***This article originally appeared in the 35th Anniversary Issue of Animation Magazine (June-July ’22, No. 321).
Each year, Annecy Festival attendees are treated to a wonderfully curated selection of animated shorts from visionary artists all over the world. Although it is impossible to spotlight all 38 projects screening under the Official Selection banner, here is a sampler for what is in store for the lucky audiences:
Directed by Elizabeth Hobbs (U.K.)
Three years ago, London-based artist Elizabeth Hobbs captured the attention of animation fans with her striking, BAFTA-nominated short I’m OK, and the Annecy-nominated Happiness Machine. Her new short The Debutante, which is based on a wild short story written by artist Leonora Carrington in the late 1930s, is about a young woman who persuades a hyena to replace her at a dinner dance held in her honor!
“What could possibly go wrong?” asks Hobbs. “I first read the story in 2016 and I’ve been thinking about it for a long time. We started production in earnest in 2020! I used hand-painted frames and paper collage captured under a rostrum camera with Dragonframe. We had a very small team. I animated, wrote and directed the film; I worked with producer Abigail Addison; composer Hutch Demouilpied; editor Mark Jenkins; actors Joanna David, Alexa Davies and Naomi Stafford; and Fonic on the sound design and mix.”
Hobbs says she was very pleased to have been trusted with Carrington’s extraordinary short story and to have had the budget to work with a great team. She adds, “I think the film is joyful and dramatic at the same time. The toughest part was finding the funding for the film, but working with Abigail Addison from Animate Projects was a joy, and we were lucky to receive funding support from the BFI through its Short Form Animation Fund, which is made possible thanks to National Lottery funding.”
The director says she has a long list of animated shorts that have impacted her. Among them, she singles out Fuji by Robert Breer, The Street by Caroline Leaf, Alison de Vere’s Two Faces, Tale of Tales by Yuri Norstein, Cannon Fodder by Vera Neubauer, Damon the Mower by George Dunning and Very Nice, Very Nice by Arthur Lipsett.
For now, she hopes audiences will enjoy her clever outing with the hyena. “I hope they’ll discover Leonora Carrington’s other stories and paintings,” she says. “I also hope that audiences will enjoy this wild story of a young woman’s urgent rebellion!”
Directed by Claude Luyet (Switzerland)
Swiss director Claude Luyet’s second collaboration with his long-time friend, comic-book artist Thomas Ott, tells the fascinating tale about a man who wins a million-dollar lottery ticket. Luyet, who worked with Ott on the 1994 short Robert Creep: A Dog’s Life, says his goal was to make a dark, ironic and powerful story. “I wanted to depict an unflattering portrait of a man who is rushing to destroy himself. You can call it a kind of elegy to languidness.”
Luyet began work on the project about four years ago. He notes, “It took us a year and a half to find the financing and two years to produce the short. We drew on paper, and used photo and paper collages, 2D animation, Photoshop and After Effects. Altogether, seven people worked on the short (including myself and Thomas), and our budget was about $170,000 Swiss Francs ($176,600).”
The director, whose other previous animated shorts include Ariadne’s Thread, Patchwork, Animatou and A Question of Optics, says he hopes audiences will get the subtle humor of Lucky Man’s dark vision. When we ask him to give us his favorite animated titles of all time, he responds, “This is the tricky question I dread the most, because there are so many animated shorts that are close to my heart! I am going to choose one to please you, a film made almost entirely by one person — and that’s Rowing Across the Atlantic, which is by Jean-François Laguionie!”
And what pleases him most about his latest short? “To have finished it!” he says. “You never know if you’re going to make it!”
Bird in the Peninsula
Directed by Atsushi Wada (Japan/France)
Acclaimed Japanese director Atsushi Wada’s new film Bird in the Peninsula follows a group of boys who are taking part in a traditional ceremony of initiation into adulthood — but, when one boy chases after a strange bird, a young girl follows him.
The director, whose previous acclaimed shorts include The Mechanism of Spring and The Great Rabbit, says he started thinking about this short about 10 years ago when he watched a documentary on TV. “It showed a scene of a traditional ritual practiced by children in a village in Japan in older times, and I was really impressed by the fact that the children didn’t seem to be enjoying the practice so much, so I started thinking about making a story about the ritual.”
Wada, who used Adobe Photoshop, After Effects and Premiere Pro to make his latest short, says two of his favorite scenes feature the main character stroking the feathers on a bird’s neck, and when he peels a tangerine for a dog. “What both of these have in common is that they are movements that I simply wanted to draw, regardless of whether or not they are deeply related to the story,” he admits.
“It is important for me to draw the movements that I feel comfortable with before I think about the story. These movements come first, and then I think of a story based on them. It is when I combine such movements to form a narrative that I find the most joy.” He adds, “Once I have an image of the work in my mind, all I have to do is to realize it, which is tough work for most of the process. I could say it’s even painful!”
