This year the Bristol Festival of Puppetry is honoring women who are working in key production roles within live action puppetry and in stop motion animation. By raising the profile of all the talented women who are already working with puppets, we can encourage other women to follow their dreams and expect equality in wages and opportunities.
The ‘Women in Puppetry and Puppet Animation’ screening during Bristol Festival of Puppetry was curated by Emma Windsor and the selection was a colourful mixture of wonderful short films. There was no limitation to technique or genre and the films were assembled around the themes: women and puppets.
The viewing theatre is full at Watershed Cultural cinema in Bristol and Emma Windsor introduces the films, the theme, and gives an overview about the challenges that still exist within the puppetry and animation industries. When the first film starts, there is a sense of concentration and enthusiasm in the audience that follows through the whole screening.
What happens when puppets, women and storytelling meet?
While watching the films, I find myself looking out for similarities in the techniques, materials, and topics. I am writing little notes in the dark theatre while trying to make sure that I will not miss anything. After the screening, I believe that I might have identified some common themes that might be specific to the way women use puppetry and animation in storytelling. The most popular theme turned out to be relationships between couples and families. Films such as ‘Belle and Bamber’ (live action) directed by Alex Forbes, ‘Don’t Think Of A Pink Elephant‘ (stop motion animation) by director Surya Raja and ‘Punch’s Letters To His Son’ (live action puppetry) by director Jenny Dee were addressing mother-daughter and father-son relationship, mental well-being, compulsions, anxiety and alcoholism, as seen from the point of view of a child or young adults.
The chosen techniques complemented the stories and it was fascinating to see how stop motion animation and live-action puppetry can be used in telling cohesive and captivating stories. In ‘Punch’s Letters To His Son’, the live action sections carried the story forward, while hand puppets in a traditional booth were performing suppressed memories of abuse and violence. What an excellent way to show flashbacks and difficult experiences while also carrying the story forward.
I was especially touched by stop motion animation called ‘A Love Story’, the winner of British short animation Bafta in 2017, directed by Anushka Kashani Naanayakkara. This beautiful stop motion animation tells a story about relationships between two people, and how people share emotions and deal with loss. All this is visualised with heads made out of wool, yarn, and textiles. The soft, yet strong textures fitted perfectly to the story and emphasized the complicated nature of relationships between humans.
Other common topics included the cycle of life and sensuality. I have to mention the one film that got the biggest laughs, the stop motion animation ‘Boris Noris’ directed by Laura-Beth Cowley was clever, funny and its rubber-hose style of animating did not leave anyone feeling cold or puzzled.
Towards the end of the screening, I became more and more convinced that there might be a difference between men and women in the way women choose to tell stories through puppetry and animation. Women are not afraid to openly address the more dark and sensitive subjects, such as violence, sexuality and mental health issues, and for this, puppetry and animation are an excellent tool!
I would like to think that not only the choices of topics but also the brave and innovative use of materials will bring the strengths and talent forward. Hand puppetry, rod puppetry, shadow puppetry, multi plane clay animation and stop motion animation were just some of the techniques used within these films. Especially in the stop motion animation films, the use of textiles and clay in puppets and sets was standing out. To me, these materials symbolize femininity, warmth, and softness. But should women be channeling more masculine values in order to achieve equality? I think that being unique, resilient and aware of one’s own strengths are much more likely to be the right ingredients towards equal opportunities.
Seeing how other women use puppetry and puppet animation to tell stories will be our fuel for change.
The BFP17 Film Programme continues this weekend with two feature-length films for adults and families. An accessible screening of ‘My Life As A Courgette‘ at 6pm, Saturday 09 Sept and the European premiere of the all-star Hollywood puppet film ‘Yamasong: March of the Hollows‘ at 6pm, Sunday 10 Sept. Visit our website for further information and to book tickets: https://www.bristolfestivalofpuppetry.org