I am Anthony E. Savvides. This is my blog.

Reflections & adventures of a writer at heart, a journalist by trade and a waiter by night.

Posts Tagged ‘Film Festival

Animation Spotlight

leave a comment »

On my first full day at Sundance, I was able to wiggle my way into three screenings: Animation Spotlight, The Ambassador, and 1/2 Revolution. While the snow continued to blanket the streets and peaks of Park City, I waited in a heated white tent at the Yarrow Hotel Theater with Annilese and Katie. The three of us were early enough to snag wait-list numbers 20-23, which is pretty good. (To put that in perspective, I have had some tickets numbered upwards of 75, and did not get to see those films…)

Animation Spotlight was up first, and I went in with no expectations, mostly because I hadn’t read nor heard anything about any of the short films being featured. First up was director Stephen P. Neary’s Dr Breakfast, a hilarious, colorful and loud short in 2D. Thank goodness 3D hasn’t seemed to invade Sundance as it has my local multiplex. The sound editing and mixing, as well as the animation itself, was visually stunning and quite funny. The story is focused on a young man who wakes up in his cottage in the woods to a table full of food. Pancakes, juices, cereals- the list goes on and on. Perhaps that wasn’t the best choice to watch first thing in my morning on a nearly empty stomach. At the sight of this feat, his eyes literally become engorged and the right one pops out of its socket, dangling there. A zipper run the length of his eye, and a long, yellow, floating being springs out and proceeds to eat all of the food. Well, it doesn’t so much eat the food as it does suck it up like a vacuum. While this yellow being flies around the world and under the ocean to search for all the food it can possibly ingest, the young fellow is still seated at the kitchen table wearing his pajamas. A deer from the surrounding forrest peaks into the kitchen window, trying to get the guy’s attention. (This being animation, the deer can speak. Duh…) Another deer joins in the effort, and the pair join forces to give the guy a shower/sponge bath. Eventually, the yellow aura that began its food fiend journey around the globe in an eyeball returns to said eyeball, and the dude, who remains unnamed throughout the short, comes alive again. In his haste, he screams at the deer and kicks them out of his home. A moment later, surrounded by his empty home and consumed by his loneliness, he invites the animals back in for dinner. He lays in his bed when it’s all said and done, and falls asleep. His alarm goes off. It’s the morning again, and Breakfast is served.

Following such a bright, fun little flick, I was unprepared for the darker, more twisted and lengthier Night Hunter. Directed by Stacey Steers, this short explored much deeper themes of feminism and the dark nature of humanity. The story takes place, once again, in a small cottage in a wooded area. Only this time, gone are the vibrant landscapes and cartoon-like figures. The main character, a young girl no more than 15, is alone. As the time passes, the cottage become filled with eggs. A lot of eggs. She is nurturing them and watching over the fragile shells. In the background, a creeping snake emerges from the desk drawer. The story dragged on a bit too long; these same themes could have been successfully explored and the same story told on a shorter scale, in my opinion. What kept me interested during this short film, and kept my eyes open, were the animations and the soundtrack. The music was creeping and haunting, and served as a vehicle to move the story forward as there was no dialogue whatsoever. Never in my life have I seen animation of this kind. Most of it seemed hand drawn, though it was presented as a layered effort. The young female character was based on a famed actress of the early 20th century, though her image was altered a bit so that it fit in more with the rest of the animated animals and the cottage. The snake, which represents darkness and evil in the world, is always there in the background, plotting. Several times during the short film, the snake appears as it slithers out of the drawer, tempting and torturing the young girl, and always threatening the eggs, which are perhaps a symbol of humanity and its future. At its conclusion, I found Night Hunter to be too long, and too dark. Maybe it was just my mood after Dr Breakfast, but I was glad when the eggs hatched, the doves flew free, and the snake was dead, with blood pouring out of the desk drawer. Again, beautifully animated through the very end.

Up next was Avocado, which I don’t have terribly much to say about. The characters sat in an apartment, rode a subway, spoke in French, and nothing really happened. I didn’t get this one, but the animation was fun and quirky. I got a good laugh, though I’m not entirely sure it was meant to be funny.

One of my favorites of the bunch was a Japanese entry, 663114, by director Isamu Hirabayashi. The film was a simple one, both visually and thematically. Its focus was a cikada making its way, slowly, up a tree. The narration was all in Japanese with English subtitles built into the animation. As the cikada rises up the tree trunk, it tells the story of cikada’s everywhere: every 66 years, they come out of the ground, find somewhere to settle, shed their skin, lay their eggs, and die. That is simply their circle of life, and this particular cikada seems perfectly content with that. Toward the end of its slow rise, it pauses, and so begins the difficult process of squeezing itself out of its own shell. Suddenly, the screen begins to shake, and the cikada struggles to hold on. After the shaking comes the tidal wave. All of this is a metaphor for the terrible catastrophe that occurred in Japan, and off its coast, in 2011. The tsunami washes everything away, and the credits roll. It seems that the story is over, and all is lost. But the waters recede, and we can see the tree once again. The cikada is gone, now. But a new voice emerges, a new storyteller. This cikada reminisces about the terrible accident that occurred 66 years ago, and the consequences are immediately obvious. This cikada, a descendent of our original storyteller, is deformed, with a shell that is far from normal looking. Its legs and wings have also been affected, seemingly by the radiation in the aftermath of the nuclear power plant meltdown. In the end, though, the cikada lives a happy life, and we see him perform the same duty as his father did 66 years earlier. He struggles to shed his deformed shell and presumably lays his eggs. It’s a story of the perseverance of the human, and animal, spirit. It’s a story of hope; after a disaster, there is always another morning, a new dawn, and a new beginning.

