, Salem, MA

February 14, 2013

Animated shorts star in arts festival screening

By Will Broaddus
Staff writer

---- — MARBLEHEAD — Animated films aren’t just for children, as visitors can see at this year’s Winter Film Festival of the Marblehead Festival of Arts.

The festival, set for Wednesday at the Marblehead Little Theatre, will feature several types of animation, none of which remotely resembles a Disney feature or Saturday morning cartoon.

“The Fine Art of Poisoning,” for example, is an exercise in the macabre that might appeal to fans of Edward Gorey or Tim Burton, but has a style all its own. Shot in black, white and several shades of gray by Bill Domonkos of San Francisco, the film mixes found photos and footage in an eerie montage that evolves inside a frame.

“It’s like a music video, but it has a gothic tone, a humorous gothic tone,” said Mike Evers of Beverly, who teaches English at Salem State and organizes the festival. “It was very artfully done.”

The February film festival helps kick off the arts festival for the year. Admission is free, and so is the popcorn and other refreshments that are served.

The films are all short, with the longest lasting a little over 17 minutes; the festival as a whole runs about an hour and a half.

Evers convened the first Winter Film Festival in 2006 by selecting striking films from previous arts festival submissions. He has organized a screening of new films during the summer arts festival every year since 1998.

“I wanted to do animations this time,” Evers said. “We did have a lot of good ones, and have had a number of good ones over the years.”

These will include “Mysterieuse,” which was created by Samantha Olschan in 2007 and originally appeared at the summer festival in 2008. Olschan, a creative designer who lives in Connecticut, used computer programs to create her story from “scanned squares/scraps of paper.”

“This is an animation about a woman’s mysterious relationship with a mysterious creature,” Evers said.

Jane Urban’s “Moonsong” is a four-minute, stop-motion film that follows a woman on a journey through the woods.

“The action is speeded up, it’s not natural, and what you get is a kind of jerky motion to it,” Evers said.

More exactly, the film strings together thousands of still images of a person who doesn’t move but does change position within the landscape. The same method shows painted vines or roots “growing” on the woman’s back and arms, so that her body resembles the forest she’s passing through or a screen on which motion is projected.

These techniques ask us to see movement in film as an illusion and remind us that commercial movies are also made with still images, and only appear to show action that is “natural.”

Not all the animated films use experimental techniques, but they do all manage to find interesting ways to entertain the audience.

“The Cat Lady,” for instance, features A.J. Mungo, owner and operator of the Newburyport Screening Room, telling a story about his sister’s adventures starting a shelter for stray cats.

“As he’s telling this, there are a lot of drawings that show these things happening,” Evers said.

The drawings, by veteran cartoonist Marty Riskin, appear on screen as Mungo talks, sitting at a table outside.

“He rambles on, but these illustrations tell the story as well as he’s telling it,” Evers said.

Not every film in the festival is animated.

“Bye Bye Linden” by Perry Hallinan is set in Peabody and examines a number of the same themes as “Moonsong,” but with a more cheerful tone and a much different style.

“Henry Loomis is Going to Die Tonight,” by local filmmaker Sam Stratton, uses conventional narrative techniques to tell a story with a wildly imaginative premise.

And in terms of technique, the documentary “Fahisha” is as far away from animation as a film can get.

“The title means ‘abomination’ in Arabic,” Evers said. “This is the story of a kid who came out as a gay woman.” The woman also happens to be Muslim, with traditionally observant parents, and the film explores how gay people are treated in such a community.

“Our committee picked this because it was a really strong story,” Evers said. “One of the things about it is, her father was really upset about this, but he does not come off as an ogre. You see his side of the story.”

IF YOU GO What: Winter Film Festival of the Marblehead Festival of Arts When: Wednesday, Feb. 20, 7:30 to 9 p.m., doors open at 7. Where: Marblehead Little Theatre, 12 School St. Admission: Free More information: