Animators draw a series of pictures. When they put those pictures together one after the other very quickly, the series of images can give the impression of movement or transformation. This is a how an animated film is made.
This past weekend, I attended Short Films One at the 2016 New York Children’s International Film Festival (NYCIFF). Although this program is supposed to be for children ages 5 -10, as a parent of young children and more recently as a grownup whose teenagers have too much homework to join their mom, I have enjoyed seeing the varied collections of shorts that NYCIFF puts together every year.
In this post I’m writing about how four of the films I saw last weekend tell their stories through beautiful, funny, and some cases, sad transformations. There are predictable transformations that happen as creatures go through their life cycle. Other transformations happen when an object that isn’t usually alive experiences emotions and has adventures. In another one of the short movies, young people change from children to adults in a just a moment and that’s a transformation. And finally, a story can illustrate how people parts of our natural world transform when humans love and cherish them.
I hope that after my students and their parents read this post, some families will buy tickets for a remaining screenings of Short Films One:
Transformations in the Natural World: Deux Amis
In “Deux Amis” by Natalia Chernysheva, a tadpole and a caterpillar are buddies. The tadpole takes care of the caterpillar and they frolic together in their pond playground. The frog demonstrates that it is compassionate when it uses a nice big leaf to shield its caterpillar friend from nasty mosquitoes. In this short film, the tadpole loses his tail and becomes a frog who spends more time out of water. After the caterpillar goes to bed in its sleeping bag chrysalis, it wakes up in a new state; it transforms into a charming butterfly. Although we understand where the butterfly came from, the frog does not. There is a sad ending to this funny and beautifully illustrated tale.
From growing plants to hatching chicks to experiencing the metamorphosis of caterpillars into butterflies, students in the Lower School at Friends Seminary gain concrete knowledge of and experience with change in the natural world. According to Third grade teacher Courtney Retzler,
Raising monarch butterflies and tracking
their migration gives children an opportunity to experience the
natural world first hand. They aren’t just looking at pictures or
watching a video clip on the computer. Instead children are growing
an appreciation, an interest, a wonder, an early understanding of the
interconnectedness of the world.
It’s no wonder that our third graders know more about the cycles of nature than the unaware frog in “Deux Amis.”
Transformation of an Inanimate Object into one with Feelings: Object at Rest
In “Object at Rest” by Seth Boyden, the part of the natural world that transforms is not living, but it sure seems to have feelings. The main character of “Object at Rest” starts out as a stone mountain in prehistoric times; its main goal is just to take a nap. But instead of staying put and resting, the stone mountain experience a huge number of transformations. First it wears down and goes through an ice age. Then people shave that piece of stone down to a fraction of its original dimensions. They put that exhausted rock to work as a part of a grinding machine and after that, they transform it into a cannon ball. A chance to rest is just not happening for this piece of stone! Thrown out far out across the sea, the stone lands in the water and becomes home to a fossil. For a very short time, a museum treasures our main character and the fossil it holds, but that comfortable situation doesn’t last long. The unfortunate rock crashes to the museum floor, shatters and and turns up in a garbage pail. Flattened and then launched into outer space, the stone has yet another life in outer space. I am happy to report that the ending of this action-packed 6-minute film isn’t as sad as “Deux Amis.” You can watch the whole movie here and see.
The Power of a Mother’s Love to Transform: About A Mother
A third kind of transformation in a movie of Short Films One happens in a family. The short “About a Mother” by Dina Velikovskaya tells the tale of an African woman and her three boys. She keeps all her children safe, well-fed, and well- groomed and she teaches them to swim and jump rope. Then all of a sudden, the boys grow up from tiny toddlers into tall young men. They travel from the familiar world of their village and their mother in a ship, a helicopter and a train. Even after they leave home, the mother still provides her boys with what they need to survive; she transforms her own hair into warm clothing and a parachute.
Transformation and Losing Someone we Love: My Grandfather was a Cherry Tree
My favorite of all the short films in Short Films One was “My Grandfather was a Cherry Tree” by Olga Poliektova and Tatiana Poliektova. It’s a longer movie than the others that are discussed in this post. There is more time for the main character, a young boy, to narrate the story. From his point of view, we learn that he spends the first years of his life in the city. Then when his beloved grandparents are getting older, he and his mother move to the country so that they can spend more time with them. There is so much beauty and space in the outdoors. This is where the grandmother introduces the little boy to her wise goose. The boy also spends a lot of time under the branches of the cherry tree that his grandfather planted when his daughter, the boy’s mother, was born. He remarks “all of us grew with the cherry tree.”
Though it is very sad when the grandma passes on, the grandfather comforts his grandson by teaching him that their memories of grandma will live on. Her spirit and love are with the goose. The boy comes to understand that,
You can’t really die if someone still loves you.
You have transformed into something else.
The grandmother has become the goose that she and the boy cared for. When the grandfather is taken from the boy, he is still dearly loved by the family and he becomes the cherry tree. At the end of the movie, the boy rises up and uses all his strength to defend the cherry tree against those who want to destroy it. Protecting the cherry tree and what it stands for helps the little boy grow more mature.
It’s difficult for children to watch their grandparents grow old. This powerful movie helps us understand how grandparents’ love for the world around them and children’s love for grandparents can endure despite change and even death.
Animation artists are magicians who enchant us by making a series of drawings that give the illusion of movement and change. Animations help us see that part of what’s beautiful in the world is the very fact that it is always changing and transforming. Maybe artists and animators are also trying to tell us that even with all the change going on around us, some parts of our world stay the same. In “Deux Amis”, we are reminded of predictable natural life cycles like a tadpole turning into a frog and a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. In “An Object at Rest”, we see that despite many hardships and readjustments, one can survive and even flourish. The love of the mother in “About a Mother” stays strong after her boys transform into men. Finally, In “My Grandfather was a Cherry Tree”, even when death takes someone we care for away from us, our love for them and the love that they had for the world lives on in nature, and maybe even inside of us.
I hope that members of the Friends Community who had a chance to attend the NYICFF last weekend enjoyed Short Films One. If you saw these movies, feel free to email me your thoughts and/or reviews so I can include your perspective in future posts.
There still may be tickets to Short Films One for this coming weekend and the weekend of March 20. You can check to see ticket availability at The Festival website.
When GKids produces a DVD of the 2016 festival shorts, maybe they’ll include some of the films I’ve written about in this post. Hope so.