Encounters Short Film Festival 2016: Animated Award Winners and Nadia’s picks

It’s been a week since I visited Encounters Short Film and Animation Festival, but I’m only now wrapping up my coverage, as I took my time to enjoy the festival’s excellent Digital Viewing Library, which allows delegates to view online all films in competition. Thanks to this, I was able to watch some of the cartoons I’d missed, and pick some highlights after my own taste.

First, though, let’s talk about the festival’s award-winning animated short films, which I got to see at a screening on the last day of Encounters:

The Animated Grand Prix Award of the festival went to Anete Melece’s debut film Analysis Paralysis, the story of a man whose over-thinking tendencies are literally threatening to blow up his head. I very much enjoyed the film’s simple, colourful visual aesthetic, similar to children’s crayon drawings, which set a playful, light-hearted mood; the story is just as sweet and understated, and an adorable sausage dog plays an important role (you really can’t go wrong when including a sausage dog).

Don’t Lose Your Head (dir: Karolina Specht) received the Animated European Award. I had already seen this short in the Animation 6: Art and Design screening, and of the largely abstract, non-narrative films from that batch, it stood out by injecting humour in its use of shape and sound and getting some laughs from the audience.

The Best of British Animation Award was granted to Stems (dir: Ainslie Henderson), a stop-motion animation that I would guess appeals, first of all, to other animators. Henderson’s film describes the process of building stop-motion puppets, bringing them to life, and their inherent melancholy- it’s like a very brief primer to the technique.

Cats and Dogs, directed by Geej Ower, was chosen Best Children’s Film, and I understand the choice was made by actual children, so who am I, an adult, to question them? Not like there would be much to question, in any case: Cats and Dogs is a perfectly nice little film, telling a simple story of pets and friendship in appealing line drawings.

Finally, the Cartoon D’Or nominee of the festival for 2016 is the Hungarian short Balcony (dir: David Dell’Edera). Dell’Edera’s film was really effective at conveying the atmosphere of summers I had back home in Eastern Europe, in the big city: concrete buildings and pavements under the scorching sun, golden light, children playing ball under your balcony, the torpor you feel in the overpowering heat.

Leaving the choices of the Encounters juries aside, here are some other animated shorts in competition that caught my eye:

Most adorable: First Snow (dir: Lenka Ivancikova)

The tale of a small hedgehog who interrupts its hibernation and gets lost in the snow, this Czech puppet film (screened as part of a children’s programme) is made of unbearable cuteness. The lovely furry puppets are so beautifully textured,  it seems you could touch them through the screen. The entire film conveys a comfortable, cozy feeling, and it would probably be best enjoyed on a cold winter evening, with a cup of hot chocolate. The plot is no saccharine thing either: while the protagonist survives its adventure safe and sound, kids watching are not being sheltered from the beautiful cruelty of nature’s food chains.

Most delightfully bizarre: Ivan’s Need (dir: Manuela Leuenberger)

Not the only film in the animation competition featuring a woman with giant prehensile breasts (this novel anatomical feature plays a major part in Luca Toth’s Superbia, too), but that was not, in any case, what made me remember it. Ivan’s Need is a surreal cartoon about sensuality, the joy of touching and being touched, and that’s about as much as one can say to describe it. I think animation is a great medium for talking about sex:  live-action film has, by now, too many limits, taboos and cliches.

Most entertainingly sarcastic: Wellington Jr (dir: Cecile Paysant)

While watching this I was reminded of „Chevalier”, the Greek live-action feature that won the Grand Prix of the London BFI Film Festival last year: they’re both stories of men with hilariously overblown egos, directed by women. In „Wellington Jr”, a trophy-obsessed father takes his young son hunting alongside other similar father-son pairs; there’s humour, but also a look into the darkness that can take competitiveness too far.

Most potential to be a viral video: Clouds (dir: Diego MacLean)

In a small religion-driven community, an old prophet chooses the next ritual sacrifice by looking at clouds. But clouds are just clouds, after all, aren’t they? God is in the eye of the beholder, as this accessible, affecting little story tells us, making an elegant argument in favour of atheism (something which this year’s overhyped adult feature „Sausage Party” wasn’t capable of). I know several people who would post or like this on Facebook.

That’s it for this year, but I am already looking forward to 2017’s Encounters!