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Our UK correspondent Joseph Norman reports from the Encounters Film Festival 2019.

At the recent ‘Encounters Film Festival’ in Bristol, UK, I attended the Herstory event screenings, followed by a revealing insight into the themes and concepts underpinning each film’s production through a Q&A with a selection of the films’ creative teams. Three distinctive films stood out from a strong and diverse selection:

The first of these, O Hunter Heart, directed by Carla MacKinnon, is an emotionally-charged, sombre short film, which reflects on control and vulnerability within human relationships. The film features a series of multiple-voiceovers telling stories of real-life relationships and break-ups, recounted as the story visually unfolds. The anthropomorphic-animal characters live within a dolls-house, and their relationship is portrayed as abusive through disturbing imagery of constraint and control.

The film’s mysterious atmosphere is extended through the non-verbal interaction of characters; and the house operates as a container, echoed as a heart within a body. A sense of foreboding is developed, through sensitively animated stop-motion characters. The film deploys exquisite imagery, enhanced through a brooding, powerful soundtrack, and represents a unique and highly imaginative artistic vision for the exploration of such sensitive content.

Creepy Pasta Salad, directed by Lauren Orme, is darkly-comic tale set in South Wales, of ghosts, goths and the impending end of the world. In its story of full moons and weird Welsh viruses running wild, enhanced by the cheesy and humorous soundtrack by Phil Brookes, this quirky tale represents a refreshing voice for independent animation hailing from Cardiff: a young woman catches a virus-like infection, which makes her grow strange facial hair, leading to her developing an anxiety disorder.

The story unfolds across a grubby townscape, featuring an apocalyptic, placard carrying goth and dreary bus commutes to monotonous factory jobs. Made in 2.5D using Moho software, and animated by Dani Abram, the film has a strong visual style using a non-generic, eclectic approach to character design. These are enhanced through grimy and grubby textures, stylistically recalling the pallet of Ivor the Engine and building on a rich history of animation coming out of South Wales.

Laughlines (‘Lachfalten’), directed by Patricia Wenger, explores multiple stories of friendship and inter-connection between characters; there is a strong aesthetic of transformation, where objects become body parts, and there is an overarching cosmic sense of connection between each disparate scene.

Stylistically, Wenger explains that her eclectic personal aesthetic has grown out of a very extensive Pinterest account: the fresh use of rhizomatic jumps between scenes and characters and morphing between elements, such as sewing thread, eyes, bodies, twinkling stars in the sky, leads to a sense of mysterious interconnection between all things. The film has a distinctive style of visual mutability, suggesting that through new friendships, new worlds and experiences open up to the individual.

This year’s festival presented a breadth of new innovations in areas such as interactivity and VR, and provided a platform for exciting new directions in the possibilities of contemporary animation.

Joseph Norman was a guest of Encounters Festival 2019, and a UK correspondent for Zippy Frames.

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