This 2004 Academy Award winning animated short commands a whole lot of artistry and emotional depth in a mere 14 minutes of screen time. It concerns the relationship between the animator, Chris Landreth, and an animator of a different generation, Ryan Larkin. Like Chris, Ryan had been nominated for an Academy Award - Chris, in 1995, for the computer-animated "the end"; Ryan, in 1969, for the hand-drawn "Walking". Ryan had been an influential artist in his time, one of the stars of the celebrated National Film Board of Canada. No longer.
The film begins with Chris in a filthy public toilet, explaining to the viewer the strange coloured slashes and dents in his head as arising from hurts and pains he had endured in his past. He renders Ryan in a grubby impersonal public space, perhaps a church basement where a soup kitchen is held, his face and head only half there, his arms strange bones ending in expressive hands. Chris asks Ryan if he can tape their conversation, and so their interaction begins. With great economy and skill, Chris presents a poignant story of an inspired artist with a drug problem, first cocaine, now alcohol. Today Ryan survives by panhandling and sleeping in shelters for the homeless, beer his constant companion. As they talk, their emotions are animated with shapes and colours: red spikes of anger radiating around Ryan's head when Chris challenges him to stop drinking, coloured strips of remorse and shame wrapping around Chris when he realizes he had made the challenge thinking of his own mother, who had died too young, an alcoholic.
We meet Ryan's girlfriend from his halcyon years, the philosophical and delightfully named Felicity Fanjoy, a now-plump woman drawn as if with coloured felt tip pens; and Derek Lamb, another former NFB star who recalls Ryan's great promise as a young man. The film is interspersed with clips from Ryan's own films, playful psychedelic kaleidescopes of colour and form. The film ends with Ryan begging for spare change on an anonymous Montreal street, Chris watching from across the road.
It's emotionally harrowing, but animated with great creativity and skill, a truly unique vision. It was on the shelves at my local DVD rental store, and I picked it up, not realizing how brief the film was. Luckily, the disc also features two other shorts by Chris, three by Ryan, and a long documentary about the two of them and their interaction, including Ryan's reactions to seeing the film for the first time. If you see it, pick it up: it's well worth a watch.