The Year Between Moons

I have met people who follow astrological instructions to the letter, and met people who dismiss astrology as a hoax. Personally, I like astrology and horoscopes. They make me think where I am in my life at the moment and help to define what I want from the future.

The Chinese measure their years with the help of 12 animals (one of them - Dragon - is an imaginary beast). A year ago we celebrated the start of the year of the Monkey. We were promised a year that rewarded wit and opportunism. "An auspicious time to start new projects"! - one of the horoscopes advised. So I made the following greeting card to celebrate the year of the Monkey:

Opportunism, I thought, is my second skin. I love opportunities. And I started a new project, as advised. 

But before long, in March, my landlords informed that they are not extending my lease. I was too small a fish for their liking.

- Move out so we can make more money! - they said.

After a frantic 7 week search we found a space that suited the needs of my operation of building and filming sets. But it was more expensive and needed some serious work before moving the studio in. To save money, we laid the floors and build the walls ourselves nearly breaking our backs, and in June moved the studio.  

In August the elections started shaping up and to help my candidate who was running against a person with a short attention span, I went every weekend to Pennsylvania to canvass for her. It is not possible for her to lose, I thought. She is too good and her opponent is too loose.

But to a great shock of at least 66 million people who rooted for her, she lost. 

- What is this? - I demanded to know from the Astrology books. - What kind of Monkey is this? - I yelled.

Then I saw in the small print under the predictions: due to Monkey's short attention span, the year will be full of unexpected turns and twists. Things could turn on a dime.

Which they surely did.

Opportunities, I realized, in 2016 were for the monkeys sitting on higher branches. My brand of opportunism didn't get to score in a year of this Monkey. 

So I turned my hopeful eyes to the next year - which is starting today- to the year of the Rooster. What does it promise and what is in the small print that I should know about?

The Rooster loves intense drama, the horoscope says. Organize and persist. The year will reward commitment and hard work.

- Oh well, - I said. - That means I have to start a Kickstarter campaign.

Because I can't imagine harder and more intense work than running a Kickstarter campaign.

So made a card to welcome you to the Year of the Rooster:

And I started a Kickstarter campaign for my new animated feature film "My Love Affair With Marriage". Because, you know, peck by peck I can collect a few thousand grains. I organize, I commit, I persist and work hard. What can go wrong?

 

 

 

Road to a Grumpy Crow

A few hours before my HOLIDAY SPECIAL offer expired an order for came in with the following instructions:

"My creature of choice would be a crow. I love crows. People think crows are wise, and mystical, but I reckon that's probably not entirely true. They're grumpy, and badass, and think the world revolves around them. Also they have to put up with an awful lot of bad weather. They have to live up in the trees!"

The description of crows reminded me of this bird:

 Lives on trees. Is quarrelsome. Very social. Has reputation.

Lives on trees. Is quarrelsome. Very social. Has reputation.

But that is called Rook or Jackdaw. While THIS bird below is what people in my country call a Crow:

 Lives on trees and streets. Promiscuous in regards to food (will eat garbage). 

Lives on trees and streets. Promiscuous in regards to food (will eat garbage). 

So I sent a message to Richard (the person who ordered the drawing) and asked to clarify. He instantly replied with the image of this bird: 

 Screams a lot. Grumpy.

Screams a lot. Grumpy.

And another image - of the sculpture he made of the bird:

 An image of a bird who lives on trees made out of a tree!

An image of a bird who lives on trees made out of a tree!

Richard, it turned out, is an accomplished artist who besides all other things does artwork on commission. You can see his work HERE and HERE and HERE. This is the first time he commissioned another artist to make something for him. I nearly fainted from fretting: just one look at my art will make a real artist recognize what a fraud I am! But work is work. I've already spent the money, so I had to deliver the art. I must dazzle Richard with a brilliant idea so that he wouldn't see my failing at the craft. Would he like this:

 A crow's beak wearing grumpy expression is a mask covering gentle kind soul.

A crow's beak wearing grumpy expression is a mask covering gentle kind soul.

Oh, no, this can't be good enough. Let me try something more interesting:

 Communicating crows deftly defy gravity.

Communicating crows deftly defy gravity.

