Cardiff Animation Festival offers an extensive showcase of some of the best animation films from around the world. Nicola Ryan attended the physical festival at Chapter and discovers a rich eclecticism of the films on offer.
The first thing that you notice upon walking into Chapter Arts Centre is just how busy it is. 2022 marks Cardiff Animation Festival’s fifth year and its second in-person event (the first physical festival took place in 2018, and was followed by three years online). This year, CAF was able to make good use of the physical space available while also boasting an array of virtual events which continue after the in-person offering until 24th April. The festival was spawned from a love of the animation medium – specifically short films and the licence they give for emerging filmmakers to be experimental with their storytelling and animation style. Hence, it’s no surprise that this is a festival which makes space for both local and international voices. That eclecticism is certainly felt in its many offerings, with no shortage of themes, styles, and perspectives, culminating in a festival that is culturally rich and rewarding.
There are seven showcases of short films numbered from 1 to 7, each containing a multitude of shorts within the category that share a common theme. I attended ‘Shorts 3: Sound/Vision’, which boasted the most amount of shorts with 17 films included in total. As the title of the showcase suggests, these films are linked by their innovative use of sound and how this compliments (and sometimes contrasts) with the animation styles. Themes spanned numerous areas, with the pandemic and climate change being among the most recurring topics. The use of hands in various shorts such as WYH and Hand was particularly striking, used to explore the pandemic and gesture to the natural human instinct to communicate and connect with others. Other shorts focused on the body as a whole, and brought brilliant commentary to discussions around mental health, especially prevalent in shorts such as Downfall and Summer Years. Others ventured into comical territories, such as Acid Rain and Cockpera. Merlin Voss’ poignant Noise Film was a personal highlight. Its narrative follows a protagonist going about her daily routine with the entire soundscape – from car to weather – rendered by humans. The way Noise Film utilises this sound exemplifies the power of subjectivity and how personal perspective may shape perception of outside events.
‘Shorts 2: Human/Nature’ was another bumper category with a whopping 16 films within its rota. These shorts were connected by their themes of identity and the self, contrasting the differences between mankind and nature in a period of increasing climate-based tension. There were shorts that had a keen interest in the natural world such as Suburb and In Nature, while others had a sharp focus on the human experience such as the heartbreaking Deep Tissue and Silvering. I would be remiss not to mention the hilarious Magical Cat, a series of minute-long shorts that cropped up throughout these pieces following the comical activities of an animated cat. Emma Kelly’s Looking for Answers, in particular, offered profound reflection on human experience with a simple story of a man eager to plant and grow a seed who ultimately gets knocked off course by an obsession with research.
‘Shorts 6: Reel/Life’ featured 12 shorts with experimental themes and storylines. Most were made as a response to political issues, and their interests were global in reach; from Checkpoint which follows a young girl in modern-day Palestine to Les Larmes de la Seine (The Seine’s Tears) which explores France’s Algerian population in the 1960s and their rebellion against the curfews imposed by the police. Necessarily, these were not comfortable watches and they emphasised the didactic and activistic power of the animation medium, especially in addressing political taboo.
Olivia Martin-McGuire’s Freedom Swimmer was especially moving. Its narrative follows a man’s past flight from China to Hong Kong with his young daughter, its story running in parallel to the story of his granddaughter’s current fight for freedom in modern-day Hong Kong. The combination of live-action interviews (using actors to ensure all identities are anonymous) and minimalistic animation tells the story with an intricacy which is at once specific and universal.
‘Shorts 4: Home/Sick’ was the final set of shorts I attended on the first day. Each filmmaker in this showcase explores the themes of home and belonging, the meanings of these terms being both literal (I Call it Home) and conceptual (Depths of Night). Each short gives insight into the nuance of individual experience, and the complexities of what we claim as home. Joanna Quinn’s Academy Award-nominated Affairs of the Art is the stand-out piece of this set. It sees the return of her much-loved character, Beryl, in a mockumentary format as the protagonist delves into obsessive natures, documenting Beryl’s own fascination with art. Quinn perfectly conveys the shifting dynamics in the family home as she delves into desires and regrets – a perfect encapsulation of the universal longing for identity and meaning.
Day 2 is marked by another bustling cinema foyer – the area wall to wall with aspiring animators with plenty of space for scribbling and storyboarding ideas. As well as more film showcases, a masterclass hosted by Joanna Quinn, director and animator of the Oscar-winning short film, Affairs of the Art, is on offer.
Things kick off with ‘Shorts 5: Silent/Cinema’. This collection of films contains the least amount of shorts with only nine in its repertoire, but this is only due to the longer running time of each piece. ‘Shorts 5’ is, in many ways, the most accessible of all the showcases – each piece linked by lack of sound and visual storytelling. Still, the plots are no less vivid for the restraint. Isaiah – one of the shortest of these films – tells the story of Mari Lywd and the tale of its Christianisation. Meanwhile, Megamall provides an insightful look into capitalism and its varying impact. Yngwie Boley’s Pilar captures my heart – its story following a character desperate to escape her post-apocalyptic village and reconnect with nature. Equally wonderful is Samantha Moore’s Treasure, the film following a man’s search for treasure using a metal detector in the modern-day and the connection to the past where we follow a young mother from the past who sacrifices her treasure for the good of the community. These films are completely different in themes and animation style, but both convey the power of the visual format to transcend the need for dialogue in conjuring intense emotion.
