Animated Womxn is a collection of international short films presented at this year’s Manipulate Festival in Edinburgh – an annual festival that focuses on visual theatre, puppetry, and animation. It begins, suitably, with Wu-Ching Chang’s My Grandmother is an Egg – a biographical reflection on nurture, heritage, and birth. The film is created from a blend of photography, voiceover, thickly brushed paint, crisp foley work, and digital manipulation. Images of eggs and a giant pair of hands appear throughout, manipulating (no pun intended) Chang’s grandmother at various stages of her life. We mainly focus on her job, though, which involved boiling countless eggs and carrying them in metal containers across train tracks to a station in Taipei. It concludes with an empowering sentiment from her grandmother speaking about financial independence and courage.
Les liaisons foireuses is a French stop-motion animation capturing a teenage booze-fuelled house party. The figures’ heads are comically and creatively crafted from recycled light switches and miniature wigs that create distinctive characters. The party culminates in a game of spin-the-bottle with an unexpected turn of events that puts central character Maya in the spotlight and transforms a humorous jaunt into a more serious look at identity and adolescence.
Song Sparrow is the collection’s haunting highlight. The stop-motion film features a group of refugee characters facing the daunting prospect of travelling across Europe in the back of a meat-freezer truck. The startling felt characters seem tiny yet have been designed with intricate blinking motions and detailed hands to clap, bang, and shiver with. Despite some misleading early hijinks on board, the truck’s grim reality comes to the fore. The juxtaposition between the devastating narrative and the soft puppets we associate with childlike silliness has a brutal impact that culminates in an unforgettable final shot.
I Miss Hugs lifts the mood slightly with fuzzy, awkward mother and daughter puppets dealing with change and separation. The film explores emigration, independence, and homesickness as the protagonist moves to Glasgow from her homeland, bringing her beloved hand-stitched pillow from home to hug each night. It’s a gentle, subdued piece focused closely on a touching mother-daughter connection.
From here, we shift tone completely for Teresa Romo’s Shy & Ketchup, one of the collections more upbeat, frilly offerings with the shortest run-time. The funny cartoon short features a young woman obsessed with ketchup and feeling hungry. The plot doesn’t stretch much further than that, but it’s distorted, clumsy figures are amusing and provide some appreciated comic relief.
On the Surface is also one of the briefer pieces, but provides more depth. A mother meditatively swims in a lake and reflects on what she wishes she could say to her child as she merges with the natural surroundings. The painted animation captures the chalky, frothy water beautifully and there’s a subtle hint of grief and loss as well as hope for the future.
Stéphanie Clément’s Pachyderm is another standout. Its soft but intricately rendered animation presents a nostalgic, storybook aesthetic with ominous undertones. Animals, as suggested by the title, act as a motif throughout the film and represent both friends and foes. The young girl at the centre of the story spends times at her grandparents’ countryside home and although she has night-time fears, she seems, on the surface, to have pleasant memories of fishing with her grandpa and swimming in the lake. However, the fairytale ambience grows dark and a far more sinister truth becomes apparent, revealing a story of abuse and repressed trauma portrayed through the lens of a child.
The penultimate piece, Bus line 35A, captures themes that permeate Animated Womxn – secrecy, pain, and cruelty. 3D CG-animation captures various characters using the same city bus and the comical brass music and odd visual style contrast with the content – a predatory man pressing himself on a teenage girl while no one intervenes, too busy lost in their own insecurities and thoughts.
Closing the collection is wildcard The Debutante – a rapid-fire, euphoric mix of ink drawings and watercolour flashing back and forth. It’s deliberately unrefined, splashing us with colour and brash sketches that create an impressionistic feel. What begins as an offbeat period piece about a woman who hates dinner dances morphs into a surrealist Kafka-esque dreamscape with murder, chopped-off limbs, a Gulliver’s Travels-inspired climax, and a talking dog who wants to disguise itself as a beautiful woman. It’s a bizarre, madcap adventure that really tickles and brings the short film collection to a dizzying, hilarious close.