When asked about his favorite animated shorts of all time, Wada mentions the works of Ukrainian master Igor Kovalyov (Milch, Flying Nansen, Before Love). “His works taught me how to give shape to an idea and the importance of editing,” he points out.
Wada also hopes audiences will surrender to the original charms of his latest short. “I took my time and put a lot of thought into making this film, so I hope you will surrender yourself to it and feel a lot of things from it,” says the 41-year-old artist. We have a feeling that his wish will certainly be fulfilled.
Directed by David Doutel and Vasco Sá (Portugal/Lithuania)
The directing duo of David Doutel and Vasco Sá, who dazzled festival-goers with their previous efforts The Shoemaker (2011), Soot (2014) and Augur (2018), return to the animation festival circuit with a new short about Portuguese forest fires. “Our film stems from the need for addressing and reflecting upon the serious and endemic problem of these forest fires,” Sá tells us. “It intends to instigate a reflection on the relationship between social inequalities, isolation and the subsequent vulnerability that derives from that condition and the phenomenon of the deliberate ignition of forest fires by an arsonist.”
The directors are pleased that the short, which was produced by the team at Porto-based BAP studio and Lithuania’s Art Shot, allowed them to raise awareness of their important subject. “What pleased us most was the discussions raised around the [idea]. What we achieved here was perhaps bigger than the film itself for us,” they note. “It was also a big pleasure to work with our Portuguese team from BAP, and our Lithuanian team from Art Shot.”
The duo also mentions that they missed a lot of the direct human contact they usually experience in production, because of the pandemic. “Despite the several inherent difficulties of doing a film from a distance, mostly related to the time and communication, we felt that, in a way, we lost a big part of the process and fun of doing a film,” they note. “We love to feel the atmosphere that is created by the team during the filmmaking process. it. It was harder to accomplish, but now that we have seen the results, we are very happy with the effort of everyone involved and with the film itself.”
When asked about the impact of the film on audiences, Sá hopes they’ll enjoy the experience and connect with the theme of the short. “We would like the audience to take something from the film, something that makes them think about it a little later. Even if it’s simply an image!”
Directed by Shiva Sadegh Asadi (Iran)
A woman finds herself imprisoned by a world of stains and spots in Iranian artist Shiva Sadegh Asadi’s new short, Lakkeh (Stain). “The main source of inspiration for this film was my print-makings and drawings, especially those monoprint pieces that I had created between 2012-2014,” she tells us via email. “This hand-printing technique helped me create a universe of random spots and stains that couldn’t be washed away or erased! So, I used that technique to tell the story of my film.”
Asadi says she had been searching for ways to feature her artwork in an animated project. “I had explored themes such as relationships, abuse, femininity, violence against women and self-sabotage in my paintings and drawings, and I had used techniques such as monoprinting and collage to express my thoughts,” she reflects. “Those experiences in visual arts helped me come up with the idea of this film, develop the story and choose the techniques.”
The gifted artist began working on Lakkeh in the summer of 2020. “There was neither a script nor a storyboard!” Asadi recalls. “I only had a very general idea for the story, which gradually developed during the production process. I made very simple sketches to decide on the film decoupage and then I made some films to be used as a source for those plans that required realistic movements. The main technique was drawing on paper (using monoprinting) and cut-outs. This was an indie, self-financed film which had a very limited budget — about 120 million rials [est. $2,885 dollars].”
One of the most challenging aspects of the project for Asadi was its final sequence. “I spent a lot of time drawing the frames on paper while having to destroy each frame by cutting!” she says. “I wasn’t sure what would be the result in the final animation and wondered if I could achieve my intended goals. However, I am pleased that the short film has some of the characteristics of my visual artwork in combination with cinematic expression. In addition, I looked for ways to make the filmmaking process as spontaneous and enjoyable as painting. It doesn’t mean that everything is left to chance, but all the pictorial elements are organized during the execution process!”
The director has been a fan of animation from a young age. “Back in the 1980s, we had a black-and-white TV,” she remembers. “There was a children’s show on TV that screened Japanese anime, some of Disney’s cartoons and also Zagreb school animated series such as Professor Balthazar. They would also showcase some animated shorts from around the world. I like many animated films, especially the short artistic ones that I discovered later, but I can never forget those that impressed me during childhood. Like many other people of my generation, I feel nostalgic for my childhood cartoons and I sometimes return to them!”
Asadi hopes that audiences will make a strong connection with her short as well. “Lakkeh is open to different interpretations,” she notes. “I hope the audience is able to connect with it emotionally and interpret it in their own way.”
Directed by Sean Buckelew (U.S.)
