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Monday, November 19, 2007

Academy Screeners

I've just returned from a short trip to New York City to see Academy Award short animated film screenings. Ten of the 36 films shown will be screened again in January to determine the nominees for this year's short animation Oscar.
Greg Ford was kind enough to offer overnight accomodation in his studio's extra room. It's not the first time I have slept overnight in an animation studio, though this time I did not have to sleep under the desk.

I arrived on Friday afternoon in time to take in the terrific Ronald Searle exhibit at the Forbes Gallery (thanks, Amid Amidi, for the heads-up)--the show is there til March. The exhibit is in two hallways and also in rooms that once housed the Forbes' collection of 13 Faberge eggs., which have been returned to Russia. Turns out the millionaire who bought them bought EVERYTHING--all the Faberge tchotchkes, not just the eggs. I'm glad I saw them when I could.

The Searle exhibit has original drawings, ceramics, books, and even some movie footage, though no mention is made of DICK DEADEYE, the one feature film to be based on Searle's style.
Ronald Searle has influenced animators since his first book was published; Chuck Jones cartoons, Bill Peet's designs for 101 DALMATIANS, and most British animation would look very different without him.

Do not miss this show if you are in New York. The museum is open during business hours and is absolutely free.
It is amazing to see just how different the original Searle drawingss look from the often poorly printed early books. And the rest of the Forbes gallery is also delightful.

Now to the Academy screeners:

I thought this would be a good year for short films and was frankly disappointed. There were a number of loud, overproduced films with poor concepts or stories. For a wonder not all of the overproduced ones were CGI; there were some really weak stop motion film as well.

Some of the films had no excuse for being there. They were poorly made. Even a sophomore in college could do better (and yes, I can prove this.) I suppose they managed to get a two day screening in Los Angeles. One horror was so very bad I saw people nearly flying out of the room seconds after it started. Surprise. This thing is going to be 'adapted' into a feature. Why do people waste money on things like this when they could back competent artists who need money to complete films (Youri Nourstein comes to mind?)

I was shocked NOT to see many excellent films that obviously did not get the L.A. screening. Where was MY HAPPY END, the outstanding paper-cutout-and-hand drawn film from Hamburg? Or A DOG'S LIFE?

I've already started talking with someone about possibly hiring a theatre to show a Student Film Showcase in L.A. during the season. Good independent and student films could be shown there for the qualifying period--longer, if people were interested in seeing it--and the theatre rental expense split between several institutions. It would materially improve the quality of the submissions.

Now I might as well mention the good stuff. Yes, there were some good films there.

The most outstanding entry, IMHO, was JEU by Georges Schwizgebel. This was an amazing abstract piece scored impeccably and wittily to Prokofiev's music. It's so rare to see actual wit in an abstract film--Schwizgebel offers commentary on the music rather than just illustrating it literally or moving stuff around on the screen. The hand painted look was very interesting as well, though obviously used with computer graphics program. Four stars for this one.

THE CHESTNUT TREE looked even better compared to most of the 'professional' entries since it was subtle, well timed and acted, and simple. Four stars again.

Three stars:
MADAME TUTLI-PUTLI was lovely to look at and a little light on story.
HOW TO HOOK UP YOUR HOME THEATRE from Disney was a welcome return to the full animated, hand drawn days of short film production. It's not that it was something new--it was just nice to see something old there.
MY LOVE from Alexander Petrov had his usual incredible technique but was a little hard to follow if you haven't read the story it was based on.
I was delighted with I MET THE WALRUS, a witty, well timed and directed animated tribute to John Lennon (who provides the soundtrack.)
Bill Plympton's SHUTEYE HOTEL was 'arrestingly' designed, and well timed.
A real surprise was MEME LES PIGEONS VONT AU PARADIS, an hilarious French film about a priest who tries to scare an old man into repenting his sins with the aid of a 'heaven machine'. It's witty, well timed, and has an unusual story.

Two stars: Disappointments, although well made: THE PEARCE SISTERS from Aardman, which was unattractive to look at and had an obvious story, though it was extremely well directed and animated; PETER AND THE WOLF, an overproduced stop motion version of the Prokofiev piece that featured an excellent duck, but poor use of the music, weak story 'adaptation'--(what's with that beginning and ending, anyhow?) and overly-realistic character design; and PRINTED RAINBOW, which would have been great had it been shortened by approximately 50% of its running time.

Weak films outnumbered the good-to-fair ones by a factor of three. I won't write about the ones I would call 'pretentious crap'. There were a fair few of these.
We are only allowed to rate films from 5 to 10 if they have gotten this far in the screening process. I think some of the others must have given 1's or 0's to at least one of the screeners.

There was a notable 'thanatopsical' bent to many films. So many seemed to feature views of mortality and dissolution that Greg Ford confided during a break that "There's a real pattern here...I can hardly wait to die."

It's just the Zeitgeist, I replied.

Note to Academy: Please reinstate the system where we can raise our hands to have the film stopped. Ten hands used to mean that we didn't have to sit through interminable films. For some reason, we had to sit through them all. This is a bit much, even with the nice lunch provided.


Daniel said...

Hey, Nancy, you really do get around. What an exciting world you live in, a creative one.

Although I suppose, being artistic, you do get the depressing 'Hours' problem, the one mentioned by Virginia.

Take care and have fun!

Daniel said...

What a busy little button you've been, Nancy. And what a great job you have, involved as you are in the creative world of film and the arts, etc.

Of course, I can't comment on anything you've said except for the holding up of hands to stop rubbishy offerings. That seems to me to be sensible. Crap is crap whether you see little or all! Poor you.

Take care and stay safe!

Nancy said...

We used to be able to stop the films, and they wouldn't let us do it this time. We had to sit through them all.
Despite this, some people did run precipitously for the exits during one screening, and I ran out for the last one, which was painful to look at.

I was shocked to see that of my top picks the CHESTNUT TREE did not make it into the semifinals. Maybe the times are not right for a beautiful, well produced film about loss and love overcoming death? Who knows.