Review: Puppets On Screen “The Lightness”

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The Lightness’  was the delightful first half of a yin/yang film showcase of puppetry and animation curated by Joseph Wallace, which explores the multitude of ways puppets are represented on screen; from traditional puppetry to stop-motion animation and CG – in the hands of both indie and commercial filmmakers.

First up, Tobias Stretch’s ‘Unity’ developed on his signature use of full scale puppets fabricated from organic materials and shot outdoors.  Best known for his competition winning music video for Radiohead, this short for composer Christopher Bono used a clever combination of stop-frame and visual effects software to create an undulating, hallucinogenic world that twists alive. By direct contrast both Rebbeca Manley and Peter Snelling used traditional puppetry in real time to bring their characters into life in “Table Manners” and ‘Asking Out Tim’, a pair of amusing shorts that raised a giggle.

Lashings of a darker humour were served up in two personal favourites, ‘But Milk Is Important’ directed by Anna Mantzaris & Eirik Bjørnsen and ‘Two Films About Loneliness’ directed by William Bishop-Stephens & Christopher Eales, both of which focused on the colliding worlds of odd couples.  Also featured were commercial shorts, for example Cravendale’s ‘Barry The Biscuit Boy‘ co-directed by Andy Huang and Paul McCartney/Microsoft’s ‘Appreciate‘ that used CG mixed with traditional techniques to explore puppetry in modern advertising.  Although I think I prefer puppets to be physical, the inclusion of this work, in addition to ‘Colosse’ directed by Yves Geleyn, gently raised questions regarding puppetry in a digital sense and were worthwhile inclusions in the collection.

The showcase ended on a bittersweet note with ‘Oh Willy’ directed by Emma de Swaef & Marc James Roels, a peculiar and poignant tale of a simple man who is a set adrift after his mother dies.  Beautifully fabricated from woolen textiles,  ‘Oh Willy’ sets up a sharp contrast between a hard world and a soft heart, ending with an unexpected yet uplifting twist that proves heaven really is what you make it.

Emma Windsor


The second half of the Puppets On Screen showcase, ‘The Darkness’, can be seen on Mon 31 Aug at 6pm at the Watershed.  For more information, see the Bristol Festival of Puppetry website.

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