‘Shorts 1: Together/Apart’ consists of films connected by the themes of connection and communication – a deeply relevant topic following the years of global pandemic. These shorts display an acute focus on humanity. Films such as Signs and Everything Is Going To Be OK explore the desire to reconnect with others after losing oneself in daily routine, while My Ex Boyfriend is a hilarious story about a woman whose life is flipped upside down when water begins to pour out of her boyfriend. What was great about this collection of shorts was the inclusion of LGBTQA+ stories such as Sincerely and All Those Sensations in My Belly which followed the respective protagonists in their quest to find love in a world which doesn’t always accept them. Lina Kalcheva’s Other Half is a thoughtful claymation exploring a world where couples literally merge together to form one body.
The weekend has begun and more animation is on the menu. I start off with ‘Shorts 7: After/Dark’ – with a turn to the darker side, CAF offers firm rebuttal to offhand remarks made at this year’s Oscar ceremony about animation being solely for children. Feature film Flee – which screened at this year’s CAF – was a contender for multiple Academy Awards. The 12 films within ‘Shorts 7’ explore (sometimes with graphic detail) issues of trauma and violence.
The first film, HIDE, is a beautiful and claustrophobic look into trauma as we see life through the eyes of a young boy who hides in a cupboard and sees glimpses of family life that are often kept hidden from children. MOM follows a young girl who is being hunted for entertainment as her plight is broadcast across the country and her reflection on memories with her mother allow her to come to terms with how the past has shaped her. The Swiss film, Mr. Pete & the Iron Horse, provided a hint of fun – following a soldier and his quest to appease his leader. Paul O’Flanagan’s Memento Mori, which followed an esteemed post-mortem photographer, Mr. Huxley, and an encounter that forces him to reflect on his previous behaviours is a standout piece. Featuring Mark Gatiss as the protagonist, the film transports its audience into the Victorian era and does a brilliant job of setting the mood and tone from start to end.
Shorts all out the way, the last day of the Cardiff Animation Festival has come around fast. Today the schedule turns East with two feature length Japanese films to watch before the concluding awards ceremony.
Japanese documentary The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness starts the day, the film following iconic Studio Ghibli founder and director, Hayao Miyazaki, as he directs his 2013 feature, The Wind Rises. It’s a beautiful and poignant look into the creative process of one of animation’s leading figures, looking into his entire career and what led him to make The Wind Rises. The documentary not only gives a brilliant insight into one of the world’s best animation studios but also shows just how much hard work and dedication goes into making a feature-length animation. The screening was followed by a talk by the popular podcasters behind Ghibliotheque where they discussed various aspects of the studio and the filmmakers.
Next I attend the Welsh premiere of animator loundraw’s directorial debut, Summer Ghost, a 40-minute film that follows three teenagers who meet in the hopes of encountering a mysterious ghost who has been appearing to people during the summer months. A deeply resonant film that looks into the complexities of adolescence, identity, and trying to find your place in a quickly-advancing world, Summer Ghost boasts captivating visuals and a gripping story while managing to delve into each of the main characters’ lives in a way that feels natural. There was also a pre-recorded Q&A with loundraw following the film which delved into his rise in the world of animation and the various inspirations behind the film.
The festival concluded with the awards ceremony where multiple films received the beautiful trophies that had been painted with dots by festival-goers throughout the weekend. After each winner was announced, the audience was treated to a final viewing of the winning film which was a great bonus. A resounding success from start to finish, Cardiff Animation Festival is a powerful showcase for the emotional vitality and variety of the animation form. You can see all the winners of the Cardiff Animation Festival 2022 in order that they were announced below:
Best Micro Short
Winner: NOMINO SUKUNE (directed by Ryotaro Miyajima)
Highly commended: Crafty Witch (directed by Laura-Beth Cowley)
Young Jury Award
Winner: Shift (directed by Cam Swartz)
Highly commended: Heartwood (directed by Reyes Fernández), Tobi and the Turbobus (directed by Verena Fels), and Tacet (directed by Zachary Simon)
Quick Draw Award
Winner: Blending In (directed by Bethany Powell)
Highly commended: Camouflage, Sniff Test, Blend, and Guinea Pigment
Best Student Award
Winner: Other Half (directed by Lina Kalcheva)
Highly commended: Sauna (directed by Anna Lena Spring and Lara Perren)
Best Short Film
Winner: Freedom Swimmer (directed by Olivia Martin-McGuire)
Highly commended: In Nature (directed by Marcel Barelli)
Winner: Affairs of the Art (directed by Joanna Quinn)
Cardiff Animation Festival’s online offering runs until 24 April. More information available here.