Meh. I could do better. There is something to the idea of Richard carving an image of a crow out of wood. He also mentioned that he heats his old cold drafty house with firewood. He is taking away trees from freezing crows to keep himself warm. How about this:

 A crow is a tree and Richard had chopped pieces of wood from it.

A crow is a tree and Richard had chopped pieces of wood from it.

Yeah,  but does the idea of a crow related to trees reads well enough in this image? Let me make it more dramatic:

 A crow is freaking out about wood chopped out of him.

A crow is freaking out about wood chopped out of him.

Not sure if the idea reads too well. Its also a touch violent. Let me develop it a little better:

 A crow sits on pieces of wood arranged like a sliced cake.

A crow sits on pieces of wood arranged like a sliced cake.

I am afraid I don't have skills good enough to render this idea clearly enough. Lets try to go in a different direction. I liked one of my first ideas of the crow wearing his beak as a mask:

 A crow is ready for a party but no trees to party on.

A crow is ready for a party but no trees to party on.

Yes, but. I like that crows are black like coal. Like a shadow on a wall. What if the crow had a shadow? But in place of his heart there is a hole for light?

 Crow has a warm heart full of light. It throws a flickery light like a burning stove.

Crow has a warm heart full of light. It throws a flickery light like a burning stove.

But black and black on a white wall will not make a lot of color. I think Richard wants color. Lets see if I can make a colorful drawing with trees being the crow's home:

 - It is my tree, my home. Leave it alone.

- It is my tree, my home. Leave it alone.

Doesn't seem too exciting. Lets return to that other crow drawing and develop it a bit more:

 - My feet may be in the trees but I dream of a house.

- My feet may be in the trees but I dream of a house.

Looks too flat, too 2D. I need a cinematic approach - foreground interplaying with background. Lets try one more time.

 The Crow's dream of a house throws a dark shadow.

The Crow's dream of a house throws a dark shadow.

Well, this is not good, but I am running out of time. Let me just stop at this and make the best of it.

 It is cold on the tree while Richard's house looks kinda warm.

It is cold on the tree while Richard's house looks kinda warm.

The one thing you may not notice at the first glance, that the snow is painted in about 8 layers: first deep purple, then navy blue, then another layer of purple blue, then baby blue mixed with navy blue and so on. You will see all the colors if you pout the drawing in water. But then you may not have the drawing. 

Richard liked it.

Finding a Perfect Beagle

On the day 5 of my Holiday Special offer to draw your favorite animal if you name one favorite thing about the animal I got a request to draw a beagle. The person's favorite thing about beagles was:

"Beagles have an understated, dignified quality about them (well, what I mean is that mine did). They’re not always serious, but they are dedicated."

A beagle and dignity. Makes sense. But how to show it in one picture? Hmm....

And so the race to find the perfect beagle begun. First I had to check if I remembered how a real beagle looked. Googled it.

 Real Beagle!

Real Beagle!

Then tried to draw a beagle from memory.

 Beagle sketch

Beagle sketch

After clarifying an image of a beagle I had to decide how to draw dignity. This person really admires dignity in beagles. It says a lot about the man. Lets put them all together - the man, the dog and dignity. I made a quick sketch.

 Beagles on  Knees

Beagles on  Knees

The beagles are on the lookout - like proud captains of a huge ship they look for approaching dangers to divert them with a bark or bite.

Eh... I can do better. Lets make the beagle a real captain facing real dangers.

 Beagle Meets Iceberg

Beagle Meets Iceberg

Although Beagle looks dignified now, after his ship butts heads with the iceberg, he may not. Scrap this idea. 2016 was a bad enough year for all of us, no need to remind people how vulnerable this dignity thing is. Beagle must lead the ship to a better place, or to find something that's missing. Maybe tracking a trail lost in an ocean of smells? A beagle can lead a beagle. Lets try that.

 - I am a beagle and I am like an eagle!

- I am a beagle and I am like an eagle!

Lets see if there is a better angle to look at Beagle leading a beagle.

 Beagle leads Beagle

Beagle leads Beagle

Yes, this beagle is right on the nose! But wait!... beagles have beautiful ears. So warm and fuzzy one could eat them. Enwrapping ears.

 Beagle Ear Wrap.

Beagle Ear Wrap.

I have to remind myself that the thing about beagle I was asked to draw was dignity. What could be more dignified than giving a speech at United Nations?

