December 26, 2008

In the flurry of holiday films it might be easy to miss a few. The animated feature-length documentary Waltz with Bashir opens this week theatrically in select cities, some of which include New York, Los Angeles, Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto.

While I am not a big fan of the animation style typically, in this context I think it strikes an interesting balance with the tone and subject matter of the film. The film is a meditation on war from the point of view of former Israeli soldiers from the war with Lebanon, so there is much to discuss in addition to the animation.

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November 17, 2008
Quirino Cristiani's parents had really wanted him to be a doctor. Just after the turn of the 20th century, the Italian immigrants in Argentina had hoped that Quirino would "get over" his penchant for drawing, and be a doctor in the Buenos Aires hospital where his father worked.

Young Quirino only wanted to draw and was especially fascinated with representing movement, and later made a living drawing political satire cartoons for various newspapers and magazines. Newsreel producer and entrepreneur, Frederico Valle, first commissioned Cristiani to make artwork for the end of his newsreels, and wanted Cristiani to see if he could make them move. This lead to them making El Apostol: a 70-minute animated feature satirizing Argentina's President Yrigoyen, which premiered in 1917 and was a runaway success, playing to packed cinemas for six months.

None of the footage survived a fire that destroyed all of Valle's precious stock in 1926. But we know about it - and its impact on the history of animation from the Italian documentary, Quirino Cristiani: The Mystery of the First Animated Movies.

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July 19, 2008

A little while ago, I got a copy of Animania in the mail. It was a copy-for-blogging exchange, and I was glad I got a chance to see it. I had caught it on local cable a couple of weeks ago, and was curious to see the rest.

Turns out, I had only missed about the first ten or fifteen minutes. The documentary itself is only about an hour long, with a half-hour special features section called "Anime Uncovered." Despite my interest in fan studies, I thought that this was the more interesting part of the package -- and not just because it featured our friend Emru. I liked hearing from experts, specifically Canadian experts, and I also enjoyed hearing about the mechanics of modern animation.

The documentary itself revolves around a group of cosplayers (not a cosplay group, just different cosplayers) who attend Anime North, Toronto's major anime convention. The filmmaker, Felice Gorica, asks them the same questions, most of which are about why they like anime, how long they've been watching it, why they cosplay, and what they think life is like for teenagers in the twenty-first century. Also included are interviews with the parents of each cosplayer. Whether this was intentional or not, there seems to be a clear cultural divide between the minority parents and the white ones -- the Chinese, Japanese, and Caribbean parents all profess to love the way cosplay gives their kids projects to do, teaches them discipline and stick-to-it-iveness, and keeps them out of "normal" trouble. The white parents, however, seem intensely worried about how their son uses anime to help create his identity, how much money he spends on his anime habit, and whether he should be "living his life by the rules set out by a world of fantasy." (My husband then pointed out that the American Dream is more of a fantasy than anything anyone could animate, and that living one's life by its rules is probably twice as unhealthy as any fannish obsession.)

If I had one criticism of this documentary, it would be that the editing needs work. Technically it's fine -- it's not like the audio and visual tracks leap apart, or anything -- but there's a lot of extraneous footage used to split up the segments that make no immediately-apparent sense. We get unexplained cuts of anime like Slayers, but no commentary on why Slayers fits with what the interviewees have just said. Then there's the wrestling footage. To be fair, Anime North has wrestling exhibitions in full view of the registration line (it gives people something to watch while standing for hours), so it does make sense to at least acknowledge that. However, the frequent intercuts to the footage make it seem as though the wrestling should have some narrative or thematic significance to the points being made in the interviews. And it doesn't, unless the point was to highlight the fact that both wrestlers and cosplayers wear costumes.

Aside from that, though, I recommend it. It's nice to see something that's exclusively about Canadian fandom, and cosplay specifically. I also liked the inclusion of the parents' commentary. These parents seem to have great relationships with their kids, and they clearly savour the opportunity to spend time with their children at a time when most children can't wait to get out of the house or otherwise spurn parental attention. Their contribution is perhaps the most unique to the documentary, and this low-key approach was just right for talking to both halves of the relationship.

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May 20, 2008


Waltz with Bashir looks like one of those films that could be simultaneously fascinating and trying. Fascinating because the Israeli autobiographical feature focuses on writer/director Ari Folman's experiences as a 19-year-old soldier in Lebanon during the early 1980s. Trying because feature-length Flash-animated films can, depending on how they're made, make your eyes bleed.

The key, of course, is the phrase "depending on how they're made." Watching the YouTube clip from the film, Waltz with Bashir might be quite watchable, and I'm always fascinated by documentaries that look at wartime through the lens of individuals rather than armies.

I am a bit irked by publicist Richard Lormand's claim in Israel21c that Waltz with Bashir is "basically the first animated documentary ever." Clearly, he hasn't read our first PDF issue, which focused on animated documentaries. And what about the more recent Persepolis, which was also autobiographical and the darling of independent animated cinema last year? It seems to me that everyone involved—including the article's writer—was so excited at the prospect of this film being a "first" that no one bothered to question the assertion. And besides, who bothers to fact-check articles on animation, anyway? Certainly not mainstream journalists.

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April 16, 2007
Vancouver community radio station CFRO-FM 102.7 aired a special 2 hour special program Sunday featuring music from classic cartoons from Betty Boop to Bullwinkle and Popeye to Peanuts.

These radio shows are also archived online for exactly one week in MP3 format, so you have no more than 6 days to download this radio broadcast as a bonus audio/cartoon podcast. You'll need these 3 parts:

part 1, part 2, part 3

It's 22khz mono stream, and the program picks up 30 minutes into the first file.

Presented by two animation enthusiasts, Steve Bowell, host of the Sunday evening program Ragbag, and Ethan Minovitz, co-host of the Sunday morning show Anthology of Jewish Music, the show features rare recordings of songs inspired by cartoons, excerpts from cartoon and comic strip-related musicals, and strange "alternate" versions of theme songs. It's an audio collage with some of the best and oddest music from cartoon soundtracks.

The program also happens to coincide with the stations's spring membership drive, so if you feel like passing them a loonie/toonie for the download, feel free to do so via CanadaHelps.

via bcdb

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March 10, 2007
There is lots of programming today at the Festival of Films on Art (FIFA). There's something for everybody.

If you missed the documentary Il Etait Un Fois... Walt Disney when it aired late last year with English subtitles, it will be showing again today and Sunday in French at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, where the exhibit of the same name has just started its North American run. The program begins at 2:00 p.m. (4:30 on Sunday) and is preceded by a documentary (with some animated sequences) on Kinder Surprise, a guilty pleasure of mine. (Note that today and tomorrow are also your last two chances to see Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at the museum).

If you're all Disneyed out, at 4:30 p.m. there is a screening of Parnography, a documentary about Estonian animator Pritt Parn and his contemparies. It repeats later in the week.

The documentary airs with Drawing Lessons and Histoires Mysterieuses d'Aujourd'hui, a collection of six Japanese tales of horror and does not have the typical hallmarks of mainstream Japanese animation. Both sound utterly fascinating.

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