Category Archives: curation

Dresden Filmfest 2016 – My Best of the Fest

In our ongoing plan to watch interesting films and visit interesting cities, Clare and I attended FilmFest Dresden in April 2016. We attended 6 of the showings covering 45 short films, and I’ve picked out my top 10 favourites below.

The trailer sets the tone suitably:


A note on context

While the festival is primarily about the international and national short film competitions, we’re most interested in animation, so we focussed on the (non-competition) animation strands. Since these are curated out of some of the best animation over the past decades, this has the fortunate side-effect that almost all of the films I found interesting are available to view online!

Do also note, however, that the viewing context here is almost completely opposite to the festival experience. On the internet, you can skip through a video or stop at any time; when attending a short-film selection, you are far more obliged to take in everything put in front of you. You also know very little about what is to come – in fact I can’t think of any other media experience that has a wider gap between how little you know about the work, and how strongly you are compelled to consume all of it!

(An emergent result of this is the applause behaviour of the crowd. It seems an audience for short films will usually applaud at the end of each one, but if the first film is over-long, distasteful or otherwise displeasing no applause will start, and the crowd will remain silent after each film! However, if they are then shown a particularly delightful film, applause will break out, and is then likely to continue after each subsequent film regardless of quality).

Consequently, I recommend using your internet browsing power to get a taste of the highlights below, and then set aside the time and find a good screen to watch the ones you like the look of most in the best way, back to back.

Film highlights

The more accessible:

Photograph of Jesus (2008) is a whimsical animated documentary on the subject of less reasonable requests received at the Getty photographic archive:

Jain: Come (2015) isn’t really an animation, but combines a number of nifty visual effects throughout and achieves a few particularly striking moments:

Dahlia (2008) is the most abstract of the films I’m calling ‘accessible’, being a montage of stop motion-style animation generated seemingly off-the-cuff by looking for interesting things in San Francisco. Nevertheless it achieves that thing I’m always looking for: a kind of animated beauty unlike anything I’ve seen before.

We caught Wider Horizons (2015) by at one of the festival’s award-winner roundups (in this case the Minister of Fine Arts Promotion Prize), and I’m glad we did. It’s a fascinating animated documentary on what a holiday by the sea was like in East Germany in the 80’s. Being more recent you can’t view it online yet, but here’s a trailer:

Less accessible:

Some animations displayed were significantly more abstract. This is where the festival format really shines, because if it were easy to turn away or fast forward, most people would, but when you don’t have that choice you must simply allow yourself to fall under the spell being cast. Well, that or perhaps fall asleep.

Recycled (2013) was my favourite of the whole festival. As the film usefully declares near the start, French “collector” Thomas Sauvin salvaged over half a million photos (!!) from a recycling plant; over three years, the Chinese artist Lei Lei picked out 3000 (!!!) and, presumably with some amount of computer assistance, assembled the following montage/animation. It starts out quite abstract, but soon you realise hundreds of images are being carefully strung together to produce a kind of emergent stop-motion:

Imagine yourself in a screening of short films, and the next one begins with a caption informing you that “All animals photographed were found as roadkill”. I felt a silent wave of apprehension ripple across the crowd as Yield (2013) began in this way. Fortunately the film was about the most promising thing one could make from that alarming preamble, achieving similar effects as Recycled by stringing unrelated photos together to generate animated effects. Fascinating, but still very disturbing, so I won’t embed it. (link)

Continuing the theme of achieving artistic results through ridiculous amounts of effort (as animators are fond of doing), Liquid paper (2010) generated animated figures by flicking through catalogues with pages cut in precise shapes:

An alternative demonstration of prowess is to produce a work that implicitly asks the audience to wonder: how on earth did they do that? This was demonstrated in Kaizer (2006), in which a steadily rotating camera taking in a crowd continues to pan while people move forwards and backwards with hypnotic effect:

(This reminded me of State of Flux, which appeared to show a continuous traversing shot over a water barrage while the water itself flowed impossibly backwards and forwards, although I suspect was achieved by a very different method).

