by Karl Cohen 

Their not-to-be-missed show goes under a boring name “Shorts 3 – Animation,” but boring it isn’t!  This is an excellent selection of cutting edge works and each is outstanding in a different way.  But be warned, this is not a nice gentle family show for kids, but a program of fascinating, intelligent, prize winning works of art for adults.

The program will open with “Cosmic Flower Unfolding,” an exquisite visionary film by Ben Ridgway, a Bay Area computer animator.  There is a lot to ooh and ah over in these two breathtaking minutes.  Ben teaches at SF State.

Then it is on to Bill Plympton’s “Drunker Than a Skunk” that combines a bold, raw soundtrack with his outrageous cartoony drawings.  The art illustrate a most unusual work of poetry recited by the author Walt Curtis.  Bill told me Curtis arrived at the recording session with a half empty jug of wine that he had just purchased.  It is a very realistic soundtrack.

 From the National Film Board of Canada comes “Subconscious Password” by Chris Landreth.  He won an Oscar for “Ryan,” and his newest film takes us on a bizarre ride though the subject’s subconscious mind as he tries to remember somebody’s name at a social engagement.  Along the way he meets a host of celebrities from Yoko Ono to H. P. Lovecraft and Salvador Dali.  You will be amazed by this strange comedy.

An even bolder film from the Canadian Film Board is “Gloria Victoria by Theodore Ushev.  This is a powerful dense experimental work of art set to Dmitri Shostakovich‘s “Leningrad Symphony.” The symphonic score builds to a rousing climax just as Ravel’s “Bolero” does, but here the abstract music and visuals suggest the growth and struggle of a new nation in times of war and peace.

In stark contrast to the powerful Russian experience comes “Little Vulvah and Her Clitoral Awareness” by Sara Koppel from Denmark.  It is beautifully drawn with an exquisite use of line and a refined artistic sensibility.  At times it is reminiscent of the erotic illustrations of Aubrey Beardsley.  It includes unexpected surprises.

In “Oh Willy by Emma de Swaef and Marc James from Belgium, the story begins with Willie going to a nudist colony to see his mother.  This stop-motion puppet film has won several audience awards and grand prizes at European festivals. 

Guilherme Marcondes’ “The Master’s Voice: Caveirao” is a surreal adventure in a mysterious town where spirits of the night come out for a carnival-like boogie until… The cast includes highly imaginative looking ghosts and ghouls plus an inquisitive mosquito and a not quite human policeman. 

The Missing Scarf by Eoin Duffy from Ireland and narrated by George Takei, has won over a dozen top awards at festivals in the US and Europe.  It was also one of ten finalists for the Academy Award for Best Animated Short this year (so were “Gloria Victoria” and “Subconscious Password”).  It begins as a cute film for kids, but the innocent squirrel ends up in a black comedy that explores some of life’s major fears.  This is certainly not a kid friendly film.

A most unexpected subject for a contemporary film is Lyndon B. Johnson, the former president of the USA.  In “The Rancher by Kelly Sears, she imagines his dreams, nightmares of his world coming apart.  Kelly is the grand lady of American experimental film.

Finally this 21st Century animated program for adults includes two tiny films by Max Hattler from England.  “Stop the Show” (aka “WAR”) was made for Amnesty International.  It has a big message while “Very Large Increase in the Size, Amount, or Importance of Something Over a Very Short Period of Time” is a one minute trip to infinity and beyond.

Shorts 3: Animation” will be shown Saturday, April 26, 9:45 PM and Monday, May 5, 9:00 PM at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, 76 minutes, $13 members / $15 general. 

The festival is also presenting a family oriented program of animated shorts.  “Shorts 6: Family Films” includes several works that are bound to please including two new films from Moonbot Studios.  They are best known for their Academy Award wining short The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.”  One is “Silent, A Short Film” that stars the delightful Buster Keaton-like man who was also the star of the “The Fantastic Flying Books.”  The short premiered at The Oscars Scientific and Technical Awards ceremony held in LA in February.  The second Moonbot film is “The Numberlys,” a William Joyce story that takes place in a world full of numbers, but without any letters.

The other films in the program that I’ve seen are also crowd pleasers.  “Soup of the Day” is a fun music video by Lynn Smith (NFB of Canada) and “My Mom Is an Airplane” by Yulia Aronova fromRussia is a charming kids fantasy.  Ron Diamond (Acme Filmworks and saw Yulia’s work at a festival in Europe and is now distributing her charming work with a new English soundtrack.

The two films in the program that I haven’t seen are “The Dam Keeper” and “I Want my Hat Back.”  The latter is based on Jon Klassen’s classic children’s book.  “Shorts 6: Family Films” will be shown Saturday, April 26, 10:15 AM at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, $13 members / $15 general, ages 6 and up.

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