Every year at the Phoenix Film Festival there are few programs that I am interested to see but generally don’t mind if I miss them. There is one exception to this; the animated shorts. I love seeing new animations and the programming for it every year does not disappoint. This years program was no exception, showcasing new talent in 3D animation, as well stop motion. The majority of the films centered around the theme of love, both romantic and familial. While a couple dived into apocalyptic settings and the fight for survival, most of the films had an under current of hope and connection in the modern world.
The program opened with Sumer by Alvaro Garcia, a dystopian future where plant and wildlife no longer exist. This 3D animation took us on a journey as one young boy searches for a blue bird and possibly new plant life. While the animation on this was incredible I felt the theme was a little heavy-handed in environmentalism, and it may just be from seeing similar themes in other programs this year. This was one of five 3D animations in the program, which seemed to dominate this year and a reminder of the overall shift in modern animation.
As for the stop motion animations there were two that dived into the theme of connecting with another and love. Speed Dating by Meghann Artes and Hold My Handle by Ethan Barrett both utilizes stop motion animation using real objects and people rather than claymation sets and models. In Speed Dating we follow a young woman as she tries out speed dating for the first time only to meet various suitors that are mismatched. The ending of this is very sweet with a good set up to it and I appreciated that the suitor she does finally fall for does not fit into stereotypical norms. For Hold My Handle, the film centers on a cracked blue coffee mug who is owned by an abusive coffee drinker. When a new coffee cup is tossed into the cupboard the blue cup tries to bond with it only to have the coffee drinker destroy one of them. It’s a hear breaking film about compassion and connection that is done well using expressionless objects. However, the set dressing of the kitchen counter was so vile ( intentional of course) that I really couldn’t get past it to appreciate the message at hand.
My personal favorite for the program was The Present by Jacob Frey which is about a young boy who stays in and plays video games. When his mom comes home with a present for him in the form of a disabled puppy, the young boy learns to put down the controller and opens his heart. I may be a bit biased as far why this is my favorite but of all of the films this simple concept tugged at my heartstrings the most and looked like something Pixar would create.There is good reason for this as Jacob Frey used the same modelling and textures from Pixar to create both the boy and the puppy. This application added a sweet touch to this charming story of a boy and his dog.
In a program dominated in 3D one hand drawn cartoon stood out called Love in the Time of March Madness by Melissa Johnson and Robertino Zambrano. This autobiographical piece focused on Melissa’s journey through love as a 6’4″ woman dating shorter men. It was the only film in this series that seemed to be open and honest and personal about an individuals real life journeys. I’ve always appreciated filmmakers that utilize animation to share their personal stories and this one was exceptional done. Being a 5′ nothing woman I could never understand the struggles of a tall person and I walked away from this animation with a new and taller perspective on life.
As other programs I attended this year I was so thrilled at the quality of the all of the films showcased in the animated shorts. While filmmaking continues to improve on its technology and technique, animation is still a labor intensive process that too often goes unappreciated. I look forward to next years festival because each year the selections of animations improve and inspire me in ways that traditional filmmaking can’t. Animation is the purest form of expression for filmmaking and I can’t wait to see where it goes in the future.
For more information on the 2015 festival or to keep up to date on the 3016 festival visit phoenixfilmfestival.com