 - We, all the beagles.

- We, all the beagles.

The problem with giving a speech at United Nations is with all those people wanting to know you afterwards.

 People Want to Know Beagle

People Want to Know Beagle

And, God forbid, they may want to bring you to strange rooms and surround you.

 Beagle Alone in a Room with People

Beagle Alone in a Room with People

You try to run away but they run after you.

 People Want Beagle.

People Want Beagle.

Even if you escape, they still send you presents.

 People Love Beagle

People Love Beagle

And more presents.

 People Send Piles of Love to Beagle

People Send Piles of Love to Beagle

Only after they leave, Beagle is able to take a good look at people.

 Beagle Looks at People

Beagle Looks at People

But it is obvious Beagle has something that people are drawn to.

 People Look at Beagle

People Look at Beagle

Finally Beagle was able to shake people off. But life wasn't the same without them. He had to find them again. 

 Beagle Lost People

Beagle Lost People

People didn't like that Beagle lost them.

 People are Mad at Beagle

People are Mad at Beagle

To please them Beagle does whatever people ask.

 Beagle Feeds People

Beagle Feeds People

Beagle soon gets tired of the chore to feed people. He puts them in a biodegradable bag with marinade and puts a weight on top. 

 Beagle Compresses People

Beagle Compresses People

Beagle steeps people in the marinade for three days then puts them into a pot.

 Beagle Cooks People

Beagle Cooks People

He gives the pot to charity. But life without people is indeed not much fun.

 Beagle Plants People

Beagle Plants People

So Beagle finds some seeds people left on the floor and plants them in terracotta pots. But even planted in small pots people still have their own mind.

 Beagle's People Grow Long Noses

Beagle's People Grow Long Noses

Wait, where was I? I had to make a drawing of a beagle with dignity. Stop fooling around!

I think I had a perfect Beagle at some point but I lost him in the process. 

 

Merry Winter Solstice!

Sitting in the darkest night of the year I rake my brain and cannot remember last time when I have felt such an absolute despair and desolation. Before, when I felt rejected by a lover or a film festival or a friend, the rejection was painful but it felt like an isolated event. I thought that the larger world was still behind me, the Universe still had a provision of love in store for me. I had hope.

But where do you find hope when Universe seems to be smashing in pieces everything you love and cherish, turning against the very core of your Being?

I look and see that hope is still there - at my core. It is just more fragile and more secluded. So I made a few MERRY SOLSTICE cards to send you my Love in hopes to connect with you. Lets unite with the cores of our hearts: I am you and you are me. If you love me back, please let me know.

Thank you.

 Thinking about the next four years 

Thinking about the next four years 

 Trying to remember where I put my sunshine boots

Trying to remember where I put my sunshine boots

 The Carpenter was born on the night between December 24th and 25th, when the longest night started to lose its power.

The Carpenter was born on the night between December 24th and 25th, when the longest night started to lose its power.

Lets all be carpenters and united together carve holes in the walls.

 

 

Illustrating Process

On December 5th I announced my HOLIDAY SPECIAL: until December 20th anyone for $100 (b&w) or $150 (color) can ask me to draw a picture of their favorite animal if they include one thing they like the best about that animal. There were 3  reasons I wanted to do it : 1) because I am an independent I rarely have to follow other people's guidelines/ideas and this is a good exercise to stay in shape 2) to engage with people who like my work - it's fun to give an opportunity to another person to be an art editor and order me around 3) to raise a little bit of money to be able to feed myself (if you saw my bank account you'd weep).

I got several orders and they were fun to do. But one, although seemingly an easy task, took quite a effort to develop. I wanted to share with you my process.  

The original request I received was this: My favorite animal is an octopus, and my favorite thing about them is the way they can do many fun things at once.

- Hmm... - I thought. - Many things at once.

So I sat down and sketched out my first idea on my first impulse:

Look, the octopus is getting her nails done while sleeping, while horsing around, being an angel, washing floors (it can be a fun activity if you treat it as a form of exercise), singing Christmas carols, picking a nose and stuffing a mouth with a cupcake!

