Annecy’s short film competition is many things. It is a celebration of the best short, animated films from the previous year, a barometer of bigger things to come from filmmakers on the rise, a place of recognition for established filmmakers still going strong decades into their careers, and a home to experimentation impossible to find almost anywhere else.
Each year, Variety watches each of the shorts in Annecy’s main competition selection and picks ten of our favorites. We’re not saying these are the best 10 shorts this year, we’ll leave that to the judges, but we believe each brings something that shouldn’t be missed.
“Affairs of the Art” (Joanna Quinn, U.K., Canada)
24 years after sweeping the Special Jury, Ufoleis and Mellow Manor awards at Annecy 1987, Oscar-nominated filmmaker Joanna Quinn is back with her iconic creation Beryl, in a new story of aging, body image, sisterly love and fond memories. One of this year’s comedic gems, “Affairs of the Art” is 16 minutes of adult humor which has won over audiences everywhere it’s screened, including the prestigious Clermont-Ferrand Festival where it won Best Animation prize in the international competition.
“The Awakening of the Insects” (Stéphanie Lansaque, François Leroy, France)
Made in France but set in Hong Kong, this 2D animated short turns on Mr. Lam, an older gentleman slipping into senility, and his caretaker Ms. Meng. A devout Taoist, Meng arrives on March 5, the final day of an insect swarm’s hibernation and attempts to exorcise the demons which plague Lam’s memory since the loss of his wife. Chaotic images and constant action put the viewer in Lam’s head, making the audience suffer his own paranoia and confusion.
“Beast” (Hugo Covarrubias, Chile)
A deep dive into human heart of evil, its mechanisms and equivocations, Hugo Covarrubias’ 13-minute stop motion “Bestia” begins on a plane as the porcelain figure of a dowdy woman, Ingrid, looks over the Andes, a hole in her temple extending cracks over her face. That is a trenchant metaphor for Ingrid’s fractured mind as a torturer working at the Chilean Intelligence Directorate (DINA) in 1975, her life captured in unreliable flashbacked memories exposing her confusions – she treats her dog like a human, humans she tortures like beasts – disavowal, self-disgust, horror, and growing paranoia and sense of victimhood. Studied, composed and precise in framing, disturbing, and immensely crafted, with every detail made to count.
“Boxballet” (Anton Dyakov, Russia)
Hard drinking and hard punching boxer Evgeny’s destructive lifestyle takes a turn for the better when ballerina Olya dances into his life and his heart. Olya reciprocates Evgeny’s feelings but sees a means of advancing her career through a relationship with the ballet’s director, a vile old man happy to exploit his position for romantic gain. Will Beauty choose the Beast? Fun, cartoonish drawings accompanied by a diverse and often humorous soundtrack give the film an endearing quality which is sure to have audiences invested in the couple’s fate.
“Opera” (Erick Oh, U.S.)
Former Annecy Crystal-winner Erik Oh’s Oscar-nominated short is sure to be the most watched from this year’s competition. A sprawling, 8K visual feast, this “living piece of art,” according to its creator, is a top down, then bottom up, look at a pyramid which breaks down the mechanisms of modern society. Each of the pyramid’s dozens of rooms has something important to say and show, meaning viewers will have to watch the nine-minute piece several times to pick up even a portion of what is going on in each, interconnected space.
“Peel” (Samuel Patthey, Silvain Monney, Switzerland)
An evocative slice-of-life animated doc short from Patthey and Monney, recording in B & W pencil-drawn vignettes the daily grind at a nursing home in Fribourg, Switzerland: Aged patients’ sagging faces, claw-like hands, frequent arm-chair slumbers, rows of Zimmer frames, the clutter of the home’s office. A meticulous real-life soundtrack endows the film with added authenticity. Finished just before COVID-19. “I feel these people are isolated enough even without a pandemic,” Patthey told Variety in an interview.
“People in Motion” (Christoph Lauenstein, Wolfgang Lauenstein, Germany)
Brothers Wolfgang and Christoph Lauenstein, directors of Oscar-winning toon “Balance” (1989) and later features “Luis & the Aliens” and “Spy Cat,” come back to the world of animated shorts with a moralistic fable – which could be a spiritual successor to their Academy-awarded short – about a sinister world where there is light for just one minute per day. People must do everything that needs to be done in that 60 seconds; the rest of the day is waiting. A narrative fit for stop-motion with superb lightning.
“Swallow the Universe” (Luis Nieto, France)
Artist Luis Nieto says his new work was conceived as an homage to the mysterious hikikomori (acute social withdrawal) artist Daïchi Mori – credited as the short’s screenwriter – which aims to give life to his paintings. “Swallow the Universe” is a hypnotic sort of a Japanese hand-painted horizontal scroll manga telling the grandiloquent blood-and-thunder saga of a young child lost in Manchuria’s deep jungles. An orgiastic El Bosco-ish eruption of visual, conceptual imagination packed with humor, perversion and multiple techniques produced by Oscar-winner Nicolas Schmerkin at Autour de Minuit.
“Tío,” (Juan José Medina, Mexico)
Winner of two Mexican Academy Ariel awards with “Zimbo” and “Cages,” director Juan José Medina delivers a new stop-motion work mixing themes of terror, adventure, legend, social issues and rights of passage. “Tío” follows a skeptical boy who works as a miner for the first time. Well planned cinematographically, the piece is laid out with meticulous character designs, expressionist compositions and memorable puppets. Medina produced the short with Rita Basulto at their label Outik.
“What Resonates in Silence” (Marin Blin, France)
A woman reflects on how she found a kind of acceptance, through sight and touch of her dead mother’s body – and went on to a career as a mortician, preparing the one last image of the dead, and transmitting the thoughts of their loved ones. Hand drawn on sepia paper, and accompanied by the women’s beautifully cadenced voiceover, “What Resoantes in Silence reveals Blim’s large talents as both a visual artist and narrator. Made out of Hauts de France, a burgeoning regional French animation hub, and highlighted at a UniFrance new talent focus at Annecy.