The 17th annual Animation Show of Shows offers a wide and striking variety of animated shorts, all building to a real stunner that’s worth the price of admission alone.
A short-film festival is, by its nature, a lot to take in. There’s an inevitable variety in quality, of course, but even in a uniformly solid collection of shorts, a sensitive hand is needed to guide us through. Too many similar films in a row can get dull. Too many shifts in tone can be jarring.
It’s like the rules for making a perfect musical mix tape laid out by Rob Gordon, protagonist of the movie “High Fidelity”:
“The making of a great compilation tape … is hard to do and takes ages longer than it might seem. You gotta kick off with a killer, to grab attention. Then you got to take it up a notch, but you don’t wanna blow your wad, so then you got to cool it off a notch. There are a lot of rules.”
The 17th annual Animation Show of Shows, screening at the Portland Museum of Art on Saturday and Sunday, might not have been planned with Rob’s rules in mind, but the prestigious cartoon festival certainly offers a wide and striking variety of animated shorts, all building to a real stunner that’s worth the price of admission alone.
The festival, begun in 1998 by Ron Diamond of Acme Filmworks, was intended as a showcase for major animation studios to see Diamond’s selections each year of the best short animation from around the world. For the first time this year, Diamond is releasing his handpicked shorts on a tour of theaters. In the animation industry, the Show of Shows is a big deal, and often an indicator of big success. Of the 162 shorts over the years, selections have been nominated for 37 Academy Awards (and won 14), while being awarded prizes in other major film festivals.
This year’s 11-film roster is a typically eclectic one, with each film’s distinctive style only unified to the whole in how it clearly reflects its filmmaker’s vision. Short films are like that, and animated shorts even more so – a great short film is like a tone poem, or a painting, the creator’s thoughts expressed in focused bursts of inspiration and craft.
While there’s no single unifying theme to the program, most of the films have a meditative, even somber feel.
“Ballad of Holland Island House”
In “The Story of Percival Pilts,” Percival builds stilts so tall that he no longer fits into normal society.
The first selection, the Australian Claymation fable “The Story of Percival Pilts” – about a man who chooses to live his life on stilts – is perhaps the most conventional and charming, although its message of eccentric individuality in one’s dreams carries a loneliness that recurs through many of the other films.
Conor Whelan’s “Snowfall” tells a story of modern-day alienation with a wistfulness that sees its hero’s reality turn as malleable as his state of mind. Lynn Tomlinson’s “Ballad of Holland Island House” uses thick oil paint and a haunting folk ballad to underscore the inevitable desertion and decay of an island home lost to the sea.
The Chaplinesque Iranian short “Stripy” sees an assembly line worker rebel against the conformity of his job, only to see his expression of freedom co-opted. And Konstantin Bronzit’s sweet, sad “We Can’t Live Without Cosmos” follows two boyish, inseparable astronaut candidates, their loving bond threatened by the unfeeling institution that’s the only way for them to achieve their shared dream.
But the final film is the killer. The 15-minute “World of Tomorrow” comes from cult animation legend Don Hertzfeldt (“Rejected,” “It’s Such a Beautiful Day”). Like the amazing couch gag he did for “The Simpsons” last year (no, really), the short delves deep into the future of humanity and finds grotesqueries, hilarity and improbable, jaw-dropping heartbreak, all expressed in Hertzfeldt’s signature stick figure, minimalist style.
In it, a little girl named Emily (voiced by Hertzfeldt’s niece) is visited by her own clone from the future and told a story of mankind’s ill-advised, often absurd, ultimately horrifying attempts to stave off death with science. As the friendly but confused toddler hears of her future self’s sad fate, her innocent chirps of uncomprehending joy are, by turns, affectingly vulnerable and deeply funny. “World of Tomorrow” is the sort of capper to a short-film festival that will leave you clamoring for more.
The Animation Show of Shows is co-presented by SPACE Gallery and screens at the Portland Museum of Art at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $8, $6 for PMA members. The screening runs 97 minutes, and is appropriate for ages 8 and up.
COMING TO LOCAL SCREENS
NICKELODEON CINEMA (PORTLAND) | patriotcinemas.com
Friday: “The Danish Girl.” Last year’s Best Actor Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne makes another bid for awards glory playing real-life transgender pioneer Lili Elbe, who with the love and support of wife Gerda Wegener (Alicia Vikander), became one of the first recipients of gender reassignment surgery, in the 1920s.
THE STRAND THEATRE (ROCKLAND) | rocklandstrand.com
Saturday: “Grease” Sing-Along. Slick back your hair and break out the poodle skirts for this audience-participation event for fans of the 1978 John Travolta-Olivia Newton-John musical about suspiciously old looking high-schoolers in the 1950s. The perfect post-holiday outing – for certain people.