Finally some more experimental works each elaborated on a simple idea with perhaps too much thoroughness, testing the patience of the casual viewer (and perhaps being more pleasurable online where you are free to take as much or little from it as you like).

Atman (1975), makes extravagant use of a sequence of possibly just 12 photos of a figure sitting in a field in some sort of Noh mask:

Spacy (1981) makes portals out of photos within photos to dizzying effect:


Q&A / discussion

When it comes to the Q&A section of an event, I think Kate Beaton summarised it best:

(I can’t find the original link for that but it’s referenced here)

At the animation events, a new layer of entertainment was added to the proceedings thanks to the need to support two languages. The host (Carola Queitsch I think) began to translate as necessary. Unfortunately for her, much of the questioning and discussion was conducted by the academic curators of the films, who would tend to elaborate on an idea with run-on sentences for about two minutes, after which she was expected to provide a summary in English; possibly one of the hardest translation tasks going.

To add to the fun, everyone concerned actually knew a reasonable amount of English as well as German. As a result, primed by hearing the host’s English translation, the speaker would then resume their line of thought or questioning in English – which obliged Carola to then translate into German, provoking a response in German, and so the language cycle could begin again.

Over the course of several showings the translation approach was tweaked, finally settling upon having a film-maker more fluent in English, Gusztav Hamos, translate the high-brow musings of academic curator Thomas Tode. This seemed reasonable, but it gradually became clear that the words did not correlate: Thomas offered his opinion in German, and then Gusztav would make some alternative point in English, to which Thomas might respond in German, and so on. This proved more entertaining and satisfying than any other alternative and so became the main approach.

A more surreal form of Q&A arose when Japanese animator Maki Satake was brought on stage to answer questions about her work. It proved difficult for her to understand the questions posed by the German-spoken English, even when they repeated just the nouns in the sentence with more emphasis and waved their arms for effect; the curators asking the questions also already knew the answers they were hoping to evoke, so ended up spelling out the point completely, enabling Maki to, when understanding was reached, finally answer ‘yes’. A translator from the audience volunteered to smooth things over, but, perhaps on the basis that this would have been too easy, was only called upon to help out with one question.

Finally, in one of the most entertaining Q&As I’ve seen, the children attending the special selection of child-friendly animations were invited to ask particular animators about their work. In a revealing clue to a child’s understanding of culture through the lens of gender, the animator behind a work starring an animated reindeer and a live-action young girl was first asked point blank by a boy: “Why was it a girl and not a boy?”. The animator shrugged, but this line of enquiry provoked a stir among the young crowd, who then demanded to know: “Is the deer a boy or a girl?”. (While neither implied within nor important to the film, the animator responded that the deer was a boy, perhaps because he had provided the animal’s wordless vocalisations).

This raised another important question from a child in the audience: “Does the deer like dancing?”. It should be noted that the film did not involve dancing in any way. Vaguely intimating the rules of improv, the animator got over his initial confusion at the question to answer in the affirmative.

Finally one child stumped the animator by asking “Do you know what reindeer eat?”, to which he could only hazard “Grass… and cocoa?” (the deer was depicted drinking hot chocolate). The host was about to move on when he realised that this had been a rhetorical question, and the child wished instead to impress his own knowledge of the matter upon the audience, demonstrating a precocious understanding of how adults usually interpret their part in a Q&A: “Chestnuts… carrots… and grass. And cocoa.”

– Tim Mannveille tweets as metatim and previously highlighted lovely short animations from Tricky Women 2011

Edinburgh International Film Festival 2012 – My Best of the Fest

I went to the Edinburgh International Film Festival for the third consecutive year, and although the general consensus seems to be that new artistic director Chris Fujiwara steered it back in the right direction after 2011’s low-budget-no-carpet-no-deals worries, it wasn’t quite as exciting for me (see my overview of EIFF 2011).

