Film Review: The 17th Annual Animation Show of Shows

Animated shorts come out of the film festival circuit and into theatres.
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For the 17th straight year, Ron Diamond has compiled some of the world’s finest animation shorts and packaged them together as a showcase for studios, societies, schools and festivals–and this year, his Animation Show of Shows is also hitting the road for a series of theatrical presentations across the country. What’s in store for those who seek it out is a wide-ranging compendium of international animation, one that reveals both the different stylistic modes embraced by global filmmakers and the common links that bind so many non-live-action films. Also accompanied by brief documentary interludes that provide behind-the-scenes peeks at four of the shorts, it’s an engaging, if somewhat uneven, platform for celebrating the extensive array of animation being done outside the mainstream kids-movie arena.

Featuring shorts from Australia, France, Ireland, Iran, America, Russia and Switzerland, the Animation Show of Shows is highlighted by its final selection, acclaimed filmmaker Don Hertzfeldt’s World of Tomorrow. Winner of the Grand Jury Prize for Short Film at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and aptly hailed as one of this year’s best cinematic works, animated or otherwise, Hertzfeldt’s alternately wry, poetic, bizarre, melancholy and hopeful short concerns a young girl who’s visited by her future (cloned) self, who transports the girl ahead in time for a tour of the strange, sad world-to-come. Boasting line-drawing animation that’s been computerized in surreal, hypnotic ways, it’s a stirring and startling sci-fi vision of the fleeting nature of life, the inescapable pull of the past on the present, and the necessity of cherishing one’s every moment.

World of Tomorrow’s sense of despondent longing is also acutely felt in a number of the program’s other entries: Geoffrey Godet and Burcu Sankur’s Tant de Forêts, an ironic look at the destruction of our forests for newspapers that decry deforestation; Conor Whelan’s Snowfall, about a gay man who suffers rejection at a party from a straight man; and Konstantin Bronzit’s We Can’t Live Without the Cosmos, about a pair of cosmonaut friends separated by a mission. All of these resound with the pain of loss, and their various, equally unique animation techniques–from Tant de Forêts colorful, PowerPoint-style visuals, to Snowfall’s more fluid, dreamy images–allow them to cast different perspectives on a shared theme.

While the diversity of Animation Show of Shows’ offerings is refreshing, not each of its vignettes is wholly successful. Ascension, about a climbing couple hauling a religious statue to a mountain’s peak, lacks narrative and aesthetic verve, and Stripy, about an Iranian assembly-line worker rebelling against societal conformity through unconventional artistry, is a handsome looking 2D effort with a decidedly familiar message. Nonetheless, the breadth of creative expression on display throughout these 11 shorts is consistently exciting. And as with Melissa Johnson and Robertino Zambrano’s Love in the Time of March Madness, about Johnson’s real-life ordeal as a 6’ 4’’ former female basketball player trying to fit in and find love amidst her shorter peers, their formal dexterity and emotional incisiveness presage great things for animation’s future.

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