TWILLERAMA II

Nearly twenty five million (25,000,000) people have watched that “Charlie the Unicorn” cartoon on YouTube.  That’s an “I Love Lucy” headcount.    If there were a science to getting viewers, the world of Jeff Twiller and Slushing Brooks would surpass the billion mark by comparison.

TWILLERAMA II from the Molly Pitcher Rest Stop of the NJ Turnpike

A few years back MTV revived “Beavis and Butthead”.  These are brilliant characters. The show was clever, insightful and an eerily accurate account of teen life -in the late 20th Century.  Are there still thousands upon thousand of disaffected teens in AC/DC t-shirts making “boner” jokes while watching music videos on cable?   Maybe I’m out of touch, maybe babies born in the 90s have grown into replicas from a 20 year old world.  The revival failed just as a series in 1991 which starred two flower-hair kids listening to New Riders of the Purple Sage while burning their draft cards would have failed.

Jeff Twiller, Rod Holcomb, Randy J. Johnson and their retinue occupy a cobwebbed corner of cyberspace.  Movie reviews, blogs, workout videos, Facebook wars.   Within the last decade social media and “nerd culture” have dominated the contemporary discourse.  This painstakingly authored universe uses recent media developments -Youtube, Facebook, et cetera- as a poison pill means of delivery. The central player, Jeff Twiller, could easily be the guy you sat next to in school, or your cousin, your neighbor or even you.

This Saturday, June 6,  the second edition of TWILLERAMA premieres at Videology in Brooklyn.

The animated Jeff Twiller presents a hand picked selection of short films.  Joining him as co-host is his friend Rod Holcomb.  In addition to films by greats like Rose Stark, Caleb Wood, Signe Baumane and not so greats like me, the evening promises guest appearances by the animated likenesses Elliot Cowan and Joe Garden and his Ford Festiva.

This is not simply a screening of animation, this is the entry point to a brilliant and finely constructed parallel reality.  If justice prevailed in our reality, Jeff Twiller would be bigger than a rainbow covered unicorn and every cable network would be fighting to get him.

TWILLERAMA II  • Videology • 308 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11211

June 6, 2015 • 8 PM

2013 Ottawa International Animation Festival – Day Four

This year the Festival was a little compressed. I think having the awards on Saturday is a good idea, but that means the programming gets crammed into -essentially- two days. Saturday feels like a lost day, and Sunday we’ll be taking off. It’s a good format and I’m sure the scheduling will be cleaner if they continue with it.

It should also be noted that the projection at this festival is universally good. Having been through a hundred or so screenings over the years, there have only been a few instances of bad projection (all at the same venue). That’s an accomplishment. Each year well over 200 films screen at least twice each, these are spread over a half dozen venues. A filmmaker can be assured that their work will be given great treatment by the technical team.

I sat in on a “Meet the Filmmakers” today. The program we represented was universally good. Members of the audience, as always, wasted time on repeated questions and uninteresting nonsense but all the directors had revealing things to say about their work. Except me, I just blathered and hid my ignorance with big words.

Eric Goldberg gave a talk at St. Brigid’s Church -a new location this year. He was followed by the creator of Cartoon Network’s popular “Regular Show”. Both of these talks filled the pews.

I had Tom Sito sign his new book: “Moving Innovation: The History of Computer Animation”. I like “Drawing The Line” a great deal and look forward to reading this one.

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The stations of the cross seem appropriate decor for an awards ceremony. This year’s may not have been as bad as falling for the third time, but it was no Veronica wiping your face, either.

Many of the award selections for short form films fell somewhere between poor and laughably atrocious, but the audience award for “But Milk Is Important” was well chosen. Filmmakers Eirik Grønmo Bjørndrn & Anna Mantazaris made a nice piece and should be encouraged to make more. It may be a difficult road for them, but let’s hope they continue on it.

The non-jury “Best Canadian Animation” went to “Two Weeks – Two Minutes” by Judith Poirier. This is cameraless film using printmaking techniques. I liked it a great deal. There a world of graphic designer films that this fits in to. I may start thinking more about these types of films. They don’t consider themselves “animation” -and they might not be, but I think they go back to Saul Bass and to Len Lye and probably even earlier.

The show wrapped with what started as a funny bit -one of the students from Japan singing to his work.

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As it went on (far too long), it began to feel more and more like a minstrel show -a young man doing an Oriental Step-n-Fetchit routine. Maybe next year’s theme for student projects can explore the line between self-effacing and self-debasing.

