Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
The 4th Annual Ocean City Film Festival, or OCFF 2020, gave out its awards on Sunday, March 8, at Seacrets Nightclub. The award for Best Animation Film went to Selfish by Po Chien Chen, a student in Canada. The film takes us inside an “izakaya,” which is a type of Japanese bar that’s similar to an Irish pub or American tavern. We follow a chef as he prepares an unlikely meal for an unlikely group of restaurant visitors. It seems bizarre until it’s realized that the film is about marine pollution and marine conservation. It’s a simple idea that packs such a powerful message with amazing, colorful designs. For more about Po Chien Chen and his animation style, go to his website.
Chen’s film played in a block of films called “Animation Films.” The block consisted of 11 short films that were all animated or cartoons, as it were. The majority of them were 5 minutes or shorter. They gave you a quick taste of all the various ways that people can animate, as well as a variety of styles. Those styles ranged from crude to the sublime. One film looked like it was inspired by South Park. Another looked like it was inspired by Looney Tunes.
Of the 11 films, only one was represented at the festival with its actual director. Starfish by Sofia Ameti is about Stan the Starfish who “enjoys the simplicity of life until one day Sally the Starfish is brought into his life and he must now embark on an epic journey to be with his one true love.” Ameti participated in the Q&A after the screening where she answered some questions from the crowd. She responded to some questions about the filmmaking process beforehand. Here is what she said:
“The film is narrated in Hebrew, and narrated by my dad, who is Israeli. I’ve always loved stop motion as my media for telling stories and have always loved books and movies about toys coming to life (The Doll People and Toy Story), so this was my way of telling my own version of that story. I had a loose idea for the script in fall 2018 about a love story between two room decorations and I started writing by drawing storyboards for the plot and after that started crafting what the narration would be. I wanted the narration to be a mix of nature documentary and bedtime story, so I kept the dialogue pretty simple and straight forward. I think it took at least a week or two to have the storyline and dialogue set in stone although I’d been brainstorming for a month or so. The main message of the film, while being a love story between the two starfish and also having a sort of cliche “overcome obstacles for what you love” theme, was also a letter in a way from me to my dad about growing up with him reading me bedtimes stories and an homage to my Israeli heritage. I don’t speak Hebrew fluently although I grew up with my dad speaking it to me when I was really young and I took some classes in college which helped with the translations.”
She also said, “The film is stop motion animation which I’ve been working in for roughly eight years. I started out using toys at home like Playmobil and then moved on to some small scale Legos, but this was my first project where I created the characters out of clay myself. I grew up watching Tim Burton films and loved stop motion so one day in high school I decided to try it myself and from there I started teaching myself different techniques and getting better with more complex animating and framing. I usually do stop motion by myself, but for this film I had my boyfriend help me with camera work. Due to how I was animating the starfish myself and at times from odd angles (such as hanging off my bed), I had my boyfriend work as cameraman and take each image and make sure the everything was in focus and consistent. We shot over three weeks for a total of 8 long days and with my Canon Rebel DSLR. The hardest part of filming was animating the starfish without going insane. I attached a thin neon green dowel to the back of the starfish which I would hold onto and animate, slightly moving with each frame. It was shockingly hard to hold up the starfish with the dowel and keep it in place during each sequence without jostling a prop or scenery or evening moving the starfish too much (which would then result in having to restart the sequence). I made the starfish myself out of sculpey clay which when hardened is very breakable (something I learned quickly when the starfish fell off my door on the first day of shooting and three legs broke off, luckily Crazy Klue exists). The easiest part of filming was recording the sound effects, which were recorded by mimicking the starfish’s actions on wood, carpet, through jewelry, etc. The aspect ratio was a more square 4:3 ratio because I wanted to try something a little different and I liked the idea of trying to pack more information into the smaller frame sort of how Wes Anderson plays with different aspect ratios.”
To see Starfish, you can watch it on Vimeo by clicking here.
One of the other animated shorts of note was Tiffany by Christina Christie, which you can currently watch online. There was also Purple by Erin McDowell and The Sandman by Natalia Hermida. Those latter two aren’t available online yet, but, both directors are two that we should keep an eye on.
For more information about the Ocean City Film Festival, go to http://www.ocmdfilmfestival.com/.