Encounters Film Festival 2016: Celebrating Animation

Encounters returned full force in its 22nd, offering its audiences an eclectic, surprising, and ever-impactful selection of exceptional live action and animation short films. A veritable force in the short filmmaking scene, Encounters pulled out all the stops in this year’s installment, with a bigger, bolder, and extremely varied programme of workshops, panels, and networking events.

Celebrating filmmaking and animation institutions (such as Aardman), cultural diversity (through the Widening the Lens series), and the output of particular countries (focusing on Ukraine this year), Encounters 22 provided, for another year, an excellent platform for audiences, industry professionals, and aspiring filmmakers to come together.

Unsurprisingly, the thorny issue of immigration, displacement, the refugee crisis, and all their attendant complexities are pressing subjects very much occupying centre stage in the minds of contemporary short film makers – as the works showcased in the Bloody Foreigners and Islands segments make clear.

In Daniel Mulloy’s hard-hitting Home, what starts off as an account of an ostensibly middle-of-the-road family holiday quickly descends into a nightmarish surreal vision of an alternate reality, where well-to-do British people are forced to flee and go through the harrowing experience of refugee migration against a South European backdrop.

Floor van der Meulen and Thomas Vroege went back to the source of the refugee crisis in 9 Days From My Window in Aleppo, a chronicle of the first nine days of the Aleppo uprising. Using footage and observations by renowned Syrian photographer Issa Touma, the film witnesses the slow crumbling of a neighborhood in the front line: Touma’s neighbours move away, communication is cut off; he has to move from his bedroom to the kitchen because that’s the safest place in his home. Soon he runs out of food.

Touma walks around the house aimlessly; he has “nothing left to talk about.” The bombings start and the skirmishes intensify. With unsentimental yet poignant immediacy, van der Meulen and Vroege bring the audience face-to-face with the devastation that the war has brought on the people and communities of Syria.

Using the startling point of view of a drone missile that slowly develops consciousness (and an acerbic one at that), Igor Simic’s Melancholy Drone offered an almost documentary-like depiction of the use of military technology in post-war Belgrade. While subtly inviting us to consider the necessary gap between military language and action, between action and result created by modern warfare, the film reveals how the former affords a distancing and subsequent disconnection in those engaged in the latter.

The question of identity, and its interplay with love and death was also a recurring theme in animation films across the festival, tackled from different angles. Veljko Popovic’s Planemo used oneiric, predominately black and white cinematography to depict its main character’s journey across a literally fragmented humanity he no longer belongs to because an accident paradoxically made him whole.

On a cosmic level, Réka Bucsi’s sweeping space epic Love documents a surreal tale unfolding on an alien planet, set off by the inexplicable and unexplained arrival of a patch of glowing turf. As the beings on the planet find and lose love, the initial sense of being mirrored in another being is followed by the inevitable sense of feeling consumed by them, and the subsequent drifting apart and back into an arid existence.

Animation segment Top of the Class brought together films selected on the basis of their ‘powerful emotional impact’, achieved through ‘production style, story, or artistic strength.’ Among them, Volker Schlecht and Alexander Lahl’s Kaputt gave an unflinching depiction of the biggest women’s prison in East Germany. Realising former inmates’ retellings of their experiences in Hoheneck Castle Prison, Schlecht and Lahl use harsh lines, and a pointed absence of musical score to illustrate the overbearing nature of incarceration. Through the film, a muted grey palate punctuated by flashes of red (lipstick, blood, a fabric pattern) underlines the overbearing effect of incarceration and forced labour on the women. The gradual built up of horror culminates in the harrowing revelation that the items made by inmates were shipped to western high street outlets.

Animated Minds: Stories of Postnatal Depression, part of the A Look Inside segment, brought together a range of directors and animation approaches to explore the different ways in which expectant and new mothers have experienced postnatal depression. Counterbalancing the loneliness, helplessness, and depersonalization common to all stories were the affirmation of motherhood resulting from the realization that the condition is present and needs to be addressed.

Once again, Encounters has given audiences and filmmakers a potent platform from which to explore and experience life and the world around them, from the smallest and most personal to the societal, cosmic, and philosophical.

The film festival ran from 20-25 September. Find out more: www.encounters-festival.org.uk

1. Encounters screening view. Courtesy of the festival and Jon Craig.