Topless supermarkets, museum exhibits riddled with anxiety, nature-loving robots, immigrant artists, and albatross soup: there’s nothing that’s out of bounds for women at Animation Block Party.
FROM GERMANY, FINLAND, FRANCE, HONG KONG, HUNGARY, IRELAND, JAPAN, RUSSIA, UKRAINE, and UNITED STATES
WHERE WE SAW IT: Animation Block Party is a yearly animation festival that showcases the works of new filmmakers, along with legendary masterpieces from the past. It’s also the most significant event of this kind on the East Coast of the US. This year, I watched a bunch of new animated short films and chose the best seven from across the various programs. They were all made by women from different countries and vastly different in style, techniques, and themes.
WHAT’S GOING ON: Three women inhabit parallel universes. One is a huntress in touch with the wilderness and her primal self. Another is hooked into conspicuous consumption. The third woman lives in a Black Mirror sort of dystopia, where a person can’t stop moving and generating energy. But when a fly causes a glitch in the system, the three women gravitate towards each other. Are they lovers to be or different facets of the same self?
WHO MADE IT: Flóra Anna Buda is a graduate of Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design in Budapest and the EU’s Animation Sans Frontières participant. With Entropia, she snatched the Teddy Award for Best Short Film at the 2019 Berlinale.
WHY YOU NEED TO WATCH: It’s a psychedelic explosion of colors that will nourish your soul, make you horny, and invite you to dance. A lofty goal for any creative text, but “Entropia” is a triple threat by its nature. Each time I rewatched the film, I had a different outtake. Only lesbians will survive as the universe succumbs to entropy. (Yay!) We’re all infected with parasites that dictate our actions. (Yay, I guess, because this way nothing matters.) There are endless possibilities for any person, and none of them are right or wrong. (Triple yay!) One thing remained constant in each viewing: Florá Anna Buda is a force to be reckoned with, and I’m awaiting more from her creative genius.
WATCH THE TRAILER
2. FROM UKRAINE and UNITED STATES: Paper or Plastic, dir. Nata Metlukh, 2019
WHAT’S GOING ON: An artist comes to a foreign country with the dream of painting a mural on the side of its tallest skyscraper. But as the incomprehensible local rules, cumbersome bureaucracy, and xenophobia kick in, the artist’s life becomes more about survival and less about creative fulfillment.
WHO MADE IT: Nata Metlukh is originally from Ukraine, but she lives in San Francisco now. With an additional history of living in Estonia and Canada, Metlukh knows a thing or two about the pains of assimilation. “Paper and Plastic” and her other works have snatched awards at numerous festivals, and her clients include the likes of Google and Hyatt.
WHY YOU NEED TO WATCH: Talking about immigration is tough, especially when people are dying in deserts and oceans while trying to cross borders. But the events after one’s arrival are just as important as everything that leads to them. Metlukh’s short is a bitterly funny account of the othering that’s inevitable for anyone who has to make it in a foreign culture. It’s also a dismantling of the faux fairy tale of immigration narratives. As anyone who has ever tried to build a life anew in a different place knows, the mere task of not bleeding to death can become excruciatingly tricky when you’re in a new country, and there are no convenient game rules folded neatly in the box. Metlukh is a brilliant example of a multi-faceted creator, as her animation chops and narrative skills are equally superb.
WATCH THE FILM
3. FROM HONG KONG, UNITED STATES and JAPAN: Albatross Soup, dir. Winnie Cheung, 2018
WHAT’S GOING ON: “Albatross soup” is originally a riddle. “A man gets off a boat. He walks into a restaurant and orders albatross soup. As the dish arrives, the man takes one sip, pulls out a gun, and shoots himself to death. Why?” As a few dozen people are recorded trying to solve the riddle, the animation recreates the man’s story, in a fascinating swirl of the chilling and the bizarre.
WHO MADE IT: Winnie Cheung is originally from Hong Kong, but she was raised in the US and continues to live here. Her collaborations with artists working in various media have brought her works to many places, including Sundance and Vimeo’s Short of the week selection. For “Albatross soup” she collaborated with American Feminist artist/illustrator Fiona Smyth and Japanese-American animation director Masayoshi Nakamura.
WHY YOU NEED TO WATCH: First of all, if you’ve never heard the riddle, it’s wildly entertaining, and once solved, it becomes a fascinating piece of very dark humor. My love for the riddle was slightly dampened lately because I could never get the idea of people not eating gull out of my head: there was a big thing about it in the G.R.R.Martin fandom. But the fantastic visuals from Cheung and the team have made it all good. A disturbing, extremely fun, and curious ride, “Albatross Soup,” is a revelation to watch on your own or during a party—there will be tons to think about and discuss.
