Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Moments of Inspiration!

When I was in San Francisco at the start of this month I got to meet with USF professor David Silver. How nice! I wanted to plant the seed of our What's Good in America Today project in his head and see what he thought about it. We had a lovely lunch next to some sociologists in the faculty dining room, a secret spot I somehow didn't really notice during my three whole years there.

It was one of those certain conversations where there are too many things to talk about because everything is interesting. After having a similar kind of conversation with an uncle this past weekend, now it makes me appreciate how awesome and important those moments, and people are. You can go from unsure to totally fueled, positive and inspired in a mere moment!

Then the bus rolled up right as we were leaving, and both heading the same direction we ran and hopped on just in time. Silver had just a $5 bill but called out to fellow bus-riders for change. Someone in the back did, and a man next to me cheerfully said, "A community effort!"

And for a photo with this post, this sorry one which somehow is the only I took during my weekend in San Fran. Turns out it's kind of perfectly fitting though, since it shows muni and USF.

Sean Uyehara, San Francisco Film Society Programmer

I interviewed Sean Uyehara at the animation film festival. The perspective he offered was shockingly academic, and very interesting. Sean has been with the San Francisco Film Society for 5 years.

Lis: How did your interest in animation begin?
Sean: I’m interested in movies…and one thing about animation that I think is especially interesting is the way that it implies the relationship of the production world of film to an audience. One thing I’m interested in about movies in general is not only how they create meaning, but how they create authority. There are certain ideas we think about what goes into the making of a movie that communicates its meaning. So when we see a Hollywood blockbuster we have an imaginary history of the production, right? Like we think about studios and important directors and big, industrial processes... With animation there’s usually this idea of the hand of an artist and the trace of what was there, and this sort of subjectivity is being produced. And it occurs on all kinds of different levels. So that’s mainly what I’m interested in. When I look at different forms of movies I’m interested in how they bring this kind of cognitive framework and this interpretive competency that goes along with it that we develop in a shared way.

Lis: Why do you think that is so interesting to you?
Sean: (haha) Because when you think about that then you start to realize that the different forms of communication that we have come with different vehicles of meaning and authority and voracity and authenticity and all these things that relate to how we understand the world and each other. So what it means for me to be sitting here and speaking to you directly has a completely different context and authority than what it means for me to make a video and send it to you. So, there are certain ways that people have access to different kinds of meaning and stuff. What I’m interested in investigating on a basic level is how we develop our shared competencies for understanding each other…And there’s a lot of ideas that go into that: ideas about narrative form and structure, aesthetics, grammars and techniques, so there are a lot of different things that sort of come along with different modes of communication... Like it would be odd for me to tell you a story right now, unless I were telling u a story rhetorically, whereas it’s not odd for a lot of these films to be narrative. And so we have certain expectations when we enter into this kind of relationship. I think about viewing movies as that- as the production and development of a relationship.

Lis: What goes into the process of you deciding what to show?
Sean: The point of the animation festival to me, (and the point to me doesn’t mean it
S the point for everyone, people have different ways of accessing the festival) For me what I’m trying to do is I’m trying to present an array of all of the different ways that animation is produced and articulated. So hopefully what emerges, if you come and you look at a lot of different works, is you see the different fronts where animation styles and techniques are being produced and being disseminated and then you sort of get a sense for where we are currently in terms of mode of communication.

Lis: It seemed to me while watching some of these movies that animation has the power to capture emotion and feeling. Do you have any thoughts on that?
Sean: Well I think that it’s not unique in being able to capture emotion or feeling…but one thing that is often residual in animation is the idea that what’s being communicated to you is the idea of an artist- a specific artist: because what one tends to see in animation is sort of the direct subjective intervention of somebody. That’s not really the case always- it often can be but it’s just one of those things where I think that the way that emotion is communicated through animation appears to be very direct and subjective to a person. So its apt- not because of the form per say, there might be certain things about the form that allow it to do that... but what it is is what we think were seeing and what we expect to be understanding and comprehending is imbued or tinged with this idea of the process of drawing or the process of doing this frame by frame manipulation which is an artisan, artisanal process- there’s a craft that you feel like is on display.