And finally, the only animated short that topped 663114 was It’s Such a Beautiful Day by director Don Hertzfeldt. With stick figure characters and a heartbreaking, sweet story about a man who has a stroke, this simply animated short was my favorite. I loved the message as well as the narration. Although the man was damaged and lost the ability to recognize certain familiar places and people, he was still living his life and every moment to its fullest. I think that one of the most powerful moments came when the main character walks out onto the street, closes the door behind him, and revels in the beauty of the day. “It’s such a beautiful day,” he says. “I think I’ll take a walk around the block.” This action becomes a pattern, as he goes around the block and forgets about his walk. When he gets back to the door, he repeats himself, and this continues 3 or 4 times. While it was sad due to his condition, it also made me smile; I don’t think enough people take time out of their busy schedules to admire the beauty of each day, each moment. Each day since I have seen this short film, I have made an effort to take a walk just to walk. Not because I have to go anywhere, or need to rush to catch a bus or a train, but just to enjoy that moment or fresh air. Try it some time: just go for a walk, clear your head, and take note of the beauty around you.


Written by AESavvides

January 25, 2012 at 12:24 am

Day One: Welcome to Sundance

leave a comment »

I woke up this morning at 5:40 a.m. My eyes didn’t stay open long. After feeling around for a few minutes, I reached under my socks on the floor next to the recliner I slept in, picked up my watch, and saw that it was 5:42 a.m. Immediately, I made the executive decision to go back to sleep. The condo was quiet, other than a few minor snores coming from the bedroom above and the couch next to me. I know some people left shortly before I woke up, in order to get to the theater and get wait-list tickets to see Celeste and Jesse Forever. I didn’t yet have the energy to trek down and wait in line before sunrise. But, a few hours later, I woke up again, this time at the more reasonable hour of 8:10 a.m. I stretched a bit, and then waited. I’m not sure what I was waiting for, but I knew I had to wait for something. I was in no position to venture out into Park City alone, and even less ready to find a theater where a movie I might want to see would be screening. I didn’t even have a map of the festival yet.

After a few minutes, I mustered up the energy to stand up. I yawned. I stretched. I stared out the window, for longer than I think I intended to. But I couldn’t pull myself away- the snow covered mountains were just too beautiful. Snow had been falling since late last night, when my plane landed on the tarmac. Spotted: a Sundance film guide on the kitchen counter, where the movies playing each day are all listed on a nice, neat grid, with handy-dandy plot summaries and showtimes. Jaaaaackpot. I pulled out one of the bar stools and took a seat as I flipped through the guide, stopping to read the summaries of anything I had heard of, or sounded interesting. I was guilty of judging these movies by their titles and the screen shot that accompanied them. I’m sure that someone will think everything is interesting and the best film ever created, but I’m not one of those people. There are some movies I enjoy, there are some I’ll tolerate, and there are others I refuse to watch.

As I turned the pages, I became more and more excited about my current adventure here in Park City. Before I arrived, and before I booked my ticket, I think I was more excited about the idea of Sundance rather than the actual film festival. Now that I was in the moment, and actually planning out my day and picking out which films I want to see, it hit me: YOU’RE AT SUNDANCE! As soon as that lightbulb went off above my head- since I am, in fact, a cartoon character- I rushed into the bathroom, brushed my teeth, and started getting dressed. I threw my long johns on, pulled out my snow boots, and ventured out into the snowy morning with Annilese, Katie and Dan. We walked down the road, almost got run down by a snow plow, and caught the shuttle bus to the Yarrow Hotel Theater. I’m just saying: the plow was on the sidewalk, we were not walking in the street… I tend to get grief about walking on and around streets. It’s a long story. Ok, it’s a pretty short story- I got hit by a school bus in Boston in 2009. There.

Once we were on the bus, we ran into another member of our gang, Jessica. It was my first time meeting her. She sat down next to me on the bus and we chatted a bit about her morning and what films she had seen. We all exited the bus at the stop for the Yarrow Hotel Theater, where we went our separate ways. Katie, Annilese and myself got in the wait-list line for the Animation Spotlight, which was a compilation of all the animated short films being screened at Sundance. A total of nine short films were shown, each of varying quality. I personally loved the animation- some were 2D, others were 3D claymation, and to my surprise, none were digital. I’ll post a bit later on tonight about each of the films individually, but for now, I’ve got to get going. If I’m not standing on the line for 1/2 Revolution within the next 10 minutes, I will have to stand at the back of the line and my numbered ticket and the fact that I showed up two hours early won’t matter. (1/2 Revolution is a documentary about the Egyptian people’s revolution that began a year ago in January 2011, so I really want to need to see it.) So, be back soon, people.