The problem with this idea was that it required a lot of small details that may have gotten lost in its acrylic rendering (unless I made the picture really large, but it would be time and cost prohibitive to make it for only $150). So I decided to develop it in larger strokes:

The octopus is getting her leg massaged while checking Facebook on her iPhone and picking nose. But no, this didn't sit with me either: how I will fit the 5 other activities into this picture? Ah... What else is there for an octopus and his legs? Wait, what if the octopus' legs got into things?

The octopus is getting his nails done while his 6 other legs are creeping under women's skirts. But no, this disturbingly reminded me of our President Elect's behavior ("He was like an octopus groping me") so I scrapped that idea. Now: what if instead creeping inside the octopus' legs get outside?

Yeah, but once outside what is there for the legs to do? They kind of aimlessly look around for fun. Eh...

There is very little time to develop ideas in my busy studio, so I took my notebook with me to a screening and started to work on octopus ideas on subway. While drawing feverishly in the crowded subway car, a young woman started to stare at me, then she got up and stood close by to see what I am doing. It made my feel uncomfortable, but I was under a deadline so I continued on drawing.

- Can I ask you a question? - she finally addressed me.

- Go ahead.

- You seem to be so sure when you draw. How do you do it?

- Don't think I am so sure. In fact, I am totally unsure of myself when I draw, especially when people watch me.

- I am an artist myself and I am so timid compared to how you treat your lines.

- I don't care for the lines, I only care for the idea. And I am not afraid to make a mistake. In my world there are no mistakes, only discoveries.

- But...

Unfortunately it was my stop and I had to get off, leaving the young artist and her question in the limbo of half-answers. Good news: I had a couple of new ideas for what the octopuses legs could do in my notebook.

Octopus is a master puppeteer in a puppet theater! But wait, the request was for diverse fun the octopus is having simultaneously. Think some more. Woudln't it be fun to have octopus to be part of a human. Like, a human head with 8 legs?

Hmm... Maybe not. What if the octopus from behind the human was making him to do all kinds of fun and stupid things?

But there is not much space on the letter-size paper to show those fun and stupid things.

What if the octopus was sitting at a table like Jesus at the Last Supper but instead of Apostles he had his legs to talk to?

What if the octopus was like Jesus - "I have become all things to all people" (from Corinthians 9:22)?

I like that like Jesus the Octopus can be all things at the same time. Instead depicting simultaneous actions (sleeping, singing, horsing around) shift the focus on being - being all creatures at the same time. But who are all those creatures? I miss some animals here. What else is there? Tiger? Fish? Who has flippers?

Now I was ready to start to finalize the sketch.

And to add color.

Ready to send it off!

 

Best of New York Animation: 3 Programs

Program 1

 Still from "Moonraker"

Still from "Moonraker"

Work from ORIGINAL Avoid Eye Contact Collection.

I selected the following 14 films from the original Avoid Eye Contact two collections based on my personal bias. But I was also intrigued with the surreal approach of how those films depicted space - be that a city, bar, bedroom, poolside, Moon or, well... Space. There is something about New York City that makes one space-aware. Especially us, animators. 

1. "Bar Fight" (4:15) by Christy Karacas

2.  “One of Those Days” (6:30) by Bill Plympton

3.  “Drink” (4:27) by Pat Smith

4. “Tongues and Taxis” (7:32) by Michael Overbeck

5. "Sub!" (8:30) by Jesse Schmall 

6. "Moonraker" (3:00) by Fran Krause 

7.  “Space War” (3:15) by Christy Karacas

8.  “Frog” (3:52) by Chris Conforti

9.  “A Little Routine” (7:13) by George Griffin

10. “The Stork” (4:30) by Nina Paley

11.  “Roof Sex” (1:09) by PES

13. "Love Story" (3:30) by Signe Baumane

14. “Bathtime in Clerkenwell” (3:03) by Aleksey Budovsky

 

Avoid Eye Contact (New Films): Program 2

 Still from "The Cow Who Wanted to Be a Hamburger"

Still from "The Cow Who Wanted to Be a Hamburger"

The first few films of the Program 2 introduce audience to dreams and nightmares of the New Yorkers. It informs on the typical New Yorker's neurosis and fears. But the focus of the program is on how to solve the Eternal Puzzle of Love, Compassion and Empathy. It ends on the triumphant note of an indie animator's manifesto: do not become a piece of ground meat in entertainment/hamburger-making corporate machinery. Save your organic individuality.