Lis: And it’s not the same with live action?
Sean: I don’t think so. We understand live action to be more of an objective process in general- not that it’s correct, that socially in general we agree that a camera records things independently of the desire of the maker. You can set up a camera in a place but the camera is going to capture something independently of the hand of the artist. That’s different than the idea of drawing something, or working on something in a frame-by-frame mode. When you understand it to be produced differently you think it comes with different meanings.

Lis: Any thoughts on the current state of animation?
Sean: One thing that animation has gone through is this sort of intense relationship to computers. One thing that’s been happening for a few years now is that that relationship is falling back. It’s not becoming as important. So one of the things that’s happening with animation is that there was this idea that computers and software were becoming almost like what cameras are to live action - that there’s this objective idea of the computer producing something independently of the artist. But I think that that’s being sort of captured and taken back and people are doing more 2D animation or they’re using computers in ways that allow them to express themselves more directly.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Memorable Shorts: SF Int'l Animation Fest 2010

What follows are the short films from this weekend's San Francisco International Animation Festival that in my opinion were most fantastic and that I think in one way or another stick with me forever.

I Forgive You (Pierre Mousquet, Cauwe Jerome, Belgium 2009)
Played as part of the Best of Annecy Program. An animation style reminiscent of The Simpsons. Two wrestlers fight, plot turns unexpectedly and the result is hilarious. San Francisco crowd chuckled with glee.

Jean-Francois (Tom Haugomat, Bruno Mangyoku, France 2009)
So beautiful. Hand-drawn. Noteworthy for its unique well lit drawings, and music. You feel like you are watching a video of a book. A swimmer remembers his past... Played as Part of the Best of Annecy program. Unfortunately this trailer doesn't show you much besides a bit of the drawing style. Try to watch somewhere.

Jean-Francois (Teaser) from Cube Creative on Vimeo.

I am Simon (Tunde Molnar, Hungary 2009)
Absolutely amazing. A wise voice within a dog. So well done you feel what it's like to be this dog. Noteworthy for unique drawing style, 1st person scenes of dogs running that make you feel like you are the one running. This 30 second trailer gives you only a taste of the drawing style. Try to see this somewhere.


Wisdom Teeth (Don Hertzfeldt, USA 2010)
Humor in simple animation at its best. Wisdom Teeth was my own introduction to Don Hertzfeldt's work, but Hertzfeldt, a Fremont California native, is wide known for his humorous, simple hand drawn short films. He has twice been nominated for Academy Awards for Rejected and Everything Will be OK. According to Wikipedia, he hasn't ever worked any jobs besides on his own animation. This year the San Francisco International Film Festival awarded him the Persistence of Vision Award Lifetime Achievement Award, at age 33. Wow. While watching the delightful Widsom Teeth I asked myself, but why is this SO FUNNY?? Everyone in the theater was cracking up. It's only simple line drawings, how could it be so very humorous? Well, there all different kinds of humor, probably the humor in this is of the variety of the unexpected, suggested my friend Adam. It's true. The more preposterous turns the plot takes, the funnier. Check out Don Hertzfeldt's site, Bitter Films.

Topi (Arjun Rihan, USA/India 2009)
Takes place in 1947, at the division of Britain's Indian empire into two nations: Pakistan and India; a time when 10 million people were uprooted and one million were killed in communal violence at the borders.
A portrait of a young boy at a train station with is mom. This animation tells a very simple story, and makes me think about the idea that very large, complex ideas or periods of history can be translated or taught well via simple, well-done animation films. No, by learning this way we do not learn the details, facts, dates and numbers, but we do learn a little of the feeling of what it was like then. Animation has that capability. In my opinion the learned feeling will stay with you more than the facts and dates and numbers.
Very powerful. Watch in full below.

* As the credits rolled I noticed Original Music by Ludwig Goransson. I had the chance to meet Ludwig and film him at work as a Composer on the show Community for a project I was working on in Los Angeles. He is very talented.

The Gruffalo (Jakob Schuh, Max Lang, France 2009)
Shown as part of the Children's program. Pretty darn cute. Animals take us on a tour through the forest. Nothing super unique about this one, but it's a pleasure to watch and if I had kids I would definitely be excited about having them watch this. And Helena Bonham Carter Plays the voice of the mother squirrel. Trailer below.

