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October 29 2018
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Staff

Animated Short Films Highlights - NOFF 2018

Miniflix staff chooses their favorite animated short films from this year's festival.

 

 

As the 2018 New Orleans Film Festival comes to a close…the Miniflix staff looks back at all the great short films screened over the last 9 days.

Animated shorts are often the most exciting and dynamic to watch at a festival. In this category, one is truly only limited by their imagination. There was stop motion, 3-d animation, 2-d animation (and even scissor cut-out animation). While there so many incredible animated shorts in New Orleans, we had to pick just a small selection of our favorites below.

 

Obon — directed by Andre Hormann, Samo (Anna Bergmann)

Not only one of the most powerful animated shorts in the festivals but one of the most powerful shorts period, Obon recounts the tragic coming of age story of Akiko Takakura. Now one of the last survivors of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Takakura narrates what it was like to actually be there when the bomb dropped. Though certainly not an easy watch, the animation tastefully offers a realistic companion to the atrocities committed against Japan.

To better ground this hard-to-swallow autobiography in human elements, the directors wisely centers the film around Akiko’s relationship to her parents, her father in particular. Obon is both a nightmarish vision of something that really happened and a classic tale of warring generations. Though, amidst so much violence and carnage, the touching finale reveals a moment of grace and forgiveness so powerful, you won’t be able to finish with a dry eye. The superb animation combined with an incredible sense of pacing and story make Obon one of the best short films in recent memory.

 

Marfa — directed by The Brothers McLeod

Marfa, as the short film comes to tell us, is a small city in West Texas. Though don’t let that fool you…there’s plenty going on here. This short is an excellently playful counter-balance to the gravitas of the previous. The Brothers choose an inventive framing device (someone scanning through various local radio channels) to jump between local legends, hilarious anecdotes about the town and other unexpected left turns.

The animation style was created by ink and watercolor paintings put into motion, creating a newsreel or Peanuts style cartoon effect. It’s a stylistic touch that truly matches its subject matter, and the heart at the center of its town. Though there’s no narrative per se, several motifs return (many to comedic effect). The Brothers McLeod actually save the best for last, choosing their credit sequence to take place in real-life Marfa. It’s another hilarious small-town moment (we won’t spoil it here), but it acts as a great final comedic turn in the way a Chaplin or Keaton would have gone.

 

The Likes And Dislikes Of Marj Bagley — directed by Taylor Stanton

Another moving portrait of a life, Marj Bagley is actually a stop-motion documentary, a genre mash-up one doesn’t often find. Coming from two distinct perspectives within the family, the film jumps around the timeline of Marj Bagley and effectively gives the life justice (and a full narrative arc) in this form. What’s most amazing and exhilarating about this film is its sense of place. Despite everything being a stop-motion creation, one truly feels like they are in a real, lived-in world of Josh Groban Christmas albums and switchboards (these details make more sense when you see it).

Another great aspect of Marj Bagley comes in its balance between comedy and tragedy. This short film manages to be a domestic drama, a coming-of-age story, a biopic and a family comedy all in one. Yet, no one element of these genres ever attempt to over-step another. If someone likes more experimental, less conventional storytelling in their animated shorts, this one may not be for them. But otherwise, we consider this the sharpest story structure at the festival.

 

Negative Space — directed by Ru Kuwahata, Max Porter

We talked about Negative Space in our film fest preview. Yes, it’s already had a long, successful run in festivals…and a nomination at last year’s Oscar, but we can’t not talk about a stop motion short that does so much with so little. Based on a poem reading, Negative Space tells the story of a father and son bonding over, not fishing, baseball or cars, but packing up suitcases.

And like all great films, short or long, the unique angle the film introduces takes on a poignant life of its own. The poem, beautifully narrated by Albert Birney, gives a powerful ending that’s equal parts tragic and sardonic. As for the animation team (four set designers, three animators and three visual effects artists), this short is a true triumph, truly giving viewers a sense of depth, perspective and detail not usually found in stop motion. Though Negative Space captures a very realistic (even bleakly so) world, there’s a certain inevitable magic that comes with its occasional detours into the mind and perspective of the protagonist as a boy. This short manages to make packing feel like a trip into Narnia.

If you’d like to see another stop motion films by this same directing pair, check it out here.

 

Serpentine — directed by Bronwyn Maloney

Experimental animated fans rejoice! This one is truly for you. The rare animated film that’s as much a feast for the eyes as it is for the ears, this winner of best Animated Short at the New Orleans Film Festival travels through space and time to capture and reflect upon sense impressions and the nature of shape and movement. Maloney is an NYC based artist whose past animated shorts typically inject animated sequences into real-life settings. Serpentine, one of her first fully-animated works, manages to touch on issues of violence, burgeoning sexuality, human-ness as Other-ness and more without ever providing a traditional or coherent narrative.

What jumps out most to us in this film is its real command of the frame. While the drawings and animations are superbly considered, Maloney truly understands she is working in a cinematic medium, and so uses the frame for maximum impact. This also explains her very non-traditional soundtrack, full of hums, groans, and other intimate human noises that provide their own eerie beat and cadence. You won’t feel this many different emotions at once from any other short this year.

 

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