Synapse to Cintax
Well, Sundance 2011 came and went in January and, judging from the reports I’ve read, there’s plenty of things to keep an eye out for this year.
Amongst other highlights, Senna was winner of the World Cinema Audience Award for Documentary Film and Like Crazy (by Drake Doremus, director of last year’s Douchebag) nabbed the prestigious Grand Jury Prize and was then promptly picked up by Paramount for $4M. Not to mention Paddy Considine winning the World Cinema Directing Award: Dramatic for Tyrannosaur and, what looks to be, an incredibly poignant encapsulation of humanity on show in the YouTube project, Life in a Day.
Aside from all this notable creative output was an animated short entitled, ‘The External World’ – the genuine reason for this piece which is ostensibly dressed up as a post-Sundance report.
In truth, I’ve been meaning to put proverbial pen to proverbial paper for the last couple of weeks since my housemate sent me a link to this one. It’s a disturbing, beguiling and, somehow, bleakly funny film directed and co-written by David O’Reilly (who is not to be confused with either David O. Russell or John C. Reilly). It received an Honorable Mention in Short Filmmaking at SunnyD and, for me, is very much centred on the hyperactive nature of the modern tech-saturated world and its paradoxical consumption of the user. With guest voices including Julian Barratt and Adam Buxton, it intersperses a boy learning to play the piano (and being physically rebuked each time he gets the notes wrong; early on a kipper-slap, later a 9 mil) with a host of bizarre comic-book characters reacting to the world in their own bizarre ways amidst paranoia, video game references and unreality. Oh, and mental breakdown. Sounds upbeat don’t it?
N.B. Despite moments of beauty (the mirror image of the two cats leaping through the fence for one) it’s a very, very dark piece (with a range of topics not dissimilar to that of ‘Monkey Dust’) and explores the darkness of its themes in such ways that’s it hard to see how it could be similarly executed outside of animation. Certain taboo themes (I call to the stand the teacher scrawling ‘Unacceptable Behaviour’ on the black board / Nazi-holocaust segue) are touched upon with such rapid transitions that make you question whether you ever saw them at all. Background details (e.g. ‘Scalpel Warehouse – free puppy with every order’) make for a second, nay third, viewing and the self-referential nature of the piece is well played out. Indeed:
Q: “Isn’t this a bad influence?”
A: “Don’t worry it’s just animation. It has no real effect on people.”
If you haven’t already seen it, I recommend a watch together with Please Say Something (2009) which charts a troubled relationship between a cat and mouse set in the distant future. Really.
O’Reilly was also responsible for the Son of Rambow animation pieces which rounded the film off and showcased perfectly the bountiful imagination of the child lead. Finally, for a bit of light relief, it’s well worth checking out Octocat Adventures (part octopus-part cat based on my limited knowledge of hybrid species) which was originally released on YouTube as a series of crude MS Paint drawings under the guise of a certain Randy Peters. There’s an unexpected twist a couple of minutes in which I’ll stop myself from spoiling…but don’t think I wasn’t tempted.
With the SXSW Film Conference and Festival not far off (11th-29th March), it will be very interesting to see what’s on offer in the animated field. One thing’s for sure, I’ll be keeping a very close eye on things; especially if David O’Reilly – or Octocat for that matter – is anywhere in the vicinity.
Check out his Vimeo page to your heart’s content at: http://vimeo.com/davidoreilly