Review: The 17th Annual Animation Show of Shows (2015)

17th Annual Animation Show of Shows

If you’ve ever enjoyed yourself a Pixar movie or a Miyazaki film (and, be honest, who hasn’t?), you’re bound to find something you like in the 17th Annual Animation Show of Shows, a collection of this year’s “best” eleven animation shorts from around the globe, including winners at Cannes, Sundance, SXSW, and Berlinale. Curated by Ron Diamond, veteran animation producer, past Show of Shows have included 29 Academy Award nominees and 9 Oscar winners. In previous years, the Animation Show of Shows has been limited mostly to those in animation circles, but this year, for the first time, it will be released in theaters. It opens in San Francisco on October 9th at the Vogue Theater, but there are other screenings available if you live outside the Bay Area.

Though I’ve seen relatively few animation shorts in the past, I’ve always enjoyed the ones I’ve watched and been intrigued by the possibilities afforded by the medium. These eleven films showcase the breadth of moods, narratives, and styles of animated films. Though wildly different from one another, all are playful, contemplative, and delightful–some intensely so.

The chosen films are:

The Story of Percival Pilts, created by Janette Goodey & John Lewis, Australia – Set to a whimsical poem about a stilt-loving boy who grew into a man clinging to his impractical passion, this family-friendly animation evokes the world of children’s books with all their colorful, detailed illustrations and good-natured silliness. But adults, too, can appreciate the sense of loneliness and wonder that pervades the film.

Tant de Forets, created by Geoffrey Godet & Burcu Sankur, France – I loved the inventive visuals of this animation and couldn’t help smiling in childish pleasure during its opening minutes. But its paradoxical message vilifying the newspaper industry for deforestation while at the same time pointing out that news is what raises awareness about deforestation, while creative, is a bit outdated. [Begin digression] Not to geek out too much on the topic, but according to a 2011 report on tropical deforestation by the Union of Concerned Scientists, the economic drivers of deforestation are various. Wood products is certainly included in that list, but newsprint makes up a relatively small volume of global wood (and particularly tropical wood) consumption, and one would expect that figure to only decline as news moves to digital sources. I don’t want to minimize the environmental impact of newspapers, but everyone already knows that paper is made from trees. Why not highlight a less obvious connection (e.g. deforestation driven by cattle or soybean production)? That story may not be as nice and neat, of course, but that’s all the more challenge to rise to. [End digression]

Snowfall, directed by Conor Whelan, Ireland – A lovely personal (and partially autobiographical) film about rejection and introspection amid the snow in Amsterdam. Whelan’s employment of visual metaphor puts him in direct communication with our hearts; the film, like many in the showcase, is without words. “Snowfall” is one of four shorts that is paired with a documentary portrait of the filmmaker.

Ballad of Holland Island House, created by Lynn Tomlinson, USA – After much consideration, I’ve decided that “Ballad of Holland Island House” is my second favorite animation in the showcase. Set to a haunting ballad written by Tomlinson herself, the film tells the tale from the perspective of a house, from its construction to its gradual return to nature. Aside from the beautiful music, the short is noteworthy for its animation style, which looks like a constantly morphing clay painting.

Behind the Trees, created by Amanda Palmer and Avi Ofer, USA – In this Patreon-supported humorous ode to intimacy, Palmer and Ofer set to animation one of Palmer’s voice memos, which recounts a sweet and funny conversation Palmer had with her husband when he was half asleep.

We Can’t Live Without the Cosmos, created by Konstantin Bronzit, Russia – This was my absolute, hands down, no-need-to-think-about-it favorite animation of the Show of Shows. It is also, unsurprisingly, the winner of 40 festival awards. “We Can’t Live Without the Cosmos” features two Russian cosmonauts, best friends since childhood, in cosmonaut training camp. It is funny and heartwarming and also deeply, transcendently sad. A documentary portrait of Bronzit accompanies the film.

Messages dans l’Air, created by Isabel Favez, France/Switzerland – A sweet, entertaining story about a budding romance that gets playful with time, space, and matter, but not in a science-fiction-y way.

Stripy, written and directed by Babak Nekooei & Behnoud Nekooei, Iran – In this traditional cartoon, a factory worker in the assembly plant of a stripe-obsessed company decides to draw swirls instead. Set to Johannes Brahm’s Hungarian Dance No. 5, this animation mixes classical line drawings with a story of modern capitalism. Cute and catchy. Also paired with a documentary portrait of the Nekooeis.

Ascension, written and directed by Thomas Bourdis, Martin de Coudenhove, Caroline Domergue, Colin Laubry, Florian Vecchione, France – In the opening frames of this short, which take place in what look like the Himalayan peaks, I had a difficult time telling that what I was watching was not real footage shot with a video camera but a digitally rendered scene. “Ascension” employs the latest and greatest in animation technocraft (or at least looks as though it does) in telling the story of two climbers hoping to plant a Virgin Mary statue at the top of a mountain.

Love in the Time of March Madness, directed by Melissa Johnson and Robertino Zambrano, USA – This film is an autobiographical portrait of Johnson, whose height makes life difficult for her in ways that “normal-looking” people may not fathom. The messaged story is a little cliche and the animation is competent but not dazzling.

World of Tomorrow, directed by Don Hertzfeldt, USA – This SXSW and Sundance winner is a strange and meandering tale mixing stick figure drawings with other visual modes. A toddler is visited by her future self and taken on a tour of her own distant future. Though a bit random at times, “World of Tomorrow” endears viewers to its blithe young protagonist while slyly poking fun at our technology-obsessed society.