1. "Christmas Day" 4:00 by Richard O'Connor

2.  “Slow Wave” (3:28) by Andy Kennedy

3.  “Concrete Jumble: Midtown Twist” (1:06) by Gary Leib

4. “The Lost Tribes of New York City” (3:00) by Carolyn and Andy London

5.  “Something Left, Something Taken” (10:13) by Ru Kuwahata & Max Porter

6. "Video 69" 7:00 by Ingo Raschka

7.  “Backwards” (4:17) by Aaron Hughes

8.  “Blank on Blank: Ayn Rand on Love and Happiness” (4:30) by Pat Smith

9. "Hedgehug"  (5:00) by Dan Pinto

10.  “A Life With Asperger's” (4:09) by Jaime Ekkens

11. "Mirage" (9 min) bu YoungWoong Jang

12. "The Cow Who Wanted to Be a Hamburger" (6:00) by Bill Plympton 

13. "Hunger Like a Wolf" (1:30) by Eun Ha Paek

 

Avoid Eye Contact (new films): Program 3

 Still from "Cee Cee's Bedtime Stories"

Still from "Cee Cee's Bedtime Stories"

The conflict and war is the theme kicking off the Program 3. Do wars happen because someone is hungry or stupid? Or because one is just obsessed with winning? Unexpectedly, the New York female animators bring a fresh take on conflict - don't invade my personal space, she warns. The program continues on with major existential questions (what is sex? can you undo what you have done? what if you are only an empty bubble in a billion bubble's bubble wrap?). The closing statement is on impossible-to-live-with-this-sensitivity of an artist. We will live and we will continue to make films despite all the bleeding. 

1. "Divers" (3:11) by Paris Mavroidis

2.  “The Terrible Thing of Alpha 9!” (5:45) by Jake Armstrong

3.  “Wandering Eye” (1:00) by Edwin Chavez

4. "Gastronomic Shark" (1 min) by Bill Plympton

5.  “Too Many Crows” (4:00) by Morgan Miller

6.  “The Stressful Adventures of Boxhead and Roundhead: Brothers in Arms” (4:24) by Eliot Cowan

7. "More Than Winning" (3:00) by Nick Fox Gieg

8.  “My Kingdom” (5:55) by Debra Solomon

9.  “Boobatary” (2:47) by Leah Shore

10.  “Cee Cee's Bedtime Stories” (2:12) by Joy Buran + Noelle Melody

11. “Teat Beat of Sex: Episodes Job and Hair" (4 min) by Signe Baumane

12.  “Command Z” (5:00) by Candy Kugel

13. "Fantaisie in Bubblewrap" (4:16) by Arthur Metcalf

14. “Fluidtoons” (3:32) by Brett Thompson

15.  “Pangs” (1:43) by Wendy Cong Zhao

16. "Egg" (8:00) by Jack Wedge

17. "Down to the Bone" (4:20) by Peter Ahern

 Still from "Down to the Bone"

Still from "Down to the Bone"

​Avoid Eye Contact - Best of New York Animation in Krakow

Here're my New York Animation notes for Etiuda&Anima Festival catalogue:

It’s probably not an understatement to say that New York City has one of the most vibrant and thriving animation communities in the world.  The reasons for this are multiple:

1. There used to be an amazing amount of animation jobs in the city (Nickelodeon, MTV, Little Airplane, Animation Collective, etc.) Perhaps not so much now, but animators stay here because –

2. We have a very excellent chapter of ASIFA-East that organizes screenings and meet-ups every month, and an annual festival of work from its members. When people see each other on monthly basis, it creates the sense of a community, involvement and support.

3. New York independent animators don’t compete with each other for funding (generally, the funding for arts or animation in the U.S. is scarce, so there is nothing to fight over) but instead we compete with each other over who will make a better film, we challenge each other and we support each other with advice, tips and animation tools.

4. There are at least five colleges in NYC that teach animation – so there are plenty of interns/apprentices for independent animators to employ which is a good reason to open an independent animation studio in New York. Also students have a lot of youthful enthusiasm for animation as a sophisticated form of self-expression. Enthusiasm is infectious.

