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Big screen, little screen

Big screen, little screen
06 December 2008 posted by John Wyver

Last night I braved the elements to rush to Tate Modern at the end of the day for a screening of the seven AnimateTV 2008 films. And now I'm wondering quite why I bothered. Not because the films are not worthwhile. Each one is well worth watching and two -- of which more below -- are stand-outs. But I'm pondering whether I actually needed to go to an auditorium to see them, in large part because of the excellence of the Animate Projects website. The films themselves are on offer here, along with the rich related resources I want to highlight in this post. Who needs screenings anymore?

I know, I know. Of course it's good to see any film, and perhaps especially lovingly crafted animations, on a big screen with strong sound. It's a concentrated, focussed experience with few distractions. Of course, too, the communal experience of a cinema enhances the experience, gathering up laughter and delight and, on occasion, offering an echo chamber for  collective bemusement. And of course not even I am enough of a misanthrope not to enjoy greeting a colleague or two in the crowd.

Then again, there's a lot to be said for hunkering down with a good website. Online, Animate Projects offers each of the seven films, which are between 3 and 10 minutes long, at two resolutions. There are video interviews with each of the makers -- and these are rather more informative than last night's post-screening Q&A, which by the time I had to leave hadn't really got going. Plus there are short newly-commissioned critical essays, lots of contextual information, galleries of stills and occasional extras like an early film test for Tal Rosner's film Without You.

Overall, for my current taste, there's a touch too much 'cute' in the programme. Even if critic and curator Marketa Uhlirova argues that the cuteness of perhaps the most ambitious of the films, Barnaby Barford's Damaged Goods, is knowing, ironic and cool. 'The results of Barford’s interventions are grotesque but distinctly modern,' she suggests about the tale in which porcelain boy meets porcelain girl, she goes to pieces and then -- well watch the film. 'The characters’ cuteness ends up strange, unsettling and sometimes a bit rude.'

Tal Rosner's hard-edged, near (but far from entirely) abstract Without You has rather more to offer. It's a film of colour and surface and form, of painterly qualities and pastoral sounds, shot in industrial suburbia and sharply edited as a visual and aural dance for the senses. This is Len Lye for the twenty-first century, extending a modernist tradition of abstract animation that looks back to Walter Ruttmann and Oskar Fischinger.

The giant of between-the-wars modernism who is specifically referenced by the film is Josef Albers, who was associated with German's Bauhaus design school and then became an influential painter and teacher for America's Abstract Expressionists. Rosner prefaces his film with a precisely distilled poetic quotation from Albers:

Calm down
what happens
happens mostly
without you.

The other film from the programme that thrilled me last night is Emily Richardson's Cobra Mist. Shot using time-lapse and motion control, this is a landscape portrait of Orford Ness, a now abandoned (but still largely inaccessible) military testing ground on the Suffolk coast. Spooky, alluring, enigmatic and perhaps apocalyptic, the film has a tremendous tough beauty.

The films were co-financed by Arts Council England and Channel 4, and were shown on television back in September. But they feel very at home on the web, especially when related links can take you from a video interview with Emily Richardson to a short erudite essay about Cobra Mist by filmmaker Andrew Kotting to Emily Richardson's own website with extensive information about her other films to a new DVD published by LUX of six of her films, including Cobra Mist. And to the news that the DVD is to be launched next Tuesday, 9 December, at an event at Café Oto in London.

Animate Projects, meanwhile, goes from strength to strength, commissioning the next group of AnimateTV 2009 films as well as co-commissioning Primitive, a major multi-platform project from the exceptional Thai filmmaker and artist Apichatpong Weerasethakul. We've got a particular interest in this since it is being produced by our sister company, Keith Griffiths and Simon Fields' Illuminations Films, who are working with Kick the Machine, Bangkok. Look out for more on this here in an imminent post from Keith.


dan dc

8 December 2008 09:41

I think that you're very right on all the points made. I'm a fan of animation, and Animate produce consistently good work. It can get so tiresome, though, to have to watch short after short after short in an auditorium, which is undoubtedly the best medium for feature film but negates many of the strengths of animated shorts - or shorts of any kind for that matter. Animate are in a great position to be able to market their website as the prime location to engage with short film, it feels as though they are holding themselves back by continuing to hold screenings.

Gary Thomas

8 December 2008 19:53

Why Mr Wyver! You make us blush! Thank you very much for the blog, and thank you Dan DC too. I think there is a point in doing the screenings - the cinema experience, and the opportunity to hear the artists talk and to question them. And we do only do four of them. But the films do reach a much bigger audience online. One thing we haven't done enough is develop discussion and debate - but in the new year, with a bit of help from UK Film Council, we're taking steps to rectify that. I hope you'll both be joining in. gt

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