A bizarro op-ed piece in The Guardian about predator drones was the unlikely source of inspiration for Sean Buckelew’s thought-provoking new animated short. “This piece tried to prove the point that predator drones are ‘misunderstood’ and that they’re in desperate need of a rebrand!,” says the filmmaker. “I found this phrasing funny and intriguing. I’ve also always been interested in the pareidolia effect, and specifically how faces can instantly anthropomorphize things, especially in animation. This led to both the idea of a spray-painted smiley face on the front of a predator drone, and the idea of a drone with machine vision seeing the face of a civilian victim in the rubble of a destroyed building!”
Buckelew, who is also a programmer/curator at the GLAS Animation Festival and directed shorts such as I Am Not a Robot and Another, began work on Drone about four years ago. “I had some starts and stops as I tried to figure out the financing. I used Flash, After Effects and Blender to make the project. Around 27 people helped me along the way in big and small ways. I’m happy it actually got finished and that I got to work with so many amazing, talented people along the way. The toughest part was finding the money to make it!”
The talented director, who studied experimental animation at CalArts, mentions Consuming Spirits by Chris Sullivan, Please Say Something by David OReilly, Acid Rain by Tomek Popakul and Louise by Constance Bertoux as some of his favorite animated projects of recent years. He also hopes Drone will have an impact on viewers. “I hope everyone thinks about their own moral complicity in the seemingly inevitable adoption of increasingly sinister and convenient technology,” he notes.
“Just kidding,” he adds. “I hope people like it and aren’t bored!”
Directed by Balázs Turai (Hungary/Romania)
Life has been cruel to Clyde, the main character in Balázs Turai’s stand-out 15-minute short Amok, who loses his looks and fiancée in a freak accident. The filmmaker tells us that his short is mainly about Carl Jung’s ideas of the ‘shadow’.
“It focuses on the part of us that is perpetually hidden from us, and in certain circumstances, can turn us into monsters,” notes Turai, who mentions Mind Game, Golden Boy and Caterpillarplasty as some of his all-time favorite animated works.
The Budapest-based director, whose previous short The Fall of Rome impressed audiences about four years ago, says he started thinking about Amok in 2018. “The story and animatic took about two years and production a further one and a half,” he says. “We worked in Adobe Animate and After Effects. It was just me, a few animators, a script consultant, sound designer, composer and a post-production guy! We had a budget of about 30,000 euros (about $31,500).”
He says he is quite pleased about the colorful universe he created with Márk Juhász and the original musical narration by Benjamin Efrati. And the toughest part? “The writing and animatic process took ages until I found the narrative I was happy with,” he says. “I’d really like this film to be ‘anti-boring’ and to communicate something about the Dark Side!”
Letter to a Pig
Directed by Tal Kantor (Israel/France)
A Holocaust survivor reads a letter he wrote to the pig who saved his life in Tal Kantor’s evocative new short. “The film is based on my personal experience as a young schoolgirl,” says the director, whose previous work includes In Other Words and Under the Small Sun. “It’s based on a memorable encounter I had with a Holocaust survivor many years ago, and an unforgettable dream that followed which revealed deep questions about my identity and about the dark baggage I subconsciously carry. That dream stayed with me all those years and eventually became an urge to create this film.”
According to Kantor, the filmmaking journey for this short goes back to the Annecy MIFA Pitches about five years ago, when she pitched the concept and received a production grant and residency from Ciclic Animation in France. The project (produced by France’s Miyu and Israel’s The Hive Studio) took about four years to make. The animation was done using TVPaint, combined with traditional animation on paper. Including the development and pre-production teams, the actors, the animators and the production and post-production teams, over 35 people worked on the short. “Each one of them gave their heart and talent to make the complex production process,” she notes.
Kantor, who picks titles such as When the Day Breaks, Cat Soup, The Triplets of Belleville, Mind Game, The Boy and the World and Spirited Away as some of her all-time favorites, says she is quite pleased with the amazing team she discovered as she set out to make her short. She adds, “More than the uncompromising result that was finally created, I am pleased with the (complex yet beautiful) process of making the film, which has been one of the most significant journeys of my life so far.”
She also mentions that the most challenging parts of the process were the development and writing phases. “These are the foundations on which the entire film is based, and when dealing with such a big and heavy subject, much precision, sensitivity and research work were required, which took me quite a bit of time and mental resources,” Kantor explains.
The director says Letter to a Pig examines several questions that preoccupy her. such as the role that historical narratives play in shaping the identities of future generations. “How do we perceive the reality around us, and how do these stories influence and build our moral-ethical perspective on the world?” she explains. “I hope the film will lead to inner reflections on behalf of the viewer — each in their own way. Above everything else, I hope they take away with them the message of compassion.”