Reviewing animated shorts of the Ashland Independent Film Festival

It has been a week full of film watching for Ashland as the Tenth Annual Ashland Film Festival kicked off this last Thursday. There have been many great pictures to be seen, yet so little time – and for us students, so little money. That is why opting to see a selection of shorts is a great way to economize. The Animated Shorts at this year’s festival were all of various styles and genres providing a plethora of experience in animation.

To start off, we have a satirical animation educating people on the wonderful benefits of polluting. “Let’s Pollute” is full of laughs and is done in a cartoon style. It does mimic the educational films of the 50s and 60s which makes it all the more interesting. It sends a political message that is fun, yet instructive, too.

The next short, “The Birds Upstairs,” is beautifully put together. It includes 18th century scenery with a touch of surrealism. It is a well crafted story about a couple who are having trouble conceiving. The couple, by the way, is a pair of skeletal birds. At times it is comical to watch these two birds behave and dress as people would during this time period. In the end, the story is quite moving.

“Bring Yourself,” is stylized much in the way a music video would be (in fact, it is the video for Chicago band Oh My God’s song of the same title). While visually attractive, the video is difficult to follow in terms of story. It follows the life of a man who seems to literally have a dark cloud hanging over him. The animation is well done and pleasant to look at, but it seems to be speeding along too quickly. While the emphasis is put on the music of OMG, we are left wondering what the point of the story is.

Next, stepping into a dream world, “Wonder Hospital,” is fantastic and creepy at the same time. The experience of watching this short is just like experiencing a very strange dream. The story comments on the absurdity of plastic surgery when the main character finds himself in a surrealistic and disorienting hospital for a nose job. The animation is artfully put together and emphasizes the theme of the story.

One of the more inventive animations was the Indian short, “Tanko Bole Chhe (The Stitches Speak).” It is a documentary short about a group of embroiderers who use their work to tell the incredible stories of their lives -living through the 1965 Indo-Pakistani War and fleeing their native Pakistan, all while trying to live and raise their families – only touches on some of what these embroiderers have been through. The animation is done in a patch-work style where the embroidery comes to life while recorded voices play over the movement as the stories are being told. It is fascinating and moving.

A more local animation short from Portland, “Denmark,” is an interesting little story of a crustacean who wants to leave his polluted environment. But it is less of an animation and more of a live action story with the use of a set and our little crustacean as a puppet. That is perfectly fine because the project was put together beautifully and the story is well told. (Though created before the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the story is nonetheless very evocative of that event.) The short is named after the song “Denmark,” which was written by Gideon Freudmann and features music by the Portland Cello Project. Director Daniel Fickle and producer Courtney Eck were kind enough to do a Q&A after the show where they explained their use of a 50 gallon tank and other aspects of the making of this film.

In a hopeless drought-ridden world only one man has faith. “Dried Up,” delves into this very idea of faith as everything and everyone in the story has not an ounce of it left. But our old man does something unexpected that changes it all. The scenery is cohesive with the story and is quite dark. “Dried Up” is a stop-motion animation that seems especially short, yet it is fulfilling and inspiring.

And finally “Prayers for Peace,” is a very personal story of a young man reflecting on the death of his brother who died in Iraq. The animation is one of the most beautifully done with overlapping  drawings which seems to comment on the issues of the past and that which changes. The young man speaks of his brother and his relationship with him. The story also includes a voice recording of his brother right before his death.

The whole series of animations, with its diverse themes and styles, is a well chosen look into this year’s successful independent short animation projects.







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