'20th Annual Animation Show of Shows': Film Review

A great place to go looking for new talents.

The latest Ron Diamond-curated anthology features a worldwide buffet of animation talent.

Evidently, the experiment worked. Having transitioned a few years ago from an insiders-only series to a touring theatrical program available to all, Ron Diamond's Animation Show of Shows has proved to be the most accessible place (outside fests, anyway) for outsiders to see the work of new animators on the big screen. If the crop in this 20th outing is slightly less experimental than in recent years, it likely includes more directors who will wind up employed by the big leagues or scraping together bigger indie projects of their own.

Seeming to move more in that direction of discovery, the 20th annual show eschews the archival gems sometimes included in the past, and ditches the interesting but time-burning mini-documentaries that focus on select filmmakers' craft. Instead, we get nothing but movies — a whopping 15 of them in slightly over an hour and a half, made by teams from around the world. Half are from the States, but origin is rarely a factor in a short's worldwide accessibility, since half have no spoken dialogue at all. (Barry, the story of a goat who wants to be a cancer researcher, is a notable exception.)

In one, pictographs in word balloons replace speech: From the Netherlands, Jorn Leeuwerink's Flower Found! begins as a sweet kids' tale (albeit one with a Philip Guston visual influence) in which all the animals of the forest team up to help a little mouse find the pretty flower he lost. Things don't go as planned, though, and this is one of two shorts featuring moments that might disturb sensitive children.

The other, which is also dialogue-free, is highly relevant to the kids it might upset: Trevor Jimenez's melancholy Weekends, which feels like a memoir, tells the story of a fresh divorce from the perspective of the couple's young son. Bouncing from Dad's new, curio-stuffed bachelor pad to the rundown home where Mom is trying to launch a new career, our hero vents his angst only in dreams; Jimenez works a lot of sensitive observation into scenes whose only words (almost) come out of a radio playing Dire Straits' "Money for Nothing."

Suggesting that more animators should team up with documentarians, Valentin Riedl and Frederic Schuld's haunting Carlotta's Face uses charcoal-black scenes to illustrate the subject's voiceover as she describes what it was like to be face-blind in elementary school. The film finds a path out of its despairing tone that is neither manipulative nor expected.

As usual, fans of pure abstraction should look elsewhere, but Grand Canons offers a happy burst of non-narrative eye candy: Director Alan Biet has meticulously drawn and watercolored an astonishing number of household consumer goods — pencils, chopsticks, power tools — and set his drawings loose in choreography reminiscent of the crowd-pleasing stop-motion that earned PES an Oscar nomination.

(Incidentally, four of the shorts here have qualified for Oscar consideration.)

Beginning with The Green Bird's child-friendly slapstick and offering family-based tearjerkers like One Small Step and Polaris, the playlist threatens on occasion to be too mainstream. (Still, there are no studio-produced films here, and only one that seems to have been funded by Google.) But moments of sentimentality are balanced by absurdism (A Table Game) and a pair of pint-size but emotionally mature films whose scripts were written by kids: One of those, Bullets, plays a bit like Goodnight Moon rewritten for a violent and scary world.

Guy Charnaux's Business Meeting represents a small, bizarro highlight — a Wall Street gathering in which a room full of yes men (drawn with a primitive Plympton-ish pen) get increasingly deranged as each tries to say only what everyone else is saying. Elsewhere, meanings are harder to decipher: Veronica Solomon’s claymation Love Me, Fear Me, looks just like an exercise in choreographed mutations, in which the dancer transforms into many odd figures before devolving into a blobby mess. Press materials, though, assert a relationship theme that explores deception.

Still, a little ambiguity is welcome, and outings like Eusong Lee's stylish My Moon — which looks like a simple fable but may be more personal — will likely be much more memorable than the long seafaring narrative Age of Sail, in which a young woman tries to rescue a drunken, self-pitying seafarer.

Production company: Acme Filmworks
Directors: Maximilien Bougeois, Quentin Dubois, Marine Goalard, Irina Nguyen, Pierre Perveyrie, Andrew Chesworth, Bobby Pontillas, Alain Biet, Anchi Shen, Nancy Kangas, Josh Kun, Veronica Solomon, Guy Charnaux, Jorn Leeuwerink, Nancy Kangas, Josh Kun, Nicolás Petelski, Valentin Riedl, Frédéric Schuld, John Kahrs, Hikari Toriumi, Eusong Lee, Trevor Jimenez

Producer: Ron Diamond

In various languages
98 minutes