2013 Ottawa International Animation Festival – Day One

An overriding excuse -I’ve been busy lately.  In bed at 3 am, out a 7 am (or later and earlier) kind of busy.  This, of course, is my own fault.  Trying to accommodate the world.

Multi-week sleep deprivation is a similar sensation to attending a film festival.  A soft cloud develops around your head, sunlight grows a sharpened edge, a long red light seems like a good time for a little nap.  Rollercoaster programming of a good festival, though, will make you angry and elated and raise you out of the even-keeled funk of the working world.

The festival in Ottawa unfurls so that it’s possible to be slowly drawn into the movie-haze unaware, in my current state I hit it in full fog.  The Television Animation Conference precedes the film programming by a day.  This is mostly dull stuff about animation as a product.  Movie making as money making, producing art as though it were manufacturing widgets.  But still, there is always something interesting.  Yesterday that was a panel that included Titmouse impresario Chris Prynowski.  His work as an animator is impressive and his studio produces work that exceeds the quality of any other making series for American television.  As a speaker he’s engaging and articulate.  He’s honest about the process and clearly know what he’s talking about.  A lot of people hide behind abstractions and broad figures when discussing work -it hints at a mere surface understanding of what it takes to make something.  Prynowski’s self-effacing discussion of the top to bottom details of his operation is possibly the most engaging thing I’ve seen at any TAC.

canadian-museum-of-nature

This year the event is being held at the Museum of Nature.  It’s a nice venue.  Cocktail parties surrounded by dinosaurs.

Two screenings in the evening: the French/Belgian feature “Approved for Adoption” and the competition shorts #1.

Approved for Adoption

It might be a new “thing” in European animation, and it’s not a good thing, to “toon shade” CGI models so they look like something from Xtranormal.com.  There was a short in competition that did the same thing.  It’s made even worse by the drawn sequences in the film that are generally pretty attractive (same is true for the short).

For me, the highlight film of the short program was Edmunds Jansons’ “Choir Tour.”  The story is no great shakes but the design and animation are both terrific.

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The look utilizes contemporary drawing tools -likely Illustrator or Photoshop or some such thing in a pleasing and expressive fashion.  The animation is idiosyncratic and exploits the design.

Julia Pott’s “The Event” also ran.  There’s a lot to like about this film, and I’ve seen it several times.  It holds up (and in some ways improves) with repeat viewings.  I wish I could pinpoint why it leaves me a little cold.  It’s a good piece, though.  Strange to say, it felt a little out-of-place in the program.  Usually an apocalypse like this would be one of many in a competition selection- last night it felt like the only one.

Joanna Priestley’s “Split Ends” is attractive.  It feels like some of the graphics within it could form the basis of an interesting film.  She’s working in shape and abstraction to the point where they near representation.  Maybe this experiment will get pushed further in a future work.

Back from the deadCENTER

oklahomaSpent a long weekend in Oklahoma City at the deadCENTER Film Festival where “Christmas Day” ran twice in a short film program.

The festival itself is well run (even though they ran out of goodie bags by the time we registered -that’s more probably more indicative of its popularity than anything else) and offers a good mix of intelligent programming.  “Intelligent programming”, for example, our film was featured in a series called “Love, Sex and Death”.  Leah Shore’s “Old Man” was a stand out in the stand out program called “Vamps, Ghouls & Haunts”.  These themes make it easier on the audience and are offer a fair platform to the films by presenting them in a league of related work -even if they are just third cousins, twice removed.

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Festival director Lance McDaniel told me that most of the shorts programs were already reaching sell-out by the first day.  Our first screening pretty much filled up the 100 plus seat multiplex theater despite the fact that only two filmmakers were in attendance.

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Despite Oklahoma’s well-known primitive stances on human rights issues like gay marriage and the gleeful ignorance of some of their highest elected officials, it’s clear that some strong civic voices in the state are pushing back in an effort to build a community which is representative of the 21st Century.  This has begun with a successful urban renewal project that includes renovated parks, a river walk in the style of San Antonio, a botanical garden and arts outreach programs.

Not insignificantly, the festival inaugurated an “Equality” program this year.  A few of these films were produced regionally.  The entire program, especially the the local films and moreover the audience response was moving.  It gives hope that universal access to equal rights under the law may not be as far down the pipe as certain lawmakers would like.

