The 2024 Brooklyn Film Festival Animation Program

No Rest for the Weekend
7 min readJun 3, 2024

By William J. Hammon, ActuallyPaid.com

Every year it is my distinct honor and pleasure to review the Animation Program at the Brooklyn Film Festival. Ever since I first started writing for No Rest for the Weekend and Behind the Rabbit Productions, the BFF has been part of the repertoire, even though I’m geographically about as far away from Brooklyn as possible while still residing in the contiguous United States. The art of animation has always held a very special place in my heart, and it’s amazing to see what filmmakers come up with year in and year out, be they seasoned professionals working for major studios or ambitious students putting themselves out there for the first time. This festival has seen a wide range of talent, styles, and humor, and even gave rise to an eventual Oscar nominee.

Like nearly every year, the program has been subdivided along thematic lines. This time it’s a three-fold affair, as more and more submissions are included. The first is dubbed “Diving Into Dreams,” and deals with surreal stories and abstract subject matters. The second, “Beyond the Horizon,” focuses on different areas of the human experience through several lenses, both common and unique. Finally, the third, “Virtual Voyages,” gives us both figurative and literal trips and explores the many ways in which we express love, leaving us with a combined 28 entries vying for the hardware, over four and a half hours of content. Given the glut of wonderful stuff on display, it’s all but impossible to go over everything, but there is so much great, imaginative work to share, so I’ll do my best here with my personal favorite in each block.

Diving Into Dreams — JELLY

Directed by Robin Budd and produced by Nelvana Studios, the Canadian animation house behind the likes of Inspector Gadget, Beetlejuice, and a host of other favorites for 80s and 90s kids, Jelly is billed as a “modern fairy tale,” one that takes the viewer on a fantastic journey in its 13-minute runtime.

A young artist named Molly struggles with her life and her passions, trying to balance her love of design with the demands of the work-a-day world. Living in a studio apartment near an elevated train, her sculptures collapse due to the vibration of passing locomotives. Her morale is further dampened by her job at the ironically-named “Happy Mannequin” factory, where she paints faces and places wigs on model heads in an assembly line fashion.

After a rather humdrum day where she accidentally spills coffee on one of the heads, Molly decides to let her creativity flow properly, making increasingly odd busts to the delight of her colleagues and the disdain of her bosses. Punished with even more mundane work, she returns home, where she encounters a gelatinous blob who befriends her because it really likes what she can do, inspiring her to even greater ends.

I absolutely love the art style and color scheme here. There’s a clear Tim Burton influence, both in the forms of Molly’s work and the general tone of the film, focusing heavily on shades of gray and red, only going to full color at the end. Molly feels like a version of Lydia Deetz all grown up and coping with the real world, and her boss is reminiscent of the villainous Mom from Futurama. All of this blends with a somewhat shiny, Disney-esque aesthetic, like an alternative version of Paperman. The combination makes for a sneakily sweet tale about embracing your creative dark side and fighting against conformity. It’s absolutely spectacular.

You can watch the trailer for Jelly here.

Beyond the Horizon — Boat People

Thao Lam is an animator and children’s book author, and she translates the visual style of the latter medium into this short, which she co-directed with Kjell Boersma. Moving to Canada as a Vietnamese refugee at the age of three, Lam filters her experience through the survival instincts of ants.

Using angular forms and a mixture of colored and textured papers along with traditional 2D presentation techniques, Lam tells the story of how she left Vietnam, including the loss of her grandmother, the birth of her brother, and a deep depression that swept over her father. Remembering a time when her mother would rescue ants from bowls of sugar water, she uses that act of kindness and mercy as a means to explain the strength of her loved ones as they fled their homeland. She supplements it with scientific facts about the resilience of ant colonies, how they work as units rather than individuals for the sake of all, how some understand the need to sacrifice for the greater good, and how lost one can become on their own.

It’s more than a little topical to show viewers the refugee experience from such an artistic perspective. We live in an age where authoritarian forces are on something of an upswing, creating similar conditions to those Lam’s family faced decades ago, and scapegoating immigrants and refugees as “vermin” and “insects.” Lam turns that epithet on its head, explaining to young and old alike just how powerful “bugs” can be when they’re united in common cause, which is a tremendous message.

Virtual Voyages — A Robot Rom-Com

A Robot Rom-Com is a very funny and oddly poignant bit of stop-motion that distills and deconstructs just about every trope and cliché of the romantic comedy genre in the span of about eight minutes.

A lonely robot called Bob performs a stand-up comedy routine that gets absolutely no laughs. He chalks this up to the end of his most recent relationship with another robot named Jill, to which he then flashes back. The pair meet on a park bench while each of them is reading and studying manuals for humor and love upgrades to their systems. Noting the meet-cute circumstances they’re in, they decide to experiment to see if they can actually fall for one another, with Bob’s overly analytical mind (natural as he’s a machine) playing out to a sad ending.

Not only is the static cam stop-motion absolutely brilliant in its intentionally low-resolution manner (Bob and Jill fly off in a shot where their strings are clearly visible, for example), but Hludzinski ends up spotlighting one of the major issues with the film industry today. So many movies have become tiresome and formulaic, to the point that every plot beat is predictable and audiences can genuinely wonder if the scripts were spat out by computers. This has become more pronounced with the recent labor strikes that focused heavily on studios’ desire to replace writers and actors with AI-generated content. This short expertly demonstrates why it’s such a bad idea, because it eliminates possibilities before they even happen. If that doesn’t sum up the entire issue, I don’t know what else can.

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In addition to these three films, there are several other entries that deserve your attention should you get the chance. I’ve highlighted 10 of them below:

Who is the ZookeeperAn excellent claymation story about a lost girl in a war zone trying to find her family.

Swimming with WingsPencil-sketch penguins learn to swim and discuss moving to the Netherlands as a metaphor for refugee resettlement.

P.F. Chang’s Signature RiceA free sample clerk at a grocery store is replaced by a robot, with devastating/hilarious consequences.

FlockyA Disney-style allegory about pregnancy and loss using an anthropomorphic snowflake as an imaginary friend.

The Dog Ate My HomeworkA young girl is so distracted by a virtual dog on her tablet that she burns her actual hot dog dinner and nearly sets her house on fire.

Mother LandA fascinating and innovative work in which a woman illustrates her family history via zoetrope-like pencil sketch discs played on a turntable.

MiraA woman’s love and passion for music has some deep, traumatic roots in a Cronenberg-esque bit of stop-motion horror.

Love BubblesA couple’s entire relationship is animated through vignette bubbles that interact and increasingly crowd the frame, symbolizing the ups and downs of romance.

FloatersA woman is equal parts annoyed and fascinated with her eye floaters in a highly-imaginative story.

Cod & ChipsA quick two-minute bit of 3D CGI shows a seagull talking a man off the ledge by just being present.

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If any of these films interest you, they’re viewable through the Brooklyn Film Festival website through the end of the festival. You can watch anywhere by buying a virtual pass for $15. It’ll be money well spent.

Originally published at http://behindtherabbitproductions.wordpress.com on June 3, 2024.

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No Rest for the Weekend

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