Keep reading 🙂 I mean, if you want to…. it’s a free country, and, for now, a free Internet.

Written by AESavvides

January 22, 2012 at 9:17 am

Flying to Salt Lake City

with 2 comments

Sometimes I wish I were better at planning ahead. As I write this, I am flying somewhere over the Midwestern United States- Wyoming, specifically- 45 minutes away from Salt Lake City International Airport. So far, we’ve flown 1,976 miles. This is one of the longest domestic flights I have ever taken. Actually, it is only second to a trip I took in 2007 to Sand Diego, CA. By the time my flight touches down on the tarmac, it will be around 11 p.m. in Boston, 9 p.m. local time. At least I’ll get to enjoy Salt Lake City for an hour or so before I head to the condo in Park City. I will be staying there, at the condo, with a group of 12 other Northeastern students and a cinema studies professor, David Grotell.

As this plan to make my way to Sundance took form and became a reality over the last month or two, I hadn’t given much thought to my agenda at Sundance. Obviously, I plan on watching a good film or fifteen- as many as I can afford and actually acquire a ticket for, I guess. But, this might be more difficult than I think. I mean, it’s Sundance Film Festival for crying out loud, it’s a big f*cking deal. You know, the same way Vice President Biden feels about Obamacare…. but on a different scale, and to a different demographic.

I hope I am wrong, and that I will, in fact, have the chance to see a multitude of incredible films on the brink of breaking out as bona fide hits after their debut in Park City. Who knows, I might be sitting in the theater watching the next “Slumdog Millionaire” or “Little Miss Sunshine.”

But aside from Sundance itself and my hopes and dreams of sharing oxygen in a theater with some of the biggest players in the game, this flight has given me time to formulate other, perhaps alternate, plans. You know, in case my whole college-kid-goes-to-Sundance-on-a-whim-with-a-pocket-full-of-dreams fairytale doesn’t pan out. The little 3×5 screen in front of me keeps reminding me that it is snowing in Utah, and that this weather is supposed to continue through at least Saturday, probably Sunday. So, given that information, I would be nuts not to go skiing, right? I totally agree with you, I’d be nuts. In the last hour alone, I have made it a goal of this trip to ski on real, west coast snow. Last time I went skiing was the winter of 2010, and it was more like ice-skating down a slope with skis instead of ice skates. Sure, the resorts in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont are more convenient, but they’re mediocre, at best. Or so I’ve heard…. I have a strong inclination that, come Tuesday, I will be one of those people that affirms if you haven’t experienced skiing out west, you haven’t skied. But for now, I’m still just a novice, naïve east coast kid who has skied here and there.

Note: this paragraph will consist mostly of stream of consciousness, side notes of random thoughts that don’t fit any place else in this post. My feet are freezing. I am flying with two carry on bags, so I didn’t have room to pack my boots or coat. So, I arrived at Logan airport wearing my heavy coat, hat, gloves, scarf, boots, etc. All this gear I’ll certainly need in Salt Lake City and Park City, but I was a bit over-dressed for Boston. The sun was beaming, melting the snow that coated the city on Thursday night. I think the temperature was hovering somewhere in the 40s. Point is, I was sweating, but it was necessary. Had I dressed appropriately and just packed for Utah, then I would have had to check a bag. And that is something I avoid at all costs. I’ve never had a bad experience myself, so I guess you’d call it paranoia. Or, more accurately, impatience.  Waiting for your suitcase to come rolling by on the baggage carousel, after sitting on a plane for hours, is one of the worst periods of time on any trip. Thus, I opt out of it. That usually requires me to pack a little lighter, and lug more around, but it is definitely worth it in the end. Back to my feet- I think I still have them, though I haven’t felt since I woke up from my nap an hour and a half ago. I took off my boots as soon as I sat down in 28F, window seat (nice!). They’re big and bulky, and not the most comfortable things in the world. So, I took em off. Get comfy, I thought. Well, when I woke up, both left and right were still sound asleep. (Damn, they’re going to be up all night, now…) Numb, actually. I’m not sure why, but there is freezing cold air, -42˚C according to that 3×5 screen, creeping into the plane and rushing over my feet. The whole time, this air has frozen my feet to the point where I can’t even be sure they’re still down there. I refuse to put on my boots, though, because I’d rather wait until I’m about to get off the plane. These boots are great in the snow, and real warm, but they hurt my shins. Maybe I tie them too tight, or maybe my legs are just not accustomed to being trapped in a shoe that rises 4 or 5 inches above my ankle. I don’t really wear em unless I have to, for all those reasons.

Well, all that above was written on the plane. I am now back on solid ground at Salt Lake City International Airport, and it is 20 to 10. I’m waiting for the shuttle bus to arrive and take me to Park City. I’m so exhausted, but so excited to be here. I touched base with Dustin, another student here, and he is with the rest of the gang at the film festival waiting in line. I didn’t ask what they’re going to see, I think it would have made me too jealous.

Written by AESavvides

January 21, 2012 at 4:38 am