Last weekend's first-ever Northwest Animation Festival was the perfect fix for those of us with short attention spans and a taste for the fantastical. Seventy eight films—two crafted by Oscar nominees—were presented at PSU's Fifth Avenue Cinema from June 3-5, and festival director and host Sven Bonnichsen was thrilled, earnestly bouncing on the balls of his feet as he announced that a "Best of the Northwest Animation Festival" program would hit the Hollywood Theatre this September. The crowd, a mix of young animation enthusiasts and timeworn yuppies, munched their free popcorn with amusement.
The festival aimed to inspire, to showcase, and to sate the apparently unbounded appetite of Portland's animation fans. Though each of the festival's three screening programs exceeded three hours(!), the incredible variety of styles, subject matter, and character could fasten any ADD-stricken child of the ‘90s to their seat. I attended on Saturday night, and that evening's program opened with Eric Kilkenny’s acid trip/fever dream Ursula 1000—Rocket—which supposed to be a love story but was instead, to my amateur eyes, just some trippy shit about a floating mustached head and maybe space sex or something. More coherent animations were to come.
Ursula 1000—Rocket was followed by Erick Oh’s incredibly intelligent Heart, a 2011 Student Academy Award nominee. No animation—not even my beloved Avatar: The Last Airbender— has ever affected me so viscerally. The film follows a subhuman's scramble to obtain a heart. Greed and cutthroat savageness ensues, accompanied a human mass’ scaling of some living beast of a mountain—all in the name of a heart that dangles, fruit-like, off an appendage of the beast. The film, according to Oh, is an “exploration of transcendence" that "presents questions through abstract metaphors and symbols, illustrated by the human heart."
Yeah, the festival got pretty deep. However, the most compelling film to me (and no doubt all the other cat ladies in the audience) was Min-Ji Kang’s remarkable Myo-A. A kaleidoscopic, cosmic feline prowled the screen while its owner lovingly and desperately cried out its name; as the cat sickened and finally died, he dissolved into the night, imprinting on us the striking image of yellow eyes suspended in the dark.
Ten of the animators were present on Saturday, gamely answering terrible audience questions. (One I heard being nervously rehearsed: “Uh, like, was that image of a turtle on a skateboard allegorical to the Luciferic reptile of Milton’s Paradise Lost?”) Despite the films’ modest presentation, I gained a newfound respect for the art of animation—and if they keep things going, this festival has a future ahead of it.