5. New York City is a source of endless inspiration for stories.  Also, because everybody in NYC is constantly busy and short on time, we New Yorkers value time more than anything.  As a result, good sense of timing for NY animators becomes visceral. Timing is part of our minds, our bodies, and our essences.  That’s why some of the best animated films from NY may not have perfect design or the most amazing concepts, but they have timing that will make you laugh or cringe, and you walk away thinking you just watched a perfect film.

6. We in New York have the beacon of independent animation – Bill Plympton.  This beacon shows you the way to be an indie animator (create short films that connect with audiences and make a lot of them, consistently) but it also warns you not to come too close to the cliff, where the beacon stands on. It can ruin your life - to be an indie animator and consistently produce films you must give up on aspects of normal human life, like having friends, family and hobbies.

I don’t know any independent NYC animator who hasn’t looked at Bill and, at least once in their life, said, “That looks easy, I can do it.” And then lunged into making indie short films. But then they had to stop after a few years because they got married and/or had children and had to find a better way to pay the rent.  No one else can do what Bill does (he is unique) but thanks to his example and our aspirations to be like him we have a lot of independent animated films made in New York. 

For these reasons, the community of NYC animators is so tightly knit and supportive that one day (in 2004) a bunch of us got together and published a DVD of our work, called “Avoid Eye Contact”.  It was so successful (2,000 DVDs sold in one year) that we released “Avoid Eye Contact” Volume 2 in 2005. 

Since then, DVD’s have fallen out of fashion, and we animators/artists have proven yet again that we are more interested in making films than selling them.  But the energy of cooperation and innovation is still there, because that is what New York City is about.

For Program 1, I selected 14 films that are my favorites from the two “Avoid Eye Contact” volumes.  The films are perhaps on the older side (Plympton's “One of Those Days” is from 1988) but since animation doesn’t age like other films, they are still classic.

Programs 2 and 3 were put together exclusively for Etiuda&Anima and they consist of films never screened at Etuida&Anima. There are several things that are striking about the work for in those programs– first, a lot of these shorts take place in strange spaces, for example - “Terrible Alpha 9”(Jake Armstrong), “Pangs” (Wendy Cong Zhao), “Egg” (Jack Wedge), “Mirage” (Youngwoong Jang) and “Wandering Eye” (Edwin Chavez).  It probably can be explained by New York City being a strange place with its own rules that are not immediately accessible to a newcomer and the city can seem like an alien planet at first. Note, “Wandering Eye” was hand drawn on index cards while the animator was commuting to school on subway.

To counter that, there are a couple of films that explain this strange place called New York – “Concrete Jumble” (Gary Leib) and “The Lost Tribes” (Andy and Carolyn London) - they give the audience a little bit of local history and context.  Then there are films that are strongly, unapologetically female and even raunchy, like “Teat Beat of Sex” (Signe Baumane), “Boobatary” (Leah Shore), “Cee Cee’s Bedtime Stories” (Joy Buran and Noelle Melody) and “Everybody’s Pregnant” (Debra Solomon).  Their unabashed revealing of the most private elements of a female life (body functions, having sex, being infertile, getting high or drunk) may come from the experiences of being part of the masses moving through the streets and mass transit of New York which erases your feeling that your privacy is sacred.  You are just one of the 8 million humans living here, and everyone has the exact same problems as you do, so get over it and share your shame and private thoughts with everyone else. It’s only a stereotype that big cities alienate its residents from each other. New York does just the opposite - it connects people and teaches us to love other humans (you really can’t live in New York if you don’t love humans and their diversity).

And, of course, as in any place around the world, in New York, too, there are inevitably films made about universal themes like food (“Gastronomic Shark”, the Polish premiere of Bill Plympton’s short film) and aspirations for love (“Hedgehug” by Dan Pinto, “Video 69” by Ingo Raschka). Love is everywhere, even in New York.

The notorious neurosis of New Yorkers is depicted in “Something Left, Something Taken” (Ru Kuwahata and Max Porter)– and since the filmmakers in the film also make fun of themselves, it shows a very typical New York humor – the self-deprecating kind.

In the end, without the compassion and understanding of other human beings the life in New York would not be possible, and that’s what animated doc “A Life with Asperger’s” (Jaime Ekkens) is teaching us.

