Tuesday, June 17, 2014

TAAFI 2014 Part 1

The third edition of the Toronto Animated Arts Festival International has now finished.  As always, there was more than a single person could attend, so what follows is only a partial review of what occurred.

This year, the opening night film was a French feature, Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart, directed by Stéphane Berla and Mathias Malzieu.  Unfortunately, it could not live up to last year's opening night feature, The Day of the Crows.  While the film had interesting art direction, it was heavily influenced by Tim Burton, reminding me of Edward Scissorhands and the ending echoed Corpse Bride.  The script was extremely talky and the drama was not as developed as it should have been.  Still, I'm always grateful for the opportunity to see an animated feature that isn't available in North America.

Prior to the feature, two shorts were screened.  Gertie the Dinosaur, 100 Years Later, was not, as many of us suspected, a screening of McCay's original film.  It was a wholly original piece taking off on McCay's film and was well received by the audience.  This year's College Animation Challenge, It Happened in a Pub, included contributions from seven Ontario animation programs.  Max the Mutt's contribution was generally acknowledged to be the best.
Dan Povenmire (left) and Jeff "Swampy" Marsh

On Saturday morning, the creators of Phineas and Ferb, Dan Povenmire and Jeff "Swampy" Marsh, critiqued It Happened in a Pub and then gave their keynote speech, going over their careers and how they launched the show.

The next thing I attended was a screening of shorts for kids.   Lightning Larry by Daniel Solomon and Hyun Jun Song, had  being late for school turning into a disaster movie.  Runaway by Susan Huen Sin Yung and Esther Parobek was about an aging refrigerator convinced he was to be replaced by a newer appliance.  A Girl Named Elastika used pushpins and rubber bands to form its characters, a very novel approach to animating.  Warren Brown had three of his Big Block Singsong shorts screened, and while simple were great fun. The Fog of Courage, a cgi Courage the Cowardly Dog short by John Dilworth was incredibly creepy and sent at least one child out of the screening in tears.  The final film, The Dam Keeper by Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutusmi, was a beautifully art directed film bullying and social isolation.

"Courage the Cowardly Dog" (Excerpt) from Acme Filmworks on Vimeo.
A GIRL NAMED ELASTIKA from Guillaume Blanchet I Filmmaker on Vimeo.

I then went to a second screening entitled Straight Up Toons.  Monkey Rag, by Joanna Davidovich is an energetic homage to musical cartoons and was lots of fun.  Yellow Sticky Notes, directed by Jeff Chiba Stearns, was a jam animation about a day in the lives of all the animators.  Crime: The Animated Series, directed by Alix Lambert and Sam Chou, used documentary soundtracks and a range of design approaches to illustrate various perspectives on criminal activity.  Mr. Hublot, which won an Oscar for bets animated short, was an amusing story about a man and his robot dog.

I really looked forward to seeing Stephen Silver at the festival.  Besides admiring his art, I admire his fearlessness.  He is very entrepreneurial and has no hesitation to move forward on any idea he has for marketing his artwork and earning a living with it.  His talk was entitled "How Not to Get Screwed" and was about behaving in a professional manner and watching out for people who have no hesitation to take advantage of artists.
Stephen Silver

My final event for Saturday was Bill Plympton's latest feature Cheatin'.  I have very mixed feelings about Plympton.  On the one hand, he's certainly a good artist and I admire the way he's created a unique career for himself.  On the other hand, I find that his features are all lacking in the areas of story and structure.  Cheatin' is about a husband who is given a photo implying that his wife has cheated on him.  The problem is that the evidence showing that she is innocent is in the same photo, but the husband never looks closely enough to notice.  Furthermore, the husband never confronts his wife about her supposed infidelity.  The audience spends the entire film knowing that the wife is innocent and wondering how long it's going to take for the husband to figure it out.  The story could have been told in 20 minutes but made for a very dull feature.  I noted three people who left while the film was in progress.

Plympton doesn't need advice from me, but I wish that he would work with a writer.  He's complained that it's difficult to get distributors to take on his films because they don't conform to the family audience, but in this case, I think the film is its own worst enemy.  Everyone knows that sex sells, yet his film built entirely around illicit sex is far from compelling.  There's nothing wrong with Plympton's ideas, but they need more structure, less padding (there are endless shots of characters traveling) and better dramatic development.
Cheatin' Trailer from Bill Plympton on Vimeo.

To be continued.


Zartok-35 said...

I'd love to see Jeff and Dan's presentation. They're my heroes!

Joanna Davidovich said...

Thanks for the nice mention of "Monkey Rag"!