From January 19-25, the Hollywood Theater will present the 19th annual Animation Show of Shows, a program that brings new and innovative short films to audiences at animation studios, schools and, since 2015, theaters around the world. Over the years, 36 of the films showcased went on to receive Academy Award nominations, with 10 films winning the Oscar.
The current touring program includes 16 animated shorts from around the world that have a “special resonance, presenting compelling ideas about our place in society and how we fit into the world.”
“Because animation is such a natural medium for dealing with abstract ideas and existential concerns, the Animation Show of Shows has always included a number of thoughtful and engaging films,” states founder and curator Ron Diamond in a press release. “However, more than in previous years, I believe that this year’s program really offers contemporary animation that expresses deeply felt issues in our own country and around the world.”
Included is Niki Lindroth von Bahr‘s Grand Prix-winning The Burden, a film that explores the tribulations, hopes, and dreams of a group of night-shift employees, and David OReilly’s Everything, a procedural, AI-driven simulation inspired by the late philosopher Alan Watts. The show also features selections from Pixar and Disney veterans, a 50-year-old restored short, and other treats from filmmakers working in hand-drawn, stop motion, and 3D animation.
See a list of films below, along with synopses and images courtesy of Animation Show of Shows:
Can You Do It (Quentin Baillieux, France): Joyfully mixing incongruous elements from the highbrow world of horse racing and the “mean” urban landscape, this beautifully designed music video explodes preconceptions of race and class as cultures gracefully collide on the streets and freeways of Los Angeles. The infectious track by L.A. artist Charles X, whose music combines strains of hip-hop, soul, and jazz, is perfectly realized in the stylized blend of abstraction and representation, languidness and kineticism, in this evocative nocturnal fantasy.
Tiny Big (Lia Bertels, Belgium): A series of seemingly unrelated vignettes expressed through simple black-and-white line drawings, punctuated with occasional surprising bursts of color. Underscored by a soundtrack featuring the sounds of nature – wind, waves, crickets – the film eschews narrative, challenging viewers to draw their own conclusions about the significance of ritualized actions in a world that’s both hauntingly familiar and decidedly strange.
Next Door (Pete Docter, U.S.): An over-imaginative young girl drives her middle-aged neighbor crazy with her noisy adventures until a shared enthusiasm brings them together. Directed by two-time Oscar-winner Pete Doctor when he was a student at Cal Arts, Next Door is a wonderful evocation of the power of imagination and the possibility of finding common ground.
The Alan Dimension (Jac Clinch, UK): Sometimes having special powers beyond those of most mortals doesn’t work out all that well (especially for your long-suffering wife), as this very funny tongue-in-cheek fable amply demonstrates. Blessed – or cursed – with the gift of precognition, the eponymous Alan discovers that being “the next step in cognitive evolution” can wreak havoc with your domestic life – and lead to some hard choices.
Beautiful Like Elsewhere (Elise Simard, Canada): As much about light, color, texture, and sound as it is about “story,” Beautiful Like Elsewhere evokes a mysterious dreamscape of shimmering tableaux that seem to exist just on the edge of consciousness. Populated by human and nonhuman organisms, classical images and pure form, this allusive world, which may be a vision of the afterlife, hints at a deeper level of awareness and meanings beyond words.
Hangman (Paul Julian and Les Goldman, U.S.): Originally produced in 1964 and restored by the Animation Show of Shows, Hangman is an adaptation of a poem by Maurice Ogden about a town that allows its citizens to be executed one by one. With its universal themes of persecution, injustice and personal responsibility, this powerful film speaks to all eras and nations and may be seen to have particular relevance in our own time.
The Battle of San Romano (Georges Schwizgebel, Switzerland): Georges Schwizgebel’s “deconstruction” of a painting by Paolo Uccello (1397-1475) is a meditative and hypnotic exploration of the visual elements that comprise Uccello’s masterpiece, which itself is renowned for the skill with which the artist brings order to the chaos of armed conflict. Yet, with its deliberative pacing and haunting score, the film is more than simply a masterful exegesis of color, form, and space, evoking deeply felt emotions about the nature of conflict and the horrors of war.