If you can’t come New York, then New York must come to you!  These 3 programs are showing some of the best New York animated shorts created in the last 20 years. This is your chance to experience all the inner workings of the minds of New York and New Yorkers. It will make you laugh, it will make you cry and we hope you’ll leave the screening inspired to make a film of your own.

I'll post the whole list of the New York films screened at Etiuda&Anima tomorrow.

Post-Election Travel

Where do you go when the world around you is collapsing? You usually go to see your Mom in vague hopes to return to her womb and stay there until the bad weather blows itself out on its own.

So I packed 7 t-shirts and went to see my family in Latvia. They were happy to see me, dotting, fretting and cooking local delicacies for me. I ate elk meat sausages steeped in duck fat and when the family went to sleep, I stayed in the kitchen checking emails on my laptop and the panic inducing news about the president-elect forming his new cabinet.

But before long my secret was out.

- You used to make films, - my Dad said one morning. - Now all you do is read about politics.

- Why your laptop is open again? - my Sister asked at the second breakfast. - All those political news are making you sick.

- You know too much about politics! - my Mom shouted before lunch. - This does you no good. I can see clearly - it is an addiction. Stop it!

I cried and I argued that this was my vacation, that I also sometimes check business related emails and that social media is part of what I do as an artist. But more I cried and defended myself, more it became obvious to my family that I indeed had a big problem. They advised to fight the addiction. So I closed the laptop and didn't work on the Thanksgiving blog post I wanted to write.

They were right - all that crying I did in private during nights definitely was not healthy. Something inside me was falling apart to correctly reflect the falling apart world outside me.

Then I went to Poland, to Etiuda&Anima festival in Krakow.

It is a festival dedicated to juxtaposing animated films with live action and documentary etudes, with a special focus on students and their needs. I was at the festival in 2015, doing a presentation called "Autoportraitwhere I had to draw and show my creative process in front of 120 people. A nerve-wracking experience because I am no good at drawing (especially not in front of other people!) but the festival liked it and invited me back with "Rocks In My Pockets". They also asked me to compile and present 3 programs of the best New York animated shorts.

So now I was in Poland, a country that a year before had similar election results as we just had in USA. Instantly, politics became the main subject of any conversation I had. I wanted to know how Polish people, especially women, cope under a very conservative government.

- The politicians are changing the laws, so that is very bad, - one person explained. - But on every day level, the institutions and organizations like universities, festivals, support groups etc are still there, so you don't run into black holes of cultural destruction.

- Did you participate in the women's protests in early October? - I asked a young festival volunteer. The Black Monday had inspired me and gave me a hope that we can do something if important laws we care about are going under an axe.

- You bet I did! - she said. - I don't like abortions but banning them is not a solution, so I had to join the protest. And we won!

- The women won the Black Monday! - I told to a levelheaded projectionist. - So we, people, have power.

- Yes, but it was only one law, - he said glumly. - The government is repealing 100 laws a day and there is nothing we can do. Can't protest every day.

Nearly every screening at the festival was packed and films were excellent. The Best of New York Animation program had a great audience, too. In solidarity with Polish women I wore black each day at the festival. Maybe one day we'll need Polish women to show solidarity with us. What would be the color of our protest?

 Presenting Best of New York Animation program at Etiuda&Anima

Presenting Best of New York Animation program at Etiuda&Anima

Surprisingly, a lot of people showed up for "Rocks In My Pockets" screening.

 Crowd gathers at   Kijów Centrum   cinema before "Rocks In My Pockets" screening

Crowd gathers at Kijów Centrum cinema before "Rocks In My Pockets" screening

I was pleased, but also stressed out. What if those nice people hate the film?

 - Why are you here? - I ask "Rocks In My Pockets" audience. - Why do you want to see a funny film about depression? Don't you have better things to do?

- Why are you here? - I ask "Rocks In My Pockets" audience. - Why do you want to see a funny film about depression? Don't you have better things to do?

We, as a society, are only as good as our artists who challenge us, train us to think critically. The moment artists stop to cry at nights about election results and stop caring about something other than their own success and creature comforts, we are screwed. 

But we also need festivals like Etiuda&Anima that are crucial meeting points between artists and audience. It probably works in little steps, too small to see from Space, but it is good to know it is there.

THANK YOU, Etiuda&Anima, for your work!