A scene from Lake Loch Pond Monster by Carolina Diz and Brittany Zeinstra.
Their labor-intensive nature keeps the animated entries into the St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase understandably short, but the emphasis on visual appeal makes most of these entries well worth the time investment.
Carolina Diz and Brittany Zeinstra’s Lake Loch Pond Monster leads the pack as my favorite animated entry. The short-but-sweet tale wordlessly follows a fisherwoman’s initially antagonistic but ultimately sweet encounter with a lake monster. The animation is fairly minimalist (if I’m understanding right, it was animated in under 48 hours, which is just unreal) but it’s not lacking for visual appeal thanks to the beautiful palette of soft blues and grays, the ukulele soundtrack that gives the short a sense of childlike wonder, and the ending that brings a goofy twist that will melt your heart.
Jessica Adkins’ short Manchester Rain *almost* feels like cheating, seeing as it operates less as a narrative and more as a music video for the song of the same name by Belleville, Illinois native Gavin M. The song is, quite simply, a stunner, a piano-driven Britpop tune with a soaring pop chorus that plays like The Features (an underrated band if ever there was one) exported over the pond. (I had never heard Gavin M. before today. Suffice it to say I’m going to be listening to a lot more of him.) It’d be cheating, that is, if she didn’t perfectly match the tone of the song (which she very much does with a cheerful video following a bumblebee about its day), and if she had chosen any other way to animate her video than the most labor-intensive one of all: stop motion. Adkins’ captures a world of farmers markets and flower shops and sugary snacks using construction paper cutouts, and the bright, simple color palette evokes a spring day as well as you could possibly imagine.
Rachel Meister’s Come Home is perhaps the most ambitious of the animated entries, using stop motion animation of flat paper cutouts painted in watercolor. The story is a sad one, with a young girl dying then doing everything she can to visit her brother in the land of the living one last time, and the cool color palette of greens, blues, and violets evokes that sadness well. The way the paper figures move almost suggests marionettes on strings, giving the short even more of an otherworldly, Tim Burtonesque vibe.
Debi Bradshaw, the St. Louis native who directed the short Soundman that was my favorite of the comedy entries I screened, wrote and stars in The Barking Lot, playing an endearingly chatty clerk in a pet store with (likely ill-advised) dreams of stardom. Bradshaw’s performance will ring true if you’ve ever skipped the big box pet stores and ventured to the quirky local one in your neighborhood, and pairs well with the rubbery digital animation courtesy of her husband Sean.
Goodbye breezes by in just over a minute, but there’s a lot to catch your eye in those 66 seconds. Luzala Tamrakar—a native of Kathmandu, Nepal, who studied animation at Webster University—animates a tale of a samurai out for revenge with a deceptively simple style featuring mostly characters in silhouette, but the view cuts from image to image to image, a storytelling style that’s more impressionistic than strictly literal, and all the better for it.
Eric Miranda also takes an impressionistic approach, but in his case it’s to capture the joys and anxieties and exhaustion of an unbreakable coffee habit. Coffee Breath has the most traditionally cartoony style of these shorts—I just love the way it looks, from the way his characters move in that exaggerated, cartoony way to the mostly brown color palette that is eye-pleasing and, considering the topic, quite appropriate.
Though several of the entries were animated digitally, Andrew Frechette’s Deck the Halls is the one that looks the most like what the typical person would consider computer animation, with its fully three-dimensional characters. Those characters are Christmas ornaments, jockeying for position as to who gets the first and best position on the tree. It’s solidly made but the story is a bit simple and unimaginative compared to other entries.
Matt Kujath’s Duck Race is also computer animated but, unfortunately, a lot less competently than the other entries. The biggest problem with this is that the short is about a car race, and the race is just completely boring and lifeless. It’s a shame because there’s a gag about a gorilla racer about 30 seconds into the short that Kujath (as the lead character Ducky’s coach) delivers in the perfect deadpan that made me legitimately laugh out loud, but that’s the only moment in the entire short that grabbed me.
The eight animated shorts are screening alongside twelve experimental shorts in one 74-minute package. The pairing makes sense, as many of the experimental submissions (which I sampled, but not at enough depth for a formal review) feature digital artwork or manipulated video that may appeal to those who are attracted to animation for its artistry. More details on the complete animated and experimental shorts program can be found here.
The 21st annual Whitaker St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase runs until July 25th. The animated and experimental shorts program is available to stream for $14, or $12 for Cinema St. Louis members. The full list of feature films, shorts, and master classes are available virtually; for more info or to purchase tickets, visit www.cinemastlouis.org/st-louis-filmmakers-showcase. | Jason Green