Sunday, April 10, 2016

Animated Thoughts: Festival Season part two: DIFA 2016

One day after the CCFF, I made the run down to Detroit for the Detroit International Festival of Animation. Hosted by the Tangent Gallery and Hastings Street Ballroom, this was the DIFA's first year. However, as their first screening on Saturday was at 5 p.m., I couldn't miss the opportunity to spend the afternoon at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

  "Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.  
Live the life you have imagined."  
~ Henry David Thoreau

After a quick lunch at the DIA's café, I discovered a nice series of prints by Richard Diebenkorn--Folsom Street Variation III reminded me of some of Mondrian's works.

Folsom Street Variation III
And I took a little time to continue my study of a Japanese wall scroll, this time focusing on the owl.

'Owl and Red Leaves' by Watanabe Shiko
The owl in this painting reminds me of the owl in Russian animator Yuriy Norshteyn's 'Hedgehog in the Fog'. If you'd like to see the full painting, it's available online at the DIA's website. And if you haven't used the DIA's online 'search the collection' page, you're missing out! Granted, it's not like being there, inches away from the painting, but the image magnification function is the next best thing if you want to study brush technique.

The rest of my visit was spent either drifting somewhat aimlessly from room to room, lost in my thoughts, or sitting in a few choice locations and writing down said thoughts. Never underestimate the power of a relatively quiet and serene location to cut through the static in your head and allow you to focus. Thoreau's escapes to nature make a lot of sense, especially now in the digital age where you're constantly bombarded by electronic noise and can be reached at any time and any place via your smartphone. I'm not a luddite, don't get me wrong, but there's a lot to be said about Thoreau's desire to strike a balance between the urban civilization and nature. By spending a few hours walking around a peaceful locale, appreciating whatever art caught my eye, then sitting down in a quiet room, the static in my head abated long enough for me to write down some ideas about what would make ASIFA Central a more valuable organization to it's membership--and hopefully more attractive to non-members.

But, time started to run out, so I left my serenity and made my way to the Tangent Gallery. Fortunately for me, it was only a four minute drive from the DIA.

The locale was split into three locations. The first had the bar and a comic art show on display. The second had local artists showing and selling their work. And the third was the viewing room. While there, I purchased a pair of prints that caught my eye from two young ladies.

"Space Invader" reminded me of the paintings that Joe Chen used to hang in the Chrysalids Theater back when he was running the Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema. They had that perfect mixture of B-Movie and Pulp Sci-Fi sensibilities, which I think Crystal has captured in her print.

"Drink Me, Eat Me - Alice in Wonderland" by Crystal Mielcarek (left)
"Space Invader" by Emily Zelasko (right)
"Drink Me, Eat Me - Alice in Wonderland" has that delightful combination of creepy and cute (kimoi and kawaii?) that appeals to my sensibilities more and more nowadays (as she lists this artistic influence on her website, she probably saw someone like me coming a mile away). Crystal also did the logo art for the DIFA's advertisements.

If you'd like to see more of their work or purchase some of their prints yourself, they're located at: and, respectively.

Well, on to the films...

Like the CCFF, the festival screening itself was a mixture of student films and professional films. However, unlike the CCFF, there were far fewer experimental or abstract films and they went much heavier on the narrative films--a fact that I enjoyed immensely! The following films were my picks for the evening:

Le Pain de l’Amour by Christine Barron
This film was just pure fun with all the bread puns and zany situations. You can watch it in its entirety below on Vimeo.

Le Pain de l'Amour from Christine Barron on Vimeo.

The Orchestra by Mikey Hill
Wow, what a beautiful little film--well, little is a bit of a misnomer. The film clocks in at fifteen minutes, but you'll get the joke when you watch the trailer below. Entertaining and thought provoking, I really hope this film gets seen by a much a wider audience in the festival circuit here in the States. You can read more about this film and see their 2016 festival listing at their website:

Que Asco by Robert Curtis Randolph and Robert Charlie Daugherty
Another fun animation that was probably geared more for little boys, but it was still very enjoyable to a more mature audience (judging by how much we all laughed). You can see clips from Que Asco in the demo reel below.

character animation reel 2015 from Bob & Bob on Vimeo.

Intermission--now with enough time to reload on popcorn
and grab another beer.

Dispatch by Min Hwa Jung and John Seppala
Clearly influenced by anime, this ambitious student film had to have given the faculty advisors ulcers as they wondered if their students could pull it off in time. I can easily see these students Kickstarting a film and making a much larger production than this three-minute short. There is some serious talent in both animation and filmmaking here. I will be very interested to see what they produce in the future.


Silence of the Siren by Liz McQuaid Martin
This was another ambitious student film that can easily hold its own against professionally funded and animated short films. This film had a really nice vibe to it--very Edgar Allen Poe or H.P. Lovecraft. Liz is another student to keep an eye on. You can view her entire film below.

Silence of the Siren from Liz Martin on Vimeo.

Chinese Princess by Tomas Bases
This film was unique. The story itself didn't hold my attention as much as how much emotion Tomas was able to evoke out of his 'blocks'. Just a fun little film. The trailer is below, but the full film is worth watching if you can catch it in a festival.

Princesa China trailer from Tomás Bases on Vimeo.

Last but not least: The Misadventures of Chubzilla by Dominik Koscinski and Elizabeth Lee.
If you ever wondered what Godzilla and King Ghidorah were thinking while duking it out over Tokyo, wonder no longer! This was my favorite film of the festival and the organizers made the right choice in closing the screening with it. You can watch the entire film below.

