by Jack Diablo
For it’s inaugural event, the Citrus Cel Animation Film Festival kicked things off with a bang. The Oscar-nominated animated film, The Secret of Kells was screened before a near-packed crowd at the 5 Points Theatre on April 9, 2010 followed by a collection of animated shorts and the classic Heavy Metal.
I arrived just in time for the address from Shane Douberly of Drips Black, the animation company who put the whole thing together. I found a seat among the good folks of AIGA Jacksonville, another group who was instrumental in the festival coming to fruition. As the lights dimmed and the intros began I could already tell I was going to enjoy this more than last year’s Jacksonville Film Festival.
Everything about Citrus Cel thus far had impressed me. From the promotional campaign to the impressive lineup, it was set to be a memorable event even before it began. Perhaps what was most impressive was how the whole thing was organized by a small but passionate and dedicated group of individuals and organizations working together to promote this particular form of expression.
Before the show I made a point to watch the Secret of Kells trailer and after doing so I was pretty stoked to see the whole thing. The animation style immediately reminded me of the sort of two-dimensional perspective of Genndy Tartakovsky, the creator of the Cartoon Network series Samurai Jack. All of the action took place in the foreground in front of beautiful Celtic art-inspired backdrops. The characters were all pretty cute for the most part but not in that classic Disney way.
The film begins with a wild goose chase (literally) as Brendan, the young protagonist, and several brothers of his uncle’s abbey attempt to catch a well, wild goose. Upon the success of their mission, Brendan plucks several feathers with which he explains to the goose will be used as quills in the abbey’s scriptorium. His uncle the abbot then enters and chastises the group for their foolish errand and demands they get back to work on building the abbey’s defensive wall.
It is here in the first few minutes of the film that the main conflict is presented. The importance of knowledge and the written word versus the need to defend. Brendan’s hardline uncle here represents the fear of pagan invasion from the Northmen (Vikings) and the need to fortify against their attacks. Soon after, an elder brother enters the abbey having been the only survivor of a Viking raid and bringing with him a legendary book of utmost power and importance. Brother Aidan acts as the antithesis to the strict abbot, a seemingly silly yet wise old man who knows through experience that no walls or defenses can prevent the inevitable invasion. His only concern being the completion of his work, a book that can turn darkness into light.
Brendan’s inquisitive nature and youthful optimism draw him towards Brother Aidan who then gives Brendan several tasks to complete which involve disobeying his uncle’s orders and going outside of his comfort zone. By completing these daunting tasks, Brendan is unknowingly taking on the role of the classic hero.
What I really liked about this movie was how it incorporated accurate historical elements that any history buff would surely recognize. Even though the characters belonged to an obviously Christian abbey, religion itself was almost completely absent from the subtext and the film even managed to resolve a few pagan myths as well. In a way, it provided a means by which both traditions could exist in a delicate harmony. As Brother Aidan puts it, “You can learn more from the rocks and trees than you can from a book.” As Brendan ventures into the forbidden forest outside of the abbey’s walls he is met by a fairy who aids him on his quest, fights monsters and eventually finds sanctuary during the Viking assault. The story subtly suggests that there can be a balance between a strict adherence to religious dogma and the power of the natural yet savage world. The real beauty is how both sides are presented in a way that is not so in your face allowing for open-ended interpretation. The content of the book that Brendan has chosen to finish is never fully revealed but is somehow mystical in nature hearkening back to the times when pagan traditions were assimilated into the spreading conquest of Christianity.
Regardless of your religious persuasion, The Secret of Kells is a beautiful film that is both adorable and illuminating.
The next program featured several short films somehow dealing with the supernatural. Dubbed Tangerine Dreams, it consisted of cutting edge animated shorts that ranged from laugh-out-loud humorous to poignant, touching commentary. A few of them stuck out from the rest for various reasons.
The Lonely Mr. Scrim was one of the most bizarre offerings. A man who lives in a treehouse on a floating trash barge with his “life-impaired” corpse of a wife narrates his letter of protest to stop the demolition of his house to make room for a shopping mall. Why anyone would want to build a shopping mall on a trash barge in the middle of the sea is only where the absurdity begins. The filmmaker was somehow able to make the idea of an elderly man dragging his dead wife through the backyard funny rather than disgusting but still pretty awkward. It was one of those things where you’re not really sure what to think so you end up laughing away the discomfort.
Rubbuds was probably the crowd favorite. It took a little while before I realized that the goofy characters were all condoms and sex toys of various types. The sexual innuendos were less than hidden but made for a pretty entertaining little number for those sans hang-ups.
One of my favorites of the program, visually at least, was The Praying Machine. Done in an anime-style kind of like the Ghost In the Machine films, it was extremely well done and matched perfectly with the soundtrack. But as far as content went, I was torn between The Incident at Tower 37 and The Ambient Life.
In The Incident, a security guard is manning a strange blue dome of some sort as two conspirators are attempting to exact some manner of foul play on the facility. The guard investigates only to find the diminutive would-be terrorists are actually little fish people attempting to release the hoarded supply of fresh water into the polluted body of water below. Moved by this revelation, the guard empties the coffers and sacrifices himself to undo the harm he has unknowingly contributed to.
The purpose of The Ambient Life, was to me a tad more ambiguous. The result of a research program conducted by Freeband Communication, it delivers a dose of futurism through a world where information technology enhances quality of life for its denizens. It really threw me for a loop because the concepts it presented seemed so intrusive and Bir Brother-esque that I assumed it was a satire only to find out it was put together by companies with a vested interest in seeing such technologies come to pass. It was very well done but did little to convince me that such a world was in any way utopian. In the face of disaster and chaos, it presented a network that could become almost sentient in order to “save the day” which I personally found a little frightening.
Also of note were The Spirit of Aloha, a biographical story of Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, the Hawaiian musician, and Les Anges Déchets (Garbage Angels). Hawaiian pride is something I find incredibly interesting in the way it parallels the struggles of Native Americans but on a more recent timeline. In that way I find it easier to identify with and understand. Plus, Hawaiian words are super fun to hear, if nearly impossible to pronounce. Garbage Angels was just really cool, funny and a lot of fun to watch, not to mention the perfect ending.
Film-festing is actually pretty exhausting so a double feature was about all I could handle for one night but I left the 5 Points Theatre super-stoked for what the rest of the festival had to offer.
Citrus Cel Animation Film Festival
by Jack Diablo