Review | London International Animation Festival

This review was originally written for Animations Online

Like puppetry, animation is slowly being taken more seriously as an adult art form that allows filmmakers to tackle subjects in ways live action never could. Animation isn’t a genre, but there are many genres of animation – from abstract art pieces through to factual documentary. All genres are represented at the London International Animation Festival (LIAF), and all methods too – the latest computer animation shares a screen with hand drawn, stop motion and paint on glass.

For anyone interested in this type of filmmaking, the chance to watch endless shorts in the comfort of the smart if not cosy surrounds of the Barbican’s new cinemas is a joy. The various programmes on offer at LIAF are always mixed bags – with some surprisingly amateurish pieces included – but there is invariably at least one film that makes your trip more than worthwhile.

At International Programme 2, five of the eleven films especially stood out. ‘Body Memory’ (Estonia 2011, Dir Ulo Pikkov) was as bizarre as it was brilliant. Tiny women made from balls of string gradually and violently unravel as they are transported somewhere in a closed wood crate. The story was open to interpretation, but this was dark stop motion animation at its most convincing and complex.

‘Wild Life’ (Canada 2011, Dirs Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis) was a lovely looking painted piece of storytelling, with a hard edge. ‘Villa Antroproff’ (Estonia/Latvia 2012 Dirs Vladimir Leschiov and Kaspar Jancis) told a funny yet ultimately depressing story of Western greed and African aspiration without the need for a script. ‘Fata Morgana’ (Holland 2011, Dir Frodo Kuipers) was punchy and funny, with Ralph Steadman-esque illustration. ‘Independent Mind’ (Portugal 2011, Dir Marta Monteiro) had a wonderfully hand drawn, doodle-like feel.

The Animated Documentaries session on Sunday was popular and the Q&A that followed interesting. The panel explored why animation is well placed to tell certain stories but also the dangers and responsibilities of representing rather than reinventing facts. ‘End the Death Penalty’ (UK 2012, Dir Jonathan Hodgson) was an Amnesty International commission about Iran and an example of a difficult subject that only animation could tackle. Animation can preserve people’s anonymity, show scenes live action never could and also simplify complex issues.

A series of micro interviews with an older Cockney wide boy ‘Bob on…’ (UK 2012, Darren Walsh) was hilarious as well as insightful, and showed a live action body and background combined with an oversized animated head. ‘Father’ (Croatia/Bulgaria/Germany 2012, Dirs various) was an epic exploration of five interviewees’ negative paternal relationships. It cleverly weaved together five very distinct animation styles to create something cohesive, beautiful and unnerving.

The Abstract Showcase was less engaging, but two films stood out. ‘20 Hz’ (UK 2011, Dirs Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt) was a visually and aurally stunning animation created from data collected during a storm by the CARISSMA radio array telescope; and ‘One Second Per Day’ (France 2011, Dir Richard Negre) was the imaginative result of a project where the animator drew one second of film per day for a year.

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