The Best Documentaries

The rich visions at this domestic showcase tantalise with what might be possible with healthier funding for our animators.

The London International Animation Festival’s annual showcase of the ‘best of’ British animation is a good opportunity to look at the state of the nation in terms of domestic production. It’s easy to pine for the ‘good old days’ of the 1980s and particularly the 90s, when British films dominated the Oscars for animated shorts with 50 per cent of the winners and an even more staggering 70 per cent of the nominations. A large part of this story is an extraordinary group of animators coming to fruition at the same time – Barry Purves, Nick Park, Mark Baker, Joanna Quinn, Paul Berry, Daniel Greaves – but the backbone of their achievements was an intelligent, daring and generous distribution of funds by the BBC and particularly Channel 4 over a 15-to-20-year period.

Those days are now gone, largely due to dramatic changes in the broadcast landscape since the turn of the century, but it’s important to remember that these years were the exception rather than the rule. It’s only through special circumstances that British animation has ever been handed resources and a platform in which to flourish, starting with the outbreak of World War I when established newspaper cartoonists like Bruce Bairnsfather and Harry Furniss began to draw for the cinema screen. This opened the door for the first specialist animators like Dudley Buxton and Anson Dyer to begin their cartoon careers, but competition from America and difficulties in finding profitable screen time meant that the good years were very brief.

A similar boost came in World War II, kick-starting companies like Halas & Batchelor and the Larkins Studio, and there was a brief ‘golden age’ for the industry from 1955 to the mid 60s on the back of the arrival of commercial television, which created a demand for animated adverts. But the general picture, as far as funding is concerned, has been pretty bleak and to make a successful film has demanded not just talent but also a certain amount of financial masochism or personal artistic martyrdom.

So what of today? In recent years the graduation film has proved one of the best – and unfortunately often one of the last – opportunities for young animators to undertake a personal project on their own terms. So it’s perhaps unsurprising that seven of the 15 films on show came from this path. Four of those were from the Royal College of Art’s Animation MA, which has produced some of the most exceptional British animations of recent years (as per the 2011 Short Animation BAFTAs, where they oversaw all three shortlisted films).

Each film here was very different, from Luiz Stockler’s Montenegro, a minimalist Flash-animated comic meditation on ageing and self-absorption, to Christine Hooper’s On Loop, a Hockney-inspired live-action collage piece on imagination and insomnia. Daniela Sherer’s The Shirley Temple was like an episode of Mad Men, were they to give up on live-action work and put the same efforts and intelligence into extending the credit sequence. Christian Schlaeffer’s The Dewberry Empire was a highlight, mixing a Studio Ghibli style with looser drawing and a narrative reminiscent of a missing scene from David Gordon Green’s George Washington.

Original Article on: www.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/sight-sound-magazine/comment/festivals/best-british-london-international-animation 

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