The 17th annual Animation Show of Shows kicks off its nationwide roadshow this week at our very own ArcLight Hollywood. Premiering September 24 and running through October 1, a program of 11 animated shorts will be available for public viewing—a rare opportunity for film fans since animated short films generally don’t receive theatrical distribution unless they precede the latest Disney or Pixar feature. But for nearly two decades, curator Ron Diamond has been culling the best cartooning work from around the world for showcasing. In that time, 29 of his picks have gone on to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film with nine of them ultimately winning the accolade.
Ahead of the latest iteration of the Animation Show of Shows, we asked Diamond about what drew him to this year’s roster of films. He was eager to share his enthusiasm for his selections, which come from all over the world and in a broad range of art and animation styles. “When I present my shows to studios and schools, I’m often fond of saying that if they don’t like a particular film, then just wait another three or four minutes, because something new will come along that will excite them,” he says. “This year, it’s hard to say that, because all the films are very entertaining, lovely to watch, and tell truly unique stories. Each short packs a punch—it’s like drinking 11 shots of espresso without any breaks. And these films get better each time we see them. They are truly sophisticated narratives with many layers of story to discover. Watch them a second time, and you’ll discover a whole new set of experiences.”
“I am biased, of course,” he goes on. “These films are very much like my own children; I love them all. And I feel that the journey one goes through in watching this program is very satisfying and inspiring.” Here he gives us a sneak peek at what makes each film in this year’s lineup special.
The Story of Percival Pilts (Janette Goodey & John Lewis, Australia, NZ)
A whimsical story about living an impractical life based on a childhood promise. While playing on stilts as a child, Percival Pilts declares that he’ll ‘never again let his feet touch the ground!’ He stays true to his word and compelled ever higher, he builds his stilts so tall that he no longer fits into normal society.
“A beautifully art-directed film with a large scope of cinematic animation. Shot in stop-motion, the directors chose to limit the characters’ facial reactions to allow us to focus on the narrative, which is told in verse. I particularly liked this because of its message about risking being an outcast for the benefit of a personal pursuit. It reminds us that conviction is underrated, and eventually, we all find our way in the world—that is, with the right upbringing.”
Tant de Forets (Geoffrey Godet & Burcu Sankur, France)
Based on the poetry of Jacques Prévert and originally part of the “En sortant de l’ecole” series, the “Tant de Forets” (So Many Forests) poem denounces the destruction of forests to make paper pulp, but paper is used to alert people about the threats of deforestation.
“A gorgeous realization of nature. The symmetry of the visuals is breathtaking. I truly love what occurs in this film, and admire the filmmakers’ creativity and artistry.”
Snowfall (Conor Whelan, Ireland)
An anxious young man who has a moving experience at a friend’s house party. A story of fleeting love, of mixed emotions, and of how we interact with each other.
“This is the first LGBT film that I have ever included in the Animation Show of Shows. Its remarkably sophisticated design and animation are subtle but powerful. I’m so impressed with Conor to have made such beautiful film at 25 years. I can’t wait to see what he does next.”
The Ballad of Holland Island House (Lynn Tomlinson, USA)
Animated clay paintings tell the true story of the last house on a sinking island in the Chesapeake Bay, a large and important estuary and waterway in Maryland, on the East Coast of the United States. In an Old-Time Music ballad, the house sings of its life and the creatures it has sheltered during its lifetime journey from tree, to timber, to home, to an ultimate return to nature. It contemplates time, environmental change, and the rise of the seas.
“I have a personal love of design aesthetic in animation, and this film captures the mood of the subject while exploring a beautiful animation technique.”
Behind the Trees (Amanda Palmer & Avi Ofer, USA)
An imaginative animated short created from a found voice memo, “Behind the Trees” features Amanda Palmer’s reflections on the curious things her husband, Neil Gaiman, mutters while he sleeps.
“About as honest as a film can be. Whereas many films take six months to five years to make, this film explores a more hands-on technique of animation. It was made more extemporaneously. It assures anyone who wants to be animator that the medium is for everyone and does not need to be overly complicated—even if each film takes an inordinate amount of work to complete.”
We Can’t Live Without Cosmos (Konstantin Bronzit, Russia)
Lifelong friends and fellow Russian cosmonauts work together to reach the ultimate goal of visiting space.
“I love contrasts in films, and this is a lovely story of friendship and purpose that is couched in some of the funniest visual gags. And then, before we realize it, our hearts are handed to us as we can totally relate to what transpires. This film is a masterpiece of storytelling, and yet it does not leave its audience lost at its conclusion. I’m often impressed when an ambiguous ending can help us resolve what we have seen, even if we don’t have all the answers. This leaves us loads to talk about. What more could we want than an emotional journey through life’s big questions?”
Messages Dans L’Air (Isabel Favez, France/Switzerland)
A universe made completely of paper is the starting point of this love story, as past, present, and future events emerge from the folds in the paper. A young woman discovers a message of love enclosed in a folded paper bird. She then witnesses the tragic fate of her admirer’s goldfish. What can she do? This riveting love story is told through the medium of line drawings.
“Wonderfully whimsical and charming. The music makes me happy, and the characters are true to form. This film is a delight, and I am so pleased to share it within the rest of the program.”
Stripy (Babak Nekooei & Behnoud Nekooei, Iran)
At a massive factory, the workers have all been given one simple instruction: paint stripes on the boxes. The work is getting done in the usual, monotonous way…that is, until one of the workers decides to paint his boxes a little differently.
“When I learned that Stripy was made in Tehran, all of my previous impressions of social theory went out the window. The two filmmakers made an homage to Disney, and the way they bring about change in the world of their characters is counter to what we would think is possible in Iran. The musical score is one of my favorites of the program, and the expression of individuality as the key element of the story is inspired.”
Ascension (Colin Laubry, Thomas Bourdis, Martin de Coudenhove, Caroline Domergue, Florian Laubry, France)
In the early years of the 20th century, two climbers make the traditional ascent, carrying a statue of the Virgin Mary to the top of a mountain. Their trip does not go according to plan.
“This is one of the funniest films I have enjoyed for many years. The less-than-subtle Sisyphean structure here is one of the best uses of this metaphor in cinema, with brilliant timing, design, and animation, and perfect sound design and music. I applaud the students who made this gorgeous and truly funny film.”
Love in the Time of March Madness (Melissa Johnson, and Robertino Zambrano, USA)
Melissa Johnson hit 6’4’’ tall in 8th grade. Although this made her an instant basketball star, Love in the Time of March Madness follows her hilarious and awkward misadventures in romance, as she dates shorter men and gets cheered or jeered wherever she goes. Blazing with honesty and dark humor, this animated “tall short” is a true story about embracing difference that is certain to disarm and delight.
“Nothing is as raw and truthful as a story told from one’s own experiences. Often, audio tracks leave little to the audience’s imagination. Here, the animation is artfully executed and supports a heartfelt read by the person who experienced all that the film has to share. Never do we think that the film is untruthful, and though it’s about adult relationships, it strikes me as the kind of film all people should see. But I’d also say that about the whole program.”
World of Tomorrow (Don Hertzfeldt, USA)
A little girl is taken on a mind-bending tour of her distant future…
“Don Hertzfeldt is a powerhouse who tackles the bigger subjects in life, and World of Tomorrow is no different. The simplicity of the art and the irreverence of the interaction between the younger and older characters is true to all ages. We come away with a sense of purpose and no amount of indifference. What a way to end a strong program of shorts.”