Sitting here in my office (a desk in my bedroom), it feels like a lifetime ago I was part of the jury at Manchester Animation Festival. Anyone who’s a regular at film festivals will be missing the real world, in-person gatherings greatly throughout this strange year and the start of MAF2020 is a sobering reminder of how I long for some shared viewing experiences and an opportunity to discuss short films with an equally passionate audience. A festival I instantly felt at home at, though I’d prefer to be visiting MAF in person, its dedicated team has adapted the event and put together an exciting online iteration of the festival, which includes master classes, retrospectives, Q&As and of course film screenings. It’s the latter I’m obviously most interested in and with an impressive selection of short films (in competition and student programmes) available to view (passes still available for £25), here are our 10 favourites from this year’s festival.

Da Passant (The Passerby) by Pieter Coudyzer

When you watch a lot of short films, at times it can feel like it has become impossible to be surprised or caught off-guard, but Pieter Coudyzer’s surprisingly layered short, that captures a day in the life of two boys, did just that. As the film opens, it might be difficult to identify what makes this film so special (apart from its impressive aesthetic), but as it picks up pace you get entwined in the frantic energy of the short and the back and forth of the narrative, making for a truly immersive and impactful watch.

Beyond Noh by Patrick Smith

A filmmaker we featured on Directors Notes back in 2013, Patrick Smith’s latest animation sees him return to his now trademark aesthetic, rapid shots of real-life objects cleverly choreographed into fast-flowing animation (as seen in his “Shop” – Candy, Gun & Board – series), in Beyond Noh. Already screened at Annecy and Tribeca this year,  Smith’s energetic film rhythmically animates 3,475 individual masks from all over the world, beginning with the distinctive masks of the Japanese Noh theater and continuing on a cultural journey through ritual, utility, deviance, and politics.

The Great Malase by Catherine Lepage

Funny, touching and incredibly relatable Catherine Lepage’s NFB film presents a cornucopia of lively, colourful imagery the provides a stark contrast to a voiceover where a woman attempts to portray herself in the best possible light. A confessed sufferer from anxiety, Lepage’s witty animation is a rapid-fire short that will leave you with plenty to think about after its brief five-minute duration.

Armstrong by Russ Etheridge

Another filmmaker we’ve previously featured on DN – with his Animade short film Olympops – Russ Etheridge’s Armstrong combines a distinct aesthetic with a fantastical storyline to make for a short film that impresses at every level. Influenced by Hindu mythology, this 10-minute film submerges you in its ethereal narrative, while its colourful style gives the short an almost tactile feel. All combined, Armstrong is an eye-catching statement from Etheridge, one that announces him as an exciting new voice in the world of short film.

Wade by Upamanyu Bhattacharyya & Kalp Sanghvi

There are short films you watch, love and then never want to see again. Watching Wade, as part of MAF, was my fourth viewing of this striking Indian animation, confirming it as one of my favourite short films of 2020. Directed by Bhattacharyya and Sanghvi, of animation studio Ghost, this gripping tale of a group of humans struggling to survive in the wake of a climate catastrophe blends mythical narrative with real-world issues to create a film of resonating, unshakable impact.

Wood Child and Hidden Forest Mother by Stephen Irwin

A film we highlighted in our London Film Festival 2020 preview earlier in the year, one look at the thumbnail above will confirm Stephen Irwin’s latest short, Wood Child and Hidden Forest Mother, as a real favourite of the 2020 festival circuit, but Irwin has been a DN fave from as far back as 2006. Having followed his career fairly religiously since then, Irwin continues to surprise and impress with his dark animations and this strange tale of a hunter who encounters a strange creature he cannot kill is no exception.

Meow or Never by Neeraja Raj

Family-friendly content that pleases both young and old is a hard find for programmers, but I think the team at MAF have nailed it with the inclusion of this charming NFTS grad film from Neeraja Raj. Featuring a Catstronaut whose mission to explore the galaxy, searching for the meaning of life, is interrupted by an over-eager Space Pup, it’s the stop-motion space-musical you never realised was missing from your life.

The Song of a Lost Boy by Daniel Quirke

The second NFTS grad film included in this list, Daniel Quirke’s unusual story of a choirboy who flees his community, after his voice breaks, and joins a wandering group of nomads, couldn’t feel more different from Neeraja Raj’s film. A dark tale brought to screen through tactile stop-motion, it’s part Mad Max, part coming-of-age narrative is perfectly balanced with its equally off-kilter aesthetic.

Read our The Song of the Lost Boy interview with Daniel Quirke here.

100,000 Acres of Pine by Jennifer Alice Wright

Horror and animation is a pairing you don’t see often in the world of short film, but recent graduate from The Animation Workshop Jennifer Alice Wright shows how well it can work with her atmospheric, visually impressive seven-minute film 100,000 Acres of Pine. The unsettling tale of Ranger Megan Patel and her fateful journey into the deep woods, as she tries to uncover the unusual circumstances around her brother’s death, this 3D animation mimics stop-motion to create an all too believable feel, magnifying the chilling effects of the short.

Pearl Diver by Margrethe Danielsen

A series of vignettes, focused on three couples (a hedgehog and a balloon, a polar bear and a penguin and a couple of oysters) drifting apart, Margrethe Danielsen’s Volda University College short is another shining example of the charm of stop-motion animation. Despite the Arctic setting, this a short full of warmth, as Danielsen truly makes you care for her characters (I don’t know why I relate to that hedgehog so much?) and share in the emotions, throughout the film’s brief runtime.

Find more unmissable films in our Best of Fest collections.

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