Fantasia 2020: Short Films – Circo Animato

The shorts blocks of this year’s Fantasia celebrate all that is great about the festival. They share a diverse range of voices from all over the world. What is singularly great about their Circo Animato showcase is the wide breadth of modes used to tell a story. These animated shorts play with all manner of material and form to create an intricate, vibrant pattern of distinct voices, all with something to say, or an experiment to fulfill. The creative energy is deeply felt, pulsing through the heart of 2020’s Circo Animato collection.

The Spinning Top

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The Spinning Top. Dir. Shiva Momtahen.

For my kid, who has just realized the potency of her own dreams, any exploration of dreamscapes is especially key right now. So, a film like The Spinning Top poses a lot of questions. Just like the top, her thoughts on recent nightmares spin endlessly within her brain. In the short, a boy explores both internal concepts of dream and memory. His spinning top has whirled off into the land of the mind. He traces it back to important life events and conjures up a wild little story, inventively told through unique animation. It opened up meaningful dialogue with my kid, and isn’t that about as much as animation, or any film, can hope to do?

Kkum

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Kkum. Dir. Kim Kang-min.

From South Korea, Kkum builds itself out of fascinating styrofoam-like structures to tell a creation story. An ode to the concept of motherhood and creation itself, this beautifully textured short takes a cosmic look at place and purpose. Literally translating to “dream” in Korean, the film tells the story of a mother protecting their son from the harm of the world. Beautiful and materially accomplished, Kim Kang-min has found their own home for their dreams with stop animation.

There Were Four of Us

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There Were Four of Us. Dir. Cassie Shao.

It can be hard to differentiate an abstract style from a lot of nothing. If shapes and colors are art, and There Were Four of Us is indeed kaleidoscopic, then the absence of form must also be art. Perfectly fine. So we take this melody of formless bright colors and underwater narration — about something or nothing — and can apply it as being Art. But then it shouldn’t matter, either, what reading we’ve gleaned from it, so long as it says… something or nothing. And it certainly has!

Thin Blue Variety Show

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Thin Blue Variety Show. Dir. Gretta Wilson.

“Protect… and perform,” goes the tagline. Over many years and hundreds of police procedurals, the way entertainment has shaped our worldview of police work is investigated. Through mannequins sporting an evolving fashion, from the Rangers of the West to more modern fabrics, Thin Blue Variety Show traces a lineage of police acceptance through the fashion choices that weaved their way into the public consciousness.

Genius Loci

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Genius Loci. Dir. Adrien Merigeau.

Empty spaces provide a captivating canvas for director Adrien Merigeau. Rough sketching fills in line and creates symmetry within their empty spaces. Their story is a loner who finds intrinsic comfort within the chaos of urban sprawl. The disorder is a kind of mad organization itself, the uncontrolled creativity of the enlivened shared space, a programmed social algorithm as valid and distinct as any other outcome.

Reflexion

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Reflexion. Dir. Alain Bidard.

Quarantine movies have entered the sphere of festivals. It’s a fact we must live with, much art will be made by consequence of all artists being stuck inside for a year. Just how it goes. Alain Bidard has made one. It’s what you do. Reflexion is a jarring back-and-forth between a couple about time spent apart, or alone. It creates a chasm between its characters and only reveals its truth by the end. As occasionally happens with these shorts, there is not much more to be said, without saying too much.

Inside Blue

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Inside Blue. Dir. Chen Yi-Chiens.

Harsh pencil sketching creates a formidable sense of claustrophobic space in this bathroom drama. A boy sits on the toilet. There are safe spaces in the bathroom, squared off sections of blue tape. When he stays within the lines, all is well. When the boy stretches to grab some toilet paper or wash his hands, the bathroom breaks into a surrealist space, where the laws of inanimate objects no longer apply. Toilet paper and paper towels flurry about the room, creating a maze of paper as the boy desperately tries to contain them with a roll of the blue tape. The pressurized sketched drawings create a tense aesthetic, as Chen Yi-Chiens neurotic toiletry story unravels.

Seoulsori

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Seoulsori. Dir. Kim Kyoung-bae.

The world premiere of Kim Kyoung-bae’s delightfully kaleidoscopic Seoulsori splashes color and imagist ideas into the Circo Animato collection. A young boy sits in a void of a room, admiring a painting. In it, a procession of perceived royalty is on parade. The room is infused with neon colors as the march occupies his lived-in space. He sweats, his shadow elongates, and he enters the very world of the painting, his space folding in on itself, as the boy is transformed from person to abstract puzzle, harrowing downriver with no way out of the art.

The Weather is Lovely

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The Weather is Lovely. Dir. Lien Chun-Chien.

Keep an eye out for Taiwanese animation studio Dottodot. The Weather is Lovely formally announces their arrival, with big intentions. Artistically landing between anime and videogame, a wordless story is filtered through a distinct visual style. It’s an ethereal story about a sky-bound man with a cloud-making device and a woman who receives it from the ground and drops it into a fishtank, unleashing an evil fog. Together, they must rescue the device and return the clouds to normal, and maybe find love along the way. The forecast is very bright indeed for this bunch of animators. See: Weathering with You (2019).

Peace and Love

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Peace and Love. Dir. Etienne Faivre.

At 3 minutes, Peace and Love is exceptionally shorter than the 422 minute War and Peace (1966). Let’s not skirt around it, it’s entirely in French and without subs, I’m just picking up words and plot here and there. A couple sailors think they’ve found peace in the middle of the ocean and a lifetime of fish to catch. Then they’re confronted by a group who argues with them in French. Enraged by whatever they said in French, some fish are really pissed off about it and fly through the air and attack them.

Florigami

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Florigami. Dir. Iva Ciric.

A lonely white flower, try as it might, cannot find its path to blossom. Entangled in all manner of vines, growth is a thorny proposition. Iva Ciric’s Florigami represents the difficulty of aging, the pain we go through, and then the elation and wisdom we find from truly blossoming. It says, the hardship is worth the journey in the end, and no matter how hard it can be, our story is not over until it’s over.

Wade

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Wade. Dir. Upamanyu Bhattacharyya & Kalp Sanghvi.

A city in India has been entrenched by swampland. Climate change has given way to rising tides, leaving a refugee family stranded on the muddied streets. Bad turns to worse when they are ambushed by a rabid tiger. Visually and audibly striking, Wade moves along with the current of the place. Eyes bulge from heads, eyeballs go egg-white, even those of the tiger, body parts move differently. Worth the 11-minute watch, the pins-and-needles confrontation, and worldbuilding define the film.

The Grave of St Oran

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The Grave of St Oran. Dir. Jim Batt.

“He will touch you, he will taste you, he will leave his words inside you — God is not what you imagine, nor is hell, and nor is heaven.” Adapted from the Neil Gaiman poem, In Relig Odhrain, the short tone poem is also narrated by its author. “Save the best for last” is usually the right outcome for a shorts compilation, and this one is absolutely fantastic. Gaiman’s words perfectly complement the film. It is self-evident how exactly it raised 70K on Kickstarter. These talented animators ought to be given all the budget they need and the space to work from here for a feature film within the same style.

 

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