Kool-Aid Man in Second Life
While I was not an immediate fan of this one because as at least at this point in my life as a rule I am not into doom and gloom future-themed- art (yes I think we should think of the future as full of butterflies and love and I did NOT like Blade Runner) this film has stuck with me. I enjoyed the unexpectedness of the whole arrangement, and it disturbed me to a point where I will remember it forever. Exactly what it sounds like, and then some. Watch in its tres bizarre entirety below.

A Conversation with Jon Rafman from badatsports on Vimeo.

Komaneko's Christmas "A Lost Present" (Tsuneo Goda, Japan 2009)

I LOVE handmade animation. You can just tell when something has so much time put into the craft. It's like homemade pie versus store-bought. Well, there's probably a better analogy for that. When watching this kind of animation, each extra attention paid to detail just makes you giggle with delight. This little Christmas animation is so cute you might cry while watching it, as my friend Katie admitted to. Tsuneo Goda is the animator, who is also quite famous for his Domo animation creation.
Watch in full below!

Komaneko Christmas from Kurt Hanson on Vimeo.

Phew. That's a lot of talent in one blog post.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Mai Mai Miracle at the San Francisco Int'l Animation Festival 2010

Since I'm a fan of Spirited Away, I was looking forward to seeing Mai Mai Miracle at the San Francisco International Animation Festival this morning. Mai Mai Miracle is directed by Sunao Katabuchi, who is a protege of Hayao Miyazaki's and worked as his assistant director on Kiki's Delivery Service. Miyazaki, who has received much critical acclaim for at least a dozen films and is considered the Walt Disney of Japan, is one of the few Anime directors who has managed to make films that have a worldwide appeal; and there are reflections of Miyazaki in Katabuchi's style.

I asked SFIAF Programmer Sean Uyehara why he included the film in this year's line-up, and about anime genre in general. One reason Uyehara, who has been a programmer with the San Francisco Film Society for 8 years now, loves Mai Mai Miracle is because he sees his 7-year-old going through the same themes that are explored in the movie. "I think it's a good film. And it represents something that's an important part of animation: Anime...One common theme in anime is exploration of that time of life between youth and adulthood. A lot of Miyazaki's films are about pre-adolescence. Which is interesting because a lot popular films usually focus on adolescence. Pre-adolescence is that moment when kids are figuring out their personality, how they fit in socially, feelings of empathy, how to deal with anger and disappointment...They are starting to understand how they affect others and others affect them."

I also asked Sean about the differences between Miyazaki and Katabuchi's work. He said that in Miyazaki's work "Usually the spiritual or dream world is as real as the actual world." In Mai Mai Miracle, there is more distinction between the two and "it's more about imagination than it is about mysticism," said Uyehara.

Mai Mai Miracle is a 90 minute delight for adults and children, presented beautifully.

This is also posted on fest21.com and filmfestivals.com

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Heart Breaking and Beautiful: Anita Killi's Angry Man

What is it about animation that can capture emotion and feeling so well? I suppose it's just the theme I have been talking about: subjectivity. Because so much attention to detail is paid by the creator to every single frame in animation, there's a lot of room for her/him to display the kind of feeling she means to, and the world we see on the screen ends up being the animator's brain poured out into an animation.

Whatever the case, Angry Man created by Anita Killi of Norway, shown at the San Francisco International Animation festival last night as part of the Best of Annecy program rendered me the most heartbroken I have ever been by a work of art, maybe ever. I kept thinking while watching it this had to be because so much thought was put into the the look and the sound of it...The scene has been created so well. Now I see after researching Anita's website that she has never used computers for any of her work. Every bit of Angry Man is hand-made. It's no surprise Angry Man of Troll film AS has won awards across the world, including Short Film Special Jury Award at Annecy 2010, Best animated short film at the Chicago International Children's Film Festival, the 2010 National Film Board of Canada Public Prize, and was nominated for an Amanda Award: an award given annually at the Norwegian International Film Festival to promote and improve Norwegian film, as well as made the King of Norway cry.

This film is about domestic abuse, but shouldn't be misrepresented as only that. This is an incredible moving work of art. "It is of comfort to be able to combine artistic film with important issues. The issues shouldn't just be sad or heavy. But if the audience are moved it can open up for a good conversations or the feeling of having learned or experienced something important," says Killi on her website on the subject.

