A PUZZLEMENT of contemporary life is how our time grows more scarce as our entertainment demands it more. Today's "must-read" novels run 500 to 800 pages, while movies increasingly numb rumps at two and a half hours plus. Meanwhile, commercial markets for short stories and short films have perversely dried up. So in watching the succession of witty and innovative images in this weeklong package of diverse animated minimovies, one wonders not only where all of this stuff comes from but where it could possibly go.
Which explains why many of the titles, like the Chilean claymation opener Caged Birds Cannot Fly, play like demo reels—whimsical, attention-getting, full of admirable artistry, but pointless. The Last Drawing of Canaletto, a 3-D computer rendering of a drawing by an 18th-century Venetian artist, astounds with its drifting shadows of Gothic filigree, yet you expect a toll-free number to flash on the screen, urging you to purchase the software.
Other efforts are student films (or just seem like them), draped with the requisite gravity of an art school thesis. Australian animator Adam Elliot's Brother illustrates a somber childhood reminiscent of an asthmatic older sibling with clay figures rendered in a narrow spectrum of grays. Others, like Jonathan Hodgson's The Man with the Beautiful Eyes, a primitive watercolor illustration of a Charles Bukowski poem, or the graceful line drawings of the sentimental Father and Daughter, exhibit marvelous technique.
But nothing beats a good laugh, and pieces like Bruno Bozzetto's coarse primer on Italian behavior, Europe and Italy, or Michel Ocelot's charming French shadow play The Prince and the Princess will easily please. The impressive films from juggernauts Pacific Data Images (Metropopular) and Pixar (For the Birds) demonstrate that, in computer-generated animation, money probably is everything.
What are the career options for short-film animators? The festival's send-up centerpiece, Don Hertzfeldt's Rejected, makes the answer painfully clear. These openly hostile spots for the Family Learning Channel and corporate conglomerate Johnson & Mills hilariously vent the filmmaker's frustrations with having to dance to someone else's insipid tune.
One has to admire the patience it takes to produce even a scant three minutes of animated film, and it's a shame that this may be the only opportunity most will have to see such efforts in a real theater. Even if not every title on the program is quite the classic represented by Spike and Mike, they add up to an amusing hour and a half, scarce time well spent.