Atlanta Film Festival 2014 | Report #3

Atlantafilmfestical 75Plympton is a real original, with an immediately recognizable style—if you’ve ever seen any of his work, you won’t confuse it with that of anyone else.

 

Today was animation day at the Atlanta Film Festival—not that only animated films were being shown, but Bill Plympton was on hand to give a master class and show his latest feature film (Cheatin’), with a program of animated films by other artists in between, so I figured it was a good day to give live action a rest.

Plympton is a real original, with an immediately recognizable style—if you’ve ever seen any of his work, you won’t confuse it with that of anyone else. After creating numerous successful short films (many based on music) and working in advertising, he used the money from his commercial work to finance his first feature, The Tune, hand-drawing and –coloring all 30,000 cels himself.

Plympton is an advocate for drawing on paper (rather than on the computer), and demonstrated his facility during the master class by producing some quick sketches in between showings of some of his short films. He also highly values his independence, claiming he turned down an offer of $1 million to work for Disney in favor of continuing to work for himself.

Of course, to maintain your independence, you have to be economically successful, and toward that goal he offered three pieces of advice for beginning animators: make your films short (i.e., 5 minutes, not 20 or 30), make them cheap (i.e., no expensive music or elaborate animation techniques), and make them funny. On the later point, he noted that serious animated films are fine if you’re already being paid to make them, but funny sells better.

I like some of Plympton’s shorts, and certainly appreciate his general approach to animation, but was less impressed by his feature film Cheatin’. The story is about a man and a woman madly in love with each other, so madly that their love threatens to turn to hate, which is certainly a classic theme (Othello, anyone?). However, the film seems like lot of shorts thrown together, with many digressions and gags that are often amusing on their own, but don’t add up to an integrated film.

Many individual moments in Cheatin’ are brilliant (Plympton loves to draw an object morphing into something else, and the more unexpected the metamorphosis the better), as are some of the sequences, but I felt like I was watching a string of loosely connected episodes rather than a feature film. Cheatin’ also has a very 1950’s/Playboy view of women and sexual relations, which quickly became annoying, and the story was so repetitive that it got on my nerves also. Most members of the audience seemed to enjoy the film, however, so clearly not everyone was bothered by these aspects of the film.

Between the master class and feature film, the AFF showed a program of 12 diverse animated shorts. That’s too many to discuss individually, but here are a few standouts. “Confusion Through Sand” (dir. Danny Madden), presents the experiences of an American serviceman through a variety of creative techniques, including the use of real sand. “Rabbit and Deer” (dir. Péter Vácz) is a tour-de-force about two best buds (a dog and a rabbit) who find themselves at odds when one becomes obsessed with the third dimension, while the other is content with only two. “Monkey Rag” (dir. Joanna Davidovich) is a retro-style cartoon featuring the retro-style song of the same name by the Austin band the Asylum Street Spankers. “Crime” (dir. Alix Lambert and Sam Chou) is an outrageously funny retelling of one man’s difficulties with the Hartford Police Department. | Sarah Boslaugh

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