On a quick trip through Boston last weekend I stumbled upon the Arlington Short Animation Film Festival. I love small film festivals because people of all ages and backgrounds get to show off their work, and (due to the variety of entrants) the submissions tend to be surprising. Whereas in a larger festival you can sometimes guess at the types of films you will see in a program, smaller community festivals are all over the board in wonderful ways.
As someone who has spent years discussing the many ways academics define animation, a small animation festival offers unparalleled insight into how those outside academia interpret the genre. Interestingly, my biggest lesson was that, whereas the older, more experienced animators tended to follow more traditional animation models (we saw some very good cartoon shorts, many modeled after the Looney Tunes or Hanna Barbera cartoons), younger (elementary to middle school aged) animators were not afraid to be wildly experimental. The very demographic I thought would be most likely to imitate Disney or Dreamworks in their content actually overwhelmingly produced strange, surreal, experimental shorts that Dali himself would be proud of.
Overall, the films were wonderfully inconsistent – some were near professional in appearance but terrible in their storytelling, others looked like the two-minute whim of a novice but told an unbelievably gripping tale, and it was great to see such a wide variety of projects in one place. More than anything, it was fun to sit alongside other animation lovers and hear their reactions to the shorts; the three-year-old near me laughed uncontrollably throughout a short about a singing cactus on a windowsill, and her delight was a nice reminder that animation in itself, no matter how it is executed, is an impressive and wondrous achievement.
One of the biggest surprises at the Arlington Short Animation Film Festival was the film Notes from Next Door. Created by Dave Maggio, Jon Lawitts, and Jaime Klein as a senior thesis for Northeastern University, this short has already won prizes at Toronto Student Animation Festival in 2011 (Best Film: Mixed Media), the Boston Student Film Festival in 2012 (Best of the Fest: Jury’s Choice Award) and the Williamsburg International Film Festival. A fun story about a serious art student with a few unusual, rowdy neighbors, Notes from Next Door was easily one of the highlights from the festival. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!