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The 18th Animation Show of Shows gives animators a chance at the spotlight



Animation is hard. Just ask Bryce Ballew, a digital arts major at the University of Oregon currently taking a class on the subject. “The first project I did … [took] about a week straight of work,” Ballew said. “It’s exhausting.”

But according to Ballew, the quality of the final product makes it worth the workload: “When you get it working well, it’s really rewarding. When it looks good, you know it, and it’s awesome.”

Thousands of animators around the world face the same phenomenon, especially in Hollywood. Large, high-budget hits like Kung-Fu Panda and Finding Nemo take years to create, even with teams of over 50 animators and entire production companies dedicated to the creation of animated films. Every year there are thousands of creations from unknown or independent filmmakers that fail to reach the big screen, denying creators the chance to display their work.

On Friday, Nov. 18, at Cinema 21 in Portland, the 18th Animation Show of Shows (ASOS) hopes to provide 16 films their shot at the spotlight. The program, presented by ACME Filmworks, a film distribution company focused on animation, features acclaimed animated short films from filmmakers around the world.

The films feature a wide variety of techniques, including hand-drawn, computer-generated and stop-motion animation. This year’s show includes selections from Belgium, Canada, France, Israel, Korea, Latvia, Norway, Russia, Scotland, the U.K. and the U.S.
There will be no shortage of talent on display. The filmmakers range from award-winning directors to talented independent auteurs.

For many of them, it will be the first time their films are played for a large audience. With this in mind, festival founder Ron Diamond hopes to attract as wide and diverse a crowd as possible.

“The show is [ultimately] intended for adults, but every [age group] ends up loving it,” Diamond said during a phone interview.

Diamond curates the program himself, which means most of the show’s appeal rests on his shoulders. He typically culls the 16 films from over a thousand potential selections throughout the year. This time, he settled on shorts like Ainslie Henderson’s stop-motion musical Stems and Patrick Osborne’s deeply emotional Pearl, which connects a father and daughter’s lives through music.

Diamond said the idea for the festival emerged after founding ACME Filmworks in 1990. ACME represented Diamond’s first attempt to “discover and nurture” new artistic talent, according to the company’s website.

In ACME’s early years, Diamond said he intended to bring “artists and animators to the forefront in advertising,” by showcasing animations and short films to various advertising agencies. “The ad agencies … really embraced that whole idea,” Diamond said. “They [said], ‘Yeah, I can build a commercial around that concept.”

Eventually, huge corporations like Coca-Cola, AT&T and Walt Disney began greenlighting productions based on ACME’s presentations.

It wasn’t until 1999 when Diamond decided to get the animators personally involved in the presentations. Those efforts began in earnest when he brought Mark Baker, an independent animator, out to visit Walt Disney Studios to showcase his short film, Jolly Roger.

The presentation was so well received that Diamond decided to put together a reel of short films and screen them for several studios and production companies, including Pixar and Dreamworks. “Everybody loved it,” Diamond said. “The response was so favorable that I thought, ‘You know, I should keep doing this.’ ”

As Diamond collected more and more films for his presentations, he eventually had enough material to show the animators’ work to an audience at large. This became ASOS.

Diamond admits that showcasing a wide variety of subjects and styles makes it impossible to win every person over.

“You don’t expect a home run on every single [film], in terms of the audience reaction,” he said. “In that regard, we’ve had a pretty high success rate … These are films that will stick in people’s memories for a very long time.”

This year, the selections often attach political messages to their distinct visual styles. Simon Cartwright’s Manoman is a highlight. Made with apeish marionettes, the ten-minute short follows a man who unwittingly creates a small, goblin-like version of himself. The man gets swept up in the demonic creature’s mischief, attacking bystanders and giving in to his violent instincts. Disturbing and eerie, the film offers a critique of masculinity and violence in an uncertain world and stands as an example of the ASOS’ thematic reach.

That same reach allows the show to receive a great deal of attention from the film industry at large, especially during awards season. Last year, Don Hertzfeldt’s World of Tomorrow and Konstantin Bronzit’s We Can’t Live Without Cosmos were screened for audiences at the festival. Both shorts were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 2015.

This only continued an already standing tradition; numerous films screened at ASOS have appeared on Oscar ballots, including the 2014 winner, Feast. But Diamond was quick to point out that the Academy Awards are far from the first thing on his mind.

“Our goal is to find great films,” he said. “Whether the film gets nominated for an Oscar [is just] icing on the cake.”

For Diamond, exposure for talented filmmakers and their creations is the ultimate goal. With ASOS in its 18th year, he hopes to provide a stage for films that will leave audiences and industry professionals equally charged.

Daniel Steinhart, assistant professor of Cinema Studies at UO, says the exposure film festivals provide to filmmakers and artists make them an essential part of the industry.
“If you’re working in the independent world [of cinema]… film festivals can be an important stepping stone to get distribution,” Steinhart said.

The numbers speak for themselves. In 2016, Fox Searchlight Pictures bought the distribution rights to Nate Parker’s Birth of a Nation for $17.5 million at Sundance Film Festival. Since its release, the film has garnered significant awards buzz. Other indie favorites, like the distinctly odd Swiss Army Man, made it to wide release after competing at Sundance.

Diamond hopes the filmmakers at ASOS find similar success. But most importantly, he hopes to prove how powerful animation can be. “These are [films] that everyone can relate to, during any stage of life,” Diamond said. “Tens of thousands of people are going to be excited by these shorts. And that’s really cool.”

Screenings of The Animation Show of Shows will take place at Cinema 21 in Portland through Nov. 24. Tickets are available for $9.75 at https://app.arts-people.com/index.php?show=69935.


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Dana Alston

Dana Alston

Dana Alston is an Associate Arts & Culture Editor from San Jose, CA. He writes about film, music, and television. Paul Thomas Anderson is his one true god.

You can follow his meme-endorsed social media ramblings @AlstonDalston on Twitter or Letterboxd, or shoot him some eloquent hate mail at [email protected]