Animated Films at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) 2016

Blind Vaysha, Theodore Ushev Canada, 2016
in Short Cuts 2: 9/9 9:45PM, 9/10 9:30AM, 9/18 9:45AM

With one eye that can only see the past and one that can only see the future, a girl is tormented by two irreconcilable realities. 

Decorado, Alberto Vázquez, 2016, Spain/France
in Short Cuts 9: 9/13 9:30PM, 9/14 9:30AM, 9/18 7:15PM

 Is this bizarre dystopian landscape real? Or are we all just living through set pieces in some strange movie?

Inner Workings, Leo Matsuda, USA, 2016
in Short Cuts 5:  9/11 7PM, 9/12 9:30AM, 9/16 3PM

Inner Workings goes inside a man’s psyche to show us the battle between his practical side and his carefree impulses.

My Entire High School Sinking Into The Sea, Dash Shaw, USA, 2016
Feature Film: 9/11 2:45PM, 9/12 11:30AM, 9/13 4PM, 9/14 11:45PM, 9/16 8:15PM

Inventive, beautiful, and more than a little bizarre, the animated feature debut from acclaimed graphic novelist Dash Shaw is surely the most delightful disaster movie in cinema history. To say that My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea is like John Hughes fused with The Poseidon Adventure makes for a snappy pitch — and it's true — but it doesn't prepare you for the sheer originality of Dash's vision. Jason Schwartzman, Lena Dunham, Maya Rudolph, Susan Sarandon, and Reggie Watts supply voices for this story about what it takes to survive adolescence. Literally.

Best friends Dash (Schwartzman) and Assaf (Watts) are sophomores at Tides High, where they author the entire school newspaper. When their editor (Rudolph) starts offering Assaf solo assignments, Dash's jealousy prompts him to publish fictitious reportage about Assaf having erectile dysfunction. Later, while rummaging through the school archives, Dash discovers records indicating that the building isn't up to code. He tries to warn his schoolmates, but after his slanderous attacks on Assaf, nobody believes him. Then it happens: an earthquake sends the school toppling into the Pacific. Everyone inside is trapped. A girl is ripped to shreds by baby sharks. Dash is bitten by jellyfish. Sundry students are electrocuted. Will anyone survive the sinking of Tides High? Can Lorraine the Lunch Lady (Sarandon) lead the kids to safety?

Whether it's autumn leaves tumbling in the wind or bodies toppling to their deaths, Dash's imagery, with its hand-drawn figures and gouache-painted celluloid, is awash in wacky wondrousness. Body count aside, My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea is a very sweet film about the importance of friendship… and about knowing when it's all right to fudge facts for the sake of a good story.

My Life As a Courgette, Claude Barras, Switzerland France, 2016
Feature Film: 9/8 5PM, 9/10 4:45PM, 9/18 12:30PM

When nine-year-old Icare accidentally causes the death of his alcoholic mother, he is accompanied to the Fontaines group home by kind policeman Raymond. He at first finds it difficult to fit in, and is desperately homesick: the only reminders of his former life are an empty beer can and his mother's nickname for him, "Courgette." He soon learns that the other children in the home have endured similarly traumatic circumstances. Alice's father is imprisoned for sexual abuse; new arrival Camille witnessed her parents' murder-suicide; and Simon, group leader and bully, lost both his parents to drug overdoses. With the help of the other kids at the centre — and the gentle-hearted Raymond — Courgette begins rebuilding his life, and gradually he comes to find comfort and acceptance in his new home.

This is a story that could have been devastatingly dark, but it addresses issues with subtlety and delicacy. The clean and simple animation style works in wonderful contrast to the difficult subject matter, and the characters' expressive faces give us hope for the innocence and resilience of children. My Life as a Courgette is authentic, empathetic, and ultimately uplifting.

The Pine Tree Villa, Jan Koester, Germany, 2016
in Short Cuts 1, 9/8 8:15PM, 9/9 9AM, 9/17 1PM

Lion and Bird walk through Berlin, past a long-uninhabited villa where, surprisingly, lights burn in the windows. Curiosity drives Lion inside, and though caution compels Bird to stay behind, he must fight to save his friend from danger when an extraordinary world emerges from the shadows.

The Red Turtle, Michael Dudok de Wit, France / Belgium / Japan, 2016
Feature Film: 9/8 11:30AM, 9/10 3:45PM, 9/12 6:30PM

Shipwrecked on a deserted island, a lone man struggles to find his place in this new world. The basics for survival are abundant yet frustratingly out of reach, and danger lurks in the smallest of crevices; every isolated grotto is also a potential grave. The man cleverly uses the forest's resources to support his raft-making efforts, but his every escape attempt is thwarted by an enormous sea turtle who seems intent on having him stay. Enraged, he attacks the turtle, intent on killing it. What happens next is the beginning of a new chapter in the man's life, one that will instruct him in the ways of companionship and lead him to understand that nature must take its course.

The Red Turtle luxuriates in the magic of life and the cycles of nature. Its languorous, entirely wordless storytelling arouses the senses, inspires wonder, and invites viewers to cast themselves in the central role. All the hallmarks of a Ghibli film are here — not least of all, the studio's compassionate treatment of humanist themes — rendered in de Wit's singular animation style. It's an artistic partnership that has given us one of the year's finest cinematic experiences.

