Though it may seem like festival season is winding down, film buffs have something very special to look forward to this weekend. The 14th edition of the Montreal Stop Motion Film Festival is back for three days of astonishing artistry and sensational storytelling.
Founded by Concordia Film Animation professor Erik Goulet, this homegrown festival was the first of its kind to focus purely on stop motion when it debuted back in 2009. Ever since, it has played host to both celebrated professionals and up-and-coming indie filmmakers from around the world. Their dedication to an art form equally painstaking and breathtaking has kept audiences coming back for more, even as Hollywood seemingly overlooks the medium.
The sad fact remains, precious few stop motion features are produced by major studios, in spite of movies like The Nightmare Before Christmas, ParaNorman, Coraline, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Chicken Run and The Little Prince earning widespread acclaim. Even if the bigwigs are determined to overlook it, this annual gathering is a reminder of the astonishing versatility of stop motion, especially when utilized by bold storytellers.
This year’s program covers a wide variety of subjects, from the whimsical to the thought-provoking. Sitting somewhere comfortably in the middle is Bear Hug, a deceptively simple short about a young bear’s quest for companionship on his birthday.
Director Margrethe Danielsen gives her adorable lead character a beautifully detailed forest to explore as he finds himself torn between the ways of his fellow bears and the local bird brigade, neither of whom are especially welcoming. The results are utterly charming, thanks in no small part to the tactile appeal of the medium, which she takes full advantage of.
While Danielsen’s furry outcast is appealing, the lead in Bestia is the stuff of nightmares. Director Hugo Covarrubias’ chilling portrait of Ingrid Olderöck – a real-life agent of the Chilean Secret Police who tortured and raped political opponents with the assistance of her dog – is a sobering reminder that not all animation is intended for children.
Meditating on how systems can dehumanize and displace, Bestia manages to be as tense as any live action psychological thriller and especially clever in its choice of materials. The lead’s frozen, shiny, porcelain-like visage captures perfectly the terrifying artifice of her identity.
As she grapples with increasingly intense nightmares about her life’s work, her stone cold expression is changed ever so slightly to express fear, uncertainty and rage. It’s impressive in its subtlety and upsetting in its realism.
Other Half, meanwhile, goes a more surreal route in telling an almost mythological tale about trying to feel complete in a world where coupledom is king. Produced by an LGBTQ+ team during the first covid lockdown, this film’s colorful combination of Claymation and stop motion techniques brings the lead character’s journey of self-discovery to vivid life.
And there are a few good laughs sprinkled throughout, especially when Ren desperately utters that all-too-familiar refrain of “we can make it work!” as yet another relationship turns sour. Haven’t we all been there?
Upon further reflection, a unifying theme actually does seem to link this year’s slate of animated offerings: the frustrations of isolation and the importance of connecting with other (stable) people, which seems only fitting, given the two years we’ve just endured.
Best then to head on over to the de Sève cinema this weekend, where an animated crowd awaits, excited to encourage the efforts of filmmakers as eager as they are to reconnect.
Featured Image from Bear Hug, playing at the Montreal Stop Motion Film Festival
For ticket information and a full rundown of the remarkable films in competition, visit the Montreal Stop Motion Film Festival’s website. The festival concludes this Sunday the 18th.