Rounding up the animation festivals

New outlets like mobiles and YouTube have boosted exposure for AV film-makers, but, as recent releases show, the ideas and talent are equally innovative, says Yolanda Zappaterra


FANS OF SHORT FILMS are in for a treat this week with the AV Festival 08, opening on 28 February. The third festival brings together electronic arts in a wide-ranging programme across the three urban centres of the North East – Newcastle, Middlesbrough and Sunderland. The festival closely follows the recent publication of One Dot Zero’s latest compendium of moving-image creativity, Motion Blur 2, leading many to ask what is fuelling the growth in short films and electronic artworks. Author Shane Walters thinks it is ‘the increasing [number of] outlets where they can be viewed: on-line, galleries, festivals, planes, trains and on mobile phones’. So who are the hottest stars to watch this year? We pick some of the most impressive short film-makers to emerge recently, and reveal where we found them.


Who: Garth Jones
Film: Mystery of Pig City
Seen at: Leeds Film Festival, annually in November

Last November, the 21-year-old Leeds festival featured ten separate short-film packages built around adventurous themes such as Fanomenon (the weird and wonderful in cinema) and Nexus (cross-media, arts-based AV work). But even the official selection showed an imaginative selection of work, including that of Garth Jones, whose film Mystery of Pig City uses 2D animated illustration – as does his planned project Perhaps God is Angry – to create a witty, original narrative. The story of a pig stealing cats and turning them into sausages was born from a sloppily painted sign reading Pig City that Jones saw in Dorset. He developed the story into a film whose characters are drawn and animated by hand on paper (‘a preposterous concept now’, says Jones), before being cleaned up in Illustrator and composited in After Effects. Unusually, having trained in graphics/film and animation, Jones is now practising both animation and illustration. He says, ‘Animation has taught me to work quickly on pitches, as you need to generate ideas and images in a few hours to win a job.’

Who: Dimitar Mitovski and Kamen Kalev
Films: Rabbit Troubles, Get the Rabbit Back
Seen at: YouTube

It’s the obvious source, yet many people are put off trawling through YouTube’s thousands of AV projects in the hope of finding anything inspirational, innovative or professional. However, there are gems here, and if you use search criteria like ‘festival’ or ‘Cannes’, you’ll find them – like Cannes Festival award nominees Dimitar Mitovski and Kamen Kalev. The Bulgarian film-makers have, to date, directed, written, and scored three live-action shorts, including Rabbit Troubles and Get The Rabbit Back, two suspenseful and masterly thrillers featuring psychopathic stuffed rabbits that control people. It may sound mad, but it’s rendered utterly believable by sharp editing and professional film-making, suggesting that a long and illustrious career in offbeat, violent thrillers with a surreal edge lies in store for this team.

Who: Luis Cook
Film: The Pearce Sisters
Seen at: Rushes Soho Shorts Festival, London, next taking place 23-31 July
See the film at: www.pearcesisters.com

Now in its ninth year, the Rushes festival is well regarded for finding the best emerging talent, and its on-line cinema lets you watch the award-winners. Included in last year’s festival competition was Luis Cook’s The Pearce Sisters, which went on to win a Bafta earlier this month, and deservedly so. This wonderfully bleak film about two spinster sisters living a meagre existence on a desolate seashore was produced by Aardman, but it’s a million miles away from the claymation cuteness we’ve come to know from the studio. Cook’s style – also evident on the Aardman website, www.aardman.com, which he designed – took as its starting point Cornish artists like Ben Nicholson, William Scott and Alfred Wallis. ‘I wanted to evoke a natural, hand-drawn, scruffy, naïve, outsider-art quality; a beautifully ugly film. I liked the idea that this story could have happened 50 years ago and that the film itself had been washed up by the sea,’ explains Cook.


Who: Peter Baynton
Film: Over The Hill
Seen at: Encounters Festival, Bristol, next taking place 18-23 November

One of the UK’s best (and longest-running) short film festivals last year acquired backing from the UK Film Council and launched its own dedicated channel on Babelgum (which features its own excellent on-line film festival at www.babelgum.com). Encounters now incorporates a number of prestigious awards and programmes, including Heartlines/Sharp New Shorts, a programme produced with the Film Council’s Digital Shorts. Last year’s in-competition films included Over The Hill, a short by recent Central St Martins College of Art and Design graduate Peter Baynton. Baynton’s delightfully dark animation, partly inspired by his grandmother, gives an old folks’ home a sinister Soylent Green-like underbelly, and has rightly won a huge number of awards. These have helped establish Baynton as a director, but ‘more than that, it helped me develop skills and techniques that I can use and take further on future projects’, he says. One such future project is ‘a new script for a 15-ish minute film, which I’ll hopefully make later this year. It’s going to be a musical set in a big city, starring a busy man called Stanley, which is very exciting. Animated dancing has great appeal for some reason’, he says.

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