So, the big question: this being the first time I've attended either festival, would I go back next year? I'd have to say 'yes'.

While I'd like to see the Capital City Film Festival expand the animation offerings beyond lobbing it in with the experimental films, the fact that they were presented in a screening block instead of scattered amongst live-action films made them far more accessible to those of us who like to focus on animation and don't have the time or the interest in sitting through a bunch of live action shorts just to see that one token animated film. It was a very solid decision by the CCFF.

I was honestly willing to give the Detroit International Festival of Animation a lot more leeway, given that this was their first year. However, the selection of films was very good and I liked how they had local artists that you could interact with beforehand. The inclusion of a ten-minute intermission was... an interesting choice. Though I suspect it was more for drumming up a little extra in the way of beverage sales for the venue, but, hey, if it keeps the venue happy, it's a small sacrifice to make.

In both cases, the venues were a little on the hit-or-miss side for me (I like heated theaters with stadium seating so I don't freeze or have to crane my neck when tall people sit in front of me), but I wouldn't hold that against the festivals themselves. As theater venues are expensive, the CCFF and DIFA's choice of venues is understandable--and they did evoke some nice memories of watching the TAIS screenings at the Cinecycle over on Spadina Avenue in Toronto.

To summarize: if you missed these two animation screenings this weekend, take some time and visit them next year. I don't think you'll be disappointed. I certainly wasn't!

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Animated Thoughts: Festival Season part one: CCFF 2016

I have no idea what the CCFF wants me to 'believe' but okay...

The festival season started early this year. The first week of April saw the sixth annual Capital City Film Festival (CCFF) here in my home town of Lansing. I'll be honest, I didn't know about their single, solitary animation screening... I take that back: "Animated and Experimental Shorts Block". The CCFF isn't normally on my radar because, if I recall correctly, they haven't shown much in the way of animation in the past (though admittedly, I could be confusing them with the East Lansing Film Festival).

This year, I hadn't given the CCFF much thought when animator and director Fernando Silva De la Cruz posted in the ASIFA Central Facebook group that his film "Anima Radix" was being shown at the CCFF. So, since the weather was good (at least when I went "into" the theater), the admission for the block of films was only $5, and the venue was only ten minutes from my house, I drove out to see what the Festival had to offer.

It was a good evening. On the one hand the weather turned colder and brought snow. And the venue was cold and kept getting colder by the minute--prompting some people to leave before the screening was over (like the annoying elderly couple who started talking as soon as the first film started playing). But on the other, the screening was a mixture of both student and professionally produced films and the production quality of the majority of the films was pretty high.

One of the most pleasant surprises during the screening was when I saw the familiar "R.I.T. School of Film and Animation" logo pop up on the screen to announce recent R.I.T. Alum Naghmeh Farzaneh's MFA graduation film: "Scent of Geranium". Visually reminiscent of Marjane Satrapi's animated film "Persepolis", "Scent" was an interesting film discussing the cultural transition Naghmeh faced as an immigrant from Iran, newly landed in the United States. "Scent" is currently working its way through the festival circuit, but you can see clips of it below in her demo reel.

Reel 2014 from Naghmeh Farzaneh on Vimeo.

"Anima Radix" turned out to be a very well produced sand animation with a moody soundtrack and lots of transitions and metamorphoses. I could talk more about it, or you could just watch Fernando's entire film on YouTube. But afterward, swing on over to his Vimeo, Fernando has two 'Making of...' videos that are worth your time, especially if you'd like to see how a sand animation film is produced. There's no dialogue, but the visuals are self-explanatory and provide a lot of information in a very short period of time.

Another film that caught my eye was "Pop", by Henry Bullen. This 2d animation reminded me of 'Aeon Flux'. I have no idea what it was about, but I liked it nonetheless. He's got two more teasers on his Vimeo that give a good sense of the film's aesthetic.

POP teaser 1 from Henry Bullen on Vimeo.

All-in-all, the CCFF's screening was worth attending. I'd personally prefer it they didn't lob the experimental films in with the animated films and just make it a fully-fledged "animation" block, but it's better than the Ann Arbor Film Festival or the East Lansing Film Festival where the few narrative animated films are mixed in with the live-action program. If the entire fest isn't dedicated to animation, then I'd rather have a single screening dedicated to animation. Some of us just can't justify taking time off of work and life--and sitting through over an hours-worth of live action shorts that don't really interest us--just to see a single animated short. Gotta have priorities.

Next Spring, I think I'll keep an eye out for the Capital City Film Festival. If they do another animation block, it might just become a regular visit for me.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Animated Events: DFT Animation Club: Nocturna

From the Detroit Institute of Arts/Detroit Film Theater website:

DFT Animation Club: Nocturna
Saturday, April 30, 2016
4:00 p.m.
(Spain/France/2007—Victor Moldanado)

Visually stunning and wildly inventive, Nocturna explores the mystery of the night in a sweeping adventure full of Alice in Wonderland-like characters and dream-inspired landscapes. Have you ever wondered why your hair looks funny in the morning or where the sounds outside your window come from at night? A young boy named Tim finds out after an unusual discovery plunges him into the secret world of Nocturna, inhabited by a vast herd of guardian cats led by a gigantic Cat Shepherd.

See more and buy tickets online at the DFT website.