrosiers, Canada
- Our Wonderful Nature: The Common Chameleon - Tomer Eshed, Germany
- Casino - Steven Woloshen, Canada
- Everything - David OReilly, U.S
An exceptional program that starts off strong and only gets better as it goes, the 19th Annual Animation Show of Shows overflows with charm while containing more provocative observations about the nature of existence than most prestige feature films do. Animators both obscure and famous show their wares here, in a program paced beautifully by Ron Diamond, who decided in 2015 to open his annual best-of DVD collections up to theatrical booking. Anyone who attends this third event will hope it stays public for years to come.
As usual in this and most other packages of animation, full-on abstract experimentation is hard to find. Viewers seeking that should look up the Center for Visual Music, which champions sound-meets-image abstraction (and sells DVDs) — but here, they'll enjoy Steven Woloshen's Casino, in which images are drawn directly onto film and set to some jaunty bebop by Oscar Peterson.
Elsewhere, experimentalism is put in the service of narrative, however loose and ambiguous the storytelling may be. In Elise Simard's Beautiful Like Elsewhere, for instance, expressionistic images accrue to depict dreamscapes or lonesome reveries. In Quentin Baillieux's figurative but ambiguous music video Can You Do It, a horse chase down an urban freeway speaks obliquely to race relations.
Some allegories are easily deciphered, as in Next Door, an early work by Inside Out director Pete Docter. Another entry drawn from the past, 1964's The Hangman, is a "first they came for the —'s" parable set in a de Chirico-like small town whose craven citizens blindfold themselves willingly to others' persecution, wrapped up like characters in a Magritte painting.
Other shorts offer pure pleasure. Max Mortl and Robert Lobel's Island looks like a picture-book you'd give to a very hip child; the faux-educational film Our Wonderful Nature: The Common Chameleon, would have that kid (and his adult guardians) guffawing in the aisles. Gokurosama, whose gentle physical comedy recalls Tati, takes place in a Japanese shopping mall where the physical world presents one obstacle after another — as it does in the crisply illustrated, tartly comic Unsatisfying.
Other small gems (like Lia Bertels' Tiny Big) are scattered around one or two films that might not deserve to be in this company. (Though technically polished and probably moving to Kobe Bryant's fans, Dear Basketball plays like self-hagiography in the guise of the star's fond farewell to the sport.)
The cosmic showstoppers fall toward the end. David O'Reilly's Everything looks like a computer game because it is: The film teases the experience of a critically acclaimed game of the same name, in which microbes and mammals and galaxies all share the same importance. As a movie, it functions a bit like a 21st-century version of Charles & Ray Eames' iconic Powers of Ten; adding audio from a 1973 Alan Watts lecture brings a heady philosophical quality to the action.
While Watts muses about "the illusion that it's utterly important that we survive," the highlight of Show of Shows turns existential malaise into something weirdly delightful (and 100% Scandinavian). In My Burden, Niki Lindroth von Bahr boils the aching loneliness of an entire planet down into the mundane complaints surrounding a single highway intersection. Here, cute stop-motion animals stand in for homely humans: Sardines wonder why they've chosen loneliness over companionship; monkeys cope with telemarketing careers; hairless mole rats mop the floors of a fast-food restaurants. And all do so while singing the oddly entrancing music of Hans Appelqvist. Whether you see it as a deadpan attempt to reconcile with angst or a laugh-out-loud suicide note, it is — like several films here — a reminder of the practically infinite possibilities represented by short-form animation.— John DeFore, Hollywood Reporter