MANIPULATE Online Programme: Animated Womxn
CW: Mentions of sexual violence, suicide, death, and infanticide
A definite highlight of this year’s MANIPULATE festival’s online programme was a collection of animated short films by women and non-binary creators under the title “Animated Womxn”. The collection brought together 8 animated short films by international creators. The films presented were of a varying length (from just over 2 to over 15 minutes) and used an eclectic mix of animation and stop motion techniques, including sculpted and shaped sand, different styles of drawn 2D animations, physical puppets, wax figures, and household objects.
Though some of the films had subjects in common, such as sexualised or gender-based violence and growing up as women in different contexts, the area of topics covered was as wide as that of the techniques used. While some films dealt with heavier subjects such as grief, suicide, violence, female infanticide, and alienation, they were interspersed in the collection with lighter, more whimsical shorts creating a well-paced viewing experience.
The quality of the animation throughout was excellent, but the strongest pieces were those in which the fabric of the story that was being told and the technique with which it was told matched up to create the most immersive, disruptive, and engaging pieces.
This was done particularly well in Shoko Hara’s “Just a guy”, which documents three women’s experiences of being in a relationship or seeking sexual and romantic contact with the convicted and imprisoned serial killer and rapist Richard Ramirez. The story is told through archival footage combined with collage, edits of real women’s eyes into the puppets, clay-motion, and stop-motion techniques, which conveyed the grittiness and sexual nature of the groupie-like attraction to the serial killer. Hara was able to strike a difficult balance of presenting the story without ever glorifying Ramirez nor passing any judgement on the women sharing their personal histories, thereby creating an overall unsettling atmosphere.
Unsettling in a different way was Josephine Lohoar Self’s short “The fabric of you”, which tells the story of the loss and grief for a lover through flash backs. This short used puppets of mice and convincing 1950s scenery to tell the story of the young gay tailor, Michael, who meets, loves, and loses Isaac, one of his customers. We follow Michael’s perspective of reliving the memories with Isaac in his apartment, learning slowly more about his story and finally anticipate its tragical ending before witnessing it on screen. Besides the elegant story telling this short stood out for the tangible quality of its puppets, costumes, and scenery.
Lastly, Weijia Ma’s “Step into the river” about female infanticide in rural China during its one child policy deservers a special mention for discussing the serious topic without being sentimental about her courageous girl protagonists, who are constantly having to justify their existences. By telling the story from the children’s perspective Ma is able to infuse the grim subject matter with imagination and fantastical elements. This is not least enabled by the drawings, which bring each character to life by giving them distinct mannerisms and expressions.