Angry Man starts with a little bird who says, "To everyone who has a secret..." What follows is a portrayal of an "Angry Man" inside the father of a young boy who thinks it's his fault that his father is so angry. Eventually we hear the birds whisper, "Pass it on." Thus the tagline of the film: Some secrets shouldn't be kept secret. Killi says on her website: "Through the years I've been more and more aware that my projects should have a proper message so it would feel right to spend years to create some tiny minutes of film," and "I primarily want to work with film for children that also should inspire the adults. Children are vulnerable and ear easily affected and that's why filmmakers should have a great responsibility as conveyors, messengers and educators. Quality film for children are sadly often of lesser priority than artistic films for adults which is of abundance."

Thanks Anita. Can't wait to see what's next.
Check out the Anita's film company, Troll Film AS, here

Friday, November 12, 2010

Here Come the Waves: The Hazards of Love Visualized at the SFIAF 2010

Here Come the Waves: The Hazards of Love Visualized, a 4 part visual representation of the Decemberists' 2009 album The Hazards of Love was meant to only be a one-time show- a backdrop for a performance of the album start-to-finish in LA. Everyone liked the result so much the film is now being shown in festivals all over. Last night it opened the San Francisco International Animation Film Festival, which runs until Sunday. Andrezza Valentin and Guilherme Marconde, husband and wife team who worked on the third of 4 segments, were in attendance to introduce and close the film. This was the first time they had seen it without the band playing in front of the screen.

I thought about how different it would have been to see this playing behind a band rather than sitting in front of the screen without any distractions. As it started I was thinking about how this setting for viewing gives more power to the musician AND the animator, because the viewer has less senses to get lost in. The music and the animation complimenting each other force you to succumb to what's happening in front of you. The animators take the wheel, you relax and let them take you on journey through all dimensions. Guilherme confirmed my thoughts during the Q&A at the end of the hour. He said though it was a little more nerve-wracking since there was more attention on his work, he enjoyed watching it without the band playing in front of it. Seeing it at a concert means it's a party atmosphere, with lots of energy and a less immersive experience.

Since each frame is paid so much attention to in animation, it's insanely subjective and the end product means it is arguably much more of a direct reflection of the artist than other mediums. One of the many delights of this hour long wonder is that 4 different directors worked on 4 different parts, which means you experience 4 different styles of animation back to back. And when the Decemberists talked to the animators about the film they asked them not to animate based on the lyrics and the characters in the songs but rather on the the feelings they had while listening to it. During the Q&A Guilherme and Andrezza spoke to their creative process. "Sometimes we will listen to the music and ask each other, "What visual does this sound make you think of?"

During the show I started pondering why I was feeling so much nostalgia. Perhaps because most children watch a lot of animation. But there's something else: Oftentimes animated movies or videos create worlds made up of simple shapes and colors that looks visually like a child would think: simply. I talked to Guilherme about this idea after the show. "Animation like this is so abstract that everyone can draw their own meaning from it," he said. That idea makes me think that animation has the potential to be a spirituality. Simple shapes and music allow you to draw meaning where you like, and you can leave feeling immensely full.

The switching back and forth between CGI, stop-motion and hand-drawings makes you notice the differences between each medium. I guess I am a traditionalist-- when the hand-drawn stuff comes on constellations in the sky make shapes of animals that are then dancing with each other, and it feels like childhood and your ideal romance. Stars play a big role in all four sequences because a theme of the entire thing is the seasons. I thought about the ideas that go with stars: the delight, the twinkle, the mystery, the wonder, the sparkle, the HOPE. Stars signify hope and things that are bigger than ourselves. Shooting stars are obvious signs of hope. That's how this animation spectacular feels too.

All of this delight and guess what? These animators do this work as a SIDE JOB. Such brilliance it kind of boggles your mind that they can't even make a living doing it. Most of them do marketing work to make money. I asked Guilherme about this idea. "When you get paid for it you have to do what they want," he said. "If you do what you want, you don't get paid for it. That's just how it tends to work," he said with a chuckle. As a result he enjoys watching this work, because he did it from a place of passion.
This post is also posted on filmfestivals.com