Phoenix Film Festival Animated Shorts and Panels

Sunday saw us back at the 18th Annual Phoenix Film Festival where we had the opportunity to go see the only block of Animated Short Films.

These are clearly showing how extremely sophisticated independent animators are becoming as most of these were operating on a level I have never seen before. Needless to say I was very impressed with all of the films shown this day.

Revelation: City of Haze
Director: Mao Qichao
Synopsis: In a dystopian future, a dark age has occurred. In the city, inequality and misery prevail, and insurgents are thrown down by stormtroopers…
Easily see that society is fallen to ruin in this stop-motion short. it deals with a boy who witnesses the death of his mother and then returns to the City of Haze years later. The short is very artistic. It is also quite vague, but is made up in pure artistry and beauty. Very Asian, but still very beautiful.
Director: Yung Gul Cho
Synopsis: E-Delivery critiques today’s cultural climate of human’s total dependency on machines.
Delightfully amusing cgi about how automation sort of de-humanizes us. Incredibly amusing, likening the making of a child to that of coffee. The specifics in machines is more in regards to automation. Machines have taken away so much from human creation, and this amusing short film takes that to its most extreme and suggests that eventually machines will be responsible for harvesting all of the raw materials needed to conceive life and even make a determination as to how the person will grow up. It was quite amusing, but does ring with a bit of truth.
Two Balloons
Director: Mark C. Smith
Synopsis: Two travelers return to a place crossed by stars and clouds where love is at the beginning of everything.
Love conquers all, especially through a storm. Lovely stop-motion again suggesting an emphasis on appearances.
To start this off, the two travelers happen to be Lemurs, giving it a sort of cute aspect to it, especially given how humanlike they conduct themselves. Everything is about how they’re trying to rendezvous to a special spot, but through challenges and obstacles that reunion is at risk of not happening, and yet they make that reunion happen, showing again that nothing can get in the way of true love. It was a very touching short, partly because of the cute factor, but also because of the story.
The Big Shot
Director: XiaoMing Zhang
Synopsis: Sky Chaos is about the main character’s experiences and the relationships between them and their enemies in the ancient China Yuan Dynasty.
Very much in the fighting style of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, this CGI short entertainingly tells the story of a group of people invaded by some thieves, and their need for a perceived swordsman to come to their rescue.
This is the second short of Sky Chaos. It opens as cgi, but during a sequence where one character tells a story of his past it shifts to a more traditional looking hand drawn sequence. For those who love the Chinese martial arts films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or House of the Seven Daggers, there is a beautiful artistry that speaks to the Chinese culture, both in characters and in film style. Sudden stopped action, coupled with facial closeups really speak to those trademarks that are so prevelant in some Chinese cinema, but it also plays against some character stereotypes assisting in some of the entertainment value of this short film.
Director: Joe Sulsenti
Synopsis: Fishy explores the relationship between a far and son through a life threatening situation where the father accepts his son for who he is.
Very touching hand drawn short film. After a man is lost at sea and is friended by mermaids who is introduced to lifestyles that are unfamiliar. Through that his life his never the same and understands his son in ways he never dreamed possible. There is something very beautiful when short film subjects can tackle subjects along the lines of parental acceptance of their children, regardless of who and what they are. While the animation was simple and almost cartoonish, the message helps to elevate it to something far more noble.
Torture by Sound
Director: Gwenyth Christoffel
Synopsis: What if everyday sounds left you in pain? Torture by Sound explores the impact misophonia has on its victims
Interesting short with actual sound bites from people and experts who deal with misophonia, accompanied with brief pencil sketches describing some of the sounds and experiences people have to deal with when dealing with this condition. Great short that can entertain and educate as well. Many times we have seen animation used to help educate children in basic areas of education and living, but there is something refreshing in seeing an animated film that actually used the art form to illustrate what some people suffer from. I would like to think that anyone who watches this would not only be more educated in this area, but also more sensitive towards people dealing with misophonia.
Director: Mo Davoudian
Synopsis: Pilots are sent to retrieve secret elements, but are forced into becoming heroes once the secret is revealed to them.
Interesting blending of genres done with cgi in the style of stop motion. It’s sort of like seeing Star Wars blend with John Carter of Mars andTomb Raider. From a purely fictional standpoint this animated short was probably the standout of the festival. It covered all of the major elements by giving us very interesting protagonists, a fascinating plot, and some excellent adventure presented through some very interesting animation. Great fun, but only Part One!
Plans for a sequel, feature length, possibly even a series.
The Driver is Red
Director: Randall Christopher
Synopsis: Argentina, 1960: this true crime documentary follows the hunt for one of the highest ranking Nazi war criminals.
This short is a true story with a man sharing a story that gets illustrated with black pen and paper, which speaks to the total horror of the Holocaust. The heart of this short deals with an agent from Mossad named Zvi Aharoni and his pursuit of a man named Ricardo Klement, better known as Adolph Eichman and his clandestine immigration to Argentina. Highly compelling short for such a serious subject. The collection of sketches, simple as they were, so beautifully told the story. While Nora was the standout from a fictional standpoint, this specific short was easily the best one of the entire block for being able to tackle a terribly serious subject and make it extremely interesting and oddly enough entertaining at the same time. The collection of sketches as well as Aharoni’s story (beautifully voiced by Mark Pinter) made this short that I could not turn away from.
After the Animated Short Film Festival we made our way over to the Party Pavilion where there was scheduled later in the day a panel titled “Shock & Awe: Horror and Sci-Fi” with filmmakers who liked to work in that genre. The host was Monte Yazzie and on the panel were filmmakers with movies playing in the festival. Those panelists were Miguel J. Soliman (Isabel), Jaanelle Lee (Sell Your Body), Adam Lossurdo and Chris Stival (Hope), and Nicholas Thurkettle (The Dinner Scene).

