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Animation’s Artful Experiments, from Surrealism to Oil Painting Aesthetics

The Animation is Film Festival in Hollywood showcases what’s exciting about the medium.

From Tito and the Birds (courtesy Animation is Film Festival)

LOS ANGELES — Last year, the Animation is Film Festival made an auspicious debut in Hollywood, packing some of the best of contemporary animation into one weekend. Now the festival returns for its sophomore effort, with programmers from the film distributor GKIDS and the Annecy Film Festival again highlighting some of the most innovative and unusual animated films from around the world. This year in particular, the festival has done an excellent job of bringing together movies with radically distinct visual styles and a common sense of down-to-earth humanism.

From Mirai (courtesy Animation is Film Festival)

There’s no better showcase for this than the works of Japanese director Mamoru Hosoda, whom the festival is honoring with a retrospective this year. His films use sci-fi or fantasy premises to build out some bravura action set pieces, but at each one’s core is a recognizable emotional through line. Summer Wars is a war movie set in virtual reality that’s about meeting and getting to know your significant other’s family. Wolf Children is about a mother raising a shapeshifting son and daughter whose travails aren’t too different from those of any single parent. Hosoda’s newest film, Mirai (making its US debut at the festival), features a young boy meeting guests from the future, including the grown-up version of his baby sister, in an allegory for family ties and anxiety about what is to come. By making incredibly fun animations that are also relatable, Hosoda has become a beloved figure among anime fans.

From This Magnificent Cake (courtesy Animation is Film Festival)

Other films set their stories in the context of greater historical events. The Belgian stop-motion movie This Magnificent Cake is an anthology set in an African hotel which explores themes around European colonialism in the 19th century. (It also plays alongside last year’s Swedish short The Burden, a wonderful existential musical about talking animals stuck in dead-end jobs.) Funana French, Luxembourgian, and Belgian co-production which won the Annency Animation Festival’s Cristal (its highest award), follows characters in 1970s Cambodia attempting to survive the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime. Another Day of Lifean international collaboration, uses rotoscope animation to bring to life journalist Ryszard Kapuściński’s 1976 book of the same name about the Angolan Civil War.

From Another Day of Life (courtesy Animation is Film Festival)

Other entries in the program filter classic artwork through a modern lens, not just with their stories but with their style. The Spanish film Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles follows Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí through their filmmaking collaborations in the early 1930s, and quotes the work of both Surrealists in their imagery. Similarly, Surrealism and Cubism are directly incorporated into the design and animation of Hungary’s Ruben Brandt, Collector — which is, appropriately enough, about a series of art heists.

From Ruben Brandt, Collector (courtesy Animation is Film Festival)

All these examples still don’t cover the breadth of offerings the Animation is Film Festival has over the course of just three days. There’s also a 2D/3D hybrid fantasy set in the Andes from Argentina, a non-horror ghost story in a traditional Japanese inn, and a Brazilian kids adventure film that utilizes oil painting aesthetics. No two films here are alike, and all of them present a different aspect of what’s exciting about animation right now.

The Animation is Film Festival takes place at the TCL Chinese Theatre Multiplex (Hollywood, Los Angeles) October 19-21.

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