Jury Night: Independent Films (Article Two)

It’s that time of year again…or one of many times of year, but this one is ours. ASIFA-East’s festival judgings usually span a few nights, and one particular night is dedicated to the independent work of animation artists. New York has always been a hotbed of artistic talent, and independent animation certainly has its place established.

Having said that, the Independent night is actually one of the hardest screenings to sit through. The overall screening is more inconsistent than the other categories. Student films show trends and young artists out to prove themselves; Commissioned works are more refined and streamlined; and Experimental works are all expected to be esoteric and idiosyncratic. But independent films run all these gamuts. While that’s no different from official festival selections, this is the night to judge the films, and a lot of them are hit or miss. And no matter what your tastes are, you have to sit through a lot of uninspired work to come across the best of these films.

There are, of course, some potential award winning films here, and thankfully they came from a mix of relative newcomers and veterans. Some of these films are more noted for their technical ability, while others are more noted for unique and distinctive writing styles. One film in particular (and this is the author’s opinion) had an okay visual style and technical ability, but its real strength lay in how the film was written. The film is funny, ironic and a little subversive. And its good to know that there are artists here who take the narrative process very seriously, making sure the writing works and has charm. Sometimes good writing and well-paced humor can make up for some technical visual flaws.

Although not a big trend (those are more common in the student films), there were quite a few films that dealt with aging and loss. These films were funny, sentimental, and at least one very sad. These films came from longtime submitters and veterans, dealing with personal age and losses both close and more general. The New York scene has seen some geographical loss recently, so these films definitely drive home a feeling of vulnerability.

A lot of the films have extremely limited animation styles, typically consisting of crude still images with only their mouths moving. This is typically employed as a form of ironic humor, with not-so-refined animation giving way to witty writing. It seems that this year a lot of artists are getting a little too carried away with crudeness. Some of these films start off humorous, but the longer they go on, the more tedious they become.

  • Seriously, a joke cannot be told in 10 minutes!

These ranked among the films that made the overall screening a chore to sit through. This clearly wasn’t the filmmakers’ intention, but that’s how it comes out in context.

And this style isn’t limited to 2D animation. There were quite a few 3D animated films, and crude 3D animation is not easy to sit through for a prolonged period of time (study David O’Reilly’s films for a few successful solutions). I could hear a few people near me complaining quietly about how horrible these films were, and why we couldn’t call “Time” on any of these films. I understand the feeling of not wanting to insult a high-ranking veteran by “Time”-ing their films, but if a film doesn’t work and more than a few people know, there’s just no point to it anymore. Seriously, a face in CG is more detailed, and one film is particular had a 3D character holding a perpetually bored smile throughout its appearance. Seriously, the filmmakers need to watch these films with a test audience (or for all we know, WE’RE the test audience).

One thing you can always find in the independent night are films with a flair for nostalgia. Sometimes when animators do their own indie shorts, it gives them the freedom to explore older styles of animation on their own terms. There were films this night that paid tribute to the Golden Age styles of 1930’s MGM and Warner Bros. Other films are genuinely shot on film (becoming even rarer now in our digitized world), lending both a pastiche and warm feeling to their content. The ASIFA-East judgings always have a few films showcasing celluloid experimentation. One of these films caught this author’s attention as it had the feeling of an early to mid-1980’s music video, from the golden age of MTV (of which New York animators found a niche in). The author may have been one of the few to feel this way, but it gives this film a few favorable votes that could come to benefit. There are still champions of traditional character animation out there, and to see a couple of 2D films with so much care and attention…the feeling is inspiring and a little bittersweet.

The author came away from this night feeling a little mixed. While there are definitely some potential winners here, films that can definitely inspire, there is a feeling that the Independent night didn’t receive all the best.