Saturday, 13 December 2014

The Best Documentaries

Best Documentaries

Other graduate films were equally diverse. The National Film and Television School’s animation course has a different, more collaborative approach than the RCA, with graduates from the music, scripting and other courses working together with the animation director. Yousif Al-Khalifa’s Sleeping with the Fishes, about a repressed lonely fishmonger and her strangely piscatorial delivery man, is typical of the school’s high production values and assured storytelling.

Ainslie Henderson’s I am Tom Moody is already familiar on the festival circuit, having won awards at this year’s Annecy and last year’s Animated Encounters festivals. This charming stop-motion film on performance and the past was produced at the Edinburgh College of Art and balances character, humour and emotion with a real maturity. The design and animation of the characters is excellent, particularly the eyes.

Ross Hogg’s [homepage] The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, from the Glasgow School of Art, took an altogether different approach, interpreting moments from Oliver Sachs’ book through charcoal drawings on paper, with each carefully rendered frame erased and redrawn to give life to the next.

Channel 4 has reinvigorated its support of animation to some extent since 2011 through its Random Acts scheme, commissioning or acquiring some 30 films a year from animators. With a running-time limit of three minutes, these concentrated little nuggets have been infinitely diverse, exemplified by the four in this programme. Elizabeth Hobbs’ Imperial Provisor Frombold [homepage] features an eighteenth-century vampire narrative carved into small rubber stamps and printed onto 35mm film, whilst Sue Magoo’s Moon River [homepage], a slickly perverted CGI vision of hands on holiday, is an altogether different prospect. (Sue Magoo [homepage] is a self-admittedly poorly chosen pseudonym for Alan Warburton, whose remarkable Z [homepage] was a highlight of the previous year’s commissions.)

That leaves those films made with little or no support by the filmmakers themselves, often sacrificing large amounts of their own time and money in-between freelance work or teaching gigs. Paul Bush’s Lay Bare is a beautiful animation using close-up features of the bodies of over 500 people of all ages and backgrounds; it took over six years to complete but was well worth the wait.

Tom Shrapnel and Cameron Lowe’s Aeolian is another personal project, made over three years for ‘zero budget’ – for which you should read that it was made instead of sleeping, eating and taking holidays, as nothing happens without cost. It’s a simple narrative, mixing live action and animation, of a loveably doughy creature arriving in minuscule size in picturesque countryside scenes, rapidly growing to gargantuan proportions and a new appreciation of the nature surrounding it.

There were other British films dotted around the LIAF programme, including the festival’s own Best British Film winner In the Air is Christopher Gray (pictured at top), by the very talented Felix Massie. That this film was made under the wing of the highly successful animation production company Nexus says much for the rewards of providing a shelter in which filmmakers can put their efforts into a work.

The British animation industry has always earned its keep through commercial jobs and children’s television, and has reached great heights in doing so. But there are many other more rewarding personal projects out there that struggle to see the light of day, and some 30 years’ worth of frustrated animators waiting and hoping for renewed interest and funding in order to make them. Tax breaks that have recently come into force might offer new opportunities for the industry, but the ‘golden ages’ seem long gone and unlikely to return.

If more considered financial support and attractive distribution platforms (for both audiences and filmmakers) could be found, the talent is there in spades. But there’s already plenty to relish in the works of those determined to get there films made.

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