I chat with the amazing Colin Babcock about the fantastic short Mindbender The Cow! creatics.org/cinejoy/moviepage/140700#!#pills-all
Music has the power to bring about change, not only in the heart, but in the world. Animation, perhaps the most empathic of all film forms, has a similar ability, and one that has been used for both ill and good. When the two come together, there is a magic, and that’s what happens with the magnificent short film Footsteps on the Wind.
Let’s start with the music.
Sting, that fellow from The Police and the only good film version of Dune, created an amazing song called Inshallah that is incredibly powerful. It’s a song about refugees fleeing, arriving in a new land after leaving war and strife behind them. Inshallah means “if Allah wills it” and is an exclamation used quite frequently in the Islamic world, and not only among Muslims. Sting’s song is beautiful, as a lot of his more recent work has been.
Of the song, Sting said, “It’s driven by warfare in the Middle East. It’s driven by poverty in Africa. It may be driven by climate change in the very near future. It’s not going to be something we can hope to end tomorrow. I don’t have a political solution, but I feel if there’s a solution to it, it has to be grounded in some kind of empathy for those people in those boats.”
He’s right, and empathy is often developed through the arts. Inshallah is the kind of song that can do that to you, bring your attention to something that you’ve likely heard reported on in that annoying journalistic way that presents suffering as a thing that happens, instead of as a thing that happens to actual humans who have feelings, lives, and loves. This range of experiences is communicated by those who create works of art far better than by journalists.
Animation can communicate that even better. It’s through the creation of an entire world that we are best able to focus our attentions on the things that matter emotionally. Everything you see in an animation is the product of human beings who are trying to tell a story, and to tell that story, they can excise the elements that don’t bring about the reaction they need. It is not the world as we know it, but as it might be, as it might feel, as it might become. In the amazing Footsteps on the Wind, it is also the element of empathy that is being developed, the sensation of viewing the suffering of refugees as presented in the tribulation displayed, but more than that, these characters, they’re humans. They establish this easily, naturally, by showing life, picking an orange, kids playing, a sweet scene.
Then the ground opens, and the trial begins.
The animation style is lovely, comic book influenced and clean. We are presented with a fantastical world, one of beauty and horrors, but ultimately, one of emotions, and while this can often lead to a terrible amount of manipulation, here, that is not only not the case, but it pulls back just enough to make the story the star. It’s beautiful, and the relationships between the family as they move through the world they have been dropped in are authentic. I know this feeling, though I’ve never experienced it for the reasons or in the ways of a refugee, but I understand that my nugget of understanding was a painful experience, and imagine the ramping up.
The short was actually developed with the help of refugees themselves participating in workshops. Director (and amazing human being!) Maya Sanbar shared a bit about the intention and process of the film with me - We really want it to be used as a therapy tool. We've found ways working with psychologists to trigger talking points in a way that is tough, but not traumatic: for example the octopus ink hands are about children being kidnapped, disappearing, 400 000 of them unaccounted for, says UNHCR. War was an earthquake instead of bombs so that it can also be related to any form of displacement. I'm also keen to get it into schools to talk about displacement, loss, resilience and hope.
I remember the professor in my History of Islam class at Emerson saying, simply, “those displaced by war are first displaced from their comfort,” and the minute I finished Footsteps on the Wind, I understood it fully, and could not shake a feeling. The feeling that those in the story were not only people who had gone through a trauma, but that they’re feelings, emotions, sensations were no different than mine. We were, in fact, not just the same species, but of the same tribe. My circle had widened; the people of the world came closer. It was an empathic experience, and one that I hope many get to experience.
I asked Maya for a quote, and she sent this wonderful message -
"Animation allows symbolism and space for the viewer’s imagination to transgress words: there are many layers to uncover in the treasure hunt of clues within the script. We’ve taken fairytale references like Alice in Wonderland, Jack and the Beanstalk, Wizard of Oz, Hansel and Gretel, age old stories that are sometimes scary, but they help find ways of dealing with trauma. And making this about all kinds of loss and resilience, whether within or outside of the depths of the refugee experience, was important for us as it’s conceived as a storytelling tool for trauma therapy.”
If you've heard the voice a the end of 99% Invisible or Welcome to Nightvale that "From PRX" that's Avery Trufelman! Amazing podcast producer, creator of Articles of Interest, and one of the best things going in Oakland, California!
We're stuck inside, and I'm making phone calls! Today, I talk with Tim Davis, screenwriter and liver-of-life! We talk about Doctor Who, The Curse of Fatal Death, Paul McGann, 'Rasslin', the 1980s, and the best episode of AWA television! Plus, added Dog content!
We talk with Cinequest short film favorite and comedy Sports Documantarian Sam Frazier, Jr. about sports, comedy, short films, documentaries, and most importantly, Pro Wrestling.
When a loved one dies, all you want is for things to be normal. I have a co-worker whose mother passed away on the same day as another co-worker had a birthday party in the office. He apologized profusely, he didn't mean to put a damper on things. That's how it feels, desperately wanting things to be normal, but it can't be normal.
And that, in a nutshell, is Casey Wilson's wonderful short film Daddio.
First off, let me say this - Michael McKean is a North American treasure! Here, he plays Paul, the father of Abby (Cassie Wilson), and the husband of a recently-deceased wife. He takes it both hard, and weird. He gets a perm, but also tries to be the normal Paul.
But he can't be the normal Paul.
Abby is now forced to deal with her world, and her Father's world as well, all while hoping for normality in a world that, again, CAN NOT BE NORMAL! Wilson plays her role so damn perfectly. It's a wonderfully intelligent performance, and while Paul is the focus, and amazing, she is the drive, the wall required to send her father's quack back to the viewer. As the sounding board, she has to walk a line between completely understandable and on the edge of complete collapse.
