Founded in 2007, the Northwest Animation Festival presents animated shorts from all over the world to audiences in Portland, Oregon and Eugene, Oregon. Per its website, the festival strives to “promote animation as one of the fine arts, and as a uniquely liberating tool for creative expression”. That goal was very much embodied by this year’s festival and its “Queer Animation Revolution” program, bringing together a wide variety of perspectives and styles to express LGBTQ voices and themes. As a big ol’ queer, and a huge fan of animation, I had to attend. Here’s a look at the shorts that were shown, with my brief thoughts, and links to clips or the whole film, where available. Special thanks to the festival's director, Sven Bonnichsen, for his help!
A man flirts unsuccessfully with another man on a snowy evening, and ultimately finds peace with himself. Whelan depicts this with an appealingly minimalistic but expressive style, with the surreal touch of the protagonist “liquefying” and floating from place to place.
An animated documentary in which Tel Aviv gay men are interviewed about their thoughts and feelings on the act of publicly holding hands, wittily illustrated with animated cutouts from archival photos and illustrations.
Beautiful (link contains nudity)
Surrealist (and unsettling) short portraying “the society's heavy influence on the unification of individual characters in this world”, as a human figure with breasts and a penis is crushed and ultimately destroyed by the monstrosities that surround him.
Shift (link contains nudity)
Maria Cecilia Pugliese & Yijun Liu
Told without dialogue - a repressed young woman meets her naked, wild doppelganger, and attempts to tame this other version of herself, before ultimately following a path to her own liberation. It’s less explicitly queer than the other shorts here, but its themes of pride in identity and self-actualization will resonate with many of us.
To-Anh Bach, Charles Badiller, Hugo Weiss
Brief but beautiful story of two samurai, once lovers, who fight to the death. I wish this story - and style - could someday be fleshed out with the aid of a larger budget; there's a much longer backstory about these characters that could no doubt be told.
A young gay Frenchman, his eccentric family, and the anxieties and neuroses that play out over their weekly Sunday lunch. This film has the texture and keen observation of a good short story; it’s not a documentary short like some here, but feels true to life, even as decidedly metaphorical visuals fill the screen.
Ama (note: link contains nudity)
Emilie Almaida, Liang Huang, Mansoureh Kamari, Julie Robert, Juliette Peuportier, Tony Unser
An American woman in 1950 Japan has a transformative encounter with a young Japanese fisherwoman.
Tan Wei Keong
A man struggles with his own identity - represented by him literally peeling his own skin.
Sergio Di Bitetto
In a city where mechanical men and women plug into each other to generate electricity, two men defy the system when they find love with each other. A simple but effective metaphor for love transcending conformity and homophobia, illustrated with bright character designs and ample style.
Another animated documentary, originally produced for The New York Times, in which author Laurel Fantauzzo finds love in Manila, as depicted through minimalist geometric visuals reminiscent of news infographics.
Uuuuuu (contains strobing)
Two men kiss, as depicted in a sketch-based black-and-white style where only part of the scene is visible at a given time - suggesting a sad transience to the eroticism of the moment.
An animated music video wittily contrasting two very different men - a straightlaced, upwardly mobile professional, and a blue-collar party boy living in a pansexual triad.
A surreal, painstakingly animated and erotically charged encounter between two women - a teacher and a student - involving a haircut and a ponytail.
A brief, funny short in which queer feminist writer Kim Yaged talks about dating a stripper - added geek points for including a scene of Yaged with a lightsaber dildo.
A musical homage to 1930s black-and-white cartoons, in which two couples (one gay, one lesbian), go out for a night on the town, only to wind up running from the clutches of the police and a homophobic church. I love the Fleischer aesthetic this short emulates, and it’s a treat to see it applied to a non-heteronormative context. Downside - in an attempt to reflect the prejudices of the 1930s, Pepi includes anti-Semitic and racist caricatures, which I’m not sure is altogether successful. While she includes gay and lesbian stereotypes as well, she still gives the queer protagonists agency and liberation at the end of the story, whereas Black, Chinese, and Jewish characters are just throwaway gags.
Igor Ćorić & Sheldon Lieberman
Last but not least, another animated documentary - in which an Australian trans woman, the editor at the animation studio that produced the film, speaks vividly of her pain and struggle with her own identity - and ultimately, her happiness in her transition.
All in all, it was a well-curated and fascinating evening, one that reflects the expansion of queer voices in the medium - now and in the years to come.
For more information on this year’s festival (and hopefully soon next year’s!), visit the Northwest Animation Festival’s website at http://www.nwanimationfest.com/.
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