To kick off the discussion, one of the questions posed was in regards to the writing process itself and the challenges that it presents, as well as how the filmmakers craft the world in their movies.

Some panelists wanted to make urban legend based on today’s technology and some of the repressed issues that some people deal with in today’s society. Other approaches included taking an established genre and turning it on its ear as with the zombie movie Hope.
What the “gateway” into making genre films, which range from light genre films like Goonies to some of the more serious like Halloween. Others included Nightmare On Elm Street and The Skin I Live In.
One question was how hard is it to produce films in a streaming saturated market as opposed to the 80’s and 90’s VHS days, and one opinion felt that streaming services actually creates for more opportunities to get our content out there, plus forcing the filmmaker to “check their work.” There was a consensus that going out to rent a movie at a Blockbuster had a certain “date appeal” to it, but most filmmakers didn’t seem to find it as a detriment. Instead they feel it forces them to be more original with what they make. It also raised the point that filmmakers have to be “audience profilers” because of the choices that the mass audience might make when selecting movies that audience would want to watch. It was also expressed that audiences are getting smarter, which again forces filmmakers to put more work in creating a film that could have a broader appeal yet retain a sense of artistry, as well as writing stories that could deal with social issues today, ranging from dating apps to female trafficking. With the comedy zombie movie Hope, despite the twisting of the zombie horror genre, it also deals with bullying. Thurkettle felt that sci-fi and horror usually serve as settings for the tumultuous social issues of today. These movies allow for topics to be discussed that people don’t want to talk about, and that sci-fi and horror are really about life and the human condition.
It was also felt that the horror genre was very welcoming for the women’s perspective making it easier for women to make progress in the horror genre.
There was a brief side-car conversation regarding the new Star Wars trilogy and it was felt that perhaps these movies have been a bit of a regurgitation of older films, and perhaps that we as adults are growing out of those.
It was also asked some of the challenges that filmmakers had to face as well as what they did to overcome them. The answers were pretty much the same amongst all of the panelists, starting with surrounding yourself with strong collaborators as well as learning how to compromise when necessary.
As always, we had an amazing time at the festival. The film blocks were entertaining as always, and the panels were very interesting and informative. It was a joy for us to listen to these talented men and women who are on the cutting edge of independent creativity with their vision as filmmakers, and it’s a credit to Phoenix Film Festival for bringing these wonderful people together for an event of this caliber.

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