You know, like when you're actually dealing with a death in the family.
Wilson, who wrote and directed the short, based largely on her own personal experience losing her mother, and her father going all wacky and starting a Twitter (which is still around!) I've been a big fan of Wilson's for ages, and she's one of the big reasons why I loved the show Happy Endings. Here, she shows she's got serious chops all over the creative process, and with a tool like McKean, she's able to create a fine short film that is both funny and emotional, beautifully real, and absolutely out-of-the-real. But it's only out of the real for those of us not dealing with a death within the range of our personal Instamatics.
You can see Daddio as a part of our Comedy Favorites program - https://payments.cinequest.org/websales/pages/info.aspx?evtinfo=114204~78899376-35a9-4153-8303-e1557be2dc32&epguid=c5191bc9-d5f7-4fab-87e1-de8dcbff688d&#.XjGyFEdKiUk
There are very few names in advertising I've heard of... other than Don Draper. One is Leo Burnett. Another is Carol H. Williams. She was a trailblazing ad exec, and one of the best. Being a black woman working creative in the 1960s was a strange role for the time. She was the first African-American Creative Director. She was the first woman to be Creative Director at Leo Burnett Company. You know, the company that created the Jolly Green Giant, the Marlboro Man, and Tony the Tiger. If you love cereal characters, the odds are good the primary object of your affection in the realm was created in an office at Leo Burnett.
And that's where Carol H. Williams cut her teeth.
The amazingly wonderful animated documentary Carol H. Williams & The Rejected Script is a super-short piece of work that examines how chance encounters can make a huge difference.
Carol's latest script for Hungry Man Biscuits was rejected, and she was dejected by the experience. She entered into the elevator where she runs into, who else, but Leo Burnett. He asks her what's wrong, and tells him, and that's the origin story for so very much.
There's a lot here, from the elements of the campaign she had rejected, one based on her much-loved Uncle, to the way that she carried herself, and her work, into that elevator. There's also Leo Burnett, whose story is legendary and here, he's shown as something different than you see him portrayed as in the rest of his appearances.
This is Carol's story, but it is illustrator So A Ryu's work that is so incredible. Along with animators Brian Steckle and Michael McAfee, this is a short that gives us powerfully imprecise visuals, inspired by the likes of Ralph Steadman, that are so very non-60s advertising. It's that counter-point, I think, that had me so deeply drawn in. You would never have seen an image like the one above coming out of Burnett in 1969, and when it's presented alongside the exceptionally good narration, it brings us to a new place. This elevator meeting, it seems, was the edge of a zipper; one side was the 60s being spoken of, while the other was a new future. This visual contrast played in my head.
As a whole, there's a WHOLE lot of greatness in less than four minutes!
You can see Carol H. Williams and the Rejected Script as a part of Animated Worlds at Cinequest! Do yourself a favor and take this one in; it may well be the best survey of animation I've ever been a part of programming!
I am, in my own way, a conspiracy theorist. JFK was killed by Giancana, Jack the Ripper was a Masonic rite gone wrong, and Sirhan Sirhan was under mind-control, and yeah, Epstein didn't kill himself. No, 911 was not an inside job, there are almost certainly not aliens in Area 51, and David Icke is an idiot. OK? So, I guess you can see that a film with a central pivot around conspiracy is going to end up programmed in a fest I work with, right?
Well, only if it's got the strong sealegs of Brad Abraham's Conspiracy Cruise.
The story is gorgeously simple - Gordon Pike, rock star turned conspiracy theory guru, is headlining a cruise for conspiracy followers. He's not the raving lunatic you would expect. In fact, he's far more like Tom Cruise's character from Magnolia than anything else. He's got polish, and then show he puts on is so smart. The cruise isn't what he expected, but then things get weird.
Pike is played by Henry Zebrowski of Last Podcast on the Left. If you read my issue of Claims Department about podcasts, you'll know why this is a perfect choice. He actually softplays him for most of the way, which he's REALLY good at. I mean, he's stupid good at it. He draws out everything you can get from a character who is supposed to be the US version of David Icke... without the rampant anti-semetism. When he has to go all Out There, he manages it perfectly. If you've heard him on Last Podcast, you'll know how he ramps up. It's a great performance, and it makes the movement of the picture so impressive. The rest of the cast isn't outclassed either! No one has the focus on them as much as Gordon, but the pieces we get are so perfect for the story. In specific, there's the guy who's more Liberatarian than Conspiracy Theorist who I totally recognise as an archetype.
Then again, it's also gorgeous. I mean it's so precisely shot and cut, it looks like a big budget picture. Director Brad Abrahams is so good, and his hand feels like it's all over this in the best possible way. The lighting, the set design, the editing, it all creates a sensation that is at once sinister and silly. This is EXACTLY what a short like this should give off - a sensation of something not right, but not necessarily malevolent. It is a weird world, and weird can take on many forms.
I love this film. It's a great watch, and every second of it feels important. It's the kind of Mindbender that I love to see in Cinequest, and it's just so much fucking fun! You can find more info on the film, and the rest of Brad Abrahams' work at http://www.bradabrahams.net/, and you can get tickets to Shorts Program 5 - Mindbenders, at https://payments.cinequest.org/websales/pages/info.aspx?evtinfo=114202~78899376-35a9-4153-8303-e1557be2dc32&epguid=c5191bc9-d5f7-4fab-87e1-de8dcbff688d&#.XinAFUdKiUk
Also, I am now using Coincidence Theorist in my everyday life.
We talk with the team of from the subversive romantic comedy Bite Me, premiering tomorrow, March 9th at the California Theatre!
Klaus at Gunpoint
A Film Journal dedicated to all film.A segment of Office Supply Publishing.