That said, there were still some great films, so here’s my personal Best of the Fest.

IMDb 7.2 / RT (not enough reviews yet)

Pro: Cats everywhere, all the time.
Con: More like a series of short films.
Overall: Funny, charming, enjoyable in the ways it defies convention, and did I mention, cats everywhere.

Wu Xia / Dragon / Swordsmen
IMDb 7.0 / RT (not enough reviews yet)

Pro: A brilliantly conceived and executed combined crime-scene-investigation/fight scene.
Con: Seems a bit like an imperfectly edited adaptation of a more complicated novel, but apparently it isn’t.
Overall: Although it peaks early (see ‘Pro’), it remains a consistently surprising and entertaining take on some of the tropes of the genre.

IMDb 6.1 / RT 77%

Pro: A delightfully varied horror anthology, creepy in some places, ghost-pigeon insane in others.
Con: The misogynistic tone and slow build of the opening half-hour.
Overall: Worth sitting through the irritating opening for the goodness inside, particularly at the very end. Don’t watch the trailer more than once.

Berberian Sound Studio
IMDb 7.0 (27 votes) / RT 100% (from 15 reviews)

Pro: Does some extraordinarily powerful things with sounds and silence.
Con: Could have gone in a number of directions, ultimately opts for perhaps the least interesting of those.
Overall: If you like the trailer, you’ll love the film.

The Making of Longbird
The winner of the animation category, as well as my personal favourite. Despite seeing a lot of impressive different animation styles across the whole animation strand, the simple joy of a silly-looking character speaking with a weirdly fitting voice was just impossible to beat:

Every year we’ve attended some or all of the ‘Black Box’ experimental short film screenings curated by Kim Knowles, and these are always fascinating and memorable. For me, this year’s most most powerful selection was the 28.5-minute long ‘Vexed’ by Telcosystems. Unusually, Kim warned the audience in advance that this would be a particularly intense experience, which heightened our expectations, and we were not disappointed.

As the film progressed, I formed the impression that I was pushing through the edge of the universe, passing through layers of quantum foam, tuning my way systematically through 10 dimensions, uncertain if I would find anything on the other side, knowing that every minute spent pressing further added years to the return journey should I choose to make it, and at every moment I felt imbued with purpose and fulfillment. And there’s not many films you can say that about.

You can see some of it in this video, in between the interview segments that I can’t understand:

Tricky Women 2011


Tricky Women is a wonderfully specific annual film festival located in Vienna: the 4-day programme consists entirely of short animations by women, which I find particularly brilliant, since not only does it Venn two things I’m particularly interested in (animation of any form because it’s like art squared, and stories from women, who are generally underrepresented in the creative landscape as a quick application of the Bechdel/Wallace test to the last 10 films you’ve seen is likely to attest), not only that, it also provides a wonderful opportunity to be ostentatiously unconventional when people ask about what you did on your holidays, which would be a terrible reason to go on its own, but was a particularly enjoyable bonus for me, as for some reason ostentatious unconventionality directly supports a large part of my self-esteem.

(At this point I have to specifically thank Clare for coming up with such a brilliant idea for a holiday, and her friend Anna for making the accommodation part of the trip so fantastically simple).

Altogether, we ended up watching over 100 short animations over a 4-day period, which as we should perhaps have anticipated is quite intense, and ended up giving me the entirely novel feeling that my brain was, at least temporarily, at standing-room-only for new ideas. Brilliant.

You can get some idea of this effect from my holiday scrap-book, in which I collected together the thumbnail images from every animation we saw from the programme along with other memorabilia and self-made stickers for doing various things:



As I noted after Edinburgh International Film Festival 2010, the great thing about short animations is that in many cases you can subsequently find them online. So after watching more short animations in one weekend than I had previously seen in my entire life, It seemed like a good idea to bring together a few of my favourites.

