TFF 2020 Shorts: Animated

Note: Though the 2020 Festival was officially postponed due to ongoing pandemic precautions, online screeners and the fest’s press library meant we could still offer coverage of this year’s selections. Tribeca is also participating in the We Are One global film festival, whose streams are being uploaded through June 7th.

Every year the Tribeca Film Festival showcases a wealth of short films from across the globe in all different mediums. Where animation is concerned, the fest turns to acting legend Whoopi Goldberg to curate their lineup. Due to the unprecedented postponement of the festival in New York, I screened this collection from the comfort of my home and would like to highlight my favorites of Goldberg’s picks.

Personal Favorite: Beyond Noh

Patrick Smith’s 4 minute foray into every mask you could think of is mesmerizing. The setup is a simple black space with masks from every culture and time around the world rapid-fire shuffling through to a rhythmic drum beat. It’s so simple but so deftly made. This short doesn’t stick to just the fine arts either with detours through American Halloween masks, and the quite topical medical field to boot, it covers all the faces–err, bases.

Award Winner: Friends

Florian Grolig’s deceptively simple Friends took home the prize for Best Animated Short from the Tribeca Film Festival’s jury and it was well-deserved. It’s just two characters–one very small and one so large we only see its massive hand or foot for most of the runtime– interacting despite the challenges of their massive gap in size. For me, it’s the one that most celebrates the medium of animation. With its simplistic line work morphing through a blank white void accompanied by perfectly pitched breathing from its giant, the scope is clearly conveyed.

Most Star-Studded: The Tiger Who Came to Tea

Clocking in at 24 mins, Robin Shaw’s adaptation of Judith Kerr’s story is the longest of the program and starts very slow before evolving into something much more fanciful. We watch the cute morning routine of a British family ending with sending the father (Benedict Cumberbatch) off to work for the day while mother (Tamsin Grieg) and daughter (Clara Ross) are home to receive an unusual visitor. The titular tiger voiced by David Oyelowo politely invites himself to their afternoon tea and proceeds to scarf down the whole pantry. The animation on the tiger is utterly charming.

Historic and Beautiful: Kapaemahu

Directors Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, Dean Hame and Joe Wilson delve deep into Hawaiian history to tell the tale of transgender healing spirits that are behind a landmark often passed by in Waikiki Beach. The use of native voices and music bolsters some gorgeous and warm animation as the tale transcends across time.

Additional program titles included “Umbrella” and “Grandad was a Romantic”, which both mine true stories for some lovely animation, and “Bathwell in Clerkentime” which is third in a series whose bouncy black and white animation couples with a soundtrack that may drive you as cuckoo as the birds it follows. (Note: “To Gerard” from Dreamworks artist Taylor Meacham was also selected however was not available to me in the press library at the time of the festival)

Film Review: “A United Kingdom”

Starring: David Oyelowo, Rosamund Pike and Jack Davenport
Directed by: Amma Assante
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 1 hr 51 mins
Fox Searchlight

Our Score: 4 out of 5 Stars

London. 1947. Finishing up his college education is Seretse Khama (Oyelowo), who will soon return to his African country of Bechuanaland (now Botswana) and become King. But before he can board the boat home he meets Ruth (Pike) at a student mixer. The two fall in love but soon realize there may be a problem. You see Seretse is black. Ruth is white. And if “To Sir, With Love” taught me anything, it’s that this combination of people is not very popular in England. But any problems they face in Britain (Ruth’s father shuns her, idiots on the street call them names) are tame compared to when they travel to Africa.

Like last year’s film, “Loving,” which dealt with interracial marriage in the States, “A United Kingdom” rises above other films dealing with the same subject thanks to the performances of the film’s stars. Oyelowo and Pike are both excellent actors and the pair carry this film on their shoulders. Extra credit to Oyelowo who must be firm and tender, often at the same time. Ruth is shocked to learn that, even in a country ruled by a black man, that there are “white only” facilities, including the local hotel. Seretse explains that because he is King he has a special dispensation that allows him to use the front door.

Of course things do not go well in Africa, as Seretse’s uncle, currently in charge, does not agree with his choice of bride. Not so much because she is white, but because he has neglected to understand how important it is and would be for a local woman to ascend to Queen through marriage. Things are further complicated by the fact that Bechuanaland borders South Africa, where the ugly head of apartheid is beginning to rear itself, upsetting the good British government which relies on South Africa for things like gold.

As the film progresses it does begin to drag a little bit, but the cast, both main and supporting, manage to create a strong story flow as far as pacing. And I have to say, there is nothing like watching a film about Africa that eventually gives us a shot of the countryside from an air plane and you see one, single giraffe romping across the plains by itself. Like the giraffe, Oyelowo is both regal and strong and, as this is Oscar weekend, his is a performance likely to be recognized next year.