Thursday, February 19, 2009

Solothurn 2009

Almost a month ago, I attended the Solothurn Film Festival on Thursday, January 22, traditionally the day of animation. Solothurn is the most important platform for Swiss film production. The only foreign movies on display are either co-productions (a lot of them) or part of the retrospective that is usually dedicated to an outstanding Swiss artist. This year Swiss born director Léa Pool was celebrated, so there were a lot of beautiful Canadian art movies to rediscover.

But back to animation: In the morning, animation folks meet for a brunch organized and sponsored by the GSFA-STFG (Swiss group for animated film). Since many Swiss animators are not doing too well or aren’t even animating at the moment, people usually joke about how this could as well be called a gathering of the unemployed.

Right afterwards, I found myself having lunch with Georges Schwizgebel whom I greatly admire. I listened intently to what he told my bilingual friend but wasn't able to talk to him because all my already feeble French speaking abilities had somehow vanished into thin air...

The audience award
In the afternoon, 12 animated shorts competing for the audience award were screened in a large auditorium. What puzzled most of the audience was the decision to include foreign films into a Swiss competition, even though the selection committee received way too many eligible Swiss films. As another surprise, Signalis, the winner of both the newcomer award (at the same festival) and a nomination for the Swiss film award, didn't even make the selection and therefore wasn't part of the screening.

The shorts were presented in the following order:
I tried to link to all of the shorts except Ursula Ulmi’s Kinder im Mond which I have worked on and which has no internet coverage as yet. There will be more on this once the DVD comes out. Needless to say that I liked Retouches, especially because it was unexpectedly different from Schwizgebel's last few films. It is notable that most of these films were either hand drawn or stop motion.

For technical reasons, some of the films were a little hard to watch because both 35mm and (especially) digital projectors were adjusted too bright. In one instance the dialogue of a pretty well-made short (I was lucky to have seen it twice before) wasn't intelligible although the volume was so high it almost hurt my ears. Apart from that the program was quite enjoyable. Having already seen half of the films before, I wasn’t too exhausted afterwards. Only the music video didn't have a chance and I like it better now than at the end of 90 minutes.

What bothers me more and more each year is the rating system by which such audience awards are evaluated. You have to vote by selecting only one of the twelve films instead of rating them separately. So if everyone liked a certain film second best for example, it could theoretically end up with no votes at all. In alleviated form this happens all the time, I guess. It might not affect the winner but it gives a distorted picture of the films on the low end of the ranking.

The film that surprised me most was Magdalena Osinska’s Radostki. I have no idea how a Polish film with playful Charlie Chaplin music made into a Swiss competition but I’m glad that I have seen it. I expected 13 dragging minutes of a pseudo-childlike exercise but I found it to be very enjoyable.

Radostki effortlessly follows the logic of a child playing a game. In connection with an improvised voice over narration by a five-year-old this produces moments of genuine poetry. The scope format seems to be the perfect choice for Osinska’s attempt to fragment composition in the way children focus only on small parts of their surroundings. In my favorite scene some funny animals are populating the blank areas of the screen while the narrator comments that there hasn’t been room for them in the story/game. You can see an excerpt here.

The winner – and also my favorite – was Flowerpots (also winner of the Adobe Design Achievement Award 2008) by Raphael Sommerhalder . It certainly didn't look like anything audacious stylistically but it was the one film I was most interested in while watching it. I constantly wanted to know what happens next and I thought the timing was excellent. But see for yourself:

Flowerpots from Crictor on Vimeo.

Raphael Sommerhalder has been something of a household name within our national animation scene for some time now. He was born in Zürich in 1974 and studied film directing in Lausanne.
Since my favorite of Sommerhalders films is Herr Würfel (2005) I’ve decided to also embed it here:

Mr Wurfel from Crictor on Vimeo.

I've just discovered that he also recently did a music video for Jolly and the Flytrap, one of my favorite bands.

Jolly & The Flytrap — Electric Polka from Crictor on Vimeo.

1 comment:

Sunny Kharbanda said...

Thank you so much for introducing me to Mr. Sommelhalder's work! I had never heard of him before reading your post, and now I'm in love with both "Flowerpots" and "Herr Wurfel". The visual simplicity in his drawings makes them the perfect vehicle for his deep observation of humanity.

I think "Flowerpots" is going to stay with me for a while.