NW Animation Festival 2015 Edition Review

Northwest Animation Festival showcases some of the most exciting animation films from all over the world, and the year 2015 Edition is no different.

Now, before introducing a few of the features for this year, I would like to clear up some misconceptions about animated films. There are many who believe that animated films are somehow inferior to ‘real’ films. Such a prejudice is not only false, it also needlessly, and quite severely, limits one’s appreciation of the depth and scope of what cinematic art can be. If you care for cinema, you cannot live with such a limited view.

When one hears ‘animation films’, most of us only think of the commercial features produced by big American studios, or perhaps Japanese animation films. They are certainly the dominant forces in terms of recognition and box office sales, and there are quite a few films among them that deserve high recognition and respect. Yet, they are not the only ones worthy of our appreciation. There are many who prove that animated films are an art form without limits: In animation, one is not restricted to what one can capture through the camera, but by the limits of one’s vision and skill. Animation films can be awe-inspiringly diverse, thoughtful, playful, and deep. Because one can have unique freedom to express one’s vision directly to the screen in animated films, there are almost infinite styles and characteristics. Unfortunately, many carelessly dismiss animated films as a whole while only thinking of blockbusters. This conception is quite plainly false, and, thanks to the good work done by the NW Animation Festival team, we have a few days of cinematic pleasure to correct this misconception every year.

It is also helpful to remind ourselves that ‘real films’, excluding documentaries, are no different from animated films in the sense that they both express artists’ visions. This point is especially true today. We see many movies with the heavy use of CGI, or which feature a cartoon character as the main protagonist. One can also question just how ‘real’ the world represented in fantasy films and Sci-Fi films is. However, some might argue that human actors can induce a deeper emotional response in the audience than is achievable through animation. I agree that great actors can move us in ways that can change our perception of life and the world around us, yet I disagree with the view that animated films cannot do the same. To dismiss animated films as an art form just because it does not capture what is ‘real’ through the camera is akin to asserting that paintings are inferior to photographs. How could one argue that works of Van Gogh or Schiele are inferior to photographs? People who make this kind of argument are either not exposed to good animation films, or are simply being dogmatic, and thus too self-important to engage in a meaningful discourse.

Now, it is time to preview some of the carefully curated animated films featured for this year’s NW Animation Festival.

Nothing Else But Water by Carlos De Carvalho (France)

This is a charming piece about alienation and longing presented with outstanding animation quality. This is the kind of movie which captures you even before the actual film begins. From the moment the title credit appears, you will be captivated by just how exquisitely every detail is presented. The story also speaks to everyone, for we all have a moment when we feel invisible in this world where everyone but ourselves seems to be joyously celebrating life on earth. However, the real merit of this film is that it manages to speak this feeling without being dark or overly sentimental. Even in a moment of utmost hopelessness, it manages to remain humane, compassionate, and warm. So, please join us and enjoy the ride. It will brighten your day.

Beach Flags by Sarah Saidan (France)

Although this film was produced in France, it is about women in contemporary Iran where qualifying for the international sport competition can mean so much more than personal achievement. It follows the story of two women who compete for the sole spot to represent their country in an international competition of Beach Flags. Profoundly insightful and moving at once, I sincerely wish for everyone to watch this film and to appreciate how cinematic art helps us to transcend conventions such as gender, nationality, and religion. The struggles of these characters may be unfamiliar to us at first, but we soon realise that their hopes and fears are as real as ours.

Raw Data by Jake Fried (USA)

This is an incredible visual experience that reminds me of the latter half of Hermann Hesse’s literary masterpiece, Steppenwolf, where the protagonist, Harry Haller, gets lost in a psychedelic journey of self-discovery by means of self-destruction: Harry completely demolishes his own self-conception which leads to liberation from the ego. By delving into this crazy visual feat, you get a sense that the core of your experience in being exposed to this film is not merely aesthetic; it is mystical in a Hessian sense. If you are not familiar with the reference, please do not worry. The film itself is so powerful that it will get you there no matter what. Simply let go and experience this ‘Magic Theatre’ that changes your idea of what an animation film can and cannot do!

Tusk by Rory Waudby-Tolley (UK)

This poignant tale of a creature who is brought back to life in the modern world is disarmingly simple, yet also manages to deliver one of the most profound critiques of modern civilisation I have yet come across. If this description raises a red flag, you should not be concerned. There is no stereotypical political message that is both righteous and deafening. There are no brainy post-modern acrobatics either. Instead, the creature speaks ever so quietly. And it is this quietness of her voice that really delivers the message in the most moving way. So, please listen to what this amicable soul can tell us. It is important.

Footprints by Bill Plympton (USA)

This is a timely meditation on our ‘culture of fear’. By (literally) following the footprints of a mysterious monster, the movie shows just how fear feeds aggression, and aggression makes us more susceptible to fear in return. It reminds us just how deeply American masculinity is born out of fear, reactive aggression, and paranoia: the protagonist of this movie is a modern day Ahab who is obsessed by the shadow of Moby Dick. Now, a question: What is your Moby Dick? Who is it? Deliberate very carefully, for your fate depends on your answers. I recommend you to watch this movie before answering these questions, for you will surely learn a thing or two. Unless, of course, you are determined to go Ahab’s way.

The features previewed above are only a fraction of what NWAF selected from a deep pool of submitted films. I encourage not only animation film fans, but anyone who cares about quality films to join us in celebrating the sheer wonder of cinematic art in its full potential. The Best of NWAF 2015 will be hosted at Hollywood Theatre in Portland on 11 September, and at Bijou Metro on 19 September.