WATCH THE FILM
4. FROM IRELAND: Tuna, dir. Cliona Noonan, 2019
WHAT’S GOING ON: A woman working in a late-night supermarket develops a constant craving for one of the goods on sale. But an ominous visitor instills a paranoia in her: perhaps she should be more careful in her choice of snacks?
WHO MADE IT: Cliona Noonan is from Ireland, and she had recently graduated from the Animation program at The National Film School at IADT Dún Laoghaire. “Tuna,” her graduation project, has been touring the festivals in Ireland and abroad.
WHY YOU NEED TO WATCH: The visuals in this one are both incredibly fresh and a bit retro. I don’t know whether Noonan had been watching any Soviet cartoons, but her shop clerk/thug duo are clear cut from some socially-minded Soviet shorts: with shadows of Genndy Tartakovsky. There is also the bizarre plot, and a twist on the ubiquitous health food panics, which make the short an utterly original gem. Tinged with noir, and full of dark oddball humor, “Tuna” is a promise for a new dawn in absurdist animation.
WATCH THE TRAILER
5. FROM GERMANY, RUSSIA and UNITED STATES: The Opposites Game, dir. Lisa LaBracio & Anna Samo, 2019
WHAT’S GOING ON: This is the animated version of Brendan Constantine’s poem about a teacher whose game of opposites goes off the rails when the students are tasked with coming up with an antonym for the word “gun.”
WHO MADE IT: Lisa LaBracio is a New Yorker, who has been working for TED-Ed for the past few years. She made “The Opposites Game” for TED-Ed, too, together with independent animator Anna Samo, who hails from Russia but lives in Berlin. Meanwhile, Brendan Constantine, who wrote the poem at the center, is an American poet preoccupied with the country’s sociopolitical issues.
WHY YOU NEED TO WATCH: In a time when gun violence robs about 100 people of their lives every day only in the US, narratives decrying the use of guns are abundant—and not enough simultaneously. “The Opposites Game” is a standout work, where a searing poem is enhanced with subtle but potent imagery. It never becomes didactic or patronizing: just shows through the beauty of words and imagery the vulnerability of our peaceful existence.
WATCH THE FILM
6. FROM FRANCE: Home Away 3000, dir. Héloïse Pétel & Philippe Baranzini, 2019
WHAT’S GOING ON: A man who lives in his RV in the outer space experiences some technical issues that send him to crashland on a planet inhabited only by a cute little robot. As the man prepares to get away, and the two interact, the conventional stereotypes of space narratives are dismantled.
WHO MADE IT: Héloïse Pétel recently graduated from the Animation department at ENSAD, where she focused on stop-motion and 2D animation. She co-authored “Home Away 3000” with Philippe Baranzini, and together they took the “Best in Show” award in the 2019 Animation Block Party.
WHY YOU NEED TO WATCH: Even though it starts as a space dwelling saga, “Home Away 3000” soon unfolds into a beautiful musing on our relationship with the environment, as well as an unexpected twist on the robot character. Have you ever wondered what it would be like if Wall E was braver in exploring the paths that robotic autonomy could take its possessor? Here is the remedy. Despite its endearing, cozy technique, “Home Away 3000” is an incisive, unflinching look at what our space future can be like.
WATCH THE TRAILER
7. FROM FINLAND: Still Lives, dir. Elli Vuorinen, 2019
WHAT’S GOING ON: Exhibits in a museum—from a group of athletes racing on the side of an amphora to a couple of antique wooden dolls—are all bogged down by a bunch of existential problems. A modern consciousness for ancient beings brought to life through stop-motion animation.
WHO MADE IT: Ellie Vuorinen is an animator who lives and works in rural Finland on a farm. A graduate of Turku Arts Academy, she’s won awards at various festivals and worked for TV and film. Her own work remains centered around the themes of melancholy, solitude, and hope.
WHY YOU NEED TO WATCH: Don’t you ever wonder what the museum exhibits would think of if they had the consciousness for it? Undoubtedly due to their age, they’ve seen a lot. But you don’t get all nostalgic every day, so why should they? And the fact that these objects are suspended in their little glass cages doesn’t mean that their minds are racing any less than those human ones in a bustling office somewhere in Hong Kong. “Still Lives” is an exploration of modernity full of humor and heart, with protagonists so enchanting they could be exhibits in a museum. Oh, wait!…