For Pedants
What exactly does “animation by women” encompass? Specifically, what counts as animation, and what counts as “by”? The curators of the festival seemed to adopt a sensible standard for the latter, with (as far as I could tell) the primary driver of any given piece (usually the Director) being female in every case; they were on occasion rather more broad with the idea of animation. Arguably, the medium of film itself is a kind of highly-automated stop-frame animation, and so perhaps on these grounds they included things like the first video below.

Vitalic – Birds (Pleix, FR 2006, 3′)
Even though it raises questions about the consent of animals in art, and even though it’s really not an animation in any commonly understood sense, I was very glad that this was brought to my attention:

Cooking JPEG (Christa Lehner, AT 2010, 3’55)
If you want to understand the JPEG compression process, you should probably read up on that. If you just want to watch some funky animation that is tenuously related to it, you should watch this:

V Masstabe / In Scale (Marina Moshkova, RU 2009, 7’14”)
Quite possibly my favourite short from the festival. It’s got an interesting style, a beautiful story, and has lots of those magic animation moments where the combination of movement and sound is just perfect. It takes a long while to stream from Vbox7, so hit play then read on (now embedded from Youtube – T.M. 12/01/19). If you like the first minute, you’re very likely to enjoy the rest.


Sinna Mann / Angry Man (Anita Killi, NO 2009, 19’50”)
I can’t find the full 20-minute version online, which is a shame because this was one of the most important and moving animations shown. It’s an extraordinary example of animation tackling a difficult subject in way you couldn’t do with any other medium.

30 second trailer:

2 minute excerpt:

Slavar / Slaves (Hanna Heilborn, David Aronowitsch, SE 2008, 15′)
Another case of animation tackling a difficult subject to great effect, this time by providing imagery to accompany a recorded interview. I can’t find the full length version online, but you can view an extract here. (You can now view the whole thing here – T.M. 12/01/19)



Tord och Tord / Tord and Tord (Niki Lindroth von Bahr, SE 2010, 11′)
This animation resonates with my introvert tendencies. A sly evocation of the challenges of successfully interacting with other beings. Funny and sad. Like life. Only an excerpt is available unfortunately:

Caniche / Poodle (Noémie Marsily, Carl Roosens, BE 2010, 16′)
I like animations that feel as if they’ve sprung directly from someone’s fevered imaginings; where strange techniques are deployed to mysteriously powerful effect; animations like this one:

Four Tet – A Joy (Jodie Mack, GB 2008, 3′)
Ever so often I see something that feels tantalisingly close to producing the perfect synaesthetic abstract experience. Here’s one of those – I just wish the synchronisation of abstract image with sound was more consistent and sharper:

Le Nez / The Nose (Claire Parker, Alexander Alexeїeff, FR1963, 11′)
This was like no other animation I have seen. It apparently makes use of a pinboard with hundreds of thousands of pins, which somehow reflect light with different degrees of brightness depending on how far they are pushed in (I think). Animation is achieved through painstaking incremental alterations and stop motion photography (or at least I assume that’s how it was done).

I don’t know what kind of referencing or rotoscoping tools were used or what degrees of fantastic skill were being deployed, but somehow this process produced results that in some cases look as precise as CG animation. And this was in 1963.

Finally, there were a couple of animations I really enjoyed but can’t find any video footage of online, but just have to give a shout-out to.

Looking for Love (Adele Raczkovi, AT 2010, 8’25”)
A tale of a dog that loves oranges, executed through an impressive range of animation techniques, including the best abstract rotoscoping I’ve ever seen. It would be great to at least see that bit on the internet if nothing else, if Adele is listening…

Kacheli / Swing (Elena Kurkova, RU 2009, 8’42”)
An old woman and a crow and a swing. Trust me, it was great. Especially the crow.

(It’s now on YouTube! – T.M. 12/01/19)

Transmission finally ends