Bold animation experiments in North America: "Home Is Somewhere Else," "Quantum Cowboys

This year's Contre-Champion Feature Competition in Annecy featured two North American works that, both formally and thematically, extend beyond the dominant forces in the animation industry today: one is a humanistic perspective on a hyper-politicized issue, and the other uses the medium to consider the limits of our understanding of reality. The other utilizes the media to consider the limits of our understanding of reality. [The animated documentary Home is Somewhere Else, co-directed by Carlos Hagerman and Jorge Villalobos, tells a moving story told in the voices of the subjects themselves.

The entire film is animated using digital 2D techniques, and each chapter has its own unique aesthetic. The film's three poems, told in Spanglish by a spoken word poet who calls himself "The Deportee," serve as imaginative framing devices that contextualize the plight of the immigrants.

The first chapter of the film unfolds in a simple, grainy, picturesque world that looks like a young child's pencil drawing. In it, Jasmine, an American-born schoolgirl-turned-activist, fights for her illegal father and her mother, who was temporarily removed from deportation under DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an Obama-era program for people who immigrated to the US as children) to Fighting for Protected Mothers.

The bright colors and intentionally unpolished style of the animation serve as a comforting means of conveying the horror and pain that someone as young as Jasmine endures due to inhumane policies that persecute millions of families in the United States.

Images of expressive magical realism permeate each of the film's anecdotes, but the second segment stands out as an example of the filmmakers' mastery.

The painterly backgrounds and elegant character designs with well-defined lines transport the viewer to both the small town of Dosoncahuichi in Yucatan, Mexico, and the urban landscape of Los Angeles, California. The artistic style is used to highlight the separation between the two protagonists. Evelyn is a sister born in the United States but living in Mexico of her own volition; Elizabeth was born in Mexico but brought to the United States as a child.

When the sisters share conflicting feelings about their future career prospects, the endless possibilities of animation bridge the distance between them. For example, text messages are transformed into paper airplanes, suitcase zippers become symbols of the road, and Elizabeth's miniature reunites with Evelyn through the screen of her cell phone. Sometimes, the split screen even allows them to share a moment at the beach from different locations.

The final episode of the film tells the story of the "deportee" himself, Jose Eduardo Aguilar. The film details his childhood on fishing trips with his father in Heber, Utah, and how, as a college student, he became involved with other undocumented teenagers like himself to protest the rise of xenophobic laws. Ultimately, his efforts landed him in jail and in deportation proceedings.

Using sharp angles and solidly colored figures, the narrative here juxtaposes memories of his time at the lake with his time in the inhuman detention center. The fast-paced editing used to contrast the two eras of Eduardo's past sometimes creates a noticeable dissonance rather than a fluid association of ideas.

Hagerman and Villalobos succeed in portraying their characters beyond their status or lack thereof. The film finds moments that highlight the joys and endearing passages of everyday triumphs that enrich our perception of the characters. They are not people of extraordinary talent or survivors of tragic experiences, but average people who deserve more than anyone else the peace of mind and the opportunity to live freely.

Still, as impressive and innovative as the storytelling approach of Home is Somewhere Else is, the film would do well to treat its audience a bit more hands-on and clarify concepts such as DACA and the complexity of the US immigration system that is responsible for all the suffering on display.

The film's production values are not as high as they should be.

Produced by Brinca Animation Studio, Shine Global, Carlos Hagerman, Alexandra Blaney, Mariana Marin, Guillermo Rendon Rodriguez, Andrew Houchens Susan Maclaury, Albie Hecht, Martha Sosa, Carolina Coppel / Artistic Director: Marek Fritzinger / Storyboards Alejandro Valle / Animation Andrea Mondragon, Sarah Paramo, Alejandro Caballero / Music: Javier Alvarez / Sound Pablo Raja

Meanwhile, "Quantum Cowboys," a quasi-experimental effort, embodies a metaphysical ideology in which multiple timelines coexist and the way art preserves a unified memory, The film weaves together unaltered live-action footage, live-action sequences with actors in front of animated backgrounds, rotoscoping, and even stop-motion animation. [This sci-fi western by writer/director Jeff Marslett is fascinating in its ambition, but not entirely captivating in its execution, as it follows two best friends, Frank (Kiowa Gordon) and Bruno (John Way), in late 19th century Arizona, as they search for a dead or undead The film is primarily about the search for a musician who may or may not be dead. After Frank spends time in jail, the two reunite and meet Linde (the always impressive Lily Gladstone), who needs their help to reclaim her land.

But their harmless journey becomes complicated after they learn that a pair of malevolent time travelers are after them. Occasionally, the story zooms out of the plot, and Memory (Patrick Page), the character overseeing the action from the control center, lectures them on heady notions of time, space, and creation, most of which lack resonance.

The mischievous "Quantum Cowboys" feels stilted in its humor, and for the most part, the acting is uninterestingly stilted. The animation does not automatically improve when it reappears, and the film's long run of unadorned live-action is indicative of the film's limited production values.

Beneath the complex philosophical discourse is a simple friendship, as in many traditional westerns. The ties that bind Frank and Bruno together remain largely superficial in our eyes, but their paths continue to meet throughout, despite the hurdles that separate them. In terms of filmmaking, this feature film feels most cohesive and artistically economical in the fragments where the characters exist as outlines on a one-color background.

Even the novelty of the eclectic combination of techniques loses its appeal as it keeps fluctuating for no clear reason. However, Marslett's refusal to tell the story in a conventional cinematic manner is commendable.

Produced by Fit Via VI, Swerve Pictures / Art direction by Jeff Marslett / Screenplay by Jeff Marslett, Howe Gelb / Animation by Swerve Pictures, Minnow Mountain, Artless Media, Mystery Meet Media / Camera John Firestone, Adam J. Minnick / compositing by Geoff Marslett / music by Howe Gelb, Maciej Zielinski / sound by Eric Friend / editing by Eric Friend Tom Wilson, Matt Latham, Ian Holden