Who could resist a museum be-in with Popeye and Yoko Ono? We, the jury of this year's Palms Springs International ShortFest certainly couldn't when we awarded the aptly named "Arts & Crafts Spectacular #2" the top non-student animation prize. It was comedy. It was commentary. It was cartoon. A pretty perfect mix.
But, ah, the debates I had over other films with my fellow jurors, actress Missi Pyle and Netherlands film distribution guru Sydney Netter. Should animation style trump story? Is innovation to be prized above all else? Was that really a student film?
Where Yoko and Popeye were involved, at least, consensus followed. Using claymation, German filmmaker Ian Ritterskamp packed his few minutes with feverish fun in imagining a series of close encounters of the strangest kind."Arts & Crafts Spectacular #2" was, quite simply, an eight-minute masterwork.
As "Arts & Crafts" suggests, we were drawn to the surreal and the more surreal. Between our two non-student winners(adult filmmakers, I guess, would just sound weird), I’m not sure which of these I’d put in which category.
“Chopper,” the second-place finisher — also the runner-up choice of the festival audience — was a two-minute, lightning-fast circle-of-life saga that animated reality, as in real images that are manipulated in remarkable ways. It came from the Netherlands. Lars Damoiseaux was the director, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.
Whether student or not, the seeming millions of films that screened during ShortFest 2013 — and the nearly 100 we the jury judged — were all pretty much class acts.
Animation made for the most colorful three-sided conversations you can imagine. Pyle, who, by the way, is taking her one-woman show to San Francisco soon, is a live wire of thoughtful thinking and snappy one-liners. Netter is delightfully droll, incredibly fluent in English — far more so than me ... and a veritable font of Amsterdam information, to say nothing of film. He's been attending — and shopping — the festival for years. So a show-stopper, a film buyer and a critic — we each came at things from distinct points of view.
Most of the animation entries were computer-generated. The few hand-drawn shorts were exquisite. One that was a particular favorite of ours was from director Ana Caro of the United Kingdom. “The Magnificent Lion Boy” was one of those saved-from-the-jungle fables in which one finds that humans are the real animals to be feared. Its pen-and-ink renderings brought the story to life. It took our second-place prize in the student category.
Ultimately we all tended to be drawn to the short films that pushed the boundaries most – sometimes with story, sometimes with style, often with both.
“Harald,” from German director Moritz Schneider, which we awarded the top student animation prize, was the story of a wrestler/mama’s boy named -- you guessed it, Harald, and his ringside tyrant of a mother. There is no dialogue per se, but an entire relationship can be read in his grunts, her screeches and the animation itself.
Very much a case of nurture versus nature – flowers are involved. I'm not sure who is weirder, the inventive and slighted twisted mind of Moritz, who created it, or the jury for loving it so. It literally had us laughing like crazy just talking about it, although the sugar rush from brownies à la mode might have been a factor.