– Three films that deal with identity through the eyes of children stood out in this block of Animest’s International Competition
Swimming with Wings by Daphna Awadish Golan
The eleven films in the second block of short films in competition at the 18th Animest International Animation Film Festival in Bucharest are all very different in technique, style and overall tone. A common thread, however, is the ability (or lack thereof) of the protagonists to cope with complex situations and take action accordingly when required.
Three films in the selection stood out by employing animation tools to visually express intimate and profound feelings to the fullest, creating the most engaging emotional connection with the viewer.
Writer-director-editor Daphna Awadish Golan’s Swimming with Wings (Netherlands) is an animated documentary that explores the challenge of foreigners, especially children, to learn how to swim under gruelling circumstances as a prerogative to live in the Netherlands. Since most accidental drownings there occur when a person unexpectedly falls into a canal or river, an indisputable requirement is to swim underwater with open eyes, wearing clothing and shoes.
Awadish portrays the migrants as penguins, the famously flightless aquatic birds, wearing bright-coloured clothes, which stands in contrast with their distressing experience. The voice-over narrator is the main character, an Israeli girl, who explains how the swimming lessons work. This means that she reveals a child’s perspective on the integration process in a culturally distant country, inviting the viewer on an underwater journey in the Netherlands. By bringing colours to this cold and rigorous country with her delicate drawings, the director seems to have found her way of embracing it as her own and consequently, so does her younger alter ego and her fellow penguins, by getting in control over their breathing as they progress with their swimming lessons. Awadish’s simple and minimalistic style recalls children’s drawings, establishing a deep connection between the voice-over and the visuals.
Dodo by Yi Luo
Yi Luo’s Dodo (Germany) is a hand-drawn student animation film that explores two disparate dimensions of reality where the 10-year-old main character deals with the challenging separation from her beloved father.
Dodo lives in a bleak, Dickensian, black-and-white world, with the exception of her father, the only anthropomorphic bird and character in colour in the film. One day, under unclear circumstances, he flies away. This abandonment makes Dodo seek a safe refuge from the harsh reality that she lives in, which she will find by returning to her mother’s womb and rediscovering the strength of their relationship. Though temporarily stunting her physical growth, this process will ultimately help her overcome her fears.
The maternal womb is a metaphorical and stylistic haven in juxtaposition to the darkness of reality, built around shadows and sharp outlines. It is Dodo’s “Over the Rainbow” dimension, where light and colour dominate and, just like in Swimming with Wings, Luo builds a bridge back to a child-like, reassuring aesthetic.
As If It Could by Ada Güvenir
Ada Güvenir’s As If It Could (Belgium) is a semi-autobiographical animation that uses comedy to tell a story about borders and integration. After realising her plant is not growing as it should, Olive sets off in pursuit of more suitable grounds to let her plant re-root.
Güvenir’s subtle humour draws attention to Western countries’ black-and-white worldview and intrinsically discriminatory bureaucracy. The short film is a masterful union of a minimalistic aesthetic and a technically articulated split-screen design that conveys an impression of a single, fluid cinematic long-take.
Meanwhile, Arne Nuyts’ captivating, multi-layered sound design suitably captures the contrasting atmospheres and environments of Olive’s journey, juxtaposing the absence of dialogue and giving depth to the visually two-dimensional characters – including the plant. Disrupting the overall geometrical, white-background style, an experimental, playful sequence eventually reveals a more profound quest within Olive’s journey – an exploration of her own identity.
Besides these three standout films dealing with identity through the eyes of children, with seven professional and four student shorts, Animest’s International Competition 2 was noticeably diverse in genre and style and thus managed to keep the viewers’ attention up throughout the screening.