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Deputy Film and TV Editor Gabi Spiro reviews the animated films from Encounters’, that have utilised their unique format as a more powerful form of storytelling. 

This compilation of animated short films is centred around the vision of juxtaposing whimsical shorts with darker ones – in the words of Encounters, films which ‘swing from one extreme to the other; from sweet and light-hearted to ominous deep oppression’. Even within singular shorts, the mood often changed from comical to depressing, or poked fun at grim matters in order to satirise them.

A clear favourite was British Cakes 4 British Boys, directed by Goldsmiths’ Tobias Cameron, who was sat in the audience and was introduced before the screening began. This short surreal film, made up of both stop frame motion and cartoon 2D animation, explored the British far right’s racist attitudes, comparing them, somehow, with cakes. The film satirises politicians like Theresa May and Boris Johnson (more sour than sweet), with laugh out loud moments of absurdity.

The best feature of the short was the narration. A male voice performed poetry, inspired by Daniil Kharms and John Cooper Clarke. He adds to the film’s humour with witty punning in lines like ‘prepare to be battenburged!’ while we see a fist pummel a cake. British Cakes 4 British Boys owes its success to the simplicity of its idea. It was not pretentious, and it appealed to it’s majority student audience. A criticism of the current political climate will always go down well, especially in Bristol.

A still from The Best Customer (and not Anthony Hopkins in Westworld)

The Romanian film The Best Customer was another stand-out. It is a beautiful short centred on a husband and wife who own a funeral home, and are paid a visit by a suspicious customer. The wife trails him, realises he is harmless, and befriends him before his eventual death at the end of the short. What makes this film remarkable is its careful, tidy mise-en-scene. The set is quaint and the puppets have a softness about them. The voice over, which is delivered in rhyme, adds an element of comedy to what initially appears to be a dark film, and is later revealed to be a story about friendship and mourning. A perfect example of how cinema, short or otherwise, can balance both light and dark elements, in a cohesive whole.

A stunning example of the parallels between ‘sweet and sour’ is Flying Putzi. This film, directed by Israeli filmmaker Putzi Hameofef, tells of a boy with a cognitive disability who wishes he could fly with his best friend, Pepi the Turkey. Encouraged by the bullying neighbourhood boys, he stands at the top of a building and leaps out. We watch him fly, free and beautiful and happy for about half a minute, before he pummels to the ground. At the end of the short, Pepi flies away and we sense optimism. Flying Putzi is a heart-wrenching and sensitive film, and it’s noteworthy that Hameofef manages to achieve this in a mere six and a half minutes.

The Flying Putzi

Hot Dog Hands, by American director Matthew Reynolds, was frankly bizarre. A suburban woman cannot stop growing fingers, and becomes reclusive because of it. She eventually follows a goblin-esque creature through a post box where she discovers his colony consisting of more goblin men who sort through the mail and eventually worship her as their queen. Though the premise is original and interesting, the lacklustre animation withdraws from the intriguing peculiarity of the film. It is reminiscent of The Rugrats in its pastel, 90’s cartoon-like feel, which means it doesn’t feel of the same calibre of the rest of the short films in this collection.

The films were remarkably different, especially considering the category was themed. Though watching collections of varied short films can sometimes be disorientating, even the darkest of these films had charming elements – perhaps by nature of animation – and they complimented each other well. Many, such as To Be A Tree, were tender, while others, namely Invisible Barriers, were bursting with overt political commentary. As a whole, these films from across the globe, by both professional and student film makers, live up to Encounters’ esteem which the festival has established for itself over the past 23 years.

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