Gokurosama (Clémentine Frère, Aurore Gal, Yukiko Meignien, Anna Mertz, Robin Migliorelli, and Romain Salvini, France): Channeling the spirit of Charlie Chaplin – or perhaps Jacques Tati – this very funny tale of a series of unfortunate events in a Japanese mall displays both an impressive attention to detail and great comic timing. Even if you’re not a fan of chiropractic, grown men dressed as fuzzy animals, automated conveyances, garish décor, and/or robotic cleaning devices, Gokurosama will show you how, when you put all of these together, it spells highly entertaining animated mayhem.
Dear Basketball (Glen Keane, U.S.): Directed and animated by Disney veteran Glen Keane and scored by legendary composer John Williams, this moving short film brilliantly brings to life a poem written by Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant on the occasion of his imminent retirement from the sport he loves. Chronicling Kobe’s journey from a young boy shooting baskets with rolled-up socks to his arrival at the pinnacle of basketball celebrity, Dear Basketball pays tribute to the ideal of pursuing one’s dream, as well as having the wisdom to know when it’s time to move on to the next challenge.
Island (Max Mörtl and Robert Löbel, Germany): A host of fanciful flora, fauna, and geological formations go about their daily lives in this engaging and highly imaginative foray into the wilds of a strange and colorful world. Accompanied by hissing, wheezing, whistling and tweeting, the action takes on increasing urgency, ending in a surprising climax that’s as natural as it is unexpected
Unsatisfying (Parallel Studio, France): Unsatisfying is about those frustrating, annoying, disappointing little things of everyday life, those little “not such a big deal, but still…” moments that make you cringe. It was inspired by those “most satisfying” videos, which can be found all over the internet, that relate a series of enjoyable moments to contemplate. The slightly retro design and warm reassuring colors, which seem to come from the end of a nice summer day, contrast with the unpleasant situations and emphasize the frustration of the endings.
My Burden (Niki Lindroth von Bahr, Sweden): If Ingmar Bergman had made stop-motion animations with singing, dancing animals, they might have looked a little like this. Set in a small commercial park, this melancholy and mordantly funny film (which could have been titled “Existential Angst – The Musical”) explores the tribulations, hopes, and dreams of the denizens of this downscale microcosm of Western society. At once bitingly satirical and genuinely moving, “The Burden” is a beautifully realized paean to despair.
Les Abeilles Domestiques (Alexanne Desrosiers, Canada): Usually it’s not a good sign when a film opens with death walking in the door; however, in this wry short, the appearance of the Grim Reaper (who exits again as quickly as he arrived) is just one of several intersecting stories that unfold within the hive-like confines of the film’s tranquil universe. Deftly playing with narrative structure – while challenging the viewer to keep up – Les Abeilles Domestiques is a masterful exercise in “deconstruction” that’s both extremely clever and highly entertaining.
Our Wonderful Nature: The Common Chameleon (Tomer Eshed, Germany): The common chameleon is equipped with double-sided vision, a remarkable camouflage ability, and a tongue that can stretch out twice the length of its body. Despite all of its advantages, it has yet to develop appropriate countermeasures against its biggest weakness. This cautionary tale reminds us yet again that sometimes there can be too much of a good thing, especially if our powers of discernment leave something to be desired.
Casino (Steven Woloshen, Canada): This jazzy, impressionistic depiction of the iconography and energy of a gambling casino (a favorite destination of director Steven Woloshen’s late father, to whom the work is dedicated) is all the more impressive for having been created in Woloshen’s signature style of drawing directly onto the film. With Oscar Peterson’s “Something Coming” as its upbeat soundtrack, the film is a breathlessly kinetic and visually dazzling representative of the possibilities of nontraditional animation techniques.
Everything (David OReilly, U.S): Based on the work of philosopher Alan Watts, who was instrumental in popularizing Eastern religion in the West, this brilliantly conceived and executed short explores the interconnectedness of the universe and the multiplicity of perspectives that underlie reality. Like Watts himself, the film is both playful and profound, and its unique iconography – from somersaulting bears to interstellar flora – allows it to convey weighty ideas with lightness and lucidity.
Tickets to the Animation Show of Shows are available for purchase on the Hollywood Theater website or at the door.