Jan 5, 2010

One Great Runaway



I'm in the midst of putting together a piece about the National Film Board's animated selections at this year's Sundance Film Festival, which opens January 21st in Park City, Utah. I always associate the wintery film festival with intellectual independent features but it's warming to see a loopy animated short like Runaway be featured there as well. The Cordell Barker work is one of the three animated shorts being shown at this year's festival, the other two being Vive La Rose
and Rains.

Runaway had its world premiere last May at the Cannes Film Festival, and was also shown at the Toronto International Film Festival this past September. Watching it, I was taken back to my youth, when I saw Barker's first animated short, The Cat Came Back. With its zany animation and insanely catchy theme song, the short remains a personal favourite of mine. What's so neat about Barker's works is that he blends social commentary in with the crazy narratives and colourful characters. So Runaway is about much more than a train; it's a not-so-subtle metaphor on class distinctions, consumerism, environmentalism, economics and social responsibility. It's also fabulously entertaining, with a lively score by Ben Charest (the man behind the Oscar-nominated The Triplets of Belleville) and Barker's kooky, charming animation.



One of my mantras for 2010 is "less head, more heart." To borrow a line from Rumi, I'm attempting to stop the forward-pressure of the mind, at least sometimes, and blend it with Duchamp's idea that "the desire to understand everything fills me with horror" -so why try? It feels like such a ciphoning of energy to try to rationalize and square out the details of every little thing, all the time; it feels like an egotistical attempt at control that isn't there in the first place. Head just can't replace heart, and at its essence, this is what good animation (and all visual art, in fact) provides me: a portal into a world where logic doesn't always rule, control is illusory, and possibility is endless. That doesn't mean it shouldn't be challenging or difficult, or contain social commentary and exploration, but I think it's possible to marry the yin and yang together, through skill, and of course, passion. The best animation, for me, goes straight for child-like wonder, universal feeling, and a sparkling joy that is sometimes intertwined with social commentary. The NFB brings all of that wonder, feeling, and joy to Utah this year, in zany colours and deft pencil strokes. Looking at their works, it makes sense the word "art" is contained in "heart." As it should be.

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