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The projection and venues (I was in three venues and six screens -the Festival taking over half of well-run multiplex) were all good.  The library, pictured above, had a fairly small screen in a very nice lecture hall and the blu-ray image spilled off it.  Despite that the environment was appropriate for “Out of Print” -a documentary on books and their future.  That film, edited by the always brilliant Tom Patterson, took the “Best Documentary” prize in a field that included some very stiff competition.

party

There were jam-packed parties every night in different locations.  But I’m old and they were too loud and too crowded so I didn’t spend much time at any.  The kids would have loved them.

I had a good time, met some great people and saw some exceptional work.  This is definitely a festival for serious film makers.  A more than worthwhile experience.

Arcane Knowledge

Last week Molly Bernstein gave us a last minute call to help her get “DECEPTIVE PRACTICE: THE MYSTERIES AND MENTORS OF RICKY JAY”, a documentary she’d been working on with Alan Edelstein for a decade or so in shape for its sudden premiere at the New York Film Festival next week.

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This is a film all animators should see -not for the graphics (which need a lot of help, truth be told) -but for the artistry and intellect of it’s protagonist.

I’ve talked about the kinship of magic and animation in the past, this concept I will continue to testify until shown incontrovertible evidence of a fault in thinking.

The connection was further entwined by some comments the magician made during the questioning after the screening.

Some selections, in chronological sequence from the interview:

“It’s good to the history of your art but not entirely mandatory” [then went on describe an autodidact in Colorado who devised his own forms of magic without contact to the greater tradition]

On the camera: “If it is just like a person, you have to know where that person is standing when you’re performing.”

“Look at tape and be critical” [but he also relies on a small group of friends to help him perfect his pieces]

“The accessibility of magic is unparalleled. Even though there’s more information and more people doing it, the percentage of people doing it well remains unchanged.”

His company’s tag line: “Arcane knowledge on a need to know basis.”

Ottawa International Animation Festival – Day Four

Started at 9 AM by interviewing Elliot Cowan about his feature film production. I’d prefer to attend the Meet the Filmmaker sessions, but there are only so many slots in the day and they scheduled us first thing -leaving the later hours open for more mainstream draws.

The coffee which Azarin Sorabkhani, the producer of the morning’s events, was able to drum up for us was first rate.

The talk went fairly well, I guess. A few people continued the conversation with me over the day by stopping me here or there with a thoughtful question.

From there I tried to sit in on another professional development discussion (better attended than ours), but was quickly agitated and had to leave.

On the way out, we ran into Morgan Miller just come from breakfast with Ralph Bakshi before his interview with the director scheduled for 12:30. We stopped for a pre-show snack.

Morgan Miller and Ralph Bakshi

Their interview was a lot of fun. Bakshi went on for a bit sometimes, especially at the beginning. He’s always seemed like a guy with something to say, or at the very the something on his mind and the integrity of intellect to make it public.

My second interview session with Smith & Foulkes ran at 3:00. This was changed up a little from the first. We started with “This Way Up” and bounced around. To me this is a preferable presentation. The chronology of an artist’s work is academically interesting but poor showmanship. Start strong. A chronological show inevitably begins with a person’s weakest work.

Unfortunately, this went up against Competition Screening 4 so I missed that. Reports imply that this may have been good fortune.

Competition 5 was a strong program. Like program 1, it’s a strong program without necessarily having outstanding films. It works as a solid evening in itself and would work as a traveling show as well as selection for a festival.

Avoiding prejudice is one of the hardest things in thinking about and writing about film. I have a great distaste for Don Hertzfeldt’s last few films. I’ve written about them previously, so I won’t go into that here.

Hertzfeldt’s latest closed the program. It’s pretty good. Infinitely superior to his recent work. He’s cut out all the Family Guy style gags and is very straightforward in his filmmaking. It’s unfair to compare the film to someone like Joe Frank, whose radio work is unparalleled, but there is similarities. Also unfair to compare him to Phil Mulloy, whose achieved transcendence with simplicity. “It’s Such A Beautiful Day” is somewhere in between. It’s a nice place to be.

Ottawa International Animation Festival – Day Two

It’s not hard to forget that it’s work.

Meet the filmmakers was uneventful. I twittered some choice quotes.

Michael Fukushima of the NFB introduces Competition 1 Filmmakers

My primary goal for the day was to meet Alan Smith and Adam Foulkes to discuss our conversation scheduled for 7:00.

Small fortune shown and that encounter happened a full eight or so hours before we were to go on.

The International Showcase screened in the afternoon. Our film was included. There’s a clear distinction between the films of Competition 1 and the Showcase films. Most of the showcase films had something to recommend them, but fell short of in one or two areas.

