Sunday, November 06, 2011

SF International Animation Fest ’11: Glitch in the Grid (Annecy Alumni)

It is tough to make a go of slackerdom during times of recession. The current downturn serves as a bit of a wake-up call for one socially awkward artist. His search for spiritual growth could be helpful, but the fruitless casting calls he pursues are probably counterproductive in Eric Leiser’s experimental animation-live action hybrid Glitch in the Grid (trailer here), the opening night film of the San Francisco Film Society’s sixth annual San Francisco International Animation Festival.

Jay Masonek feels alienated from the social and economic superstructure, or the grid as he calls it. Hoping a change of scenery will help get him out of his funk, Masonek’s cousins Jeff and Eric invite him to crash in their Hollywood apartment. Of course, once he has moved in, they start to wish they had never suggested it, particularly Eric. Yet, when he is not skateboarding or scanning Craig’s List for scammer casting notices, Masonek pursues a genuine quest for divine guidance.

As director, animator, editor, and half a dozen other things including co-star, Eric Leiser creates some visually striking interludes rendered with a combination of stop-motion animation and time-lapse photography. Symbolically evocative, they often communicate the film’s themes more dramatically than the mumblecorish live action scenes. While Leiser can create a distinctive fast talking lizard, his characters are not strongly delineated.

Yet, it is not just the animated sequences that distinguish Glitch from standard issue mumblecore. The manner in which Masonek and his cousins discuss their personal relationships with God is impressively frank and free of irony. Its sardonic attitude towards Obama “green” make-work jobs is also rather bold.

Leiser is an enormously talented filmmaker, who simply needs to tighten-up his screenwriting or take on a collaborator. In selecting Glitch to open the festival, the SFFS appropriately showcases a home-grown Bay Area artist. Previously, the film screened at Annecy, which is roundly considered the preeminent European animation film festival. The 2011 SF International Festival also includes a program of some of the best short films that played at their French counterpart earlier this year. Two Polish selections are especially noteworthy.

Inspired by Adam Mickiewicz’s epic poem, Kamil Polak’s visually arresting The Lost Town of Świteź (trailer here) is a Slavonic variant on the Atlantis archetype, suffused with apocalyptic Christian imagery. Produced with specially commissioned oil painting and state of the art computer animation, Świteź is a stunning film that approaches the level of fine art.

Also quite notable, Damian Nenow’s Paths of Hate (trailer here) evokes the animated sequences of The Wall, both in its style and the paint-peeling heavy metal soundtrack. Depicting the mother of all dog fights during what appears to be WWII, Nenow vivdly depicts the gruesome dehumanizing nature of war. However, his aerial scenes are so dazzling, he might inadvertently undercut the film’s message, but that is not necessarily a bad thing for audiences who want to see something cool.

Though certainly imperfect, Glitch is an interesting film that should put Leiser on people’s radar. Proudly representing Polish animation, Polak’s Świteź and Nenow’s Hate are powerful and accomplished films of a very high order. Glitch opens the festival with two screenings this Thursday (11/10) at the New People Cinema. The highly recommended Annecy program screens at the same venue on Friday (11/11) and Sunday (11/13).