Judge William Lee drew a stick figure self-portrait but he just couldn't get the arms right.
Exploring our world through animation.
A Million Movies a Minute is the name of a new distribution company that specializes in documentary short films. If their second DVD release is any indicator, the independent label definitely has an eye for quality. Animating Reality: A Collection of Short Documentaries contains 13 films from 11 countries. The subject matter for most of these films is personal recollections of everyday experiences. Among the stories we hear are those of a trio of Swedish graffiti artists, an Australian veteran of the Vietnam War and a pair of women in Africa coping with the repercussions of HIV/AIDS. In each segment, the filmmakers use different animation techniques to bring these stories to colorful and fanciful life. Here is the list of films:
• Conversing with Aotearoa (Corrie Francis, 2006) 15
Many of the films feature a single narrator or a conversation between two people but the imaginative filmmaking makes these stories so much more than mere talking heads. The animation medium opens the possibilities for visualizing these very down-to-earth stories. The claymation of Blue, Karma, Tiger playfully explores the alter egos of three women who express themselves through the underground art of graffiti tagging. The moody pencil drawings of Sold Out chronicle the decline of a small family-run store as it becomes irrelevant in the age of the supermarket. A father and daughter have a touching conversation in Birdlings Two when they discover that they share a creative connection. There isn't a personal narrative in Wiener Wuast but it offers five minutes of pure delight as a moving flipbook visits different cultural sites in Vienna.
The two longest works, combining for more than one third of the total running time, were the films that tested my patience the most. That may not be entirely the fault of their content, though I am baffled as to what was the point of The Last Words of Dutch Schultz, so much as the switch between short and medium length works. Once you're used to the pattern of short subjects and varied visual techniques, it is difficult to focus your attention on the longer works that suddenly feel very slow. Perhaps the longer works will fare better when revisited during a deliberate and dedicated viewing? Many of the shorts collected on this disc are worth watching again both for the wonderful animation and the compelling human stories.
The DVD is given a good technical presentation that should please most viewers. Despite the numerous sources used to assemble the program, the image is consistently clean, details are acceptably sharp and the colors are quite strong. The 1.78:1 anamorphic picture works fine for about half of the shorts. Other times, the frame is noticeably stretched to fill the wider aspect ratio but if you are willing to set your monitor to squeeze the picture, when appropriate, to the 4:3 ratio it looks much more satisfying. Stereo audio works fine for all the films since none of the interviews require a complex sound mix. During one film I had to turn up the volume to hear the narration but for the most part the voices are very clear throughout the disc. There are no optional subtitles but any films with dialogue in another language are translated with permanent English subtitles.
This collection of animated short documentaries perhaps works better in multiple short doses than as one marathon viewing. Still, there is enough variety of technique on display to keep the attention of animation fans. The personal stories and whimsical, reality-based abstractions show the human experience in ways you may not have imagined.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: A Million Movies a Minute
• IMDb: Conversing with Aotearoa
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