Red of the Yew Tree, Marie-Hélène Turcotte, Canada, 2016
in Shorts Cut 4: 9/10 10PM, 9/11 11:15AM, 9/16 9:15PM

A pheasant hunt becomes a spellbinding elemental odyssey in animator Marie-Hélène Turcotte’s visionary rendering of femininity and intuition.

Snip, Terril Calder, Canada, 2016
in Shorts Cut 4: 9/10 10PM, 9/11 11:15AM, 9/16 9:15PM

In this richly layered stop-motion animation, written and narrated by award-winning author Joseph Boyden, Annie and Gordon travel through a portal in time to help two children escape the horrors of residential school.

Second To None, Vincent Gallagher, Ireland, 2016
in Short Cuts 3: 9/10 7PM, 9/11 9AM, 9/16 6PM

Being the world’s second-oldest man might be enough of a claim to fame for some, but not for the protagonist of this delightfully black comedy.

Nutag - Homeland, Alisi Telenät, Canada, 2016
in Short Cuts 1: 9/8 8:15PM, 9/9 9:15AM, 9/17 1PM

During World War II, the Kalmyk people of the Soviet Union were forcibly relocated to Siberia, and nearly half of them died before the return home some 14 years later. This magnificently hand-painted visual poem is a heart-wrenching lament expressing loss and longing.

Summer Camp Island, Julia Pott, USA, 2016
in Short Cuts 7: 9/12 6;45PM, 9/13 12:15PM, 9/17 6:30PM

Glitter glue, singing marshmallows, and dance contests figure prominently in Pott’s gloriously askew take on adolescence at its most awkward.

Four Faces Of The Moon, Amanda Strong, Canada, 2016
in Short Cuts 11: 9/14 9:15PM, 9/15 11:15AM, 6/18 9:45PM

This intricate stop-motion animation interlaces Canada’s colonial past with writer-director Amanda Strong’s personal family history — and illuminates Cree, Métis, and Anishinaabe reclamation of culture, language, and Nationhood.

Sing, Garth Jennings, USA/France, 2016Ann Marie Fleming
Feature Film: 9/11 3:30PM, 9/12 11:30AM, 9/15 11:45AM, 9/17 6:45PM, 9/18 3:30PM

Buster is the dandy koala proprietor of a failing theatre. He comes up with a brilliant scheme to save his stage: put audience members on it. "Real talent from real life," Buster declares. "That's what audiences want, and I'm gonna give it to them!" Buster is determined to host the world's greatest singing competition, and, given the overwhelming response to his call for participants, the show might just lay claim to that title.

Among his lead contestants are an exhausted mother of 25 piglets, a timid adolescent elephant, a porcupine with punk cred but a lame boyfriend, a rodent con artist with Sinatra-esque chops, and a gangster gorilla eager to change careers. Each is as desperate to change their life as Buster is to rescue his business.

Written and directed by Garth Jennings (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), Sing is a putting-on-a-show movie that revels in the glory of our differences. Though the animals' talents and temperaments are as wide-ranging as their zoological heritage, they all enter Buster's competition on a level playing field. Each has a moment alone in the spotlight to realize their dreams — but together they make for an exhilarating chorus.

Window Horses, Ann Marie Fleming, Canada, 2016
Feature Film: 9/9 11;30AM, 9/11 2PM, 9/13 4:45PM

Rosie is a young Canadian poet of Chinese and Persian descent. She lives in Vancouver with her overprotective but loving Chinese grandparents and dreams of an artistic and glamorous life abroad. An invitation to a poetry festival in Shiraz, Iran, rocks her boat, and though she has never travelled on her own, she decides to embark on the trip that will change her life. In Iran, she meets fellow artists from around the world and locals who open her eyes to the nature of art. They become guides to Rosie's own personal narrative as they offer new perspectives on the story of a father she thought had abandoned her. Her time in Shiraz will be a transformative one during which she will learn to ground herself by connecting with her own roots, both far and near.

Voiced by an all-star cast that includes Sandra Oh, Ellen Page, and Don McKellar, the characters display the intelligence and humour typical of Fleming's work. The film seamlessly integrates different animation styles to express Rosie's diverse experiences; the richness of this world is presented for the audience to marvel at with the same wide-eyed wonder as Rosie. One of the most magical things about Window Horses is how a single sentence, an idea, or a scrap of history can come to life in the most colourful and graceful of ways, flowering into a poetic universe all its own.

Children of Lir, Katherine Mcinnes, USA, 2016
in Wavelengths 1: 9/9 7PM

An impressive flicker animation comprised of Time magazine photographs, Katherin McInnis’ Children of Lir combines an Irish tale of children set adrift as swans and the tragic poisoning of water in Flint and other American communities.

Dark Adaptation, Chris Gehman, Canada, 2016
in Wavelengths 3: 9/11 6PM

Reminiscent of Jordan Belson’s spiritual animation work, Chris Gehman’s mesmeric Dark Adaptation is a shimmering vision of refracted light and pure prismatic colour.

Flowers Of The Sky, Janie Geyser, USA, 2016
in Wavelengths 4: 9/12 6:30PM

In Flower of the Sky, Janie Geiser elegantly submits two thrifted photographs to superimpositions and masking techniques in order to trouble and recast histories of the early 20th century.

Untitled 1925, Madi Piller, Canada, 2016
in Wavelengths 1: 9/9 7PM

Evincing formal echoes of Bruce Baillie, Madi Piller’s Untitled, 1925 is a personal, experimental travelogue that traces the voyage of Piller’s grandfather through the highlands of Peru