The program begins with “Paperman” from the Disney studio. Whenever I see one these Disney or Pixar pieces for the first time, it feels like I’ve already seen it. Not in that good Joseph Campbell kind of way, either. It’s an inconsequential film, and sad that so much talent, labor and money has gone into so meaningless.

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The talk with Smith & Foulkes went well. We’re doing an encore on Saturday.

Short Competition 2, beginning after the 9 o’clock hour, was a bit of a trial after 12 hours of hustle. The program included several strong films. And several head-scratchers. Micheala Pavlatova’s “Tram” had a lot going for it. A sexual fantasy of female trolly driver, I wonder how this film would play if it were made by a man.

Joseph Pierce returned with “The Pub” utilizing a similar rotoscoping technique from his “Family Portrait”. It’s an exciting approach.

The evening ended with a very long Dutch film “The Monster of Nix” by Rosto. This is an expensive looking, unintelligible piece. The few parts that do make sense, make the viewer grateful that the rest of it is a gobbly muck.

Ottawa International Animation Festival -Day One

rThUneventful day on Wednesday.

In the morning I tried some Television Animation Conference panels.  Tough going.  Especially the French woman who -with stereotypical chauvinism -asserted that animation would likely not exist today if not for it’s “creation” in France.  A mythical creation that has no proof in the fossil record and would have very little bearing on the development of the art even if some undiscovered film surfaced to bear witness to the Franco-falsehood.

So that kind of bothers me.

Otherwise, a kind of lovely day.

Early dinner with Liesje Kraai, Anna Humphries, Brett Thompson and Morgan Miller

The first screening of the Festival was the feature “Wrinkles”. This four-walled for Oscar eligibility last year and I missed it. It’s a Spanish film about a guy moving into Alzheimer’s who gets sent to an old folks home.

Atypical subject matter for the technique. The illustration style is pleasant -sort of a mid-90s Eurocomic look -and has the potential for expressive and human animation. The whole effort is solid, if too long by 30 minutes.

I was asked to say some words on Tissa David before the shorts competition first screening.

The bit was recorded, though the first sentence or two was chopped off.

Short competition 1 was even. The first two films established a theme of “bodies”. Johanna Rubin’s “Meat + Love” kicked it off. It’s a stop motion film of kissing, the faces formed with cuts of meat and giblets. Disgusting, sure. But smart and charming.

This was followed by Paul Bush’s “Lay Bare”. This is, essentially, a pixellation shot in close ups of several bodies. Birthmarks and moles and belly buttons animation through quick cuts. Also wins you over with charm -but goes on a little too long. A second chapter opens with a baby, full face. The audience let out and audible “Awww”. It was loud, but not loud enough to cover my internal “Ugh”. The filmmaker presents this second part as a heavy-handed thesis, dropping in some text (in a poor, poor typeface -the other theme for the night) to drive home his point. How much more elegant and profound this film would be without that.

Those two films set the tone and the standard for the evening. A program of solid films -about half a little too long, as always; and many with terrible typographic decisions. But all good and possibly made better in context.

Old Man

I have a hardened eye towards animated films based on “real audio”. Generally the picture drags down the audio; the audience would be better served listening to a radio play.

Sometimes it works.

Leah Shore’s “Old Man” opened the Genart Festival yesterday. Culled from hours of phone recordings with Charles Manson, her take is visceral and exciting, mostly avoiding simply serving up the voice track.

Of course, it helps that the voice track is a largely incoherent, insane ramble.

Here’s the film’s website. http://oldmanmanson.com/

It was paired with a difficult romantic comedy which was geared towards an audience who isn’t me (I guess I’m not the right Gen).

What was strangest, to me anyway, was the emphasis the festival presenters put on the “parties”. Most of the packaging gave them equal billing “Seven Films, Seven Parties”. The guy who introduced the film (he was from ABC[?] radio) was also particularly excited about the party.

So I can’t say much about the Festival itself -an awkward pairing of short and feature, an embarrassing emphasis on periphery and the product- but I think “Old Man” is an excellent piece of work.

Some Help? – Repost

We’ve gotten some great submissions for this, and as the other segments are barreling along we’d love to add your contribution!

As previously mentioned, we’re doing the signal films for this year’s Ottawa Animation Festival.

Like most of our projects we’re making it both simpler and far more complicated than it needs to be. 
There will be several episodes.

In one, we’re going to do that face thing, in three parts, flipping.  From the kid’s books.  I have no idea what it’s called.