Sunday, April 15, 2018

SFFILM 61 Day 12: Drop By Drop

The 61st San Francisco International Film Festival is almost over; it runs through April 17th. Each day during the festival I'll be posting about a festival selection I've seen or am anticipating.

Image from Drop By Drop provided by SFFILM
Drop By Drop (PORTUGAL: Alexandra "Xá" Ramires & Laura Gonçalves, 2017)
playing: 3:00 today at the Roxie, as part of Shorts 3: Animation.

Drop By Drop is in my opinion the most visually impressive of the animated short films found in either the Shorts 5: Family Films program (in which Louise Bagnall's Late Afternoon and Erick Oh's “Pig: The Dam Keeper Poems” Chapter 4 are the standouts) or the Shorts 3: Animation program intended for mature audiences (not that they're particularly racy this year; in fact they're far less juvenile than the typical "Sick & Twisted" fare you might find on some animation programs).

A great example of documentary/animation hybridization, Drop By Drop takes audio interviews of Portuguese villagers reacting to the social and environmental impacts of climate change and desertification on the Iberian peninsula and imagines a fantastic visual landscape based on the metaphors in its interviewees' descriptions. Not only is the imagery striking and strong, the animation itself is a wonderful example of the under-utilized concept of "camera movement" in animation. Where so many independent animations have a very closed-off, shoebox feel (which can be beneficial to certain, but not all, subjects), Drop By Drop moves in all directions, creating a sense of vastness that befits its theme of long-rooted traditions becoming upended as families scatter to the four winds.

Other noteworthy selections in the Shorts 3 program include Oscar-nominated Negative Space by Max Porter & Ru Kuwahata, which is probably the best example of character animation in the set (I sorely wish it had won the Oscar over the self-important celebrity promo Dear Basketball), Leah Nichols' sweet, locally-focused rotoscope doc 73 Questions, and the humorous Icebergs by Elrini Vianelli.

The one that got to me emotionally was Oh Hi Anne, from local artist Anne McGuire, perhaps best known for her reverse-ungineered 1970s blockbusters like Snatchers Body The Of Invasion and Strain Andromeda The, or her performances as half of The Freddy McGuire Show. Here she also takes documentary audio, in this case voicemail messages left by underground film & video legends & longstanding Mission District residents George Kuchar (1942-2011) and his brother Mike, and applies a simple set of drawn images to them to create a little narrative about her friendships with her former teacher George, and later Mike. Combined with audio of a lovely song written and performed by McGuire, that I've gladly had running in my head for over a week now, and my own memories of meeting George, and showing him an article I'd written about one of his films Wild Night in El Reno, shortly before he died, I was in tears by the end of the short.

However, judging by the dismissive reaction of audience members around me during and after last weekend's Roxie screening, Oh Hi Anne was done a disservice by being placed into a program that, while perhaps pushing the boundaries of narrative and documentary animation, never really pushed past those boundaries. There used to consistently be a few examples of experimental animation in this program in the festival. With no selections like 2016 San Francisco International Film Festival picks All Rot by Max Hattler or Kazue Monno & Takeshi Nagata's Track to warm the audience up to expanding their ideas of what animation can do and be, it was easy for some viewers to pick on Oh Hi Anne as overly earnest or seemingly crude (I don't suppose any of the grumblers I heard are aware of McGuire's exquisite watercolor "Dark Universe", currently on display (along with Mike Kuchar's 1980 drawing "Faery Tale" and a slew of other great work by local artists from throughout history), at BAMPFA's must-see Way Bay exhibit). Admittedly, by most definitions of animation I'm aware of, Oh Hi Anne doesn't really qualify. But to me it feels like an essential piece of this year's SFFILM, challenging aesthetic boundaries and linking back to a gentle giant of Frisco Bay filmmaking who is still sorely missed by many members of the local community. I suspect if the experimental animation ハネムーンHanemun Honeymoon had been plucked out of the Shorts 4: New Visions program and put into the Shorts 3 set, perhaps in place of the slick, cute, but ultimately go-nowhere selection Hybrids, McGuire's film wouldn't have been the first in the show to totally upend audience expectations, and had a better chance of hitting with some of the cynics in the crowd.

SFFILM61 Day 12
Other festival options: Today's menu options include the presentation of the George Gund Craft of Cinema Award to collaborative filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman before a screening of their short doc End Game and the so-called "Closing Night" showing of Gus Van Sant's Don't Worry He Won't Get Far On Foot with Van Sant and composer Danny Elfman expected in person (I can't help but wonder if, with Elfman's former girlfriend Kim Gordon in the film, and speaking at the Nourse tomorrow night, she might make a surprise appearance as well. Pure speculation on my part), both at the Castro Theatre. BAMPFA's last day as a festival venue looks strong, with Garry Winogrand: All Things Are Photographable, Wajib, a set of 16mm Nathaniel Dorsky shorts including Avraham, and Michael Hazanavicius introducing his Godard, Mon Amour. Meanwhile YBCA closes out its time as a 2018 SFFILM venue with Angels Wear White, Shirkers and Carcasse, and The Children's Creativity Theater says goodbye to its first festival year with Bisbee '17 and A Prayer Before Dawn. None of the titles mentioned in this paragraph will play during the final two days of the festival when it contracts to fill only the Roxie and the Victoria.

Non-SFFILM option: Another festival opened yesterday at a former SFFILM venue I have a lot of fondness for, Japantown's New People Cinema; they're hosting the 2nd Annual Cherry Blossom Film Festival, highlighting features made in Japan. Yesterday they had a 3-title tribute to a filmmaker I first encountered via the San Francisco International Film Festival, Shunji Iwai, but the rest of the festival is devoted to animation, such as The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, by the great Studio Ghibli master Isao Takahata, who passed away this week. Today's offerings include a Japanese-dubbed, English-lauguage version of Takahata's partner Hayao Miyazaki's My Neighbor Totoro (which originally was released in Japan on a head-scratching double-bill with Takahata's Grave of the Fireflies), and the more recent Miss Hokusai.

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